Canadian pastry chef finds niche volunteering with Horizons
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In passionate pursuit of all things culinary, Scott Bjorgum found a perfect coach and cooking buddy in Paul Hanley.
Bjorgum has a particular affinity for pasta, so he’s already perfected marinara and meatballs. This week, he and Hanley, a trained pastry chef, tackled bouillabaisse, a classic French seafood stew. It was Bjorgum’s idea to try something totally new.
The two connected through Horizons Specialized Services, where Hanley showed up a few months ago to volunteer.
And it was through a previous counselor at Horizons that Bjorgum, a 30-year-old with Down Syndrome, developed a love of cooking. For about 10 years, he worked in the kitchen at the Sheraton, and now, he is a culinary worker at Casey’s Pond.
Hanley, a Canadian, is in Steamboat Springs with his wife, Nicola Erasmus, who is participating in a year-long teaching exchange in the Steamboat Springs School District.
The couple swapped houses and classrooms with Steamboat residents Kathy and Diego Girard, who are currently living in Vancouver. Kathy Girard took over Erasmus’s kindergarteners in Canada, while Erasmus teaches Girard’s sixth-grade class at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
While Erasmus has a working visa through the exchange program, Hanley is left to his own devices, and he is spending a good portion of his time volunteering with Horizons.
The couple recently sold their popular bakery, Fieldson Artisan Breads in Vancouver’s South Surrey neighborhood. The Hanleys worked from about 3:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, even on Christmas, when patrons lined up out the door for their exquisite baked goods — all made from scratch with natural ingredients. Offering 350 unique products, their annual butter purchase was so large they had to obtain a special permit.
Working in the restaurant business since he was 14, Hanley found his calling as a pastry chef and graduated from culinary school in 2000.
It was Erasmus’ dream — as soon as they sold the bakery — to go on a teaching exchange. They have 9-year-old twins and wanted to expose them to an entirely new experience, and Steamboat fit the bill.
Erasmus describes Steamboat Middle School as “phenomenal,” and she said she’s learning different approaches to education.
“I’m just loving it,” she said.
During the past few months volunteering with Horizons, Hanley can’t say enough good things about the organization.
“The work they do is unbelievable,” he said, calling volunteer coordinator Tommy Larson “an inspiration.”
Hanley is also impressed with Steamboat and how the community accepts people with special needs.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hanley said.
Many of the people he’s worked with at Horizons have jobs, he noted, and some even have two.
Hanley has experience employing a young man with Down Syndrome. Fifteen years ago, Hanley and Erasmus hired Eric, who was about 20 at the time, to work at their bakery.
There were challenges in the beginning, Hanley said, but they worked through them, and Eric eventually became an integral member of their family and the bakery staff. When they sold the bakery, it was a condition of the sale that Eric would stay on.
“When we said goodbye to Eric, we cried the hardest,” Erasmus said.
“I thought of him as a son,” Hanley added.
Eric also had a big impact on the twins, who grew up in the bakery and with Eric. In Steamboat, one of the twins’ teachers came up to Erasmus and commented how kind her kids were to children with special needs.
“It’s the best thing anyone could ever say,” Erasmus said.
Hanley and Erasmus know it was Eric who helped their kids become more accepting, kind and compassionate human beings.
And in Steamboat, Hanley quickly bonded with Bjorgum in the Girards’ kitchen.
“He’s got an amazing culinary mind,” Hanley said.
Leslie Bjorgum, Scott’s mother, describes her son as a “vivacious and happy guy” who loves being involved in the community through church, working and skiing with STARS and his job at Casey’s Pond. He loves to read, write songs and knows everything about animals.
“It’s indescribable how much this job and his previous job means to him,” Leslie said. “It is huge. It gives him a sense of value, a sense of contributing to the community, a sense of purpose. And it’s social — he makes friends.”
Larson said Scott is very independent and keeps a meticulous schedule. Every day they spend together ends with an Orange Julius from Dairy Queen.
“First and foremost, he makes you feel like a million dollars,” Larson said.
Larson said each of Horizons’ 200 volunteers brings something unique to the table. Hanley has stood out for his enthusiasm, his availability and his willingness to do whatever he can to help — in addition to his culinary talents.
Hanley said he’s had “tons of fun” working with Horizons and plans to continue volunteering with a similar organization once back in Vancouver.
“We’re gonna have such a problem leaving Steamboat,” Hanley said.
Erasmus jokingly tells Kathy Girard they will still be living in their house when they return.
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