Hungry for Independence offers taste of group’s work

A member of the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence Life Skills Cooking Group gleefully scoops avocado into a recipe.
Weston Morris

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Within Northwest Colorado Center for Independence’s Life Skills cooking group, art exists in many forms.

One is the way the group’s members take part in the patient art of gardening, caring for a rainbow of vegetables in their tower garden and at a plot in a community garden.

There’s the art of grocery list making, grocery shopping and balancing a food budget. There is the art of learning to slice, bake and roast the fruits of their labor into part of something larger — the art of making the creation look beautiful on the plate.

And there’s the art of collaboration — starting with deciding on the group’s menu for that day, through the sharing of the meal — and the art of respect between everyone involved. 

The community is invited to experience a culmination of the group’s collective skills from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24 at Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, for the Center of Independence’s second-annual fundraiser, Hungry for Independence. 

The Center for Independence supports people with disabilities by connecting them with providers of housing, transportation, employment, assistive technology, access to benefits and independent living services. Empowerment is always the goal, through advocacy, peer support and education. 

Hungry for Independence features full meals — including gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options — cooked and served by members of the cooking group and locally renowned chefs. 

“It’s a neat way to let folks show what they’ve learned, in a way that gives back to the organization and recognizes the folks who’ve put in the effort to learn these skills and live more independently,” said Ian Engle, the Center’s executive director.

Members of the group have been sharpening their cooking skills together for the past three years. The class is supported by partnerships with Horizons Special Services, which contributes staff and recruitment efforts, the Colorado State University Extension Office, which assists with classes and menus, and the Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church, which welcomes the group to use the church’s kitchen. The class has always been well-attended, according to Engle. 

Engle notes that while the class focuses on culinary skills, larger takeaways include skills along the themes of freedom from isolation and teamwork. 

If you go

What: Northwest Colorado Center for Independence’s annual fundraiser Hungry for Independence
When: 4:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24
Where: Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp, 40755 Routt County Road 36 
Tickets: Individual tickets start at $200. Purchase by calling 970-871-4838, visiting the center’s office at 1855 Shield Dr., Unit 300. Tickets can also be purchased at the door.

“We all prepare the meal together in the kitchen,” he said. “People take different roles, based on whatever your skills are.

“What’s different about us makes us stronger together,” Engle added, emulating the organization’s philosophy. 

The event also features an open bar and silent and live auctions. Auction items include: a Stalmach ski bike; two VIP passes to the WinterWonderGrass: Colorado festival; an Ikon Pass for the 2019-20 season; two tickets to the Penn and Teller VIP experience in Las Vegas, including a green room meet-and-greet, a photo op and a private magic lesson from Penn; a one-year family membership to Old Town Hot Springs; tickets to Strings Music Festival shows; two tickets to “The Lion King” at Denver’s Buell Theater; a sixth generation iPad; a Life Essentials Day Spa gift basket; and more. 

The Northwest Colorado Center for Independence’s Life Skills cooking group has tackled a wide variety of dishes, including a Chicken tagine and Moroccan carrot salad.
courtesy of Ian Engle

The event will be served and staffed by people who use the Center for Independence’s services.

“It’s a way to give back and pay it forward,” Engle said. “It’s a way to show that you have value other than people needing to help you all the time.” 

A Kabocha squash noodle bowl, prepared by the Northwest Colorado Center for Independence’s Life Skills cooking group.
courtesy of Ian Engle

In the days before the big event, group members are looking forward to the showcase.

“There’s a lot of pride,” Engle said. “We’re pulling off a really high-end, well-planned event, and people are proud to be able to contribute in a meaningful way that supports the larger movement of what we’re trying to create: people being able to live more independently.” 

Several people who use the Center for Independence’s services will also share their stories during the event.

The Northwest Colorado Center for Independence’s Life Skills cooking group cooks in the kitchen of the Heart of Steamboat Methodist Church.
courtesy of Ian Engle

If an attendee has one takeaway from this event, Engle hopes it’s something like this:

“I want them to come out feeling a sense of our own shared humanity,” he said, “and feeling good about living in a community where people are successful. We want to break down that wall between ‘us’ and ‘them’ — we’re all in this together.”

Tickets can be purchased by calling 970-871-4838, visiting the Center for Independence’s office at 1855 Shield Dr., Unit 300, or at the door.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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