The first graduating class from YW Culinary at YWCA Evanston/North Shore.  Photo from YWCA Evanston/North Shore

On June 20, the lobby at YWCA Evanston/North Shore, 1215 Church St., was filled with family members, YWCA staffers and other well-wishers as the eight women of YW Culinary’s first graduating class received recognition and applause.  

YWCA Evanston/North Shore created YW Culinary to prepare low- to moderate-income women for success in the food service industry.

“Creating a culinary program has long been a goal of YWCA Evanston North/Shore,” said Shannon Callahan, YWCA’s director of women’s leadership and economic advancement.

“This program is so directly connected to our mission of empowering women; it’s rewarding to hear the women talk about how they’ve grown, both as workers and as individuals.”

Ms. Callahan said the women in the class were also working through challenges, and through their support for each other, they created a community.

“What I saw today at graduation was a group of women who feel like their best selves,” she said. “I’m so impressed with this group and the journey they’ve been on.”

While the eight graduates have different goals, from restaurant work to food photography, their culinary training opens doors for them to explore a variety of career options and further their financial independence.

“The instructors here have no idea how much they touched my life,” said one graduate. “This is the first time I completed something that I wanted to do. This wasn’t just about cooking. It was about making us whole women.”

The women who were part of this first class reached the program in different ways. Some were living in YWCA’s domestic violence shelters, while others were part of the organization’s money management classes. Still others learned about it because their children were enrolled in YWCA’s Flying Fish aquatics programs.

Each graduate passed the test to receive the ServSafe Food Handler Certificate, said Nancy Anderson of the YWCA Evanston-North Shore.

“Hearing these women speak really brought home the power of our work and how it can transform lives,” said Karen Singer, president and CEO of YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

The next YW Culinary class begins in September.