Indiana Wesleyan University’s Dr. Amanda Drury, professor of youth ministries and practical theology, will soon be celebrating the one-year anniversary of The Brain Kitchen, an after-school program that she founded for the purpose of mentoring low-income elementary students. The non-profit program combines homework help and cooking classes for third to fifth graders.

The Brain Kitchen began to take shape in the spring of 2016 when Muncie, Indiana-based Ball Brothers Foundation awarded the project $17,400 to specifically create what Drury called a “trauma-informed space.” The trauma-informed approach to education addresses the effect of trauma on children and learning. It is estimated that one-half to two-thirds of children experience trauma, which is defined as negative events, which surpass the child’s ordinary coping skills.

The grant was used to establish a community-teaching kitchen with homework space to serve low-income children in the Marion community, specifically those at Allen Elementary School where more than 90 percent of students qualify for the federal free lunch and breakfast programs. The Brain Kitchen officially opened in the spring of 2017 with a group of 15 children who gathered two days a week. The group currently meets in the Abijah Hay House in downtown Marion.

“The Brain Kitchen has two primary components: there is the homework piece, and there is the cooking piece,” said Drury. “Children coming to The Brain Kitchen meet up with a mentor to help complete schoolwork, and then the children are brought into the kitchen where they learn how to make soup and bread.”

Drury ensures each child receives three loaves of bread. One loaf they save, one they eat and one they give away.

“This meets a particular need within the community in that many children are provided with government breakfasts and lunches during the week, but weekend food can be a bit more tricky,” Drury said.

Drury has begun to recruit IWU colleagues to help develop the project and oversee the grant, including the following:

  • Wendy Puffer, who oversees the new Design for Social Impact major at IWU, looked at ways to create an environment that is conducive to learning.
  • Dr. Katti Sneed, who heads the IWU social work program, created trauma-related curriculum that is used to train volunteers.
  • Dr. Melissa Khosla, who is the clinical coordinator for IWU’s School of Health Sciences, developed ways to imbed brain development exercises into the program.

“It took a lot of pieces working together to create The Brain Kitchen,” Drury said. “Our hope is that these children will get something more than just homework help. We want their brains to actually look different after participating in this program. We want them to return home on the weekend with the confidence that they have a meal to share. And we want this to be done in a way that every single child knows he or she is loved by Jesus, because no one should hear about the love of God on an empty stomach.”