November 01, 2016
High school students are being prepared for entry into the 21st-century workplace with soft skills, such as collaboration, communication and professionalism, through a new culinary arts program at the Rauner Family YMCA.
Created by Vivian Perez, Pilsen Foodies teaches youth how to make nutritious Latin American-inspired meals and other foods, practicing leadership and team building in the process. This program was a natural fit for Vivian given her Guatemalan heritage and deep roots in the Y.
She and her siblings grew up with the Rauner Family Y, where their mother still works today. There they participated in the C.H.A.T. Club afterschool program, which provides enrichment opportunities that help children build self-confidence and develop a healthy lifestyle.
As a teenager, Vivian narrowly avoided the temptations of street and gang life with support from teen program director Becky Need and street intervention specialist Jorge Roque. Instead, she enrolled in Lincoln's Challenge Academy and earned her GED. She went on to graduate from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts by age 16 and subsequently interned under several Latin American top chefs.
She eventually returned to the Y, determined to offer today's youth the inspiration that she had received not so long ago.
"It is a privilege being able to see myself in these young teens and give them the advice or hug that they need to progress toward something positive in their future, which I received at their age," Vivian says.
"This next generation is going to be the best generation. I hope to be the example for them that the Y has given me."
This story appeared in the 2015 YMCA of Metro Chicago Annual Report. View online report.