Challenge accepted: Kitchen ‘lab’ to offer specific skills for members with individual abilities

From Don Coble [email protected]

ORANGE PARK – One of the sink leaks in the back room that was once a kitchen at Club Enterprise at Challenge Enterprise Plaza on Kingsley Avenue.

Many ceiling panels are missing, broken, or soiled from water damage. Parts of the bottom are loose or gone. Where cabinets once hung there are gaps; the walls are still painted a dingy yellow paint.

The dining area is crammed with boxes of children’s clothes and toys. One of the doorknobs to the hallway is missing.

For many, the abandoned kitchen area is degreased. But for Nancy Keating, it’s a blank canvas that can provide new resources to develop professional skills and become more self-reliant.

The nonprofit organization encourages friendships and volunteerism to learn professional skills so they can become valued members of the community. The rugged space will soon be another tool for adults with different intellectual, physical, social and emotional abilities.

When completed, it will be a place where members can learn how to use kitchen appliances and the importance of sanitation. You will learn how to properly prepare, dice, slice and chop food. You’ll learn what items need refrigeration, how to hold utensils, monitor food temperature, how to clean appliances, and where to air dry large pots and pans.

And they are empowered with the skills to prepare their meals.

There is a lot of work to do to make the program a reality. Challenge Businesses need help with equipment, volunteers and money. Keating knows it won’t be easy, but the mission is too important to fail.

“Our preschool was here so all our toilets are baby toilets. We’re going to need new devices,” she said. “We work on cooking, washing pots and pans like in a restaurant. The big dishwashers, things like that.”

Rebecca McQuaid, the project manager for Club Challenge, said that because individual needs are different, it’s important to offer options. Challenge Enterprises already provides staff in the IRS mail room, ship loading at NAS in Mayport, shredding services and Wawa convenience stores, while some work on multiple federal construction contracts at NAS-JAX, Downtown Jacksonville, Kings Bay, Georgia and Gainesville .

“We have to work and try to move things around,” McQuaid said. “We will put in new shelving and shelving. There will be a large double fridge. This will be an apprenticeship.

“We wanted to make sure there was no confusion with the community. It will not be a bistro open to the public. It will be internal for training people who need the jobs.”

There are currently 4,308 members across the Challenge Enterprise spectrum, and 46 of those participate in Club Challenge, McQuaid said. As the need for enhanced services grows, so does the need for more support.

“We need everything,” Keating said. “We are looking for volunteers; we are looking for money The new Club Challenge room will have a new kitchen. It’s usually everyone’s favorite place.

“This room served as the agency’s preschool for 20 years. Now we need new adult furniture, we need a new floor, we paint the rooms, we cut cables for the computer room, we install the big screens for gaming stations and we turn the kitchen into a working laboratory.”

Rick Stafford, head of building services engineering, said that once the overall work has started, it will likely take about a month to complete. Keating said the goal is to have the kitchen up and running by the end of the year.

Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to fill out an online application and identify specific skills. The website is or you can call (904) 284-9859.

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