Partnership between school districts and local health system gets kids cooking over the summer

The Cooking up Confidence camp is being held through a partnership between Chartwells K12 and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.
Camp participants cutting food
Cooking up Confidence teaches kids knife cutting and other skills in the kitchen. | Photos courtesy of Chartwells K12

School is back in session this summer for kids in Spartanburg, South Carolina, thanks to a culinary camp where participants learn the ins and outs of preparing delicious meals.

The camp is being held through a partnership between Chartwells K12, the food management company that oversees the food service at Spartanburg School Districts 1,2,3,5 and 7, and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, a health system in the area.

The two partners first met through a mutual contact who worked at the local farmers market and suggested that they team up.  

“He said, ‘You guys have got to meet. You are both doing amazing stuff for the community,’” says Dawn Maddux, a registered nurse who works in the Patient Services and Community Outreach Department at Spartanburg Regional Health.

Shortly after, the Cooking up Confidence culinary camp was born.

Now in its second year, the camp provides kids in the community a way to build confidence in the kitchen and learn some new recipes while school is out for the summer.

Creating the camp

The camp’s origins began during COVID-19, when the team at Spartanburg Health was looking for a way to still reach members in the community when everything was shut down due to the pandemic.  

“We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to help the community when we can’t go into the community,’” says Maddux.

The result was Cooking Up Confidence, a program that aimed to teach adults basic cooking skills to get them excited about preparing their own meals.  

Once Spartanburg Health partnered with Chartwells K12, the decision was made to transform the program into a culinary camp for younger members of the community.

The team took the core principals of the program and transformed them into a “kid-friendly” version, says Kristin Palacios, operations manager for Chartwells K12.

During the two-day camp, which is held at a kitchen inside one of the district buildings, students learn everything from knife skills and time management to measuring and marinades.

This year, camp participants will learn how to make different varieties of dumplings, chicken fajitas and more.

“We always take in mind what’s popular with the kids,” Palacios says of figuring out what dishes to make.

The kitchen that the camp is held at is made up of five different stations that each act “as a mini kitchen,” Palacios says, to allow camp participants to all be able to prepare food all at the same time.

Each station is manned by a Chartwells K12 team member or someone from Spartanburg Regional. This year, nurses from the hospital will also be on hand to help the kids as they cook.

At the end of each day, everyone sits down together for a family-style meal to eat what they’ve created.

Cooking up Confidence campers
Kids learn how to prepare a variety of recipes during the two-day camp. 

Expanding the camp

This year, the camp completely filled up within 72 hours of it being posting it online.

Due to its popularity, the team has considered running the camp during the school year. One idea would be offering a scaled-down version of the camp after school, where students would learn how to make a single dish.

Both Maddux and Palacios have also tossed around the idea of offering the camp during other breaks held throughout the school year.

“The response has been overwhelmingly good,” says Maddux. “We’ve talked about expanding and offering [a class] over winter break.”



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