The Brain Kitchen: A Recipe to Address Childhood Trauma

The creativity and commitment of our IWU faculty never cease to amaze me.  Here’s a story Alan Miller wrote for me about the brainchild of Dr. Amanda Drury.

When Amanda Drury walked into Frances Slocum, the IWU professor immediately noticed the hand-written notes from children posted on the entryway wall. The notes, expressing the children’s dreams, were products of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day project.

Here is a sampling:

  • I wish I could learn the whole Spanish dictionary. I’ve already started!
  •  My dream is to be a smart girl, and my job is to be a scientist.
  •  I want the whole world to be made of ice cream.
  • I dream that people who cuss won’t have to.
  • I want to grow up to be a good kid.
  • I would like to get a tarantula for my 10th birthday.
  • I wish poor people were not poor.
  • I wish my Mom and Dad would stop fighting.
  • I have a dream that I could move to third grade, so I could be smart.

“I can’t do anything about many of these dreams—I can’t buy a child a tarantula for his birthday, but some of these dreams we could actually work toward,” said Drury, who teaches in IWU’s theology and ministry division. It was with those dreams in mind that The Brain Kitchen was born.

“The Brain Kitchen is an afterschool program with two primary components: there is the homework piece, and there is the cooking piece. A child coming to The Brain Kitchen would meet up with a mentor to help complete school work, and then he would be brought into the kitchen where he would learn how to make soup and bread. And by making soup, I’m talking about buying a chicken and using every single part of it, including boiling the bones to make broth.

“The children would work on the soup incrementally during the week, so that on Fridays they would go home with a vat of soup and 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, but weekend food can be a bit more tricky,” Drury said.

The IWU community became more intricately involved this past spring when the Muncie-based Ball Brothers Foundation awarded the school $17,400 to transform The Brain Kitchen into a “trauma-informed space”.

This 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.

In layman’s terms, the grant will be used to establish a community teaching kitchen with homework space to serve low-income children in the Marion community. “We are starting with a small group of students, between 10-15, and we hope to expand significantly as we get a sense of the kind of permanent space that we need,” Drury said. The Brain Kitchen is currently meeting in a small house owned by College Wesleyan Church while the program looks for a larger, more permanent space.

Drury has recruited IWU colleagues to help develop the project and oversee the Ball grant. Wendy Puffer, who teaches in the art department and is overseeing the new Design for Social Impact major, is looking at ways to create an environment that is conducive to learning. Katti Sneed, who heads the IWU social work program, is writing trauma-related curriculum that will be used to train volunteers. Missy Khosla, who has a doctorate in occupational therapy, is looking for ways to imbed brain-development exercises into the program.

“We have a lot of pieces working together now 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.”