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Cooking Classes at John Duggan Park apartments keep kids moving


11-year-olds Lexus Kohn, Seta Santos and Ashley Otero shake jars of heavy cream, turning it to butter, at the John J. Duggan Park youth program, as counselor Jessica Tower, right, who runs the weekly cooking classes, helps other students.

SPRINGFIELD – Bowls filled to the brim with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, honey and coconut perched on a kitchen counter at Springfield Housing Authority’s John J. Duggan Park, while Ashley Otero and her friends vigorously shook covered glass jars filled with a mysterious white liquid.

But 11-year-old Ashley couldn’t keep the recipe a secret for long.

“We’re making our own butter,” she announced, smiling broadly as she held up a jam jar whose creamy contents were beginning to turn solid. “We’re going to use it on our pancakes.”

Ashley and her friends were crowded into the kitchen at Duggan’s youth programming headquarters on a recent afternoon, working on a cooking lesson that would end, happily, with a tasty snack.

The after-school programming, which blossoms to a full-day program during these summer months, is brought to the Springfield Housing Authority by ADC Prevention Services and Associates. At Duggan, home to 196 families in the Indian Orchard section of the city, some two dozen children typically pour in after school or on summer days to partake of the fun. Submitted photo Alexy Ocasio and Hussein Iman, both 9, enjoy their time at the Duggan youth program.

Alexy Ocasio and Hussein Iman, both 9, enjoy their time at the Duggan youth program.

Alexy Ocasio and Hussein Iman, both 9, enjoy their time at the Duggan youth program.

Counselor Jessica Tower runs the weekly cooking classes and said she brings in ingredients and recipes that make for fun preparations and healthy eating. An organic baker since she began learning as a child with her aunt, she also aims for recipes that are somewhat complicated.

“We always have a lot of kids, and I want everyone to help,” explained Tower. “So I’m always on the lookout for recipes that have a lot of steps.” On this day, Tower’s plans involved cutting up berries, putting toppings in bowls, shaking heavy cream into butter and making pancakes. The activity took well over an hour, and kept the kitchen a beehive of happy noise and movement. ”

I come here all the time after school,” said Ashley. “It’s like a second home to me. Everybody takes care of each other, and you know everyone. All my friends are here.” Her friend Lexus Kohn, also 11, agreed. “I started coming here a little while ago, and I just kept coming,” Lexus said. “There are always lots of kids here, and they keep you busy,” she said.

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