Seventeen of the students graduating from the LearningWorks YouthBuild program at the end of June have something rather unexpected to add to their resumes: cookbook author.

These students wrote about food-related memories, developed recipes, prepared them in a commercial kitchen and styled their dishes for a professional photo shoot. And several of them sold and signed the books at a June 9 launch party at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, an event that raised $50,000 for the Portland-based educational nonprofit.

The YouthBuild program for Mainers ages 16-24 includes preparation for the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) and hands-on vocational training in trades such as construction, electrical and culinary.

“We wanted to give students more agency in the kitchen and an opportunity to share something about themselves and their families,” said Executive Director Heather Davis. “They started with writing about strong food memories, their families and holidays. And from that, they developed recipes or went back to their mom or grandma and brought in family recipes.”

“It was different from anything we’ve done before,” said culinary teacher Katie Bush, who collaborated with writing instructor Rose Heithoff and photographer Molly Haley. “The students were creative and had their own vision. They took it pretty seriously.”

For the book launch dinner, caterer Lake & Co. took inspiration from the students’ recipes, including croutons and dip by Logan Thomas, samosas by Abdul Albasha, chicken tomales by Sara Recinos, and rice and beans by Tony Oduki. The Twist ice cream truck served a strawberry shortcake-inspired treat that included Christmas cookies by Abonga Achan and a mint chocolate bar inspired by Lily VanDerMieren’s peppermint bark.

“The LearningWorks YouthBuild Cookbook” is 110 pages, full color and glossy. Copies are available through LearningWorks for $20 by emailing

LearningWorks has four education programs that serve 1,500 people a year in southern Maine. The YouthBuild program has a culinary track that includes earning ServSafe certification, verifying food safety knowledge to protect the public from foodborne illness. Students also learn carpentry skills and give back to the community by building housing for low-income neighbors through shifts with Habitat for Humanity and Portland Housing Authority.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at

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