Jennifer Jill Wilkins is the Food Services Director at Oxbow Academy (OA). She manages three separate kitchens. She starts her days early in the morning and only returns home after everything is ready for dinner in the evening. Jennifer is well-prepared for the challenge of preparing meals for a school full of growing teen boys because of her past experience as a school cook and caterer.
A Great Life
Apart from being an excellent mother to her three-year-old daughter, one of Jennifer’s proudest accomplishments is completing culinary arts school. She describes herself as having been “a very shy girl” when she attended culinary school in Las Vegas.
Jennifer was home-schooled. She did not have many of the social experiences that other people have while they are attending public schools and felt unsure about how to interact with people. While she was nervous, Jennifer successfully completed her culinary arts program with honors. Graduating from the program gave Jennifer a lot of confidence.
“I thought, ‘I got it! Life is going to be great!’” Jennifer said.
Seeing Faces Light Up
Jennifer loves cooking and trying new recipes. Some of her favorite moments are when she can see that students love an original recipe.
Jennifer said, “I love it when the kids just light up and say, ‘Thank you so much. This is such an awesome meal. Let’s have it again.’”
Another aspect of her job that Jennifer enjoys is being able to bring a piece of home to teens who are far away.
“Sometimes it is a lot of fun because the boys will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I have got this recipe that my mom used to make from home and it is really good.‘”
When it is possible, Jennifer puts these recipes on the menu. Then the boys have the chance to eat something that is comforting and familiar while sharing a happy experience with the other boys.
Change Is Possible
Jennifer is excited to work at OA because she enjoys being part of the healing process.
“I’ve seen programs be successful and the kind of life that someone can come from this [kind of treatment] and have,” Jennifer said.
She witnessed the ability of treatment to transform lives after one of her cousins visited a treatment center similar to OA. The cousin grew up to be a loving husband and father, as well as a respected member of his religious and business communities.
“After seeing the change in him, I honestly want people to know it is possible,” Jennifer said. “[Kids like him] can have these amazing, successful, happy lives. ”