Project Nourish dishes it out in Guerneville

Better food and friendly young faces triple the number of senior diners at river area senior center

On Sept. 5, a new and improved kitchen officially opened at the Russian River Senior Center. The kitchen, which was remodeled with the help of Earthtone Construction, not only serves up food, but also serves as the site for Project Nourish, an intergenerational cooking program for seniors and teens, as well as a culinary job-training program for local youth ages 16 to 24.

Youth learn how to prepare food, run a kitchen, wait tables and gain other culinary skills with the support of West County Community Services (WCCS), the Guerneville nonprofit that operates the senior center on Armstrong Woods Road.

Tim Miller, WCCS executive director, said meals have been served for 30 years out of the senior center. In the past, the Council on Aging sent precooked meals out to the center where they were heated up to serve.

Now the ingredients are shipped out, and the meal is prepared in house. The kitchen will be serving made-to-order meals through the Council on Aging’s bistro menu. Menu items will include fish tacos, chicken Caesar salad, club sandwiches and frittatas.

Miller said the center used to serve meals to five to eight seniors at a sitting. Now with the help of the youth program, those numbers have more than tripled to 25-30. The increase is thought to be due to a couple of factors, Miller said.

“For one it just tastes better, and the other part is seniors like the engagement with the youth,” he said. “There’s an intergenerational learning part.”

The young chefs and servers are not only given wisdom from seniors in the kitchen as they prepare meals, but also are able to sit down afterward to chat with the community members as they eat.

Senior Center Manager Vicki Halstead said the center’s kitchen is open to the public for a nominal fee. The senior center is open to seniors 60 years and older, Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The center offers lunch every Wednesday and Friday.

WCCS will also be working with its youth employment program to teach culinary skills, customer service and kitchen service.

“We’re looking at it from the employment training side,” said Miller. “Many of the restaurants and hotels are desperate for workers right now.”

The center was also recently used by the Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps, which worked with a crew on a farm-to-table concept, using the senior center’s garden on the property, along with fresh food from the Council on Aging.

Miller said the youth programs are only one way the kitchen will be used. “Our next steps will be to discuss what else we can use the kitchen for,” he said.

For more information, visit the senior center’s website at https://www.westcountyservices.org/russian-river-senior-center/.