Reflections on 10 Years of The Sylvia Center

We are celebrating the 10th year anniversary for The Sylvia Center, a non-profit I dreamt of at a difficult and dark moment in my life. For the most part, I am never interested in looking back to reflect on a successful journey or achievement. I am all about looking forward and concentrating on the job ahead. It sounds stoic, but it is not. I live for the future and am energized by the prospect of building, not reflection. 

For this milestone and for the first time in a very long time, I have paused to look back and marvel at the birth of a vibrant and thriving organization, created in a time of brokenness and despair. I am amazed at the strength of this small but mighty organization that has interacted with over 20,000 kids. That a lot of “seeds” we have planted and happily, we are seeing a positive impact in the lives of our young culinary adventurers.

Life is difficult but in its flow, there is healing. We don’t go on, but if we are lucky, we live on. If we are lucky, we find meaning.  We find fellow travelers and continue this unpredictable journey.

The following is a short piece written by my fellow Sylvia Center board member, Howard Pulchin. Please read on.

Ten Years of Doing

Originally published on LinkedIn by Howard Pulchin, Global Creative Director at APCO Worldwide

During this past year, we've marched, protested, posted, contributed, complained, consoled and dreamed. A common question that many of my friends have asked is "what can they do." I have posed this question many times myself, as a sort of hopelessness took over. How do I make a difference? How can I make a difference? Ultimately, what will I do?

When I was asked to join the board of The Sylvia Center, an organization founded by my good friend Liz Neumark, I jumped at the chance. The Sylvia Center focuses on teaching young people, in underserved communities, how to cook. Its programs are designed as joyful, hands-on experiences with fresh, delicious and whole foods to inspire students to establish healthy cooking and eating habits to last a lifetime. 

Ultimately, the work of The Sylvia Center is about instilling confidence and creating possibilities. 

This week, at our annual Art of Cooking dinner in New York, our students, staff, supporters, friends, family and board will come together to pause and celebrate the impact we've made in our first decade.  And as importantly, it's a moment we will share together to prepare for our next. 

I asked Liz to describe the origins of the idea she had a decade ago and what she aspires for in the future. Here is what she said:

“The idea behind the Sylvia Center was to create joyful and magical moments for children around food.  They learn by doing, and by engaging in preparing food, little doors would open.  I know what happened when I was in the kitchen with my grandmothers and with my kids.  Deep connections are made and we remember those moments and lessons. I knew we could do this with our students.

I keep at it because there is nothing like the experience of being in a community center kitchen with a dozen kids after school.  They are sassy, smart, funny and engaged.  I always learn something new from them.  And I am able to share in ways that are so rewarding.  Every once in a while, I step back and say ‘Hey, I was a part of building this,’ and it feels awesome.  This really means something to me and to them.

The next ten years?  This is a timeless activity, so we will keep on teaching more kids and families.  And with time, we can watch the trajectory of our kids and learn how to improve our lessons, adjust our collaborations, reach different pockets of youth.  It would be something to join in a national dialogue about experience based culinary learning; share best practices, connect our kids to career paths in food if they are interested, delve into the connection between healthy eating and public health.  

Ten years will be filled with more meaningful ‘aha’ moments and I want to savor them in that quiet yet powerful connection we make around the prep table, cutting boards ready, knives poised, eyes open wide.”

The story of The Sylvia Center is one that started by one person inspired by her daughter.  And it is also about determination and confidence, the ability to see an idea through and an invitation for others to join, all done with an absence of bravado.  

It isn’t about talking.  It truly is about doing. 

It is about doing better for others, with others. 

It is about helping others do better for themselves and the people who mean the most to them. 

It is about creating new possibilities.  Especially when doors seemed closed. 

Being a part of The Sylvia Center has personally been a great opportunity for me during these troubled times.   Our work is purposeful, meaningful and useful. 

Sharing in the preparation of food and coming together around the table is more than just eating healthy foods. It is about opening our eyes, minds and hearts to others. It is about sharing parts of selves and our different perspectives. It is about family, friends and community.  It was a salve and solution to what we are experiencing today. 

Our impact comes from ten years of doing.  I can’t wait to see what we will do in the next ten years.   And beyond that, I hope to hone my cooking skills; Joey will be happy. 

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