Directions_Bridge_th.gifBefore 18-year-old Alex came to The Bridge-a PHMC affiliate that provides both long- and short-term residential programs for up to 35 adolescent males and outpatient counseling for children, adolescents and adults-he hardly knew anything about cooking. "The most I did," he recalls, "is put something in the microwave. Cooking was something only my parents did!" Now, as head cook at The Bridge for the past few months, and one of five boys working in The Bridge kitchen, Alex is learning much more than cooking-he's learning the essentials of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I like making what I want to eat for myself; I feel like I accomplished something.

"We serve about 200 meals a day," says Dave Farris, director of operations at The Bridge for the past 18 years. "The boys prepare all of them under the direction of myself and Ms. Herder." Matilda Herder, "Mom Peaches" as she is affectionately called by the boys, has been working at The Bridge for the past 20 years and currently supervises the boys in the kitchen. "We don't fry any food," says Herder. "We teach the boys as much about healthy cooking as we can." Farris, whose background includes extensive restaurant experience, prepares menus with consideration to the United States Department of Agriculture's nutritional guidelines. "We use olive oil in our cooking and very little butter, we steam vegetables, and we bake everything-fish, vegetables, you name it. We also did away with sugary pastries and donuts," says Farris.

Alex has learned a lot about nutrition since coming to The Bridge. "Every balanced meal has to include something healthy, like fresh fruit," he says. He's observed his peers showing a similar interest in nutrition. "I've seen a lot of boys start to eat salads and fresh fruits for the first time. For some of them, it's the first time they've eaten three meals a day. They've noticed [they have] an increase in energy."

The Bridge hopes that these experiences in the kitchen and similar initiatives will give the boys as much vocational experience as possible. Its seven-year partnership with Bucks County Technical High School helps serve that goal. It allows seven boys, including all those currently working in the kitchen, the opportunity to attend culinary classes twice weekly. "We teach them all the fundamentals of working in a commercial kitchen," says Farris. "Many of our boys have enjoyed the experience so much, they've gone on to pursue careers and education in cuisine." Alex may be one of those. He is applying for an internship at Community College of Philadelphia that would allow him to cook during the day and study culinary arts in the evening. "I love cooking," Alex says. "I like making what I want to eat for myself; I feel like I accomplished something."