LifeChange, Rotary host African dinner event April 9 in Tigard
The LifeChange Center in Beaverton partnered with the Tigard Breakfast Rotary Club and the Harambee Centre to teach its residents about Kenyan culture and cooking and host a dinner on Saturday, April 9.
The LifeChange Center for Women and Children, one of two centers run by the local nonprofit Union Gospel Mission, is a faith-based, transitional recovery community. The center aims to help its residents "heal from past traumas" and "break free" of addiction, abuse and homelessness.
The Rotary Club partnered with LifeChange late last year to hold classes for resume writing and interviewing. The club's new project helps residents learn cooking skills and learn about African cultures.
Patty Frahler, vocational services chair with the Tigard Breakfast Rotary Club, has helped organize the coordination between Rotary and the event.
"This is turning out to be such a joy" working with LifeChange, Frahler said.
Twelve women and 11 children currently live at the LifeChange Center, and seven women are participating in the current program organized by Rotary and the Harambee Centre, which is a local nonprofit that educates people in the Pacific Northwest about Africa, organizes projects to help people in rural Eastern Africa, and works to connect the two regions.
Alicia Starr, who has lived at the Beaverton LifeChange Center with her 18-year-old daughter since 2020, completed the initial recovery program at the center and now lives and works there as an intern. She's been working closely with Frahler and Rotary for the ongoing project.
"We're learning how to cook and learning about the ladies over there in Kenya who are similar to our situation, that are moms that are needing assistance," Starr said.
The residents have also been working with Grace Kuto, president and co-founder of the Harambee Centre and a member of the Tigard Noon Rotary Club.
Kuto is originally from Chwele, a village in Kenya, and she has been teaching the residents traditional African recipes like chicken curry, black-eyed peas, rice pilau, sweet potatoes and other recipes from her home and from her cookbook, "Harambee! Stories and Recipes from the African Family Circle."
On Saturday, April 9, the LifeChange residents will showcase their new cooking skills and host a fundraiser dinner at the Tigard Community Friends Church. Tickets are limited, but some may be available at the door before the 5:30 p.m. event, Frahler said. People can also contact a Rotary member to purchase the $50 tickets beforehand.
To prepare for the dinner, LifeChange did a rehearsal on March 19.
"The girls loved it," Starr said. "The food was fantastic. I was nervous at first because I'm a picky eater, but that food — I was so happy to just get my hands on it. I had two plates full."
Proceeds from the dinner will support vocational service projects locally and internationally, Frahler said.
"This dinner is a local and global effort," Kuto said.
Other Rotary clubs in the region, including the Tigard Noon Club and White Salmon-Binjen Club, have donated money that will go toward vocational skill-building for teen mothers in East Africa through the ongoing international project called the Najijali Project, Kuto said.
In the end, she said, the collaborating Rotary clubs will raise $90,000 — and Rotary International will match it.
Women participating in the cooking class also learned about African culture and what women and mothers in Kenya do to cook and gather food and water.
"We don't have to go and look for water every day and travel miles to get wood to cook our meals every day before we even start prepping our meals. It's not an all-day job for us to do," Starr said.
Starr said learning about the challenges women in rural Kenya confront helped her and other women at LifeChange appreciate their circumstances more.
"We're able to be appreciative of what we do have right now," she said. "We don't have homes, but we're living in a shelter and we're coming off drugs and from abusive relationships. Sometimes, (LifeChange) was our last resort for hope."
As part of the Rotary Vocational Service project, women from the center and the Rotarians will produce a "Cook Booklet" including their favorite recipes and commentary about the experience. Kuto said the women who participated will also get a copy of her cookbook. Frahler is working on a surprise gift for the women, too.
The experience helped Starr gain more confidence in herself, she said, and it was helpful to be around Rotary members who wanted to help.
"There is this light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "These people want us to do better for ourselves, and we want better for ourselves as well."
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