An Aspiring Chef's Journey

Sailuh, one of our amazing On the Road youth, said she had always enjoyed extracurricular activities in elementary school and getting the chance to learn more after the school bells rings. But when she first entered middle school, she wasn’t sure how she’d spend her afternoons. 

Luckily, when she first became a student at Skyline Middle, a friend told her about On the Road— a new kind of afterschool program that had just been launched— and she decided to get involved. 

Five years and 10 semesters later, Sailuh is now a junior at Harrisonburg High School and has been with us since almost the beginning. 

Sailuh said that when she first walked into our program as a sixth grader, she immediately noticed the culture of On the Road. 

“The teachers and the students … everything just came together. It was awesome,” Sailuh remembered, adding that it’s something that has remained true throughout the years. 

“[On the Road] creates a bond and lets you know you’re safe and you can have fun, even when you’re learning,” she said. “And you’ll … create bonds with people who you don’t know. It’s a journey for us to grow.”

Sailuh said some of her favorite memories are of the field trips we’ve gone on over the years, which often included pizza parties and trips to community favorites like Funky’s Skate Center. 

But while those are the fun moments that stand out, Sailuh said her favorite part of On the Road has been the Career Enrichment Courses—which she’s taken quite a few of throughout the years, including Game Changers, Fly Fishing, Veterinarian, and more. 

“Honestly [these courses are] really life changing,” Sailuh said. “It’s crazy how you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s not going to be much.’ But once you’re in it, you’re like, ‘Wow.’ Other people are missing out.” 

Sailuh during a Career Enrichment Course in 2019.

Sailuh said the depth of information she’s received from the courses has allowed her to explore various professional paths to potentially pursue after high school graduation. 

“At first, I’ve always been switching, like I wanted to do softball and then I wanted to do Marine Biology and then all this other … stuff,” Sailuh remembers.

But her exploration eventually led her to her true passion: Cooking. 

“Once I got to Emerging chefs, I just thought about it more and then I just started liking cooking more,” Sailuh explained, “So ever since then, I just kept on, kept on, kept on, and then I was like, ‘Hey, maybe I want to do this more since I keep doing it every year.”

Sailuh has not only kept coming back to Emerging Chefs every year since sixth grade, but she’s also returned to the middle school classroom to help teach our current middle schoolers the skills she’s gained over the years. 

Kristi Van Sickle, our Emerging Chefs Coordinator, said it’s been amazing witnessing Sailuh’s journey over the years. 

“Over the past six years, it has been awesome to not only see Sailuh grow as a chef but also as a person, watching her confidence grow and leadership emerge,” Kristi said. “Sailuh is very confident with her cooking skills in the kitchen.  She loves to try new things, has a lot of knowledge about dishes from all over the world and is great at adapting and improvising recipes, and through knowing depths of flavor, what could take a dish to the next level.”  

Sailuh during Emerging Chefs while at Skyline Middle School.

Kerry Morgan, our High School Program Coordinator, agrees. 

“Sailuh was one of the first students I got to know through On The Road and I’ve watched her grow so much,” Kerry said, “Even in just the past few years, she’s taken up the mantle of a student-leader in class. She has grown so capable and confident with her cooking skills and has found a path she is passionate about.”

Sailuh said Emerging Chefs, along with the Culinary Arts curriculum she completed at Massanutten Technical Center, has helped her continue exploring her passion and feel confident in her next chapter. 

And now that she’s in 11th grade, she’s starting to think more seriously about what those next steps will be. 

Luckily, she says, she’s found support from the On the Road team as she begins planning for life after high school. 

“Since I went to [Emerging Chefs], there’s people … who will help me out,” Sailuh explained. “I’ll ask them about colleges and where I should go. So, I’ve been leaning on them to ask for help.”

“And then I’ll reflect off of [what they say] and write it down somewhere and look at it myself … and see if it’s somewhere I do want to go,” Sailuh added. 

Sailuh during an Emerging Chefs Course at Skyline Middle School. 

Currently, Sailuh said she’s most excited about the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University. 

But no matter where she decides to go, Sailuh said On the Road has really helped her believe in herself. 

“What I’ve learned from On the Road is that you can’t just depend on others. You have to depend on yourself,” Sailuh explained.

“Yes, everyone there is going to be for you, but you have to be there for yourself first. Because if you don’t, if you’re not in there for yourself, what are you going to do? You can’t just sit there and depend on others. If you don’t depend on yourself first, it doesn’t add up.”

This kind of realization is exactly what we hope for our youth: Because while spending time with them and helping them grow is the thing we love most, what we truly hope for them is that they leave us at the end of their high-school career feeling empowered to make their own decisions and go after their biggest goals. 

Sailuh said the various ways we support our youth— including through our Career Enrichments Courses, our middle and high school Academies, and the daily homework support— has made her feel prepared for college while also fostering the relationships that have made a difference in her life.  

Sailuh during a Career Enrichment Course in 2019.

 “[The Youth Leaders} create a bond with all of [us]. And they’ll make sure you know each other, too” Sailuh said, mentioning how important our relationship-centered culture has been from the beginning. 

“[The Youth Leaders are] always hands-on … and they’ll stay there and try to help you as much as they can, because they’re not just going to sit there and give up on you. They’re like, ‘Oh, well we’re going to get this done. I’m gonna help you,’” Sailuh said, referring to the afternoons she’s spent working on homework with her Youth Leaders.  

“They’re just there for you,” she added. 

Reflecting on the past year and the shift we had to make due to COVID-19, Sailuh said things have certainly been different but she has continued to feel supported and has enjoyed getting to cook from home with our Emerging Chefs virtual program, where we deliver groceries to our youth’s homes and virtually cook a new recipe over Zoom each week.  

“It’s different, “ Sailuh said of not being in the classroom, “But we go step-by-step and, you know, go slow .. so [the teachers] can help you. And then after we’re done,  we’ll all taste [what we made] together.”

Sailuh said, Emerging Chefs has encouraged her to explore new foods and fresh, organic recipes, like the Beet Hummus they made last semester, which ended up being one of her favorites. 

““Most of the things we tried there, I wouldn’t have tried on my own,” she explained. But through the experiences we offer, she’s gotten to explore food from all of the world and expand her skills. 

And there’s one food she absolutely fell in love with. 

“Sushi: That’s one hundred percent my top one favorite food,” Sailuh said, reflecting on the time they made a salmon sushi roll. 

As she continues practicing her skills, both inside and outside the classroom, and exploring new recipes, Sailuh said she’s excited about where this all may lead.

“For the future, I want to do culinary, of course. That’s like my main thing. But I want to get a business degree so I can make my own business,” Sailuh said. 

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”