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Food expert teaches kitchen skills in Timonium to adults with developmental challenges

When Bruce Reinke , 59 , graduated from high school in Wisconsin, he expected to do trade work all of his life. But he took a different path that ultimately led him to the Baltimore area, where he now teaches basic kitchen skills to adults who have developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Reinke is food service director at the Culinary Services Group , which provides food and beverage services to hospitals and senior living and behavioral health centers. The group serves food to hundreds of people at the Catholic Charities’ Timonium campus, according to the culinary group’s news release.

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Reinke and the culinary group earned the 2020 Baltimore County Commission for Disabilities Employer of the Year Award for their work at Catholic Charities. The award came after he and another agency, Gallagher Services, created a vocational training program for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Through the training program, Reinke has mentored 10 students, often providing one-on-one support to those who need it.

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“There is a great sense of worth, purpose and responsibility doing this work because you get to let people know that they are valued,” Reinke said.

Catholic Charities, which works with vulnerable populations, has 80 different programs in the Baltimore region, including the one at Timonium. Gallagher Services operates 46 homes and also provides day programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The kitchen vocational training program at Catholic Charities, started in 2017, is a joint effort.

“We said ‘Hey, there are folks who could really benefit form learning [kitchen] skills’ ,” Reinke said. “And so we created a curriculum that included both classroom time and hands-on activities.”

Helping students learn their way around a kitchen is not where Reinke expected to be. His first job was at a manufacturing company in Milwaukee. He says back then he felt like something was missing. He discovered what was missing one day while enjoying a meal in a small pub near his home.

He says he noticed the sounds from the kitchen — the clanking of pots and pans — and smells of food cooking. He liked what he heard and smelled. He eventually landed a job at the pub and was inspired to go onto culinary school a few years after.

“And I never left the kitchen after that,” Reinke said.

His years of kitchen experience are benefiting the participants in the training program. Over the course of six to nine months, participants get two hours each day of classroom time to learn customer service and similar skills.They also spend four hours daily learning important kitchen techniques, such as washing dishes and stocking pantry items.

When Catholic Charities nominated Reinke for the county commission award, the agency wrote he “intuitively embraces the philosophy that people with intellectual disabilities can work and that he along with the Culinary Services Group understand and embrace the principals of job customization.”

Bruce Reinke, left, a head chef at Culinary Services Group in Timonium, stands with his mentee, Shawn Haney.
Bruce Reinke, left, a head chef at Culinary Services Group in Timonium, stands with his mentee, Shawn Haney. (handout)

One student, Shawn Haney, whom Reinke mentored, impressed those running the program with his persistent work ethic, Reinke said. As a result, the team created a part-time position in the Catholic Charities kitchen for Haney.

Haney, 43, who lives at a Gallagher residence, packages meals for delivery and stocks inventory.

“I like working with Bruce — he can be a tough cookie,” Haney said. “I may be working on one thing and then he’ll pull me away to do something else.”

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Reinke says no matter what challenges someone faces, participants are still held to the same standard as everyone else.

“We all have our own challenges but we still all have something to contribute,” Reinke said. “Shawn is terrific to work with. He works with us four and a half hours a day five days a week.”

Reinke finds ways to connect with Haney outside of work. They often talk to make sure everything is going all right and Reinke will offer Haney a ride home to Baltimore or offer to change his schedule if there are issues with public transit.

And though Reinke was the one recognized for his work, he says he is not alone in what he does.

“I work with a team of nine others,” Reinke said.”We have ups together and we have downs together and together we achieve a great deal.”

Tatyana Turner is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers Black life and culture. Follow her @tatyanacturner

This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor, Sundra Hominik at shominik@baltsun.com.

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