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A Kitchen Showdown at JPII

by John Paul II Center for Special Learning

May 14, 2019

Team Berkhammer vs. Team Chef Tim

John Paul II Center for Special Learning will be holding its annual Volunteer Luncheon on May 15 at 12:30 p.m. to recognize their hardworking and dedicated volunteers. This year’s lunch, however, will come with a twist: Two teams of students will square off in an Iron Chef competition led by JPII’s Secondary Life Skills Teacher Rene Berkhammer and Render’s Markets Director of Food Service Chef Tim Twiford (long-time supporter of JPII).

John Paul II Center values the hard work and dedication of their volunteers and so each year treats them to a luncheon prepared at school by students, adults, and staff. Because the Center is equipped with a learning kitchen, the day also doubles as a chance to educate JPII individuals on prepping food, cooking, serving, and washing dishes; all of which are real world skills they can take with them after graduation. And who better to learn from than Rene and Chef Tim?

As for the competition, volunteers will be treated to three courses from each of the two teams: Appetizer, main course, and dessert. Rene and Chef Tim will lead their teams through the prep work and cooking of each course to deliver final dishes (served by students and adults) to the volunteers who will then vote on their favorites. Each head chef will be able to plan their dishes ahead of time and use available (and fresh!) ingredients from JPII’s learning garden. In the end, only one team will be crowned Iron Chef(s).

Let’s meet our contenders:

Rene Berkhammer (Secondary Life Skills Teacher)

Growing up in Northeast Philly, Rene’s mother taught her the importance of cooking and their heritage, which would later inspire her own cooking, especially around the holidays (she loves cooking traditional Polish-German holiday dishes).

At age 13, she started working at an upscale retirement home called Normandy Farms Estate, where she started as a server and worked her way onto the line. While her Head Chef Obadiah Brown taught Rene everything she needed to know about cooking in a professional kitchen, she slowly worked her way through various positions; everything from Breakfast Cook to Medical Chef.

After graduating high school, Rene headed off to college at West Chester University, where she graduated with her Bachelor’s of Science in Special Education. Later, she attended Alvernia University where she earned her Reading Specialist, Urban Education, and Elementary Education certifications.

In 2006, Rene started teaching at John Paul II Center where she later combined her passion for teaching and love for cooking by helping to design and run JPII’s learning kitchen. While in the kitchen, she teaches students the all-important cooking skills they need to be successful and independent outside of school and after graduation. Rene likes to plan and cook simple, healthy, home-style meals for the school four days a week.

Chef Tim (Render’s Director of Food Service)

As a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Tim Twiford has made a name for himself within Berks County at various locations including Crowne Plaza and currently as the Director of Food Service for Redner’s Markets. In his new role, he goes hands-on with menu development in order to develop and implement all prepared food services within the Redner’s organization, including their Warehouse Markets and Quick Shoppes.

When it comes to Chef Tim and Berks County, not only does he call it home, but he has been serving the community for 35 years, helping organizations such as John Paul II Center, The Hope Rescue Mission, Olivet Boys and Girls Club, Prospectus Berco, and Blankets of Hope. For the past two years, he and Redner’s have teamed up to donate culinary experiences for John Paul II Center’s annual Legacy Gala. These experiences included an entire six-course dinner for 10 (food donated by Redner’s) as prepared by Chef Tim with the help of JPII students and adults. Not only did the proceeds of each dinner go toward funding JPII’s mission, but Chef Tim was able to work with and mentor students throughout each experience.

Everyone has a purpose in life. As a values-based organization, John Paul II Center for Special Learning encourages children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to explore their purpose and reach for goals through unique special education and social programming.

Students ages three to 21 are able to learn and grow throughout our School-Age Program, with the later years focusing on transition and life skills.

We know stability and continuity are important to those with special needs, so we’ve made transition as seamless as possible.

After graduation, students may have the option to move directly to our 21+ Adult Program, giving them the opportunity to continue developing skills while making individual needs a priority.

Like everyone else, people with disabilities have the capacity to make significant contributions to the community and to the world by utilizing their God-given talents. We’re here to help them along the way.

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