Shari Jones is a bright young lady with a good head on her shoulders and a passion for giving back to young children in her community. She is committed to her two young girls, and making sure they get their needs met, which motivates her to help other young girls in her community have the same opportunity. Kids seem to be drawn to her warm smile and welcoming demeanor. Raised in South Central, Los Angeles, by a hard-working single mother, Shari had to learn how to take care of herself at an early age. As a result, she turned to cooking and baking as a way to cope with the growing pains of life.
I met Shari at Lou Dantzler Elementary School 3 or 4 years ago, where both our daughters attended school and had become best friends. Whenever I would run into Shari picking up our kids, or attending a parent meeting, we would smile and have some friendly conversation. Then we discovered we both attended the same church, and after I learned she had a baking business, Sugar Spoon Sweets, I would always mention that we should connect and partner on some community events. Year after year we said we would meet, but we never got together. Last year we finally got to talk about our businesses, and I was able to share with her the work Foster & Banks Walk in Faith Foundation was doing. I discovered Shari had a passion for helping kids, and she told me she wanted to create a youth program where she wanted to mentor students through teaching kitchen etiquette and simple cooking skills. She told me that she and her kids had started eating heathier and she was learning more about the benefits of a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle, and wanted to educate other kids and introduce some healthier options to help combat the high obesity rates in African American, low income communities.
In 2015, I formed a partnership with Grantee Kehli Berry and 1Shine Youth & Community Services, and was invited to help operate their summer camp in Long Beach. I spoke to Shari about the opportunity, and she and Kehli and I had a meeting and decided to work together over the summer to help support youth with access to quality, low cost programs. That’s when Made with a Dash of Love Always was born, Shari’s gift to the world. Her mentoring program is based in a kitchen setting, and she teaches not only the fundamentals of meal preparations, but simultaneously uses active listening and confidence building activities to help mentor young minds through learning about healthy, plant based food options.
As a kid, no one taught Shari the importance of healthy eating, and she didn’t learn until she was an adult about the benefits of plant based versus animal based diet. Armed with this new knowledge, Shari started to change her eating habits, and vowed to help teach kids, teens and adults the importance of preparing vegan, healthy, organic meals along with basic kitchen fundamentals and the importance of healthy eating. Her work addresses the need for a healthy alternative to overall wellness for low income families in inner city Los Angeles, and she wants to show youth throughout LA County that they have options when it’s comes to food.
Shari’s summer program was a success, and I encouraged her to continue her program, and to apply for a TPP seed grant to help support her work. This past school year, Shari and volunteers worked with 30 elementary school aged youth through our partnership, and she was able to form sustainable relationships with local food programs to get fresh fruits and vegetables donated to help give youth healthy alternatives, and currently, bringing the first program of her kind to Lou Dantzler and Budlong Elementary School.
In everything she does, Shari does it with care, she stands behind her word and holds herself with the highest integrity. This school year, I can say that her project made a difference, and I saw the joy on student’s faces as they learned all about apples, their nutritional values, and the different ways the fruit can be transformed to help create tasty, healthy snacks. Students were introduced to produce and foods they had never tasted, and with each step, and each slice, Shari made sure everything was Made with a Dash of Love Always!
“Being able to create a healthy, vegan meal for yourself and your family is one of those priceless gifts that not only feeds your stomach, but help to sooth your mind, body and spirit.”
– Shari Jones