WASHINGTON TWP. — Chris Roll of Washington Twp. combined her experience raising a son with developmental disabilities with her passion for cooking and nutrition to form Healthy Habits Cook Club in 2018.
In the years since, the organization has since exploded, teaching adults with developmental disabilities about nutrition and cooking and giving them a place to come together and be themselves.
Healthy Habits Cook Club serves adults with down syndrome, those on the autism spectrum, and individuals who have suffered traumatic brain injury. Others don’t have a diagnosis, but have been learning through special education since they were children. Regardless of background, all are welcome to gather and learn how to cook.
“It’s the most fun environment. It’s different from any other cooking program,” Roll said. “Ours isn’t about opening a box of mac and cheese. It’s cooking a meal from scratch, from start to finish. And they’re proud that they made it themselves.”
The emphasis is on healthy food, made in ways that are safe and work for them. Classes use safety knives, induction burners, and each student receives a cookbook with healthy multi-step recipes.
“Anyone that sees this and is involved with it, they just love it,” said Roll’s husband, Mark, who nominated her as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem. “It’s as much a social thing as a cooking thing. These guys just have a ball.”
Roll’s inspiration is her 24-year-old son, Pete, who has Down syndrome. Prior to her retirement, Roll worked with Early Intervention Services of Montgomery County, helping other families in similar situations to her own.
“When you’re told your child has a disability, you know there’s services out there, but it’s a very hard system to navigate. Being a parent who’s navigated those resources, I would help other parents do that.”