LEWISTON — Kristen Little was not yet a cooking student at The Green Ladle when she started volunteering in their kitchen in the spring of 2020.
After the pandemic hit, students and staff at The Green Ladle stepped up to help prepare and deliver thousands of meals to community members who were confined at home for several months. But they needed more volunteers.
When Little’s brother Nathan, then a senior on the program, started going to The Green Ladle to help out, she went too.
“When I saw my brother going there, three, four days a week, I was like ‘oh Nathan, you just want to hang me out?’ she said “I just want to get out of the house, but then it became like I was coming here without Nathan and I just wanted to be involved, because what the chef (Dan Caron) does, it’s amazing.”
“She was there every day to help us cook to deliver food,” said instructor Caron.
Baking instructor Rebecca Levesque said Little, a senior at Lewiston High School, has spent hundreds of hours in the kitchen at The Green Ladle, volunteering to help others in need and signing up for help staff events.
So when culinary instructors were asked to nominate a student for the Lewiston Regional Technical Center Student of the Year, Levesque said they immediately thought of Little.
“It’s funny, I planned to appoint her for two years, just so you know,” said Caron, known to his students as simply “Chef.”
She was the first culinary student to achieve this recognition in at least nine years, he added. Each of the 20 LRTC programs nominated a student for the award.
“Anything she can do to give back to the community, she’s there,” Levesque said. “She just has such a wonderful personality. …He’s the person who really goes above and beyond. She is involved in every possible way.
Once nominated, Little was given a week to write an essay and compile a portfolio of activities, accomplishments and letters of recommendation.
Caron shared that one of the LRTC administrators told him that Little’s portfolio “was just amazing, there wasn’t a single misspelled word, everything was just amazingly done.”
This recognition comes with a $1,000 scholarship and invitation to a banquet held at The Green Ladle to celebrate the student of the year from each of Maine’s vocational technical schools.
As a sophomore, Little had originally enrolled in the LRTC law enforcement program, thinking she wanted to pursue a career in criminal justice.
“But after working with Chef and all of the teachers and really getting to know the program, I kind of got stuck in a good way,” Little explained.
When she applied to transfer to the culinary program a month before the start of the school year, the instructors found a place for her.
Although Little said she preferred the cooking side of the program, she spent a lot of time cooking and glazing this year in preparation for the SkillsUSA Maine competition in March. There, Little and two other students won gold in the wedding cake decorating contest.
Each team had four hours to assemble, frost and decorate their cakes.
“It goes by so fast,” Little said. “Really, you don’t even have as much time as you think. Because when you’re trying to keep up your pace so you don’t finish too soon, it’s easy to fall behind. Because four hours to make a wedding cake as perfect as possible is not a lot of time.
Working at the Green Ladle is “quite fast-paced, but at the same time, laid-back,” she said. “We all kind of become a family.”
On her first day on the two-year culinary program, Little fondly remembered when chef Dan Caron tossed half a dozen eggs into the kitchen.
“The leader was trying to encourage us not to be afraid of making a mess, not to be afraid of having accidents (or) spilling something,” she recalled, adding that most of the students were shocked.
The simple, fun atmosphere of The Green Ladle has made it a great place to learn, but it’s the emphasis on community service that Little says makes the program and instructors stand out.
To help fund the food delivery program in 2020, The Green Ladle purchased a food truck to sell food at events, Caron said. Even after the delivery program ends, profits are still set aside for community service initiatives.
On Christmas morning 2020, Caron and others prepared meals for the homeless. Little, who came with her brother, was the only student to help, according to Caron.
“She’s always that person I can count on when we have a big reception or when we open our food truck,” he said.
After graduating, Little aims to attend Urshan College in Missouri to study social services.
“The chef pushed me into customer service because I became more outgoing as the course progressed,” Little said.
“She’s a great cook, but when I needed someone to host or be friendly…that was the person I wanted to represent who we were,” Caron said.
In the future, she wants to work with children in need.
“I realized that I really like helping people (and) working with people,” she said.