A Journey from Kitchen Classroom to College: Chris Underwood’s Path to Auburn University

Chris Underwood’s transition from Gadsden to Auburn is not your typical freshman journey. While most students follow a conventional educational path, Chris’s route to Auburn University was influenced by a distinctive setting—the kitchen. Thanks to a collaborative effort between Beautiful Rainbow Café and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Chris is now prepared to embark on his college experience as part of the Auburn EAGLES program.

The partnership between Beautiful Rainbow Cafe and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System began with a simple interaction. “The partnership we have with Beautiful Rainbow Cafe started a long time ago,” recalls Alabama Extension Agent, Christy Mendoza. Chip Rowan, a special education teacher, introduced the idea of extending education beyond school. “He told me about this nice idea of helping his students to go beyond once they graduate from high school,” shares Mendoza.

Beautiful Rainbow Cafe’s growth was organic, evolving over several years. “We began teaching throughout the summer over several years, and their program grew and grew until they became a beautiful Rainbow Cafe,” explains Rowan. The cafe’s mission went beyond culinary skills. “Teach them the skills they’ll need to get private community-based employment and to live more independently,” he emphasizes.

Chris’s culinary talents shone brightly within the cafe’s kitchen. “Chris started demonstrating that he would be following the recipe and then say, ‘Well, I think it might be better if we did this,’ and he would be right,” his mentor praises. Chris’s aspirations were not confined to the cafe’s walls. “He expressed interest in wanting to continue a culinary education,” his mentor Rowan recalls.

Chris’s aspirations led him to Auburn University’s EAGLES program. “We also found out about the excellent EAGLES program that is specifically for students with disabilities who can then take college courses in their area of interest,” Rowan explains. The program’s philosophy aligns with Chris’s vision of inclusion and active participation.

If you’d like to visit The Beautiful Rainbow Café it’s located in Gadsden and open Tuesday through Friday from 11AM to 1:30 PM.

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