Cooking up a collaborative dish at Alex’s Place

Tim Connelly, IGS program manager, introduces the teens to making their own vegetable sushi. — Lynn Christoffers

“Laughter is brightest in the place where food is.” –Irish proverb

At a time when the microwave is arguably the most used kitchen appliance, Island Grown Schools and the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard are giving the lie to the myth that teens don’t cook.

Last Wednesday, a dozen juniors and seniors from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School crossed the street after school to crowd into the kitchen at Alex’s Place Teen Center at the YMCA to cook with IGS program manager Tim Connelly.

Ryan Schwab-Doyon, Alex’s Place director, stressed the importance of collaborations to the Y’s mission of strengthening the Island community.

“Based on the interests of our teens, we have wanted to provide a cooking program at Alex’s Place for a while. By reaching out to Island Grown Schools, well-known for providing support to kids with healthy food, it seemed like a perfect match,” Schwab-Doyon said. He also explained that the YMCA has an ongoing partnership with Island Grown Schools.

“This collaboration with IGS has made this idea come true in a sustainable way that expands the missions of both organizations. Alex’s Place was created through the efforts of the Alexandra Gagnon Foundation as a part of the Y’s mission to provide safe, enlightening, educational, and entertaining experiences for teens,” Schwab-Doyon said. “This cooking program checks all the boxes. The teens who have participated love the ability to cook and learn different aspects of healthy eating. We can’t wait to continue this program with IGS this winter.”

On the menu that day was made-from-scratch vegetable sushi — immediately dubbed “Japanese burritos” by the participants. Under the direction of Connelly, co-organizer of the event, the teens pitched in. Jhason Miranda took charge of boiling the sushi rice, dousing it with Japanese vinegar at the proper time. Other teens cut and blanched carrots, sliced cucumber and ripe avocados just so, before assembling the ingredients on pieces of nori seaweed placed atop wax paper cut to exactly the size of the bamboo rolling mat — all ready to roll into delicious edible sushi once a few sesame seeds had been added.

Roll away they did, initially under the direction of veteran sushi maker Annabelle Thomas, who had learned from her mother how to create sushi as well to bake cakes and create homemade caramels, which were recently distributed as favors at her mother’s wedding. 

Throughout the creation of the sushi, Connelly coached the team on proper kitchen protocol; wash dishes as you go instead of piling them up, and compost. 

Connelly said he sees these afternoon drop-in cooking sessions as expanding IGS’s already wide mission to create a resilient food system on Martha’s Vineyard by targeting a new group of students.

“Right now we’re starting with once a month, but we’re also skipping December due to scheduling,” Connelly said. “We’d like to get to a point next year where we can offer the program every other week or twice a month, if it continues to be successful and sustainable. From Island Grown’s perspective, I’d say our main goal is simply to empower students to cook for themselves, both as a way to learn an important and fun life skill and to eat healthy.”

Staff at IGS lead over 1,000 lessons each year through in-classroom learning, local farm field trips, and through the 15 school gardens IGS maintains throughout the year. 

Alex’s Place of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard is free to all Island teens thanks to annual donations, providing support to over 250 teens annually through the drop-in center, music, art and digital programs, collaborations, social-emotional support, teen leaders clubs and more.

For more information about the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard Alex’s Place, visit

For more information about Island Grown Schools, visit