For Selina Raymundo-Perez being back at Buchanan Elementary is always a good thing. She is a Buchanan graduate, and now her kids are at her alma mater.

Being back for Abriendo Puertas (or Opening Doors) makes her return to Buchanan even better.

And on this day, the chance to do a little cooking – and get a recipe and some ingredients to make at home with her family – is the icing on the cake – or maybe the sôs on the pollo.

The cooking is the result of a new connection between Abriendo Puertas and a GRPS program called Taste Buddies.

Karrie Roy, the GRPS English Learner/Refugee Parent Community Liaison, started the former last semester at Sibley Elementary and then brought it this semester to Buchanan.

Taste Buddies, meanwhile, is an initiative of the GRPS Family & Community Engagement Department which supports parents, guardians, and community stakeholders by building a cooperative link between home, school, and the community with a goal of removing barriers that impede scholar growth and success.

Katie Joseph, GRPS Family & Community Engagement Coordinator, began Taste Buddies with her supervisor, Jamie Masco, during the pandemic as a virtual activity, a time to maintain connections with district families when in-person contact had stopped.

It went so well that Joseph and Masco jumped at the opportunity to get Taste Buddies connected to Roy and her work with Abriendo Puertas.

“Our goal when partnering with the (Abriendo Puertas) initiative was to launch FACE’s first-ever Spanish language Taste Buddies family cooking class,” Joseph said with a broad smile. “And we aimed to provide a nutritional and culturally responsive cooking class for Buchanan Elementary’s Abriendo Puertas cohort.”

Joseph added that because session four of Abriendo Puertas’ curriculum teaches participants about the importance of balanced nutrition – and helps Abriendo Puertas participants to better promote healthy habits in their home – it was a natural for Taste Buddies which also promotes family togetherness and healthy eating.

Roy said she was hopeful when she and Joseph joined forces that an even more meaningful experience could be created for GRPS parents and caregivers. And she was thrilled when the chance came around to integrate the Taste Buddies program with session four.

“Discussing healthy habits in the kitchen, giving the parents their own ingredients to cook the same meal at home with their children, honoring the ritual of cooking and eating together, these are all great things,” Roy said.

Roy also is gathering recipes from her Buchanan cohort, along with their stories about why the recipes are special to them. And she is asking members of the Buchanan administration to submit their recipes with the plan being to create an Abriendo Puertas-Buchanan Family Cookbook. 

“We will incorporate pictures of the families cooking together too,” Roy said. “We hope to get a least 20 recipes to start, and we will distribute the printed cookbooks as part of our graduation celebration in March.”

Abriendo Puertas participant Sofia Garcia moved to Grand Rapids recently from Holland and said she was excited about the cookbook but even more excited about making the meal that night with her family.

“It saves me a trip to the grocery store,” she said laughing. “And it makes it easy for me to figure out what we’re eating tonight. Plus, it’s something new.”

Also new, for Garcia and Raymundo-Perez and the other eight participants in the Buchanan cohort, is the chance to meet and learn from each other.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom, but this helps me get to know others,” Raymundo-Perez said. “And I’m learning a lot of really helpful things from what Karrie is teaching us and from each other too.”

Roy beams when she hears that kind of feedback.

“One of the goals with this program is to continue to build community at the school sites,” she said. “Many of our Buchanan parents are just getting to know one another for the first time. It’s been great to see them bond over a lot of shared parenting experiences and reflect on how they were raised by their parents.”

One mom, she added, recently arrived in the U.S. from Mexico and was grateful to be welcomed into Abriendo Puertas as the emigration has been overwhelming for her and her family. 

Garcia agreed.

“Getting to learn some things and apply these ideas to real life is important,” she said. “But getting to know everyone here and making connections is important too. I’m really grateful for this program.”