“Cooking is an art, but all art requires knowing something about the techniques and materials.” – Nathan Myhrvold
Initially, the Ryan Wells Foundation was created for the sole purpose of awarding scholarships to students. As our knowledge of the Pinellas County school programs grew, so did our wishes to see their continued success, knowing that education is the foundation where dreams are built. Improving the academic learning of not just a handful of students, but hundreds of students while encouraging the importance of philanthropy and community aligns with our mission and vision.
Our efforts to support education at the high school level naturally gravitated to the Jacobson Culinary Arts Academy at Tarpon Spring High School where Ryan’s dreams originated. A donation of $90,000 was made in 2007 to build the Ryan Wells teaching kitchen, a 2,500 square foot, state-of-the-art kitchen, contributing to the academy’s recognition of one of the top high school facilities in the nation. Over the years we expanded our efforts to include Dixie Hollins High School, Northeast High School, Osceola Fundamental High School and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg campus of Pinellas Technical College. These 6 programs account for over 800 students each year.
School donations currently represent 25-35% of the Ryan Wells Foundation annual giving. Annual donations vary from $1,500 to $5,000 per year per school. To-date, we have distributed over $300,000 amongst the 6 programs. Funds purchase educational necessities including food, equipment, and basic kitchen supplies and allow students to participate in local, state, and national competitions. Chef Christy Rabich of Dixie Hollins High School comments that “without the funding from the Ryan Wells Foundation, my students would not be able to cook as much as they do.” A survey conducted in 2013 concluded that the costs to run each high school culinary program on an annual basis ranged from $12,000 to more than $40,000. The variance in these numbers is mostly explained by participation in cooking competitions which are very costly for the programs, yet very educational for the students.
In addition to providing funding for these programs, we actively seek out opportunities for the students to apply what they have learned in the classroom by volunteering at special events throughout the community.