NewsPay It Forward


Former Special Olympics athlete teaches cooking class for adults with intellectual disabilities

Kayla Cornell is the Pay it Forward Person of the Month
Pay it Forward Person of the Month - Kayla Cornell
Posted at 6:44 PM, Jul 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-30 09:45:29-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Life skills in the kitchen are often handed down as you grow up in your own home. One particular group, however, may have a harder time acquiring and learning the basics that can lead to independence.

One west Michigan woman is hoping to change that and it's why Kayla Cornell is the Pay it Forward Person of the Month brought to you by Lake Michigan Credit Union.

For the last four years, Cornell has volunteered her time teaching the cooking class. She goes over everything from health and nutrition to mindful eating and knife safety.

It's a seven-week course and while some of what she goes over with her students might seem like the basics, they're lessons her students may not have ever had.

Her course is tailored for adults with intellectual disabilities.

"There's not as much resources out there as there should be for education on them to be healthy, and things they need to look at to be healthy," Cornell explained. "So that's kind of why I started all this."

It's a passion project born out of her own life experience; it's one she shared alongside other Special Olympics athletes.

"I've gotten to know so many different athletes around the United States and around the world. And so meeting some of those athletes and talking about the struggles that they have, has made me really want to pursue even more to help them."

She's now pursuing a career in nutrition, going to school to become a dietitian.

Sara Galik works for Special Olympics Michigan and has helped Kayla with the classes along the way.

"She recognized the impact and just kind of ran with it and has continued to want to help other athletes get healthier, which is pretty cool," Galik said. "I'm super proud of her because I've watched her grow over the past four years, and become this amazing leader."

Spartannash helps provide the product by bringing in the fresh ingredients she needs for the classes.

"I think what she's doing out in the community is absolutely inspiring," said Amy McClellan, Chief Marketing Officer at SpartanNash. "She inspires us to pay it forward as well. And that's really the spirit of the partnership is helping her do great things out in the community."

What began as a class for 10-15 Special Olympics athletes four years ago has grown, now partnering with Georgetown Harmony Homes where she'll meet with 24 students several times over the year, to continuously build on skills.

It's the passion, the time, and care she's given to others that's earned Kayla the title of Fox 17's Pay it Forward Person of the Month.

"She deserves this. I'm glad that she's being recognized," Galik added. "She is one of the most driven people I've ever met. She has a ton of ambition and a ton of passion for what she does. But along that same note, she cares so deeply. And I think, again, that's a reason why this has been so successful is she has that compassion for others. She wants athletes to grow alongside her. And it's just this constant caring and supportive nature that she has."

As the Fox 17 and Lake Michigan Credit Union Pay it Forward Person of the Month, Kayla is receiving a $550 prize.

Kayla hopes to put the money toward continuing her cooking program and her own education in pursuit of becoming a dietitian.

Know someone who should be our next Pay It Forward Person of the Month? Nominate them here.

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