Program honors former leaderĀ at Louisiana School for Deaf director

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISThe Louisiana School for the Deaf and Visually Impaired held an opening ceremony Jan. 31 with instructor Jocelyn Stewart, left, conducting a tour of the kitchen area for Monita Hara's family members, from left, Ray Hara, Emily Hara, Rita Fiduccia and John Marable.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISThe Louisiana School for the Deaf and Visually Impaired held an opening ceremony Jan. 31 with instructor Jocelyn Stewart, left, conducting a tour of the kitchen area for Monita Hara's family members, from left, Ray Hara, Emily Hara, Rita Fiduccia and John Marable.

Monita Hara had a vision that the Louisiana School for the Deaf could offer students way more than just an education. It could offer them a chance at a career.

“She had a vision, I think, that was unmatched and unsurpassed,” said Kevin Lemoine, superintendent of Louisiana Special Schools. “She had a vision of a culinary class here.”

Now, 10 months after renovations began, the Dr. Monita G. Hara ProStart Kitchen opened on campus in honor of the school’s late director, who died in February after a battle with cancer.

“She gave so much back to the school, even in her last days,” Lemoine said. “She gave everything she had to this school.”

Nancy Benham, the current director of the school, said the gleaming new kitchen, with state-of-the-industry, commercial-grade appliances and demonstration and serving areas, offers students the opportunity to advance.

Monita Hara’s daughter, Emily Hara, is a chef at a New York City restaurant. She likens the profession to “playing basketball while dancing.” This program and this kitchen, she said, will empower the students to achieve.

“This program is their wings,” she said, later adding that her mother would be very pleased with the kitchen and with the students.

James Blanchard, the ProStart coordinator for the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said he was impressed with how far the school’s program had come in just a short time.

“Right out of the gate, we thought it was a fantastic opportunity to put our program in a quality school,” he said.

Blanchard later said there’s a lot of interest in hiring the students from the school, and that the school may begin competing in ProStart competitions, which come with the chance to win scholarship money, next year.

One of the program’s students is already set to attend the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in the fall. Jocelyn Stewart, one of the ProStart teachers, said Jalon Hall is the first graduate to go to culinary school, though Blanchard added that other students have been hired to work in various restaurants.

John Marable, Monita Hara’s nephew, is a ProStart instructor in Memphis, Tenn.

He said ProStart gives students a leg up and he encourages his students to, in turn, pay it back by giving another child hope.

“I can see that in this kitchen here,” he said, watching students and instructors prepare food for the crowd gathered for the dedication. “They want this.”

Pamela Ross, the transition coordinator in the school’s career and technical education department, saw something else. She saw Monita Hara.

“She’s here,” she said, hugging Marable in the middle of the kitchen. “She’s watching.”