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Student catering company: learning the business

A student-run catering company that has helped high school home economics students learn the nuts and bolts of a food management business has won a $5,000 college scholarship for 18-year-old Kathleen Kerrigan of Arvada, Colo.

At the beginning of her senior year, last September, Kathleen suggested the catering company as a fund-raising project for her school's Home Economics Related Occupations (HERO) chapter, which is affiliated with the Future Homemakers of America student organization.

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Applying their home economics knowledge and skills to a business venture, she argued, would equip them with experience they could well use as adults in the business world. Fellow members agreed and the Arvada West HERO Catering Company was launched, to serve community groups and organizations at very reasonable prices.

The students, using their high school's home economics department kitchens (with the approval of teachers and the school administration) have, over the past school year, catered weddings, private dinner parties, civic and church events, senior citizen get-togethers, and at least one hors d'oeuvres party for 700 guests.

For $3 per person, they cater an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast consisting of orange juice, hot beverage, scrambled eggs, and homemade cinnamon rolls.

Their full dinners range in price from a buffet arrangement at $6.50 to $9.50 for a complete sit-down affair. A dinner featuring Oriental breast of chicken is

Computers helped the students establish the prices they charge. Kathleen used one school computer and one family computer at home to record recipes and menus, cost breakdowns, work schedules, and company rules and regulations. ''Of course, we had no rent nor overhead, which helped keep costs down,'' she explains.

Kathleen, as overall company manager, supervised more than 50 other students (a third of them boys) in menu planning, food buying and preparation, and meal service to groups of over 20 (under 20, they soon discovered, was ''uneconomic''). They carried a full school schedule and still managed to work about 35 hours a week for the catering company.

''We weren't out to make big bucks,'' says Kathleen. ''The students grossed $ 20,000 this year on their project, and profits paid for food, salaries, and for student delegates to go to regional and national home economics conferences.''

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The award, given by program-sponsorer Chesebrough-Pond's Inc., also declared Kathleen the National Home Economics Student of the Year. She was cited ''for demonstrating home economics excellence and professionalism in creating and operating a catering service that provides her community with nutritious food and quality service.''

The award was established last year to honor students whose home economics projects benefit other individuals, schools, and communities.

''I love catering,'' Kathleen says, ''because it allows you to make a lot of people happy at one time. But it is a business in which you learn fast or you sink fast. I was so intense about this project that, believe me, I learned fast.''

She says she has been interested in cooking ever since she was big enough to pull a stool up to the kitchen counter and help her mother peel vegetables. She thinks her greatest skill may be garniture, or making food look beautiful and appealing.

''In the seventh grade,'' she remembers, ''home-ec classes didn't make much sense to me. But I learned later that these home-ec skills serve universal needs and that their career potential is enormous. After all, everyone has to eat, drink, and have a place to stay.''

That is why she says she is going to major in college in food service or what she prefers to call ''hospitality services,'' because some day she would like to own and run her own hotel.

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