Clemson Extension helps Ivy Prince create a cooking curriculum for youth with disabilities.

Photography by Ashley Jones | Illustrations by Emily Reynolds ’24

It was unseasonably warm in Columbia — though longtime South Carolinians would say there’s no such thing in the state’s capital — and the sky was brilliantly blue, but the prominent color on the State House steps this particular spring morning was green with a hint of orange.

More than 450 youth and supporters from across the state had gathered for 4-H Legislative Day. Most were already seated by the time Ivy Prince and her mom, Jennifer, scurried up the path between the Wade Hampton and L. Marion Gressette buildings to reach their seats alongside the rest.

The 17-year-old was wearing a bright green blazer in the signature hue of 4-H, America’s largest youth development organization that is delivered in all 50 states through Cooperative Extension — a network of land-grant universities tasked by Congress with bringing their research and resources to the people of their states over a century ago.

That was the reason for the green. Legislative Day gives young South Carolinians, all garbed in the same shade as Ivy, an opportunity to share their personal 4-H stories and discuss the benefits of Clemson University Cooperative Extension programming with lawmakers.

And that was the reason for the orange.

As for Ivy, the homeschooler from Horry County looked the picture of professionalism and maturity — as 11th-graders go — with red lipstick to match her hair and, as usual, a warm smile and eye contact for anyone she met. 

Ivy was running a little behind for the Legislative Day ceremony and looked the slightest bit flustered, which isn’t typical for her. But she had good reason: It had been a very busy morning. 

“She has been talking to the first lady (Peggy McMaster) about Cooking Capable,” Jennifer said with a smile that befits a mom whose teenage daughter just had an audience at the Governor’s Mansion.

Cooking Capable is a series of workshops geared toward teaching young people with disabilities to prepare simple, affordable, nutritious and delicious meals. It is both Ivy’s passion project and brainchild, an idea sparked on a journey that began with the South Carolina 4-H Healthy Habits Summit in the same city barely a year earlier. 

Since then, Ivy has not only brought her spark of inspiration to fruition but also made plans and secured funding for its future.

So, while it had been a busy morning for Ivy, the truth is it had been a busy year.

A Dash of Love

For Ivy, Cooking Capable was never about talking to legislators or first ladies; it started for people like her siblings. Her older sister, Gray, is on the autism spectrum, while little sister Lillie, 2, has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Her brother, Jerome, or “JP,” has learning disabilities.

“Gray is definitely an inspiration with the project,” Ivy said. “She’s one of my favorite people to cook with. And my little sister, Lillie, as she gets older, I want her to feel that she’s included and feel that she’s also as capable as anybody else.”

Three months before that sunny morning at the State House, a quiet winter weeknight was winding down in Conway. The Horry County Extension Office kitchen — which is more function than form but serves its purpose — was abuzz with well-coordinated activity.  

In the middle of the din stood Ivy in a white chef coat emblazoned with the mantra, “You never know what you are capable of until given the chance to try.” 

While Ivy was the conductor of this symphony, the only music being made was when the group took a break to dance to “Who Let the Dogs Out” before getting back to the real business of the night: cooking.

At each Cooking Capable workshop, young people with disabilities learn to prepare a full meal — drink, appetizer, entree and dessert — and participate in physical fitness activities. This evening’s menu consisted of spicy apple juice, cornbread muffins, a stew chock-full of beef sausage and Yukon Gold potatoes, and dueling desserts of chickpea blondies and sugar cookies.

Gray and a team of Cooking Capable participants were tackling the blondies before running into an issue with getting peanut butter out of their measuring cup. Not to worry, though, as Ivy was quick with a solution: “Is the peanut butter sticky? Yeah, so is sunflower butter,” she told the team. “The way to make sure they don’t stick to the cup is to put just a little oil around it and swirl it.” 

Handing the cup to Gray as she demonstrated, Ivy asked, “You want to mix that in for me?”

A photo collage features Ivy's family, a map of South Carolina, a four leaf clover and an inspirational index card.

Family Roots

Cooking Capable workshops like this are a family affair for the Princes, who work to ensure an accessible and enjoyable experience for all, no matter the disability. Ivy’s father, Rome, tends to the lobby area, where participants who feel overstimulated can regain their calm in a quiet space, while Jennifer is quick to don an apron and assist in the kitchen.

And while Ivy is very much in charge, Jennifer says her daughter’s calm demeanor belies an anxiety disorder that can cause feelings of being overwhelmed for Ivy, too.

“To see her push through that, too, herself is pretty amazing,” Jennifer said. “I’m pretty much in awe of her and who she’s able to be and who she’s able to talk to.”

Some might call Horry County a hopping hotspot for tourists because its largest city, Myrtle Beach, is a popular vacation destination with over 60 miles of coastline. But the county also includes small towns like Loris, which is a solid half-hour drive from the ocean and a million miles away in more practical terms.

4-H, like most Extension programming, is delivered on the local level by local agents, which means it requires a local club — and that did not exist in Loris until Jennifer decided one should.

When Ivy joined 4-H in 2019, she wasn’t totally on board with the idea, nor was she given much choice. With no existing club in their community, her mother was eager to start one. And since five kids from at least two separate families were required, it meant that Ivy’s presence was also required.

“Ivy said, ‘Do I have to go? It’s all about animals, and I’m not really interested,’” Jennifer said with a retrospective laugh. “So, I kind of dragged her kicking and screaming at first.”

But what started as a two-family club with five members has, in five years, blossomed into a thriving unit that serves more than 70 members, all of whom have learned that 4-H is not just about animals but an opportunity to grow in many directions.

And that includes the one who arrived kicking and screaming.

“Most of my favorite school memories are doing something with 4-H,” Ivy said.

Ivy wears a green blazer beside a man and a woman at the South Carolina State House.

The Clemson Connection

That winter weeknight with chickpea blondies on the menu marked the third workshop in the series, which began in August 2023, with a fourth event taking place in April. The workshops are currently limited to 10 students and one adult per student with future dates to be announced. The groundwork for future growth is already in progress.

Ivy addressed Horry County Council with a presentation last year, offering public officials information on the mission of Cooking Capable and her plans for its future. She’s received multiple 4-H grants and recently nabbed her biggest funding source yet: a $10,000 national grant to expand and grow the workshop series.

And Clemson Cooperative Extension has been there every step of the way, often serving as the host location for those steps to take place.

“She had her first grant interview, virtually, at the Extension office and showed them the space in our kitchen where she wanted to host the workshops,” Horry County 4-H youth development agent Miracle Rabon recalled. “After another interview, she was awarded the grant and has since applied for several other grants. After she spoke with Horry County Council, I think they’re going to be contributing funds to the project as well.”

This is what Clemson Extension and its affiliate 4-H programs strive to do for all of South Carolina’s young people.

“Miracle was the first person I brought the project to, and she’s been a great help with advertising and connections,” Ivy said. “She was there with me at Horry County Council as well and has supported me every step along   the way.”

While Rabon was Ivy’s first supporter on the project, as well as her local 4-H agent, she’s not the only Clemson Cooperative Extension professional who’s lent a supportive hand — and that extends well beyond those who have “youth development” in their job description.

Ivy credits Horry County Extension agent Chase Baillie for helping with recipes, workshop scheduling and other logistics along with food safety expertise, which is the primary focus of Baillie’s work as part of Extension’s food systems and safety team.

Recipe cards with a link to read Ivy's recipes.

Chad Carter, meanwhile, is a member of the same program team, but he’s also a former professional chef and better known simply as “Chef Chad” in Cooking Capable circles.

“Chef Chad was part of the turning point,” Jennifer said. “He believed in her and told her to go in the kitchen and experiment  and figure it out.”

That “turning point” came at the 4-H Healthy Habits Summit in Columbia, where teams of 4-H’ers gather to be trained to implement a cooking day camp in their local community. When Carter gave Ivy the chance to experiment in the kitchen after the official activities of the Summit wrapped up for the day, inspiration struck.

Hours later, a midnight brainstorming session with her friends and family produced the idea of a cooking class for young people with disabilities — and Cooking Capable began.

“I liked culinary arts but didn’t really see it as my future until I attended the Summit, and I learned I loved it,” Ivy said. “But I still wasn’t sure exactly how I wanted to use it because I also wanted to serve my community.”

And as it now says on the back of her chef jacket, once she was given the chance to try, Ivy found out exactly what she was capable of.

Serving Our State

With offices in all 46 counties, Clemson Extension works to improve the quality of life of all South Carolinians by providing research-based information through public outreach programs. In support of South Carolina’s $51.8 billion agribusiness industry, Extension aims to strengthen families and communities, improve stewardship of natural resources, strengthen connections between people and their food, and expose youth to opportunities in agriculture, science, technology, engineering and math.

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