MIAMI — As a student at the New World School of the Arts in downtown Miami, Lakitsia Gaines became a debutante with the Miami Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She received a scholarship that enabled her to attend Florida A&M University and study for a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism, with a minor in Spanish.
Gaines, who lives in Broward County, has never stopped giving back to the sorority and the community.
“The first thing I did when I opened my doors six years ago as a business owner was to provide young ladies the same opportunities I was afforded and earn a degree,” said Gaines, a State Farm insurance agent.
Her husband Shawn and son Kendall, 10, actively support her efforts.
The family turned out on May 19 for the Miami Alumnae’s 17th annual Cooking Gents affair at the DoubleTree hotel in Doral in west Miami-Dade County.
Gaines, who served as the title sponsor, has been co-chairwoman of the event for the past two years.
“I see the workforce everyday, so, for me, it was pretty easy to see that you can either be a part of the problem or the solution. This is my way of being a part of the solution,” Gaines said in an interview during the event.
Cooking Gents, she said, is a successful example of how a female organization can partner with the men in the community to help the youth.
“The Gents are husbands and sons who are supporting their wives and families. Some are professional chefs and we are pleased to be able to partner with them to give something back to the community,” said Gaines.
She went a step further, donating $15,000 to the event this year from her business as title sponsor.
“Last year we had 385 in attendance but this year we took it up a notch. So, with 500 people, 100 Gents and 80 committee members, we are working to make sure that young people can go to college without finances getting in the way.”
Shawn Gaines agreed.
“I’ve been doing this for the past five years and I feel it is a good way to support the community,” he said. “This is a way to create scholarship opportunities and with me being a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, community service is something that I enjoy.”
He got their son Kendall started as his assistant chef from age 6 as a way to help him understand the importance of service.
“He needs to see that there are positive role models and people in the African-American community that are here to help support the community and do things to help move us forward. So as many positive images I can give him, the better,” Gaines said.
Kendall, a fourth-grader at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston, served taco salad to guests alongside his father on Saturday, instead of the cupcakes and potato salad of previous years.
“Scholarships are important because they help people to become adults and do good things for their children,” Kendall said.
Miami Alumnae chapter president Shirlyon McWhorter told South Florida Times that Cooking Gents is the organization’s biggest scholarship fundraiser.
“We invite notable men from the community to cook and our guests enjoy the food. The proceeds from ticket sales go to support scholarships for needy students in our community,” McWhorter said.
The event brought out chefs of all ages, drawn from sorority family members, community leaders, business owners and professionals. Some turned out because of their passion for cooking and the desire to share that passion with their sons.
Around 500 guests arrived from North Broward to Homestead, paying $40 each for dishes ranging from conch fritters, gumbo and paella to banana pudding, macaroni and cheese and homemade fruit punch.
McWhorter said the chapter has raised $29,500 in scholarships over the past year from different annual fundraisers, including the Poinsettia Gala in December, Jabberwock in March and Cooking Gents in May.
For Lauris Paige, a representative of Florida International University’s National Achievers’ Society, it was her second Cooking Gents event, and shows how the community can work together to benefit children.
“It says a whole lot about the organization in the fact that it does support our youth who are trying to go to school and, with the economy getting rough, the fact that they spend their efforts to put together something like this speaks volumes,” Paige said.
Photo: KHARY BRUYNING/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
FATHER-SON CHEFS: Shawn Gaines and son Kendall again were among the Cooking Gents as the Miami Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. welcomed chefs and guests to their annual scholarship fundraising event on May 19 at the DoubleTree hotel in Doral.