Students from The Inspiration Academy who are involved with the Fountain Hills 4-H Club are learning how to grow and prepare nutritious food for their families, thanks to a grant from the Fountain Hills Community Foundation and instruction from local professionals.

Lenny cooks taco filling.

Co-leaders Lisa and Billy Ristuccia, who are also co-founders of The Inspiration Academy, applied for the grant after realizing many of the school’s students weren’t making healthy choices with the food they brought to school.

“Students were either not bringing lunch at all or bringing highly processed food,” Lisa said.

Jay whips up some samosas.

The funding allowed them to develop a five-week course for The Inspiration Academy students that met criteria for the Arizona 4-H Healthy Living youth development program as well as the school’s Culinary Arts module. The Healthy Living program is one of eight Pathways to Participation through the Arizona 4-H. The Culinary Arts Module is one of 15 community module programs offered at The Inspiration Academy.

During the five-week course, students learned how to make good food choices from Debbie Romano of Fountain Hills Healthy Heartbeats as well as how to cook various dishes from scratch each week from Veeta and Jonathan of Veeta’s Vegan. Cooking was done in the school’s kitchen and Veeta’s restaurant. Each student also took a food safety course and received their Arizona Food Handler Card. The final exam consisted of cooking and serving dinner to more than 60 people with a menu which included bruschetta, vegan-stuffed shells, and a chocolate dessert. Students were also responsible for the room setup, décor, and ambience lighting.

The remainder of the grant will be used to start a school garden so students can learn how to grow their own healthy food. Future plans include community service-learning projects such as preparing and delivering healthy meals to homebound seniors and hosting a dinner for veterans and members of the community.

Violet and Autumn prepare tikka masala

Lisa said projects like this are a win-win for the students and the Town of Fountain Hills. Not only do they give kids real life experiences so they can practice various job skills, they also show the community that today’s youth are capable and willing to serve.

“A lot of our projects are designed to empower students and have them take leadership,” Lisa explained. “We want them to learn to take it upon themselves to make a difference in the community.”

For more information about The Inspiration Academy and the Fountain Hills 4-H Club, visit