SNF Scholarship Series: ANC First Timer Stephanie Wells, Cafeteria Manager, Quitman Elementary School, Quitman ISD (TX)

Welcome to the 2016 SNF Scholarship Series! We are thrilled to revisit this popular series, in which we connect with your SNA colleagues from around the country to learn more about them and how an SNF scholarship is helping them pursue goals and achieve their dreams. Our First Timer recipients were nominated by a supervising director to attend their first Annual National Conference in San Antonio, Texas. We’ll meet our First Timers and their directors in the weeks leading up to ANC. Please visit the SNA website to learn more about ANC 2016 in San Antonio.

Meet Stephanie Wells, the cafeteria manager at Quitman Elementary School in Quitman ISD. Wells has only been working in school foodservice for a short time, having spent most of her early professional career as a restaurant owner. After closing the restaurant and becoming a stay-at-home-mom, Wells found herself back in the workforce after fourteen years when her husband was injured in an accident. Looking for something that would allow her to spend nights, weekends, and holidays with her young daughter, Wells applied for a cashier position at her local elementary school, but it wasn’t long—just a couple of weeks—before she found herself in the position of cafeteria manager.

“Stephanie hit the ground running and blew me away,” said Wells’ director Shannon Almand. “She’s such a good manager of time and the economy of cost. She got a very good grasp on what we do in a very short amount of time.”

The ANC First Timer nomination and win came as a complete surprise to Wells, who had no idea that Almand had submitted her name for consideration.

“I didn’t know anything until I got the email telling me I’d won—Shannon didn’t say a thing to me!” she laughed. “She really pushes for excellence—she encourages us to take classes and attend conferences. I want to do more scratch cooking and serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, but I also look forward to seeing some grab-and-go products that are easier for the kids, and I know I can see all of that in the Exhibit Hall.”

Wells’ enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment to customer service have impressed Almand, who has been a director for ten years—five of them at Quitman ISD. She said that Wells is always willing to go the extra mile, and encourages students to get outside their comfort zones, even going so far as to purchase spaghetti squash out of her own pocket and prepare a taste test for a curious student.

“I wasn’t even sure that I would get to go to ANC this year, but I really wanted Stephanie to go,” said Almand. “She’s going to get something out of everything she attends. All of us attending are signed up to volunteer as well. Anytime you volunteer you have the opportunity to see things behind-the-scenes, lend a hand, and meet more people.”

It was helping people that initially brought the two women together; they met while working with a non-profit, feeding summer meals to kids.

“Stephanie shares the same passion I do,” said Almand. “It’s blazing hot in the summer in Texas, and she was out there three days a week volunteering without pay to reach those children, who are extremely hungry. When she came to me and asked for a job I was extremely excited.”

As for Wells, she can’t imagine learning the ropes from anyone but Almand.

“I know she’s the only one I’ve worked for, but I know Shannon is one of the best directors,” said Wells. “I’m so happy she nominated me, and I can’t wait to attend [ANC]. I love working in schools—it’s chaotic, but it’s comparable to a restaurant. If you conduct your [school] kitchen as you would a restaurant, you can be successful. I’ve gotten so much out of the classes I’ve taken [so far], I know I’ll come away from this conference with a new wealth of information.”

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