Devotion, Guidance, and Oatmeal

Pat Evans

Inside Pat Evans’ kitchen at DATA’s Norman C. Hayslip Treatment Center in Fort Pierce, DATA’s philosophy simmers daily for the young residents she helps nurture as they make their journey through recovery. “My motto to them is, say no to drugs, yes to good health.”

In Pat’s kitchen, good health starts with good food. Her passion for cooking is what brought her to DATA nearly 27 years ago. “Preparing the meals, serving them, watching them enjoy the meals and coming back for seconds, I love that. I love to see them enjoy what I prepare for them.”

One of the most frequent requests is good, old-fashioned oatmeal, which doesn’t surprise the woman who is affectionately called “Miss Pat.” “I’ve had clients who never had oatmeal before; some kids are not used to getting a decent meal.”

Miss Pat points out that along with regular meals, structure and a sense of normalcy develops. A fact that is not lost on teens struggling in recovery, “Some have never had structure at home, and they become angry with their parents and believe if they had structure at home they would not have strayed.”

Patience is another ingredient in Miss Pat’s kitchen which also serves as a learning environment. The young residents are assigned as kitchen managers or dish washers, others handle chores like clearing dishes and mopping floors. “They’re not used to doing any work so you have to keep working with them, others really love it.”

Soft spoken with the slightest hint of a southern drawl, this life-long Floridian is no push-over when supervising the young residents, describing herself as firm, but fair. “I teach the kids about responsibilities and work ethic. I insist they follow instructions and take constructive criticism.” Miss Pat also serves up a dose of reality to former residents who often end up in the food service industry. “This is what I say to them, ‘I can tell you to leave the kitchen, but a boss will fire you on the spot.’”

Her son Darius, a college graduate, marine and professional photographer stopped by the treatment center a few years ago. He assured the young residents that his mother was as strict with him at home as she is with those at the treatment center and told them to be thankful for a second chance.

On top of running the kitchen and supervising the young residents, Miss Pat also handles a great deal of administrative duties and she must ensure the treatment center stays in line with health codes and the national schools meals program. She coordinates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stock the kitchen and works regularly with the Florida Department of Children and Families as many residents are eligible for food stamps.

When Miss Pat joined DATA in 1991, she intended to stay about 10 years. Instead, she found an important reason to remain for decades. “I stay for the kids. I appreciate my role in being a part of the recovery process.”

As long-time DATA Board Member Gary Frechette fondly recalls, “My memories of Miss Pat are ones of love, happiness and joy. They say happiness is through the stomach, and she has fed so many young people at our Hayslip Center. Not only did she feed them, she truly loved each and every one of them. She was, and is, the backbone of the Hayslip Center. Every young resident knew that if they were having a bad day, just go see Miss Pat. She never complained, only thought of better ways to reach our young people. She will always have a special place in my heart.”

There is no doubt that the kids and their families appreciate Miss Pat. Parents often thank her when they visit and notice their children looking healthier. Former clients have returned to thank her for important life lessons learned around her kitchen. And, of course, there is the oatmeal. “I have run into former clients at the mall and they’d mention my oatmeal.”

The oatmeal may come first to mind but oatmeal aside, what they really remember is her nurturing ways and steady guidance.

F – French fries or tater tots? French fries

R – Right brained or left brained? Right brained

E – Email or carrier pigeon? Email

S – Sunshine or moonlight? Sunshine

H – Homebody or party animal? Homebody