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CHICAGO – On the Northwest Side, cooking and collaboration are on the menu for several teenagers crafting their own take on flatbread pizzas.

Mo Brown heads Lipstick Saints, a non-profit that has brought hundreds of girls in the Chicago area together to learn from one another in the last five years.

“We want to build their confidence as they go to the next phase of transitioning out of high school into college,” Brown said.

Karmon Hearan says the goal is to help bring teen girls together and create a safe space to bond and learn from one another. Cooking isn’t the only project for Lipstick Saints but it is an important one. Studies show time in the kitchen can calm anxiety, especially in a pandemic.

“When I’m worrying about the pandemic, I cook, and it takes that away,” said Nahla Barnes, a cook-off participant who says she aspires to be a chef. It’s why, she believes, the program is paramount.

“You’re coming up with a new invention because it’s your food and you feel so special about it,” Barnes said. “I feel, when I come up with a new food, it makes me feel special because it’s mine, so when I cook it for somebody, it’s coming from my own specialty.”

The point is to build confidence, through creative thinking.

“Coping mechanisms are so important,” Brown said. “So when they hit a bump in the road, they can always reflect back and see that Lipstick Saints have been in their corner.”

In a week, the group will join Food Network chef Mitzi-Jackson-Robinson for a virtual cook-off called “Kitchen Vibes.”

“I want to inspire girls,” Brown said. “Regardless of what they go through in life, there’s always someone rooting for them and cheering them on.”

A backup to rely on as the next formative years take shape. Click here for more information on Lipstick Saints.