When you’ve been out on your own, coming home for a family dinner strengthens connections and creates memories. For young people who were once homeless and without the support of a family, that isn’t always an option available to them. That’s one reason staff from our transitional housing program, Rights of Passage (ROP), started hosting community dinners for former residents who are now living on their own.
Young people in ROP can stay for up to one year, while they work, attend school or go to another day program. They share meals with each other and their youth workers, learn life skills, divide chores and participate in outings and recreational activities. This is their community.
Once ROP graduates move into their own place, away from the activities and structure of ROP, they may be pleased with their success but they can also feel isolated and lonely.
The idea to host community dinners came about when staff realized that former residents were dropping in to say hello from time to time. “They come back because they’re proud to return as successful adults but they also miss the relationship they had with their worker,” said Stacey Rees, a youth worker who is also one of the community dinner organizers. About 15 gather to enjoy the dinners and each other’s company.
Mike, an ROP alumnus and assistant manager at a movie theatre, said “The community dinner was a fun and enjoyable time.” Mike experienced homesickness after leaving Covenant House for his own apartment recently, and shared his journey with the youth at dinner. “I told them that eventually I moved on to a new, happier chapter, and that I wouldn’t be the man I am now had it not been for Covenant House.”
“At first I didn’t realize how difficult it could be out there, how lonely,” said Lisa, another former ROP resident. “Coming back here reminds me that it’s worth the hard work.”
Staff do the shopping and cooking for the community dinners. Much is prepared the day before by the youth staying in ROP, who are learning to cook as part of their life skills training while staying with us. At the first community dinner they made a stir-fry; at the second, a steaming pot of chili, perfect for a chilly evening. To make sure there’s something for everyone, vegetarian options are always available.
Only two months in, our youth tell us the new dinner program is already a success. It provides opportunities to learn how to prepare a meal, a place for current and former residents to get to know each other, and a way for youth workers to keep in touch with those they’ve helped in the past.
Staff are eagerly planning the next community dinner. Lasagne anyone?