On the last Thursday of every month, youth in our onsite transitional housing program and those who’ve since moved on from it gather to connect and enjoy a meal.

“Community Dinners” are not just a fun tradition at Covenant House: they are key to connection – a bridge for young people who are still living with us to learn what independent living is really like and a bridge back to Covenant House for youth who are now living independently.

Each dinner provides an opportunity for youth to share food they’ve created and showcase some of the life skills they developed while in the program. Recently, a young person planned a taco night and cooked everything herself. The group found it meaningful to share a meal prepared by one of their peers who felt a sense of pride when seeing how everyone was enjoying her food.

“These gatherings are an opportunity for youth to learn more about each other and taste foods from different cultures,” says manager of support services Fred Shayo-Mushi. “The dinners make everyone feel like they matter.”

He recalls attending a delicious Taste of the Caribbean dinner earlier this year – a spread of jerk and barbeque chicken, rice and peas, salads, ice cream and juices. The alumni who attended had a great time reconnecting with staff and those currently in the program.

“I certainly enjoyed catching up with the alumni and celebrated their successes in their education, employment and personal growth,” reminisced Fred. “There was so much food that alumni were able to take some home with them, a bonus treat.”

The transitional housing program intentionally builds community among youth as they are often each other’s support beyond their time at Covenant House – people they can keep in touch with for support. The Community Dinners are an effective model for how that is done.

For those who’ve left the program, these dinners are away for alumni to maintain a connection with Covenant House staff and with each other. At the same time, there is an opportunity to informally mentor current residents by sharing their experiences while in the program and after moving out.

“It’s nice for them to know that they are always welcome back around the dinner table.”