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This year, our Shelter Department began holding a new event called Community Dinner. The dinners are a new addition to Community Group, a mandatory, therapeutic group that meets every Thursday and uses adventure therapy to give participants a space for meaningful dialog on topics such as healthy relationships, communication, and conflict resolution. Community Group has created a positive space for young women to share and grow together, but there was a need for a different type of event, which would allow staff and residents to bond on a more personal level. As a result, Community Dinner was formed.
Community Dinner occurs the last Thursday of every other month during the time that Community Group usually occurs. The dinners began with the goal of allowing staff and residents to build rapport in a more low-key environment. Each dinner includes a theme, a dinner for residents and staff, fun activities, and a time for residents to be recognized for their accomplishments. So far, there have been three dinners: a karaoke night, an obstacle course, and the most recent dinner, a casino night. “A lot of what we do as staff is focused on jobs, school, and holding the girls accountable for things they need to do. So this is a time to build connections and trust in a more fun environment and a place where we recognize their accomplishments as well,” Erika Fox, Counseling Curriculum Coordinator, explains.
Shelter staff members encourage residents to participate in the dinners by allowing them to take an active role in planning each dinner. “They plan the activities and theme for each dinner. So, they plan activities, they brainstorm to come up with a theme and the food that they want and then they come up with tasks for preparing for the dinner,” Erika shares. The dinners are also a way for residents to build confidence in planning and executing something, communication skills, and a sense of community. “They are learning that it’s okay if we don’t always get along but we still need to learn how to work together as a team to accomplish our goals. These are all topics that we focus on in Community Group, as well,” Erika adds.
Heather, a current shelter resident, has attended two of the dinners so far and has really enjoyed the experience. “The food is great, it seems like it is really prepared with a lot of love. I like that we are all able to be together having fun, laughing, and having a positive time,” she answers when asked what her favorite part of the dinners is. “We all put a lot of hard work into it so it’s nice to enjoy all of the hard work we did,” Heather adds. So far, after only three meetings, Community Dinner has already started to have an impact on the environment in the Shelter, according to Heather. “It’s way more comfortable now and it brings us together and allows positivity”, Heather shares. “It allows us to come together and forget everything else that’s going on. I think it’s great”. As for the next dinner, Heather says there is already excitement building for what is to come, “I heard rumors that it’s going to be Hawaiian themed,” Heather smiles.