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English Support group shares multi-cultural dinner

By Suzanne Chelius, Arts & Sciences, Hocking College, Nelsonville, Ohio.

As part of English Support service-learning coursework for Summer I, 2001, eight international students and I hosted a community dinner for Good Works in Athens. Not only did this service-learning project give my students an opportunity to serve their community, it also introduced them to the complex social issue of poverty and homelessness which exists in the United States.

Good Works is a non-profit organization, which has been addressing the needs of the rural poor and homeless in Athens County since 1981. Each Friday night, volunteers from the community organize and host a family style, sit-down dinner at Good Works–what they like to call “a soup kitchen in reverse.” The dinner encourages fellowship, community connection. and a real opportunity to break down barriers.

We had five weeks to fund and organize our project. Through the incredibly generous donations of Hocking College faculty and staff, we raised $390.00.

Our class included eight students from four different countries: Venezuela. China, Japan and Lithuania were represented. Over the course of the quarter, we planned the meal, discussed logistics and made signs to identify the food and props for our presentation. The fourth week of the quarter we went shopping together at Kroger for our supplies, which was a project in itself.

Students were up into the wee hours of the morning before the dinner, cooking and preparing food. Venezuelan students made Carne con Salsa, Potatoes Au Gratin, Chicken Salad, Tortillas, and Tres Leches, a delicious cake saturated in three kinds of milk. Our Japanese student made fried chicken; our Chinese students made a green salad, and our Lithuanian student made an incredible potato salad. I contributed brownies and a tofu salad. It was quite a spread.

The dinner itself took place July 27th and I’m proud to say that it was a wonderful success. My students worked very hard, and I was continually impressed by their enthusiasm and creativity. Before the dinner began, my students taught all who attended (about 100 people!) how to say “Hello”, “Happy Birthday”and “Have a good meal” in their native languages. It made for a great public speaking opportunity for my students as well as a learning experience for those attending the dinner.

When it was time to eat, my students stood in a buffet line and served the dinner. They were very pleased to learn that everyone enjoyed the food. It was truly delicious.

After dinner, my students plugged in the CD player and began dancing to merengue music. They encouraged everyone to join. There was a wonderful sense of community and accomplishment in the air. I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful experience.

Following are quotes from students:

“While taking this class. I learned how to help others by letting them help me. I am grateful for having this chance to discover an American community I didn’t even know existed. I want to thank my instructor, Hocking College and Good Works!”

–Caren Marin (Venezuela)

“At first I couldn’t imagine what are we going to do there, at Good Works. But when I first arrived there I was just surprised! The supper was organized very well and everybody was there to help each other. Evervbody was so nice to me and to other students. The Good Works project changed my life. Only then. after visiting all these people at the shelter, I understood how important it is to have your own family and your own home where you can live. So when I saw all these poor people who didn’t have any home and maybe don’t have any family, I just wished to make their life better and I wished to help them as much as I can. So I was happy to make a supper for them, and I was glad to hear that they liked my own traditional Lithuanian food. I wish I could have more moments like these and I wish I could help all people in the world.”

–Gintare Avulyte (Lithuania)