AHHAH wanted to share a Thanksgiving meal with the youth and show our gratitude to the staff at the Chester County Youth Center, so we decided to prepare a proper feast the day before Thanksgiving. We were fortunate to have Jamilah join us, which was a great help, because I would be arriving late from my full-time job and we had lots of sides to make. We each brought a dish or two from home, and then prepared the rest of the dishes with the youth. Jan cooked the turkey, gravy, stuffing, and an assortment of sweet breads for dessert. Jamilah made mac and cheese, and I brought corn pudding, pineapple stuffing, and sweet potato pie.
Jan set the heroic task of making the following side dishes in two hours with the youth: roasted Brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, maple orange sweet potatoes, glazed carrots, cranberry Jezebel, ginger garlic green beans, and Mexican street corn salad. When I arrived an hour into the preparations, everyone was quietly and diligently working. The boys were focused and attentive to the tasks at hand. There was an air of calmness in the room despite all of the activity. Jan told me that she had started the class with a grounding exercise for the boys, and I could easily see the impact that it had.
It really felt like a family affair with everyone pitching in. There were extra staff lending a hand to make sure everything went smoothly. I am so impressed by the staff at CCYC. They are consistently kind, patient, and supportive of Cultivating Change. I’ve seen them model a willingness to try new foods and jump in when a boy or girl needs extra help. They never complain when we send them back to the kitchen to fetch an ingredient that we’ve forgotten. They happily provide feedback on the dishes we make, and are often the tiebreakers when we are deciding on a winning recipe. Certainly the Thanksgiving meal was meant to give the youth a small sense of home while they are away from their families, but it was also for all of the adults who do so much to provide a safe and caring space for the youth as they navigate this challenging time in their lives. Many of them would be away from their families on Thanksgiving because they would be working at CCYC.
As we sat down to our incredibly delicious Thanksgiving feast, I thought about how grateful I was for AHHAH and CCYC and the joy that I feel every time I join Jan and Jamilah for Cultivating Change. Jan and I often walk out of CCYC giddy after class and say that this was the highlight of our week. When I tell people that I work with incarcerated adults and youth in detention, I often get asked, “Aren’t you scared?” That question used to irritate me, but I have come to realize that it is said by those who have never had any contact with those who are in the criminal justice system, and how much your perspective shifts once you have the opportunity to spend time with those who are “doing time.”