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Serving Up Food and Life 101

D.C. high school students and older adults both benefit from meals program

Generations mingle

In the fall, the students invited the clients to join them at school for a football game. Parents helped the boys set up a pregame brunch for their guests. Both Watson and Sparrow came.

Junior Nick Vitale, 16, admitted that he was a little uncomfortable at first around the seniors. But then he heard that Sparrow had worked as a caddie at an elite, all-male private golf club in Bethesda, Md., where presidents and Supreme Court justices often played. The sport gave Nick, who had golfed with his father, an instant connection with Sparrow, who has since shared some wisdom about golf and life with Nick.

The Campus Kitchen experience opened up another world for Nick, says his mother, Sally Vitale. “So often, we make assumptions about people when they’re down on their luck. Nick’s learned to just ignore people’s physical presence. It has no bearing on what they have inside.”

In November, the clients were invited to the opening night of the school play and the pre-performance dinner. In December, the students hope to have the clients join them for two holiday concerts.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Tobin says. “The school wants to fill up the seats, and the clients get to be entertained.”

When the boys cook and prepare the Thanksgiving meals this week, they will take over the entire faculty dining room and utilize every oven and refrigerator at the school and church. This year, four of their clients will work alongside them. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, D, a 1981 Gonzaga graduate, has been invited to help.

But the real VIPs are the meal recipients. The clients, Tobin says, “came in to teach the kids to cook, but they’ve taught them so much more — it’s been like Life 101.”

Also of interest: Ways you can make a difference. >>

Suzanne Tobin is a copy editor at the Bulletin.