Otis Dean, a Program Coordinator for JF&CS CHAI Works-South, contributed this thoughtful reflection on a memorable volunteer outing to The Rashi School, where program participants serve lunch on a weekly basis. CHAI Works is a community-based day program for adults with disabilities.
It was a beautiful fall day when we entered The Rashi School. The air was crisp; sunlight was streaming through changing yellow-orange leaves on this wooded campus that borders the Charles River in Dedham, MA. My colleague and I, along with eight participants from CHAI Works-South, drove the short distance from our base in Canton, MA to be there. We served lunch, in three shifts, to roughly two hundred K – 8 students.
Let me start with the end of our day and say how impressed I was with our participants for serving a full course pizza lunch to the Rashi students, with hardly a break between the three lunch sessions. I know how challenging it was because I was serving right alongside with them. A tradition at Rashi is the prayer led by a teacher at the end of each meal period before returning to the classrooms. Here, the teachers added a special addendum, and asked the students to express their appreciation with a round of applause for our participant volunteers.
Of course, the staff and volunteer parents at The Rashi School have been instrumental in our visits, ensuring the conditions for our success and being supportive in every way. They helped train our volunteers in the multiple steps required to prepare and set up the lunch line, deliver the meal service, and wrap it all up.
The goal in selecting our volunteer sites is to foster job and life skills for our participants, including hands-on training, and the soft skills needed to navigate the interactions of daily life. At the end of the day in Dedham, with the sunlight now fading, our participants sang songs on the ride back to CHAI Works. During the ride, one of the participants said, "I really want to come back again." I couldn't help but wonder whether this congenial spirit was the result of the day's hard work or the appreciation and respect our volunteers elicited from the Rashi community? Most likely, it was the result of both.
To learn more about our community-based day program with locations in Waltham and Canton, visit our CHAI Works page.