Yesterday at our Southside Bishop Foery Neighborhood Center, staff served up a meal for about 40 kids and teens. All of the food was prepared by staff member Brandon Gunn who, at 5:00, was juggling several bowls and pots on the stove top and in a small microwave to get everything heated up for serving.
“I love to cook,” Brandon said as the kids set up a long table with seating for 25 in the center’s gym. “I do this every year and then I do it again the next day for my family.”
While Brandon prepared the food, Dana Dunn, another staff member, kept the kids occupied with a spelling bee. “ADVICE,” he said to a fourth grader. “Spell it.”
The fourth grade girl got a round of applause when she spelled the word correctly. She was one of several in the room whose academic record the staff praised all afternoon. Kids are asked to show their report cards to staff members; it helps staff encourage those who are doing well and support those who need it.
The room was a little busy, and rather loud, but everyone was in good spirits. After the food came out, the kids joined hands and Dana led a prayer of thanks. The kids were then asked to stand up and say something they are thankful for.
“I am thankful for my friends and family,” said the first girl.
“I’m thankful for my education and my friends and family. And food,” another girl added, to giggles. “And hot sauce.”
A boy was next. “I am thankful for my family and my mom-“
“Hold up,” a girl interjected, “your mom is your family.”
“-she’s not my whole family,” he explained. “Also my brothers and education.”
By the end of the meal, kids’ parents were there to take them home and the center’s teen participants were arriving to have their own turn at dinner with the staff. Dana called for the younger kids’ attention one more time before they left.
“Let’s all thank Mr. Brandon for cooking all this good food for us,” he said, leading a round of applause. “And thank you all for being here, too,” he added, to which several kids kicked their feet under their chairs and grinned. “We want you all to know you’re gifted and beautiful and have bright futures and we love seeing you here.”
The kids left, several hugging staff members happily and others self-consciously muttering “Thank you, Mr. Dana and Mr. Brandon” on the way out.
Kids come to our neighborhood center programs for a variety of reasons. (We have several around the city on the Eastside, Near Westside and Northside of Syracuse.) Many of the children and youth who attend our programs were born into poverty and face many hurdles. Our staff works hard to provide them all with personal and academic support and build their capacity for success.
Counting all of our locations throughout Syracuse, we employ about 340 local people. The kids at Bishop Foery are thankful for our staff’s dedication, and so are we.