Student-Catered lunch: Charlottesville Senior Center

On Thursday, November 19, 2009, I attended a monthly luncheon at the Charlottesville Senior Center.  It was catered by students from the Culinary Arts program at Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC).


The reason I drove the 120 miles from my home in Williamsburg to attend?  Well….I had heard during my first visit to the Center that the Seniors and students have struck-up a solid and mutually beneficial relationship as a result of this arrangement that was started two years ago.  I wanted to see the workings of this intergenerational community service effort and to interview participants from both age groups.  OH…..and to enjoy the ‘fruits’ of the students’ labor!!!:  the Thanksgiving faire buffet.

When I arrived in Charlottesville that rainy morn about 10:30, I went directly to the school, hoping to observe last minute mad-dash prepping and loading and transferring hot and cold foods to the Center.  Instead, I met a calm, organized, unharried, and personable Chef/Instructor Robert “Bob” Bressan.  Chef gave me a congenial, but quick, tour of the classroom and kitchen area, along with a brief overview of class expectations and accomplishments.  This busy and dynamic teacher pointed out that his students began arriving at 7 AM to prepare turkeys, pies, veggies, and more for the Senior Center catered lunch, as well as for other catered events on their busy agenda!  The team that was assigned to the Center’s luncheon were already delivering and setting-up for service at noon…….it was I who was running LATE!!!

Oh, boy….as interesting as it was at the school, I had to wean myself from this vibrant learning center and scurry to the luncheon site, promising Chef that I would return later.

At the Center, I noticed that there were several Seniors (6) who were volunteering to help the students set tables and generally organize.  A team of ten students were quietly and efficiently setting-up the food service line on one side of the large room and beverage and dessert services in another area.  It was apparent that they were organized and purposeful in setting-up and replenishment tasks throughout the service process – without any visible supervision.  I noticed that the Senior volunteers worked closely with the students just as quietly and efficiently as the students worked as a team. 

My table-mates: From Left: Peggy Harris, Marge Haugen, Dona McMullen, Vince McMullen, Alice Clements, Margaret C. Norford (hidden), Elise K. Brigham

Margaret Fitch, 63, the Program Coordinator for the Senior Center, emphasized that the Seniors “really like” the luncheons that the students prepare.  She also let me know that the students are always “clean and neat and act professional” when serving and cleaning-up. 

After the luncheon was served, I witnessed the same efficient and organized clean-up activities with students and Seniors working shoulder to shoulder.  Florence Bosworth, 75, who regularly volunteers at the luncheons, said that she really likes having the students do the catering, “I learn from them…..but I can help them, too… how to clean a clump of potatoes off the spoon,” she laughed, heartily, “just WHACK it!”  She also pointed out that the students are always “so neat and professional” and the food they bring is always “really good.”

My table mates being served.

From the students’ perspective, according to William Peterson, 17 (a 2nd year student), working with the Seniors “you learn as you go…. be aware of what is needed for conversation…..(sometimes) you have to talk a little louder and more clearly.”  William emphasized that what they learn from this experience is valuable; it stresses the importance of “communication between team members and the people you’re working for” in order to deliver what the client wants, on time, and with the quality expected.  William assists Chef Bressan at times, as a kitchen manager to help organize tasks and to oversee procedures.

Another student, Lloyd Ford, 20 (2nd year PostGrad) emphasizes that the most important skills he has learned from these community service events, besides communication skills, are “speed and quality” in all aspects of the catering business.  Learning to work efficiently and effectively as a team to deliver a quality service and product are skills that all of these students will take into their work  and study environments.

Back at the school, Chef Bressan related that he owned and operated a successful catering business in Charlottesville for over 30 years.  He came to a point in his life when he decided that he wanted to “give something back to the community” that supported him for so many years.  So, with a “high interest in community service”, Chef Bressan developed an existing cooking skills class into a Culinary Arts program that “meets expectations equivalent to Culinary School.”  Over an eight year period, Chef Bressan and his students have received many awards and honors and other recognitions for their community service projects, catering of small and large events, and student competitions.  The students are encouraged to enhance their classroom skills by being involved with a wide variety of educational opportunities in their homes, schools, and community. 

Chef/Culinary Arts Instructor Robert "Bob" Bressan

From Left: William Peterson, Chef Robert Bressan

I found this High School educational program to be so interesting and so valuable to the students AND the community that I wanted to gather more information and share it with you.  Another post will be forthcoming.

THANK YOU, Chef Bressan and your students for allowing me to observe and to speak with all of you.  And THANK YOU, Charlottesville Senior Center for your welcoming me into your kind fold.  I really appreciate all your help in allowing me to see this successful intergenerational community service project.

Any questions: Please leave me a comment, suggestions on other interesting projects that may be in your area, your story, or whatever is on your mind!

If you wish to contact someone at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC):  Ph (434) 973-4461 

If you wish to contact someone at the Senior Center, Charlottesville:  (434) 974-7756

Explore posts in the same categories: Community Plans: Older-Americans, Intergenerational projects, Senior Centers

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