Why we have community meals at Cornerstones
May 25, 2023
Every summer as a child, I would visit my Great Grandmother Evelyn for a week. On Sundays, our family gathered at her humble home in Hennessey, Oklahoma for “Sunday supper”. This was a time for our extended family to gather with aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends. Collectively, we enjoyed each other’s company and the nourishment of a home-cooked meal. To this day, thinking about those Sunday suppers transports me to a place of comfort. Although my Great Grandma Evelyn is no longer with us, my “Nana” now resides in her house, and I can still walk into the kitchen and cook recipes passed down for generations alongside my mother and grandmother like it is second nature.
At Cornerstones, we have community meals five nights a week and clients are required to be in attendance. We have set this requirement from day one, because it connects directly to our programmatic focus on helping our clients develop stronger interpersonal relationships. As so many studies have shown, interpersonal relationships, whether with friends, family, or co-workers, are a core component of emotion regulation and managing stressors. And a crucial part of developing and maintaining those relationships is incorporating the practice of setting aside time to be with each other and share experiences with each other. Community meals offer our clients a model for developing the habits of building and maintaining friendships and community. Meal times are always a technology-free time where conversations are had, relationships are built, and a sense of community is fostered.
This is also a structured time for our clients to work on their meal preparation skills and the executive functioning components that are the foundation for those skills. Clients work with our dietitians and Life Skills Coaches to choose and follow a recipe, navigate time management, and practice basic cooking skills and sanitation skills. Requiring meal preparation not only supports our client’s journey to independence but teaches them how to ask for and accept support in situations where they might need help or simply do not feel comfortable with the task at hand. Additionally, this provides a time for our staff to observe the social interactions and interpersonal dynamics of the clients in the houses.
Community meals have been an integral part of the Cornerstones program since our inception. Clients might not always feel like attending, but it teaches them about community responsibility, honesty and integrity, and how to live in a community. Over the years, clients have shared that community meals are one of their favorite parts of the program, as they see its value in connecting with their peers and staff. I know my Great Grandma Evelyn would be proud of the cooking skills developed, delicious meals made, and lasting connections too.