Seven years ago, as a DSP in a Penn-Mar community home, I spent Thanksgiving Day with a new gentleman I was supporting. It was just the two us. And much as I tried to make the day as festive as possible, it didn’t quite have the feel of a special holiday.
Three years later that experience would lead to my decision to host a Thanksgiving dinner for Penn-Mar folks who didn’t have any place to celebrate. Our first gathering was held at Penn-Mar’s Glen Rock administration building and 12 people were only too happy to accept an invitation. Not surprisingly, the event was a hit!
When Penn-Mar’s new Far Hills facility was opened the next year, we found our perfect Thanksgiving home. The place is amazing in every way and allows us to accommodate even more guests. Word got our quickly about this new tradition and we hosted 20 people from the Pennsylvania homes at Far Hills in Year Two.
It then occurred to me that we needed to be even more inclusive so it was decided we would extend the invitation to Maryland residents in 2018 and that swelled the party goers to 50, a count that held firm at this year’s Thanksgiving feast.
But make no mistake, I couldn’t pull this off without the help of my amazing volunteers. This year Kim Kaltreider, a former nurse at Penn-Mar, brought her entire family to help, including her son Brogan who had just arrived home from the military. Kim and her son worked feverishly to make sure all the preparations were completed in time for our guests’ arrivals and Kim’s husband spent the better part of the day helping to set-up the dining area.
Kim outfitted all of the volunteers with shirts that read, “Gobble till you Wobble.” In hindsight I wish I had gathered everyone together for a group photo, but hungry diners can’t be kept waiting!
Michelle and Sean Fink, whose brother Jamey resides in a Penn-Mar home, also share their time and talents with us every year. And I can’t say enough about my co-worker Lindsay Shafer who earlier in the day saw to it that all the residents in the home got off safely to their holiday destinations before racing over to Far Hills to do whatever job was next.
Our Thanksgiving menu was as diverse as the attendees. We had all the traditional holiday fare — turkey, ham, green beans and mashed potatoes — as well as some new additions like oyster stuffing and Spanish rice. And needless to say, there were plenty of “to go” containers for all of us to take home awesome leftovers.
I am so appreciative of my dedicated team who took time away from their own families to make this day so special for the people we support at Penn-Mar. And I am so grateful to my own family who have changed their Thanksgiving celebrations over the years to accommodate mine.
My biggest motivation for hosting the Thanksgiving dinner is getting to see everybody sitting and eating together, having fun and laughing. It really speaks to what the day is really all about.
I often think, if we didn’t host this dinner, where would all these people be on Thanksgiving? I’m determined to make sure the individuals I support have a life like yours and mine.
In the 10 years that I have been with Penn-Mar, there has been a sea change in the lives of the people with disabilities we support. Today they are more active, more involved in the community and happily talking about plans, friends, jobs and all their awesome adventures, like our Thanksgiving dinner!