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Bringing Meaningful Conversation to the Cafeteria

Posted on: August 26th, 2013 by Sarah Sessa


For the past two years, volunteers from Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. have engaged in meaningful lunchtime conversations with elementary school students in  Lynn, MA as part of The Family Dinner Project’s Lunch Circles program. Here, one student, Sarah Sessa, shares what she learned from being a Lunch Circles mentor.


I joined The Family Dinner Project team at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. During the past academic year, I had the privilege of leading a group of my fellow college students as we ate lunch with small groups of 1st through 5th graders at Lynn Kipp Acadamy.  I witnessed how powerful the act of sharing a meal canbe  toward building community and evoking meaningful conversation.  I also witnessed our lunch community’s impact on all those involved—both the elementary school children and the college students.


Looking back, one particular lunch stands out above the rest.  Upon receiving a new group of students, we did an exercise called I AM, I CAN, I WILL.  Each student, including each college student, received a piece of paper to complete these three sentences.  Some students wrote their answers; some students drew them instead.

The “I AM” sentence guided us to think about how we define or identify ourselves.   Students answered:

I AM… “a girl, a boy, a kid, kind, brave, pretty, smart, special.”

The “I CAN” sentence required us to think about the skills and talents that we possess.

Responses included:

I CAN…” cook, draw, sing, read, play sports, help people that are poor.”

Finally, the “I WILL” section allowed us to take what we know about ourselves now and make goals for the future.

I WILL…“be an artist, be a piano player, be a chef, go to college, pass all my grades, be a doctor, be an astronaut, be a superhero, be a good educator.”



The purpose of this exercise was to think critically about who we are, creatively express our answer, and share a piece of ourselves with the group.  As this exercise took place during our initial lunch time together, it offered one of the first impressions that those in our lunch circle would have of one another.  It set a foundation for our group to build some solid relationships during our meal times.  For example, each participant was able to look at themselves and decide what perspectives, strengths and gifts he or she brought to our meal table.  It was really encouraging to watch the kids begin to identify their strengths and recognize that they hold a lot of talents that they can give to others.

SessaMentors Close up (1)

Also, as we shared these personal traits, we were able to build community on the characteristics we had in common as well as learn from those aspects about us that were different. This activity called for a bit of vulnerability from each member and built an environment of trust and encouragement that remained for the rest of our meal times together.  I walked away from this lunchtime inspired by the children’s imaginations and blessed by the opportunity to find common ground with and learn from children who are at a different place in life than me.