Up until the pandemic in 2020, Avenues for Justice (AFJ) held family-style Friday dinners to establish a sense of community and to build trust with our Participants at our two centers in Harlem and the Lower East Side. AFJ Court Advocates, Participants and volunteers prepared home-cooked meals together, or ordered food from local restaurants. Dinner guests often included friends and family of our Participants, as well as Board and Junior Board members, and AFJ supporters.
That all changed on March 13,2020, when we closed our centers for the quarantine, moved court advocacy services online, and launched our HIRE UP online programs for job training, education, and mental health wellness. Thankfully, our community centers on the Lower East Side and in Harlem have fully reopened. We are delighted to announce that, as of this past October, our Friday evening dinners are back!
The first two dinners at our Harlem community center featured tacos and Chinese food. For two of our Participants, it was the first time that they had either type of food. Both Participants shared with their Court Advocates how much they enjoyed sampling new dishes and requested more opportunities to do so.
“I’ve seen Participants grow confidence in trying different meals and going outside of their comfort zone. At first it was hard to get them to eat something they hadn’t heard of, seen or had before. However, they now trust the process of trying new things and enjoying them. This helps them build trust with us as Court Advocates, and ultimately makes them think of going outside of the box as less scary and more of something that can open up new doors, which is really important if they want to get out of their current situations.” ~Nora Mitchell, AFJ Court Advocate
Our community centers serve a larger purpose beyond court advocacy and our wholistic HIRE UP programs. We go the extra mile to ensure that our participants have a safe space to unwind, de-stress and unpack their day with their peers, and a place where they can always count on getting a nourishing meal.
We look forward to our upcoming group dinners where our Participants can continue bonding, learning about different cultures and exploring new cuisines!