La Vida Local
Irregular Notes on West End Life
Today’s Topic: You Never Know Who You’ll Meet
by Rosanne Graef, Past President – West End Neighborhood Association
In early March I received an e-mail from Mitch Mason, Cumberland County 4-H Youth Development Educator with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The subject line was, “Volunteer Opportunity (fun!).”
Opening a message like that can fill me with trepidation, but this offer was truly worth the click.
Mitch is the leader of the three-year-old Portland High School Humanitarian Assisters 4-H Club. There are 24 members in the club. Their emphasis is on Leadership, Community Service & Assistance, and Workforce Development. Anne Smith of Bright Futures and Glenn Nerbak, Director of Portland Mentor Alliance, help lead the club.
The fun volunteer opportunity was a chance to be a “kitchen consultant” for a group of five to six 4-H’ers scheduled to be Guest Chefs at Ronald McDonald House on Brackett Street near Maine Medical Center.
Mitch explained that the dinner would be prepared right there in the Ronald McDonald House kitchen, and set out buffet-style at 6 p.m. for the guests of the house.
The role of the kitchen consultant is to help the teens when they have a cooking question, such as what utensil/pan should I use, how should I slice this, is this done yet; as well as making sure they’re staying on schedule.
The menu is planned ahead of time by the students, and they have purchased the food. Most of the Portland High 4-H members are from Iraq, Somalia or Central Africa, and they often try to add some home cooking to the meal. They’ve got kitchen experience, and really need very little supervision.
Now this was sounding like fun!
The menu was chicken and mixed vegetable biryani, ground beef and lamb sambusas and fruit salad.
The ingredients were paid for by US Cellular as part of a 4-H Service Grant. The Humanitarian Assisters have been doing these dinners at RMH for two years and it costs about $125 each time. The funding is totally dependent on random grants, so there’s no guarantee that the program will continue each year.
The night I was there, the students were cooking for around 40 guests who are family members of children from all over Maine who are patients at MMC.
The meal preparation went off without a hitch, the 4-H’ers were attentive, efficient and friendly, working well with each other, Mitch, and me, as well as Kent Redford, who had gotten squeezed out of an earlier chance to volunteer and jumped into this group.
The aromas of the cooking food made mouths water and the resulting spread was a colorful feast for the eyes. And it was ready just as guests started to trickle in for dinner.
Current West End Neighborhood Association President Ian Jacob was a kitchen consultant also. He worked with Portland High 4-H members from Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Congo on April 12th.
Ian says, “My experience was entertaining, instructive, inspiring and satisfying.”
I’ll second that!
As an added bonus, I ran into Ray Ruby, the former Portland Police Department Youth Services Officer. After several years with the South Portland Boys & Girls Club, he’s now the house manager at Ronald McDonald House, enjoying the challenge, contemplating grad school and, who knows, perhaps making another foray into Portland politics.