Creativity Keeps a Holiday Tradition Alive
The RMHS Life Skills & Support team found creative ways to keep a Thanksgiving tradition alive during a global pandemic.
For more than a decade, the Life Skills & Support (LSS) team has been working together to ensure that every person they support has a delicious home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. It’s a tradition treasured by all and one that was able to continue during this unusual year with some creativity and support from outside the LSS team.
The tradition began as a means for the staff to support the individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities who were living independently and didn’t have family or friends to celebrate with on Thanksgiving. The first year, the LSS staff ordered meals from a restaurant and delivered them to the people they support. The meals ensured that each person supported by the program had something to enjoy on the holiday, but the team wanted to do more.
The LSS team wanted each person’s holiday meal to feel a little more special and to share some of their favorite holiday meal traditions. They team turned to an internal committee, the Excited Planning In Celebration of Coworkers (EPICC) Committee, the focus of which is to find ways for the LSS staff to connect and engage as a team. The committee is composed of six LSS staff: Brooke Janssen, Janice McKay, Bethany Metzel, Susan Wahbeh, Natasha Gresham and Jessica McKnight, who plan and carry out a wide range of teambuilding events and activities during the year.
The EPICC Committee proposed that employees sign up to cook one part of the Thanksgiving meal, using their family recipes, which would be combined and packaged as a complete home cooked meal for those on their own for the holiday.
The act of sharing food and camaraderie has become something both staff and people supported look forward to each year. As the COVID-19 pandemic stretched past the summer and it became obvious to everyone that their traditional gathering to package the meals wouldn’t happen, the EPICC Committee began to explore ideas to modify the tradition.
“This tradition gives all of LSS a lot of joy,” said Susan Wahbeh, LSS Assistant Manager. “There was a lot of anxiety from everyone that it just wouldn’t happen this year.”
The EPICC Committee members put their heads together and started to brainstorm. Because most of the food for the meals is traditionally purchased as a donation by members of the LSS team there wasn’t enough budgeted to simply purchase a meal for the increased number of people in need this year. As the group began to research their options one member, Jessica McKnight a residential specialist with the program, came upon a potential solution.
A Facebook post from Frank’s BBQ advertising their Thanksgiving meals appeared in her news feed. This family-owned and operated business has been a part of the Denver community since 1980 and had always been supportive of her fundraising efforts for Special Olympics. She reached out to ask if they would be willing to sell individually packaged meals, which they agreed to without hesitation. The business put together meals that were only available to LSS at very reasonable cost.
The EPICC Committee had solved one problem -- where to find a packaged meal as close to home cooked as possible -- but they still had to solve their budget issue. For this, they turned to the RMHS JumpStart fund.
JumpStart was created in 1993 to support people’s unique needs. It was born from the generosity and commitment of RMHS employees and is funded through donations from employees and members of the community. JumpStart is designed to be a fund of last resort that is flexible enough to meet a wide array of needs. The EPICC Committee submitted a request for JumpStart assistance and received the funding necessary to purchase a holiday meal for every person and family supported by LSS in need of a meal this year.
“I’m excited to be able to help our families and support a local business that is also struggling right now,” said Ms. McKnight. “This was truly a team effort from the EPICC Committee who came together and did a lot of work to make this happen.”
The holiday season looks very different this year and for some will be difficult because of the loss of traditions and family gatherings. RMHS is so very grateful for its dedicated staff and generous community. Together, we are finding solutions for people in need, and are able to offer some normalcy during this very atypical year.