“Expect the unexpected” has always felt like nonsense advice to me. I am a notorious planner, who needs to have everything to precede as intended so it never made sense for me to plan for something that cannot be planned for. However, throughout my FoodCorps service over the past year and a half, I have actually come to appreciate that advice. Every single moment of service – from working with kids, to learning about the school system, to planning for extremely hectic schedules – is a rollercoaster of surprises.
One of my favorite unpredictable twists in my service this year came this fall. In October, I was awarded a grant to create several Kids Cook Monday Family Cooking Nights at Sacred Heart Elementary in Camden, New Jersey. Excited, I was expecting to have two months of preparation for our first event. After meeting with Sacred Heart’s Principal Williams, I learned that we had only three short weeks to prepare! Prior to FoodCorps, this quick deadline would have put me in a tailspin – now, I took a deep breath and started to make lists instead. Principal Williams worked with me almost every day to help plan and give advice in the weeks before our event. Because of this, I realized that the hectic deadline actually gave me the chance to get to know Principal Williams better!
At our inaugural event, after learning how to work together to chop, saute, and measure, the families who attended added their frittata to the oven. While waiting for the dish to cook, we participated in the “Family Dinner Date Conversations:” snippets of information and questions used to encourage familial discussion. Before starting, I imagined a half-hearted effort from the participants and prepared myself to see eyes glued to cell phones. Pleasantly surprised, what happened was the best case scenario: the families were completely captivated! As I walked around and listened, I heard parents ask “who are your role models?” to which fifth graders answered eloquently: “Rosa Parks, J.F.K, and Martin Luther King Jr.” Parents even went off-script to ask “why are they your heroes?” and the conversation became much deeper and richer. Ours was a small group in a large cafeteria, but for those twenty minutes, voices filled the room! One of the parents suggested doing the Mannequin Challenge – obviously, that part was not planned, but it ended up being the most engaging part of the evening! Many families rated the time while the dish was baking in the oven as the best part of the evening and I would have to agree! Their raucous laughter and insightful discussions made the planning scramble worth it.
So, after many months of service and learning, my advice to future FoodCorps service members, educators, parents, gardeners, and food lovers is to expect the unexpected. Just like my Family Cooking Night, the unexpected often yields the best outcome! I believe it now: lean into the chaos and enjoy the ride!