What I remember most from filming this video with Alaa, a recent FirstStep graduate, is the scent of cardamom from the shaiyah and yellow rice wafting from the kitchen into her new living room. The last time I had shared this particular meal with Alaa was when she was still a resident at Joy House.

As a live-in staff member at Joy House and a new member of Providence Network’s Development Team, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time pricing the cost of community dinners in our FirstStep transitional homes. What’s been even harder is quantifying the impact of those community dinners on the lives of our residents.

I’m pleased to announce that after much deliberation, my answer to the question, “If I give to Providence Network, where exactly does my dollar go?” is:

“Around the holidays, your dollar goes most directly to life changing, although perhaps slightly dry, turkey.”

Photo of a woman wearing a black turban and smiling.

Harvard Medical School’s Anne Fishel can attest that we are serious about the “life changing” part. (I can attest to the “slightly dry” part.)

When I read this podcast transcript, I wasn’t too surprised by most of the statistics Dr. Fishel threw out. Despite the numerous physical and mental health benefits that come with having regular family meals, only around thirty-percent of families in the U.S. have dinner together regularly. (And, as it tends to go, high-income families have meals together more often than low-income families do.)

There were, however, more surprising, insightful points Dr. Fishel made that were corroborated by Alaa’s experiences at Joy House.

Regular family meals also yield academic benefits. Why? Because often the diction used to tell stories around the table is different from what is found in books and other academic texts, increasing one’s vocabulary. This was especially true for Alaa, who says here that she improved her English more effectively by talking to people at Joy House (including during community dinner and group) than in her community college classes.

Family mealtimes become a long-term practice in both quality cooking and quality time. “Mealtime” is a slight misnomer: time spent eating together is remembered primarily as time spent together. Family meals done well are family meals missed. That’s why, despite what we many think, eighty-percent of children and teenagers would rather eat with their families than in front of a screen. (Even Alaa’s daughter has expressed missing Joy House dinners.) It’s likely also why children who regularly attend family dinners are more likely to carry on the practice, and reap the benefits, when they’re grown.

If you haven’t given financially to Providence Network this year, please watch the video below and consider making a donation. Remember: any amount makes a difference, and a gift of $120 sets a slightly dry but life-changing turkey (plus sides!) on the table at Joy House and our other transitional homes—just part of the greater practice of “community meals” that can positively impact the lives of residents like Alaa.


Jadan Anderson
Development Operations Specialist
Joy House Community Partner