Youth group welcomes community, new and old

Dozens of families, couples and singles filed through the doors of the Thompson Community Centre to take in the smells of a freshly cooked meal and the sounds of caroling and jazz.

The Richmond Youth Service Agency (RYSA) hosted its 8th Annual Winter Community Dinner last Friday night. About 25 volunteers from the U-Connect youth group were on hand to help out.

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"It was very upbeat and good to see all the volunteers be active and interact with the guests," said 22-year-old Eddie Cheung, who volunteered at his fifth dinner this year. "It was heartwarming to see."

The dinner was a youth initiative created by the youth of the agency eight years ago as a way to welcome both new and old families and provide a space for Richmondites to mingle.

"I think quite a few of [the youth] have experienced discrimination growing up in Richmond," said Daylene Marshall, manager of special programs at RYSA. "They feel it can be a bit segregated. So, the idea was to have a dinner that was welcoming for everyone and I think they were successful at that."

The youth served a chicken dinner with potatoes and salad. They also decided to try a stone soup where each person brings a vegetable or ingredient for the pot.

The idea comes from an old folk story about cooperation where a hungry soldier decided to make soup in his helmet and villagers all pitch in, according to Cheung.

Some members of the group also sang carols and played in the jazz band, while others helped at the arts and crafts table for the children.

"People who didn't really know each other talked and shared their experiences of coming to Canada," said 17-year-old Benny Pan, who joined RYSA earlier this fall to get more involved with his community.

"The dinner shows we're a welcoming community to those who are new and also gives them a sense of safety where they can get to know their neighbours."

RYSA's U-Connect crew began planning for the event in October and raised $230 for the dinner through a Krispy Kreme fundraiser.

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