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Dinner On Us: The Beginnings

Joanne Levenson, the director of Commuter Services & Housing Resources Center, conceived the idea of Dinner On Us just over 15 years ago.

In the February of 1998, a grant was accidentally placed on Levenson’s desk soliciting proposals for innovative family programs.  As a young, soon to be mother, Levenson considered what she would like, if she were to attend a family program.

“I’d like it to be after five,” she said, “that way, I could go after work.” Also, “I’d like it to include dinner, because I’d be exhausted,” said Levenson. Thinking about it more, Levenson said that the ideal program “would have childcare, to make [the program] available to different classes,” and, “it should be free,” she said.

The Dinner On Us program was the first of it’s kind. To include childcare and dinner was unheard of, so when Levenson applied for the grant, she was able to turn her innovative idea into a reality.

Since it’s opening in 1998, Levenson has been accommodating approximately 20 households, for a total of about 35 adults per event, which occurs 10 times throughout the semester. The program is open to families with children ages “birth to five,” said Levenson. There is a “mix of undergraduate, graduate, staff, faculty, and Amherst families, from the Amherst Family Center,” she said.

Every week, Levenson chooses a subject for the week, selects speakers, verifies the food that will be delivered, and does all-around trouble-shooting for families attending the event. Over the last four weeks, there have been five new households to participate. Levenson said,

“if a family comes in once, they’re basically hooked.”

She has had families that she has watched transition from participants with newborn children, to parents with teenage children who now come to speak at events.

The Dinner On Us program began a trend of family programs, which offer more to their participants than ever before. Leading that charge, Levenson hopes that sometime in the future her program will gain more funding to expand. If she gains funding, she hopes to arrange for a new event space, making the program more children friendly and available to more adults in the area.

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April 16, 2013 · 1:39 am