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Washington County Career Center students get early Thanksgiving dinner

Career Center students get early Thanksgiving dinner

Photo by Michael Kelly Students at the Washington County Career Center visit with one another during the center’s annual Thanksgiving dinner for students and staff Wednesday at the school.

The emphasis for the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Washington County Career Center is “family style.”

The tradition started more than 18 years ago, with students and staff sitting down together during lunchtime the day before Thanksgiving to share a traditional turkey dinner. Serving is done by the staff as students sit and visit with one another.

This year’s was the largest ever, as enrollment at the career center continues to grow. Marketing and events coordinator Penny Jenkins said most of the center’s 523 students, along with 75 staff, attended the dinner, which is a substantial undertaking.

Jenkins said the AVI catering staff prepared turkey breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, corn, dinner rolls, and apple and pumpkin pie. The ingredients included 216 pounds of turkey, three cases each of mashed potatoes and stuffing, five cases of canned green beans and two cases of canned corn, five cases of gravy, nine cases of rolls, seven cases each of apple and pumpkin pie, and two cases of whipped topping.

The students filled the tables in the center’s media center, just inside the front entrance, filling the space with a wash of conversation as staff members helped serve and then sat down with their students.

Senior Ashley Farnsworth, who is studying medical college prep, said the Thanksgiving event is another extension of the intimate feeling of the school.

“I love this. It feels like a big family, I know everybody by name and we talk to each other as we pass in the hallways,” she said. “This year, I’m thankful for my in-school and out-of-school families. My prep teacher, Robin Wright, has been like my in-school mom since I started here.”

Kynalyn Waderker, a senior studying sports medicine, enjoys the chance to mix with students she doesn’t normally see during the course of the day.

“It’s a very family atmosphere, and it’s good to come together with the students from other programs,” she said. Waderker has signed with Otterbein College for next year.

“I’m starting out on my future, and I’m really thankful for the support from my family and the school,” she said.

Senior Jackson Wesel is in the graphic design and videography course and will be attending an integrated media program at Ohio University next year.

“This dinner has a real sense of community with the entire career center,’ he said. “I was just talking to some people I’d never met before. This year, I’m thankful for my friends and for the safety of home.”

Carson Urban is a junior enrolled in the heavy equipment operating course, and this year was his first experience with the career center Thanksgiving gathering.

“It’s pretty awesome, a real family style, a chance to hang out with my friends,” he said. “I’m thankful for my family and friends.”

Principal Michael Elliott, who spent much of the dinner ferrying fresh bowls of mashed potatoes and other fare to the seated students, paused for a moment to talk about the event.

“We just want to show our appreciation for the generosity and kindness of our students, and AVI delivered a great meal for us,” he said. A passing staff member noticed the Pittsburgh Steelers logo on his white apron.

“Great apron!” she shouted, drawing the attention of a group at nearby table. “Boo!” they reacted in chorus.

Superintendent Dennis Blatt said the tradition was started by Roger Bartunek when he was superintendent, two decades ago.

“The staff is always looking for extra things they can do for students, to express our gratitude to them,” he said. Staff at the school have noted in previous years that for some students, this might be the only Thanksgiving meal and gathering they have. “I told one student it would be family-style, and he said, ‘What does that mean?'” Blatt said.

A rain squall that set in during the morning had passed by the end of the meal, and students went outside to relax in the fair weather that followed. A group began tossing a football on the entry drive. “Heads up!” one yelled as he overthrew the ball into a big group gathered by the door. A student turned and caught the ball neatly and threw it back.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

WCCC dinner:

• A chance for the entire school student body and staff to have a holiday meal together

• Tradition begun more than 18 years ago

• This year nearly 600 students and staff attended

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