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Dinner parties help Charlestown newcomers feel right at home

Created date

June 22nd, 2010

When was the last time you invited your neighbors over to dinner? If you re Sally Pound and Mary Ann Ressler, the answer is all the time. In the last year, the duo has wined and dined more than 65 of their new neighbors through the Dining Ambassador Program they helped start at Charlestown.

Meet and greet

[caption id="attachment_12573" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Dining Ambassadors help their new neighbors get acquainted with one another and the community in general in Charlestown s Chesapeake Restaurant. (Photo by Jim Thompson)"][/caption] Each month, Pound and Ressler plan one dinner party in each ofCharlestown sfour full-service restaurants: the Atrium, Fireside, Chesapeake, and Refectory. Armed with a list of new residents, the two get to work scheduling dinner dates, mailing out invitations, and planning the details. They also enlist the help of 13 dining ambassador volunteers who greet and dine with the guests. Dotty Sullivan volunteers as a dining ambassador atCharlestown sRefectory. The dinners are relaxed and filled with laughter, the tables are beautifully set with name cards and flowers, complimentary wine and hors d oeuvres are served before dinner, and the chef always stops by the table to greet everyone, she says. Quite a big deal is made over the newcomers. I think they really appreciate it and feel special. Sullivan enjoys helping new residents feel comfortable and easing their anxieties about this new phase in their life. At the last dinner I attended, she recalls, as we were all leaving, two of the couples exchanged telephone numbers so they could get together, and I thought to myself: Yes! It s working!

Ice breaker

No sooner did Ed and Mary Lou Hastry finish unpacking their belongings at their newCharlestown apartment home than they were invited to dinner at the Fireside Restaurant. It was nice to meet and network with new residents, say the Hastrys. Mary Ann and Sally do an excellent job of making everyone feel comfortable. You can tell that they really enjoy what they do. We look forward to hopefully volunteering with the Dining Ambassador Program in the future. In September 2009, just a few weeks after Lyle and Gloria McCullough moved toCharlestown from Elkridge, they were delighted to receive an invitation to dinner at the Refectory Restaurant. The immediate camaraderie was a great introduction toCharlestown, say the McCulloughs, who were acquaintances of Pound prior to moving toCharlestown. The menu was like dining at one of AAA s four-star restaurants.

Knowing what it s like to be new

Both Pound and Ressler are relative newcomers themselves. Pound moved toCharlestown in May 2008 after living and working in Washington, D.C., for 34 years. Ressler and her husband moved from their Catonsville home of 41 years into an apartment home two floors below Pound in October 2008. Not long after settling in, the two neighbors got wind of the Dining Ambassador Program and volunteered as cochairs for the group. Another resident, Betty Jackson, came up with the idea but didn t have the time to organize it, says Pound. That s where we came in. CharlestownCommunity Resources Manager Mary Evans says Pound and Ressler have done a remarkable job of taking an idea that otherwise might not have materialized and turning it into an incredibly successful program. [Someone] in my office told me about these two delightful ladies who had just moved toCharlestown and were looking for something to sink their teeth into, says Evans. It just happened that at the same time, I was trying to get this Dining Ambassador Program off the ground. There was no coaching or trying to encourage them to get involved; it just came naturally. I think they both had good experiences moving into the community and wanted to make the experience for others as good, if not better. Their goal is to make this a topnotch experience for new residents, and they ve really succeeded. To get started, Pound and Ressler sought the help ofCharlestownDirector of Dining Services Vinson Bankoski. Together, the three worked to create a program that familiarizes new residents withCharlestown srestaurants, as well as the people who live and work at the community. We send thank you notes to the chef and manager of each restaurant for going through all the trouble they do, says Pound. After all, they ve got a huge restaurant to take care of and yet they give us a lot of their time to make the dinner special. They really give us the best of everything!