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Recipe for success

Local students learn life skills, form friendships while earning scholarships

Created date

April 17th, 2015
Oak Crest staff and resident
Oak Crest staff and resident

Eight years ago, while still a freshman in high school, Justin Wolf began working as a waiter and host at Oak Crest hoping to earn some money toward college. But unlike most first jobs, this one gave Justin more than just a paycheck—he got the wisdom and support of 2,200 adopted grandparents. 

“Working as a student is beneficial beyond the paycheck every two weeks. You can learn things here that you can carry with you for the rest of your life,” says Wolf, service manager of Oak Crest’s Oak Room Restaurant and Acorn Pub. “I’ve learned so much from the residents over the years, I don’t even know where to start.”

Gift of knowledge

Oak Crest’s four restaurants are staffed with high school students who work as hosts and servers. In addition to a regular paycheck, students have the opportunity to earn up to $500 a semester through the Oak Crest Scholar’s Fund, a scholarship program funded by the residents and management of Oak Crest. Eligible students receive $1,200 per year with a lifetime maximum of $4,000 toward higher education.

The Oak Crest Scholar’s Fund was established in 1997. Since then, more than $2.5 million has been awarded. 

Wolf received a $4,000 scholarship to the University of Baltimore where he earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration. He currently attends the University of Maryland Baltimore County master’s program in management of aging services.

“Students must work a minimum of 1,000 hours, maintain a positive work record, and work to genuinely build relationships with Oak Crest residents,” says Todd Sullivan, director of philanthropy at Oak Crest. “Almost the entire amount of money that is awarded comes from the generosity of our residents through donations in support of the young people they are so fond of.” 

Currently, 260 students from Parkville, Perry Hall, Eastern Tech, and Overlea High Schools work in Oak Crest’s four restaurants. Students must be at least 14 years old to apply. Once hired, they work three, three-hour shifts each week.

“We look for students who are friendly and have a willingness to serve and the ability to follow directions,” says David Colacicco, director of dining services at Oak Crest. “Our residents love the friendliness of the students and interacting with the younger generation. They love hearing their stories and watching them grow up. And the students learn good work habits—learn about the food they are serving and how to perform well in order to move up.”

More than a career

Audrey Buchanan is the dining services committee chair of the Resident Advisory Council (RAC) at Oak Crest. The RAC serves as a voice for residents regarding their satisfaction, comfort, and safety, much like local community associations across the country. 

Members of the dining services committee attend new employee orientations with the students to inform them of what life is like at Oak Crest.  

“For most of them, this is their first job,” says Audrey. “So we try to give them an idea of what to expect and let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes.”

Audrey says Oak Crest residents enjoy getting to know the servers personally and adopt them as if they were their own grandkids. Many, she says, start out as servers and go on to become managers or go into the culinary arts. 

“We have watched so many of these kids move up the ladder,” says Audrey. “We let them know how proud we are of them and that we recognize their efforts. We try to be encouraging and tell them when they are doing a good job. You can see their faces just beam when you compliment them.”  

Celebrating success

Each April, Oak Crest residents celebrate the current class of graduating students with a graduation ceremony held in the on-site John Erickson Conference Center. It is an opportunity for the students to introduce their families from home with their resident family at Oak Crest. 

Sullivan says the parents usually love the idea of their kids working at the community as much as the students. 

“They know that Oak Crest is a place where their kids will be safe and surrounded by people who genuinely care for them,” says Sullivan. 

As for Wolf, he says the relationships he has forged at Oak Crest have shaped him into a responsible, respectful adult. 

“I learned a lot of things here you just can’t learn in a classroom,” he says.