DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. -- Being at St. Christopher’s residential treatment center in Dobbs Ferry isn’t always the happiest time for the teens with emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities who live there.
But on Wednesday night, Nov. 19, residents and their families stopped to joyfully celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and reflect on the things for which they are thankful.
“I’m thankful for everything I wasn’t before,” said one teen resident, to the gymnasium filled with guests for St. Christopher’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. “I’m thankful for waking up everyday. Whether it’s a cold day or a hot day, I thank God.”
For decades, St. Christopher’s staff has volunteered each year to cook a Thanksgiving buffet for the residents and their families at each of the residential treatment center’s three locations in Dobbs Ferry, Valhalla and in New Windsor in Orange County.
About 75 students, 85 family and 50 staff members broke bread at the Clark Academy at 71 Broadway, located on the same campus as the treatment center, where the buffet-style dinner is held annually in Dobbs Ferry.
“It’s very simple for us as professionals to say they are this problem or that problem, but when you come to St. Christopher’s we try to treat you like family," said Dr. Luke Hung, the senior clinical director for St. Christopher’s.
"We think it's important to have a big circle of family-type influences for these kids. It’s important to express how much we care about them.”
Guests were welcomed to sit at decorated tables with cookies and apple cider, then help themselves to turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, dessert and other Thanksgiving favorites while enjoying music flowing from speakers.
It takes the kitchen staff about two days to cook for each of the three dinners, after planning the event over a series of about three meetings.
Not a scrap of food goes to waste as everyone is invited to take home doggy bags.
St. Christopher’s also prepares turkey baskets for their needier families to take home that includes a turkey and all the fixings necessary for a nice meal on Thanksgiving Day. About 29 baskets were made up for the Dobbs Ferry location.
“It’s an opportunity to experience families in a better moment,” said Hung.
“Lots of times when we see these families there is bad news. This gets to be a happy moment and an opportunity for everyone to appreciate family in a moment that isn’t stressful.”
Marijah Alicea, a 17-year-old resident, has been to the last four St. Christopher’s Thanksgiving dinners and said her favorite part is the entertainment where students perform, recite, poems or speak from their hearts thanking family and staff members.
“I’m thankful for the education, and I have I’m thankful for the family that I have and for the great support system here and friends,” said the high school senior.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.