About 20 years ago, our Executive Director’s wife, Denise McDaniel and some others began hosting monthly Recognition Dinners for all of the children at Coyote Hill. As we are beginning those again as Encouragement Dinners, Denise shares their history:
I LOVED the monthly Recognition dinners! At that time, we were using a behavioral program that rewarded positive behaviors with a point system. At each monthly dinner, the children received rewards for the points they had earned. We have since moved on from a point system. However, recognizing good behaviors and actions and bragging on our kids, in front of their peers and others, was and still is a wonderful way to encourage and acknowledge their positive actions.
For me, personally, the very best part of the Recognition Dinners was being all together. Crowded as it was, all of us sitting around tables in the basement of one of the homes, it felt like we came together as one big Coyote Hill family, bound together for a time of celebrating and unity and encouragement. It was always a fun time. The kids seemed to really enjoy it and I loved that.
Organizing a dinner for 20 to 40 people every month looked like this. Suzie Forbis (who was in the office at the time) and I use to call churches and groups that supported The Hill and ask if they would like to cover a meal. If they agreed, we assigned them a month and a date and then they provided the people to prepare and bring the food, serve the meal and help with clean up. They were then also some of the guests who got to see the recognition time.
Other guests varied from month to month. Anytime we had a new donor, or an area politician, or someone in the community who had been involved (say a special teacher or a police officer) we sent them invitations. Board members were always invited. It helped the children feel special when someone “important” was there to see their recognitions. They were proud of that.
We never wanted this evening to be more work for our Home Parents, so myself and others would go early to clean, vacuum, set up tables and decorate. On the months when I couldn’t find a group to host the meal, I covered it.
Their were a few different factors in deciding to discontinue the recognition dinners. For one, we stopped using the point system for positive behaviors. Also, schedules got busier and busier. It was not easy for several homes to have the same night open and available one night a month so they could all participate. Most of all, there just was no longer a place where we could all gather together. At that time, being all together was a big part of the recognition dinners, so when we could no longer all fit in a basement of one of the homes, we stopped doing them.
I am so thankful that recognition dinners are starting again. It’s important to remember why they began in the first place, and remember how positive it is for the children.
Recently, some of our staff decided that just because we can’t fit all of Coyote Hill into a home’s basement anymore doesn’t mean we can’t host Encouragement Dinners (our new name for them.) Thus, each home will be hosting their own dinner as time and schedules allow. In March, The Zimmer Home hosted the very first Encouragement Dinner. One of our faithful volunteers, Colleen Goss, offered to cook dinner for everyone. Home Parents Cody and Amanda Cox thought of awards for each child in their home.
Cody and Amanda conclude, “Their awards were for a wide range of things. For instance, one teen’s award was for being a mature and respectful communicator when emailing a teacher about a tough situation they weren’t agreeing on. Another young man’s was for being a helpful member of the house by starting the cars and salting the sidewalks on cold winter days. One young lady’s award was for being thoughtful and considerate to others by helping clean up after the Super Bowl party without being asked. We saw it as a way to encourage the kids in a formal and intentional enough way that helps make sure the positive things that are happening with our kids is not going unnoticed.
“Overall, the night went great! Our kids really received what we had to say about them and it meant a lot to them. We have several teenagers, but none of them scoffed at it, and they all still have the certificates in their rooms. Our first experience with an Encouragement Dinner was very positive.”