Reclaiming Lives—One Gyro at a Time

Amy Thissell, HFU Intern & MSW Candidate

On Tuesday, March 14th, I was invited to join Pathways’ participants and clinical staff for Restaurant Club. Each month, with feedback from Pathways’ participants, the Department of Community Inclusion and Advocacy selects a restaurant in Philadelphia to visit for lunch. Last month, the group went out for Italian food, which was highly popular. This month, we ventured over to the neighborhood of Fairmount to try Greek food at Zorba’s Tavern. As someone who has not eaten at many restaurants across the Philadelphia area, I was very excited to try the restaurant’s cuisine and spend time with our participants.

Twelve of us attended and ate lunch together, with the group split between six participants and six staff members. Three of us, including myself, rode the Broad Street subway line to the Fairmount stop and then proceeded to walk several blocks to the restaurant, where we met the others who were joining us for lunch. It was a joy to see the happiness among participants as they ordered their meals, chatted with one another, and tried new foods. I can still hear the sound of laughter and see the bright smiling faces of both participants and staff cackling over shared jokes and stories. Our group enjoyed trying various menu items, including the classic lamb and beef gyro, oven-roasted lamb platter, several orders of french fries, and delicious pita bread.

While Restaurant Club might seem like a simple social outing, community inclusion activities are actually an essential part of the work done at Pathways to Housing PA. In fact, “social and community inclusion” is one of the five key principles of Housing First. Pathways’ mission is to empower people with disabilities to improve their housing stability, achieve better health, and reclaim their lives. The Community Inclusion and Advocacy department works to fulfill the latter part of this mission—Reclaiming Lives.

One goal of Restaurant Club is to introduce participants to new foods or restaurants they have not previously been to. The hope is that if they enjoy themselves, they may choose to return to the restaurant another time independently. You will often hear Pathways’ staff say, “We don't do things for people or to people. We do things with people so that eventually they can do those things independently.” Restaurant Club allows participants to share meals with one another but also to explore new areas of their community, just like any other person who lives in or visits Philadelphia. These types of activities can go a long way in helping people recover from the isolating and traumatic experience of homelessness.

Restaurant Club creates a space for participants to practice vital independent living skills. By interacting with peers, Pathways’ staff, and other members of the larger community, participants build their social skills, strengthen autonomy, and demonstrate agency. They also practice financial skills by budgeting for a two-dollar contribution towards the bill, as well as by choosing menu items that fit within their spending allotment. Community Inclusion recognizes the needs of the whole individual in finding, reclaiming, and living a truly fulfilling life. These activities can provide important opportunities for participants to engage in society in ways that were previously inaccessible to them during their experience of homelessness.

It’s safe to say that our group enjoyed not only the food we ate, but also the company that we shared. One participant reflected that he attends Restaurant Club so that he can spend time with his favorite staff member and try delicious foods. The restaurant staff were also very friendly and accommodating to our large group who gathered for lunch. With several to-go containers and full stomachs, we thanked the restaurant staff for their service as we headed out to continue with our Tuesday afternoon. I am thankful that I was invited to attend Restaurant Club and look forward to hearing which restaurant they choose for next month’s adventure!