The families sat together in little units, all taking the other families in with their eyes. Plates and forks sang a chorus of clatter louder than voices communicating with each other. Food was being prepared and eaten, but eight families gathered as relative strangers and measured each other from across the tables.
It was January of 2016 and the Cancun Strong Families Dinner had just had their first community meal.
“The goal is for families to be independent with their resources, interdependent in their communities, and dependent on Christ,” explains Emily Riggs, Program Manager of the Community Center in Tres Reyes. “The vision for gathering the eight Strong Families once a month is to create space where community can happen; if we’re going to be working with these eight families consistently, we want to foster space for them to actually be together.”
With this vision and mission in mind, the Strong Families Dinners kicked off at the beginning of 2016. Initially the atmosphere felt strained.
“The families didn’t really know each other. They live in the same community, but Tres Reyes is big; it’s broken into three sections and each section can be up to an hour away from the other,” explained Emily. “We were making space for eight families and twenty-one children to gather in one room, but they were technically strangers.”
Between the February and March dinners, the Strong Families moms had the opportunity to be a part of a sewing workshop led by master seamstress, Heidi Duncan.
“Spending two weeks together in sewing classes and learning a new skill bonded them in a way they hadn’t been before,” explained Emily. “Eight women walked into a two-week sewing class as strangers and completed it as sisters. It was transformative.”
With this new aspect of friendship present in their stories, the moms and their strong families gathered in March and it was a completely different atmosphere.
“They were greeting each other warmly and catching up,” said Emily. “You could feel the community growing in the room.”
As the women continue to bring their children and husbands to Strong Family Dinners each month, they are forming solid, lifelong friendships. By being a part of each other’s lives in this deep way, they are shifting from taking care of their own needs to taking care of one another.
In January, the dinners were laced with sounds of scraping forks and quiet murmurs.
Now, in November, the Strong Families Dinners are made up of long tables stretched across a common room. Family-style meals, boisterous conversations, and family shift the perspective of a small unit to a vibrant community.