What is Open Table?
When people hear “Open Table” they think of the restaurant reservation application we use on our phones. However, in Cleveland it is also a national faith-based model that we are using to change the lives of young adults between the ages of 18-27 who grew up in foster care and aged out without being adopted or reunified with family.
In January of 2014, the founder of the model came to Cleveland and a few churches licensed the model and we began planning the launch of our first tables. We have engaged churches, faith-based organizations, businesses and nonprofits–like the YWCA of Greater Cleveland and the National Council of Jewish Women. By forming partnerships with individuals and organizations, we are recruiting a diverse pool of committed volunteers. The model is now rapidly expanding thanks to the support of Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services. The government support has been critical to engaging volunteers from all around our community. Our ultimate goal is to be able to offer any young person who has been impacted by foster care a small community of mentors willing to help them organize their goals and dreams and move forward with support.
What happens when you leave foster care?
Leaving foster care at 18+ does not typically result in good outcomes. Young people are not equipped to survive alone in the world and if they were not given permanency–either through reunification with family or through adoption, they leave care alone in the world. In Cleveland, we have around 130 young people who “age out” of the system with little guidance about what comes next in their lives. They have experienced trauma from their life experiences and they often have higher rates of homelessness, mental health problems, incarceration, and early parenting–compared to their peers who have permanent connections because of their families.
What does The Table look like?
Open Table creates small communities of people, usually 6-8 volunteers we call “table members”. They agree to spend a minimum of 1 hour a week for a year with the young person we call “brother/sister”. They each take a role, although they all work together on each area of interest towards whatever goals the brother or sister wants to accomplish. This commitment builds trust and relationship between the brother/sister and his/her table members. Relationship is the driver of change in this model. Mutuality is also an important component. They aren’t our clients or our patients or our projects–they are our friends. We look at them as the experts on their own lives. We also believe in sharing our lives with them. We have dinner together, go to the movies, celebrate holidays and birthdays, go to family weddings, make cookies, go to games, and enjoy spending time together around a table.
Volunteers pay a small fee to sit on the table, and for many of our young people, table members are the first people in their lives who are not paid to be there. The fact that table members pay a small amount to sit on the table sends a powerful message to the young person. They are worth the time of strangers. People are willing to pay to be in their lives and help them, because they believe in their potential and want to support them in reaching their dreams.
We have 17 tables for young adults in Cleveland. We decided that as we create more tables, we wanted to hear more from our youth about what the tables mean to them. After interviewing the young adults about what they thought the mission and vision for Cleveland Open Table should be, we developed the following statements defining and driving the work from their words.
The mission of the Cleveland Open Table Initiative
Cleveland Open Table Initiative is a faith-based partnership model which creates small communities of hope where young adults who have experienced foster care connect weekly with a committed group of volunteer mentors. Young people look forward to coming to The Table because it is a place of peace and belonging. The youth-led partnership promotes new experiences through action, love and lasting relationships.
The vision of our work
This statement was taken from an interview with a young lady with a table, and we believed it fit for both the young person and the community members around the table.
“At the end of The Table, I don’t want to be in the same position. I want my life to be changed because of my relationships with my Table.”
This is Cleveland’s first Open Table having a birthday celebration. When speaking about his experience with his small community of hope, Michael said, “They actually showed me what a real family is and helped me mature.” His table members told him that he has changed their lives as well. They have been together since 2014. To read their story: https://cuyahogacounty.us/404.aspx?aspxerrorpath=/en-US/Open-Table-Opens-Hearts.aspx
Cleveland is a community of hope
There are a lot of great things happening right now in our city.
Cleveland, as a city, is filled with eternally optimistic people. People that want to make our community better. Young people are our future and young people who have grown up without families, need our help and deserve our investment. We might not be able to end fiscal poverty in the first year of our time together, but we will end relational poverty. They will not be alone in the world, after they begin their table. We believe this is the first step to helping to improve the outcomes for our young people. Our table members have networks and connections in the community that they leverage to try to improve opportunities for their brother/sister. We believe that one hour at a time, one person at a time–all of our lives are changed for the better.
We would be thrilled to tell you more about this movement and how you could support our work. We are a community of hope, and hope is contagious. In this holiday season, seeing young people spend time with their table members reminds us all that we are better together. We are a better city because of the people investing in our young people. We would love to welcome you around the table as well, so if you want to find out how you or your organization can be a part of this movement of hope, please contact CLEcommunityofhope@gmail.com or complete our indication of interest form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdKGoxfef1ryrX7qiw1NYl4FVMczbB8ooXCC-s7RzeTBOz_qg/viewform?c=0&w=1.
Over the next year, we will be sharing stories of transformation and hope of how lives are being changed around Cleveland.
From people building longer tables…..not taller fences.
“I am convinced men hate each other because they fear each other, and they fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they are often separated from each other.”-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.