Name: Jennifer Burt
As a few of Lisa Assante’s quantity foods production students learn to fry apple fritters in their weekly cooking lab, a student down the line omits a key ingredient from his Monte Cristo bread coating, resulting in a lack-luster piece of glorified toast and good-natured teasing from the entire group.
This is a close-knit class, and amidst the jokes and laughter, they offer one another helpful suggestions and words of encouragement. They are wholly vested in each one another’s success.
And though much of this is to Dr. Assante’s credit – the University’s 2009 Outstanding Educator is well known for a collaborative and amicable classroom environment – there is something more binding these Hotel, Resort and Hospitality Management students together in their studies.
In just two short weeks, at the tail end of a very busy semester, these nine students will host a charity dinner of epic proportion.
Themed after the simple wish to visit with Mickey Mouse on a Disney cruise ship made by five-year-old David, a Cedar City resident fighting pancreotoblastoma cancer, this fundraiser dinner will mimic the hospitality industry’s acclaimed cruise ship dinner buffets, complete with ice sculptures and live entertainment in addition to the standard gourmet cuisine.
Assante says this is the largest service-learning project any of her classes have ever tackled, and each of her students has completed hours of additional event work each week on top of their in-class cooking and take-home studies.
Talking to these students, however, makes this Make-a-Wish fundraiser project sound like anything but homework. And as the big day draws near, they are excited to see months of hard work come together for a charitable cause that they selected in the first week of class last January.
According to Assante, who has done similar service-learning projects in semesters past, even though this class is smaller in size than she is used to – especially considering the lofty $10,000 fundraising objective – the end result will be “the best yet”.
She credits this to her students, who she says have all committed themselves to making David's wish come true.
This is evident when talking with Assante’s students about the upcoming dinner. Even though they all came into the class with plans to learn the basics of food preparation and service for large groups, not one of them is talking about the menu they will be preparing on November 17. Instead, they talk about David’s sense of humor and charisma.
They laugh when they recall how he took charge in a kitchen full of strangers – he especially liked using the meat mallet – and they speak with admiration when they talk about the protective nature of David’s father who was anxious for his son to have fun and yet a bit hesitant to step too far off to the side.
And though, as senior Cindy Stephens put it, “it’s been a lot of hard work – a lot more than I thought it would take to host a one-night event,” she and her peers all believe it has been time well spent. “As long as people turn out to enjoy it and to help David,” she adds.
Listening to Stephens speak about David, it is clear she has learned far more than just how to cook this semester.
And that was Assante’s intention all along.
A leader in the University’s Service Learning initiative, Assante, who spent decades as a leader in the hospitality field before joining higher ed as a professor, says the two most important qualities for students interested in this field are experience and enthusiasm. She structures her courses to make sure her students leave with both.
Firmly believing that “we all work harder for things we believe in,” she tries to root her instruction in life lessons that apply to all walks of life – this semester’s lesson: charity and compassion, along with recipe adaptation and menu budgeting.
Assante’s approach seems to be working.
When Stephensen talks about her class' partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, she recognizes the challenges the class has faced tackling such a large project with very little fundraising experience and few business connections, but she is quick to add, "I’ve been happy to do it. It’s important to help others – especially a little boy as cute as David.”
The hard work of Stephensen and her peers will culminate in a Disney-themed benefit dinner and silent auction next Wednesday, November 17 in the Great Hall of SUU’s Haze Hunter Conference Center.
Tickets are currently on sale and will also be sold at the door for $25 per person. Included in this price is an all-you-can-eat gourmet buffet, live entertainment and a special tribute to David and the other local children and families who have struggled with life-threatening diseases and partnered with the Make-A-Wish organization.
The event, planned and executed entirely by Assante’s HRHM 3110 students, is open to the public and promises fun for the whole family and for a good cause.
Meanwhile, donations via cash or check, made out to SUU-HRHM, will be welcomed and enthusiastically accepted. If preferred, those interested in helping grant David's wish may contribute directly to the SUU HRHM (account number 45032) donation account Assante has set up through Zion's Bank.
Additionally, donation cans are on display throughout the community at many local businesses and a few Cedar City restaurants have and will continue to host charity nights, donating a portion of the evening's proceeds to David's wish. A complete list of giving opportunities is available upon request. Contact Jennifer Burt at 435-586-1997 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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