Twenty years ago, Sonya Seals had a young child who attended school in the building across the street from the Orchard Place Campus. Sonya was looking for a job opportunity that would allow her to be closer to her child’s school, and soon after a friend told her about Orchard Place, she started working here. Today, Sonya is still working at Orchard Place as the Food Service Manager.
When you ask Sonya what she does at Orchard Place, her response is pretty simple, “Feed the kids.” In reality, she does so much more.
For many of the residents at Orchard Place, Sonya is often their first employer. Sonya explained that some of the residents are able to work in the kitchen after school and earn a little money. “Usually, I am the child’s first job,” Sonya said. “It’s their first interaction with actually having an interview, and having a job, and having to be within standards to be able to earn a real paycheck.” Sonya shared that this aspect of her job is her favorite part about working at Orchard Place.
Aside from cooking, Sonya offers residents a warm smile and says hello whenever she can. She said that she makes this effort because “Many children when they first get here are so angry. They don’t even want to look at you. They don’t even want to interact with you. They walk past you like you don’t exist. I always tell my cooks the majority of the time we’re the first face the kids see outside of their building. So smile and tell the kids hello.” Former residents tell Sonya how she impacted them, but she insists that all she did was smile and give them something to eat.
Sonya not only prepares food for the residents, but also for adults on occasion. One major task she takes on is preparing the annual Thanksgiving luncheon for nearly 300 people, including community partners, donors, board members, and staff. As with any event, it is the staff behind the scenes that makes the event a success, and the driving force behind this event is Sonya and her team.
Andrea Wright, Director of Individual and Corporate Giving, has the opportunity to work closely with Sonya to put the event together each year. When asked about her experience working with Sonya, Wright said, “Many times we have been asked who we use to cater our meal and we smile each time when we tell them that Sonya takes care of it all. I know that Sonya would say that she cannot put all of this together without her team, but it takes an amazing leader to complete such a great feat and Sonya is a truly amazing leader.”
After 20 years, Sonya says she still finds her job fulfilling. “When a kid comes in here and they talk with you and give a smile back, that’s huge. That’s absolutely huge,” Sonya said. “I’ve had kids that come in and are angry and they don’t even know why they are angry. But then the kids are able to get the treatment they need and are able to walk out of here with a smile on their faces and say thank you. That’s huge.”
If you would like to help employees like Sonya Seals provide the best possible service to residents at Orchard Place, please visit www.orchardplace.org/donation. Your support will help provide the resources and materials our staff need to do their jobs.