BROOKSVILLE — When Gulf Coast Academy seventh-grader Devin McNamara attended Chocachatti Elementary School, he enjoyed being part of the Chocachatti Cafe, one of the school's micro-societies — slices of what life is like outside of school.
So it made sense, as Devin was deciding what to do for his current school's mandatory service project, that it would involve food and his former school.
Gulf Coast seventh-graders are required to do a community service project, a program established by Gulf Coast director of curriculum and instruction Joseph Gatti. Students are provided with a list of local causes and asked to choose one for which to volunteer or raise money. They work through their social studies class with teacher Sandra Brown.
Devin, 12, decided to raise money for Weekend Blessings, a program of People Helping People in Hernando County that provides food for some school-age children over weekends.
When deciding between volunteering and fundraising, Devin said, "I decided to raise money, because I thought it would help more. I thought this was a good charity."
His plan became Delicious Dinners for Dollars, a pasta meal served Oct. 4 in the Chocachatti cafeteria by Chocachatti student volunteers.
"I like to cook a lot, and I like to be in the restaurant theme," Devin said.
With the blessing of principal Maria Rybka and cafeteria manager Fran Thomas, Devin worked with the cafe students and their advisers, teacher Sheila McNamara (Devin's mother) and paraprofessional Mary Beth Gill, teaching them how to address and serve the diners. The students also made fall-themed placemats.
Volunteer Kylie Pospiech, a 10-year-old fifth-grader, said she learned how to talk to guests: "Hello. Welcome to Dinners for Dollars. May I start you off with a drink?"
She also learned how to recognize good table manners and how to manage difficult situations, should one arise.
The bulk of Devin's project, though, involved finding donors to fund it and people willing to attend and pay to eat. He wrote a letter to Chocachatti teachers, explaining what he was doing and asking them to pass out fliers. The fliers provided the time, date and place of the dinner and included prices ($10 for adults and $5 for children) and an option for marinara or alfredo sauce.
Devin involved the Chocachatti post office micro-society to return forms to his mother's classroom. The school included mentions of the dinner during its morning announcements, and the newspaper micro-society, Chocachatti Today, helped make placemats and advertise the event.
Getting the word out was half the challenge. Devin also needed food.
He approached Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant, which agreed to provide the pasta and sauce. He got plastic ware, napkins, salt and pepper, and rolls with butter from Golden Corral. Publix and Sam's Club gave Devin gift cards to purchase other products, such as dessert ingredients and beverages. Cody's Original Roadhouse donated to-go boxes. The school cafeteria donated the salad.
Adding to the dining experience, Devin had a couple of students in the school's performance micro-society play the violin and piano during dinner. Devin played his mandolin.
The Chochachatti micro-societies are encouraged to look for ways to help the community. The dinner was an opportunity for just that, Rybka said.
"I was really excited for Devin," she said after he approached her with the idea. "He had a plan already set, and he did all the work."
Devin said he sold about 100 tickets.