Seniors and Smiles: Senior Luncheon Brings Community Together


Genieva Pawlowski

John Dominello and culinary his students prepared nearly 130 meals for Region 14’s senior citizens during the spring senior luncheon April 20.

Genieva Pawlowski and Rachel Dionne

WOODBURY — Receiving free lunch is always a treat, especially when it comes from Nonnewaug’s own culinary classes run by longtime instructor John Dominello. The food, the smiles, and the people are the reason this event is an annual success. For Region 14’s senior citizens, the day is an important one.

“It makes us more visible to the community and provides good will,” says Judith Melko, a senior community member. “It’s always nice to have young people helping old people.”

Melko was among the nearly 130 senior citizens that took part in the festivities, picking up a meal that consisted of stuffed shells with meatballs, homemade rolls, and a salad. To cap it off, Dominello and his group prepared accompanying small dessert pies.

The meal and its preparation, however, are no small task for Dominello and his students.

“We started preparing by making over 100 boxes that are taken up to the agriculture building,” says Dominello.

The event couldn’t have happened without some helping hands around campus.

“[Digital design instructor] Genna Riggi made the menus, the Chief Advocate always writes a publicity piece, the band and choir make an appearance,” Dominello added. “Additionally, Mr. [Will] Michael sends students from his video class, and above all custodians help as well more than you know.”

The meal and the experience of visiting campus is always memorable, but students also get an opportunity to give back to their community.

“It is a community service project that many different culinary groups partake in,” says Dominello. “The advanced culinary class makes most of the food while my introductory classes prepare the dessert portion of the event.”

Gratitude For Dominello 

Throughout the event, there an especially consistent refrain: gratitude for Dominello’s energy in putting on such an impactful event. Senior citizens who came to this event mentioned how gifted he is as an instructor and overall a great person. 

“John is amazing,” says Melko, “and it’s free.”

Dominello has had his fair share of experience in the cooking industry and world by opening his own restaurant. While working with the next generation is now his full-time job, he continues to teach his students everything he knows about the food industry.

“It provides a real-world experience for our students,” says Dominello of the experience gained from opportunities like the luncheon. “It helps students understand the pressures of a job.”

Dominello’s culinary reputation followed him to Nonnewaug nearly 13 years ago when he joined as an NHS faculty member.

“I’ve been coming to this event for years and will continue to come for years on,” says Melko. “I have been supporting John since he had his own restaurant.”

For senior citizens, this event is a always an opportunity to interact with students and show them support. The interactions created aren’t just feeding our senior citizens, but also creating opportunities to bridge generations. 

“Anytime you can give back and help out the community it’s a great thing not only for the people you are helping but for yourself as well,” says Chris O’Toole, Nonnewaug’s school resource officer. “ The senior citizen community is part of the Greatest Generation and some of these people sometimes need a helping hand or activity to be a part of.”