When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. Which meant that I went to a lot of different schools. For the most part, I liked the schools I went to and I made good friends. But there were always those first few days when I had to walk in knowing absolutely no one. For someone with social anxiety, it was pretty rough. The worst were the unstructured times, like recess and lunch. That’s when everyone would divide up into unspoken social groups, leaving the new kid to fend for herself. Luckily for me, there was always someone nice enough to invite me to join them. And, whether they became my friend for life, or just someone I was grateful to for easing the transition, I was always glad to have someone to hang out with so I didn’t have to eat lunch alone.
In Boca Raton, Florida, a kid named Denis Estimon is on a mission to make sure no one ever eats lunch alone at school. He’s a senior at Boca Raton Community High School, and the founding member of We Dine Together, a club that makes sure everyone in the 3,400-kid student body has someone to sit with at lunch.
According to an article on cbsnews.com, members of We Dine Together walk through the lunch area seeking students who have no one to sit with at lunch. They invite them to eat lunch with them in a classroom nearby. They sit, they talk, and they make friends. Friendships that last beyond the lunch period.
In a video posted to YouTube by Sun Sentinel, Estimon and fellow club member Allison Sealy describe walking through the school just trying to connect with people who seem like they need a friend. “Every single day at lunch I walk around, I look for kids … I shake their hand,” says Estimon. Each We Dine Together lunch session ends with an activity focused around maintaining relationships. You can watch the video here:
Estimon started the club because he knows what it feels like to eat lunch alone. When he was a first grader, he moved to Florida from Haiti and didn’t know anyone. Now he’s a senior with lots of friends but he’s committed to making sure no one has to feel the way he felt over a decade ago.
The thing that makes this club so powerful is that Estimon and the rest of We Dine Together are the popular kids. They have people to eat with and could easily turn their backs on the students who don’t. But, instead of using their popularity to make people feel excluded, they’re using it to make sure everyone feels included instead.
According to the article, Estimon and his team are hoping to expand their club to schools across the country. An ambitious goal, especially given the nature of teenagers, cliques, and social standing. Will other popular kids in other schools be willing to accept Estimon’s challenge? Or will they worry too much about their reputations? That remains to be seen. But I, for one, will be cheering them on.