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Story by Carrie Larson. Photos by David Powers.

The door opens to sparkling chandeliers, white tablecloths, balloons, and confetti. A gasp or two is heard. Then timidity is replaced with excitement, and lunch begins.

calloutBlackwell Elementary School is located in one of the poorest areas of the city, but that doesn’t dampen the dreams of its teachers. They wanted their 5th grade students to experience a formal lunch – not fast food, but a three-course meal with real plates and silverware, and the students dressed in their “Sunday” best.

Fifth-graders celebrate with formal luncheon.On June 14, 2013, the dream became reality at FBC as 90 5th graders and their teachers celebrated the students’ completion of elementary school. Twenty-five volunteers helped make sure each child had a wonderful experience, but it was also a learning experience for all. The students – napkin in lap, start with the outside fork, and sit up straight. The volunteers – serve from the student’s left, pick up from the right, and don’t rush them. Everyone muddled through with smiles and laughter as they got to know each other, learning about planned trips to Water Country and King’s Dominion, pesky brothers and sisters, and other typical kid concerns.

Fifth-graders celebrate with formal luncheon

Abby Dini, Site Coordinator at Blackwell for Communities in Schools; Carrie Larson, First Baptist leader; Reginald Williams, Blackwell Elementary Principal

From the master of ceremonies and principal the students were challenged to follow their dreams and make good choices as they leave the safety of Blackwell and enter middle school. Mr. Parnell from the Richmond Flying Squirrels related how he decided at 10 to work for a baseball team. Detective Harrell from the Richmond Police Department advised the students to pick their friends wisely and trust the adults in their lives (including the police!) to help them make good decisions.

The teachers say there was a noticeable change in the students’ behavior when they returned to school – they are now a little kinder, walk a little taller, and act a little more mature, and occasionally one of the boys will pull out a chair for his teacher. One of the girls said she had often driven by FBC several years ago with her grandmother but never knew she would be welcome inside. Now she knows she is.

FBC has hosted this event for eight years, originally with the help of Alcoa, now solely with volunteers. What began as a dream has become an eagerly anticipated annual event, and a little bit of heaven!

Editor’s note: When Carrie worked for Alcoa, she served as a representative on Blackwell’s Community Advisory Group. With support from Alcoa, she worked with Beanie Brooks, FBC’s Food Services Director, to make this dream a reality. When Alcoa left the Richmond area in 2008, Carrie continued hosting the luncheon,  gathering volunteers from FBC’s Foodservice, her Sunday Bible study class, and her husband’s office. This year a group of volunteers joined in from the “Radical Hospitality” book study group led by Ralph Starling, Associate Pastor for Christian Invitation.


Carrie LarsonCarrie Larson met her husband, Mark, at First Baptist over thirty years ago. They have one daughter, Ashley, who grew up in the church. Carrie is a deacon, a member of the Next Step Bible Study Class and serves on the Communion Team. She is an engineer with the US Army at Fort Belvoir. In her free time, she loves to cook and entertain. She and Mark particularly enjoy introducing international students to American holidays and traditions.

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