Four popular kids at a Florida high school decided to use their social cache for good during their senior year, starting a lunchtime club to make sure that no student would have to eat alone.
Denis Estimon, Jean Max Meradieu, Kinsley Florestal, Allie Sealy formed We Dine Together to change the social fabric of their school in Boca Raton, inviting everyone to sit with them and make friends during the midday meal.
Now they’re spreading their message across the country, opening other chapters of the club in schools all over the US.
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Thoughful: A group of high schoolers launched the We Dine Together club to make sure no one at their school would have to each lunch alone
Growing group: The club started in September of 2016 and within months had 60 members
Denis, Jean Max, Kinsley, and Allie understand the feelings of loneliness kids can feel at school. Though they had plenty of friends by the time they graduated and were clearly quite involved in the community, it wasn’t always that way.
The young men are all Haitian immigrants who moved to Florida when they were in elementary school. Each said they would spend lunchtime alone when they were new in school.
‘Everybody else was laughing and having a good time, and I stood there, just watching. It was depressing,’ Jean Max told The Sun-Sentinel. ‘I always understood I had to go to school, but I didn’t want to go to school because I was so isolated from everybody.’
‘It’s not a good feeling, like you’re by yourself. And that’s something that I don’t want anybody to go through,’ Denis added in an interview with CBS News.
Allie, meanwhile, moved to the district as a freshman, leaving her friends behind at her old school.
Joining the ranks: The teens would also go around the grounds to find solo diners who might be lonely or new to school
Big hearts: The founders came up with the idea during a summer program with a nonprofit
‘Coming here, not knowing anyone, took a toll on my confidence. I became socially awkward. I sat by myself,’ she told The Sun-Sentinel.
Though their own social lives grew as high school went on, the big-hearted teens wanted their classmates to feel included, too. During the summer before the boys’ senior year and Allie’s junior year, they were taking classes at Propel, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged teens, when they had their bright idea.
So during lunchtime that September, they launched the club We Dine Together, inviting everyone to eat with them, chat, and play games.
Within months of the club’s launch at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, 60 members had joined. Some said they were looking for friends, while others simply liked the idea behind the club.
Larger circles: Many have made lasting friendships in the club, particularly with people whom they would not have otherwise socialized with
He remembers: Denis Estimon said he was lonely when he moved to Florida from Haiti in elementary school. By high school he was popular but didn’t want anyone else to feel that way
Priorities: Jean Max Meradieu also immigrated from Haiti and had a hard time at first. After starting the club, he quit the football team to focus on it
Group leader: Allie Sealy, now a senior, moved to the school district at the beginning of high school and left friends behind at her old school
They even went out of their way to round up new members, walking around the school grounds to pick up lone diners who hadn’t come to the club themselves.
They inspired others to invite kids who were eating alone to their lunch tables, too.
‘I had people coming up to me in the hall to tell me they included a solo classmate in their lunch group,’ Denis told Scholastic magazine. ‘I truly believe that this movement has the potential to change the world.
Students who were dining alone before the club weren’t the only ones to benefit from it. The club’s founders noted how it expanded their horizons, allowing them to befriend people they may not have met otherwise.
Jean Max, who had been on the football team, said that he socialized with lots of people he would not have talked to on the field. In fact, he liked it so much that he quit football to focus on the club.
150 chapters: The club turned into a greater organization that is expanding across the US
‘Everyone has something they’re dealing with, and sometimes all they need is somebody to listen,’ he told People. ‘Probably the best thing is how many new friendships we’ve made doing this. I’m no longer the quiet kid, afraid to speak out. Every single day now, I’m meeting somebody new and sharing ideas.’
In June, several of the club’s founders graduated, but they weren’t ready to give up on their inclusive mission. They launched the We Dine Together Organization, which aims to spread its message all over.
‘The purpose of the We Dine Together clubs is to create an atmosphere where students can be themselves without fear of rejection,’ they explain on their website. ‘Each club session, members get the opportunity to take part in interactive activities, group discussions, and dining together.’
The founders are now traveling the country to promote the organization, and so far they have launched chapters of the club at 15 other schools. They have also signed up nearly 150 more to launch in 2018.