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Annual LINKS lunch serves pre-holiday staff meal

Building skills, cooking up smiles

Byron Center — A day before Thanksgiving break, the smell of smoked turkey and stuffing wafted down a hallway at Byron Center High School.

Following the scent, a line of teachers wrapped outside of a classroom and down the hallway. They were all waiting with empty stomachs and one thing on their minds: the annual LINKS program Thanksgiving lunch. 

“This is the best day of the year,” English teacher Erinn Caley said as she began filling her plate with mashed potatoes and stuffing.

Teachers paid $7 for the meal and could pay an additional $5 for a raffle ticket to win one of six smoked turkeys Zeiler and his father-in-law had cooked.

Senior Orlando Williams and another one of Zeiler’s students, junior Julia Conrad, sat near the doorway and greeted teachers as they entered the classroom.

“Orlando over here made the stuffing,” special education teacher Jeremy Zeiler explained.

Julia asked every person in line for their first name. Orlando collected money and counted change.

“Thank you for coming, and have a great day,” he said after each transaction, then added, “This is good practice for working a job.”

Program Keeps on Giving

Eleven students from Zeiler’s moderately cognitively impaired class worked with their nine LINKS peers to prepare this year’s meal. The high school LINKS program focuses on basic living and work such as laundry, cooking and social skills. 

“We’ve been doing this since around 2008 and it’s something teachers look forward to every year,” he said. “The kids made the green bean casserole, whipped cream, (and) helped boil and mash the potatoes…” Zeiler said. “The gen- ed students come in during second hour for the LINKS class and help in the kitchen, practicing cooking and communication skills and how to look up and follow recipes.”  

Turkeys were donated by Otto’s Turkey Farm in Middleville, and any leftovers from lunch and the raffle were donated to families in need.

“(Zeiler) won’t brag about it, but his LINKS program is one of the longest standing programs in the county,” said Carrie VandeRoer, Nickels Intermediate speech pathologist. “Byron Center puts out several students who go into special education and a few even come back to be parapros in the district.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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