For 150 residents of the Heartlands retirement community in Ellicott City, the high school and college students who serve dinner each evening offer offer smiles and a touch of elegance.
For the students themselves, however, the retirement home's food-service operation is more than just a part-time job. It's a chance to get some practical training that many hope will lead to a career in the restaurant and hotel industry.
Working from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week on a rotating basis, the 40 young men and women take and serve entrees, serve appetizers and salads, refill beverages and clear and reset tables.
And they do it with an air of formality, dressed in black slacks and cummerbunds, white tuxedo-style shirts and black bow ties.
"For many, it's the first job they ever had," said Denise Bashimam, director of food services for the retirement home. "Students can learn their job and still do their studies. . . . Ultimately, we can get them ready for bigger and better things down the road."
The students are employees of the food-service management division of the Marriott Corp., which provides the meals at the Heartlands under contract. They are paid $4.56 an hour.
On a recent weekday evening, the kitchen was the hub of activity.
Ann Callifano, a 17-year-old senior at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City, quickly filled several bread baskets. Sarah Boening, an 18-year-old Howard High School graduate, balanced tray of juices, moving swiftly out the door toward one of the four tables she was serving.
About five other students remained in the kitchen under the watchful eye of Michael Varacalle, the assistant food service director, who trains the students.
Other young people arranged doilies for dessert dishes, prepared coffee and organized salad dressings and butter dishes.
Jennifer Johnston, 23, has been working at the Heartlands since she was an 18-year-old senior at Mount Hebron High School.
"It was just a part-time waitressing job," said Miss Johnston. Through the years, her responsibilities increased to full-time employment. She now is dining room supervisor and is working toward the next level of management.
"This job is very challenging," said Miss Johnston, who is studying hotel management at Anne Arundel Community College. "I used to work in a camp with younger kids; I like working with older people a lot better. You have a relationship with them."
Kellie Blassingame agreed. The 18-year-old freshman attends Howard Community College and plans to switch from her pre-med major to hotel management. She has been working at the retirement community since she was 16.
"I know a lot of the residents," said Miss Blassingame. "A lot of them will say, 'Hi Kellie. How're you doing?' Some are total sweethearts."
Kenneth and Agnes Horvath, nine-year residents of the Heartlands, appreciate the students' efforts and seem to have a genuine interest in their accomplishments.
Dr. Horvath, 82, a former director of personnel for the Baltimore school system, bragged about Miss Blassingame's musical expertise on the cello, which he learned about through their conversations. He teased her about the possibility of playing her instrument for the residents.