It’s a Tuesday night and beef and broccoli with fried rice is on the menu, followed by individual chocolate lava cakes.
Manning the kitchen are three “Bistro BoyZ” — residents of the Greentree Adolescent Program, a Bethesda group home for boys who have been through the criminal justice system — and a handful of members from the Junior Woman’s Club of Chevy Chase.
Boys in the program either have been assigned to further monitoring away from home, or have no home to go to.
Founded as an orphanage in 1915, the Greentree Adolescent Program, which is tucked away off of Greentree Road in Bethesda and surrounded by million-dollar homes, is run by the National Center for Children and Families. There is also a homeless shelter on the 13-acre campus. The center is funded through a combination of grants, contributions and government contracts.
The pairing of affluent older women with teenage boys who have run afoul of the law, and are in the program to get their lives back on track, seems incongruous, said Sandy Swenson, a member of the Junior Woman’s Club of Chevy Chase.
“But it works. It works like a charm. This is like a big family,” Swenson said.
She is referring to “Bistro BoyZ,” a three-year-old program.
On each Monday, a small group of volunteers from the woman’s club and teens shop, with a $40 budget, for ingredients at a nearby Giant supermarket. Then, on Tuesday, that same group prepares and eats a meal together.
The following week, a new group of volunteers comes in so over the course of a month, each of the 20 or so boys in the program has the opportunity to participate.
Assigning volunteers and Bistro BoyZ the same nights lets them build up a real camaraderie over the year, Swenson said.
“We’re getting to know the boys. After a couple of months, you can really develop a relationship,” said Julia Johnson, a member of the Junior Women’s Club.
Not to mention the cooking skills that get passed along.
Christopher Kraft, 18, who goes by the nickname “Kraftman,” said he had always liked the idea of cooking, but had never really learned how.
“I can cook scrambled eggs,” Kraft said as he set the table for dinner.
At a counter in the kitchen, Eric Watson, 19, whipped eggs in a bowl with an electric beater for the individual lava chocolate cakes that would be dessert.
“I like learning new things,” said Watson, who is originally from Baltimore. He ticked off the types of cookies he has learned how to bake. “Chocolate chip, oatmeal, banana chocolate chip.”
To help fund the Bistro BoyZ program, the club put together a cookbook called Pie in the Sky, which is filled with recipes from people in Chevy Chase and Bethesda. Local restaurants, such as Positano Italiano and Chef Tony’s, also submitted recipes.
The proceeds also help pay for a box of kitchen equipment given to boys when they leave the program and go on to live independently.
Helping boys who can’t be with their own mothers has special resonance for Swenson, who recently moved from Bethesda to Silver Spring.
Her oldest son, Joey, is an addict and she has had to come to terms with the limits of what a mother can do to influence an adult child. It’s a subject she explores in her self-titled blog, and in a forthcoming memoir entitled “The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story From The Place Where Love And Addiction Meet.”
“I can’t help my boy right now, but hopefully someone can help my son one day,” Swenson said. “That’s a big part of this for me.”