Building Meaningful Relationships

I have always been a firm believer that life is enriched by the people we surround ourselves with. When I moved to Philadelphia to work for The Food Trust through the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship program, I was alone and lacked that enrichment. I was in an unfamiliar place with a million and a half unfamiliar faces. I felt like I didn’t belong, and thought to myself, “Hadeel, why didn’t you stay where you were comfortable?”

Six months later, I can say that comfortable is boring, and growing out of my box allowed me to flourish. One of the most nerve-wracking decisions I made for my post-graduate life was to move out of New York, because I would be building a new home in a new place. Once I settled into Philadelphia, I realized I was missing something– friends! Without the social structure that school provided for me all my life, I was stumped on how to engage with people and befriend them. I figured that the first people I would try to befriend were the ladies in my section– Tacora, Nadine, and Briana. From day one on the job, I noticed the love, sisterhood, and camaraderie that existed between the three of them. I wanted in on it, but I did not know how to reach out and do that. When I was talking to a friend about how hard it was to actually make friends, she told me that although it will be challenging, I can overcome it. She also told me to fall back on my community engagement skills, so I did just that.

I became more intentional in my interactions with the ladies in my section, and the staff as a whole. Baking has been a hobby of mine for years, so I started to bake new things and bring them into the office for my co-workers to try. I took over the maintenance of the wellness bulletin board in the office, and make beautiful, thoughtful boards on a wide array of themes. I began decorating my section for the seasons and holidays, to show my commitment to the community we have developed here.

I went from sitting quietly in my corner, to actively engaging with my co-workers who have become my friends. We now take our lunch breaks together and seek out the best food around us, from dan dan noodles to cheesecake. Dinner and games at one of their houses is something we regularly do, too. Their families come along with the fun, and for me, that has been one of the best feelings. For my friends to open up their homes and their families to me truly makes me feel a part of this work family we have built. The laughs, the conversation, and the love that comes out of our section is so special to me. In a time where I did not feel like I belonged, I found home with these ladies and for that I am eternally grateful.

Luckily, the enrichment I have gained in my life these past 6 months extends beyond Philadelphia, to cities as far up north as Dorchester, MA, as Midwest as Chicago, IL, and as southward as New Orleans, LA with its home base in Westport, CT. The relationships I have built with the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellows have been invaluable to me. There is something electric about being in the same room as the Fellows, because of all the genuine personalities, the remarkable intelligence, and all the love and care that is present in the spaces we share together. Sharing the experiences of navigating post-graduate life together makes the journey a lot less daunting; being able to talk through our individual stories and situations makes me cognizant of my strengths and areas of improvement. I feel empowered to live my truth, and be present for the same people who are helping to support me as I find my footing.

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And here they are…my friends and colleagues at The Food Trust. From left to right: Briana Jones, me, Mary Kate Harkins, Tacora Johnson, Nadine Hughes, and Shadyra Chambers

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By Hadeel Mishal – NOF Fellow at The Food Trust, Philadelphia, PA.