On her first day of work in Charlestown Retirement Community's Fireside Dining Room, Dawn Asbury dropped a steaming plate of shrimp creole onto an elderly resident's arm.
Dawn, 18, burst into tears, afraid that she would be fired. But Dawn remembers that the residents were kind to her then, and now three years later, they're helping her pay for college.
Elderly residents say the young people who work at Charlestown brighten their lives so much that mistakes can be easily overlooked.
The rapport is so special that the elderly residents want to do more than provide good wages to their student employees. This year, residents have donated more than $43,000 to a fund to help put 18 young workers through college.
"Now if you're looking for expert waiters and waitresses, they ain't, but if you're looking for a group of nice young people who will do anything they can to please you while they're serving, we got 'em," said Richard Harvey, 88.
Every student who has worked at Charlestown for 1,000 hours during two consecutive years has been awarded a scholarship for $4,000, regardless of whether he or she continues working at Charlestown. The money is paid directly to the college of the student's choice, in $1,000 increments over four years.
"We hope they'll keeping working here, but this way if a student wants to go to school in California, they can, without worrying about keeping their job," said Cindy Pyle, a Charlestown spokeswoman. "The scholarships are basically a benefit of working here for a few years."
Since the scholarship program began three years ago, the fund and the number of donors has increased annually, Pyle said.
George Kenney, 77, president of the Charlestown Residents Council, said residents try to stay involved in the community by helping young people and donating food to the homeless.
A second program run by Charlestown residents has provided more than 1,100 pounds of food to homeless people in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.