After Liz Hauck ’00, M.Ed. ’09 lost her father to cancer, she decided to follow through on a project she and her dad had discussed before his illness. They had planned to conduct a cooking program at a residential home for adolescent boys who were living in state care. The residence, dubbed “the House,” was part of a Boston nonprofit agency where Liz’s father, Charlie Hauck ’69, had devoted more than 30 years of his professional life.

“The prospect of spending time in the place my father had spent so much of his time when he wasn’t with us, and getting to know some of the other kids in his life, was intriguing,” according to Hauck. “I would never make another meal with my dad, but cooking at the House with his other kids like we talked about would be a kind of final nod to him, an offering.”

Liz Hauck

"Only if we consider ourselves bound together can we reimagine our obligation to each other as community," writes Liz Hauck. Photo of Hauck by Carrie Lloyd

Hauck, a teacher and former AmeriCorps volunteer, knew her way around a community service project like the one she was about to undertake. In fact, volunteering had been something she had done since age 10 and was a hallmark of her time as a student at Boston College. Her “rules” for service are straightforward:

1)   Show up when you say you will show up.
2)   Know your one small task and do it the best you can.
3)   Be prepared to improvise.
4)   Leave when you are supposed to leave, and then come back again.

The first meal at the House was stir-fry chicken, rice, vegetables, and apple pie for dessert. Hauck continued to show up and cook at the House—for nearly three years and 100 meals.

These shared meals, as Hauck is quick to point out, weren’t intended to “save” anyone or be a solution to systemic inequality, but they were a means of accompaniment and a way to build community.

Hauck has chronicled her experience in a new memoir, Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up—and What We Make When We Make Dinner (Dial Press/Random House, 2021). The book has received a rave review from the New York Times, starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, and a callout from People magazine.

Via email, Hauck answered questions from BC News about her time at the Heights and her experience and lessons learned at the House.

Service was part of your identity as a student at BC. Can you share what programs you participated in and the impact they had on you?

Hauck: “It’s not an exaggeration to say that my community life at BC was formed in service programs— from freshman year through senior year. My best friendships, my worldview, and nearly all of my beyond-the-classroom college education emerged from early morning, messy but great service projects through the Emerging Leader Program and Shaw Leadership Program as well as Appalachia Volunteers and 4Boston, and then Ignacio Volunteers. And after graduation, I was a Jesuit Alumni Volunteer for two years in Chicago with two fellow BC grads. All of these programs had a tremendous impact on my understanding of ideas about community and who our neighbors are and issues related to equality and distribution of resources, as well as my evolving sense of what one person can actually do. The Ignatian ideal of the education of the self for the service of others is a practice I learned at BC and have carried through the work of my life.”

How was cooking and sharing a meal with the residents of the House different from other types of volunteering you could have done there, such as tutoring?

Hauck: “To be clear, I would have been more equipped to run a tutoring program than a cooking program, for sure— I’d run one in Chicago for two years and regularly tutored my own high school students after school. But the teenaged boys in state care who lived at the House weren’t interested in tutoring, and they wanted to eat more than they wanted to cook for themselves. One of the kids told me rightly that everyone would prefer if I would just cook so they could just eat. But then the first night that we cooked together, when I suggested that people could make plates and eat in the tv room or wherever they wanted, that same kid was the one who insisted that we sit down at the table and all eat together— like a family, not like a buffet. Cooking and then eating together at a table in a place that wasn’t anybody’s real home was messier and so much more urgent, personal, and delicious than any other kind of project I could have imagined.”

What is something you learned from your time at the House that you would like others to better understand about the lives of those in the House? About being a volunteer?

Hauck: “A big part of volunteering is showing up. You can’t do all of the things that are necessary to make a big difference and catalyze social change, but you can always do something— and it starts with showing up.”

How did the experience at the House—and writing about it—help you deal with your grief over your father’s death?

Hauck: “In some ways, the impulse to write this book was not unlike the impulse to put a stone or marker in the world to mark a place in memory of someone who has gone, to literally try to fill a bit of that emptiness and leave some proof that a person—who lived and was loved—was there and hold that space. My book is a little monument in that sense. Since it’s been out in the world, I’ve been getting letters from people (mostly strangers) who do this kind of care work or have suffered similar losses and at first these letters are about my story but then quickly become about other people’s stories and then a bigger conversation about realizing that we are not alone in the hardest, darkest corners of our lives and how there’s comfort in knowing and feeling that. As a volunteer, I knew in real time that the cooking project was about accompaniment, but I’m only now appreciating as a writer how reading and being read are practices of accompaniment, too. I was grieving when I started this and I’m still grieving, but in a different way now; a thing that I learned about grief in the process of translating my experienceof cooking and eating dinners with these teenaged boys in state care for three yearsinto this story about food and grief and community is that we need to pay more attention to grief and who gets space to grieve and how we can help people, especially kids, deal with grief. The kids at the House were all grieving compounded losses of family, expectations, and experiences of childhood, but so much of the time their grief was only read and treated as anger and withdrawal and violence. Surviving this pandemic has been a kind of master class in compounded grief. My hope is that this new awareness translates into better therapeutic practices around grief for kids in state care.”

Kathleen Sullivan | University Communications | September 2021