WILLIAMSTOWN — A "Welcome Students" banner is hanging on the MountainOne Bank building.

I came across returning students Aug. 27 when I followed a luscious aroma to its source. There, in the kitchen of the Harper Center, a dozen Williams College students were preparing dinner for senior citizens who had gathered in the main room.

David Shakirov, a sophomore, was lifting the lid of a large pot to see if the water in it was boiling.

"I have to be careful when I put the spaghetti in or my plastic gloves will melt," he said as he smiled. Standing next to Shakirov at the stove, another sophomore was stirring a tomato-and-meat sauce.

It was the fourth annual dinner that group leaders in Williams College's Where Am I? program hosted at the Harper Center on Church Street.

Ruth Kramer, however, paused chopping garlic to tell me, "This is my first time helping with the dinner."

Azaria Vargas said she enjoys being with older people.

"They have so many stories to tell. And I find helping people enjoyable, too."

Melinda Kan-Dop Aak, a senior and student director in the program, said the group leaders will also host a dinner at the UNO Community Center in North Adams.

In addition, two group leaders, together with eight first-year students, will host dinners in private homes in North Adams, Williamstown and Vermont.

"They prepare the meal and then eat with the family," the student director said.

Where Am I? — one of Williams College's six orientation programs from which first-year students can choose — is coordinated by Muslim Chaplain Sharif Rosen and Rabbi Seth Wax out of the Williams College Chaplains' Office.

"That places us in the role to work in a planning and advisory capacity with the program's student directors and group leaders to co-conceive a vision for the incoming first-year students' experience," Rosen said.

"We hope that the initial service experience in the local area helps students consider ways they may want to be more engaged on campus and locally around the issues and concerns they're most passionate about. We want to open up the possibility for them to see their Williams experience as something that extends beyond the classroom to include experiential learning as a means to facilitate their fullest growth."

At the Harper Center on Aug. 27, about 30 senior citizens benefited from students engaging in experiential learning (learning by doing); they enjoyed a tasty meal, free of charge, that the students had prepared.

Pat Picard sat at a table with her neighbors from the senior housing development Proprietors Fields, including Claire Bedard, who was celebrating her 85th birthday. Nonetheless, Ty Brooks called her tablemates "the girls."

Jennifer Glaser recently relocated to Williamstown.

"I wanted to be near my family," she said. And visiting the Harper Center and participating in activities and events can open the door to new friendships.

Terry Taft introduced herself to me as Freddy Judge's daughter. The late Freddy Judge ran a bed-and-breakfast, where my husband and I stayed when we drove from our our home in New York to visit our son, then a student at Williams College.

Kaja Ross, an 80-year old summer resident, came to the dinner because she heard the students provided a "good meal," and it was an opportunity to socialize as well. We discovered that we have a mutual friend in New York. (The saying "It's a small world" popped into my mind.)

Margaret Odell and Linnea Nelson were sitting at the table nearest the entrance to the main room. Odell interrupted when I spoke of her as visually impaired.

"I'm blind," she said matter-of-factly. "Everyone is kind to me"

For Nelson, the dinners — she has been at all four — evoke pleasant memories of her late brother, Stephen.

"He graduated from Williams in l976," she said. Of the current crop of Williams students, Nelson said, "I admire that they are getting involved in the community."

Phyllis McGuire writes from her home in Williamstown. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.