Eating at the Guild House doesn’t just mean a good meal, though that is all but guaranteed. It's also about giving back to the community through the restaurant's dedicated support for the Henrietta Weill Memorial Child Guidance Clinic & Adult Behavioral Health.

Guild House is run completely by volunteers, and the restaurant is hoping to add a few more to its ranks with a membership drive happening on April 13. There, prospective helpers will hear from cooks, waitstaff, dishwashers and others already working at the restaurant and then can decide if they would like to join too.

"When we get new people on staff, it's a welcoming," said Renée Kinzel, membership chair and volunteer head cook. "We all have the same (goal): that children are benefiting by what we're doing here. In the meantime, we have a lot of fun."

The Guild House first started in 1958 as a tea room on Chester Avenue. In 1966, it moved to its current location at the Barlow Home on 18th Street. Since its inception, the Guild House has donated more than $2 million to the Child Guidance Clinic; it pledges $40,000 each year, often exceeding that.

"They get a lot of funding from state and federal, but what we give them, they are able to use with some discretion," Kinzel said, adding that Guild House donations aren't earmarked for anything specific.

The clinic is a mental health facility for children and families that opened in 1946, founded by Irma Weill and named after her mother, a leader in children's social service issues who died in 1941 after a life dedicated to helping local kids.

Now in its 73rd year, the clinic offers counseling for individuals, families and groups, as well as medication support, substance abuse services, early intervention, family reunification and more.

Currently, the Guild House has about 200 volunteers, but they always need more.

Working two or three days a month, plus special weekend events, volunteers are assigned specific duties, but newcomers will always be walked through them, never thrown in without assistance to figure it out on their own.

"Able and willing!" Kinzel answered when asked about any requirements to be a volunteer. "Just someone who wants to give back to the community and is able to work with everyone. It's not about any one of us. It's all of us together."

Because volunteers will be working a full day — cooks, for example, are usually there from about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. — they tend to be retirees.

"They are mostly women, but we do have men," Kinzel said of the volunteer base. "A lot of them are retired teachers, but they come from all walks of life. I think teachers might have more insight ... and be more familiar with what the clinic does."

There are opportunities for people with full-time jobs to help, though, like for special weekend events, Kinzel said.

In addition to lunch, the Guild House also does lots of events, like weekly fashion shows and celebrity hosts. This month it will have an Easter brunch for the first time. Three times a year, it does an Affaire Extraordinaire, a five-course meal.

"We do a lot," said Bobby Scrivner, special events coordinator. "That's why we need a lot. It takes a lot of people."

Fortunately, one shift leads to several years of service for many volunteers. 

Pat Ketcherside has been volunteering at the Guild House for more than 10 years. As head cook for the first, third and fifth Mondays of the month, she oversees the crew of cooks whipping up lunch for patrons.

"It's this kitchen right here," Ketcherside said of what keeps her volunteering. "Every head cook will tell you that they have the best day. We think we do."

Also in the kitchen was Sandy Fahsbender, a volunteer of about 25 years, off and on, who came back to volunteer more regularly after retiring four years ago.

"I do whatever Pat tells me," Fahsbender said. "My favorite thing to do is decorate the plate and make it pretty."

Below the kitchen, in the basement, volunteers Madeline Ceccarelli and JoAnn Caffee were working on office duties. Both have put in time in other areas of the restaurant too, Caffee as a meat buyer and Ceccarelli as a cook.

"I'm retired; what else am I going to do?" said Ceccarelli, who was working in a bank when she started volunteering with special events about 25 years ago. "It keeps me busy. Plus, we're doing it for a reason. We want to help."

Kinzel encouraged those interested in volunteering to come out for the membership drive, which coincides with National Volunteer Week. Those who commit to volunteering will have a couple of months to work before the Guild House takes summer off, resuming in the fall. 

"Volunteering at the Guild House is kind of a one-of-a-kind experience," Kinzel said. "You know the work you're doing is going toward a good cause. It's all about the kids. You want to make sure those kids and families in need get the help they need."

Ketcherside echoed those sentiments.

"When you walk in, you know you're going to have a fun day," Ketcherside said. "Without even thinking about it, you are doing something for the kids of Kern County. That is really the reason everybody is here."

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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