Whether it’s 3,000 miles or just an hour’s drive, college can feel worlds away from home. The familiarity of gathering at the dining table to enjoy a home-cooked meal can go a long way toward easing that homesick feeling.
Starting in spring 2018, the Office of Community and Government Relations will launch a new host family program open to all students. The program matches any interested student with Oberlin families to meet once per month for coffee, a meal, or an excursion.
“We want to focus on building relationships between the campus and the Oberlin community at large,” says Tita Reed, special assistant to the president for community and government relations. “We’re not targeting anyone in particular. It really is about the entire student body and their experience here in Oberlin.”
The overarching goal is to provide a support system for students who are away from home—which also means away from family and friends. “We want to further the students’ sense of belonging, both at the college and in the community,” says Chris Fox, program coordinator in community and government relations. “It’s a huge transition for first-year students. We want to help students create that familiar moment by meeting for a meal, going shopping, or seeing cultural attractions. The idea is a monthly interaction, but it could be more or less depending on individual schedules.”
Reed says there are a handful of households in Oberlin that already offer this kind of support on a regular basis, but the host family program will make it more intentional and formalized. The office plans to introduce a soft rollout of the program in the spring with a formal reception to connect students and families.
“The community is open to this,” Reed says. “We’ve heard from many residents who would welcome an opportunity like this, and we’ve talked to a great number of students who have said they would love to participate if something like this existed. There’s been a lot of support.”
Oberlin resident Michele Andrews, a parent of two Oberlin College graduates, is partnering with Reed’s office to identify potential host families. When her children, both student athletes (Sarah ’14 and Erickson ’15) were students, Andrews provided extra meals to their teams during fall and spring breaks. That’s when she proposed the idea of hosting fall and spring break meals to her pastor at First Church of Oberlin.
Other congregations and the Oberlin Police Department quickly followed suit, and for the past several years they’ve been hosting meals for any student who remains on campus during fall and spring break with funding from the college.
“We know we can go to the faith communities, but we want to spread this concept of support to the broader community,” Andrews says. “If we can get the students to participate, I’m sure we can get the families we need.”
Andrews says parents should be excited to know that there are community partners who want to make a positive impact on students’ lives, whether it’s by forging new friendships or just being available to provide a ride to the bus station.
Students or families interested in applying to the program should visit the website and submit an application.