Home Plate — a new program organized by the Student Assembly’s City and Local Affairs Committee that arranges dinners between students and members of the Ithaca community — held its first dinner Sunday.
“What I really hope for this program is that more Cornell students get to form lasting bonds with Ithaca community members, and through their connections become more active community members themselves,” Millicent Kastenbaum ’16, chair of the S.A. City and Local Affairs Committee, said. “It is such a wonderful, informal way for students to expand themselves outside of the Cornell bubble.”
The program embodies the committee’s mission to bridge the gap between the Ithaca and Cornell communities, according to Kastenbaum. Kastenbaum said she hopes Home Plate will encourage students to interact more with the Ithaca community.
This semester is a “pilot round” working with 13 host families and 46 students, according to Zach Praiss ’16, a student organizer of the program and a Sun designer. Starting this fall, each group of three to four students will join a host family to eat three to four dinners, according to Praiss.
He added that the program was inspired by the Home Plate program at Washington University in St. Louis and introduced to the committee at their first meeting last October.
Praiss said his family was a host family with the St. Louis program, and his successful experience prompted his decision to bring Home Plate to Ithaca. He said he sees the program as an opportunity for students to enjoy a home-cooked meal with a local family and for hosts to engage with college students in an informal dinner.
“Recognizing that such a program could blossom here in Ithaca, we got in touch with Washington University and have been blown away by their support for us starting essentially the same program here,” Praiss said.
Roberta Walcer ’74, one of the hosts, said she decided to do the program because she loves interacting with the Cornell community and getting to know the students.
“We’ve downsized now, and our kids are out of the house. It’s nice to have contact with people who are active and doing things,” Walcer said.
The “get-to-know-you dinner” – which included a variety of hors d’oeuvres, salad, chicken and chocolate cake – turned out better than expected, according to Walcer.
“We shared our backgrounds, how we arrived in Ithaca and what our daily lives involve professionally,” she said. “We also compared what the University was like when we were students compared to the current student experience.”
One student attendee of the dinner, Sue Ahn ’18, said she had a wonderful time being in a “home setting.”
“When you’re at college, you have to kind of learn how to be an adult by yourself, and it’s nice to fall back and sit around a table for dinner,” Ahn said.
Natasha Sinha ’18, who also attended the dinner, said she was encouraged with the family’s “warm and friendly” hospitality.
“I was really nervous to meet the family, but they made us feel so welcome from the minute we stepped into their home,” she said. “They were so happy and excited to see us, and it just made the atmosphere so pleasant. I was surprised at how much there was to talk about.”
Sinha added that she had a great experience and is excited for the next dinner.
“I think meeting the two families, playing with their dog and eating a delicious home-cooked meal made me much less home-sick,” she said.
While some details of the program still need to be ironed out, Kastenbaum expressed her optimism about the future of the Home Plate program.
“We obviously have things that we will have to work out when we expand the program to the greater Cornell community, but I’m so proud of what the committee has achieved with Home Plate thus far,” she said.