There are few things more generous or encouraging to the spirit than being accepted into someone else’s family and treated like one of their own — even for just one meal. That is exactly how I felt the night I spent with the Saunders family during the Campus Community Dinner Series at Southern Vermont College. I was there to talk with college students and families from Bennington, Vermont about how to integrate family dinners into the lives of children. After the talk, I was invited to sit down to dinner with a family and their college host.
Started last year by SVC President Karen Gross, Director Charlotte Kelton and The Family Dinner Project team, the Campus Community Dinner Series encourages conversations between college students and families with juniors or seniors in high school. By pairing SVC students with community families, the program aims to facilitate important (and often difficult) conversations about the next step in a high schooler’s education and independence.
For a high school student who’s exploring the possibility of higher education and a future profession, a college student can become a resource and confidante. For SVC students, these families become “families away from family,” creating a connection to a community that they sometimes feel like a stranger to.
The conversations on the night that I visited ranged from the pressures of high school to what the family’s younger son would miss when his sister left the house next year… and what he wouldn’t miss. We talked about the distance from home and the tough choices that come with independent college living.At times, the high school student and SVC student engaged in a small side conversation, perhaps about the social scene or some frustration with adults.
As for me, I got a recipe for the family’s favorite macaroni and cheese, and some tips about raising children from two parenting pros who are 10 years ahead of my wife and me. I also got this incredible sense that although we are strangers in many ways, we share so much with families across our country and perhaps the world. We all love and want the best for our children, we struggle with how to support their growth and we can come together over a simple meal to share both food and ourselves.
Thanks to all at Southern Vermont College for making family dinners a part of their community’s life, and now a part of mine.
CONVERSATION TIP: One of my favorite conversation starters from my meal with the Saunders family was, “Tell the story of the first time you moved away from home.” It produced some really funny, insightful discussion. Try it yourself at your next family dinner!
Images from Southern Vermont College’s blog about the Campus Community Dinner Series.