Fewer things say home like a dinner fresh from the oven. This is exactly what the powers-that-be at Lake Forest College were banking on when they launched their “Home for Dinner” program for incoming first-year students last fall.
Adrienne Thoms, a department assistant at Lake Forest College and a mother of four, was inspired by a similar program that her oldest daughter participated in at Washington University in St. Louis.
“One day I called up the dean of students and asked if I could have 10 minutes of his time to share this idea,” remembers Thoms. “As a senior, my daughter was still enjoying the dinner program. As a parent, I loved that she had some of the comforts of home even when she was away from us.”
The idea behind “Home for Dinner” is that first-year students are matched with local families. These families then host a small group of 2-3 students for 3-4 meals over the over the course of the school year.
“We hand-picked our host families as we piloted this program,” explains Thoms, who helped choose the 17 host families. “I told my friends that I didn’t need their money—I needed their lasagna.”
Thoms proceeded to select from a wide demographic of families—from empty nesters to families with young children and pets.
“People underestimate how lonesome for home students get after being away for a month or so,” Thoms adds. “They tend to really miss their younger brothers and sisters, as well as their pets.”
Once a student confirmed their acceptance to Lake Forest College, they were asked if they would like to sign up for the “Home for Dinner” program.
“We capped the program at 50 students this year,” says Mary Duckworth, associate director of residence life for learning and development at Lake Forest College. “So far, the feedback from the families and the students has been terrific. We’re thrilled with how this program has taken off. We’d love to be able to roll out this program next year to a larger number of students.”
Wonderful new relationships have evolved to the delight of Lake Forest College’s administrators as the students have inadvertently become ambassadors for the wonderful things happening on the community’s college campus.
“My friends who have hosted dinners have repeatedly commented on how darling the students are,” adds Thoms. “Some families have since gone and seen their students play in a football game or see a student’s piece of artwork showing in the campus art gallery. Families who have never had a connection to the college before now do.”
Strengthening the bond between The City of Lake Forest and Lake Forest College is part of the college’s broader strategic plan.
“We realize that our retention is best when students feel as if they have a connection to where they are going to school,” adds Duckworth. “Something as simple as our ‘Home for Dinner’ program has shown us how much the students appreciate being part of the community and how open the city is to having our students be a part of it.”
To learn more about Lake Forest College’s “Home for Dinner” program, visit lakeforest.edu/studentlife/home-for-dinner-program.