A feast of friendship served by the Home Plate Program

The home-cooked meals sophomore Anastasia Sorokina shared with a local host family have been “transformative” and among the highlights of her time at Washington University in St. Louis.

Sorokina, a comparative literature major in Arts & Sciences from Kensington, Md. — along with other students — has enjoyed meals at the home of Scott and Celeste Gillette.

Students share a meal with the Gillette family as part of the Home Plate Program.

“Home Plate has been one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had so far at Wash U,” Sorokina says. “I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this amazing home away from home. I’ve had the chance to make such a special connection with a family as warm, kind and fun as the Gillettes.

“They’ve completely transformed my college experience for the better. I don’t know what I would have done without them, especially my freshman year.”

About 700 students are actively participating in the Home Plate Program. They are matched with 350 local families to eat dinner in the family’s home two or three times each year.

Risa Zwerling Wrighton, wife of Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, started Home Plate 11 years ago after her first daughter talked about how much she enjoyed eating dinner with a professor and his family while she was away at college.

“I thought it was just the sweetest thing and I knew I could do the same thing here for our students,” Wrighton says. “It has grown like a weed ever since.”

Each semester, Wrighton matches all the students and host families. She takes into consideration food allergies and preferences, shared interests, hometowns, culture and more.

“The matching is really fun,” Wrighton says. “Between knowing their hometowns, their majors and what their interests are, I really have gotten to know everyone who has signed up. The students and families love it.”

Freshman business major Ellen Kaushansky, of Long Grove, Ill., says her dinner with Danny Ludeman, CEO of Wells Fargo Advisors, and his wife, Susan, came with a helping of expert advice.

“I really loved getting the opportunity to go to their home and have a delicious home-cooked meal made by Mrs. Ludeman,” Kaushansky says.

“I also loved getting to speak with them about St. Louis and the many opportunities that they recommended for me to take advantage of while I’m at Wash U. They are very active and prominent in the community so they had a lot of insightful advice and suggestions.”

Typically, Wrighton matches students in small groups of three or four so that they feel more comfortable when first getting together. Often groups of friends sign up together and they are placed with the same family.

Students staying on campus over holidays are also offered an opportunity to share a holiday meal with a Home Plate family.

Host families are always needed as more students sign up each semester. They are asked to invite the students to two or three meals a year and also arrange transportation for the students.

Often strong bonds form between the students and families, especially if they stay together throughout the students’ tenure at the university.

“We’ve had Home Plate families go to students’ weddings,” she recalls. “They start becoming a real family. It’s just totally delightful.”

To sign up for the Home Plate program, go to the Home Plate website or call (314) 935-5040.