Risa Zwerling has been the first lady of St. Louis’ largest and better-known academic institution, Washington University and leads a program called Home Plate that has a simple and effective starting point: matching groups of students with families that want to host them for dinner a few times every year, to help the students have a “home away from home.”
Fifteen years after its start, it has a group of 200 students and 60 families signed up for matches. She tries to keep up with families and students that maintain the relationships through email and Facebook. One family was even invited to their student’s hometown in Asia and several families were even invited to their student’s wedding or traveled together. It has even resulted in job opportunities for many students. And for some, it has resulted in mentorships and job opportunities.
Zwerling tries to match families and students on shared interests, like their faiths. She puts up advertisements in synagogues and churches to help it be known.
“What I can do even if I only have two fingers is bring people together,” Zwerling said. She was born in New York but has been living in Saint Louis for 40 years and has been Washington-St.Louis first lady for 23 years.
To expand the initiative to other universities she has created a how-to guide, and presented the project at conferences but still hasn’t caught on.
Mark Wrighton (Risa’s husband) announced that he plans to retire sooner than later. It’s uncertain what will this mean for Home Plate program, but as they plan to stay at Clayton, the program may continue.