Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, January 17, 2019

Neighbors to provide home-cooked meals for students

Sarah Ackerman, a graduate student in AU’s health promotion program, said when she gets sick, it is her mother’s matzo ball soup that makes her stomach rumble.

“I once tried to make it in the dorms in a crock pot,” she said. “It was a disaster.”

Luckily for students like Ackerman — whose cravings for good, home-cooked meals are not quite satisfied by on-campus cuisine — AU’s Community and Local Government Relations office is sponsoring a new initiative to get students over to local community members’ homes for dinner.

“We thought a nice way [for people to meet] would be for students and neighbors to get together over a meal,” said Community and Local Government Relations Director Penny Pagano. “I mean, I always have a good time at dinner and I thought other people would too.”

Pagano, an AU alumna, spearheaded the program aiming to connect students with their neighbors, many of whom graduated from AU. She hopes the program will stimulate and improve the university’s relations with nearby communities, offering students a way to make potentially relevant connections for future careers.

There are hundreds of AU alumni in the immediate neighborhoods and thousands more in the D.C. metropolitan area, as well as faculty and staff, Pagano said.

“In addition to a nice meal, it’s a nice way to learn more about the neighborhood ... and to maybe make some new friends,” she said. “Students are away from home, they’re away from their families, and so neighbors can offer a lot of support.”

Pagano also mentioned including faculty members in the dinners and theming them around a particular subject, like journalism or economics and inviting students of those specific disciplines.

But food, she said, was the crux of the whole initiative.

Ackerman, for example, remembers living in student housing as an undergrad at Kent State University in Ohio and quickly getting tired of campus food.

“So I could see where [the program] would be beneficial,” she said.

Aviv Halpern, a first-year transfer student in the School of Public Affairs, said he would give the program a try and would bring friends if allowed.

“Maybe I’d be a little sketched out at first, but I think I’d be interested,” he said. “It’d be an experience.”

A California native, Halpern said he misses Mexican food the most.

“Guapo’s is good, but it just doesn’t compare,” he said.

Pagano is currently in the process of setting up the first meal, and while news of the program is spreading primarily through word of mouth, she has received a response from one interested student after posting an ad in Today@AU earlier this year.

The community response has also been positive, Pagano said. She has heard from several local neighbors and one AU staff member living in the area.

Pagano plans to host students at her home as well.

For questions about the program, students should e-mail her at or call 202-885-2167.

“And let us know if you have any allergies,” she added, smiling.

You can reach this staff writer at

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