UK holiday program works to make sure no student is alone on Thanksgiving

Published: Nov. 22, 2018 at 9:19 PM EST
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Faculty members at the University of Kentucky made room at their Thanksgiving tables on Thursday for students who couldn't make it home, or didn't have anyone to spend the holiday with. It's a part of the Welcome Home UK program that kicked off its second year.

"They are just so nice, and I feel at home right now," said UK grad student Kai Zhang, who is an international student from China. "When the school shuts down, when the town shuts down, basically it's really hard for international students," explained Zhang.

That is one reason why the university continued the Welcome Home UK program this year, and plans to keep it growing next year. Coordinators link students who needs a place to go or a family to celebrate with, with a faculty member who is willing to host. The idea was organized by the school's LGBTQ office, and sometimes participating students are members of the LGBTQ community.

Organizers say sometimes those students are not welcome or accepted at home. "Maybe their family is...they're not on speaking terms," explained UK employee Jesica Lopez-Huskey.

Other students who take advantage of the program tend to be out of state and international students, who can't make it back home over the short break. "It's quite expensive and also there's not enough time to go back," explained Zhang.

Luckily, faculty members like Lopez-Huskey volunteered to host this year. She says the program sends an important message, that maybe the best part of Thanksgiving is making room for one more at your table.

"I think it's great for my two boys," said Lopez-Huskey, "To see that that's the norm. See that giving and embracing new opportunities and new people is the norm."

"I feel really great. I feel really grateful that people in Lexington, Kentucky and UK, they're so nice and that they care," said Zhang.

The program will also connect students and a host faculty member for the upcoming winter break, which falls between semesters. Coordinators say registration for that will open up soon.