We were gathered around a makeshift work desk. We had pulled out a few chairs to sit on. The house we were in, though renovated, was empty of any actual furniture. We were prepping for the open of the Exchange House, a cultural-immersion/Airbnb in the North Hill neighborhood of Akron, Ohio, a project made possible from the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. As we sat at the desk creating name tags and sign-in sheets, a neighbor walked up to the back of the house. Then he took off his shoes and walked in.
He had deep wrinkles around his eyes and was dressed in traditional Bhutan clothing. He bowed to us, and then sat down at the only empty chair, and smiled.
He didn’t speak. He just smiled. So we gave him a cup of water, he drank it, got up, bowed, smiled, and walked out.
That’s when we knew that our goal for the house—to make it a place the community felt at home—would work.
Four months later, the house has seen countless guests come and go. It has played host to several leadership organizations. It has been the end of a march for immigration rights. It has released creativity of dancers and musicians through theater performances. It has simply been a place to relax.
Katie Beck, Exchange House Project Director and AmeriCorps VISTA, and Kai Wick, Wikiblock Project Manager and AmeriCorps VISTA, have been instrumental in making the house a home. They have implemented programming, created partnerships, and brewed 960 cups of coffee.
But we’re just beginning. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll announce an exciting next phase for the house. And, over the next year, there will be more changes, more programing, and yes, more cups of coffee.
Interested in checking it out? Spend a night at the house. Our Airbnb listing is here. Or just stop in. You’re always welcome.