‘The House’ provides a home far away from home
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents Annette and Tim Franklin challenge the maxim that there is no place like home.
Their non-profit, called “The House,” provides a homey space for Middlebury College’s international students and students from other underrepresented communities.
Angela Izi, a Middlebury student from Rwanda, has been dropping in at The House, which is tucked into a lot off Route 7 North below Chipman Hill, since last summer.
“I have been dreaming of a place like this and now I know that it is real,” Izi said.
The Franklins host all kinds of activities from dinners to card playing to so much more..
The House was registered as a nonprofit in 2018, but the Franklins have been supporting students far from home since long before that. Tim remembered, “We started interacting with students in 2011. Our first connection with international students was meeting students from Ethiopia that spoke Amharic just like our son.”
This first interaction snowballed into a greater community.
“We met one student at first, then two and before we knew it, we were hosting 25 students for dinner,” Tim recalled.
With the forming of such a community, there were certain factors affecting the lives of international students that became evident to Tim and Annette.
“We quickly realized that international students had unique needs and challenges, some of which could not be met by support systems provided to them at college. We wanted to fill that gap,” Annette said.
This realization drove them to nurture a grander and nobler vision: “A home away from home for international students and other students of color,” as Tim described it.
What steps did they take to fulfill this vision?
“Explaining what we do here is never easy for me,” Annette said. “We try and fulfill all needs of international students. This means our activities look very different — from hosting dinners, driving students to the airport, hosting them during times of distress, hosting parents during graduation, storing luggage over the summer, hosting game nights to helping with driving permits, insurance, grocery shopping and much more.”
The Franklins’ efforts to provide a supportive and collaborative environment for international students had been hampered by the distance between the Middlebury College campus and their former house in Bridport. In pursuit of “greater, deeper, and more natural relationships with students,” they bought a house in Middlebury a few years after getting started and moved from Bridport to fully realize their vision.
“We were thoughtful about filling the house with colors and art to make it feel like home for people from all over the world,” Annette said on their decision to move houses. They wanted a space that felt more like home than institutional.
Moving into the new house, closer to students, was certainly not the end of the challenges that Tim and Annette have had to face. They acknowledge that they have received some generous donations in the last few years, however, resources are still too scarce for them to completely institutionalize The House and have a full-time staff.
“Challenges have primarily been financial,” Tim said. “We have been supporting students for over 10 years now and are mostly paying for it ourselves.”
The Franklins are not independently wealthy. They have full-time jobs, so they work on their nonprofit and mingle with students in their spare time. Annette would love to work for The House full-time, however, that would require external financial support.
Beyond money, they have also faced challenges in their outreach efforts.
“Neither of us work for the college, so sometimes we find it difficult to find ways to connect with students and let them know about us,” Tim said.
They mostly rely on word of mouth and for their current students to spread the message and let other students know that The House can be used as a resource.
“I often ponder on what am I not doing to make us more visible to students,” Annette said. She and Tim view an official collaboration with Middlebury College as a potential solution to better publicize The House.
While networking might be a challenge for the Franklins, however, making genuine and meaningful connections with students is not.
Huthefa Maalim, a Middlebury student from Kenya, is deeply grateful for the support he has received.
“Whenever I pray, I pray for The House right after I pray for my family,” he said. “It holds a special place in my heart.”
Abdulrehman Abbas, a Palestinian student from Lebanon, described The House as a “magical place.”
Countless other students also hold The House in high regard.
Tim and Annette Franklin take great pride in the community that The House has created.
“It is so gratifying and transformative for us to hear when our students share such sentiments with us,” Tim said. “I always tell people that we have the smartest and the most compassionate people in the world come sit at my table.”
The thought of their students shaping the world of the future by envisioning how to make their societies and countries better makes the Franklins hopeful for the future of the world. Annette said she is confident that her students will grow to be adults that are full of love and kindness. She just wishes that they continue to remember her message:
“You will always belong with us, you will always belong at The House.”
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