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How the Eclipse Illustrated the Meaning of the Exchange House

A few days after we posted the Exchange House on Airbnb in February, we got our first international guests–a family from France. We were so excited for their booking, but as life went on and the house grew busier, we forgot about it. Until this weekend. Katie Beck, Program Director at the Exchange House, tells us about the family’s visit.

It was a humid Friday evening with light flooding through the windows of the Exchange House, creating a warm glow as it reflected on the dark, vinyl floor. Cupcakes with purple and white frosting lined the kitchen counters, pop and punch filled the cups. The mood was festive, as this was the North Akron Community Development Corporation’s birthday party.

In 2015, the Better Block was introduced to Akron. While much has changed in Akron since we first got there, one thing has stayed the same: the incredible neighbors who make the city so special. A few of these neighbors, who worked on the initial Better Block, recently formed the North Akron Community Development Corporation, which is a new nonprofit that will serve North Hill, Cascade Valley, and Chapel Hill. As I moved throughout the house speaking with familiar faces, I watched as my neighbors responded on blank notecards to the three strategies at each table:

  1. Business and economic development

  2. Physical infrastructure and beautification

  3. Social and informational events and programming

The shallow, glass bowls at each station filled up with every new encounter. I took a moment to observe the discussion happening among strangers, the murmur of the room swelling with people, and the sweet smell of sugary icing.

Then I heard, “Katie, your guests are here!”

I turned to find a family of four—mom, dad, and two daughters—smiling. Not only had Nicolas and Mercedes traveled from France to see the solar eclipse, but they were our first Airbnb guests to book at the Exchange House. After they settled into their rooms on the second floor, the family joined the party on the first floor. For the rest of the evening, they were the special guests  in our diverse corner of the universe. Everyone was shaking their hands and asking them questions, but most of all, they were taking selfies.

A drawing from the French family graces the refrigerator in the Exchange House.

Eka, a Kent State Fashion Design student, translator at the International Institute, and Congolese community liaison for the New American Safe Driving Initiative, excitedly took a photo with the couple. For me, this moment, captured in a photo, demonstrates exactly what the Exchange House is supposed to be. It’s a space for vivid discussion about the state of our neighborhood; a hostel for a family on its way to experience a rare astronomical event; and a place where people from disparate countries and cultures can come together to eat cupcakes.


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