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Shepherdstown couple hosts Appalachian studies students at Dinner with Strangers

ISSUED: 14 March 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Appalachian studies students from Shepherd University recently spent the evening in the home of Shepherdstown residents Rebecca and Stephen Ayraud, who hosted a Dinner with Strangers.

“We had a delightful time with the students,” said Stephen Ayraud. “They each contributed to the evening. They are all very busy with their lives and shared stories of their families and their struggles to get where they are. Several have significant family obligations that compete with available time for their education. They have much admiration for their Shepherd instructors and shared some of their struggles with us. On the whole we were impressed with their dedication and hope for the future and found them very inspiring.”

The Ayrauds participate in Shepherd’s Lifelong Learning program and are involved with the Speak Story Series.

“Even though we are longtime downtown residents, we have few opportunities to interact with Shepherd students,” Ayraud said. “We tried to share with the students our excitement of being part of a community of volunteers and the possibilities of new experiences beyond our careers.”

Shepherdstown resident Carolyn Rodis was a dinner guest, along with students Jessica Braner, history major, Hedgesville; Aneyla Dozier, English education major, Martinsburg; Ally Wharton, history major, Appalachian Studies Advisory Board member, Charles Town; Alexander Jones, English major, Hagerstown, Maryland; and Abigail Cleary, biology major and Shepherd Speaks student coordinator, Fairplay, Maryland.

“I thought the evening was lovely and I enjoyed meeting new people and sharing our experiences,” Cleary said. “The conversation was fascinating and the food was delicious. I loved hearing about other people’s stories and their involvement with the university. Overall, I thought the night was a great learning opportunity and I’m happy that I was given the chance to attend this event and meet everyone.”

“I am glad to have been chosen to represent Appalachian studies during the Dinner with Strangers,” Wharton said. “This is a wonderful way to connect Shepherd students to the community, and from this experience I was able to be a part of conversations regarding my state and to try and understand the perspective of those not native to West Virginia”

Jones said he found the Dinner with Strangers to be “a particularly enlightening evening. The hosts were the most accommodating, preparing an entire vegan meal for all of us and sharing their home for an evening. I think it is important for these connections to exist between native Appalachians and those who choose to migrate here so that dialogue can occur to help those unfamiliar with our rich and often painful history. This dinner was certainly a step in the direction of enlightenment for all participants.”

“The relationship between the town and the university is one of the things I love most about Shepherd,” Dozier said. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know a few community members on a deeper level and to see Shepherdstown from their perspective. I learned that we love this place for many of the same reasons.”

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