On Feb. our home became the "host home" for the first "Fairfield Celebrates Diversity" event. We didn't know what to expect.

Asked why we opened our home, it was easy to answer: some people feel more comfortable in a home environment; they could bring their children, if needed, and have a casual dining experience. Rabbi Jim Prosnit facilitated. Joining us was Nancy Polk, grant writer for the event, Linda Sales, her husband Larry Falco and their delightful daughter, Shannon Magnaldi. Linda and Larry shared stories of growing up and living in N.Y., then choosing to live in Fairfield.

Shannon shared her stories of attending several schools from private to public in New York City and here in Fairfield, comparing and contrasting her experiences. Last to arrive was Linda Crowley, who regaled us with stories of living abroad, then ultimately choosing to settle in Fairfield. Jeff was raised in Fairfield, and I was raised in suburban New Jersey, very similar to Fairfield and hardly diverse.

We talked about gay rights and the stigma with "coming out." We talked about bullying in schools, then and now. We talked about the socioeconomic downturn and how we could help with more affordable housing in Fairfield. We marveled at ease of interaction with each other. We all agreed that Tropical Storm Irene made us reach out to our neighbors for help.

Our group agreed that we sacrificed diversity for homogeny. While we were an accepting group, did we reflect how all Fairfield residents felt towards one another? How would anyone else know that? We decided that by reaching out individually and inviting neighbors in, that would be the best grassroots effort to welcome diversity. As a next step, we recommend more home host sites in the future.

Ultimately, the evening was best described by Linda Crowley in an email to the committee:

"The kindness and hospitality of the Dean Family in-home pizza dinner brought together a band of worldly people. Initially strangers, the diverse conversation broke barriers with welcome participation and respect for one another in a warm physical environment sheltered from a cold evening -- AWESOME."

We didn't know what to expect and we are all the better for it.

Heather Dean

Fairfield