How did you learn about AFS and what prompted you to get involved?
In the late summer of 2012 a co-worker shared an email from AFS that nine students needed homes in Alaska. My husband and I had discussed hosting an exchange student when our children were younger but were never able to do so. That had changed now that our oldest son had moved into his own home. That is the year we welcomed Federico from Italy. The rest as they say is history. I was so impressed with the program and the difference that it was making on a global scale that the following year I registered as a liaison I supported Nora from Sweden and Tina from Austria, and became an emergency family for Jasper from Germany at the end of his stay. Since we have hosted Ana from Spain and Johannes from Germany. I was the Area Team Liaison Coordinator and Local Support Coordinator. This year I became the Area Team Chair and am liaison to two more students, Clara from Italy and Franzi from Germany.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?
Ultimately I come back each year for the students. I love to see the wonder and joy on our students faces each time they experience something new. I’ve have always believed in the lyrics of Whitney Houston’s ‘Greatest Love of All:’ “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way…”
What’s a typical volunteer “shift” like for you?
As the Area Team Chair my “shift” is sunrise to sunset. My friends say I am OA, an Over Achiever, as I tend not to say “no” when something is needed, but I see it as dedication to something I believe in and wanting to do my best to help those in need. I spend on average an hour or two each day working on AFS-related items. Some days more, some days less.
What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience with AFS?
I would say the greatest thing I have learned through AFS is that intercultural exchange is the best way to bridge the gap between nations and to tear down the walls of stereotypes and prejudices. We are all part of the same race-the human race. We all experience the same facets of life; happiness, sadness, challenges, triumphs, fears, courage and, above all, love. I now have four more children I call “son” or “daughter” and they will be part of my heart for the rest of my life. I have not only changed their lives, but they have changed mine and my families. We not only have connections to these students but to their families as well. We share our views of the world through each other’s eyes and ask questions instead of making assumptions based on the biases that exist in soceity. We don’t always agree, but we have a mutual respect of one another, which is a stepping stone in the global goal of a more unified and peaceful world.
Please share the best or the funniest thing that’s happened to you while volunteering with AFS.
Besides having added four more children to our family and a multitude of connections and friendships around the world, the best thing that has happened to me as a volunteer was experiencing the World Congress and 100 Year Celebration in Paris in 2014. I was a newer volunteer and never anticipated being selected for this honor, but I am so glad I was. I was blessed to see the “AFS Effect” first-hand. I saw people from every corner of our globe peacefully gather together with the same goal-to continue the “AFS Effect” for another 100 years. I met amazing people like Vincenzo Morelini, Kathleen McNabb, Eric Lomeli, Anaïs Chauvet, Saman Hosseini, Adriano Fernandez, Samantha Boissy and Edouard Verté. This list could go on and on and on, but I am sure you will cut me off. These are just a few of the many dedicated volunteers I met and I continue to meet more as my time with AFS continues.
What do you want to say to people who might be interested in volunteering with AFS?
Most people in the world are always looking for a way to change it for the better. AFS affords those of us in remote or small communities the chance to change the world one life at a time. One needs only to look to the joyous moments experienced by students and how their lives change and grow to be convinced to volunteer. Volunteering doesn’t have to be as involved as I am. I choose to dedicate the amount of time I do. Others need to know that like the pebble in the pond, one person can become the ripple effect of changing our world for the better and it can be done with no matter how much time you have to give.
What’s one thing AFS volunteers and staff don’t know about you?
I am part of a championship Sweet Adelines Barbershop Chorus “Alaska Sound Celebration.” Sweet Adelines is an International organization with over 500 chorus chapters worldwide. In 2015 we placed 13th in the International Competition and in 2016 won our regional competition affording us the chance to compete internationally again in 2017.