How did you learn about AFS and what prompted you to get involved?
I was involved in the AFS club in my high school in the late 1970s and loved meeting students from around the world. I didn’t have the opportunity to go abroad, but I wanted my daughter to do so. My daughter and I began our volunteering together by hosting a student for a four day Phoenix Weekend Program and then became increasingly involved as volunteers. I liked having a mother/daughter community service activity. My daughter met the kids from around the world, still keeps in touch with them, and then went on her own exchange to Panama.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?
I am very committed to the mission of AFS. I love working with, getting to know and helping students go abroad and helping the hosted students while they are on exchange in our community. I also really enjoy the friendships that I have developed with my fellow volunteers. It has been a great place to make new friends.
What’s a typical volunteer “shift” like for you?
I have been the Volunteer Coordinator for about five or six years now. My goal has been to grow the chapter by re-configuring volunteer opportunities into smaller chunks so that we do not burn out the “regulars” and we give new volunteers an opportunity to get involved and get hooked. We have grown the chapter significantly as a result and new volunteers are growing into new roles. I don’t have a “shift;” instead, I reach out and encourage people who are interested to get involved.
Additionally, for several years I also helped coordinate an opportunity for the international Muslim students (through Youth Exchange and Study) to attend a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, tour a Synagogue and talk to a Rabbi. They also did presentations to American Jewish High School students about their home countries, cultures, religion, etc. I loved creating the unique opportunities for Muslim students to meet Jewish teens for the first time and for American Jewish students to meet and learn from Muslim students. This may help plant the seeds of peace.
What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience with AFS?
I love learning about other cultures and meeting people from around the world. As a liaison and in other roles, I also have appreciated the opportunity to help teens develop and learn about themselves and from each other. I also know that my daughter’s exchange opportunity has positively shaped who she is and how she thinks about the world.
Please share the best or the funniest thing that’s happened to you while volunteering with AFS.
Funny: My daughter and I brought a Thai student to Sedona, AZ (red rock country that is spectacularly beautiful). The student was very shy and spent most of her time on the two-hour drive to Sedona looking at her I-phone and listening to music. However, as we approached Sedona, she looked up, her eyes widened and she seemed mesmerized by the beauty. She loved the Jeep Tour and had no idea that a Jeep could climb boulders like it did. Watching her expressions as we approached Sedona was amusing.
Best: The first time I brought Muslim students to a Bat Mitzvah, by coincidence, the Torah portion that the Bat Mitzvah girl read from was a story about Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac. The Rabbi knew that the Muslim students were in attendance and made a point of weaving into his sermon the fact that Muslims and Jews have the same father and that we have more in common with each other than we have differences. We had not planned our attendance based on the Torah portion, but I thought it was neat that it happened to have worked out that way. Everyone had the unique opportunity to learn from the Torah portion and the Rabbi’s words.
What do you want to say to people who might be interested in volunteering with AFS?
AFS allows you to get involved to the extent that your time and your heart allow. There is always something for everyone to do that works with a busy schedule. I was a single mom and a trial attorney since my daughter was eight weeks old. I began volunteering shortly before she entered high school. I found ways to get involved that allowed me to volunteer with my daughter and in ways that fit into our schedules. I love getting to know students from around the world, make life-long friends and watch them grow and mature while they are here and when they return through Facebook, etc. While interacting with students, I sometimes feel like I am on an international vacation, but I don’t have to pack a bag or grab my passport.
What’s one thing AFS volunteers and staff don’t know about you?
Most of them don’t know that I am a twin. My twin sister lives in North Carolina. I live in Arizona, not far from our childhood home.