This month we are excited to be spotlighting an AFS COUPLE! Jay and Stassa Phillips of the Ohio River Valley Team have been involved with AFS since 1991 when they stepped in as a replacement family. The next year they again were asked to be a replacement family and by the third year they were hooked and said “yes” to a “FLEX” student – a recipient of a U.S. State Department full, merit-based scholarship. Next year they will be hosting their 22nd student, just one example of their dedication to the AFS mission and their desire to promote world peace.
How did you learn about AFS and what prompted you to get involved?
We were the second family for our first student and the third family for our second student. We hosted our first full year with a FLEX student who was our third placement.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?
We feel it’s important to host by example so we can encourage other families to host as well. We want to learn about other countries and we want to help other families and students have a positive experience. We want to give back to our community because we are retired teachers and there’s no better way to promote diversity than to introduce an AFSer into a high school, a family and the community. Our community is not very diverse, so we feel that this makes exchange experiences even more important. We’ve developed life-long relationships and we see the same with other host families and their host children. What better way to promote world peace than one person at a time?
What’s a typical volunteer “shift” like for you?
There is no true shift, but the rewards are so great. We have found and helped families who have hosted for five years in a row! To see their excitement and joy at hosting is a great reward! We are involved with all aspects of hosting. We try to match families and students, we conduct orientations and train liaisons and we handle support issues in our area, usually for 10-15 students and their families. We also organize and chaperone group trips to Washington D.C., Orlando and Niagara Falls. We couldn’t do all that we do without the wonderful family of volunteers, host families and others in our very special Ohio River Valley team! They are a unique group of individuals joined together for a common purpose.
What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience with AFS?
People are the same all over the world; we just do things differently. Next year we will be hosting our 22nd student. Our own children grew up with host brothers and sisters. Our son’s wife is of Filipino descent and our daughter is marrying an Italian in Italy and the U.S. and we are expecting between eight to 12 of our former students and their families to attend the wedding. Most of our traveling involves visiting former students and their families. We are the “American grandparents” to nine host grandchildren and we’ve attended their weddings and birthdays. AFS is completely intertwined in our lives and we are so much the better for it.
Please share the best thing or the funniest thing that’s happened to you while volunteering with AFS?
We are in a rural, small town setting, so a story we tell each year is about the student who came to us very worried. He said that he was concerned that his family had a lot of guns and were always talking about them. He said that each time they went to their vehicles, they would be yelling “Shotgun!” We use the story as an illustration of cultural misunderstanding, the importance of AFSers asking about things that worry them, how communication is critical, and as a good example of American slang.
What do you want to say to people who might be interested in volunteering with AFS?
Do it, it will change your life. Just take that leap of faith, whether by hosting, volunteering or doing both.
What is the one thing AFS volunteers and staff don’t know about you?
At 19, Stassa saved around $1,000 from her job selling popcorn at a movie theater and used it to travel to Greece on her own for six weeks to meet distant relatives and see the land of her ancestry. There were times she had to choose to spend money on food or a souvenir, and she always chose the souvenir. Jay has had two unique experiences involving third grade. He was a 3rd grader in rural West Virginia and his school needed a portable classroom, so they parked an old yellow school bus behind the school and that was his classroom. Then, his first year of teaching, he taught third grade, AND fourth and fifth, in a two room school and was the principal! He never went into administration after that, but taught third grade for most of the rest of his 39 years of teaching.