Spotlight On: Ruth Blackstock
From left to right: Ruth and Georgia students, Alessia (ITA), Yazeed (Jordan), Dilara (TUR) and Sadiq (PAK).
How did you learn about AFS and what prompted you to get involved?
My friend, Agnes Matheson’s daughter, Marina, was on AFS exchange to Switzerland. She knew of my love for teenagers and global education. She encouraged me to get involved. I started as a liaison to a student from Argentina, and quickly fell in love with the program, the volunteers, the staff and the mission.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer each year?
I benefit so much from my ever-growing family of AFS – students, volunteers, parents, educators, staff – I thrive being in a village of like-minded, similarly motivated individuals.
What’s a typical volunteer "shift" like for you?
I don’t think there is a typical day for an AFS volunteer. I am one of those volunteers who jumps in so much, I can burn out. I have learned to “turn it off,” because there actually are limits to what I can physically do. I also try to spend part of my “shift” trying to think how to offload tasks to other eager volunteers – I think this is the hardest thing for a passionate volunteer to do…letting others have their turn, and being ok with the results!
What have you learned or how have you been personally affected by your experience with AFS?
Oh my goodness, this has been the BEST course in behavioral “best practices.” Everyone is here because they want to be – not because it is a job or a means to an end. Because of this, I have had to learn to value others’ ways and thought processes. It’s not right or wrong – it’s just different, and I have to learn to deal with it!!! I would say that I am less about “my way or the highway” today, and more about collaboration and team building. I think my family and friends would say this is a very fortunate turn of events in my life!
Please share the best thing or the funniest thing that's happened to you while volunteering with AFS?
There are so many:
- Being called “mother” or “mom” by so many goes right to my heart. I don’t have children of my own. These AFS experiences finally gave me a wonderful connection to my mom – and the agony I put her through when growing up. Some of the best days of my life were when I could call my parents and tell them about my latest parenting adventure – and thank them for all their patience with me. My parents are now gone, but I still have the conversations with them in my head about what I have done and how I am using the skills they taught me to support young people and families today – and thanking them for those skills.
- Some of my best conversations have been with students who are realizing the program is not for them and are preparing for early return. While these conversations are often bittersweet, I have been able to help the students know that they are very wonderful people and are valued by our team (despite some choices they might have made), and that this experience is part of growing up, learning who they are. Hopefully they can move on knowing that they can grow from what has happened and that the experience doesn’t define them, but helps to shape them for the future.
What do you want to say to people who might be interested in volunteering with AFS?
Oh my goodness – come on in, the water’s fine! And – do what you want to do – keep it within your passion!! Trust that the volunteer model works and that others can be just as passionate as you are about serving these youth and their families. Find ways to spread the wealth of what we do and enjoy being part of an incredible village. I think you will find that you gain as much from the friendships with our volunteers as you do from working with AFS students, families and staff!
What is the one thing AFS volunteers and staff don’t know about you?
Hmmm…I think by now most people know that I sold chicken in another lifetime (dead, frozen chicken in large quantities). What people don’t know is that I decorated cakes for work during high school and college. I made many wedding cakes and birthday cakes for friends and family and even worked at Safeway supermarkets as a cake decorator (and was a member of the AFL-CIO – GO UNION!!!)
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