Sometimes you just take a leap of faith that changes your lives forever. That's what our family did about four years ago when we received a phone call from YFU about the urgent need for a host family for a 16-year old German boy. They sent us an e-mail copy of his student profile and host family letter. Like our daughter, Marcus volunteered for the Red Cross in his hometown, so that gave us a feeling of connection. We impulsively agreed to be his "arrival family" to help him get off to a good start for the first few months of his academic year here.With a daughter and a son in college, a daughter in her senior year and a son in third grade, plus two working parents, our household was always hopping anyway with everybody's crazy schedules, so what difference would one more make? So, just 24 hours after speaking to Marcus for the first time, he was on his way into our home---and into our hearts. Our leap of faith was rewarded in that Marcus, who returned "home" to us just last week, is probably one of the most kind, considerate, undemanding, appreciative, and funny teens you could ever imagine-and we were proud to have him as our exchange son.
Marcus was the ultimate participant, enthusiastically soaking up every experience he could find while at Lahser High School! When his chances of making the football team seemed bleak due to his lack of size and knowledge of football, he devoted himself to being a dedicated student trainer who was at every practice, every game. When Marcus had extra time to be at school, he would make himself useful by helping with stage sets for the play or lighting for concerts.
Marcus had special relationships with each family member: for example, as a dedicated big brother to our young Ryan, always willing to join him for a game of pool, basketball or even fishing. Similarly, Marcus was an experienced younger brother and knew just how to tease Marissa, the big sister by one year. That really kept her feet on the ground! As a son to Ken and me, his constant good humor, enthusiasm and helpful nature were always appreciated. Those qualities seemed to rub off on our own children too! We felt especially good on the day he started calling us Mom and Dad!
Our commitment was simply to offer a place to live, three meals a day and the love, support, and encouragement to get through the year in a new home. Students can share a room (not a bed, though) with a same-sex host sibling. They come with health insurance, their own spending money (to cover things like yearbooks, phone calls, clothing needs, booster club dues, etc.), and with the commitment that they will live according to the rules and values of their host families and the organization.
YFU gave us good support throughout the experience. The volunteer area rep makes sure that students and families are adjusting well. With over 60 years of experience and 250,000 students exchanged, YFU is a non-profit with a solid reputation for making this the best possible experience for all involved.
Some people might think that our experience was extraordinary, but there are many families just as thrilled as we were. For example, there were two other "arrival" families who took that leap of faith the same day we did. Those families were much unlike our family in many respects, but we all shared the same common enjoyment of young people. One couple was much younger with a five-year old child who ended up sharing a room in their apartment with his new big brother Oscar. Host dad was the school band director, and Oscar ended up playing "silent trumpet" while marching proudly with his new friends in the band. The other couple was much older (grandparents already), and they chose the lively Sonja to fill their empty nest with fun and enthusiasm. She really enjoyed being a host aunt to little Xavier and felt no hesitation about being the only child at home with her communicative host parents. Both those placements, just like ours, went from temporary to permanent.
Maybe we hesitated just a little to do this at first, wondering how much work it was going to be. But nobody could have told us then how much we were going to love him. In the note he left on his pillow for us to find after he left three years ago, he wrote simply this: "You just took me. You looked on that piece of paper, and you said YES. Thank you for that. It was just great. And it is still! All the things you did for me, I look up to you. Thank you for everything, Mom and Dad!"