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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Team Vera


A note from YFU USA President & CEO Michael E. Hill0014102339Youth For Understanding USA

At YFU, we believe exchange is for everyone.

When an organization supports more than 2,000 international and American exchange students each year, you hear a lot of stories about kids. Sometimes it’s a story of struggle; other times it’s the story of a remarkable deed. And every so often you hear a story like Vera’s.

I’ll never forget the call from a colleague in Hungary. “I have a perfect exchange student for you. She has great grades. She’s well adjusted. She’s a model member of her family and community.” The lead up was too perfect. “What’s the catch?” I asked. “Vera,” my colleague says, “happens to be blind.”

Vera would ultimately get placed with my former St. Bonaventure University college professor in Olean, NY, a town that I consider my home.

My former professor would explain to me on a later call that he and his wife had been looking for a reason to say no. He had a relatively new job running a health care consortium and had a full family life already, but he also shared that the coincidences were too great: 1) he had raised a blind daughter; 2) his wife had Hungarian roots; 3) he was the past chairman of the local school board and just knew that they would accept her. 

In short, John said, Vera was destined to be their exchange daughter.  

Vera was soon off to Olean, NY, and to her new host family. When she arrived, we soon discovered that Vera’s hearing was also a challenge for her in the classroom. John and his family refused to let any of this stop them. They soon created what they called “Team Vera.” “Team Vera” needed to find a way to keep this remarkable young woman on program, despite her challenges.

The story is a remarkable one. The Olean School District found ways to get extra technology and resources for Vera, and the Vera’s new family made it their personal mission to help her navigate this new experience.  At the end of the day, however, the school informed us that Vera would need a full-time aide if she was going to complete the year. The price tag: $10,000. 

YFU didn’t hesitate to authorize spending the funds to help Vera get the personal support she needed, but, as you might imagine, we don’t usually budget for this level of support. That’s where we hope you can help. We wanted to share Vera’s story with you because it proves that exchange is for everyone.

We are launching a “Team Vera” campaign for #GivingTuesday to raise the funds we need for Vera’s full-time aide. If you are inspired by Vera’s story, we would be very thankful for your assistance in helping us support “Team Vera” and this extraordinary journey she’s on through YFU.

We appreciate any support you might be able to give, and we would love to welcome you to “Team Vera”, ensuring that exchange is for everyone.