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YFU Blog - Recent stories about Youth for Understanding

Filtering by Tag: volunteer

My YFU Experience: Kylie Neidich

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Interview by YFU Alumnus and Campus Ambassador Ronak Gandhi with YFU Field Director, Host Mother & Area Representative Kylie Neidich

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What Youth For Understanding Means to Me

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Archived letter from YFU Founder & Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Rachel Andresen

Youth For Understanding is a dream come true. It is as strong as steel, as delicate as the moonbeam, as fragile as a butterfly wing, and as illusive as a will-of-the-wisp.

It’s built on faith, on hope for the future and love as deep as abiding as life itself.

To be part of it brings out the best in all of us. Each of us who has shared the magic of its being has contributed something bigger than we are.

We have learned to love and be loved, to trust and be trusted, to open our homes and our hearts to all people, everywhere.

Youth For Understanding has been like my own baby. I came to an early realization that here was a people-oriented program with an identity of its own, with tremendous possibilities for developing understanding with an ultimate goal of world peace, given to me to guide and direct through its formative years.

Why me? I will never know. I do know that I was given strength, courage and leadership to create and develop Youth For Understanding. I did not do it alone. There are people by the thousand who have given of themselves to make this dream come true. It became their dream, too.

I want to say “thank you” to students, to host families, to our school principals, superintendents, school counselors and teachers, to community leaders, to churches for their undergirding of the program and the network of staff and volunteers throughout the world.

My own private purpose has been to get the job done and to see that everyone involved grew in the process. Thank you again.

I love you.

-Rachel Andresen

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The Next Chapter of Your Exchange Experience

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With the opportunity to meet and connect with fellow alumni, you have the ability to remember what made your exchange the crazy, wonderful, developmental time period that it was.  Your exchange experience didn't end the moment you stepped off the plane.  The Alumni Chapters offer amazing ways to stay connected with the not only the organization, but also those precious experiences you had while abroad. 

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Happy National Volunteer Week

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Guest post from YFU President & CEO Michael E. Hill

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege to meet with many of you during my listening tours in Boston, Massachusetts; Muskegon, Michigan; Charlotte, NC; and Clyde and Delaware, OH with Bill Malloy, our Director of Volunteer Programs. We have a few cities still to visit, but I always come away with the profound understanding that YFU simply would not exist without our volunteer family.

As I was preparing to write this note, I reflected on the impact our volunteers have on our students’ experiences. Often, when I speak to outside groups or individuals about our mission, consistently the one thing people are often surprised by is the sheer number of volunteers and their direct impact on our program, our students and frankly, the continued success of delivering a rich, meaningful cultural exchange experience. Others outside our organization either don’t understand – or are unable to comprehend the level of professionalism, passion and dedication of YFU volunteers.  

Meeting volunteers, students, and host parents is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. On a recent trip through the beautiful state of Ohio—I was fortunate enough to spend several hours hearing directly from two remarkable groups of volunteers. At a gathering in northern Ohio, the personal stories of why YFU holds a special place in the hearts of our volunteers overwhelmed me. In that small country store where the event was held, you couldn’t help but feel the energy vibrating in the room! One volunteer in particular named Pat will always stand out in my mind. Pat’s vigor, dedication, and 30+ years of YFU volunteering illuminated the space. I was also equally inspired by Matthew, a volunteer in his early 20s, who attended the event while at home on break from his university studies. Matthew was joined by his mom, another YFU volunteer, and I was able to see firsthand how volunteering really does run in the family! These stories were especially poignant as later this summer, I will become a first time host dad. I’m incredibly excited about this new journey and am so thankful to know I will have the support and expertise of our volunteers to help guide me. 

So as we celebrate National Volunteer Appreciation Week, I want to thank each and every one of our volunteers for the tremendous work you do throughout the year. From helping to place students, writing student profiles, interviewing students and families, serving as scholarship evaluators, leading as area reps, lending your expertise on regional volunteer leadership councils and the countless other ways you contribute to YFU, you continue to make a profound difference in the lives of the young people, host families and communities we serve.

I want to thank you, as well, for the many words of advice you’ve given my team and I as we head into our 65th year. Please know there’s not a day that goes by that I am not grateful for all you do and how hopeful it makes me to know that we will build a brighter future for YFU… together.

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Lifetime YFU Friendships

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At first, we were just exchange students…

Jeanne and Laurie were both exchange students from Michigan, the original heart of YFU. Jeanne went from the cornfields of central Michigan to the vineyards of southern France in 1982-83, learning to ski in the Alps. Laurie stretched her mother’s apron strings – but only for a summer – to the far north of Norway in 1982. When Laurie was invited to be on an alumni panel at a volunteer training weekend in the fall of 1983, Rachel Andresen told the regional director “That girl needs to go again!” – and so she did, as a gap year student to Uruguay in 1984-85.

Both of us felt our exchange experiences were the most amazing (and educational!) experiences we’d ever had, but little did we know we would still be involved over 30 years later, or the tremendous friendships we would develop over the years, not only with each other, but many others as well.

And then we were invited to events….

In the 1980s, YFU had an amazing Regional Director in Michigan named Diana Follebout. She believed that the exchange experience doesn’t end when a student arrives back home, but it is part of them forever. She also believed that young YFU alumni can (and should) be part of the volunteer base. She starting having Jeanne (and then Laurie) attend events, putting them to work in the regional office and Pre-Departure orientations.

And then we were volunteers….

Somewhere along the way, we were both became full-fledged volunteers; Jeanne was the first Alumni Coordinator for Michigan, organizing social events, fundraisers and orientations. We kept running into each other at events, and even though we went to rival universities, we hit it off. Soon Jeanne had dragooned Laurie into almost everything, and the two of us were quite a pair! Our YFU volunteering was an important part of our college experience, and the camaraderie that developed amongst our alumni group was like our own fraternity. We went on ski weekends together, did fundraisers for American YFU students, did presentations, and organized and conducted American student Pre-Departures and Homecoming orientations. When Jeanne moved to Illinois to work for the YFU Regional Office there, Laurie took over as the Alumni Coordinator.

And then we were friends….

The connections we developed during those college years – working together to achieve goals and laughing along the way – have kept our friendship strong, even though we haven’t lived in the same state for over 25 years.  When Jeanne was married, Laurie was one of the bridesmaids, and when Laurie (finally!) recently got married, Jeanne was right there to help her celebrate. When Jeanne moved to Illinois and Laurie went in the Army, we didn’t connect as often as we had, but when Jeanne called Laurie to tell her about the National Alumni Council that was being formed, we picked right up where we had left off. Remember, this was before cell phones or email were common, and so YFU has helped us stay connected as friends. It unites us and gives us common ground, even though we are now so deeply connected that we are friends in all aspects of our lives.

Laurie on the left, Jeanne on the right

Laurie on the left, Jeanne on the right

And there’s always YFU…

Why do we stay involved? What motivates us to continue working with exchange students? For both of us, we especially enjoy working with volunteers, particularly young alumni, who are working with exchange students or promoting the exchange experience. We have gotten to do so many wonderful things in YFU, for YFU, for students, that we love to see it when others can have similar experiences. The development of the National Pre-Departure Orientation a few years ago has been a dream come true for us.  Not only do we get to spend three days providing year and semester American students with skills and knowledge to help them have the best year of their lives, but we are also training the next generation of volunteers. We feel it is our turn to encourage and coach young alumni who will take our place, never forgetting the faith and hope that Diana Follebout once had in us.

How Will You Give Back this Global Youth Service Day?

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Did you know that April 17-19 is Global Youth Service Day? Consider hosting an event that gives back to your community while helping to increase awareness that we're all citizens of one world.This occasion provides the perfect opportunity to come together with your fellow volunteers, staff, students and families to share our mission within your local communities. Think about the causes that inspire you and come up with your own project or find a local event to participate in.

Have fun and get creative! You could:

  • Be ambassadors for peace - bring together area exchange students and cultural groups for an interactive intercultural day celebrating diversity

  • Offer to tutor students in language or world history

  • Get together with your neighbors and plant a community garden

  • Connect with elderly citizens through cultural presentations at a local senior residence

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One needs look no further than YFU students Sarah and René for inspiration.

René volunteered in a broad range of community service activities including walking to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, dismantling holiday decorations for the City of Ann Arbor, removing invasive plant species in Ann Arbor parks and cutting branches at a park on Nature Area Workday, shoveling snow for elderly neighbors, leading games for children at a pool event, and helping raise awareness of CBYX, YFU, and exchange through booths at community events. For GYSD René pulled weeds and invasive species in local forest to help regrowth of native species.

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While on program, Sarah completed more than 137 hours of community service! Her involvement included everything from coaching youth soccer, volunteering at American Red Cross blood drives, participating in community recycling events, organizing international lunches where students brought dishes representative of different countries and discussed the culture and food of the country to classroom presentations on her native culture and language. She continued her involvement by participating in GYSD as a volunteer at the City of Portsmouth's Quarterly Hazardous Waste Collection, Document Shredding, and Electronics event.

Find more ideas and tips inYouth Service America's planning toolkitfor creating your own GYSD community project!

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Share your service projects & photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #yfuGYSD. We’ll be following along and might even share your project on our social media. We can't wait to see how you will get involved!

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Thank You Volunteers!

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A Note to Our Volunteers from YFU USA President, Michael HillIt is often said that YFU simply would not exist without volunteers, and a truer statement could not have been penned. As you may know, I have been traveling to visit other YFU organizations around the globe. I’m always struck by the commitment and passion of volunteers worldwide. Most often, we are met by a volunteer at the airport holding a YFU sign, a simple task with a profound welcome that I know many have undertaken throughout the years.

And while I’m excited to talk about volunteers throughout the global network, I’m particularly interested in sharing a new statistic just released by Independent Sector (IS), a non-profit representing non-profit leaders and philanthropists in this country. IS recently announced the 2013 estimates for the value of a volunteer hour at $22.55, a 41-cent increase from 2012, nearly a 2 percent increase from the previous statistics. If you’re interested in reading the full report or seeing specific figures for your state, you can visit the report here.

If we estimate that we have 1,200 volunteers (the number changes depending on our season), and if each volunteer works even five hours a week (and we know many of our volunteers work much more), the total monetary value of YFU volunteers would reach close to $8 million each year!

This value of volunteer time is just one way to measure the impact of the more than 1,000 YFU USA volunteers each year. The report’s release is particularly poignant as we celebrate National Volunteer Week (April 6-13, 2014). This is the 40thanniversary of this very special celebration and one that I look forward to mark with our volunteers every year.

So as we celebrate National Volunteer Week, I want to thank all our volunteers for the tremendous work that you do throughout the year. From helping to place students, writing student profiles, interviewing students and families, serving as scholarship evaluators, leading as area reps, lending your expertise on Regional Volunteer Leadership Councils and the countless other ways you contribute to YFU, you continue to make a profound difference in the lives of the young people, host families and communities we serve.

I want to thank you, as well, for the many words of advice you’ve given my team and me as I head toward my one-anniversary as YFU’s President & CEO. Please know there’s not a day that goes by that I am not grateful for all you do and how hopeful it makes me to know that we will build a brighter future for YFU … together.

Happy National Volunteer Week to you all, and thanks for all you do for YFU!

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Why Not Volunteer at the Winter Olympics

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What does one do when facing an empty nest? Well, if you’re someone like YFU Field Director, Heather Clark, who’s accustomed to the cold, loves to volunteer, interact with people from across the globe, and who believes in building a better and more a peaceful world then, ‘why not volunteer at the Winter Olympics?’Heather has attended her fair share of Olympic games and after talking with a volunteer at the Vancouver games four years ago, decided that with her kids now off in college, it was the ideal time to volunteer and embark on her own incredible adventure.

With the Winter Olympics kicking-off in Sochi this Friday, she will be spending the next month, helping to prep the Men’s Alpine Sport ski courses. “I’m honored to have a unique experience to participate in the organization and staging of a grand world-class international sports event. I get to work side by side with volunteers from all over the world toward a common goal, to be a creator of the Winter Games in Sochi and be part of the legacy of one of the best Games in history.”

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Photo via Heather Clark

What’s your favorite part of the Olympic games? Share your thoughts with us.

We know YFU will be well represented by Heather and we hope you’ll follow along with us on her Olympic journey!

Long Time YFU Volunteers Awarded 2013 Jeannette Rankin Peace Award

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George & JoRae

George & JoRae

On November 15th, two long time YFU volunteers and host parents, George and JoRae Sarsten were awarded the 2013 Jeannette Rankin Peace Award (presented by the Rocky Mountain College, MT Institute for Peace Studies). This prestigious award recognizes ordinary citizens, living ordinary lives, while doing extraordinary things for peace. George and JoRae join U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield, U.N. Ambassador George McGovern, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, and other peacemakers who have been recognized with this award.

Volunteers like George and JoRae make YFU possible by engaging local communities in youth exchange; providing cultural support to families, schools and students; and by welcoming students into their hearts and homes. As our Founder and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Dr. Rachel Andresen once said, “Volunteers are God’s gift to worthy organizations…There would be no Youth For Understanding if it wasn’t for the volunteers. What a job they do!”

For the past 26 years, George and JoRae have devoted their energy, experience and empathy to ensure the well-being of more than 145 exchange students, having personally hosted 21 students themselves. Making the world their home, they’ve even traveled across the Pacific to Japan and South Korea to reunite with past exchange students.

Today, the principles of youth exchange hold just as much relevance as ever. By hosting each others’ children, we come to understand that our similarities are greater than our differences. George and JoRae embody the generosity of spirit and time that volunteers give to YFU to help adventurous young people become wiser people safely, securely and confidently.

Please join us in congratulating George and JoRae and thank you to all of our volunteers across the globe for helping shape our collective future, one student at a time.