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Exchange program creates family bond


Vaughn and Kathy Flesner, standing at left, pose for a picture with their current "family," seated, from left, Kamryn Flesner, Eden Klauser, German exchange student Adrian Umbriet, Brekken Flesner, Danish exchange student Jacob Madsen, Dakota Flesner and Kyle Jenkins Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, at Unity High School in Mendon. Umbriet and Madsen both play on the Payson basketball team. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson

Read their hosting story in the Herald-Whig.

Certificate of Global Citizenship Awarded to Roosevelt High School


Teacher Andy Sutton Recognized for Piloting Virtual Student Exchanges with International Educational Organization Youth For Understanding USA

This spring, Des Moines educator Andrea Sutton was invited by international educational nonprofit Youth For Understanding USA (YFU) to engage in a pilot of its global Virtual Exchange Initiative. Three of her classes participated in a unique online cultural exchange program to correspond with students in the North African country of Tunisia. Through this initiative students share their personal narratives to combat stereotypes and build international connections, while developing global competencies and 21st century skills. In this virtual space, students have the opportunity to become the teachers, educating their peers, schools, and entire communities.

Schools and learning centers are an essential part of the virtual experience serving as an epicenter to bring the benefits of intercultural exchange to a broader audience. Roosevelt High School and Mrs. Sutton’s contributions to the Virtual Exchange Initiative paved the way for educational institutions around the world to benefit from the YFU experience. 

Mrs. Sutton’s feedback has been instrumental in shaping the program; with her support, participation has grown from 80 students in two countries last spring, to 545 students across Indonesia, Thailand, Tunisia, and the United States this fall. Tens of other countries and thousands of students around the world are now in queue to join YFU’s virtual program. As the United States celebrates International Education Week, YFU is excited to recognize Mrs. Sutton for her role in the program’s success.

With a focus of English IV on world literature, veteran teacher Mrs. Sutton facilitates the virtual exchanges with her senior-level classes. She says, “Roosevelt High School is an environment where students are eager to go beyond what they know in their own communities. We are excited to provide an opportunity to our students in which they establish positive connections and relationships with students in a very different part of the world.”

Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School has welcomed more than 40 YFU exchange students in the last twenty years and its student body is as diverse socio-economically as it is culturally. Principal Kevin Biggs says “encouraging our youth to develop an understanding and an empathy for other cultures is paramount to creating a generation of forward-thinking, compassionate adults who will have a positive impact on the future of our national and international societies.”

YFU created the Virtual Exchange Initiative as part of a major global movement to increase understanding and empathy amongst international youth. Drawing upon its 65 years of expertise in international education, having exchanged more than 260,000 students worldwide, YFU’s virtual exchanges bring intercultural learning opportunities to students in communities around the world, with emphasis on reaching girls, displaced youth and other underrepresented groups.

Director of YFU’s Virtual Exchanges, Erin Helland says, “We are grateful to Mrs. Sutton for building bridges of understanding amongst individuals who might typically never travel past the borders of their home communities. We thank the students of Roosevelt for their active involvement, and hope they may discover through this experience that our similarities are greater than our differences.”


Celebrating 65 Years of Person-to-Person Exchanges


International education nonprofit Youth For Understanding commemorates milestone anniversary

Youth For Understanding USA (YFU), a global leader in nonprofit educational exchanges, celebrated its 65th anniversary on October 26th with a reception at its national headquarters in Washington, DC, chaired by Board of Trustees member, Gloria Garcia. Proceeds from the event support YFU's Financial Aid Fund for American students to study abroad. Dignitaries from area embassies [Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and Paraguay], YFU's Board of Trustees, along with visiting international YFU Partner Directors and friends gathered to honor this milestone event. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of eight national awards (recipients listed below). 

YFU's history began humbly in the United States in 1951 in an effort to heal the wounds of World War II. By teaching a group of young Germans how families lived together in the United States, the hope was that they would help rebuild their homeland according to what they had experienced on exchange. Dr. Rachel Andresen who founded YFU and served as its longtime Executive Director brought this vision to life. In 1973, Dr. Andresen’s commitment to international youth exchange was recognized when she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“YFU has a rich legacy built on more than six decades of excellence in helping students all over the globe find themselves, expand their world and discover intercultural opportunities through studying abroad,” said Michael E. Hill, YFU’s President & CEO. “YFU came into the world to meet the real need to heal a broken world and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the past 65 years. Our mission is still as vital as it ever was as our cultural exchange programs provide the ultimate reality check to a worldview based on stereotypes. In helping people of all ages to make the world their home, we help them to appreciate differences and embrace similarities.”

According to Mr. Milton Neshek Member of the Board, Secretary and General Counsel Kikkoman Foods Foundation, “Kikkoman believes in “Flavors That Bring People Together,” and the company is devoted to promoting international cultural exchange. Through involvement in quality educational and student exchange programs such as Youth For Understanding for high school students, Kikkoman is committed to enhancing international understanding.”  

YFU is committed to making exchange accessible to as many young people as possible and if you would like to help support a student with a needs-based financial aid scholarship you can make a donation at:

2016 Award Recipients:

  • YFU Partnership Award: Kikkoman & Sony Corporation of America
    Selected for their longstanding support of providing scholarships to YFU students. Both of these organizations share a strong commitment to providing young people with global intercultural exchange experiences. Kikkoman’s YFU scholarship program began in 1978 and Sony Corporation of America’s in 2005.
  • Award for Education Innovation: Sally Schwartz
    Award is given to an educator who has made significant contributions to the field of education through their service and commitment to the value and importance of cultural exchange and experience of students.

  • YFU Lifetime Achievement: Ron Lehker
    Selected for this honor based on his countless hours of volunteer work and his decades of work for and with YFU students. Of special note, Ron accompanied, our Founder, Dr. Rachel Andresen on one of YFU’s earliest voyages.
  • Distinguished Alumni: Jeanne Pierce & Laurie Sutch
    Selected for their tireless work on YFU pre-departure orientations for American students going overseas. Their dedication to these orientations has helped countless students successfully prepare to study abroad and successfully complete their exchange programs.
  • Volunteer Award: Donna Schnaars
    Recognizing the highly valued role our volunteers play in fulfilling our mission, this year’s Volunteer Awardee works as a tireless champion of our volunteers. Donna is one of our valued Trustees and has hosted more than a dozen students.
  • Host Family Award: Lynnell & John Pemble, Jim & Joanne Miller, Sharon & Don Strasser
    At the core of what we do are our volunteers and Host Families. We are recognizing three families that have opened their hearts and homes to more thanr 25 students, combined! We simple could not exist without these families.
  • Distinguished Donor: Brian Bucks
    Selected for his strong financial support of YFU programs since 1998, helping to advance and foster cultural understanding and international friendships.

  • YFU Distinguished High School Award: Marcellus High School (Michigan) & Ross Beatty High School (Michigan)
    Selected for embracing the value of study abroad among its students by opening the doors of their schools to international exchange students.


Celebration Sponsors:

  • Skylink Travel House – Sparkling Reception Sponsor
  • Eat & Smile Catering – Event Sponsor
  • Drift on 7th – Event Sponsor
  • Westpy Marketing Services – Event Sponsor
  • WTSO (Wines ‘Til Sold Out) – Event Sponsor
  • UrbanStems – Event Sponsor
  • Kprise Technologies – Event Sponsor
  • Goetz Printing – Event Sponsor
  • Douglas Development Corporation – Event Sponsor
  • Interface Media Group – Event Sponsor


Photos from the Celebration are available on Facebook

Jan Patrick Eckendorf, Deputy Head of Cultural Section at the Embassy of Germany; Ambassador Laurence Wohlers, YFU USA Board Trustee; Michael E. Hill, YFU USA President & CEO; Gloria Garcia, YFU USA Board Trustee and Celebration Chair

Jan Patrick Eckendorf, Deputy Head of Cultural Section at the Embassy of Germany; Ambassador Laurence Wohlers, YFU USA Board Trustee; Michael E. Hill, YFU USA President & CEO; Gloria Garcia, YFU USA Board Trustee and Celebration Chair

Sandra Ostertag, YFU Paraguay National Director; Ambassador Germán Rojas from the Embassy of Paraguay and wife Cynthia Duarte Rojas; Scott Messing, YFU USA Vice President & Chief Operating Officer; Michael E. Hill, YFU USA President & CEO

Sandra Ostertag, YFU Paraguay National Director; Ambassador Germán Rojas from the Embassy of Paraguay and wife Cynthia Duarte Rojas; Scott Messing, YFU USA Vice President & Chief Operating Officer; Michael E. Hill, YFU USA President & CEO

YFU USA Appoints Scott Messing as New President & CEO


The Board of Trustees of Youth For Understanding USA (YFU) has named Scott J. Messing, the organization’s Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, as its new President & Chief Executive Officer, effective January 1, 2017. The appointment comes on the announcement that current President & CEO Michael E. Hill has been named President of The Chautauqua Institution in New York.

“While we are sad to see Michael step down as our President, he leaves us with a strong foundation to continue growing YFU USA’s mission in service to a dynamically changing world,” said Daryl Weinert, Chairman of the YFU USA Board of Trustees. “Michael came to us to during a time of great challenges, and he has worked tirelessly to stabilize and grow the organization.”

A seasoned executive and a former exchange student himself, Messing has served as Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at YFU since 2014, overseeing the day-to-day operations of YFU, including direct oversight for multiple operational departments.

Prior to his tenure at YFU, Messing served as Chief of Staff at the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), with oversight for the organization’s administration and the Attorney General management consulting program. Before that, Messing served three governors in Pennsylvania in his capacity as Chief Administrative Officer in the Governor’s Office of Administration, Deputy Secretary of Administration within the Pennsylvania Department of State, as well as Deputy Commissioner for Professional Licensing. In addition to his state service, he served as Director of Operations and Global Administration for a technology start-up,

Messing’s passion for international education and exchange is evident by his experience alone. He had his first exchange experience to Germany while in high school, followed a few years later by an academic year at the University of Heidelberg during his undergraduate education from Bucknell University, where he graduated with a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and German. Messing also earned his Juris Doctorate from Pennsylvania State’s Dickinson School of Law, where he specialized in international law and alternative dispute resolution. He is currently a “host father” to two YFU exchange students in addition to prior hosting experiences with YFU.

“The transition that YFU began during Michael Hill’s leadership has been exceptional. I am proud and honored to follow in his footsteps and continue this critical work,” Messing said. “It seems like only yesterday that I began mowing lawns in junior high school to raise money for my first international exchange experience in Germany. That one day I would lead one of the world’s premier intercultural exchange and education organizations was a dream I had early on, and am thrilled to have realized it with YFU! The challenges we face in today’s world are even more complex than those faced shortly after World War II, the time in which YFU was founded to repair relations between the U.S. and Germany. YFU’s mission is greater now than ever before, and I look forward to being a continuing part of that ever-evolving solution.”

“Michael Hill built a strong executive team at YFU, and we are fortunate to have Scott take the helm during a dynamic period in YFU’s organizational life. He will make this change in leadership a smooth one, and there will be no interruption in the services and programs YFU provides to the global community,” Weinert said.

“I want to thank the thousands of volunteers, students, international partners, and especially the staff and our dynamic Board of Trustees for this incredible opportunity and honor to serve as YFU’s President. Scott is going to be make an incredible President, and I look forward to supporting him as a YFU volunteer,” Hill said.

“YFU is lucky to have the best candidate already within the organization, and we are excited that this appointment will allow YFU USA to continue a strategic plan recently passed by the organization without interruption,” said Weinert.