Friday, April 29, 2016

Being a host family is a labor of love with a lifetime of memories - By Michelle Libby

For 35 years, Kathy Hansen has been matching high school students up with families in southern Maine as a part of CCI Greenheart which has offered cultural exchange programs in the United States that connects Americans with international students since 1985. She has had many of the students in her own home for a semester or for a school year, and she recommends that everyone try hosting.

“The biggest obstacles, time, no one has time. Money, no one has extra money and space. They don’t need their own room, just their own bed. These are easily resolved,” Hansen said. “It’s like a gift. You get more back than what you’re giving.” 

Hansen recommends that the exchange students get thrown into the mix of a family. The fit in and become one of the family. “Kids in your home become global thinkers,” she said. She also added that they usually become international travelers, learn about world peace and public diplomacy. “The cultural experience is so worth it.”

The students move into the host homes, attend school, play sports or participate in the school play. They have their own lives and are typical teenagers living under the rules of the family. 

When Hansen had her first exchange student stay with her, the girl became like a daughter to her and this past summer, that girl’s children came to stay with Hansen. 

When she places a student, she looks for things the family might have in common with the student, like musical skills or playing soccer. Sometimes she can match up a family with someone from their country of lineage. 

CCI Greenheart receives 68,000 applications every year and 2,000 are accepted. Twenty-two of those will arrive in Maine. The program is sponsored by the United States Government. A program like this gets students from all over the world together to learn to work together, do presentations together and realize that working together can change the world. 

Each year the students in Maine hold an international evening to show off the style and food from their country. 

They also do a leadership project which is putting on a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House. It is a requirement that they volunteer and since Hansen has a connection with the Ronald McDonald house, she has them work there to raise money for their programs. It is this volunteer component that sets CCI Greenheart apart from other exchange programs. Some called F1 are academic programs where a host family will hopefully have a relationship with the student, but often times are just a place to live while the student attends school. 

The host families for CCI Greenheart are vetted and approved before the students come here. They can not have a felony charge and not be on general assistance like food stamps or housing assistance. They do not get paid, which is another difference between CCI and the F1. Hosts for CCI are given bios of the students with their interests and goals. After a match is made, pictures can be exchanged and the family and student can talk through social media or email. 

Families who have hosted in the past have been senior citizens in their seventies, single mom who worked fulltime and worked with a neighbor to help and even families with little children. The exchange students are very attentive to their host siblings, Hansen said. 

“Something special changes the dynamics in the families. They hear about it and say ‘that would be so good for our family and how can we make it happen,” she added. The local coordinator must be within 120 miles, but most in this area a closer in case there is an issue, which is rare. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit, to the student can be moved. 
There are many opportunities to try hosting before committing to an entire school year. This summer from July 9 to 29, students from France will be coming to American to learn about culture and share their culture with community members. The students speak some English and will require meals, but will arrive with his/her own medical insurance and spending money. 

There are other opportunities to have a student for two weeks. With the shorter stays, the students usually have activities planned by the coordinator.
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With the longer stays, family vacations might come into play. The students are asked if they want to go and they pay their own way or half of a room for the other children in the family. If there is an issue with an exchange student, Hansen will come in to make sure bills are paid to the host family, if necessary, or to sort out awkward issues. She calls herself “the enforcer.” 

“Eighty-seven percent of families are happy they hosted because it’s such a wonderful experience,” said Hansen. 

“It’s so wonderful that when they leave they take a part of your family with them,” Hansen said. “We love all these kids and we want to find homes for them.” For more about CCI Greenheart, visit, email or call 6653-1007.

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