Give Your Club a Boost Next Summer Participate in the Lions International Youth Exchange Program When she returned to school this fall, 17-year-old Susanna Jaaskelainen had a few stories to tell her classmates about her summer. She had traveled from her home in Finland to California, where she went whale-watching, saw the desert for the first time, visited Disneyland and fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to a horse race. “I fell in love with California! Now the U.S. isn’t just the place where all of the best movies are made—it’s also a place I would love to live someday. I can’t say thanks enough for this opportunity to live in such a different kind of culture for a few weeks,” says Jaaskelainen. Jaaskelainen had an eye-opening time of her life that she will keep with her, thanks to the Lions International Youth Exchange program. Each year students ages 15 to 21 from approximately 60 countries participate in the program in which youths stay with host families. Some attend camps located in 45 countries. Lions clubs participating as sponsors or hosts consistently report having rewarding and inspiring experiences with the energetic young people, who arrive ready to learn all they can about the local culture. When Jaaskelainen’s host, Ontario-Upland Lion Martha Hebert, was asked by a friend to become her district’s Youth Exchange chairperson five years ago, she didn’t know much about the program. But after attending training, she knew enough to get started. “The first year we hosted just two students because I was still learning. We gradually increased the number, and last summer we hosted eight students. We might have 12 or more next year—I’m already looking forward to it!” says Hebert. Throughout the year Lions prepare for the summer by reviewing and selecting applicants, raising funds and planning activities. Lions are responsible for all expenses during the students’ visit, but budgets don’t need to be a fortune. “We have a small budget, but we do pretty good. For our kayak class, the kayak company donates everything, and we also have a free tour of Big Bear Lake,” Hebert points out. When it comes to determining the day-to-day schedule for the students’ two-week stay, Hebert’s committee plans a variety of activities to expose the youths to the beauty, culture and fun of southern California. “We plan something for almost every day, but we keep the schedule flexible,” says Hebert. Sometimes the best moments are the unexpected ones. “Susanna’s dream was to go to a horse race. When we got there, she was so excited, I couldn’t believe it. One year I hosted a boy who had never seen the ocean. When he walked out on the pier while the sun was setting, he was overwhelmed. That’s what makes me feel good—that I’ve shown them something they’ve never experienced.” Youths like Jaaskelainen enjoy every part of their stay, even from the moment they first arrive. From the Ontario- Upland Lions’ experience, the students have no problem making themselves comfortable in their host’s homes. Hebert notes that hosts learn from their guests and enjoy the experience just as much. “After one host couple had two girls stay with them, the husband told me that his wife just came alive and became bubbly with the girls around. Since their kids were grown, he said he hadn’t seen her like that in a long time!” –Jennifer Gilbert Gebhardt Find out how to get involved at www.lionsclubs.org (search for “Youth Exchange”) or email YouthExchange@lionsclubs.org.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Club+Improvement/1204647/129809/article.html.