AFS promotes world peace one teenager at a time

Krista Hawthorne and Adrienne Yelsky (L-R) helped build a strong AFS program in the Heights. Photo Joy Henderson.

Krista Hawthorne and Adrienne Yelsky have nearly 60 years of combined volunteer service with the AFS Foreign Exchange program.

AFS places foreign students with local host families, and sends American students to foreign countries to attend school and live with families abroad. 

The purpose of AFS is to “provide intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world.” In other words, “promoting world peace one teenager at a time,” according to Hawthorne.

Hawthorne is stepping back from some of her AFS volunteering, and Yelsky recently retired from teaching at Heights High, but will remain active as an AFS volunteer.

Hawthorne has been involved in AFS since 1979, when she was an AFS exchange student in France. As an adult, her family has hosted nine students, including a girl from the Netherlands this past year, and her family has been a liaison support family for six students.

“From every student and host family, I learn about the world, teenagers, parenting and communication skills,” Hawthorne said. “I learn how people manage change and support each other as they adjust to a new family dynamic.”

As AFS students share stories about their countries and cultures, they also hear stories of their new friends and their families. “These stories help us learn about the world and see our lives from another perspective,” said Hawthorne. 

Host families volunteer their home and time to give an exchange student a healthy and enriching experience. “This work sends such a strong message of hope for humanity and the real possibility of world peace,” said Hawthorne.

Yelsky has been the AFS Club advisor at Heights High for more than 20 years, and over a 25-year period, she and her husband have hosted 13 students and have been a liaison support family for five students. 

“Having a teen in our house, especially after our own children were gone, has kept us active,”Yelsky said. She especially likes the addition of the “music and laughter in our house.” She and her husband have visited many of their “sons” around the world. 

She also has seen how exchange students add to classroom discussions and influence students at Heights High. “All students are curious about other cultures, religions and languages,” Yelsky said. “Students learn from each other about life in different cultures.”

At the core of the AFS Exchange program are the very personal life-changing experiences for the students and host families. A recent Passover seder illustrated the richness of extended family in Yelsky's life. Along with her local family, she was joined by her visiting Bolivian "son" and her current Argentinian "son." “It was awesome.” Yelsky said. She will continue for one more year as AFS advisor and will help transition another teacher into her position during the year. 

The AFS program has been strong in the CH-UH community for more than 50 years, and recently began hosting students from African and Muslim countries. Local families have embraced these students as they add a new dimension to the community.

Host families are needed in Cleveland Heights, University Heights, and other eastside communities. For information about hosting a student or sending a local student abroad, contact Adrienne Yelsky at 216-371-3733.

Joy Henderson

Joy Henderson is an AFS volunteer and has hosted two exchange students.

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Volume 5, Issue 7, Posted 1:12 PM, 06.28.2012