1750 students just started their YFU journey!
August 28, 2021 20:30

Every year YFU is looking for host families who are willing to open their homes and hearts in order to match them with the students eager to start their exchange experience. This year, the ongoing global pandemic has imposed particular challenges on YFU Organizations worldwide. But we are happy to report that the placement season is almost over and more than 1750 host families have already welcomed their new exchange child or will do so in the upcoming days and weeks.

When you unravel this number, you will find hundreds and hundreds of placement stories, incredible work, and everlasting motivation; therefore we encourage you to read the capturing story on how the YFU St. Louis Community was able to place more YFU students than they expected and get inspired about how you can help your local YFU organization – to make it over the finish line or for next year’s generation of exchange students!

The story is from YFU USA Alumni, host family and long term volunteer Stephen Rutherford, who shared his experience helping the right YFU students to meet the right host families!

YFU St. Louis Community placement story

“Dreams are free.” That’s what my Spanish son, Tomas, loved to say when we talked about the future. Tomas joined our family for the 2020-21 school year, and he was the only exchange student in our county. Our positive experience with Tomas proved to us and to others that we were ready to rebuild our local YFU community. We are all volunteers in St. Louis and we realized it was up to us to help YFU survive.

We normally have around twenty students so we set a goal often. That seemed like an ambitious goal since most schools were not even sure if they would accept exchange students. I started like I do every year. I searched the students reading their letters and profiles and picking the ones I thought I could place. There are many strategies in placing students. I am most successful when a champion a particular kid and tell myself that I’m going to find a family for him.

Reaching families

The first kids were the ones who were placed the year earlier but had to defer. Two of the host families still wanted to host and had kept in touch all year with their students. The third family could not so I contacted the principal of the school. I asked him if he could send out an appeal to the school’s parents that the student we had placed needed a new family. He agreed and one family responded. That gave us three kids plus the two my family picked which got us halfway to our goal.

During this time Tomas received a request for help from a relative who knew a girl from Barcelona who was not happy with her placement in another organization. Her natural father cancelled the placement and they switched to YFU. The girl was very sporty and had been playing soccer for years. She wanted to live with a family who enjoyed sports. I asked a friend who organized soccer camps for kids to pass along the girl’s information, and I soon received a call from a family who had twin girls who played soccer and basketball. The girl from Spain was very happy with her new family.

One more family contacted me about the Spanish girl. They told me they were more a volleyball family than Soccer. I told them they were in luck because there was a German girl who was very passionate about volleyball. The family picked her which brought us to seven students.

About this same time I was talking to a coworker about my favorite subject: YFU. He said he thought hosting sounded like fun. We both work for a pharmaceutical company, but my coworker is also a volunteer firefighter. I remembered from reading the student profiles that there was a German boy who belonged to his town’s youth fire brigade. I told my coworker that I thought I had the perfect son for him. After a few more discussions he and his wife decided to do it. That was our eighth!

We had families who wanted to host but their schools said no. I read the letter of a scholarship winner from North Macedonia and was really impressed with him. I called a veteran host mom who had told me that her school would not accept an exchange student this year. I asked her to read this student’s letter and she was as impressed as I was. I suggested she forward it to the Superintendent of her school district and I also gave her a list of the school districts that had accepted exchange students. The district changed their policy and decided to accept exchange students again. Nine kids!

Few more students to place

Our tenth YFU student was very likely to be cancelled. A private Catholic school contacted us saying they wanted exchange students. There was only one student who had written that she was willing to consider tuition. We sent her profile to the school and soon after a family submitted their application. We were excited but when we tried to schedule the home visit the host mom told us they had changed their minds. Their relatives were against them hosting even as a welcome family. We thought about all of the host families who had hosted at this school and decided to contact one couple whose natural kids were grown and gone. It took them only an hour to think about it before saying they would host the girl!

We finally had our ten students! Summer was half over and we thought we were done, but out of the blue, we received a message from a fast-growing school district telling us they had reversed their previous decision and decided to accept exchange students. They were opening a fourth high school in their district so they had plenty of room. We utilized social media by making appeals on group pages within this district. Within three weeks we placed four students in this district which brought our grand total to fourteen students hosted by six repeat families and eight families new to YFU. 

Our YFU St. Louis Community is back. 

We have already had a first meet and greet with families and students at a local mall food court and went to a Major League Baseball game together with free tickets courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals. This Sunday we’ll host a welcome pool party and we have an optional activity planned each month for the rest of the year. Dreams are free. We can dream about the kind of local YFU community we want to have, but it’s up to us to make that dream a reality.

Author: Stephen Rutherford, 
YFU USA, YFU St. Louis Community