Growing up in foster care, my mother has always had a heart for those in need of a “home”, or a place to stay. Looking back, I now realize that my mother actively searched for opportunities to provide for others. We grew up with a constant barrage of people in our home which created an enriching experience, and lifelong friends.
My earliest experience as a Host family was when I was about 7. We went to an “Up With People” concert. Up With People was real popular in the 70’s. Started in 1965, Up with people impacted communities through musical productions. The current Up with People program also addresses the very real need for young people from around the world to become global citizens, to develop an appreciation of diversity and cultures, and to learn the value of volunteerism as a way to make a positive impact on the world. We hosted 2 European guys for the weekend. I remember thinking that it was so cool that they performed on stage, and then came and stayed with us. It was like having 2 movie stars in our home!
In the summer time we had kids stay with us through a program in called Fresh Air Child . The program looked for volunteer host families to open up their homes for a few weeks each summer to inner city kids from Virginia to Maine. The program offers boys and girls, ages six to 18, free summer experiences in the country and the suburbs. The majority of Fresh Air children are from low-income communities. These are often families without the resources to send their children on summer vacations. Most inner-city youngsters grow up in towering apartment buildings without large, open outdoor play spaces. Concrete playgrounds cannot replace the freedom of running barefoot through the grass or riding bikes down country lanes. The children were about the same age as we were, so it was really fun having a summer guest stay with us. We looked forward to hosting a Fresh Air Child each summer.
The issue of desegregation of Connecticut’s schools became a legal one in 1975. The court ruled in favor of the state that school officials were not obligated to correct educational inequalities. This ruling lead to “forced busing” of inner city kids to better schools, and created many programs that offered better educational opportunities abroad. I’ll never forget the day that our student showed up at our front door. She had a very large afro with a pick in it, and she had just broken her leg so she was on crutches, and she loved basketball! She began her freshman year, and lived with our family for 3 years. We lost touch with her when we moved to Boston, but I was able to reconnect with her when I moved back to Connecticut after college almost 10 years later. Now almost 37 years later, she still keeps in touch with my Mom, and makes every effort to see her when she’s in town. She still considers my mother, her mother. She is thankful for the experience with my family, and we will never forget how she graciously impacted all our lives.
A Better Chance has been opening the door to educational opportunities for thousands of young people of color in this nation since 1963. My mom began volunteering with this organization in 1980. Students participating in the program came from all over the country to attend our local high school. Although the students lived in a house with a chaperone, there were many opportunities for them to stay with a host family during school vacations and weekends. It was during my high school years that we hosted a few students. We all became very close. One of the students even stayed with us during the summer instead of going home. We all reconnected on Facebook 25 years later! One of the students still keeps in touch with my mother today.
My Mom was able to help many students apply for college, and obtain scholarships through the years. She continues to host international Exchange Students for college.
Thanks Mom for sharing your love with others. I have gained a much deeper appreciation for cultures, customs and habits different from my own. Best of all, we’ve made lifelong friends, brought people and cultures of the world closer together, and made the world a better place to live.