A Message From AFS-USA Board Chair, Jed Hepworth to Volunteers

A Message From AFS-USA Board Chair, Jed Hepworth to Volunteers

Dear AFS-USA Volunteers,

The Board of Directors of AFS-USA held our meeting this past weekend virtually via Zoom. Our Board Members listened to accounts from Tara and her Executive Team as the COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to turn our world upside down, and how AFS-USA has responded thus far to this unprecedented challenge.

When things get crazy and difficult in the world of AFS, I find inspiration in the stories I read about our Drivers—what they went through, and all they were able to accomplish. They were at the battlefront (and sometimes out in front of the official battlefront!) every day, serving others.

The list of what they did never included sit down and surrender to discouragement or wait for something to change for the better. After concluding our meeting, the Board of AFS-USA knows in more detail how AFS Volunteers are making AFS-USA so incredibly proud by living the legacy of our AFS Drivers. Each one of you, in more ways than one, remind us all how AFS was made for times like these!

Like the Drivers, you are all volunteers: people who are driven by passion and mission to selflessly serve, for no other reward than seeing and knowing the blessing your work delivers.

Channeling our Drivers, you are nimble, determined, working impossible schedules, undeterred by frustration, and constant shifting of today’s “battlefront.” You are the foundation for my proclaiming to the full Board that we have every reason to be proud of AFS-USA’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. During times of great uncertainty, the one thing we can be sure of is AFS-USA’s dedication to people and professionalism in the face of crisis. We are good at this!

As volunteers, you usually get to see both the joy of arrivals and the “normal” end-of stay tears that reaffirm how much more AFS is than just “hosting”. You help and watch host families and their participants become FAMILY in every respect. I can say this with personal certainty: I’m a Returnee from Chile who talked this week with his 95-year-old host mom and a volunteer who helped me when I was a participant and whose friendship I treasure after 50 years.

In this crisis, it has fallen on you to be the support and solace for students and their families – host and sending – who are going through so much fear, anxiety, uncertainty and sadness. You are delivering and explaining more bad news than any of us ever expected or wanted. And you do it while dealing with your own uncertainty and fears – your families are wondering and hurting too.

You are the trusted face of AFS-USA to those families and participants and your emotional support and reassurance and confidence are critical to the success of this unwanted, but necessary shortening of our 2019/2020 year and semester programs.That is a heavy burden on top of all the logistics and detail work that you are doing so well in conjunction with AFS staff.

It is your focus on participant safety; your ability to act to support participants and families; and your communications with families and participants that make AFS-USA unique in the face of this hurricane of adversity and uncertainty.

Speaking for myself personally, and on behalf of the AFS-USA Board of Directors, thank you for your leadership and expertise, and your energy and optimism, your selfless service to people who are hurting and fearing. You are what the world, and AFS, needs now!

H. Jed Hepworth
AFS-USA Board Chair