An Important Update For All AFS-USA Volunteers

An Important Update For All AFS-USA Volunteers

Dear AFS-USA Volunteers,

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving holiday. I am writing to share a few updates, notably related to hosting plans for NH23 and several staffing adjustments. I want to stress at the outset that these plans and adjustments have been formulated with a view to how we can better support volunteers and host families.

Volume for hosting NH23 

A number of partner organizations in the AFS network did not place all the students they planned to host on NH22. As a result, AFS International has recommended that fifteen partners reduce their NH23 planned hosting volume, with one of those partners being AFS-USA. The objective of this strategic shift is to deliver an improved on-time placement performance throughout the network, from 67% on-time placement for NH22 to 85% on NH23. This respite in volume is also expected to allow for the rebuilding of trust within the network and avoid further brand erosion from an inability – in several partner countries – to achieve the hosting goal. For NH23, AFS-USA has revised its planned volume and is expected to host in the range of 1,200-1,250, which is significantly less than the originally planned 1,500 participants.

Since the end of the summer and the conclusion of our NH22 hosting cycle, I have been putting serious thought into considering how we can trigger change in the hosting dynamic. A number of changes we are going to make at this point in time (and the rationale behind them) are noted below.

Stakeholder Engagement

One of the priorities I have identified is placing more of a focus on enhancing, strengthening, and recognizing the importance of the AFS host family. We know from data that experienced host families are key influencers in recruiting new host families; we know that a large percentage of our host families go on to volunteer for AFS-USA, and we also know that students cannot have an intercultural experience without a host family placement. I recognize that we have not been able to do as much as we would like to support our host families over many years due to limited resources and that we need to establish a consistent framework. Although many volunteer teams do a great job at engaging with host families, as an organization, we are inconsistent in the delivery of that support across the country.

Considering this critically important need, I have asked Mary Jo Brock to take on a new role, that of Vice President of Host Family Experience and Stakeholder Engagement. Mary Jo will now focus on enhancing our stakeholder engagement, most urgently with host families and volunteers. I greatly appreciate Mary Jo’s enthusiasm in taking on this new role, and I thank her for her tremendous leadership of hosting and the field hosting staff over the course of many years, but most critically as the organization has worked to recover from COVID.

Mary Jo will remain part of the Executive Team and will keep School Outreach and Volunteer On-boarding in her portfolio. Scott Hume’s role will be adjusted a bit, and Scott will also be dedicating a large portion of his role time to Stakeholder Engagement. Mary Jo will be sharing more information about this new staff unit in the near future.

Hosting Field Recruitment and Operations

Providing more synergy and alignment of all the areas that are critical to delivering our hosting flagship program is another priority. I am pleased to announce the promotion of Steve Thrush to Vice President, Hosting and Strategic Operations. Steve’s contributions to AFS-USA in the six years he has been with the organization are enormous, and I have full confidence in his ability to bring together and lead the regional field staff team and hosting operations; while continuing to align travel operations with hosting.

Traci Larson-Lee is being promoted to the new role of Senior Director of Field Operations and will oversee host family recruitment and management of the field staff. Traci’s solid experience working with volunteers on Organizational Development and Hosting Recruitment will serve her well in this new role as she will oversee the regional field staff. Field operations will have two Regional Directors (RDs). Sara Roberts will continue in her RD role and I’m pleased to announce that Renee Hayes will also be taking on a Regional Director role. Upon her return from leave, Candace O’Malley will join the Development Department as Manager of Scholarships and External Communications, Candace is a welcome addition to our development efforts.

Traci’s team will also include the School Partnerships Unit led by Sarah Radermacher and Hosting Onboarding Unit led by Jenna Powell. We are promoting Kathi Kozik and Patricia Chery to the new role of Senior Regional Field Specialist, with added responsibilities to the important work they are already doing, most notably regarding field communications and training. Scott Hume will continue to be part of the hosting team with a portion of his time dedicated to supporting Field Staff hosting recruitment efforts, primarily regarding data reporting and improvements to processes. I am so proud to have this seasoned team of staff leading our efforts with hosting and working closely with our volunteers.

We are also making a change in the titles of the Executive Team, removing the “Chief Of” and replacing it with Vice President. In addition, Willie Thompson, Vice President, Digital Strategy and Business Intelligence, will now report to Michelle Pinedo, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

And in closing, I am very pleased to share that Keri Dooley has been promoted to the position of Executive Vice President. Keri’s critical role as AFS-USA’s Responsible Officer to the Department of State, the many years of service, her professional experience, and her sage knowledge of the organization and programs are all attributes that reflect a well-deserved promotion into this senior leadership position.

This chart reflects the adjustment of roles and reporting lines.

I look forward to the future and an exciting 2023.

Thank you,

Tara M. Hofmann
President & CEO