April 8 Thank You Letter to All AFS-USA Volunteers from Tara Hofmann

April 8 Thank You Letter to All AFS-USA Volunteers from Tara Hofmann

Dear AFS-USA Volunteers,

Since I last communicated with you, our world has been forever changed. Our global AFS community has been consumed by what many believe to be the most significant challenge our organization has ever faced.

However, before I go any further, I want to thank you, the volunteers of AFS-USA, for being MY inspiration over these very tough past few weeks. The fact that April is Volunteer Appreciation Month could not be more fitting, and please know that you are greatly appreciated!

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to test AFS staff and volunteer resources around the globe while also straining our capabilities, services, and financial health. Despite the challenges we’ve faced and the strain that we will no doubt continue to feel for quite some time, my purpose in talking with you today isn’t to dwell on the impact of the pandemic. Instead, I want to make this a moment of gratitude and recognition because in my 34 years as an AFS staff member, I have never experienced the depth of commitment to our participants, families, volunteers, and AFS staff, as that which I have seen over the last month. I am so proud to be the President of AFS-USA.

That said, I would be remiss if I did not also address the fact that the AFS brand and reputation have been critiqued by some individuals who do not agree with the decisions we made in response to the pandemic. There were people who believe we acted too early or too late, or that we took the wrong decision entirely.

While we received several complaints and some criticism, I also received a significant number of messages and phone calls from parents and guardians who thanked me for all that AFS-USA did to return their teens home, with care and thoughtful decisions. We all need to celebrate those positive stories, because they demonstrate the strength and value of the work and the mission of AFS-USA.

“Our host student reunited with his family back home in Sweden. We will miss him here in Ohio, but we will surely remain in contact. Although we were sad to see him go, and he was disappointed and sad as well—I think after a while of him realizing what a slow process addressing this pandemic can be, and the difficulties from no in-person school, he was ready to return to his family. I appreciate all of the AFS Staff and Volunteers having to coordinate, make decisions very quickly, deal with high stress/long hours, etc. to make things happen and deal with people’s frustrations. I myself (and I am sure many others) thank you for your dedication. Please stay safe.” – AFS Host Family

“Thanks for the positive feedback. Your students give as much if not more than they take from the exchange. Thank you and your president for developing such a good and meaningful global citizenry program.” – R. Trogisch, Principal

I remain resolved and respectful of the difficult decision that the International Board of Trustees of AFS International made which was to end programs early and return AFS students to their families in their home countries—a process that continues today. As we look to the future, we will be faced by greater challenges as we carry out our work in service to our mission.

So many of our staff have been clocking 16 hours of work per day for three and four weeks, with no breaks. Many people are helping with tasks and roles that were completely new to them. It has been the truest example of “all hands on deck” that I’ve ever encountered.

While the staff were working to facilitate this movement of nearly 2,000 teens back to their home countries, AFS Volunteers were on the front lines, so to speak, managing the questions (for some we had answers but for some we did not) and the responses. This was a process filled with so many emotions, and there you were, doing everything possible to minimize the heartbreak and, quite often, helping others on the often-frustrating journey towards understanding and accepting why AFS made certain decisions.

These are just small examples of all that you have contributed in our critical time of need. We could not have managed this monumental task without you!

I know that your work has been beyond challenging. From managing people whose emotions are running so very high—such as the angry host parent who believes that AFS was acting irresponsibly or to the parent who wants their teen to stay abroad rather than return to the US, to the last-minute flight details that left just hours for students to pack, say their good-byes, and be at the airport. I realize that we asked a lot of you, our host parents, and our students. I know that you were faced with needing to respond to these types of situations and that it was rarely, if ever, easy to do so, especially when you were hampered by a flow of information that would often change within hours after it was released.

“Thank you for everyone who made this year so special. Thank you to my family, friends, my teachers, our AFS volunteers and generally everyone who I met and who I had the pleasure to spend time with. This year has come to an early end and I am sad about that but I am so grateful for everything I got to experience this year, for the connections I got to make and for the incredible memories I got to make. I will never forget this year and I will be back soon.” – AFS Student


“I don’t think you will find a group of people anywhere who care so much and try so hard. This is unprecedented. A little patience is certainly warranted. We all are learning as we go, whether going grocery shopping for our families or repatriating AFSers.” – AFS Supporter


As this message is distributed, 439 students have yet to travel home from the US and 6 American students are still to return home. There is more work to do to get everyone home, but I am confident that so many of you will continue to support our students and host families until every teen is returned to their family. We’ve recently shared information on webinars and resources for host families and students remaining on the program and this will continue for the duration.

We also have a lot of work to do on what next year and beyond have in store for AFS in the USA and around the world. There are many questions at hand which will inform our ability and decisions about program activity next year. Obviously, COVID-19’s path and impact are unknown at this time. Critical to any decision is the ability for schools to host, visas to be approved, and to better know the economic impact the virus will have on potential hosting and sending families.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that AFS was founded in response to a global crisis. I think this challenge provides an opportunity for AFS to consider innovative new ways for our mission to continue alongside our traditional programming.

I can promise you this- I am committed to upholding the value proposition that together the Board of Directors, the National Council of AFS-USA, AFS Volunteers, and staff leadership endorsed last June as part of our Strategic Vision for AFS-USA.

“FOR VOLUNTEERS, AFS-USA provides a means to connect with global communities, have profound multicultural learning experiences in their hometowns, and meaningfully contribute toward a more just and peaceful world.”

Over the next several weeks, I will work closely with the AFS-USA Board, the National Council, my AFS colleagues who lead Partner organizations around the world, and the AFS International administration to chart a future course for AFS.

In closing, please accept my most sincere gratitude and appreciation for who you are, and for all that you do every day, on behalf of our students, parents, and families.

You have genuinely gone beyond the call of duty.

Thank you,

Tara M. Hofmann
President & CEO

PS: This e-badge was created by the sister of the Program Director of AFS Argentina/Uruguay to be shared with the global AFS Network.
And one more comment:

“Our son came home to Brazil on Saturday night, as scheduled. I would like to thank you and AFS USA for your work in withdrawing students, a work that is extremely complex. The anticipated end of an exchange is sad, but we trust AFS’ decisions. We are sure that with its international and humanitarian vocation, created even in the Second World War, AFS will pass, as an institution, also through the challenge of the pandemic.”