Area Team Spotlight: World Class

Area Team Spotlight: World Class

World Class Area Team has school outreach down to a science! Cultivating relationships with schools, following up on host family leads, and keeping their communities engaged through Zoom meetings have contributed to their success. Hear directly from the team on the importance of communication, what they’re staying focused on, and some words of inspiration!

Congrats on reaching your latest benchmark! What do you think contributed to this achievement?

In World Class we all have schools and communities we regularly work with, so we’ve been able to continue to cultivate relationships throughout the pandemic. Of course, we’ve jumped on every lead that has come in through afs online too!

What obstacles around hosting are you currently facing or expect to face in the future? How are you overcoming those obstacles?|

Some of our schools aren’t ready to commit to hosting yet. That not only impacts our getting students into those schools, but it means that other organizations also have fewer places where they can place students, so they’re taking up more places in those schools which are accepting students. We’re staying focused and working fast to try to make our placements while there are still places for our students. Hopefully, some of those reluctant schools may choose to later open up to hosting, but we’re not counting on that possibility.

How have you kept your volunteers and host families engaged in the last year when hosting was on pause?

We’ve had some great fun with guest speakers at our Zoom area team meetings — American returnees, previously hosted students who tell us not just about their exchange experiences, but also about their lives afterward. We’ve invited others  — families, teachers — to join us for their presentations. We’ve encouraged participation in the Summit, Hosting Academy, and the ECA conferences too.

How are you approaching host family recruitment this year? Is everyone on the team participating or are a few really leading the efforts?

As usual, several team members are really active with host family recruitment, and most of us have circles of other local volunteers and other friends we regularly turn to for assistance. We’re following our usual practices, each working with our own designated communities, reaching out through social media, school letters, and personal networking.

What are some tools you are using to promote the hosting experience in your area’s schools and communities?

Some of our team members have prepared packages for teachers, with hand sanitizers and hand-outs. Some of us are using social media, especially with personal messages, more than ever to spread the word about AFS. Pat Gafney noted: I have made connections with past host families and liaisons. They have shared their experiences with friends and community members and have the insights to new possibilities. In some cases, they talk to the families while in others, they get permission for me to contact the families.” And Kim Thompson shared: “MyAFS also has some FAQs that sometimes schools are asking about. It was very helpful to share these answers with schools as it showed both that AFS has a plan and is on top of things. It helped us get a yes to hosting from a school that had declined to host last year.”

Is there anything else you’d like to speak on as it relates to your team, your hosting efforts, or this coming year?

One of our biggest assets as a team is that we try to be really good about communicating with one another. We regularly phone or use email to bounce ideas off each other, to “pick each other’s brains” as needed. We don’t wait for meetings to talk things through, but just reach out to whomever we need to connect with to get the answers. We try to be really respectful of who’s showing which students, so we’re not stepping on each other’s toes and showing the same students to different families at the same time. We’re working on being better about how we keep open lines of communication with other teams too.

Any words of inspiration for other teams around the country?

We think that this may be an especially great year to participate as a student or host family, as so many students, teachers, and families are really excited about the possibility of getting back to enjoying school and family traditions. Even if we have to face occasional stints of returning to online school, most of the year is likely to feel really special because we’ve all learned how important it is to enjoy our experiences together.

What do you need from the staff to keep moving forward?

We’re really happy to have staff members who work closely with us. We can’t thank Tamara, April, Patty, and Abbey enough for being there for us. That really makes a difference when you’re an otherwise busy volunteer who is working with families and school staff who are otherwise very busy people too. When you have to carve out the time to get something done, you really want to make the most of that time!

Thank you Mary Ann Offer and the World Class Area Team!