Highlights and Awards from the 2023 AFS-USA Volunteer Summit in Cincinnati!

Highlights and Awards from the 2023 AFS-USA Volunteer Summit in Cincinnati!

The 2023 AFS Summit was held in Cincinnati last weekend, opening on Friday evening, November 3. The theme was “Volunteer Engagement,” and the event’s panels, presentations, and sessions focused on ways for Volunteer Engagement Coordinators and other Area Team leaders to effectively recruit, engage, and retain volunteers. In attendance were members of the AFS-USA President’s Council, Board of Directors, National Council and Area Team volunteers, all overseen by AFS staff from across the country. 

Ann Sweet, Chair of the National Council, kicked off the event with a welcome to the nearly 150 attendees. The evening included the AFS Marketplace, where representatives from National Council Advisory Groups and Committees staffed tables to allow volunteers to learn about how these groups gather feedback from volunteers in the field and advocate for implementation of best practices. After dinner, several students living with Cincinnati host families performed for attendees – a highlight of any AFS gathering. The Volunteer Recognition Committee wrapped up the opening evening by presenting two awards (and also presented awards later in the event – more below)

Attendees were greeted on Saturday morning by AFS-USA President and CEO Tara Hofmann, who, after her opening comments, led a panel focused on experience in volunteer development. The panelists were AFS President’s Council member Martyn Redgrave, who is a volunteer leader with Junior Achievement and the United Way; Connie Askin, a volunteer leader with Big Brothers/Big Sisters; and Mary Conner, a volunteer leader with Cincinnati Tennis, LLC. Next, an AFS returnee and Jeopardy! Champion, David Madden, shared an AFS-oriented Jeopardy! game, and attendees played along. The rest of the morning and much of the afternoon were devoted to breakout sessions focusing on various aspects of volunteer engagement. Finally, the group came back together to listen to executive coach Michelle Lund lead a session on having difficult conversations. Saturday evening was free, with the Cincinnati Area Team providing a scavenger hunt to give attendees the opportunity to explore the downtown. 

Sunday’s wrap-up started with a “Fireside Chat” Partner Panel, featuring insights on volunteerism from AFS Canada’s Rola Matar and AFS Denmark’s Ulrik Wehner. The panel was followed by a presentation by AFS-USA’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility) leader Freda Daniels. The morning culminated in a small group activity where attendees worked with fellow volunteers to develop a volunteer activity to bring back to their Area Teams. 

2023 AFS-USA Volunteer Recognition Awards: The 2023 AFS-USA Volunteer Recognition Awards were presented during the AFS Summit. These awards celebrate and acknowledge the contributions that volunteers make to AFS-USA. To learn more about these national awards, please see the article in Help & Learning here.

Dream Team Award: The Ohio River Valley Area Team was awarded the 2023 Dream Team Award.  Chaired by Angie Lochbaum, the Team has experienced some leadership turnover, opening space for new and younger volunteers to step into many new roles. Volunteers are encouraged to “cross-pollinate” between Team roles, so that, for example, Hosting volunteers can help with School Outreach, and School Outreach volunteers can help with Sending. The Team increased communication, interaction, and social events among Team members, reasoning that Teams who know each other better will work together better. Committee chairs reach out to all the volunteers they have worked with to ensure that each one feels connected and valued. 

Emerging Leader Award:  This year, it was a tie! The 2023 Emerging Leader Recipients are: 

Natalie Lockwood is the Los Angeles Area Team’s Treasurer and has been outstanding from the beginning. She evolved from assisting at Orientations to running them, becoming the Team’s Treasurer, taking a seat on the Team’s Leadership Council, and working to restructure the Council to be more effective. She has gone from a volunteer on the periphery of the organization to one who is central to new organizational restructuring efforts. Natalie leads orientations and activities for both hosted and outbound students that help expand their awareness and understanding of intercultural experiences and learning.  “Natalie gets the students jazzed about going abroad and ensures that hosted students feel comfortable asking any questions.”

Emily Hansen became the San Diego Area Team’s Travel Representative to navigate the change in students’ departures and arrivals. She also understands compliance, has the patience for details, and possesses good communication skills.  She made huge contributions after taking on the role of Volunteer Coordinator.  She’s made a splash hosting culture nights at her home, highlighting a different hosted student or volunteer, with presentations and food, and inviting prospective host families to participate. 

Mission Award:   The 2023 Mission Award went to Robbin Lang of the Greater Illinois Area Team.  As Hosting Coordinator, Robbin’s efforts are pivotal in recruiting host families. She is instrumental in building strong relationships with schools and making sure that the schools are respected. She communicates clearly and proactively when issues arise.  Robbin has also been an exemplary leader in spearheading orientations. As Sponsored Programs Co-Coordinator, Robbin collaborates with other Area Teams for cluster activities and continually brings new ideas to the AFS Sponsored Programs cultural events. The nomination of Robbin stood out due to her enthusiastic embrace of the mission and core values of AFS; she is laser-focused on building a bright future for our world and the mission of AFS aligns perfectly with her worldview. 

Peggy and Art Howe Award: Bonnie & Jim Stark, of the San Diego Area Team, are the Recipients of the 2023 Peggy and Art Howe Award. Bonnie, as Area Team Chair, and Jim, as Liaison Coordinator, seamlessly support each other as they collaborate to create a sense of teamwork by instilling confidence in the other Team members.  They ensure that everyone feels valued, and knows they are an important part of the Team.  Bonnie and Jim are the backbone of the Team, keeping the Team engaged during the pandemic.  Their mission has been essential to rebuilding the Team; they incorporate multiple voices, styles, and values by actively seeking to integrate new volunteers from various backgrounds. The Team now has more young volunteers from different countries, religions, and ethnic groups. 

Galatti Award:   Debra Maly is the Recipient of the 2023 AFS-USA Galatti Award, which honors longstanding AFS volunteers whose commitment and exceptional dedication have advanced the mission and goals of AFS. Deb embodies the spirit of Stephen Galatti, the founder of today’s AFS and the namesake of the Award.  Deb has served in various roles in the Milwaukee Area Team, became the Chair of the AFS-USA National Council in 2015, and served on the AFS-USA Board of Directors.  She has been instrumental in strengthening the National Council as a representative body of our volunteers, ensuring that their voices are heard, and their needs are met. She has also been involved in various initiatives and projects at the national and international level, such as the Compliance Advisory Group, the Support Advisory Group, and the AFS Global Conference.

Deb is not only a volunteer, but also a leader, a mentor, a friend, and a role model for many of us.  She has shown what it means to be passionate about intercultural learning and peace education. She has also shown how to communicate effectively, collaborate respectfully, and advocate tirelessly for the mission and vision of AFS. Deb’s contributions to AFS-USA are remarkable and invaluable; she is one of those volunteers who have made a lasting impact on AFS-USA and the global AFS community.

The AFS-USA Galatti and Peggy and Art Howe Award recipients’ names will be submitted for consideration for the AFS International awards, which will be announced in December.

AFS-USA is fortunate to have volunteers to drive its mission! The Volunteer Recognition Committee strives to honor all volunteers for their extraordinary service locally, nationally, and globally, and congratulates all Award Recipients and AFS-USA volunteers for the vital work they do to spread peace throughout the world. Watch MyAFS News for how and when to nominate volunteers for the 2024 Volunteer Recognition Awards.

Initial participant feedback about this year’s Summit has been quite positive. The Volunteer Engagement theme was woven into all of the sessions during the weekend and reflects AFS-USA’s continued commitment to strengthening our volunteer base. This year’s Summit was the kickoff of this Volunteer Engagement work for the coming year and there will be more to come!

You can find recordings of key moments and sessions from this weekend’s Summit by viewing this YouTube playlist. Photos from the event can be found in this Flickr Album. Stay tuned as we add more content to the album this week!