Introducing…The Sponsored Programs Advisory Group

Introducing…The Sponsored Programs Advisory Group

AFS-USA established the National Council, Advisory Groups, and Committees to create a space where AFS volunteers and staff can work together to address organizational needs and/or challenges from a national perspective. These national volunteer groups are forums where AFS staff and volunteers representing different areas of expertise, knowledge, skills, and talents can review different areas of the organization and develop recommendations for how we can improve the processes, tools, and/or resources needed to effectively deliver and support our AFS programs, volunteers, communities, and participants. The article below introduces one of the groups.

The Sponsored Programs Advisory Group (SPAG), according to its page in Help & Learning, “provides input and guidance to the Sponsored Programs (SP) Department, [promotes] Sponsored Programs priorities throughout the AFS community, and serves as a resource to the volunteer network furthering the AFS staff and volunteer partnership.” The Sponsored Programs Department itself is AFS’ administrative resource for programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), whose mission is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange that assist in the development of peaceful relations.

AFS as an organization has its foundation providing ambulance rescue services during war. In 1946, AFS turned its attention and energy to the concept of public diplomacy by means of student exchange. AFS-USA has continued its commitment to building a more just and peaceful world over the past 75 years through exchanges and during that time has sought out opportunities to partner with ECA with its shared mission.

AFS’s partnership with ECA began over 40 years ago and continues to this day with the current programs implemented by Sponsored Programs. These programs include two which have both hosting and sending components: CBYX (Congress Bundestag for Youth Exchange), founded in 1983 and mutually supported by Germany’s Bundestag and our own government; and the Kennedy-Lugar YES (Youth Exchange & Study) and YES Abroad Program, founded in 2002 following the attacks of 9/11. On the inbound (hosting) side, AFS hosts students from the former USSR hegemony through FLEX (Future Leaders EXchange), founded in 1992. On the outbound (sending) side, AFS also implements the NSLI-Y (National Security Language Institute for Youth) Program. More information on these programs can be found at the ECA website here.

Over the years, Sponsored Programs has become integral to the mission of AFS but it is often easy to get lost in the details of all the things that they do. The SPAG has worked on projects such as the Sponsored Programs Up Close online training to help volunteers better understand these details. Another SPAG goal is to support the annual ECA Programs Workshop held every year for AFS volunteers in March which provides training and support in school and community outreach, participant and family support, and intercultural learning (just to name a few of the key topics covered). Because it is one of the few national trainings offered, volunteers who have not attended before are encouraged to attend and resources are made available (e.g., videos of presentations, links to handouts, etc.) for sharing with fellow volunteers on local area teams.

In addition to co-support funds for ECA students hosted locally, additional reimbursable funds are made available to area teams to be used for local host family recruitment campaigns, and each team with a cluster of Sponsored Program students and a Cluster Coordinator receives additional funding to support required program activities.

One of the SPAG’s current high priority projects is to rewrite their detailed HOW to host books, which are guides to the countries Sponsored Programs students come from or go to. Currently the books are long and very detailed, and it’s time for an overhaul! If you are interested in helping and would like to learn more about YES hosted countries, please reach out to

Speaking of volunteering, there are many roles that support both local teams and the Sponsored Programs Department! For example, serving as a Cluster Coordinator is a rewarding position; it’s also a position that can be shared among volunteers who work together well, easing the burden on any one person. Another exciting opportunity is serving as an interviewer for the annual NSLI-Y/YES scholarship interview season, which gives you the chance to meet the most extraordinary young people our country has to offer. The SPAG itself is looking for volunteers to assist with its work; they are particularly looking for experienced volunteers, cluster coordinators, or support volunteers, and diversity in terms of age and other demographics.

To learn more about the Sponsored Programs Advisory Group, or fill out the interest form, visit their Help & Learning page here. To gain a deeper understanding of Sponsored Programs and their work with ECA students, or to better understand how their work connects to the day to day lives of our Area Teams, the SPAG invites you to take the Sponsored Programs Up Close online training.