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Host families sought: 'It opens up your world'

The Park Rapids Rotary Club is seeking host families for exchange students arriving from foreign ports.

A 16-year-old boy from Taiwan will soon to be introduced to life in northern Minnesota, Maurice and Carolyn Spangler his initial hosts.

"It opens up your world," Carolyn Spangler said of the young people's perceptions and backgrounds.

Host families, Carolyn Spangler explains, are asked to provide a safe, non-threatening, respectful and appropriate environment in which trust and friendship from the family can develop.

Three families per year are needed, and Spangler hopes to develop a list of families for future years. Families within District 309 are candidates. Hosts may have children in the home or be "empty nesters." Maurice and Carolyn Spangler have hosted several students since their children left home.

"It's a very rewarding experience," said Lisa Hayes, whose family hosted Valentina "Valita" Vasquez from Santiago, Chile this year. "Very rewarding. I'm certain we've formed a lifelong bond. I'm already trying to figure out how we can go to Chile."

The idea began when Hayes' daughter Makenna Persing, 15, expressed an interest in participating in an exchange program.

Valita's world shifted from life in a city with a population of 7 million to watching dragonflies land on the deck. "And sampling hotdishes - and chili."

The family enjoys the Skype sessions with Mom in Chile who speaks no English. Hayes gives Valita a hug for Mom to see.

"It's incredible for the kids and me."

Janice Renner agrees.

The Renner family, including husband Jeff and kids Alex, a senior at the time, and Julia, a freshman, welcomed Valli Florack of Germany.

"It's an awesome experience," Janice Renner said. "Great for the kids." Kids, she said, learn to share their home.

Alex now Skypes Valli on a regular basis, "a connection half way around the world." She's not speaking in technical terms; it's emotional. "It's a great experience, making a lifelong friend.

"If you have the opportunity to do it, you should," she advises.

The host family provides a bed with a dresser or closet for clothing as well as a desk for studying.

The Park Rapids Rotary supplies a monthly allowance and pays for school lunches and activity fees if the student participates in co-curriculars.

The student covers expenses for clothing and other items as well as medical insurance provided by Central States Youth Exchange.

All host family candidates are screened before they can participate in the program. The screening includes an application process, three references and a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension check.

A potential host family will then go through an interview and orientation. Rotary District 5580 processes the application and makes the final decision as to the acceptance of the family.

The host Rotary Club arranges enrollment with the school and facilitates discussion of needs and expectations between the family and the student. The club will maintain contact with the student and host families during the exchange through the Rotarian counselor or youth exchange officer.

The club will make arrangements for the student to attend an orientation and a couple of outings during the school year.

Valita just completed a two-week trip visiting Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston and other stops.

The time frame is usually three or four months. The first stay starts the last week of August, one week before school starts, and usually lasts until the end of December.

The second family serves as host from January through March and the third from April through July.

Some students don't stay through July, Spangler said. These time frames can be modified, depending on the family and or student situation.

For more information or to apply, contact Spangler at 732-9513.