Greenheart Local Coordinators are equal parts matchmaker, mentor, and monitor. They keep an eye out for our high school foreign exchange students and their host families, making sure that everyone has a good experience. So, exactly what is it like being a Greenheart LC? Between student orientations and volunteer events, we caught up with Mary Armstrong, a long-time Greenheart team member, to give us the scoop.
“Being an LC is incredibly rewarding. We have a chance to work with a wide variety of students, including the exceptional FLEX/YES scholarship students. Students teach us amazing things… my student from Turkey this year is teaching us how to make baklava!
We also have a chance to make an impact on students, and they take these impressions back to their home countries. It is truly a peace-making effort–one person at a time. When our students go back to their home countries, and talk about the positive experiences they have had here in the USA, they reinforce that Americans are tolerant, hospitable, and willing to help others. And that is truly a grassroots effort at public diplomacy!”
“Day-to-day? No two days are the same! Life as an LC can sometimes be crazy–especially when we are working on finding the best placements for our students. LCs work really hard to find the specialness about each student — something that makes them unique, and a good fit for a particular host family. It’s important to find just the right match so that they both have good experiences. Once the students arrive, and we are into our routines, our days definitely calm down. Then we focus on making sure the host family and student are forging bonds and feeling comfortable.
Communications are key. I have lots of paperwork, emails, and phone calls daily as I answer questions from students, host families, and schools. But the schedule is quite flexible, so you work at your own time.
I enjoy working with the students, so I plan lots of volunteer service opportunities, group cultural activities, and orientations. This helps us build trust, bond, and gets students involved in different aspects of American life. Many of our host families remark that they chose to host with Greenheart because of this sense of community and togetherness.”
“My impression is that a great LC is someone who will listen, be flexible, and have good common sense. Learning how the program works, and being a good resource to answer questions or solve problems is also, of course, really helpful.
Being a mentor is important too. We have to remember that our students are teens, and sometimes teens do unpredictable things. My advice to the students is always, “Be kind and polite. If you are being kind and polite, then everything else will be OK.” That’s good advice for everyone really.”
“I schedule a group activity about once a month, and put out a calendar of events for the whole school year. Host families have mentioned that they like the organized nature of the events, and the community of students that it builds. Recent activities have included volunteer events at Feed My Starving Children and at a Native American Traditional Wacipi (Pow Wow). Students volunteering in the area are really appreciated and welcomed by the local communities.
Since it gets so cold and snowy here in Minnesota, we always go snow tubing, and that is a big hit in the winter! This fall, we will also be visiting Niagara Cave and attending an overnight at a Boy Scout Camp where the students do team building, rock climbing, archery. When COVID is not closing it, we usually visit the State Capitol building in St. Paul and the Science Museum.”
“There are some really fun things that happen – like being invited to a wedding in Azerbaijan by our extra ‘daughter’ (Yes, Mary hosts too!), and visiting some of the students who have a special place in our hearts. I’ve been a Local Coordinator nearly 20 years. Lucky me – I have been invited to visit with many of the students and their families, and they are so appreciative of the effort we make to show them the USA while they are here.”
Thank you Mary–and to all of our Local Coordinators–for all that you do!
If you’d like to learn more about being a Local Coordinator, please visit PlacewithGreenheart.org.
If you’d like to host an exchange student, please visit HostwithGreenheart.org.