AFS program in search of new Winters host families

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In 2017, the AFS students at Winters High School were, from left: Pawarun Kangranwanich from Bangkok, Thailand; Emanuela (Emma) Corria from Nuoro, Italy; and Martine Alvarez from El Bolson, Argentina. (Emma Johnson/Winters Express)

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Since WWII, AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS) have facilitated thousands of students’ life-changing travels abroad. With an active AFS presence in the community, thanks to the late Bobbie Greenwood, this nonprofit is now seeking new host families to keep the cultural exchange between Winters and the world thriving.

AFS is on a mission to “create a more just and peaceful world.” They do this by sending American students abroad while bringing in students from foreign countries to experience the US for a year. A volunteer-based organization, AFS relies on local families to ‘host’ the foreign exchanged students for the duration of their stay.

“To be a host, there’s a pretty extensive background check, and the organization checks your house out to make sure everything’s OK,” said AFS volunteer ssaid Rob Nickelson, AFS volunteer since 2008 and a multi-time host. “There’s a certain amount of kids allotted to this area in northern California, and (there’s) always a need of a host family, which are hard to find sometimes.”

Up until she died at the age of 102, Greenwood acted as the AFS liaison for Winters. She’d encourage families to host, ensure the AFS students are enjoying themselves and essentially kept the program running smoothly in town. Tracy Nickelson has since taken up the title of liaison in Winters.

“The kids have to have their own spot, but that doesn’t mean they can’t share a room with a host sibling,” said Tracy.

As rewarding as hosting is, the Nickelsons did not deny the truths that come with bringing a new addition into one’s family.

“You have to understand when you’re hosting them, they’re part of your family, and the dynamics sometimes are upsetting with host siblings,” Rob said, talking about the standard-issue challenges of raising a teenager. “Also, people have to understand these are still teenagers and they’re going to want to hang out with their friends and try their best to fit in.”

Mike and Kim Olivas have taken on the opportunity 10 times since joining AFS, and now, their family has 10 more members across the globe who consider Winters their second home.

“It’s great to learn from different cultures. We’ve had a few kids from Germany and a kid from Japan. You’re learning a lot about them but at the same time trying to give them the experience of being an American teenager and that’s what they look forward to,” Kim Olivas said. “It’s so rewarding and watching them in terms of growth and their language skills develop is amazing.”

To volunteer in any capacity for AFS, one can visit the AFS website at www.afsusa.org or reach out to the Winters AFS liaison Tracy Nickelson at 530-681-7792.

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