With 12 children -- six girls and six boys -- the Labordes hardly needed to add another member to their family. But they did: Over 40 years ago, Julia Mullikin, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from the United States, became like another daughter to this large family in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico.
"She's been a blessing for us," says Maria Victoria Hallal de Laborde who was 18 when Mullikin arrived in 1973. Like many exchange students, Mullikin remains close to her host family. So close that when one of Laborde's sisters was diagnosed with a rare, fatal disease, Mullikin arranged to send the family life-saving drugs from the U.S.
"She had one year to live and needed medication they didn't have in Mexico," Laborde says. "My brother called Julia, and she immediately got the medication we needed." Laborde's sister lived another 30 years after the initial diagnosis.
Over the years, Mullikin, a member of the Rotary Club of Kankakee, Illinois, says she has continued to "give back to her host community." She has organized several Rotary grant-funded projects between clubs in the United States and Los Mochis that have provided school supplies and medical equipment.
Giving young people the opportunity to discover new cultures and expand their understanding of the world are key benefits of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. Yet clubs often struggle to find families who are willing to open their homes – and their hearts -- to these enthusiastic young people. A recent LinkedIn discussion offered these tips to help your club find and nurture a Youth Exchange host family:
1. Pay it forward. Ask parents of former Youth Exchange participants to host an inbound student. They understand the importance of finding responsible parents to provide a home for these special guests.
"They see the positive change the program has had on their son or daughter and understand the impact [host parents] can have," says Brian McAdam, a member of the Rotary Club of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. He points to another benefit of contacting former outbound parents: "We've generated a couple of new members."
2. Go back to school. Schools, churches, and community sports or arts leagues can be great resources for finding hosts. Ask the foreign language teachers in your local high school if they would be interested or if they know of a family who would enjoy sharing their home with a foreign exchange student.
3. Take turns. Have at least three families take turns hosting a student throughout the year. While there are advantages (a shorter commitment for hosts) and disadvantages (multiple moves and readjustment for students), having several families share hosting duties can be a strong selling point, and enhance the overall cultural experience.
4. Arrange for time out. Everyone can benefit from a little time apart. Ask members of your club to host the exchange student for day trips and special activities. Don't wait for volunteers -- keep a calendar at club meetings to encourage members to act on those good intentions.
5. Meet up. Invite potential hosts, including Rotary members, friends, family, and neighbors to events organized for exchange students.
"If you can get Rotary members to interact with these amazing kids, you may have less difficulty finding host parents," says Judi Beard-Strubing, New Generations chair for District 5110 in Oregon and Northern California, USA.
6. Double-the fun. It's sometimes easier to find host families if more than one club sponsors an inbound student. Work with a nearby club to co-host a student and expand your pool of host volunteers.
7. Have their back. A strong support system for hosts and students is key to a successful year for everyone. Each student should have a Rotary counselor, who serves as a liaison between the student and the host club, host family, and community. Learn more about the counselor role in the Youth Exchange Handbook.