By Jillian Sims, High School Programs Compliance and Operations Manager

When it comes to community presence, it’s not just our students who make a mark. Some of our Local Coordinators go above and beyond to be involved in their community and make hosting an exchange student a family and community affair that benefits everyone involved. Local Coordinator and Regional Manager, Lisa Jensen, does exactly that. Her Michigan host families and students never seem to run out of amazing activities, volunteer opportunities, or wonderful chances to experience cultural exchange with Lisa leading the way. In this month’s spotlight, we learn how Lisa came to the world of cultural exchange and how she shares it with her home community and students from around the world.

Lisa and Family

Lisa and her family with exchange daughter, Mariana, pose for a family photo. (Image: Sara Herzog photography)

How did you become involved as an LC with CCI Greenheart?

I had already been a LC for about 5-6 years with another organization but knew there had to be more to working with the students and host families. After researching, I contacted Regional Director, Jennifer Myers,  to learn more about CCI Greenheart. I loved the community aspect of CCI Greenheart. I’ve always thought it important to be a part of your community. I also was not familiar with the Grants Program. I was hooked immediately.

I’ve been with CCI Greenheart for about 4 years now, most of that as an RM. Growing with the company is easy if you share your passion of the program with everyone; the host families, the students, the community activities, etc. A few years back, I had a host mom say she wanted to become part of our group because we always seem to be having a good time. Soon after, she in fact became a LC.

You’ve hosted and been an LC for many years and you provide many great opportunities for your students and families. Do you have any favorite moments?
I’ve had so many great times with our students and families over the years. One that really sticks out is our first time showing the host families and students the process of making maple syrup. A local family invited us to come out to their farm. We started by taking the tractor and wagon out to the back 40. They had a maple syrup shack boiling down the sap. It was close to being ready to filter. While we waited, we were taken out to the trees with the buckets to help collect more sap. Kids were running everywhere. It’s almost like they made a game as to who could collect the most buckets! When we went back to the shack, the mom had made some maple syrup cookies to share with everyone! And, yes, they were wonderful! They then explained the filtering process. Then everyone got to taste fresh, warm syrup and then sadly, the day was done.

Another fun activity that took place this year was when we teamed up with a local 4H group to make some homemade Christmas cards for a couple of local nursing homes. Everyone was involved. Host moms brought their stamps and creative memory and scrapbook items and all the kids from ages 4 – 18 made all these beautiful and creative cards. It was great to watch our exchange students help out the younger kids. A few weeks later, we went to the nursing homes so the students and kids could pass out the cards they created to the residents and sing Christmas carols. To watch them singing and talking to the residents was great – my smile couldn’t get any bigger.

I love hearing the stories from my host families and community as far as to how our kids are doing or how much they’ve appreciated the kids helping out. There is a weekly spot in the local newspaper that we started about 6 or 7 years back appropriately called “Cultural Corner”. It is a weekly paper and many of these same stories, activities and functions appear regularly. People will say, “I read about this student or that activity in the paper.”

Tell us about yourself outside of hosting and being an LC.

In the summer, when I’m not monitoring students, my family and I camp on occasion, invite friends over for picnics,visit family or go to Lake Michigan. I enjoy my weekly art class where I mosaic, try my hand at making wool rugs and homemade soap; I love watching movies with my family and when time allows, playing Euchere. We just moved into a new home a year and a half ago and I’m looking forward to filling the yard with flowers. I’m currently involved with a few ladies in our town and we are trying to spearhead a community garden. It’s looking positive and has our Village Council’s blessing! I’m also looking forward to sharing this potential opportunity with the students coming next year.

You have a lot of wonderful experience as seasoned LC and Regional Manger, can you offer any tips to new LCs?
I’d like to share with our new LC’s to do their best to create a true relationship with their families and students, such as:

Visit the students more in person in the beginning, get to know them. Build that trust. Be involved or get involved in your community and when you plan activities whether for volunteering or just plain fun, plan something that means something to you, things that you are passionate about; things that can be hands on and educational at the same time. BUT don’t plan things that include ONLY the student – include the whole family unit. After all, you brought them together as a family. I’ve heard too many stories over the years where families felt left out.

You will still have your share of bumps along the way, but that is true with any job – with life. Some years are more challenging than others. I’ve had the best support from so many sources at CCI Greenheart when I needed it. There are times I ask myself why I do what I do and then, that one student comes up to you, gives you a hug and thanks you for being there for them and then it is all made clear — “this is why I do what I do”.

How many students have you hosted and monitored over the years? How has it affected your family? As a host parent yourself, has it improved your ability to be an LC?

Over the years, my family has hosted 22 exchange daughters – 16 full year, 1 semester, and 5 summer. My daughter was 5 when we started and I knew nothing about teenagers. I learned fast. Listening to the advice of other LCs, and hopefully learning from my mistakes (we all make them) helped me grow not only as a LC but as a person. As host parents, we still make mistakes. It almost always seems easier to give advice than to follow that same advice, but as with anything it gets easier. It has allowed me more practice to share with new host parents and not to sweat the small stuff.

Hosting has developed into a lifestyle for my whole family. None of us can really imagine a year without at least one new daughter.

My husband David (who I affectionately refer to as my “MacGyver”) loves to take them fishing and my daughter MaKayla (who now is of an age where they share boy band stories and sings with them)loves to share that she has 22 sisters all over the world. I just love to watch and be with my family no matter what they are doing, just as I love to watch and be with the families and students and coordinators with whom I work and play.