Houlton Rotarians recognize student achievements
HOULTON, Maine — Houlton Rotarians hosted the 20th annual Student Recognition Day luncheon during the regular meeting of Monday, May 7. The event was held at St. Anthony’s Hall due to the large crowd of nearly 200 students.
The local club holds the Student Recognition Day each year to acknowledge the many outstanding students in the area while encouraging them to get involved in their communities through service.
This year’s program focused on the Rotary Youth Exchange Program that the Houlton Rotary Club has participated in since 2003. Local coordinator Dana Delano explained that Rotary International has been running a youth exchange program since 1929. The first participation in the United States took place in 1939, with a student visiting Latin America. The program now includes approximately 66 countries with over 9,000 students sponsored each year.
Participants in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program become ambassadors for the local club they represent, as well as for their community, state and the country. The students benefit by developing leadership skills, speaking skills, increased maturity, accepting responsibility as well as an appreciation for different cultures that they can then share with others.
The program is open to students age 15-19. They must be of good character and demonstrate maturity, flexibility, adaptability and be well-mannered. Although the Houlton Rotary Club sponsors students to represent the local organization, the program is open to any student from Houlton High School, Hodgdon High School, East Grand, Southern Aroostook and Greater Houlton Christian Academy. No affiliation with Rotary is required.
Once selected, the students spend between six and eight weeks in the program including three to four weeks in their host country and serving as a host here for their matched student for three to four weeks. It becomes a family affair as the student lives with the host family during their stay. The Exchange Students share their preferred destinations and every effort is made to match them with a student from their top choice. It was noted, however, that students are never sent to a war-torn country, a country in the midst of political unrest or anywhere deemed to be unsafe. Local students have visited such countries as Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, France, Sweden, Italy, England, Finland and Austria.
The 2018 students selected for the Youth Exchange Program are Alex Wilde and Emma Foster. Wilde will be visiting Spain, while Foster will travel to Italy. Wilde was able to meet his match already while traveling on a school trip to Spain chaperoned by his mother last month.
Two former exchange students shared their experiences with the group present. Rhetta Vega who was the 2017 Exchange Student talked about her time in Austria. She explained how her student, Sarah, visited Houlton first. Sarah was fascinated by school buses and enjoyed time spent at the lake as well as meeting Rhetta’s friends. Rhetta’s family took Sarah to sites around Maine and New England so she could experience more of our culture. These visits included Augusta, L.L. Bean and a Boston Red Sox game. Rhetta then traveled with Sarah back to her home in Austria. Rhetta related how Sarah’s brother was initially insistent that he would not communicate with her because she didn’t speak German, but he came around during her stay there. Among the highlights of her trip were visiting Vienna and Slovakia. She attended a Rotary meeting where the meal featured raw meat. She noted that many meals included raw meat, bread and coffee. She also enjoyed visiting a chocolate factory while she was there. Rhetta shared several pictures of her trip and of Sarah’s visit here.
Anessa Wilde then told of her exchange experience traveling to Italy in 2016. She expressed the attachment to her host family and noted that she recently returned from a follow up visit with them this spring. During her exchange trip, Anessa visited Venice and spent time on the coast at Tuscany.
She saw coliseums, toured beautiful cathedrals and walked up the steps in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. She went to Milan, Rome and Florence. Anessa found out just before visiting her Rotary meeting in Italy that it was a formal occasion which she hadn’t packed for so her host family bought her appropriate clothes for the event. She explained that the meals in Italy always included five courses — bread, an appetizer, the main meal which included two courses, one of which was a pasta and then a meat; and concluding with coffee and dessert. The family always dined together with the parents even returning home for the mid-day meal which was at approximately 2 p.m. Dinner was at 8 p.m. She also noted that real Italian pizza is much different than what we get in America.
Anessa reported to the group that she learned how to be self-sufficient during her exchange experience and matured a lot. She noted that flying alone was a big part of that learning experience. She also learned to work with other people and to adapt to other people’s styles. She feels she became more tolerant of people and their differences. She also noted to the students present that school in Italy runs Monday through Saturday and the students remain in one room all day with the teachers rotating in and out.
As part of the program, the students selected for the Exchange Program attend a Rotary sponsored orientation program. The 2018 students, Alex and Emma, had just attended this program the week before in New Brunswick accompanied by Delano. Dana related a quote from the program given by the District Governor Elect when addressing the exchange students. She said, “as you become immersed in your host country’s culture, your concept of the world will begin to expand; you will mature and develop a deeper understanding of yourselves and the world around you. You will come to see that people who you once thought were different … aren’t! They are just people.” Delano pointed out that this perfectly summarized the experience.
Rotary Vice President, Nate Bodenstab, who ran the meeting in the absence of President Matt Nightingale, briefly told the group about the Houlton Rotary Club. He explained that the club is part of Rotary International which is a world-wide service organization. The local club has approximately 60 members that runs events such as the Rotary Auction, Bingo Night and E-Waste Day to raise funds for various projects in the community.
Over the years, the Houlton club has given funds to the following: Just For Kids Playground, $35,000; Houlton Community Arts Center, $17,500; Little League, $22,000; Houlton Parks and Recreation Ski Trailer, $15,000; Riverfront Park, $11,000; Soap Box Derby, $7,750; scholarships, $30,000; Houlton Elementary School outdoor basketball court, $10,000; Cary Library, $11,000; Backpacks For Kids, $23,500, Aid For Kids, $11,000; and events such as Moosestompers Weekend and Wings ‘n Wheels, $4,500.
Projects funded for the 2017-2018 year included children’s books for the library, Hodgdon Music Theater Program, Salvation Army, Backpacks for Kids, Maine Educational Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Northern Maine Lacrosse Club, Putnam House and several others.
Following the program, administration representatives from each of the area High Schools announced the students from their respective institutions who were being recognized. Southern Aroostook Community School was represented by Principal Joe Porter; Guidance Director Dan Angotti represented Greater Houlton Christian Academy; East Grand students were recognized by Assistant Principal Chris Bossie; Principal Mary Harbison announced the Hodgdon students being recognized; and the Houlton students were acknowledged by Principal Marty Bouchard.
The final activity of the event was presentation of the Service Above Self Award. This award, which was established in 2006, is so named because of Rotary’s motto of “Service Above Self.” Each year, one of the schools is awarded based on the service provided by their students to the community. Among the projects performed by students at all of the schools were cleaning schools, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, assisting an orphanage, collecting change for various causes and, assisting at homes for those unable to perform chores.
The 2018 recipient of the Service Above Self Award is Greater Houlton Christian Academy. The award was presented by Rotarians Becky Day and Katie Hill who are co-chairs of the Houlton club’s Community Service Committee.