Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Students find home away from home with Host Family Program



During his senior year, as he was beginning to explore options after graduation, UIS student Jeremy Winters was introduced to Darryl Thomas, who works for the government in an entrepreneurship program in Springfield.

“He took me in like family, invited me over for dinner, and I met his family,” Winters said. “I told him about how I want to start my own businesses and own some businesses. He really taught me how to network.”

The positive relationship between Winters and Thomas was created through the Host Family Program, which is part of the Diversity Center at UIS.

The Host Family Program was started last fall by Herb Caldwell, admission and community partner counselor for the Diversity Center. Caldwell said the concept of the program came from both his personal experience and programs he has seen as part of international student offices on other campuses.

“In the town I grew up in, when dorms would close, there would always be students from the local college at my home,” he said. “My parents would feed them meals, they’d come to church with us, we’d celebrate holidays when they couldn’t get back home, and they stayed with us for two to three weeks at a time. And then a lot of schools have something like this with international students, so I thought to combine the two elements.”

And so the Diversity Center’s Host Family Program was created to provide a home away from home for UIS students.

“We started the program in hopes of giving our students new opportunities to engage with people here in the Springfield community. It provides a link and helps with the transition process,” Caldwell said.

Winters, who graduated in December 2009, studied Communication at UIS and played for the men’s basketball team. He has family members who own businesses, and he’d like to go into business for himself one day. Caldwell saw Thomas and his family as a perfect fit for Winters’ host family.

“It’s just been a really nice experience,” Winters said. “Helping each other is the way we’re all going to get ahead.”

To become part of the Host Family Program, both families and students fill out an application and are then matched up. The students then are able to spend time with members of the host family, such as having dinner at their home or talking with them about future goals.

Currently, seven students at UIS are participating in the program. Caldwell said he sees the program as mutually beneficial for both the students and local families.

“Some of the people in these host families are alums or people who are doing well in the business community, and some of our students are trying to get to the places where the host families have already been,” he said. “So there’s the whole networking aspect and building connections that might help them with a job after they graduate.”

“And I don’t want to understate the fact that it provides comfort outside of the classroom, which helps with the transition and ultimately retention of students,” he added. “We’re always looking for solid families to participate; it makes the experience here at UIS stronger and better.”

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