| The Ultimate Tribute
Maynard L. Knestrick, 1946 – 2004
Maynard & his wife, Kay, hosted many GRSP students, in addition to the countless other internationals, in their home. Maynard was a member of the Henry County Rotary Club. Kay is a member of the Clayton County Rotary Club and an Advisory Trustee. They are co-authors of the GRSP Host Family Handbook and GRSP Student Handbook.
Host Families! From the outset, the GRSP Host Family has been one of the major and most vital elements that sets this “ambassadorial” scholarship apart — and at the forefront — from all other Rotary scholarships and similar non-Rotary scholarship programs.
Since 1946, Georgia Rotarians, their spouses and children have hosted the 3,126 students that form our unique alumni. We know how many students have passed through the “open doors” of Georgia Rotarian’s homes. But, unfortunately, we don’t have any record of how many “special families” have provided these open doors to open homes and most importantly, to these open hearts. For this data, we can only speculate. But certainly, it far exceeds 2,000 families.
To make GRSP successful, it takes the contributions of many… organizationally, administratively and financially. But no single element has contributed more to the real success of the Program than all the past host families. They are the “unsung heroes and heroines”. For it is they, who have really made it happen.
How often have you heard GRSP students say, “This has been the best year of my life!” They mean it. You can see it in their eyes. You can hear in their hearts. And why? Because there was a loving, caring, compassionate host family there throughout the student’s year — a Georgia Rotary family who made the total GRSP experience complete.
The host family concept has evolved over these many years. Mr. & Mrs. Watt started it. It was nourished by the Molnar’s, Weisiger’s and the Thomas’. In 1989 at the Thomasville Conclave, I vividly recall Hue Thomas’ wife, Alma speak of how excited she was each Fall to see her “new crop” of kids. Surely, her friends must have thought this grand Southern lady was ready for the “home”. But if they were truly her friends, they certainly would know that Alma and Hue helped set the “standards” for hosting international students and for making each of them experience the essence of the American family, in the true Southern tradition. And their legacy continues. In fact, the host family role in GRSP continues to be at the forefront of change in the recent past and will continue to grow during our next half century.
What’s so unique about the host family’s role? It’s vital to two critical aspects of a student’s life:
• The student’s year while as a GRSP scholar, here in Georgia; and
While in Georgia, the host family is the surrogate family… sometimes serving as the Georgia “mom and dad” or as “big sister and big brother”. They are always there… there for the good times, sharing in the laughter and joy… and during the “not so good” times when a listening ear and compassionate heart helps dry the tears, console the soul and restore the confidence and conviction. These families for 50 years have been the real connection to America, Georgia and our Southern culture.
It’s far more than showing these students the beauty and resources of our great State. It’s showing them the human values that we stand for and somehow, how those values are the same they wish for themselves and for their children. It’s the countless hours invested in a most worthy cause. It is, ultimately, touching “one life” for 10 to 11 months, sharing one’s self, giving love and understanding without condition, and nurturing an “international peacemaker” to excel to new levels of insight and achievement. Beyond that, it’s the host family who makes the Rotary “connection” for the student, bringing the student and his/her sponsoring Rotary club(s) together for a year of meaningful experiences and relationships. While the nouns, adverbs and adjectives could go on and on… this is the essence! Yet this is just the beginning of the saga.
For these 50 years, host families have found the GRSP year never ends. That’s part of what makes these families so special — to the students and to the Program’s mission. When the student returns home, a new life emerges for the student and for the Georgia family, that shall always have an adopted international son or daughter. For the years that follow, the host and student generally continue a long-distance dialogue and relationship, keeping the flame of Peace Through World Understanding burning.
For the family, the joys of the GRSP experience and long-term relationship arrive in the mail box as greeting cards and letters for family birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and especially, at Christmastime. It’s those wonderful phone calls, letters and e-mails that keep the “connection” in tact. It’s looking at the photo albums of that very special year on a cold winter’s night as the fire blazes in the fireplace. It’s the gift “treasures” that remain in the host’s home that continue to be prominently and proudly displayed, long after the student has left Georgia. It’s the special return visits when the student comes “home” to his/her Georgia family, along with his/her new spouse and their children. And the list goes on and on…
Ultimately… it is the Host Family that breathes “life” into GRSP’s mission. It is the Host Family that keeps that “life” at the forefront for the years that follow. Yes, these special people may be the unsung heroes and heroines. But they are the quiet Rotarians… the truly dedicated Rotary families who continue to sing the mission of GRSP so the choruses of this Program can continue to resound throughout the World!
Bravo to all the Host Families for 50 years. Applause… Applause… Applause!!!!!