Special to the News-Times
NASHVILLE — The Phillips family of Coldspring has been recognized with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
Awarded by the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, it recognizes the important role of volunteers in America’s strength and national identity as well as those who positively impact their community and inspire those around them.
More than a year ago, Jay and Lynde Phillips welcomed Sofiia Onyshchenko, an enthusiastic international exchange student from Ukraine, into their home for the school year. The Phillips’ were taking part in a public diplomacy program; giving high school students from around the world an opportunity to come to the United States to experience our culture and values.
At the same time, it gives American students an opportunity to welcome global citizens and experience a different culture and society. This program has brought diversity to the nation while building lasting friendships around the world for more than 50 years.
Sofiia’s exchange was sponsored by High School in the USA, a division of Global Cultural Exchanges, a designated sponsor of the U.S. Department of State’s BridgeUSA program. Not only has it been a great experience for Sofiia, but the students of Coldspring Oakhurst High School now have a lifetime friend in Ukraine.
“Most of our host families have no idea at first of the impact their efforts will have around the world,” said Ellen Hoggard, President of HSUSA. “The award states, in part, ‘In recognition and appreciation for their commitment to strengthen our nation and communities through volunteer service.’”
The service the Phillips family has provided in housing Sofiia goes beyond shelter. It provides a life-changing opportunity.
The Phillips, along with their daughters Ella and Tess, have enjoyed their time with Sofiia, embracing her culture and traditions and learning all they can, while sharing our American way of life. In addition to sharing traditional foods and Christmas carols, the Phillips have taken Sofiia on travels to see New York, Utah, Colorado, and Las Vegas.
In Texas, they’ve been to Waco, Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. Ella and Tess have also participated in a life and leadership program that comes with the HSUSA exchange program called LEAD. They recorded a video showing how the program helped them academically and in sports.
Both Jay and Lynde work full-time but find plenty of time to invest in their daughters and Sofiia to show them the world and get them excited about the goals they are setting for their lives.
“Being a host family has taught us so much about opening up to and learning from another culture. It has also felt wonderful to help someone realize their dreams! It’s not always perfect, but it’s always worth it!” Lynde said.
Through exposure to new ideas, continued learning, and building relationships, participants explore the world, experience diversity and gain valuable learning experiences that promote global citizenship. It should be noted that one out of every three world leaders have been in the United States participating in an exchange program.