For 60 years, North East’s local chapter of American Field Service, better known as AFS, has been hosting foreign exchange students and sending students abroad to learn about the world. 

“Since 1959, the North East community has hosted over 100 students and sent another 55 to other countries,” said Chapter President Sherry Elchynski. “This is our 60th anniversary as a chapter.”

AFS is an international, voluntary, nonprofit organization that provides intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop knowledge, skills and understanding to create a more peaceful world. 

“It all started following World War II, as a way to promote kindness and world peace,” Elchynski said. “It has since blossomed into an international exchange.” 

The North East community is partx of the Western Pennsylvania branch of AFS. 

“We’re part of the Western PA chapter that runs from Pittsburgh to Erie,” Elchynski said. “We’ve been very fortunate that North East High School has welcomed AFS students, we are one of a few county schools that accept AFS students.

Elchynski added that AFS is run solely by volunteers. 

“The school doesn’t charge tuition for the kids to come over and the host families are all volunteers,” she said. “They take on the finances. There’s no compensation — its 100 percent out of their own pocket. Even the organizers, supervisors, coordinators and board members are all volunteers.”

The local branch of AFS is desperately seeking more volunteers and host families. 

Elchynski, who has hosted several students herself, said becoming involved in AFS has changed her life and outlook on the world. 

“I hosted my first student in 2002,” she said. “My family actually hosted a student back in the day in 1974 and that’s how I learned about AFS. We hosted a girl from Argentina and it was so fun to watch her learn English and become more comfortable with it. The experience really opened my eyes to what’s out in the world beyond North East.”

Currently, anyone interested in volunteering with AFS, or hosting a student, should contact Elchynski via email at sherrynevball@aol.com

“We are always looking for adult volunteers and for families to host students,” she said. “Right now, we only have two adult volunteers and we don’t want the chapter to fold because of a lack of volunteers. We need help!”

In addition to hosting a student full time, Elchynski said volunteers can help in a myriad of ways. 

“Volunteers can help give AFS students rides to practices and events, take them on day trips, or even just host them for a dinner so they can meet more people — it all helps,” she said. 

“We do accept monetary donations, too,” she said. “We’re always looking for financial assistance.”

Despite a lack of adult volunteers, Elchynski said the student branch of AFS at North East High School is flourishing. 

“The student chapter at NEHS is absolutely thriving,” she said. “They have nearly 50 members. The student chapter meets monthly and they hold fundraising events for AFS. They are also responsible for paying the students’ senior activities bill, which includes their cap and gown for graduation, their participation for the senior trip and more.

“Recently, they hosted an Open Gym Fun Night where about 75 kids showed up and we raised a ton of money,” Elchynski added. 

In addition to seeking volunteers, the local branch of AFS is also asking the community to send in photos of past AFS students for a future project to commemorate the 60-year anniversary. 

“We’re asking community members to send in photos they might have of past AFS foreign exchange students,” Elchynski. “Our goal is to compile a slideshow highlighting all the great kids we’ve hosted in North East over the past 60 years.” 

All photos should be emailed to sherrynevball@aol.com.

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