News: Host families sought for homestay program
Story by 1st Lt. Jean-Scott Dodd
OKINAWA, Japan - Families of the III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Installations Pacific community are invited to serve as hosts in a homestay program, part of a community relations project sponsored by III MEF/MCIPAC in the near future.
Volunteer families will host Japanese children or adult chaperones from Oshima Island and Kesennuma City, Miyagi prefecture. This is the area where the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit contributed significantly to relief and recovery efforts during Operation Tomodachi.
This event follows last year’s successful homestay program and seeks to give visiting children an opportunity to share their experiences and lessons with the status of forces agreement and Okinawa communities, according to Col. Jonathan T. Elliott, assistant chief of staff, G-7, government and external affairs division, MCIPAC.
“Last year, the program’s intent was to give children a break and some exposure to the military, let them unwind, relax, and reunite them with members of the 31st MEU who assisted in the relief efforts,” said Elliott. “Now that some time has passed since the disaster, we wanted to take the opportunity to learn from the children in a forum where they can share some thoughts and lessons from what happened and use it in the SOFA and Okinawa community to be better prepared for natural disasters.”
To facilitate this, III MEF/MCIPAC will host a children’s summit focusing on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief issues and disaster preparedness with selected students ranging from 5th to 8th grade. Last year, approximately 25 children and five adult chaperones took part in the program, and Elliott hopes to have similar numbers this year.
“A lesson learned from last year was to have the children stay with host families for more exposure and to be able to learn more about American and Okinawan culture, so this year they will be staying with host families for the duration instead of taking them back to a central billeting location at night, which was the case last year,” said Elliott. “Last year’s event was very positive for everyone involved, bonds were made for life, and a lot of people still have connections with the children they met.”
Volunteer families last year spared no expense or effort in making the children and chaperones feel welcome, and there were no shortage of tears when the time came to say goodbye, according to Elliott.
“It’s a big responsibility to volunteer, but nobody from last year regretted participating. It blessed them just as much as the children, and the overwhelming response was that they wished it had been longer,” said Elliott. “I would encourage anyone with children of similar age who are willing to accept people into their homes to volunteer.”
A background check and other personal information will be required from those wishing to volunteer. Japanese language skills are not needed. For more details, call 645-4220. The deadline for sign-ups is July 19.