Area sponsor homes needed for students

Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil, IA
May 19 2005

Area sponsor homes needed for students
PHIL ROONEY, Staff Writer

The Russians are coming!

Not only that, they’re bringing the Armenians with them, and the
Georgians, plus people from eight other countries that once were part
of the Soviet Union.

The Omaha-based Applied Information Management Institute recently
received a grant from the U.S. Department of State to take part in
FLEX, the Future Leader’s Exchange Program, an effort to help build
democratic institutions, civil society and market economy knowledge
in the Eurasian countries of the former Soviet Union.

The program, now in its 13th year, is funded by the State Department
and has been hailed as one of the most successful democracy-building
programs funded by the federal government. The students will be spread
across the United States this year, with groups clustered in various
communities, including 40 students within a 75-mile radius of the
Council Bluffs and Omaha metro area.

This is the first year FLEX has placed students here for a full school
year, said AIM’s Nadine Baker. Shorter programs have been offered in
the past.

The students come from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan,
Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The program is open to families in rural and
urban areas, and 30 families still are needed, Baker said.

Families are asked to provide a bedroom, which can be shared with a
younger person in the home, three meals a day and transportation to
school, she said. Transportation can be as simple as providing access
to bus service.

The family receives $300 per month to help with the costs of hosting
the student, Baker said. The students have health insurance and
receive $150 per month.

The 1,200 students who were picked for the coming school year were
selected from nearly 50,000 students between 15 and 17 years of age
who applied for the program.

Most of the students have exceptional English skills, most speak
three languages, are above average academically and will still be
attending high school.

“We find that they’re more dedicated to school … if they haven’t
graduated,” Baker said.

The metro area was selected for a new “cluster concept” because of
a reputation as a welcoming and supportive community.

Baker said the program helps develop “good will” with the emerging
nations, and many former FLEX students have returned home to become
community leaders and have been a part of democratic changes, but
American students also benefit.

“It’s good for our students to understand people from different
countries,” Baker said.

The FLEX students also will be involved in enhancement programs modeled
after youth leadership programs offered through local chambers of
commerce and will have an introduction to the media and take part in
some service learning activities like working at soup kitchens.

Developing relations with the former Soviet satellites can mean good
business at home. Iowa reported a 79 percent growth in exports to the
Eurasian countries from 1999 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census
Bureau. The Nebraska Department of Economic Development reported
trade with Eurasian countries grew by more than 400 percent from 1999
to 2004.

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