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Host family, MSA student find special connection

Paul and Deedee Henning’s family added another member this yearthanks to the Mississippi School of the Arts.

The parents of four children already, the Hennings are servingas host parents for 16-year-old Amanda Patrick, of Corinth. Througha long list of activities together, the bond between the Henningsand Patrick has evolved and strengthened since the visual artsstudent arrived in Brookhaven last August.

“We started off treating her like a guest. Now we don’t,” Paulsaid with a laugh.

Early on in the first semester, the Hennings explained, familyinteraction with Patrick was a little more formal. She receivedflowers every Monday so she knew the Hennings were thinking of her,there were scheduled times for visits and dinner was at the dinningtable, Deedee said.

Now, several months later, Patrick’s activities more resemblethose of a typical teen. Those include preparing her own plate,eating in front of the television and weekly laundry service,Deedee said.

“She just likes to come over to the house and hang out,” Paulsaid.

Patrick has enjoyed and appreciated the opportunities that havehappened because of her host family’s involvement.

“It’s been pretty cool,” Patrick said.

Patrick and the Hennings attend some church services togetherand have been bowling. The Hennings also have taken an interest inPatrick’s junior varsity tennis matches through Brookhaven HighSchool, and last fall they introduced her to tailgating parties atfootball games.

“I’d never done that before,” Patrick said. “It was fun.”

Deedee said Patrick has been a good influence on the Henninggirls Jordan, 12; Jessie Claire, 9; and Jaynie, 2.

“She’s been a real inspiration for the girls,” Deedee said.”It’s given them an older sister, a role model.”

And Patrick sees some high-energy similarities between heryounger brother Michael and the Hennings’ son Judson, 6.

“He and my brother are exactly the same,” said Patrick, who alsohas a younger sister, Teresa.

The bond between Patrick and the Hennings is just one example ofmany positive relationships that have developed between hostfamilies and students at the residential arts school.

Patrick’s mother, Tina Wollam, who lives more than five hoursaway in Corinth, applauded the Host Family Network.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Wollam said. “Whoever did theselections could not have done a better job.”

Wollam said the Hennings have provided her daughter with supportand unconditional love.

“They’re just really wonderful people. I could not have askedfor better this year,” Wollam said.

Patti Perkins, a member of the Host Family Network, said theprogram has been an overall positive experience forparticipants.

“The children and their parents have really embraced thisprogram, and it is a way to showcase the positive side ofBrookhaven,” Perkins said. “It has been reassuring to the parentssending their young ones to a boarding school to have theirstudents connect with a family.”

With the arts school expected to more than double the number ofstudents enrolled next year, the network is looking for morefamilies to serve as hosts. Network members have been discussingthe program and distributing host family applications at civicclubs, churches, local businesses and at the arts school.

Most of the students this year have had host families, withvarying degrees of interaction between the two. Host families areasked to check in with their student once a week and with theparents at least once a month.

“It’s what a lot of children need,” Wollam said. “This is theirfirst time away from home for many of them.”

Patrick said she was lucky to have been matched with theHennings. She said their relationship did not feel forced and hasgrown during the school year.

“It’s a really good experience,” said Patrick, adding it hasbeen good to have someone close to enjoy good times and to alsooffer assistance during difficult times.

Deedee said she would encourage all MSA students to have a hostfamily. She said the host family’s role is not to keep a check onthe students or to invade their privacy, but to offer help whenneeded.

“We’re there if she needs us,” Paul added.

Paul said he was glad his family could serve as a host familyfor Patrick.

“It gives us a chance to do something for someone else’s childthat we would want done for ours,” Paul said.