MSA short on student host families

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 13, 2007

Sixteen-year-old Demi Pritchard of Olive Branch said the hardestpart of her first week at Mississippi School of the Arts wasmissing her friends back home.

“At first, it was very difficult because I’m so close to myfriends,” she said. “I’m such a people person, and I was prettyhomesick. But I’ve met and gotten to be close to some of the peoplehere, so I feel better.”

Pritchard is only one of what MSA officials are saying is theirmost gifted class yet. It is also their largest, and the increasehas left the school in need of host families for their out-of-townstudents.

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Patty Perkins is in charge of organizing the host familyprogram, and said anyone who can pass the police background checkis eligible.

“They can be anyone. Single, married, any age group,” she said.”And we look forward to adding them to our family as well.”

Pritchard said her host mother is Amanda Warren, who owns AblesAntique Shop.

“My mom feels a lot better that I have someone here in town,”she said. “She’s met her, and Amanda has a daughter who is 16 yearsold too.”

Perkins stressed that being away from home is a hard thing formany teens, and that the idea of having a familiar face around cansoften the blow.

“Most kids now are a little homesick, and they want to have ameal or go to Wal-Mart or just to get out and see a familiar face,”she said. “Right now most of them don’t have a familiar adult facesin their lives, and even that can make a difference to them.”

Junior Hattie Marshall from Holly Springs said sometimes beingin close quarters for too long can start to make kids a littlestir-crazy.

“Sometimes you get stressed out and you need a break,” she said.”Too much dorm life, too many roommates, and too much close contactwith your roommates gets a little hectic.”

She said being able to get out and spend time outside the schoolenvironment can make the difference to a stressed student.

“Getting out is refreshing,” she said.

MSA officials make sure the host families know that the timethey share with their children is entirely on a voluntary basis,but that the program is based on finding room in your heart for ateenager who isn’t yours.

“This is strictly a heart thing. This comes from your heart,”said Perkins. “Your level of involvement with this child depends onhow you feel in your heart and what your comfort level is. Some ofour host families want to be an email contact, some want to bedirectly involved with the children.”

She said the point is to make certain the kids don’t feelabsolutely alone.

“We like the host parents to maintain a contact with thechildren, and we say that if you contact them once a week by textor telephone or email, just let them know you’re there if they needyou, if they’re homesick to give you a call,” Perkins said. “Callthem if you’re going to Wal-Mart, because they might need a triptoo. They enjoy just being out.”

Perkins also stated that the program does not require a lot ofmoney, just love.

“There’s the $25 fee for the background check, but after that,you don’t have the child in your home unless you want to invitethem to dinner, and you don’t have to spend any money unless youwant to,” she said. “

The program is not only for the kids to feel safe and taken careof, Perkins said.

“It’s awfully brave of these parents, and admirable andcourageous that the parents will send their 15-year-olds out intothe world,” she said. “Going so far away from home is scary foranyone their first time.”

The children need basic things like trips to the grocery store,trips to the doctor, and to do shopping for clothing or artsupplies, Marshall said. Perkins pointed out that another popularrequest the students have is for church time.

“Most of them want to go to church, because a good percentage ofthem are churched children,” she said. “One boy stopped me in thehall and asked if I had contacted his host dad because he wanted tobe involved in a Bible study.”

Anyone interested in becoming a host family is encouraged tocall MSA at (601) 823-1300 or contact Patty Perkins at833-0020.