MSA looking for host family help

Published 6:00 pm Friday, July 15, 2011

The students at the Mississippi School ofthe Arts come from all over the state. They’re teenagers, away fromhome for the first time, spending two years of their lives in anunfamiliar community.

    It’s a scary process, but it’s one that the school’s host familiesventure to make easier for the students.

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    “Through the host families program, we try to match students withlocal residents so that they can have a friend in Brookhaven,” saidPatti Perkins, who helps coordinate the program.

    MSA Executive Director Suzanne Hirsch said the program is anintegral part of the school and that host families are alwaysneeded.

    “We’re expecting 145 students, which is up about 20 students fromlast year,” she said about the upcoming classes. “These studentsneed to have someone to connect with outside of the school, andthat’s where host families come in.”

    She said the program was formed before the school was started inBrookhaven several years ago.

    “There was a group of us addressing some of the concerns abouthaving a school here,” said Perkins. “One of the things we lookedat was students having a liaison with local families inBrookhaven.”

    She said the group explored the concept of host families afterseeing how it worked at similar schools.

    “Richard Baker [a fellow MSA volunteer] went to several schoolswith programs similar to the arts school, and after that, we workedout the program,” said Perkins.

    Through the program, a host family applicant goes through acriminal background check and is then assigned to a student.

    “We look at each host and each student to see how they would mesh,by church, by sports activity, by particular interest, and try toline them,” said Perkins.

    Host opportunities are not just limited to families, she said.

    “Host families is really a misnomer,” she said. “A lot of thepeople are single or widows.”

    The only expectation the program has of its hosts is for them totry and attend their student’s events, she said.

    “Our students come from all over the state, and often Mom and Dadcan’t come down to attend their events, but our local people can,”said Perkins.

    Besides that, nothing is expected or required of the host, shesaid.

    “There’s no requirements,” said Perkins. “They’re not asked to takethe child into their home or ever give them any money, but just tobe a friend and a local contact.”

    She said the program is beneficial not only to the students butalso to the host families.

    “Speaking as a parent, I would be nervous sending my child to theother end of the state to a boarding school, essentially sendingthem off to college two years early,” said Perkins. “It would makeme feel a lot more comfortable if I knew there was a family or aperson in the child’s community that would be eyes and ears for me,that would have a personal interest in my child.”

    Brad and Lissa Boerner are one of the many host families that havetaken such an interest, said Perkins.

    “Being a host family has been a blessing,” said Lissa Boerner.

    The Boerners have recently finished their first year of involvementwith the program, said Brad Boerner. He said their two students – adancer and a visual arts major – are “incredibly talented” and havebecome great role models for the Boerner children.

    “It’s been a wonderful experience,” he said. “It’s been great toget to know the girls, to help them feel at home and to be theirlink to the community and for them to be our link to theschool.”

    For the students, having a local contact, like the Boerners, “meansvolumes,” said Perkins.

    “The students are a bit apprehensive about having the apron stringscut at home, and they seem to really enjoy having a familiar facearound,” said Perkins.

    There are currently around 150 host families, but several of thoseare inactive, said Perkins.

    “Some are not active, taking a year off or so for various reasons,”she said. “They come and go.”

    Perkins urged people to get involved.

    “We are their family when they come here,” she said. “We need tomake them feel welcome, to feel loved in the community.”

    Anyone interested in being a host can apply at the arts school,said Perkins. She also said that those interested can contact herat 601-833-0020.

    “It’s definitely a good thing to get involved in,” she said.