Jenny K. Messner (front row, far left) and husband Mike (top row, far right) with some of their AFS scholarship students at the Speedwell Foundation’s annual picnic.

Parents, Give Your Child Bilingual Wings:
Episode 34 of the America the Bilingual podcast

Jenny K. Messner credits the high school cultural exchange program of AFS with transforming her life. Living in Brazil for a year in the 1970s, Jenny learned a new culture, became fluent in Portuguese, and parlayed her language skills into a career in international finance. Then she found a way to help hundreds of other young American bilinguals-to-be follow in her path.

But would she let her own daughter venture so far from home in today’s world? Hear Jenny’s story in Episode 34 of the America the Bilingual podcast.

For students who otherwise could not have wings

In 2007, Jenny and her husband, Mike started the Speedwell Foundation so that a new generation of high school students could have the same life-changing experience of an AFS cultural exchange as she did.

Their foundation awards AFS scholarships to qualified high school students from Jenny’s local community in central Pennsylvania. Part of the selection process is based on financial need. Jenny says she would not have been able to go to Brazil without financial help from family friends.

“It’s been a labor of love from really humble beginnings. Both my husband and I had very little to begin with,” Jenny says of the foundation. “Thanks to his brilliance and a lot of hard work, we are able to give back now.”

The first year of their foundation, they awarded one scholarship. “Then we gave more and more, and pretty soon we got it up to over 200,” Jenny says.

Parents’ reluctance, and Jenny’s advice

But in recent years, fewer high school students and their parents have been seeking out such year-long programs. Jenny got a firsthand idea of why when her own daughter decided she wanted to be like Mom.

It was a moment of truth for Jenny, and she offers parents some encouragement on how they can give their child the life-changing bilingual wings that AFS offers.

Hear Jenny’s story on iTunes by clicking here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen on iTunes. Or on SoundCloud here.

Read the complete back story on the America the Bilingual website.