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Sharing in the joy of volunteering

KEEN Sports Day gets volunteers from Au Pair of America

Members of Au Pair of America with participants at the KEEN Sports Day.

Members of Au Pair of America with participants at the KEEN Sports Day. Photo Contributed

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Joey and Veronka from Slovakia

— “I loved volunteering at the KEEN Sports Day,” said Camila Souza, who works for a Potomac family through Au Pair of America. “It made me realize that I can make a difference just by giving a high five — or by cheering on these young people as they run bases or learn a new dance. I was there to give him support — but he gave me inspiration.”

KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) is a 501c3 non-profit that provides one-to-one recreational opportunities for youngsters with developmental and physical disabilities at no cost to their families or caregivers. This year, they are celebrating 20 years of programs that foster self-esteem, confidence, skills and talents of its athletes through non-competitive programs. The KEEN Sports Day, held on Sunday, June 2 at Hadley Park in Potomac was a day filled with fun and camaraderie.

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BJ and Camila from Brazil shoot baskets.

Victoria Paton, senior community counselor for Au Pair in America, explained that almost 30 au pairs who are working in the Potomac area volunteered their time and energy to make the KEEN Sports Day a success.

Au pair Tabea Kirchhoff from Gothenburg, Germany was excited that she had the opportunity to volunteer at the KEEN event: “They had moon bounces, soccer, baseball, zumba, dancing, face painting, balloons — so many activities to engage the children. I was paired with a 12-year-old boy with autism. He loved the moon bounce and the face painting. My young man was very proud of himself because he participated in many of the sporting events. It was an incredibly rewarding day for him — but equally as rewarding for me.”

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Members of Au Pair of America participate in a tug of war during KEEN Sports Day.

Au Pair in America, a 25-year-old company, was the first legal au pair company, designated by the U.S. Government in 1986. They provide live-in child care opportunities to host families in the U.S., and au pairs from around the world. They are a member of the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), which has been involved in educational and cultural exchanges since 1964. Au Pair in America has over 60 au pairs living with families in Potomac.

Paton holds interviews all over the world for au pairs. She explains the requirements, “The young ladies have stringent screening requirements: they must be a high school or college graduate with good grades, know how to drive, be willing to enroll at Montgomery College for a minimum of 6 course credits, successfully complete our au pair training when they come to the U.S., perform favorably on personality and aptitude assessments and in a personal interview, and provide solid references and work experience.”

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Flavie from France coaches basketball.

“Of course, the major requirement is they must love children and have experience in taking care of them. Many of our au pairs are nurses, teachers and college graduates,” Paton said.

“The au pairs arrive on a J-1 visa and provide their host families with dependable, flexible and cost-effective childcare,” Paton said. “They also offer an enriching cultural experience for the entire family.”

Both Souza and Kirchhoff are placed in Potomac with families with two to three children. They are enjoying their new families and have both experienced a wealth of American activities with their families. Kirchhoff explained: “When I arrived, I was scared but the NYC training made a huge difference. I am so happy with my American family — I will be very sad to leave this August, but I am going home to attend dental school.”

Souza said that getting used to American food as well as making American friends has been a challenge. Souza worked as an English teacher in Brazil before coming to the U.S. “I wanted to improve my English skills to become a more proficient teacher,” she said.

Au Pair of America offers two programs for au pairs and host families. The first program provides 45 hours per week of childcare for the family for $356 per week. The Educare program (for people with full-time school-age children) offers 30 hours per week for $286 per week. This program gives the au pair more flexibility to earn take earn additional college hours. “The Educare program is ideal for people with teen-agers who need someone at home when the kids are home from school,” said Paton.

To find out more about Au Pair of America go to its website at www.aupairinamerica.com.

To learn more about KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise now), check out its website at www.keenusa.org.