Paul and Janie reside in a beautiful home in Chandler, AZ. They were empty nesters for nearly 16 years before they entertained the idea of hosting a student from Italy with PSE.
“I’ve been retired for almost three years. So, with no kids in the house and retirement in play, the freedom was exponential,” shares Paul. Janie adds, “We had more flexibility. I didn’t have to make meals, and we could go out to eat whenever we wanted. The housework lessened, and it was just a simpler life.”
When they read about an opportunity to host a boy from Italy named Gian Marco, also known as Giammy, in their church bulletin, they were inspired for several reasons.
“We don’t always take a church bulletin home, but this one time we saw the information and were inspired to learn more. Paul does ministry, and it seemed like a good thing to do and a great opportunity to help someone,” says Janie.
Paul adds, “Plus, it’s my nature to experience new things and enjoy an adventure. This seemed like a great opportunity to do something we haven’t experienced in the past. As for Janie, her heritage is Italian. We had previously hosted an Italian student, Elizabetha, for one week and had a great experience. The Italian aspect was a determining factor and paved the way for entertaining the idea to host Giammy. We also wanted to give Giammy the best exchange experience, as it was a chance of a lifetime!”
They reached out to PSE Local Coordinator, Flo, who helped them through the decision-making process. “I knew right from our first conversation that Paul and Janie were loving, compassionate, and gracious people. They told me about their empty nester status and were concerned that Giammy would not be happy in a home without other children.”
Paul mentioned that he noticed Giammy’s request for host siblings, and that was their main concern. Flo shared hosting success stories of other empty nester families, and soon Janie and Paul were on board as a Welcome Family (shorter term). “We were fine as long as Giammy was okay with our status,” says Paul.
Giammy was elated when he heard that a family was interested in hosting him. “I was so happy! I was waiting for weeks, and my mom told me the Italian organization had identified a family. I originally wanted to live in Scottsdale, but I knew this was my chance. Many times, there is a reason for everything.”
Janie agrees, “Yes! God always has a plan, and we trust in Him. Originally, we wanted a girl since we had already raised four boys, but we knew there was a reason for this. Having a young man in the home was not any different than in the past.”
Giammy admits that when he found out that his host parents were in their late 60’s, he was a bit concerned. But as he viewed their profile and pictures, his concerns dissipated. “I saw their pictures and thought, wow, they are in good shape!”
Paul laughs, “Well, I don’t think a high schooler would be happy with an empty nester who watches Wheel of Fortune all day. We are very active, and realistically, Giammy has a good set up. Janie is free to give him rides to school and back, and there are not any siblings for him to have to compete for attention.”
Giammy says that when he first thought about host siblings, he imagined it would be easier to socialize and do things with teenagers his age. “I found out that the school is already set up to easily make friends, like in clubs and sports. There are many opportunities to have conversations. So, this was not an issue for me.”
Giammy participated on the boy’s Volleyball team. He even became the Team Manager, which meant his responsibilities on the team increased.
Flo shares, “Soon after Giammy arrived, Paul and Janie decided to transition to the entire semester as his host family. I was so excited when they made that decision because after seeing them interact, I felt that they were a great match!”
“I probably have an old soul. I love playing cards, watching movies, and cooking with Paul and Janie,” says Giammy.
Paul shares, “We have the same interests. Having the same faith is important as we attend mass every Sunday, and Giammy is very used to that. He has a strong scholastic focus and is very dedicated to his girlfriend, Chiara, in Italy. He can invite friends over and enjoy the backyard, swim in the pool, and play games. He’s kind of like an only child here, and we have the freedom of time to help him.”
Giammy shares, “I love having my own space and privacy. I cannot imagine living with other teenagers at this point. I enjoy the peace and quiet, and I appreciate everything my host family is willing to do for me.”
Flo shares, “Paul and Janie have welcomed Giammy into their home as if he is a member of their own family. He feels loved and cared for. They are giving him a wonderful American experience, and he enjoys sharing the Italian culture with them. He loves spending time with his extended family, and he feels welcome.”
The hosting experience has given Paul and Janie a deeper understanding about and appreciation for the Italian culture. They enjoyed taking Giammy to the annual Italian Festival in Phoenix.
Also, having Giammy in their home has motivated Paul and Janie to experience things that they would not normally do.
“Because of him, we splurged on a Diamondbacks game. We sat right behind the dugout in the first row. I’ve never done that before, it was awesome!” Paul exclaims.
Giammy says, “They made me comfortable in their home since the first day, and now I feel like it’s my home. I feel part of their family.”
Janie shares, “He is part of our family, and our family has accepted him as a family member. He participates in all our family activities, wherever we go, he goes too.”
Giammy and his host family enjoyed many activities together which included attending a Barett Jackson car show, gems and minerals show, their grandson’s baseball games, fishing, visiting the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and a college basketball game in Tucson.
Paul and Janie decided to visit Italy in the Fall, and they looked forward to seeing Giammy and his family during their trip. Giammy shares, “I will be the host for a few days! I will be sure to show gratitude to them for everything they have done for me!”
Janie reports, “We had several nice dinners with his family and girlfriend, Chiara. Giammy went with us to the Borghese Museum on one of the days we were there.”
In closing, Giammy sends this message to exchange students who have been placed with an empty nester host family:
“Don’t be apprehensive about living with older host parents. You become their new kid and will realize that they have more time for you. Show appreciation to them for everything they do for you. Communicate with them if you have a problem, they will be there to help you! I have been here for five months, and I am part of their family now.”
Paul sends this message to other empty nesters:
“If you have a sense of adventure and are active, host a student! If you want to learn about a different culture – do it!”
Written by Flo Webb; Edited by Lauren Lunt