Last month, we debuted our new monthly feature with a story about volunteer firefighter, Darin Weidner. For the remainder of the year, you’ll read about a newsworthy neighbor in the first issue of each month—we’re turning the spotlight on community members who have unique and interesting stories. For November, we introduce you to a 7th grader and People to People Ambassador from Walnutport, Pa. who spent 15 days in the Outback over the summer. Meet Anthony George.
Photos provided by Jeanine Villano-George.
By Danielle Tepper"I got mauled by an alligator." "Oh, that'll be the headline!"
It’s an August afternoon and the Georges’ living room is full of laughter as 11-year-old Anthony and his mother, Jeanine, of Cherryville, recap his 15-day summer journey to Australia as part of the People-to-People Ambassador Program.
People to People was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vision in the late 1950s. The first delegation traveled in 1960 and the program has been successfully sending ambassadors around the globe ever since. It is the first student travel organization to go to all seven continents.
To be selected for a trip, students are typically referred by a teacher. (Anthony After a lengthy process, only a select number of kids are chosen to embark on the adventure of the year. This trip included delegations from Pa. (21 kids) and S.C. (12 kids).
“You get an official sealed letter through the government and everything,” said Jeanine. “It was designed to teach children of other cultures that it doesn’t matter where you come from or how much money you have, we all have the same values and core beliefs. That’s really what it is and I think it’s awesome.”
Anthony’s parents naturally had their reservations about sending their son halfway around the world.
“My husband and I made the decision that although we were very afraid, we weren’t going to pass that fear onto him, because we really felt that this was the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Jeanine. “Every time he called, we made sure we were up and excited, and then we broke apart when we hung up. I knew he’d be okay, but it was the travel that scared me. Sometimes you just have to let your kids do stuff. I know he’s only 11, but he’s a mature 11.”
Anthony says he came away from the experience with “much new knowledge about Australia in general. You drive on the wrong side of the road, you walk on the wrong side of the street, proper etiquette isn’t to go to the right, proper etiquette is to go to the left. Everything is completely different, it’s so weird.”
“He came back in July and he’s still telling me stories I haven’t heard yet,” said Jeanine. “He has so many stories!”
Anthony and the other kids spent two weeks experiencing life in the Outback. They spent time with the Aborigines, snorkeled near the Great Barrier Reef, visited the Irwins’ Australia Zoo, spent a day in the life of an Australian student, played cricket and rugby, had a two-day farm stay with no electricity, and even sat in the mayor’s seat of Parliament in New South Wales. They had a loaded itinerary of activities and explorations so not one day was wasted.
“We always knew where he was and he called every day. They were very good with keeping us connected,” said Jeanine.
Anthony said he was only homesick for the first couple days, then he settled in for the adventure of a lifetime.
“He took a rented phone, his iPhone, two underwater cameras, two Visas with the same amount of money on them in case he lost one, and he came home with everything except one of the cameras,” said Jeanine. “He was very meticulous about that.”
Of course, Anthony came back with much more than that. He came back with a lifetime of memories and a bunch of new friends.
“He’s got Instagram friends now from Australia and that’s awesome to me. I just think that’s amazing!” said Jeanine. “He’s made some very close friends; they’ve been Face-Timing. That’s how they do it now. That’s the new pen pals.”
“His father and I just think to have that experience at 11—we were bawling when he got home,” she continued. “We were so happy to see him, but also just talking to him and realizing what he’s been through […] I so wish I could’ve been there with him. But that wasn’t part of the deal. You send them and say a prayer, so that’s what we did.”
The program worked its magic on Anthony who said, “Kids there are really the same as us, just from a different place with a different accent.”
People to People sends ambassadors through high school and they are able to obtain college credit for their time spent in other countries—definitely a bonus on college applications and future resumes. To learn more, visit www.peopletopeople.com.
Pick up a copy of the Gazette for more on Anthony's trip! Includes fun facts not found here.
If you know someone who deserves to be recognized by the Gazette, tell us about them! Email Danielle at email@example.com using the subject line “TCG NOMINATION.” We need submissions for 2014! NEXT MONTH: Read about Jake Marunich, a senior at Northern Lehigh High School, who became a Junior Dragster NHRA track champion at 15 years old.