South Carolina Community Support Leader Nominated for Student Exchange Award

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Written by Kathleen Mears, Community Outreach Specialist, Summer Work and Travel

CHI has nominated local community organizer Kathy Winfree of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for the 2019 Outstanding Leadership Award to be presented at the upcoming Community Support Group (CSG) Summit to be held in Branson, Missouri on November 12-14, 2019.

Supported by the Branson Chamber of Commerce, the event is a national forum for American host communities to discuss best practices and innovation around program participant support, safety and welfare. The summit will be attended by CHI and fellow Exchange Visitor Program sponsors, local community leaders and law enforcement, the US Department of State and the Alliance for International Exchange.

Kathy Winfree from Myrtle Beach has been working with exchange visitors since 2014 as a floor supervisor in a local restaurant.  She was inspired by all the exchange students at the restaurant, so she came out of retirement and reentered the hospitality business, working closely with exchange visitors to provide a safe and happy workplace.  

“I suddenly found myself loving each one who came through the door and realized this was my destiny. This was the reason I came out of retirement and went back into the hospitality business that I had worked for many years.” says Kathy.   

Kathy and her husband Mike open their home to all exchange visitors, including to students who are discharged from the hospital but need further rehabilitation from their injuries. They host dinners and provide safe, affordable housing and share food and culture. In addition, Kathy saw a need for and began English practice. She offers transportation to Walmart and most importantly the chance for students to share their feelings and hearts about their experiences in Myrtle Beach. She takes the participants to get ice cream, goes shopping with them, and has conversations.

Each year, she expanded her home to fit more participants and eventually purchased a new house that could host 12 participants! The next summer, Kathy worked at the same restaurant. Soon after Kathy and Mike bought a car for the experienced students to drive. They had a car donated for that purpose as well.

Kathy and Mike are very involved in the Seacoast Vineyard Church and All Nations Café. She advocates for participants with housing issues, often successfully locating and vetting safe and affordable housing. She worked with several churches to provide 12 host homes that first year, and now in 2019, they have 38 host homes. In 2019, emergency homes housed 75 students from the airport who needed overnight or short-term placement.

Her major desire for summer was “Safety! Safety! Safety!”.  The Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee donated 1,300 lights this year to the four All Nations Cafés, Seacoast Vineyard Myrtle Beach, Ocean View Baptist, Myrtle Beach Trinity Methodist, North Myrtle Beach, and First Baptist Surfside Baptist. Their goal is to check every bike light of every student who attends All Nations Cafe and to watch for students in the streets who have none. The MB police department indicated that there was a significant increase in safety this year because of the lights.! “I love our community. My goal is a safe place and to create a cultural exchange experience that will change all our lives and the lives in the future.” says Kathy.

The CSG Summit is for communities to engage, learn, and build on best practices with the Summer Work and Travel (SWT) program. Communities across the U.S. are welcome to join as we discover valuable tools to engage our communities and encourage support of exchange programs. 

Businesses, civic leaders, and community members who are active in the SWT program can register here.

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