The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 9, 2012

Conneaut girl prepares to visit, study in Europe

But ‘ambassador’ could use her community’s help

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — After years of invitations, Justine Snyder has finally said “oui” and will represent Conneaut in a European study adventure next summer.

Justine, 15, a student at Conneaut High School, will participate in a People to People program that will see her spend 20 days in France, Italy and Spain. “I’m very excited,” she said.

Besides visiting all the local landmarks, Justine will also meet with leaders of local government, become involved in community projects and — for a few days — stay with citizens to help her gain an insight into the beliefs, customs and attitudes not normally afforded the casual tourist.

For the past five years, Justine has been recommended to participate in the program, open by invitation only to students in fifth- through 12th grade. Until this year, mom Jackie Snyder has said no, reluctant to send her only daughter halfway around the world at a tender age. For 2013, however, she relented.

“It will be the experience of a lifetime,” Snyder said. “She’s a hard worker and a great kid who cares more about other people than herself.”

People to People was founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who envisioned young ambassadors working to repair a “war-ravaged world,” according to the organization’s history. Students cannot sign up on their own — they must be recommended by an adult, such as a teacher, community or church leader, government official or parent.

After that, the student is interviewed by program officials and then entered into a selection process. Nominations are confidential — Justine said she has no idea who has recommended her for the program for so many years. The recommendations, however, kept coming even after she briefly left the Conneaut school district in eighth grade to be home-schooled.

Nonetheless, she is grateful for the consideration and anticipating the experience.

“I love traveling,” Justine said. “I want to see everything over there.”

As a successful candidate, Justine will travel in a group with 40 other students from across the country. Asked what country she is most excited to see, Justine answers quickly: “Spain.” During some of her stay there, Justine will bunk with a host family.

“I just love the Spanish culture,” she said.

The big journey is a first in another way for Justine: It represents her first solo trip away from home — and she is admittedly anxious.

“I’m a mommy’s girl,” she said, smiling. “I’ve never been anywhere without my family.”

In the coming weeks and months, Justine will be working hard to help raise the money needed to make the trip. The cost could approach $6,000.

Justine and her family are planning plenty of fundraisers. She’ll be selling candles and popcorn, recycling ink cartridges and old cellular telephones, and sponsoring spaghetti dinners and car washes.

“There are a lot of (fundraisers) I want to try,” Justine said.

Donations from the community would be welcome, too. People interested in assisting Justine’s journey can contact the family and make arrangements at this email:

The globe-trotting girl expects to benefit emotionally and intellectually from the trek.

“I want to get to know the people, their beliefs and cultures,” Justine said. “It’s easier not to judge someone when you know them personally.”