As a child, ISE senior program manager Tal Stanecky attended school and summer camp in the Middle East and Europe. That means he’s exceptionally aware of the challenges that potentially await exchange students in their host countries.
“What interested me and brought me to the job was a lot of the issues that those students go through. Not only adjusting to their lifestyle here in the States from abroad, but also what they’re going through as teenagers,” he said.
Stanecky also has a background in psychology — he earned a bachelor of science from Towson University in Maryland, which coincidentally is located in close proximity to the Shepard Pratt Health System’s Psychotic Disorders Unit. There, Stanecky worked in lockdown children’s units. This experience has allowed him to understand how children — and, specifically, how young adults — think, the way they take in and process information, and what they need to do so successfully and happily.
This makes Stanecky a perfect candidate to help run the ISE Gives Back initiative.
“It was really started on the idea from our CEO, Wayne Brewer, that we, as a fairly large nonprofit company working in student exchange have had success over the last 30 years in not only maintaining our business, but also growing almost every year. We really wanted the initiative to give back and really be centered around children. One of the neediest groups in this world are children coming from backgrounds that are quite poor or are lacking familial support, or who just don’t have support structures in general.”
ISE Gives Back focuses on children both in America and abroad, each year partnering with charities that it believes do the most good for children in need. Students involved with the ISE program are not necessarily coming from ultra-luxurious backgrounds, Stanecky said, but the simple fact that they are able to participate shows that they have adequate support and opportunities for success. With that in mind, it is important to attempt to extend that support (and those opportunities) to children who might no have them.
“[This year,] after a really long search of going through the US-based charities that worked with children, we settled on [child sponsorship organization] Children Incorporated, out of Virginia. From what we saw, the donations being given to the charity were really going to the people who needed it the most. Maybe 70-80% of their entire program budget for the year was going to the actual initiatives and not to fundraising or the people behind the scenes,” he said.
Not that the people behind the scenes don’t deserve to be healthily compensated, Stanecky is quick to add. They are doing a very hard job, and they’re doing it well.
Children Incorporated was so appealing, he said, because of its ability to adapt and tailor its services to children all around the country.
“They basically aggregate all of the smaller services around the country and then assist from there,” he said. “Obviously it being a large country, the needs of a kid in Florida that might need financial or educational support might be different from a student in Colorado, or New Mexico. What we really liked was that they had a lot of on-field support in finding out what students really need.”
Each year ISE takes an “incentive trip” with its field staff, often travelling to countries from which the organization receives students. The partner charity for ISE Gives Back is then selected from those operating within that particular country. This year, the initiative has partnered with Spanish charity Nuevo Futuro.
“Their initiative was really to assist students and children who either were coming from very poor familial satiations or who were in foster care. It’s a completely comprehensive service of offering housing, food, clothing, educational, and academic support, and really aimed to make sure that these kids have the ability and opportunity to grow and become future leaders.”
Stanecky’s vision for the future of ISE Gives Back is not necessarily broad. Rather, it’s intimate. He hopes the initiative can dig deeper, resulting in a farther, more comprehensive reach.
“We are looking to expand with the charity that we are currently with. ISE is reliant on its fantastic field staff that do the majority of the really tough work on the field. These are good people. These are moms, dads, grandmothers, teachers. They are generally the people that want to see these kids succeed. We want to expand their altruism. We do a lot of advertising in schools, in churches, in places where you would generally find people who want to assist and help,” he said. “There’s no reason we can’t simultaneously promote the charities partnered with ISE Gives Back. I think that’s more our end goal right now. Really looking to how we can expand with the charities we’re currently coupled with.”