Clay family reflects on Project Children experience

Community members can register for Project Children program until April 1

Hosting a family member as an overnight guest could be a big decision for any family, but hosting a person from a different country for four weeks could be even bigger.

That wasn't the case for the Mark and Ellen Kotzin, of Clay. The Kotzins talked about Project Children with great interest after Ellen heard about the event. She thought it would be a good experience for her, Mark and their two children Noah, 10, and Molly, 9.

The program, Project Children, is an American-Northern Ireland partnership "dedicated to showing Protestant and Catholic kids that they have nothing to fear from each other and much to gain."

The program started in 1975 with six children from Belfast, three from one community and three from the other. The kids spent that summer in America, getting to know each other in a small New York town. Now Project Children places more than 600 children from Northern Ireland with host families across America each summer, according to ProjectChildrenni.com.

For no airfare responsibility to New York City or travel cost to Syracuse, the Kotzins hosted Grace, now 10 years old, during the summer of 2009.

"This program gives families a glimpse of different cultures and helps us appreciate what we have in life," Mark said.

Because they had a guest from a different country, Mark said the family realized that they had taken for granted several local sites and attractions. In addition to events in Cicero and Clay, Grace visited the state museum in Albany with her host family.

"We did some things that we had never done before," Mark said. "You discover treasures in your backyard that you didn't realize."

While the host families are responsible for the cost of meals and activities, Ellen said that she and her husband didn't notice a drastic hike in costs during Grace's visit. The family did attend some paid events and also free events at libraries in the area, she said.

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