Polish students, adviser explore life in Dayton area

Friendship Force Dayton hosted group of 12 for a week.

Twelve Polish students and their adviser arrived in Dayton June 4, met by their hosts, members of Friendship Force Dayton, a local travel club that hosts older adults for week-long explorations of the Miami Valley. “This was the first time having 18-20-year-olds,” said Nancy Nerny, events coordinator. “These youth had been promised by the U.S. State Department a senior year in an American high school, a promise not fulfilled due to COVID, so they were on this trip instead.”

The sites visited focused on entrepreneurship, the environment and community service, “all goals cited by the State Department,” said Nerny.

Students were put to work during a visit and tour of Agraria Center of Regenerative Agricultural Practice in Yellow Springs. “Agraria is a 128-acre educational and research farm that explores and demonstrates the benefits of regenerative practices at multiple levels,” explained Rachel Carr, volunteer coordinator.

Matthew Salazar, facilities manager, led the group. “I explained what we do – it’s ecological education. The students talked about how they appreciated what we were doing, and we had them do trail maintenance, making them wider and more accessible.”

“They were a great group to engage with and work alongside of, and their efforts to remove some of the invasive species on the property helps to restore the land,” said Carr. “Some shared about their families’ gardens and farms back home in Poland.”

While in Yellow Springs, they also visited Glen Helen Raptor Center, Young’s Dairy Barn and Clifton Gorge.

Back in Dayton, they toured one of Dayton’s most recently completed Metro Libraries, the West Branch and its Makerspace room. Information Services Assistant and “tech guy” Donald Stewart took them on a tour, “and they said they weren’t used to seeing libraries like this and thought it was phenomenal. They loved all the artworks in the library, and I let them know that most were done by local artists.

“I also gave them a history of this area, where the Wright Brothers hangars were, and told them about Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“Douglas Picard explained Makerspace to them, and they spent quite a bit of time in there doing a demonstration.”

In downtown Dayton, the group had a walking tour of Riverscape, a tour of DayAir Ballpark and the Hub in the Arcade. “I think they were overwhelmed,” said Nerny. “The Hub had meaning for us because of the Arcade. They didn’t understand the history but enjoyed looking at the building, and did learn that there were setups for new businesses happening at the Hub.”

Of course, students ate at a variety of establishments during their stay, and one student, Igor Porwot, observed that “Americans love things super-salty or super-sweet.”

But they got a pleasant surprise when they visited Marion’s Pizza. “One of our members knew that the owner of Marion’s was Polish,” said Nerny, “and he talked about his father’s village in Poland. The kids were excited when he said a word or two in Polish, but he was sorry he didn’t know more of the language.”

Interestingly, on the night they were to spend time at Scene 75, the students wanted to go to a thrift store instead. “One of the boys was so excited because he got a pair of old jeans. We were surprised at that,” Nerny noted.

Another, more active event, was bowling at Poelking Lanes in Kettering. “They were familiar with it, and seemed to know how to keep score and turn on the machines. They kept getting gutter balls, but were happy with their ‘sideline coaches.’”

The week ended with students preparing a dinner – half Polish, half American – for their hosts at the Czechoslovakian Club, followed by traditional Polish dancing.

Ages of the hosts range from 55-80, and their young guests expressed surprise at how active their “retired” hosts were. “In Poland, once a senior retires from work, they expect to die,” said Vladyslaw Aleksandrowicz. That brought a laugh from the hosts, who range in age from 55-to-80.

Nerny, the 80-year-old, retired from teaching in the Dayton schools in 1997, served on the school board for seven years, has been involved with Friendship Force and other organizations on and off for 20 years, and is certainly not “expecting to die” any time soon.

Contact this writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com

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