Off the Clock: Friedley Hosts Teenagers in Northern Ireland Friendship Project

Posted: December 22, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Megan McDonnell

Over the summer of 2002, Sheryl Friedley, professor in the Department of Communication, hosted two girls as part of the Children’s Friendship Project of Northern Ireland (CFPNI). The program brings 100 to 150 teenagers from Northern Ireland each year to spend four to six weeks with host families in the United States. The teenagers—one Roman Catholic and one Protestant—are paired together to give them a chance at “finding out what it is like to have more in common than not,” according to Friedley.

Friedley is a member of the Optimist Club of Vienna, a civic organization that raises money for worthy causes and conducts community projects. When Friedley served as president, the club invited Sharon Harroun, chair of the CFPNI board of directors, to speak to the group. Harroun talked about the program as an opportunity for the teenagers to get out of their environment in Northern Ireland and come to the United States to get to know each other, with the intent of making a difference one relationship at a time.

Harroun asked the group if anyone would be interested in hosting, but Friedley was unsure if she would make a good host since she is single. Harroun encouraged her to apply anyway, and she was asked to cohost with another couple. “The couple had the girls for three weeks and I had them for three weeks,” says Friedley. “We connected while they were with the other family as well; I got to know them before they came to live with me, and then the other host family came down to visit while they were at my house.”

For the most part, the teenagers come to the East Coast, although some are placed in other parts of the United States. Participants had to share a room, and, while in America, they were required to alternate between attending a Catholic church service and a Protestant church service on Sundays. They were also required to have equal time in each of the church settings because it was an experience they would not have in Northern Ireland. They had to do volunteer work, such as working in soup kitchens, which they did as groups. For fun, the teenagers attended pool parties, picnics, and talent shows. The teenagers also spent two or three days going to Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where they met with people who deal with conflict resolution and discussed the situation in Northern Ireland.

Never having had children of her own, Friedley had some first-time experiences herself as she hosted the teenage girls. “Because this is such a great place to be, I took them to the Kennedy Center to see a musical, I took them to Luray Caverns, we went to the beach for a weekend, we went to Baltimore, and we saw a lot of the museums in this area. It was fun watching them experience these things for the first time.”

One girl was named Shauna, and the other was Jemma. Their families were committed to the program—Shauna even had an older sister go through the program. Friedley fondly remembers, “One was artistic and a leader; she was very creative in writing. The other one was a little more of a follower, but the leader brought out the leader in the other one. They had a sleepover with several other girls from the program. They got together and put on a talent show, and the two girls that I had were instrumental in getting a group of girls together for a dance routine. They were outgoing and served as leaders of the group.”

CFPNI was established in 1987 as a peace and friendship-building program that focuses on preventing violence by fostering understanding and promoting interaction among people in the Catholic and Protestant cultures in Northern Ireland. CFPNI also raises money to pay the students’ airfare and cover most of the host families’ costs.

For more information, visit the CFPNI web site.

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