A summer of peace: Irish girl lives with Alexandria family for five weeksFor five weeks, Hannah Miller had a sister, Dan and Stacey Miller had another daughter, and Naketta Gibson had peace. It was a time none of them will ever forget.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
For five weeks, Hannah Miller had a sister, Dan and Stacey Miller had another daughter, and Naketta Gibson had peace.
It was a time none of them will ever forget.
Last summer, the Miller family invited 11-year-old Naketta into their home in Alexandria through the Children’s Program of Northern Ireland (CPNI).
Through the program, children who live in Northern Ireland, who are caught up in the centuries-old battle between the Catholics and Protestants, live with families in the U.S. It gives them a few weeks away from the segregation and unrest that typically worsens in the summer. (See related sidebar about CPNI.)
Stacey heard about the program in May when the group was making a plea for host families on a news broadcast. It caught her attention because the children involved were the same age as her daughter, Hannah. She checked out the organization’s website and was “touched” by the story.
When she mentioned it to her daughter and husband, they were eager to help.
“I was excited because it would be like having a sister,” said Hannah, a 12-year-old 6th grader – an only child.
“I thought that it would be a way to do something for somebody else, a chance to give back,” Dan added. “That’s why I wanted to do it.”
The children are matched with host families based on personalities and interests, not on religion. After completing a home visit and a questionnaire to determine who they would best match, the Millers were paired with Naketta. (The Alexandria Rotary Club donated the fee required for Gibson to travel to Minnesota.)
On June 29 they picked her up from the Minneapolis airport. Although she was exhausted from the lengthy travel – her first time in an airplane – it didn’t take long for the pre-teen girls to start getting to know each other.
“She opened up real easy and was easy to talk to,” Stacey said.
There was some concern in the car on the way home, however. Naketta had some tense moments thinking they were going to get hit by other cars, since the Millers were “driving on the wrong side of the road.”
By the time they arrived – safe and sound – in Alexandria, the Millers and Naketta had already begun to bond. When they pulled up to the house, Dan was humbled by her awe in all that Americans have and take for granted.
“I will never forget it,” Dan said. “She said, ‘Everything in America is so big! Does everyone live in mansions?’ ”
Hannah and her temporary sister spent the next five weeks doing typical kid stuff – swimming, camping, running around with the neighbor kids, spending weekends at the lake, shopping, giggling and having a great time.
“We called it the five-week sleepover,” Stacey said with a laugh.
“We got along very well,” Hannah said. “I liked being able to be with somebody every day and not have to call my friends. We got to be really good friends.”
The time flew by and all too soon they had to say goodbye. Not an easy task for a family that had grown to care so much about their guest.
“It was hard,” said Dan. “Five weeks isn’t long but she got to be like family.”
“It was kinda like having one of your best friends move away to a different state or something,” Hannah said, admitting that all three of the Millers broke down and cried – even her dad.
“Shhhh!” Dan joked.
CPNI allows for repeat visits, providing both the child’s family and the host family agree and can raise the funds. However, before Naketta’s visit, the Millers had opted against it.
Their resolve was fleeting.
“We weren’t even out of the Cities and we decided we were going to get her back,” Dan said.
“We got so attached to her,” Stacey agreed, adding that Naketta and her mother agreed to the return visit.
Since Naketta left, she and Hannah have continued their friendship – keeping in contact through e-mail, Facebook, instant messaging and occasional phone calls. Stacey also talks to her about three times a week on the phone.
The Millers have no doubt their time with the little Irish lass gave them as much as it did her. It taught them not to take what they have for granted. They have learned to appreciate living in a country where you are free to believe what you want and are free from religious persecution. And they now know how rewarding it is to do something to help others.
“[We learned] people are people no matter where they live. People are all the same,” Dan concluded, encouraging others to be a part of the program. “The satisfaction you get out of it makes you feel good. It’s nice that we can make a change in the world.”
To be a host family
To host a child from Northern Ireland through the Children’s Program of Northern Ireland, call (651) 405-1108; visit the website www.cpni.org; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the program
The Children’s Program of Northern Ireland (CPNI) was established in 1973 in response to a letter to the editor of the Fargo Forum from a Belfast mother who wanted her son to be free from the violence in Northern Ireland for the summer.
The following year, the Hibbing Rotary Club sponsored 150 children from Northern Ireland for the summer. In 1975 the program moved to the Twin Cities, where it has remained.
Today, CPNI’s cornerstone is a cross-community program that aims to replace centuries-old fear, suspicion and hatred with renewed understanding and respect for differing traditions.
American families can contribute by providing the children with a safe haven where people with diverse religious, cultural and political persuasions live side-by-side in peace.
The children are 10 to 11 years old and come from the Belfast area, where most attend segregated schools. Half the children are from Protestant backgrounds and the other half from Catholic backgrounds.
CPNI does not match children and host families based on religion, but on family interests and personalities.