BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — If you drive down McKinely Parkway, you’ll see a different sight, one you may see in a larger city than Buffalo – flags from countries all over the world flying on light posts and decorating a lawn at the intersection of Ridgeway.
They’re there for a special reason.
“We’ll go on the bus sometimes and some of the kids are still wiping the tears from their eyes from the emotion of seeing their country’s flag,” said David Voorhees, the man who hangs the flags. “They really appreciate it.”
Voorhees and his wife, Mary Ann, have been playing host to students involved in an exchange program called Youth For Understanding for nearly three decades. When they first started hosting a few students through the program, they put out a couple of flags. The next year, they realized they weren’t sure where the students were coming from, so they put out some more. And now, there are 99 of them.
“We have kids from all over from Asia, Russia, Cech Republic, all over South America,” said Mary Ann. “That our family. These are the flags that represent our family.”
The students come to the U.S. for a year and take field trips all over including one to Buffalo. They need a place to stay and the Voorhees open their doors, some years having as many as 40 students sleeping in every spare room and space in their South Buffalo home. They have commissioned some neighbors to participate now, too.
“The fact everybody gets along is the main thing,” said David. “That’s what makes this work.”
Even though the trip to Western New York lasts three days, the Voorhees family has created lifelong friendships with the students they’ve had stay with them. After 27 years playing host, the family says they think this will be their last year and they’ll be switching roles – planning a global trip, visiting former exchange students and being their guests.
The family says hosting the students has changed their lives and given them a new outlook.
“It’s really hard to be mad at a country when you know there is somebody in that country you love,” said Mary Ann. “You understand their traditions and cultures.”