Driving thousands of miles every year across Arizona, Pine resident Edie Miller is a key factor in bringing a taste of exotic foreign cultures to Rim Country.
She spends a great deal of her time bringing foreign exchange students to the Payson community, not just to attend our schools and benefit from the more individual teaching that smaller schools and class sizes offer, but benefit for the community as well.
She said a positive attitude on the part of the school district makes it easier than it could be to bring students here.
"I want to thank the Payson Unified School District for accepting the students the EF Foundation brings to Rim Country," said Miller.
Miller is quick to give credit to others, despite the long hours she puts in.
She is one of those people who prefer to let others be in front of the camera while she does the behind-the-scenes work that often is the key factor in the success or failure of an endeavor.
"It's not so much that I don't want any of the credit for the work I do," said Miller. "It's just that I don't want to be the one up in front giving thank-you speeches and having to be in front of a bunch of people."
While she doesn't seek the limelight, Miller nonetheless has a passion for what she does.
Miller is the Payson area coordinator for the nonprofit organization, Education First Foundation for Foreign Study. Miller said she receives no compensation for her work, save reimbursement for expenses and some perks.
She racks up about 2,000 miles a year driving all over the state, interviewing host families and getting them through State Department red tape, and has a seemingly never-ending supply of energy when it comes to uniting families and students.
During the last five years, Miller has arranged bringing no less than eight foreign exchange students to Rim Country.
For example, this year Miller helped bring 16-year-olds Joshua Hegenauer and Tori Belohlawek, both from Germany, to stay with families in Payson and Pine while attending Payson High School.
Miller said she does it for varying reasons, but primarily she does it because it makes her feel like she is helping the kids get a broader education through their exposure to different cultures, and because the community in Payson also benefits from the exposure to people and customs they might otherwise never experience.
"I really cherish the relationships I've made with some of the students who have come to Payson," said Miller. "Three of them came back here for a visit last summer, so that is kind of what drives me."
She said she still regularly hears from other students she helped place in Rim Country.
"There was one who went on to law school after he left here, " said Miller.
"He's come back to visit friends in Payson three times and I've met with him each time and caught up on what he's doing now."
She stays in touch with a lot of the students she has helped bring to Rim Country, but when the opportunity to go visit them in their home country presents itself, she is quick to take advantage of it.
Miller and three of her fellow EF foundation coordinators had the opportunity last year to go to Europe and rekindle relationships with some of the students they placed during the last nearly two decades.
"We visited 17 students that have been placed through the organization over the last 10 to 15 years," she said.
"I got to visit two of the ones I placed in Payson and it was just a thrill to see them again," Miller said.
"It was nice because I got to have dinner with them and find out what they have done and how they've gone on with their lives," she added.
She said that while she enjoys reuniting with past students, she also looks forward every year to the new relationships she will make with new students and host families.
The 2007-2008 school year is approaching an end, and in just a few months the foreign exchange students now living with families in Rim Country will return to their homes and go back to their local high schools or go on to college.
Miller said this year is no different than past ones and she is once again excited at the prospect of starting the process over again.
True to her character, Miller has taken up the gauntlet and is now working towards matching students with host families for the 2008-2009 school year.
"I just started, like yesterday," she joked. "We're having a meeting in February to review all the applications that have come in."
"I have one family that is for sure, and others that are interested," said Miller.
Miller said she has thoroughly enjoyed the last five years, as she has personally placed eight students with families in Rim Country, and has no plans to stop anytime soon.
"I am going to keep on doing this as long as I'm healthy enough to continue," pronounced Miller.