Thursday, October 30, 2008

People to People Rant

A while back I told you about the Island Girl being invited to join the People to People Student Ambassador program and about what a wonderful opportunity it would be for her. She would be going to Italy, Rome and Greece this coming summer and get to see and experience things through that program that most tourists don't have access to. The letter she received stated they would repel off the walls of old Pompeii, spend the night with a family in Italy, make a pizza with a Sicilian chef, tour the Sistine Chapel, take a cruise to Greece, spend the night on a private island in the Mediterranean and a lot of other things.

The letter gave the website info for the People to People program and we spent hours picking through every page of the website looking for cost information. There was none. Not a word was mentioned. There was a lot of talk about how this is a government sanctioned program and the US President is the Chairman and only a select few kids are invited each year and only 40 kids would be going on this trip - but still no mention of cost. Common sense told us that it must cost something but after finding no information about that at all we decided that it must be government funded. After all, the letter we received stated repeatedly that she'd been "invited" to represent the US as a student ambassador.

The Island Girl spent all of August and some of September absolutely on top of the world with excitement.

The first orientation meeting was in September and when we arrived we were really surprised to see close to 200 kids there. And then we were even more surprised when we were given a handout explaining that she'd only been "invited to apply" - along with 200 other kids from our area.

And then came the really shocking news. This trip costs $6500 with another $600 in other charges, coming to a grand total of $7100. To say that we were stunned is putting it mildly. I looked around and saw a LOT of stunned faces in that room so it wasn't only me.

But there sat our straight A, beautiful, smart, funny daughter, who's never been in trouble a day in her life, wanting to go on this trip more than she's ever wanted anything. And of course we agreed that if she passed the oral interview we would move Heaven and Earth to see that she went.

A few weeks went by and the Island King took her to the interview. Which consisted of 10 kids sitting in a room, where they were asked 3 questions.
1. Will you be able to raise the money to go?
2. Have you ever flown before?
3. Do you have a passport?

What? That's not an interview. And the more I thought about it, the madder I got. That wasn't an interview, that was to see who, out of the 200 kids that received the letter, could afford to go.

And then came the real kicker. The trip doesn't take place until June of next year but all money must be paid by February 15. And it has to be paid in monthly installments. $500 in October, $1000 in November, $2000 in December, $2500 in January and the rest in February. I don't even have until at least April or May to raise this money.

We were given the address for a "fund raising" site set up by the People to People organization and let me tell you, that site was a joke. They had 4 suggestions on there and the suggestions were things like sell candles and talk to local businesses and promise to wear t-shirts advertising that business in return for sponsorship. They also mentioned that United Airlines offered 5 $1000 scholarships, awarded to winners of an essay contest but even if you got that scholarship it wouldn't be awarded until May. And again, the last payment is due in February.

The Island King and I spent hours trying to figure out how to make this trip happen for her. My parents spent hours trying to figure out how to help. My relatives offered to help but we are talking about $7100 and that doesn't include clothing, an international cell phone deal (which she would have to have) or spending money.

Finally, the realization came that even with the help offered, there was no way we could afford this trip.

And then I had to do the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a parent (or as a human being for that matter) and that was tell her she couldn't go. I had to look my beautiful daughter in the eye and tell her that I just couldn't make this happen for her. She took it really well. She cried some but she understands that this is a lot of money and that we just can't do it.

And now I'm mad. Actually, mad doesn't even begin to cover it. I feel like by not putting any cost info on their website and by repeating over and over that this is a government sponsored program, I have been emotionally blackmailed.
I feel like we were mislead up until the meeting so that we would get really excited about our child being offered such an opportunity and then by the time we found out how much it cost it would be too late. After all, what parent wants to deny their child an opportunity of a lifetime? Who wouldn't act impulsively and max out their credit card or cash in a 401k or take out a loan so they didn't have to look at their child and say "Sorry, we just can't afford this"?

I am so F@%^&#&* mad about this that I can't see straight. I'm mad at myself for believing the program was government funded. I'm mad at myself for letting my daughter get so excited about something that I can't afford to send her on. I'm mad at myself for not being able to afford to send her. But most of all, I'm mad at People to People. Why on earth isn't there anything on their website about the cost? If I had known up front I would have decided if I could afford it and if I couldn't I would never have shown her that letter and let her get her hopes up.

And that's where the real kicker comes in. They KNOW that if they tell you up front about the cost that a lot of kids won't go. They KNOW that once your child is excited and pumped up about the trip that you'll do whatever you can to finance the trip. They KNOW you'll feel like a terrible parent if you deny your child this opportunity. They KNOW this and they use it. It's emotional blackmail of the worst kind.

I spent an hour crying and feeling like a horrible parent the other night because if we had more money she could go. But the Island King and I talked for hours and he helped me realize that I'm not a horrible parent. $7100 is a LOT of money and most kids don't get to take a $7100 vacation. We don't have a lot of money but we are good parents. I want to give my children the world but that's not possible - for any parent. What they do get are two parents who love and nurture them. Who spend time with them, make sacrifices for them and who treat them with respect and dignity. They have a roof over their heads, food to eat, clothes to wear, and a little spending money when they want it. I am not a horrible parent.

So today I'm writing a letter to People to People. I'm going to tell them exactly what I think about their misleading information and their tactics. And I'm really glad that their office is on the other side of the country because if they were closer I would tell them in person and as mad as I am, I'm just not sure how that would end up. Not well, I'm sure.

Shooo! I know that was long winded but I really needed to vent. Thanks for listening - it really does help.
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