October 16, 2019

Lyme Fire Company Honors a Very Special Volunteer

 On May 30, 2014, International Student Exchange Exchange Student Erick Saenz of Chihuahua, Mexico received the "Rookie of the Year" Award for outstanding volunteer service to the Lyme Fire Company of Lyme, CT. Left to right, John Evans, Co-Engineer; Mark Wayland, 1st Assistant Chief of Hadlyme; Jamie Leatherbee, 1st Assistant Chief of Hamburg; Erick Saenz; and Tom Brown, Fire Chief.

On May 30, 2014, International Student Exchange Exchange Student Erick Saenz of Chihuahua, Mexico received the “Rookie of the Year” Award for outstanding volunteer service to the Lyme Fire Company of Lyme, CT. Pictured above are, from left to right, John Evans, Co-Engineer; Mark Wayland, 1st Assistant Chief of Hadlyme; Jamie Leatherbee, 1st Assistant Chief of Hamburg; Erick Saenz; and Tom Brown, Fire Chief.

Early last August, 17-year-old Erick Saenz of Chihuahua, Mexico, didn’t think that his plan to be an exchange student in the United States through International Student Exchange (ISE) was going to work out; he hadn’t been matched with a host family yet, and school in America would be starting soon.  His alternate plan was to begin college studying civil engineering, all the while practicing English.

Little did he know that, in Lyme, Conn., Caitlin Courtney would be selling T-shirts at the Hamburg Fair, a Grange fair with over 100 years of tradition and a strong local following.  Across the aisle of the vendor tent, Courtney recognized a local parent seeking host families for foreign exchange students to attend Lyme-Old Lyme High School, her alma mater.  “My Mom’ll take a student…maybe two!” she told the representative confidently as she picked up some brochures to show her.

Caitlin’s mother, Robin Courtney, didn’t make it to the fair… but she did look over the International Student Exchange material and decide that maybe this could be an interesting experience.  They could host a girl as a companion for eighth grader Brooke or a boy for Austin.  They decided on a boy because Robin’s former father-in-law, Dwight Stevenson, and a family friend, Robert Feeney, also live in the household.  And in Erick’s application letter to a potential host family, he wrote of his first experience deer hunting.  He sounded like a good match for the Courtney clan.

Erick did not arrive in Connecticut until Sept. 15, the second week of school.  But if he thought he could relax and settle in, on any level, he was wrong.  Host brother Austin, then 15-years-old, is a member of the Lyme Junior Volunteer Fire Department; the very first Tuesday night he was here, Sept. 17, Erick was at a fire department meeting; the following Sunday, he marched in a parade in Windsor, Conn., in uniform.

Celebrating Erick's  award are, from left to right, Bob Morin, member of the Lyme Fire Company and fiance of Robin Courtney, Erick's host mother; Jamie Leatherbee, 1st Assistant Chief of Hamburg; Erick Saenz; Tom Brown, Fire Chief; and Austin Courtney, member of the Lyme Fire Company and Erick's host brother.

Celebrating Erick’s award are, from left to right, Bob Morin, member of the Lyme Fire Company and fiance of Robin Courtney, Erick’s host mother; Jamie Leatherbee, 1st Assistant Chief of Hamburg; Erick Saenz; Tom Brown, Fire Chief; and Austin Courtney, member of the Lyme Fire Company and Erick’s host brother.

At first, Erick was a little afraid of participating in this large group and worried about understanding all this spoken English during so many new activities.  But the Lyme Fire Department is important to Austin as well as to Robin Courtney’s fiance, Bob Morin, and Erick soon made friends in the fire department who would also be friends at Lyme-Old Lyme High School.

His attendance at meetings and participation in activities such as Steak Night, Breakfast with Santa, and various training activities served him well in another respect.  International Student Exchange requires all their students to perform five hours of community service.

By the time April rolled around and the ISE Regional Director requested the total number of community service hours from students, Erick’s had reached … 90!  His total by early June has reached 120 hours.

For this remarkable volunteer effort, thanks to Austin and Bob, Erick was surprised to receive the “Rookie of the Year Award at the annual Lyme Fire Company awards dinner on May 30.  As Chief Tom Brown said, “This is a big deal, but we’re all in agreement on who should get it this year.”  The plaque reads, “Rookie of the Year 2013-2014, presented to Erick Saenz for Outstanding Participation and Enthusiasm Your First Year.  May 30, 2014.”  This was a very proud moment for Erick and all his family.

The Lyme Fire Department provided many new experiences for Erick, but, of course, there were numerous others with his host family.  He learned to snowboard on various trips over the winter, many to the home of Robin’s sister in NewYork; Caitlin recalls that the first time was quite an experience, and that snow tubing in New Jersey was fun, too. For another weather extreme, in April he went on a cruise with his host family to the Bahamas and visited Florida. His travels on this trip have also taken him to Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, and Massachusetts.

Erick celebrated his 18th birthday with his host family shortly after his arrival.  He celebrated his first Thanksgiving as well as Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter with them.

He will be greatly missed by all the extended family, who report they are now planning their trip to Mexico!

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Comments

  1. Monique Durant says

    What a beautiful story, Michele. This tells th wonderful story of our experience with Erick!

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