Family photographs fill the fireplace mantel in Dana and Ginny Cohen’s home. The images brim with smiling faces at weddings and informal gatherings. But this is only the global edition of the Cohen family.
Since 1989, the Cohens, who lived in Andover for 17 years before moving to East Gloucester, have hosted numerous children through AFS Intercultural Programs, an outgrowth of American Field Service, created in 1914 during World War I.
Over the last quarter-century, the couple has taken in a veritable United Nations of students from four continents, starting while living in Andover with two students from Germany and Spain through a Girl Scouts International program. From there, the floodgates were opened to students from Sweden, Argentina, Finland, Thailand, France, Brazil, Slovakia and beyond.
Their most recent “children,” who just completed a year at Gloucester High School as honor students, hailed from Egypt and Spain.
Farrah Moussa joined the household as part of the Youth Exchange and Study program, run through the Department of State, which provides a one-year scholarship for teens from countries with significant Muslim populations. The program was started in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Paula Valverde, meanwhile, arrived from Spain through the traditional AFS program.
Soon, they both will be embarking on the next chapter in their lives. Moussa will return to North America in the fall as a college student at Quest University in Vancouver, while Valverde will start her senior year of high school in Spain.
The Cohens, who also have hosted students through Rotary International and the A Better Chance program, take their jobs of parenting very seriously. They say the exchange students become more like family members than guests in their home.
“We love parenting. It keeps us young and we learn about the world,” said Dana Cohen, an optician by trade.