Sharon and Larry Bay don’t have kids in the house anymore, but for three weeks in the summer, their home is far from an empty nest. Sharon, a long-time member of Rotary District 5340, and her husband graciously open their home each year to host young musicians from all over the world as part of Rotary International Youth Exchange’s MusiCamp and SDYS’ International Youth Symphony program.
Each summer, San Diego Youth Symphony partners with Rotary Youth Exchange to host the International Youth Symphony. Accomplished young musicians from across the globe are selected to participate in the summer program, which involves two weeks of rehearsals in Balboa Park and culminates in professional-level performances for the community. The third and final week of the program is filled with fun activities around San Diego for the students to enjoy—including Sea World, the San Diego Zoo, surfing lessons, and more.
“The program is unique in that it is the only Rotary Youth Exchange program in the world conducted in partnership with a non-Rotary organization—San Diego Youth Symphony & Conservatory,” says Gary McElroy, a fellow member of Rotary District 5340, who helps organize the program each year and coordinates host families for the visiting students. “This very successful partnership since 2005 has met the objectives of Rotary Youth Exchange to allow students to experience new cultures, build lasting friendships with young people from around the world, and develop lifelong leadership skills to become global citizens.”
Sharon Bay has been involved with the Rotary for nearly nine years, serving on several committees in that time. She has always been most interested in youth and music programs—so when Gary McElroy asked if she would like to host two students in 2013, Sharon thought it would be fun and accepted.
“Gary set us up with Jonas (from Germany) and Jon, from Canada,” Sharon says. “The boys got along great and it was a pleasure to see how they got along together. They were both violinists and they supported each other.”
Since then, Sharon and Larry have hosted international musicians for the past six years and developed lasting friendships with them along the way.
“The third year, Jonas contacted me and asked if it would be okay if Paula, his sister, came to stay with us,” Sharon recalls. “Larry and I were honored that he felt so comfortable (with us) and he wanted his sister to stay with us, and of course we would host her.”
The Bays ultimately hosted four of the six Mueller children over the years (Jonas, Paula, Clara, and Klaus) and became close friends with the entire family. When the Bays had an opportunity to travel to Europe, Sharon and Larry made a point of stopping in Germany to visit the Mueller family, who were happy to host them for a change.
“We were there five days, and we just went wherever they went,” Sharon says. “We were just part of the family. They did some touring and showing us around. Jonas, Clara and Paula had a concert that we went to. This was right before we hosted Clara. We got to meet her before she came here (for the IYS program) and she was already signed up to be staying with us, so that was really fun.”
The program has fostered global friendships and kinships, between the young musicians who practice and perform together, and between the students and their hosts as well. The Bay and Mueller families are an inspiring example of the power that this special partnership has in bringing families together.
“Rotary is about peace,” Sharon says. “One of the things that’s important for us to know is that there are people from other countries who have different thoughts, but we’re a lot alike. We can learn from them and to be open to knowing our world could be a better place. It’s important for the kids to get together too, because they have so much in common. Even though their languages might be different, they still share a love for music.”