Samantha Jones, a freshman honor student at Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy in Forest Park, has been seeking travel and adventure her whole life. On June 30, she’ll realize her dreams. Jones has been accepted into the prestigious People to People Student Ambassador Program. She will serve as an American student representative during a 20-day European tour.

During her travels through France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy, Jones will stroll down the Champs-Elysees, prepare gourmet Austrian meals and be serenaded as she cruises the canals of Venice. The People to People Program was started by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who believed ordinary citizens of different nations should meet face-to-face to overcome their differences. He said that ambassadors would return home with a greater sense of what it means to be a good neighbor and an international citizen.

The program has been so influential that Walt Disney created his “It’s A Small World” attraction after participating in a People to People Conference. Disney’s theme was that citizens of the world had differences but shared the same core values.

Growing up in the “small world” of Forest Park, Jones learned to be “welcoming to other cultures and races.” She was also a good student, who began receiving People to People invitations as far back as fifth grade. With visions of Paris in her head, Jones mounted a giant poster of the Eiffel Tower in her bedroom. She also studied foreign languages at the Middle School.

“Springtime in Paris,” as fate would have it, was the theme for the Middle School’s Eighth Grade Dance. Jones helped out her parents and the dance committee by loaning her Paris poster as a decoration for the dance.

By this time, Jones had often asked her mother for permission to join People to People but, due to the high cost, her only response was “no.” Her parents’ answer changed gradually to, “We’ll look into it.” Finally, they agreed to raise the $5,300 to pay for the trip.

How would they get the money? Jones and her family began selling fundraiser boxes of candy bars to friends, relatives and bowling buddies. So far, they have sold fifteen boxes. Jones has also received permission to sell candy at Proviso Math and Science Academy. Of the 134 students at the Academy, 18 are from Forest Park. Jones enjoys attending high school with her childhood friends. She also finds the curriculum challenging, with courses in Physics, Algebra and, of course, French.

Rick Bryant, Co-Principal of the Academy said, “We have a selective admission process and intend every student to get to college.” Bryant believes Jones’ participation in the People to People program will increase her chances of being accepted to the college of her choice. Bryant realizes, though, “It’s going to take quite a bit of initiative to make it happen.”

Jones is an independent, self-starter with initiative to spare; a reflection of her parent’s can-do spirit. At her new school, Jones and her mother have already volunteered to recruit members for the Academy’s Parent Student Teacher Association.

Like her mother, Jones is a life-long Forest Parker. Her family has lived in town for half a century and Jones took her first steps in her grandmother’s house on Thomas. A few years later, she was learning her first dance steps at Forest Park’s Panda Studios. “I took tap, jazz and ballet from the time I was five until sixth grade.”

At Field-Stevenson and Middle School, Jones maintained good grades, while playing on the volleyball and softball teams. She also got along well with faculty members. When I told my teachers about the program,” Jones said, “They were happy to write letters of recommendation for me.” Three Middle School teachers sent these letters in sealed envelopes to the People to People Program.

Jones did her part by completing a 13-page application and compiling her school transcripts. However, when she brought these materials to Triton Auditorium and saw it packed with applicants to the People to People program, she got a little worried. Thankfully, her performance during the interview process allowed her to make the cut along with forty other Chicago-area students.

After they were accepted, the applicants began meeting monthly. “I’m getting to know the other kids,” Jones said, “And we’re working on research projects.” The prospective travelers are learning more about the U.S. so they can pass on the information. They’ve also been asked to gather American artifacts to give to the European families who are hosting them. Jones is considering gifts of Ferrara Pan candy and t-shirts.

When Jones takes her tour, she plans to study historic churches in Italy. She hopes her travels will prepare her for her career choice: hotel management. “I want to learn to interact with all different kinds of people,” she said, “I’m hoping to learn about new cultures and how they live.”

Jones is the eldest of two girls in her family. The family is extremely close and Jones has only been away from home once by herself. “I went away last summer and really missed my family.” To avoid homesickness during her extended trip to Europe, the group will have a “calling tree” so that Jones can call home once a day.

The Jones family has already solicited donations from local businesses and community groups. For others who would like to help, checks made payable to People to People can be sent to Jones at 933 Circle Avenue.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.