What she calls “a chance of a lifetime” begins on Saturday, Aug. 25, when 16-year-old Amillion “Millie” Denise Powell lands in Paris, France. Waiting for her will be her three host sisters – the Berthe girls – Deede, Anouk and Malou.
From Paris they will drive the 280 or so miles to their home in the coastal city of Saint Brieuc in Brittany and that will begin Millie’s year away from home as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. What would have been her junior year at Austin-East High School will now be spent in a school near the English Channel.
“I am so excited – so very excited. It’s almost unreal to know this is happening. It’s just a huge opportunity for me and I would not be able to do this without Rotary. It is incredible,” Millie says. “This is going to change my life.”
For the first time, Knoxville’s six Rotary clubs have come together along with Rotary District 6780 to raise more than $10,000 to fully fund Millie’s year abroad and any accompanying expenses. Those clubs are the Rotary Club of Bearden, the Rotary Club of Farragut, the Knoxville Breakfast Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Knoxville, the North Knox Rotary Club and the Volunteer Rotary Club.
For many years Rotary clubs here have sponsored only students from Webb School, Farragut, West, Carter and Powell high schools to spend a year overseas, but all inbound Rotary Exchange students from abroad have spent their year at Webb. The Knoxville clubs decided two years ago to select a deserving student from an underserved population to be an Exchange student overseas.
Farragut Rotarian Bill Nichols chairs the District 6780 Outbound Rotary Youth Exchange Program for the district’s 65 clubs. He was an integral part of developing this new program for the Knoxville clubs. “We saw and felt a need to do this and all of the clubs here unanimously decided to support it,” he said. “And Millie is a great choice.”
Two other players in this were Tanisha Baker, a member of the Volunteer Rotary Club, and Antonio Mays. Both are with Project Grad at the school. They both recommended Millie, who was then interviewed by a committee of Rotarians and ultimately selected for the Exchange program. They also interviewed her mother, Keiko Mack. “Kiki” – as she is called – is head of security at the Clinton Highway Target store and is a single parent. They live just behind Austin-East.
“As soon I was first told about this opportunity for Millie I wanted her to do it,” KiKi says. “This will be life changing for her – as a person and educationally. She’s an introvert and a pretty typical teenager who’s not a self-starter. But she’s a loving and caring person and loves animals.”
Millie says her mom is correct. “I am very shy and introverted and I am hoping this next year will allow me to come out of my shell and be more outgoing and be comfortable in different situations and broaden me,” she said. “I want this exchange year to help me let other students understand that there are opportunities out there and that you have to go out and find them.”
“I also want this year to help me become less picky about what I eat,” she added.
Millie has learned much about discipline and teamwork as a part of Austin-East’s ROTC program for two years. A-E offers only Spanish classes so Millie needed to learn French. Part of the Rotary sponsorship includes paying for her French lessons and a laptop computer that she will take with her.
Another part of her preparation is required Rotary training during this past year. She has attended weekend training sessions at four different locations and met all of the other 10 outbound students from Knoxville and District 6780. She will be reunited with them in Europe when they take trips together. She also must visit the French Consulate office before she leaves.
Millie is honest about what’s ahead. “I’m very scared. I’ve been away from my mom some, but not much, and I have some close friends here and it will be hard to leave them,” she said. “Yes, I’ll be homesick, no doubt.”
Millie will celebrate her 17th birthday on French soil on Jan. 16, 2019.
When asked about her future plans after graduating from Austin-East, she said she may attend the University of Tennessee and is interested in teaching elementary school.
“I’m also going to miss my two favorite TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy and Law & Order,” she said.
So, I checked – French TV carries both shows.