A Home Away from Home

June 3, 2024

Sophomore Lucia Gonzalez is pursuing her bachelor’s degree quite a distance from her home in Madrid, Spain. “As I was entering my sophomore year at Mount Marty University as an international transfer student, I was looking for a place where I could be involved in the community around the school,” explained Gonzalez. “I wanted to be able to have a home away from home, and I found that family in the Haynes’ from day one.”

The Mount Marty Hospitality Family program was established to further exercise the university’s core value of hospitality, help make the college transition and experience smoother for students, and provide a connection to the Yankton community. Chris and Ashley Haynes have been enrolled in the Hospitality Family Program for two years now and have embraced a different student each year. “We like helping kids, meeting new people, and developing relationships with youth,” Ashley Haynes said. “This was a way for us to share the community that we love with the university.”

The Haynes family and Gonzalez were connected through the program this school year and were both impacted in more ways than they originally expected. “I was expecting just some company from them, but they really became my family,” said Gonzalez. “Having the chance to have a place where you feel like home makes me feel really grateful. They have been there to talk to me when needed, came to support me at my games, and every time they could they gave me a call to join their plans.” Gonzalez also appreciated having people around to go to for advice while away at college. “I felt like I was part of the family really fast, and that means the world to me and to my parents.”

The Haynes children were also very involved in the program and enjoyed spending time with Gonzalez. “College students love a home cooked meal. We do dinner at our home a lot,” mentioned Haynes. “One night we were grilling, and we had Lu and her friend Nacho help as they have never grilled before. Our daughter Ally’s favorite memory was when Lucia dropped the burger she was grilling!”

Other memories the children shared of their time with Gonzalez were when she wasn’t able to go home for spring break to see her family, and so the Haynes’ invited her to watch their kids play basketball in Omaha. This was their son Cooper’s favorite memory as well as Gonzalez’s, while their other son Connor’s favorite memory was playing soccer in the house with Gonzalez and Ignacio Gómez Vázquez (Nacho). Nacho is a sophomore as well and originally from Seville, Spain who is also a part of the hospitality program with his own host family.

Having a student join the Haynes’ lives has positively impacted them in more ways than one. “The international culture of Lucia and her friend Nacho created a wonderful experience for our family. We learned so much about their Spanish culture, way of life, the language, societal, and even political and geographical comparisons,” Haynes recounted. “Beyond those components, Lucia and her friend Nacho are great role models for our kids. They put their academics first, work hard as both athletes and students, and have a strong faith. They emulate those qualities in ways we want our kids to grow up and become.”

And for Gonzalez, she found her desired home away from home. “The hospitality program enriches both the student and the family, as it is a great opportunity to learn about other cultures and it helps you develop in all ways possible. It is a gift to be able to have lunch with a family on Sundays, the day I used to spend with my Spanish family back home.”

To learn more about the Hospitality Families Program, visit the MMU Hospitality Family Guide Overview. To sign up to be a Hospitality Family, register here.