Although they are almost 4,300 miles apart, a video call linked the Donehoo family of St. Charles with their former au pair, Julia Brockmeyer of Hannover, Germany to make a very important announcement in March.
Brockmeyer won the 2017 Cultural Care Au Pair of the Year award, thanks to a letter the family submitted describing her outstanding child care skills.
In the video, Bill Donehoo, the father of 9-year-old Teige and 6-year-old twins Brenn and Finn, announces that he's going to play "20 Questions." He then says he's "thinking of an au pair."
His wife, Cindy Ruesch, their boys, and current au pair have to guess who it is. They go through a series of questions touting Brockmeyer's attributes such as, "Does this au pair like to read dinosaur books with me and play Pokemon Go with me?"
The final question posed by Bill is, "Does this au pair know that she's just been chosen by Cultural Care Au Pair as the winner of the Au Pair of the Year Contest?"
And that's how Brockmeyer found out that not only did she win the contest, but the prize is a flight back to Chicago to reconnect with her host family.
"She didn't know at all that we were going to be presenting that video to her and she was really surprised and happy," Bill said. "It was really cool."
For the contest, Brockmeyer was selected from 330 candidates. They were narrowed down to a top 10 list, and then a final winner was chosen.
"I never thought that I will make it in the top 10 even, and then I found out that I won," Brockmeyer said. "That was just amazing."
The contest was open to au pairs from six continents and 30 countries. Michelle Terlecki, a Cultural Care consultant, said Brockmeyer had great enthusiasm and love for the children.
"She just really became part of the family," Terlecki said. "She put forth 110 percent and really immersed herself in the program."
Ruesch describes Brockmeyer as a person with lots of energy and a great sense of humor. She said she looks forward to her laughter when she returns in August for a one-month stay.
"I don't think there was a day that as a family we weren't laughing about something that she said or did," Ruesch said. "I miss the brightness of her personality and the ease of life when she was with us."
Brockmeyer said she had always dreamed of becoming an au pair and traveling to the U.S. for the cultural experience. The added bonus was gaining a second family.
"Even though I am back in Germany, we communicate nearly every day via Facebook, WhatsApp or email and we Skype every two weeks to stay in touch," Brockmeyer said. "I am so grateful for them. They really are my family."
Brockmeyer was 18 when she left her home to spend a year in the States. From July 2015 to July 2016, she cared for the three Donehoo boys, sharing her German culture, reading books, fishing for trout, running, vacationing and more. To the parents, she was the daughter they never had. And to the boys, a great cook, friend and sister.
"My favorite thing is how she cooked German soup," Teige said. "She's been one of the most awesome au pairs that I've ever had."
"I liked reading chapter books with her and I've also liked playing Pokemon Go with her," added Finn.
Brenn is looking forward to Brockmeyer's return in August.
"I want to fish with her at our pond in our neighborhood," he said.
How the program works
It was a little more than six years ago when Ruesch and Donehoo decided to work with Cultural Care Au Pair, the largest agency in the U.S., to connect them with someone who could help with their then 2-year-old and twins on the way. Each au pair can stay with an American host family for up to two years.
"The vast majority stay for one year," Bill said. "A year away from your family is a long time."
Au pairs come from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Mexico, Canada, Australia and South Africa, and they're given a weekly stipend of about $200. Parents pay a fee to the agency which covers a background check, airfare and training school for a week prior to their arrival.
Currently, the family is on its seventh au pair. Each person has helped provide quality care for their children while they work. Bill is a sales manager for a payment security business and Cindy Ruesch is an administrator in St. Charles School District 303.
Donehoo and Ruesch have developed their own screening process to find new au pairs.
"We go on the Cultural Care website, read the applications, sort for skill set -- whether it's piano playing or someone who has experience with boys -- and then we start the interview process," Bill explained. "We ask about 200 questions over several Skype calls, and we spend about one hour to 90 minutes in each interview."
Their process, though a long one, "has brought in outstanding young ladies who want the American experience and want to be with a great host family," Bill said.
He added that they had a list of 10 candidates when they first came across Brockmeyer's application, and knew she was the one.
"As soon as we read her application and watched her video, we were excited because we felt she would fit really well in our family," he said.
Read more about the big win and the program here: http://culturalcare.com/blog/2017-au-pair-of-the-year/
To connect with the Cultural Care Au Pair Program, visit mterlecki.aupairnews.com.