Lions Club International is well-known for its work helping people with vision issues, but the club does much more and in communities around the world. One of its programs is an exchange student summer program which allows students to choose a country they want to visit, and they are placed with a Lion host for five weeks.
This summer, Fillipo Cencetti, a 16-year-old from Turin, Italy, spent five weeks with Durbin Lions Club members Charles and Carolyn Sheets.
Fillipo learned about the program from his older brothers and his grandmother, who is a member of the Florence Lions Club. He had been to America twice on family vacations, but he chose to return on his own for a different adventure.
“I mainly wanted to learn English and to have the experience,” he said. “I can say five weeks is my longest period without my family, because I’ve been to scout camp for two weeks, and I went to rowing camp.”
While most teenagers see summer as a time to relax and do nothing, Fillipo was eager to see and do as much as he could during his time with the Sheets. They, too, were excited to show Fillipo around and take him on special trips.
“We have done a lot of things – new things for me,” Fillipo said. “We have been to WVU. Then I drove all the things – like the truck and John Deere [tractor] and watercraft.”
Fillipo even took the controls of a small plane, with the Sheets’ son, Martin.
“Martin took him on an airplane ride, and he got to fly the plane,” Charles said. “As for the John Deere tractor – his dad works for Fiat, and Fiat bought out New Holland tractors – so we’re all the time having this discussion about John Deere and Fiat equipment. I’m convincing him that John Deere is the best.”
Fillipo spent a day at the Green Bank Observatory where he met several scientists, took a tour and saw the inner workings of one of the control rooms. The scientists gave him a project, but he said it required knowledge in a field he has yet to study in school.
“We had a tour with three scientists that showed us the observatory and all the stuff,” Fillipo said. “Then we did the tour of the telescope and the tour on the bus.”
“I’d never been in a control room,” Charles added. “That’s cool. You walk through those big doors like you’re in a prison.”
Fillipo rarely sat idle during his time in Green Bank. When there wasn’t a plan for a special trip or tour, Fillipo would help around the house, in the garden and with yard work. As Fillipo explained to his hosts, the opening sentence to the Italian Constitution is, “Italy is a democratic Republic founded on labour.”
“I told him he could come back next summer, I’d find more work for him,” Charles said, laughing. “He’s a hard worker. He connected our phones to the Bluetooth in our truck. He worked on our TVs. He’s helped us a lot.”
“I think we have learned more from Fillipo than he might have learned from us,” Carolyn said. “We are really fortunate to have Fillipo, because we’ve heard some of the sponsors of foreign exchange students say it’s hard to get a student who wants to do anything. We’re so happy to have Fillipo. He just wants to do everything and learn everything.”
On top of his work ethic, Fillipo is handy and managed to take an old bicycle that had seen better days and bring it back to life.
“He made a racing bike out of it,” Carolyn said. “He fixed that thing up and got it running. He worked on it a couple of days. It’s like a new bike now.”
For his last couple weeks, Charles and Carolyn upped the ante with adventure – a white water rafting trip to the New River Gorge. Fillipo is used to rowing on his crew team, but said he was looking forward to going down the rapids.
Next on the agenda is a train trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials and museums before Fillipo has to return home.
Fillipo said he was confused as to why they would take a train when it looked like driving was faster, but Charles explained how difficult traffic can be in D.C.
The trip will be much different than train rides in Italy.
“He’s used to riding fast trains,” Carolyn said.
“They go about 180 miles per hour,” Fillipo said.
Trains are the main form of transportation in Italy, and Fillipo’s mother rides the train to work.
“She’s a judge, and she works in Rome,” Fillipo said. “She works there one week and for one week, she returns home. By train it takes four hours for her to get to Rome.”
His home city of Turin has a population of one million, but Fillipo said he is used to the small towns around the city and he wasn’t too shocked to see how small Green Bank was.
He was, however, surprised by the American version of Italian food.
“The food was more of a shock,” he said.
When they picked up Fillipo at the Pittsburgh airport, Charles and Carolyn stop-ped in Fairmont at the Italian restaurant, Muriale’s.
“We talked to the owners, whose grandparents came here from Italy,” Carolyn said. “Fillipo said the food was good.”
Later, Fillipo cooked dinner for his hosts and gave a tutorial on cooking pasta.
“He bought a bottle of Italian wine, and he cooked the pasta for dinner,” Carolyn said. “It was very good. He showed me how to cook pasta. It’s alway al dente.”
Although his time in Green Bank is coming to an end, Fillipo said he wants to stay in touch with Charles and Carolyn and might even plan a return visit one day.
For now, his goal is to get through high school and his English exam, then on to college to study engineering.