Steamboat Springs When the floods hit Colorado’s Front Range in mid-September, Estes Park was one of the places hit the hardest. The town's position above the Big Thompson Canyon placed it uncomfortably close to the rushing waters. In five days, Estes Park received as much rain as it typically does all year. Many residents had to evacuate the area and still are waiting to return to their homes.
One of those evacuees, however, will not be going home. In fact, she has found a new home in Steamboat Springs — at least for the remainder of her stay in the United States. Her name is Melina "Mila" Stennert, and she is a 17-year-old exchange student from Sweden who is participating in the yearlong Rotary Youth Exchange program.
Stennert initially was placed in Estes Park for her exchange in August, and five weeks later, the floods hit and she was forced to leave the friends and family whom she already had become close with.
"The hardest part was that it all happened so fast," Stennert explained.
She and her host family were told they had 36 hours to pack up and leave. Rather than feeling scared, Stennert said the new experience was exhilarating. She firmly believes that everything happens for a reason, so she plans to embrace the adventure.
Evacuated on Sept. 19, Stennert spent a few days in Wyoming on a Rotary student program before arriving in Steamboat to meet her new family.
The Lichtenfels, including Theresa, Tom and their daughter Margaret, were happy to welcome Stennert to Steamboat. Because of Margaret's previous youth summer exchange program experience through Rotary, the family already had successfully completed the necessary paperwork and background checks. They were contacted immediately when Stennert needed a host family, and after a quick family discussion, the Lichtenfels agreed it would be fun to welcome Stennert into their home.
"It's like having an older sister at home," said Margaret, who is now a sophomore at Steamboat Springs High School. Margaret's older sisters live away from home now, so she enjoys having another girl to hang out with. Stennert will stay with the family through Christmas before rotating to a new host home in Steamboat.
Although they were concerned for those affected by the flooding, Stennert's family members in Sweden remained positive, believing the situation would all work out after being assured their daughter was in good hands.
Stennert has been in Steamboat about two weeks now. At first, she was worried she wouldn't be able to find any friends, especially in the madness surrounding the recent homecoming festivities, but she said she has been overwhelmed by the kindness of the students who have welcomed her.
Stennert describes herself as happy. She loved the friends she made in Estes Park and plans to keep in touch with them, but the prospect of a new adventure is exciting.
"I get to do the things I love now," Stennert said.
An avid skier and tennis player, Stennert can't wait for the snow to fly and the ski season to start, and she looks forward to finishing out her Rotary exchange in Steamboat.
Madison Ruppel, a senior at Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a fall intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.