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Congratulations Robert Isemer, Professional Au Pair of the Year!

International Au Pair of the Year 2016 Winner, Robert Isemer, a German professional au pair with a degree in sports medicine and early childhood education spent a year living with the Thurman family of Ashland, Virginia. Caring for 10 year old Alex who has special needs, Robert touched the lives of his host family and the entire community.

Robert Isemer, from Lütjenburg, studied at the Christian-Albrecht-Universität Kiel

Our family’s au pair, Robert Isemer, epitomizes the perfect au pair in so many ways.

Upon his arrival, Robert overcame extreme health challenges. Just a week after his arrival to the United States, Robert (an athlete with an undergraduate in physical education) had a sudden onset of shortness of breath while swimming at our community YMCA. My husband took him to the emergency room where Robert was diagnosed with a spontaneous pneumothorax (collapsed lung). The hospital called in a thoracic surgeon who immediately put in a chest tube into the side of Robert’s lung to re-inflate it. Throughout this harrowing experience, Robert was most concerned about us and the impact to his ability to work- which we insisted was the least of our worries. After spending five days in intensive care in the local hospital, Robert was discharged and soon thereafter caught a nasty case of the flu. He made a speedy recovery and started work with vigor and enthusiasm.

We have a ten year old son - who has a great sense of humor, a curious nature, and also happens to have a very rare syndrome and autism. Robert was instrumental in providing natural supports for Alex to be an active part of family, school, and community. Robert was an extremely active participant in Alex’s schoolwork. Robert researched methodologies and implemented them to modify Alex’s curriculum so Alex could better participate in the general education classroom, versus in a segregated setting. Robert created a number of multi-modal materials, so Alex could better comprehend and retain the curriculum- in fact, Alex’s spelling tests improved from Cs and Ds to As and Bs during Robert’s stay. Moreover, Robert attended educational conferences (volunteering on Saturdays during his time off) that provided strategies (i.e., positive behavior supports, authentic inclusion and friendship) to better support people with disabilities. Robert volunteered at Alex’s elementary school where he served as a male role model while working with at-risk youth. Robert was an active participant with Alex’s Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) provider to improve Alex’s challenging behavior. Robert taught Alex many life skills, such as independently fastening a seat belt (which enabled Alex to participate in the car pool lane instead of segregated pickup location), putting on his socks and shoes, and bathing. Alex has frequent medical issues and Robert supported him while preserving Alex’s pride and dignity.

Robert had had some exposure to children with disabilities prior to his arrival in the U.S. Like many people, though, Robert wanted to actively engage with people with disabilities, but he wasn’t sure how to act or what to say. During his stay with our family, Robert came to know and be friends with many people with disabilities. He came to the realization that people with disabilities want the same things that people without disabilities want- to laugh, to love and be loved, to have genuine friends with mutual interests, to feel safe, to live independently, and, in essence, to belong. During his stay with our family, Robert strongly advocated for people with disabilities- he wrote campaign letters to local and state level politicians, joined rallies to raise awareness for improved supports and services, and volunteered with local organizations that provided social opportunities for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Robert encouraged our family in our journey to a healthier lifestyle including researching recipes for the host grandmother who has diabetes and the host father who has high cholesterol, making the weekly menu (that often comprised of German recipes from his family, and often shopping at various stores to obtain locally sourced organic food). He supported his host Mom’s participation in CrossFit- in fact, Robert studied for and received his CrossFit Instructor Level 1 Certification. Robert started our son on a pathway of a lifelong healthy path by starting an exercise program to improve Alex’s sensory integration and overall health. Robert made lifelong friends with the members of the local CrossFit gym- many would comment to us how encouraging and what an inspiration he was during workouts. Amazingly, in Robert’s last week, the CrossFit gym hosted a Bon Voyage party with over 50 people who fondly said their goodbyes to Robert.

Above all, Robert was kind as a professional au pair. I tried to explain to him once the nuance I believe exists in the English language between the words nice vs. kind. To me, niceness stems from the brain whereas kindness comes from the heart- in other words, kindness is a genuine and authentic desire to support others to feel loved and feel they belong. Margaret Cho once said “Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways it can change someone else’s life forever.” Robert Isemer, our family’s au pair, certainly changed our family’s life forever in so many positive ways and for that we are eternally grateful.