At just 24 years old, Jennifer (Jenny) Reisdorf of Koblenz, Germany, has already interned at a kindergarten, worked as a teacher, run her own Girl Scout troop, managed a children’s camp at a zoo, lived in Australia for a year as an au pair, and volunteered with kids in a homeless shelter in Namibia. Today, she is living and working with a host family in the U.S. as part of the U.S. Department of State’s J1 au pair program.
Jenny arrived in the U.S. in February 2017 and went to live with a family in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Jenny’s host family lives on a military base. Her host father is a career Army officer who is currently deployed overseas, which means Jenny is the second “parent” in the household – helping her host mom, Mara, care for the family’s two children: 12-year-old Sally Ann and 14-year old JP, who has special needs.
Jenny first learned about the J1 au pair program online. She was initially interested in traveling to Canada, but since she had already been an au pair once before, in Australia, she didn’t want to do the usual au pair program.
“What was most interesting to me was to live with a child with special needs,” she explained. “If you work with children with special needs in a shelter or in a kindergarten, you only work certain hours. But with the au pair program, you have 24 hours of exposure in their home environment. It is their real life and how they usually react.”
Jenny has a degree in early childhood education and has always loved working with kids.
“I’m a single child and was always in Girl Scouts and other programs,” she said. “When I was 15 years old I decided I wanted to work with kids. They can give you so much more than working in an office.”
Jenny’s days start early: she usually wakes JP up at 5:30 a.m. in order to help him get up, take his medicine, go to the bathroom, and get ready for school. JP has autism, a cleft palate, and a chromosomal deletion that is unique to him. He functions at a three-year-old level and is still in diapers. Once Jenny has helped JP to get ready, she prepares the kids lunches and then waits with JP for his bus to take him to school. Her days are mostly free, until JP gets back from school at 3:30 p.m. “In the afternoon, JP has ABA therapy with a therapist who comes to the house,” Jenny said. “I watch to see what she does and help him do it before and after therapy sessions so he can reach his target goals faster.”
In the evenings, Jenny makes dinner for the kids and then helps JP get ready for bed. Most of her work hours are spent with JP, since he needs extra support.
“I love to laugh and so does JP – we laugh all day actually,” she explained. “For Sally Ann, I try to be a big sister to her, but it isn’t always that easy. I spend most of my time with JP so I am not able to spend as much time with her.”
Jenny feels like she has learned so much from living with her host family.
“I like working with kids in the home environment and having the chance to get close with them,” Jenny said. “When you spend so much time with them, you can learn a lot. People think that they learn a lot from you but it is the opposite – you learn a lot from them.”
Jenny and her host mom Mara have a good relationship and Jenny has a lot of respect for her and how hard she works. “I respect Mara like a boss, but on the other side, she is also like a friend,” Jenny said. “You can tell her everything – and not just about JP or Sally, but also about your private life. I already feel like a member of the family.”
During her non-working hours, Jenny loves to spend time with her friends, some of whom are also au pairs with military families. “Fayetteville is not that big so we usually go to the cinema, have lunch together or go for walks,” Jenny said. “I also like to go to the nearby gym.”
As part of her program, Jenny also does volunteer work in her free time.