Surfing at the Smiths


December 9, 2009

By JENNIFER ZIMMERMAN jzimmerman@pioneerlocal.com

The Smiths of Elmhurst very much resemble your typical nuclear American family.

With two kids and a beloved pup named Shadow, the couple’s three-story home sits at the end of a bustling neighborhood block where children’s bikes can be seen more frequently than cars, and young and old families have quietly settled in.

Rachel Smith poses with her dog, Shadow, on the couch of her Elmhurst home Friday. Smith is a member of the Web site couchsurfing.org, where she opens up her family’s couch to interested travelers passing through town.

CouchSurfing.org: Rachel’s page

Those visiting for the first time are usually met by lively family conversation and an invitation to a warm meal rather than the typical distractions of television or music.

“You want to be hospitable,” said Doug Smith.

But the Smiths have taken “hospitable” to a whole new level.

Earlier this year, upon the recommendation and request of his daughter, Rachel, Doug Smith literally opened up his family’s home to the entire World Wide Web.

Both his spare bedroom and downstairs couch are available for occupancy to some of the more than 1.5 million users of the Web site, couchsurfing.org.

Stretching across all areas of the world, the Web site allows users to create profiles and either offer up their own couches, free of charge, or search for one that is available in the area they are planning to visit. Or, instead of opening their couch for a night or week at a time, couch surfers can opt to instead have guests over for coffee or a drink.

About 1.6 million people have successfully “surfed” since the nonprofit organization was first created, according to the Web site.

“If it wasn’t for Rachel, I really wouldn’t have gotten involved at all,” Doug Smith said.

Rachel Smith runs her own profile on couchsurfing.org, where people can comment, leave recommendations or share their own experiences visiting with her family. So far, she has hosted three surfers, two of whom traveled halfway across the globe from New Zealand and Australia for a one-night stay with the Smiths.

The two men, both in their mid-20’s, were coming into town to do some recruiting work for a Christian college they worked for and needed a quick place to crash without having to spend a lot of cash.

“That was pretty exciting to have someone from halfway across the world stay the night,” Doug Smith said.

“And they loved the bunk beds,” his daughter added.

Although open to hosting more surfers, the Smith family is particularly choosey about who they welcome into their home, with both safety and convenience being major factors.

How long a person may want to stay, who they are and their intentions in passing through the area are all important considerations.

Having little to no information on a user’s profile page raises immediate red flags for the family, who will only welcome guests that provide sufficient background information, a phone number and have received good recommendations from fellow couch surfers. The Web site also has many verification systems built in to help ensure that those signing up are who they say they are.

“The last place you want to feel not safe is in your own home,” Doug Smith said. “Ask lot of questions. Find out if your kids have really done their homework on this.”

Having recently graduated from college, Rachel Smith is interested in experiencing the other side of couch surfing and will hopefully visit some foreign, but safe, couches of her own in the spring.

For now, though, she continues to attend couch surfing meet-ups in the city. She also keeps in touch with surfers she has already connected with, one of whom she regularly salsa dances with.

Both Rachel Smith and her dad are anxiously awaiting their next guest.

“I had the wrong impression of it,” said Doug Smith, who once called it the couch potato club. “But it’s no different than hosting a sleepover. You just don’t know the people.”

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Haunted Halloween Bash to benefit local food pantry


feedback bandLooking for something exciting to do on Halloween? Interested in some live music, food, a costume contest and more? The boys of local alternative rock group ‘Feedback’ are hosting a Haunted Halloween Bash at the Yorkfield Civic Center starting at 5pm on Saturday, October 31st, and all are welcome! There will be a $3 cover charge at the door to support our local food pantry. Non-perishable items are also welcome, as well as candy donations to send to our troops overseas.

Jim Terrafino age 9, Jeremy Whitmore age 10, Bennett Berman age 10, Tony Tedeschi age 14, and Jack Hayden age 14 make up ‘Feedback’. The band of two years plays rock songs from the likes of Black Sabbath, The Who, The Clash, Antiflag and Social Distortion. Feedback will be performing live at the benefit event which will include dancing, karaoke, prize raffles, a costume contest and complimentary hot dogs, chips, pop, popcorn and hot chocolate. Come out for some Halloween fun, and support the cause!

The Yorkfield Civic Center is located at 15 W 354 Lexington, in Elmhurst, just 1 block east of the light at York Rd and Lexington.

http://www.triblocal.com/Elmhurst/Detail_View/view.html?type=stories&action=detail&sub_id=108905

Church Group Finds Adventure in Colorado


http://www.triblocal.com/Elmhurst/List_View/view.html?type=stories&action=detail&sub_id=87898

On July 12, Grace Bible Church of Elmhurst sent 53 individuals to Fraser, Colorado for a week of adventure and intense spiritual conversation.

For the week long trip, the students spent their days enjoying the breathtaking Colorado landscape at Timberline Lodge. According to their website, “Timberline Lodge serves within the body of Christ, ministering to youth and youth leadership in a community setting for the purpose of building on the only sure foundation of our Lord Jesus Christ through biblical teaching, Christian discipleship, outdoor adventure and service to others.”

The group consisted of 45 high school students and 8 adult leaders engaging in a wide variety of activities and challenges each day. Each day was a bit different, but the common element of every day was the small group discussion sessions. The main focus of discussion during the week was about a video series entitled Gospel Journey Maui. In the series young people from all different faiths come together for extreme outdoor adventure, and discussion, asking the question ‘Can everyone be right?’

In a typical day the group watched an episode from the series, and discussed in meetings and small groups the questions and issues presented. Students attempted to tackle such difficult and significant questions as ‘what is your purpose in life?’, ‘what happens after we die?’, and ‘who is Jesus?’ The goal for many students was to learn to articulate what they believe and be able to share it with friends and family back home.

Rachel Fogle, one of the adult leaders on the trip said that it was particularly exciting for the students when one of the cast members from the series came to the camp. He encouraged the students to take what he called the “48 hour challenge”, to share their faith with someone with 48 hours of returning home. One student responded that he wanted to take the challenge, but didn’t want it to end there. “What comes next? Who will I share my faith with after that?”, he said. Many students were equally challenged by the message.

The rest of the group’s time was spent in team building exercises and outdoor activities. Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and whitewater rafting down the Arkansas River were some highlights for the students, and the inspiring landscape was the perfect backdrop for their spiritual discussions. Fogle commented that the group was drawn closer together through the experience. “The details just kept coming together; the Lord’s hand was so evident throughout the trip”. More information can be found on the group’s trip blog at gbcoasis.com/colorado.

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