DUNWOODY, GEORGIA: Will Henderson, age 51, grew up in Cochran, Georgia. He graduated from Bleckley County High School (BCHS) in 1986. His mother, Myrtice, was an English professor and director of the Middle Georgia College Vocal Ensemble.
During his time at BCHS, Will was involved in the band program, and served as the drum major for the BCHS Royal Kingsmen Marching Band. He went on to the University of Georgia where he played trombone with the school’s Red Coat Band.
Then, he served as the drum major. “It was a blast, and I had a great time,” He told The Murphy Gazette during a phone interview recently.
Music and performance was his passion. In fact, the three people who inspired him the most were his mother, and two former Bleckley County band directors – Louis Foster and Herb Cooler.
“Mr. Foster was a great teacher, and Mr. Cooler … we become friends as I got older. Both of them had strong impacts on my life,” Will said. For 23 years, he served as a band director and teacher.
That is until last April when he launched his own company, EdTreks. According to Will, his organization partners high schools from around the world for in-home exchange programs.
Instead of the usual trip where there are hotel stays and ‘touristy’ trips, He said, “The students live with a family in their home, and truly experience the local culture.”
For those that knew Will’s mother, Myrtice, one wonders if Will’s new found “career” and passion for travel came from his mother.
And that is where Will’s worlds meet. “She made such in impact in so many students lives in middle Georgia … I still get messages today. She would take her students all over the world … places they may not have ever experienced had she not made the trips – like Hawaii and all over Europe.”
Last April, Will was the band director at Dunwoody High School, when he started thinking about the idea which formulated into EdTreks.
“I really didn’t think it would get launched as quickly as it did … So many people had told me that non-profits were hard to get through for the first time. I thought we would get rejected …” Will said, and added, “But we sailed right through that process.”
“I have been taking bands on international trips for a long time … it was always exciting for them,” he remarked, and explained that with the way that he has partnered with various high schools all over, the trips are more affordable when it is in-house exchanges. “This way makes a trip a little less costly … especially for those schools that don’t have the budget or students who may not be able to afford a trip any other way.”
“Doing it this way gives a different experience than flying in or going on a chartered bus, and going to the hotel … here you are, you are waking up, and sitting at a kitchen table, and drinking coffee with your host family, and learning a lot about culture,” Will said.
He started thinking about launching his company also when “my colleagues all around started asking me how I did these trips and how was the travel accessible.”
As he mentioned earlier, as a teacher, Will traveled abroad with more than 400 of his students to England, Scotland, France, Germany, Denmark, Slovakia, Japan and Russia. His schools also welcomed over 250 international students to schools in Georgia.
On his website bio, Will states, “Travel opens our minds and changes our lives forever.”
During the phone interview with The Murphy Gazette, Will mentioned one of the most memorable exchanges for him was when a high school group from Tanzania came to Roswell, Georgia. “I was really surprised by just how helpful and supportive former Atlanta Mayor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young was. We visited his office.”
Will said, “He is such an American icon … he could have talked about a lot of things – history, politics and other things, but he really got in conversations with the students about his experience in Tanzania. That meant a lot to them. He was so gracious. Then, we went to Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Senator Johnny Isakson was there. He wanted to meet the kids, and he spent about 20 minutes with them, talking about Tanzania. It was so not planned.”
EdTreks, as explained by Will, and on the organization’s website, “has built a network of schools from around the world, and in the U.S., to partner students and teachers for short-term, in-home exchange programs. We work with government and philanthropic entities to make sure that international travel is available to all students regardless of financial means.”
Will said that the “exchanges between the two schools are normally within the same academic year … and are one to two weeks in duration. Students and teachers are hosted by the families as mentioned previously.”
Activities during the exchanges include attending school and visiting areas of local interest. Students will have the opportunity to “improve their world language and technical skills.”
Will concluded, ““As we were leaving the church after visiting with Senator Isakson, one of the students from Tanzania had this business card in his hand, and he said, “I never dreamed that I would ever have the business card of a United States Senator,” Will paused. “It was really touching.”
For more information about EdTreks, visit the website at edtreks.org.