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Former exchange student returns to Roswell

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J.P. Cheney, Bianca Cheney, Bettie Lou Cheney and Guilherme Belmani gather after a meeting of the Roswell Rotary Club earlier this month. (John Dilmore Photo)

Not many people have traveled as far as Guilherme Belmani, and fewer still have had so many follow in their footsteps.

Of course, as a one-time exchange student who’s gone on to become heavily involved in the efforts of the Rotary Youth Exchange program, Belmani’s journey has, in many ways, been special and unique.

That journey recently brought him back to Roswell — where years ago he attended Roswell High School while living here as an exchange student — for a walk down memory lane with friends and fellow Rotarians.

Belmani’s presentation to local Rotarians focused largely on the work of Rotary Youth Exchange, which allows students from around the world to learn new languages and discover new cultures, becoming along the way well-traveled world citizens. The exchange program for kids ages 15-19 is sponsored by Rotary Clubs in more than 100 countries, according to the organization’s website.

But as someone with such close ties to the local community, Belmani’s discussions with the local group also struck a personal tone.

A native of Brazil, he was an exchange student in Roswell 27 years ago, in 1992, hosted by the local Rotary Club. “At that time, many Rotarians and their families did a lot for me,” Belmani said. “Len Cheney, Joseph Kelly, Fred Pomeroy — what they did … stays, until now, on my memories.”

Belmani said he now uses the knowledge and experience gained during his time here to teach people about the benefits of Rotary membership and the youth exchange program.

It was while gathering with others involved in the program that the seeds for his recent trip back to Roswell were planted. J.P. and Bianca Cheney, both members of the local club and both active in the youth exchange program, attended the organization’s North American Youth Exchange Conference. While there, a chance encounter brought back memories.

J.P. Cheney recounts: “A man comes up to me and says, ‘Are you J.P. Cheney?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Was your father Len Cheney?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Hi, I’m your host brother.’”

That was Belmani, who had shared the Cheney home during his exchange stint in Roswell in the early ‘90s. Having reconnected with a “host brother,” it was only a matter of time before he again paid Roswell a visit.

His return trip allowed him to recount some of the program’s benefits, and its impact on participants.

Involvement in the exchange program as a student, then later as a Rotarian chairing the youth exchange efforts in his district in Brazil, has had a profound impact on Belmani’s life, and his families’ lives. Both his children, Nathan and Nayra, have become world travelers thanks to the program.

As far as his mission as district chair of the program, each year he works with approximately 50 inbound students and 50 outbound students from a total of around 20 different countries, interacting with hundreds of people in the process. For the club, it’s resulted in some new members, as many of those involved in the program wind up becoming members.

“Youth exchange changed my whole family’s life and now it’s giving me the tools to change other people’s lives,” Belmani said in addressing the Roswell club.

“… That’s why I came here … to thank you all for having hosted me. Because of that, we’re making a better and peaceful world.”