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November 21, 2019

Lifestyle

Maryann D'Amato, bottom right, with some of the au pairs she advises, mothers and befriends.
One of the activities that Culture Care Au Pair LCCs organizes is a self-defense class.

Friend, "Mom," Cultural Ambassador: North Salem's Maryanne D'Amato Helps Local Au Pairs

It all started because Maryanne D’Amato was a friendly neighbor. After working in television, she and her husband left New York City for suburban life in North Salem. And it is there where D’Amato met and befriended her neighbor’s au pairs while out and about with her own children.

“I just adored these girls,” said D’Amato. “I enjoyed seeing them; they’d walk with me and tell me about their countries.”

Au pairs, not to be confused with nannies, are part cultural exchange, part child care—with heavy emphasis officially put on the cultural exchange. They are typically young women and men from around the world who come to the United States for one year on a J1 Visa to do childcare and experience the country while receiving room and board with a host family, providing childcare and earning federally stipulated minimum weekly pay (plus two weeks paid vacation).

D’Amato discovered she had a friend who worked for Cultural Care Au Pair the largest au pair agency in the world and in business since 1989, as a Local Childcare Consultant (LCC), the liaison between agency, family and au pair and a kind-of “third parent” for the au pair.

“I was kind of doing that already,” laughed D’Amato. “I didn’t know there was a job for it. I thought, ‘Gee, that would be a great thing to do.’”

And so she did.

For almost four years now, D’Amato as part of Cultural Care Au Pair has opened her home and heart to 20 to 25 au pairs a year in South Salem and Waccabuc as an LCC: advising them, guiding them and teaching them about American customs and traditions—showing them  real America and not just what they’ve seen on TV or in the news. Her job is to help them with anything they want to know, be it a place to ice skate, what to do on a snow day, how to deal with homesickness, about American cuisine (bagels and cream cheese are a favorite), Halloween etiquette and more.

“Au pairs come here to be part of an American family,” stressed D’Amato. “They have a host mom and host dad—she’s the second mom and I’m like the third mom. I think of myself as a trusted friend or another mom who wants to help them.”

“Nobody does Halloween like Americans and the O'Lantern Blaze is one of the most amazing annual events in our area,” enthused D’Amato. “It’s one of my favorite meetings of the year.”

The first thing she does when meeting a new batch of au pairs?

“I always just laugh to put them at ease to say that we’re crazy Americans,” said D’Amato. “I think they don’t realize when they come here how different America is. They think it’s all New York, Los Angeles and Miami. I tell them they should almost think of each state as its own country with its own flavor and culture. We really encourage them to travel in the U.S. so they can see the richness of America, the melting pot.”

Au pairs at the Great O'Lantern Blaze in 2019.

Every year, D’Amato takes her group of au pairs to volunteer at the Hudson Valley O’Lantern Blaze, lighting the thousands of pumpkins and teaching them about Halloween.

“Nobody does Halloween like Americans and the O'Lantern Blaze is one of the most amazing annual events in our area,” enthused D’Amato. “It’s one of my favorite meetings of the year.”

Every year Maryann D'Amato takes her group to volunteer lighting jack o'lanterns for the Great O'Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson.

“I have a Christmas party every year, too,” added D’Amato. “My husband dresses as Santa, my kids are elves, we play games and have food."

D'Amato feels lucky to share her country's traditions and learn about others.

“It’s amazing that I can do this as a job. It’s very fulfilling for me at that point in my life to have a job helping people. This program has been such a wonderful experience not just for me but my entire family, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”