I returned to Washington on a hot summer day following a weeklong visit to Salt Lake City, Utah where I was hosted by the Global Ties U.S. community based member (CBM), the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy (UCCD). While the main purpose of the visit was to know more about our partner out west— including their staff members and exchange best practices—after a week of immersion, I felt as if I had just participated in my own International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
After a long red eye flight from DC I was greeted by stunning landscapes and a jewel of a city right in the middle of a valley. I took a fast, clean train to the city center and met my home stay host, Chris Wangsgard, a local volunteer who traced his family back five generations to Danish immigrants who had traveled west with the earliest cohorts of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). Chris’s wife, Erica, also spoke excitedly about her connection to the early pioneers while discussing world politics, her love of art, and the fun they had had hosting IVLP participants over the years.
The next day, at the office, I met UCCD’s crack team made up of Allison James-Garcia, Felecia Maxfield Barrett, Ahmad Afzali, and Natalie Williamson, each of whom are able to put together lively itineraries on any conceivable topic, package them up, and send them out appropriately. With the support of an active Board, Executive Director Beth Martial motivates staff and ensures that the organization is funded and stable. After a day of sharing best practices with my UCCD colleagues, it became clear to me that this well-organized CBM cares just as deeply about making visitors feel welcome as they do about crafting productive and engaging local itineraries.
Over the next few days I got a taste of what IVLP participants experience on the ground in Salt Lake City. I interacted with professional resources, toured iconic sites, and even visited the Little America hotel where the majority of our IVLP participants stay. I toured the beautiful Utah State Capitol Building, and had the privilege of seeing Temple Square in the company of two missionaries who were extremely knowledgeable about the history, symbolism and tenets of the Mormon faith. I even got to watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir practice for their Fourth of July concert—an unforgettable experience.
In conjunction with UCCD’s program team, and in the company of two different IVLP groups—Uzbeks looking at business franchising and Russians studying NGO management and fundraising—I interacted with a number of compelling local organizations, including:
- The International Coordinating Committee: A voluntary mixture of public and private institutions, each of which appropriately coordinates international events. I have no doubt something similar would be a good resource for those participants who want to collaborate with others in their network.
- The Other Side Academy: Modeled off of the larger Delancey Street Foundation, and styling itself as a “school for life skills,” this innovative group engages former inmates to work with recently-sentenced prisoners in a strict community that relies on communal discipline and good conduct. The Russian participants and I were amazed to learn that the Academy fully funds itself via a moving company, several thrift stores, and a team of individuals who seek food donations.
- Governor’s Office for Economic Development (GOED): Speakers here highlighted how open Utah is to business development and how well the state has done controlling unemployment. GOED also works in partnership with the Economic Development Corporation, which directly connects with those who are interested in opening businesses and helps them to get startup funding.
- The local chapter of PFLAG: This national organization unites families and allies with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
- Staff led a tour of the small, liberal arts Westminster College, which happens to be home to both the UCCD and a fantastic aviation program.
All in all, it was a wonderful week! I witnessed how an experienced CBM moves through the process of programming for the IVLP, developing and tracking resources, and keeping a handle on staff and organizational development. I also gained a greater understanding of the role that boards play for small non-profits and learned about the history of the LDS community. Finally, I got to experience an awesome little city in its entirety coupled with a delightful home stay – all the elements of a perfect IVLP itinerary, and more!