Exchange Matters / May 1, 2014

Betty Bledsoe: The Incalculable Impact of One Volunteer

Every year, close to 40,000 Americans in the Global Ties network volunteer to welcome current and future leaders from around the world into their community. By donating their time and opening their homes and lives to international visitors, they breakdown stereotypes and misconceptions, build trust and mutual understanding, and play an integral role in building a more peaceful and prosperous world. As Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, remarked at the 2014 National Meeting, these efforts are “essential to achieving our nation’s foreign policy goals and building long-term partnerships with people around the world. These relationships underwrite our national security.”

All the citizen diplomats throughout the network deserve our heartfelt thanks and admiration for showing the world the U.S. at its best. Every year we honor one citizen diplomat who goes above and beyond even that high mark with the Lorinne Emery Award for Volunteer Service. The award was created in 2000 by the World Affairs Council of Dallas / Fort Worth and Global Ties U.S. as a tribute to the memory of Lorinne Emery of Dallas, Texas. Ms. Emery helped found the community-based organization in Dallas in 1954 and played a key role in the founding of Global Ties U.S. in 1961. This award is presented to a long-time volunteer who best exemplifies the characteristics of Ms. Emery: an outstanding volunteer spirit, dedication to citizen diplomacy, and an enduring contribution to international understanding.

Ms. Emery helped found the community-based organization in Dallas in 1954 and played a key role in the founding of Global Ties U.S. in 1961.

Global Ties U.S. honored Betty Bledsoe with the award on May 2 in Washington, DC as part of the Discover Diplomacy program. Betty, an adoptive mother of 11 special needs children, and volunteer with The International Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, is truly an inspiration who lives up to the spirit of the award. Ms. Bledsoe not only balances her hectic work and home life, but also opens up her home to international visitors so that her children can experience the world from their own dining room.

In addition to opening up her home for dinner, Betty often extends her hospitality to the visitors by inviting them on a subsequent night to an Indiana Pacers NBA basketball game, a bowling outing, or even a tour of Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts).

She would be the first to tell you that her children are as much citizen diplomats as she is. They do thorough research prior to each visit so they know about the countries represented by their guests. They proudly show off their pets (which includes dogs, cats, flying squirrels, and goldfish). They also help prepare, serve and clean up after every meal. They often personally make and present their own gifts to their international guests and cap off the evening by singing several songs to their guests. Their names are: Chris, Nathan, Nicole, Jerrica, India, Nicholas, Andrea, Giselle, Summer, Thomas, and Jeremiah, and each is as memorable as is Betty. Those at the reception honoring Betty at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace were able to experience the Bledsoe family’s amazing hospitality first-hand, as Betty and her family sang for the group and Betty told stories of her experiences opening her home to the world.

The profound positive impact Ms. Bledsoe and her family have on building international understanding is clear from the international leaders who experience her hospitality. One group leader reflected that “it is not an understatement to say that the three visitors lucky enough to be invited to Ms. Bledsoe’s home may have been changed forever . . . and the humble, but impossibly gracious reception she reserved for the delegation were a true inspiration.” Another international visitor reflected that “this kind of commitment and generosity is what makes America a great country.”

She would be the first to tell you that her children are as much citizen diplomats as she is.

And finally, one international visitor from Pakistan was able to say it all in just a few brief words: “Meeting with Betty Bledsoe and her 11… children was the most powerful, life changing experience I’ve had since I came to the U.S.”

Betty and her family embody, in the purest way, the spirit of citizen diplomacy, as reflected upon by many of the estimated 200 visitors who have had the unforgettable experience of spending an evening in their home. We are honored and privileged to recognize Betty Bledsoe and her family with the 2014 Lorinne Emery Award for Volunteer Service. It is this spirit of volunteerism that makes our network so strong and vibrant, and makes the IVLP and our network a powerful force for building global understanding in the U.S. and around the world.

By Collin Burden, Global Ties U.S.