By Kathleen Mears and Max Salvo
CHI representatives attended the 4th Annual National Community Support Group (CSG) Summit in Branson, MO. The CSG Summit engaged communities, businesses, civic leaders, and designated sponsors across the U.S. to learn and build on the best practices for the Summer Work & Travel (SWT) program participants. Attendees shared and explored tools to engage our communities and encourage support of exchange programs. The event was organized by designated visa sponsors, organizations and the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, with consultation from the U.S. Department of State.
Opening remarks were made by Branson leaders Jeff Seifried, President, and CEO of the Branson/Lakes Chamber; Edd Akers, Mayor of Branson; Rick Ziegenfuss, City Administrator of Hollister; Tyler Merriott, Field Representative from Missouri Senator Roy Blunt’s office; and Mike Ussery, Director of Projects and Outreach, Missouri Representative Billy Long’s office.
The Welcome Reception at Big Cedar Lodge’s Top of the Rock in the Wooly Mammoth Room and the networking event at Andy B’s were well attended and enjoyed.
Mike James with the U.S. Department of State presented on Summer Work & Travel updates, and Sue Yang Yang, from the Alliance for International Exchange, presented the Legislative Briefing. Ms. Yang was introduced by Karen Best, former Mayor of Branson and an advocate of exchange visitors. Lynette Evans-Tiernan, Public Affairs Specialist with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State shared her expertise in communicating with exchange visitors and the community. Dan Bullock, of Holtz Builders, made a brief presentation about student dorms, and designated sponsors presented on CSG Best Practices.
The group traveled to tour Branson seasonal housing, Plato’s Cave and King’s Quarters, and to Silver Dollar City for a working lunch. Local media and social media professionals Ann McDowell and Joey Thornton shared their best practices and success stories. Juan Meraz, from Missouri State University, presented on the subject of Cultural Competence. Gerardo Martinez (UMKC) led an open discussion along with a Q+A on managing a multi-cultural workforce. All attendees enjoyed free time at Silver Dollar City and a Dickens Christmas Show.
At CHI, we place great importance in supporting and further developing the growing network of local support groups across the country. Our SWT program is actively involved with the local communities hosting exchange visitors in Ogunquit, Maine; Wildwood, New Jersey; Galveston, Texas; Williamsburg, Virginia; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Outer Banks, North Carolina; and the Lake Tahoe area in California/Nevada.
Our delegation at the 2019 Summit included Kathleen Mears, SWT Community Support Group Specialist, Jodi Blank and Alexandru Ibanescu, program Regional Managers for the Midwest and the South Atlantic, as well as Max Salvo, Public Affairs & Outreach Officer representing the CHI Headquarters in San Rafael, California.