Partners Chapters Explore What Works in Voluntary Service

Rachel Lomot, Communications Intern

On May 23-24, Partners of the Americas and the Colorado Chapter of Partners hosted the What Works conference to celebrate all of the great work done by our volunteers and chapters over the last 50 years. The conference was the perfect combination of celebrating the past and planning for the future.

Roughly 75 chapter volunteers, Board members, and staff came to share their stories at the conference. Many have been involved with Partners for over 20 years and had great stories to tell. New and old members got a rare chance to learn from one another. Since most chapters are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, they do not usually get a chance to do this.

The conference began by discussing the best practices by chapters in the past and incorporating those into regional goals for the next 50 years.

Matt Clausen, Vice President for Partnerships and Programs, spoke on PartnersConnect. He discussed how creating multi-lateral partnerships with not only our chapters, but outside organizations and individuals will provide better opportunity for growth and hemispheric connectivity.

Chapters then broke out into sessions to discuss tool for success. For example, how does a chapter ensure long-term success? There were three breakout sessions in which members could choose from; Strategic Alliances and Realizing Chapter Potential, Communications, and Leveraging Partners Financial and Volunteer Resources.

"There was a lot of positive energy among participants and panelists. Everyone had ideas to share, which led to great conversations and questions. It's great to see so much collaboration between chapters and enthusiasm for the work of the network as a whole."  -Melissa Golladay, Director of Professional Leadership Exchanges

Following this, Steve Richards from the Kansas-Paraguay Chapter spoke on meeting special needs of diverse communities. This discussion ranged from topics on emergency preparedness to working with the special needs population in many locations.

The second day of the conference began with a continuation of what has worked in the past, and ended with a presentation on the vision for the next 50 years.

There were four main discussion topics: Fundraising, Youth Engagement, Bridging Cultures, and The Partners Fifty-Year Legacy.

Within youth engagement there were three members who discussed what has worked in their programs centered on youth. Jhani Laupus spoke about the successes and challenges in implementing the Youth Ambassadors program between Indiana and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

"We want to deliver what we believe is the Partners trademark which is a personal connection, a deeper experience, a real understanding, the ability to monitor what they're doing in the family and follow up." -Jhani Laupus

PartnersCampus was represented by Taylor North, a student from University of Utah. He founded the Partners Campus at University of Utah and spoke on how becoming involved with Partners as a student is a rewarding experience.

Dorly Piske from Wyoming-Goias, Brazil Chapter discussed how to utilize university volunteers, and specifically mentioned her jewelry-making workshops that aim to raise enough money to buy a mammogram machine for the Brazil chapter.

Lastly, Binka LeBreton and Dale Beckman from the Colorado-Minas Gerais, Brazil Chapter explained how they got involved with Partners through their non-profit organization, Iracambi which focuses on managing natural resources and developing sustainable communities in Brazil's Atlantic Rainforest.

The second phase of the day concerned how to successfully bridge cultural gaps, something that Partners has focused on since its founding in 1964.

In this session members spoke on  how to involve multiple chapter which are potentially across continents in a single event. Community events, informal and formal partnerships, and university linkages were discussed in the context of creating a larger, but more unified Partners community.

Lisa Martin spoke on how the Washington D.C.-Brasilia Chapter has been hosting a speaker series to familiarize their members with the culture of the southern hemisphere. Barbara Bloch presented on behalf of Ariana Friedl about the highly successful Illinois-Sao Paulo film festival.

Jay Newton then discussed the many successful student exchanges hosted by the Kansas-Paraguay Chapter. In their over 30 years of experience, the chapter has hosted thousands of Paraguayan students in Kansas schools.

Iliana Diaz and Patty Garza from the Texas-Peru Chapter focused on how to implement successful, yet diverse partnerships to better accomplish mutual goals. They mentioned how creating a balance between formal and informal partnerships is an important tool for success, and how you have to be willing to take chances in order to be successful.

"If not now when? When is the right time to go to a small rural farming village in Peru?" -Patty Garza

The conference ended with Steve Vetter, President and CEO of Partners, announcing his plan for the next 50 years.

Vetter highlighted what makes Partners such an influential non-profit, and what has made people stay involved for up to 40 years. Partners is not just a non-profit, it's an outlet where anyone can make a lasting connection with someone from a dramatically different culture and also have the ability to impact that person's life.

When looking toward the future, Partners is taking off with the new 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative started by the Obama administration. The initiation of this program demonstrates that the ideas behind Partners initiatives for the last 50 years are important and are worth building upon.

"We need to keep creating those opportunities so we connect better, connect well, and really change lives - theirs and ours." -Steve Vetter