Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nomination for Citizen Diplomacy Award

We didn't make the final cut, but it was definitely an honor to have been nominated.

Ron

FROM: US Center for Citizen Diplomacy
http://www.uscenterforcitizendiplomacy.org/share-stories/entry/ron-popes-story/
Ron Pope’s Story

By Gwenn Klinger

No one deserves recognition as an outstanding citizen diplomat more than Ron Pope, who for over the last twenty years has brought together a large number of citizens of Russia and the US in ways that have often greatly enhanced the lives of both Russians and Americans and fostered better mutual understanding. Ron's involvement began more than 50 years ago after he chose Russia as his focus for a class assignment and has not ceased. Prior to the collapse of the USSR, he had led eight groups on trips to the Soviet Union and has made over forty more trips since then.

In 1989, Ron was involved in the signing of a Sister City agreement between Vladimir, Russia, a community of over 300,000 residents, in the heart of that country and Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, where he was teaching Soviet politics at Illinois State University. That led to an agricultural exchange that he arranged the next summer. This turned out to be the first step in nearly 20 years worth of more successful projects than one could imagine possible, even with all the help from both sides of the ocean that Ron has managed to enlist. When he has seen a need, he has tried to find a way to meet it.

In 1992, a major step, which has been the foundation of all the subsequent successes, took place. With essential assistance from fellow ISU professor of industrial technology, Dr. Ed Francis, and a number of other Americans and Russians, Ron organized the construction of a model American home in Vladimir. This included lining up donated building materials and American construction specialists who volunteered their time and skills. When the Vladimir City Administration was not able to contribute financially because of the economic downturn in Russia that began in 1992, Ron sought funding in the States. His father, Russell Pope, a California resident who remains an avid supporter, came forward with the funds that were needed to cover shipping and other costs beyond the in-kind contributions that were provided by more than 50 North American firms.

The home was dedicated on July 4,1992, with a gala celebration involving citizens of both countries. It has a white rail fence, a well-groomed yard with flowers, and has set an example for Vladimir residents to consider. To this day people continue to come to the Home to take photos and to see what a typical American home looks like. Most important is the interaction the Home fosters between Americans and Russians. Its foundation is the Home's highly regarded English program, which has grown from 70 students and 3 young American teachers in 1992, to 8 American teachers, one Russian teacher and 2 Russian supervisors working with over 400 students each term. The American teachers live with families in the community which helps to
enhance their understanding of Russian culture. The American Home also provides Russian classes for foreigners, a lecture series, Saturday movies, and the celebration of American holidays. Several former teachers from the English program, including one that taught at the American Home for three years, are now assisting with operations on the American side.

Overall, more than 100 primarily young Americans have taught in Vladimir since 1992. In the process a great many lives have been significantly influenced. (See the video for some specific examples.) The success of the English Program has made possible the pursuit of a number of other projects. One of the first was the development of a relationship between the American Home and a local orphanage.

Beginning with some very high quality donated playground equipment, over the years bikes, good quality shoes, medical supplies, and other items have been provided by American visitors. A comprehensive program to attract tourism to the area has been in place since 2004. This has involved projects such as improving signage for local sites, translating website information, and technical assistance for the enhancement of the tourist experience. The funding for this tourism project initially was provided by a Sister Cities grant.

Also, the American Home played a substantial role in initiating and sustaining for a number of years a law enforcement exchange program that included extended stays in the US by about a dozen Russian law enforcement specialists, one of whom earned a Masters degree in Criminal Justice from Illinois State University.

In 2004, 2007, and 2008, the American Home participated in successful four week Fulbright visits for a total of 43 American K-12 educators through the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago. Based on the Fulbright foundation, a high school exchange program has been initiated between two Illinois schools and two Vladimir schools in cooperation with the University of Illinois Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center. Support for the arts has included establishing a loan fund that has been used, for example, to produce CDs prior to concert tours. Arrangements were made for a very gifted young jazz singer, Yuliana Rogacheva, to receive training and performance experience in the US. At this summer's highly regarded Montreux Jazz Festival, Yuliana was voted most popular by the audience and was given second place by the judges -- out of 75 initial entrants in the vocal competition. (The panel of judges was headed by Quincy Jones.) These are just some of the "special projects" the American Home has pursued over the years.

For several years, special tours of Russia that included a week in Vladimir were provided for Americans. Among the activities during that week were a visit to a local school, an evening with a Russian family, an evening with a group of women quilters, and a visit to the orphanage mentioned above, as well as interaction with the teachers and students at the American Home. I was a participant in one of those tours and became acquainted with Ron Pope at that time. I have never been so impressed by the dedication and persistence of an individual who is clearly trying to help make a difference. His focus is always on trying to identify worthwhile projects and then find ways to take concrete steps that over time will hopefully contribute to meaningful progress, including especially better mutual understanding.

For example, arrangements have been recently made for a Vladimir girls basketball coach to visit the States this next fall to collect information for his "doctoral" dissertation comparing American and Russian approaches to teaching physical education. It is hoped that out this might come a program for further developing recreational opportunities for young Russians in particular. (In large part because of a shortage of funding, there is a significant lack of constructive things for young Russians to do outside of school. The plan is to get American and Russian students involved in the search for "affordable activities.")

Another recently developed idea is to have Russian students of English and American students of Russian correct and comment on essays each will be writing in their second language. The contacts made in America for recruiting teachers for the English program and students for the American Home's intensive Russian program will be used to attract participants on the American side for this new -- and very promising -- project.

In the 18 years since the American was successfully built -- to the surprise of the many skeptics on both sides of the ocean -- Ron Pope has never pursued personal recognition. In the opinion of many people familiar with what the American Home has accomplished and is continuing to accomplish, some recognition is definitely warranted. Ron will undoubtedly attempt to utilize any attention he might receive to help make it possible to get still more done.

To view our video, go to www.youtube.com/americanhomevladimir Click on Part 1 (in English)

Two comments:

Nils Wessell
• Ron Pope made it possilble for me to participate in the American Home on my sabbatical from the US Coast Guard Academy in 2000. The three months I spent in Vladimir and the region were the most intensive re-integration into Russian society that I have experienced since an academic year at Moscow State University in 1968-9. The quality of Russian language instruction for a visiting American was superb, the teaching and course work calibrated perfectly to my needs. Moreover, I had a chance to teach a couple classes to Russian youths learning English, itself an experience most Americans would love to have--and the American Home provided it all! Finally, the American Home provided terrific guidance and assistance in travel to neighboring sites of great historical and aesthetic interest. I am hoping to get back to the American Home again.

Meredith Clason
• As someone who participated in the summer Fulbright-Hays trip to Vladimir in 2008, I have seen firsthand how effective and efficient the programs developed by Ron Pope and the American Home are. This story is a well-deserved tribute to the dedication and hard work of the many people who have embraced Ron's ideas and helped him build not only The American Home, but bridges between the United States and Russia and a myriad of friendships along the way.

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