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Monday, June 19, 2017

An Introduction to Our Future – A Blog Series by Jeremi Snook

There comes a day when you realize turning the page is the best feeling in the world, because you realize there is so much more to the book than the page you were stuck on. – Zayn Malik

When I was nine, I lived in Raymond, New Hampshire, a small town with a population of 7,000. The area had not changed in decades, with generations of the same families living in the old farmhouses that were scattered along the wrinkled pavement road. We lived just a half-mile from my great-grandparents’ farm, which I could reach much quicker if I dared to walk the dark forest trail that connected our properties. I loved watching my grandmother cook. She always told me a story and let me help, so I always found my way, battling the forest monsters to get to her house in time to take part.

One particular day, I arrived just as grandma was putting this doughy substance from a plastic bag into a bowl. “It’s friendship bread,” she said with a smile, “from a dear friend who I had not seen in awhile who visited last weekend.” She then told a story, as she always did, about how this dough had been shared by hundreds of people before us. Receiving the friendship dough was a sign of love and appreciation for the friendship one had with another. She shared how the chain of friendship, symbolized by the sharing of the dough from person to person, connects all of us, and that it was now our turn to grow and share the dough.

“How do we grow it?” I asked, surprised that dough, of all things, had a life of its own. “We will keep it in a warm place tonight, and when you come back tomorrow, you’ll see,” she said, with a smile on her face. Sure enough, when I returned the next day, the dough had not only grown above the top of the large bowl, but it had begun to overflow and drop onto the counter. It was alive, I thought to myself! We proceeded to make cakes that were put into the oven and reserve a little of the extra dough. “Now we must choose a few people we want to give this dough to who can continue the chain of friendship,” she concluded. We put small amounts of dough into three plastic bags, which we labeled and later distributed to friends who lived along the road.

The whole experience was magical, from the multiplying of the dough, to the thought of hundreds of people before us who had taken part in continuing the chain of friendship. Even to this day, as I knead my own homemade sourdough bread, I think about that moment and wonder how many more people in that chain have kept the story alive in their kitchens. Was the friendship bread still out there somewhere? Was the story still being shared now with a whole new generation?As a child, I was fascinated by the idea that you can start with something so small and watch it grow exponentially. As an adult, I continue to see this principle applied in so many ways. Looking back over the last forty years, for instance, we can appreciate how the power of a small idea has become an incredibly powerful force of individuals committed to making friends around the world.

What started for many with apprehension and uncertainty on that first journey has evolved into a lifetime of strangers who became friends, and friends who are now family. Tens of thousands of individuals have been affected by our Friendship Force activities in some way over the years. Most of these individuals, because of Friendship Force members like yourself, have engaged with the world beyond their front doors and been changed as a result.

Reflecting on the power of our founder Wayne Smith’s idea that became a movement and the many people who have been changed because of our organization, I wonder what impact our organization will have ten years from now. Has our investment in global peace through understanding and friendship reached maturity? Or, have we just begun?

Whether you have been a part of Friendship Force since its inception or just recently joined, it doesn’t take long to connect the important role our organization plays in a world riddled with divisions, strife, and misunderstanding. How do we continue to be relevant to a world that is constantly evolving? How do we reach a wider demographic and introduce this wild idea that a world of friends can lead to a world of peace?

Turning the page at Friendship Force means opening our minds and hearts to the rest of Friendship Force’s story. We must consider the possibility that the seeds of friendship planted over that past four decades have only begun to take root in the world, and the organization’s greatest impact in the world is yet to be observed.

Whether our time with Friendship Force is only a moment, an event, a few years, or a lifetime, our mutual commitment to improving the world one friend at a time goes beyond our own experiences. Whatever time we have available to commit, we are ambassadors to a movement, not participants in a travel program. While we are planting seeds of understanding in the world today, we are also nourishing a movement started 40 years ago, ensuring it continues for the generations that are coming behind us. We are all a part of building this legacy right now.

Many of you already give to Friendship Force through involvement in your clubs as active members, inbound hosts, and outbound ambassadors. Others give through financial gifts as well, with donations to support the FFI Annual Fund and our recently completed “I’m In!” Campaign. However, before any donation of time, treasure, or talent, you need to understand and feel secure about the outcome of your investment. For our 40th Anniversary Campaign, we recognize the necessity of providing clear, helpful information regarding what we hope to accomplish with these investments, so we can advance to the next page of Friendship Force confidently together.

The 40th Anniversary Campaign, launched in May, is designed to push the organization toward greater impact by capitalizing on the momentum that’s been building for 40 years and opening our mission to a wider demographic of prospective members worldwide. It is broadly divided into three major domains: 1) Expand our core, 2) Engage future leaders, and 3) Activate a new socially-responsible travel network. Put more simply, this means 1) expand our membership and establish new clubs, 2) expand and create programs to reach a wider demographic in order to encourage life-long engagement with our organization, and 3) leverage technology to enhance the connectivity of our worldwide membership.

As the world continues to evolve around us, we all recognize that Friendship Force must evolve as well. But how do we continue to strengthen the core home-hosting component that sets Friendship Force apart from all others, while opening the reach of our mission to a wider audience?

The answer starts with trust, transparency, detail, strategy, passion and a plan, and ends with you.

In this series, I will continue to explore these topics over the coming months, breaking down each of the three areas of the campaign in the context of our vision for the future of Friendship Force. I hope you will join me. I simply ask for a small investment of your time to see the larger picture of what we hope to accomplish through this campaign, as well as to see the role you or a friend might play in leaving your mark on Friendship Force’s success.

Until then, if you happen to receive a small bag of friendship bread dough, would you pass some along to me? I would like to tell my kids a story.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for additional entries in this blog series by Jeremi!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Letter to Our Friends in the U.K.

Manchester FFI Heart

Dear Friends in the U.K.,

Our hearts and thoughts go out to all the victims of the attack in Manchester, U.K. – their families, loved ones, first responders and public safety professionals.

As we talk with members of our Board of Directors, staffers here in the home office, and members of the Friendship Force worldwide network, I am encouraged that this tragic event has only strengthened our resolve to come together for our 40th Anniversary World Conference in Manchester and send a message of defiance to forces opposed to what Friendship Force stands for. People of goodwill and diverse backgrounds will not be deterred from gathering in harmony to celebrate friendship.

The actions of the greater Manchester community over the past week have been inspiring. We see on the news how local people of all backgrounds are rallying around those in need of support, how they stand, unafraid and united as a community, and refuse to use this tragedy to further political or racist agendas, and how the Mancunian spirit of hospitality has been made stronger than ever.

Their example is a call to action for the rest of us. We must motivate the broader global community to join hearts, heads and hands in a renewed movement to reject hate, mistrust and division, and embark on a solemn campaign to forge together a world of peace.

We know, sadly, there will be more events like this around the world, just as there have been before. But organizations like Friendship Force International that are focused on promoting a more peaceful world will be renewed in their determination to ensure that the good in humanity will inevitably prevail.

In friendship,

Jeremi Snook

FFI CEO and President

Saturday, April 29, 2017

AU, NZ, NE and Beyond!

The first quarter of 2017 has not failed to be busy, full, and exciting. Perhaps like many in the Friendship Force family, the new year brings with it not only new ambitions, but a whole lot of old ambitions that got carried over. For Friendship Force Headquarters, this included the roll-out of the new website, database, finishing the process for the 2018 Journey matching process, and the routine end-of-year financial exercises with our auditor. But the new year also brought a whole new batch of exciting projects, including liberty to begin celebrating FFI’s 40 year anniversary!

Jeremi with his hosts Ian and Joyce Thomas in FF Christchurch, New Zealand

Kicking off the celebrations were conferences in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Sunshine Coast, Australia, in February. The symbolism and themes of the two conferences were not lost on me or the conference participants.

Christchurch, as many of you know, has worked tirelessly as a community to rebuild after the devastating earthquakes that rocked the city in 2011. Their conference theme, “Building on a Strong Foundation,” provided an appropriate and visible context for us to discuss the challenges faced by Friendship Force worldwide, as well as discuss the vision and strategies to get us through them.

Jeremi with members of FF Kempsey – (L-R) Fran Tarbox, June Barnes, and Steve Tarbox

Sunshine Coast embraced a very different theme, “Waves of Change,” which is certainly appropriate for Friendship Force, and perhaps more relevant to the host club’s coastal surroundings. This theme found its way interwoven into nearly every aspect of the conference and, similar to New Zealand’s conference, provided a great platform to talk about the challenges and future of our organization.

Jeremi with the mayor of Sunshine Coast, Mark Jamieson, and FF Sunshine Coast Conference Convener Jim Haxton

Although the themes were different, the esprit de corps, sense of rejuvenation and enthusiasm for our mission felt by all the delegates who attended were the same. Our relevance as an organization, our camaraderie as global diplomats, our simple mission of making friends remains more important today than perhaps ever before.

Not too long after these conferences, I was fortunate enough to attend one of the first 40th celebrations held by clubs in Lincoln, Nebraska – following the fantastic celebrations held Brazil, a couple weeks prior. The Lincoln club had succeeded in bringing over 120 members and non-members together for an evening celebration. The pride and energy for our mission of promoting understanding across the barriers that separate people was almost palpable. And certainly represented a celebration that will be replicated in various ways throughout the rest of 2017 as clubs take the opportunity to look back on 40 years of progress, and re-energize themselves and their communities for the future.

Jeremi with FFI Staff Member Laurie-Ann and Nebraska Secretary of State John A. Gale at FF Lincoln, Nebraska’s 40th Anniversary Celebration

My sincerest thanks and gratitude to each of the conference conveners, clubs, and participants in Christchurch, Sunshine Coast, and Lincoln for providing such an inspiring start to 2017!

In Friendship,


Jeremi was also pleased to accept on behalf of Friendship Force members and clubs around the world one of Nebraska’s highest honorary titles – Admiral of the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. This was given by Secretary of State, John Gale, with the approval of the Governor. Nebraska is the only triply landlocked U.S. state.
Thursday, March 30, 2017

March 2017 Board Meeting Recap from Board Chair, Bob Duncan

Dear Members of Friendship Force,

In many ways this recent meeting of the International Board of Directors was routine. Minutes were reviewed and approved, the Board reviewed the financial and programmatic health of the organization and passed associated business motions. A little less routine, however, was the way by which the Board prepared for this particular meeting and the types of discussions we engaged in.

Let’s take care of the routine…

  • The Board received a report on the financial health of the organization for 2016, noting that the staff were able finish the year lean and positive. Details of which to be shared in the upcoming 2016 Annual Report to membership.
  • The Board welcomed Ramona McGee to the new position of Treasurer.
  • There was ample discussion on the status of the new database and applauded the work done by FFI staff in the wake of the previous database failure.
  • For both financial and logistical reasons, the Board approved the reduction of the overall Board size by two, bringing the total from 13 to 11.

A little less routine was the general format of the meeting…

In an attempt to utilize technology to help increase communication amongst Board Members and make decision-making more efficient, Board members participated in a series of online discussion in advance of the meeting. This allowed for more thorough discussion on FFI operations and more time between presentations to ask additional clarifying questions. It also allowed for the Board to dedicate more time while meeting in person for engagement in rich, strategic discussion on the future of the organization.

  • The Board discussed an update to the current strategic plan to include goals and measures linked to the vision of the organization outlined at the Morocco World Conference in 2015. Details on progress to be shared at the Manchester World Conference this August, with a communication to membership shortly thereafter.
  • A meaningful discussion was had on the governance responsibilities of the Board and the need for greater communication on organizational progress. This lead to the endorsement for the creation of a new governance page to be added the website that does a better job of public disclosure of how FFI works, the purpose of the Board approved committees, legal documents and financial disclosures.
  • Subsequent to a discussion on world events and FFI’s mission was a unanimous decision to publicly publish a joint statement from the CEO and the Board of Directors on the importance of our mission in today’s society.
  • Finally, the Board voted to make giving a requirement of Board Members, highlighting the important role that the FFI Board play in leading fund development efforts.

In friendship,

Bob Duncan, Chair, FFI Board of Directors

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friendship Force Receives Award from Open World Program

Open World Grantee of Merit Award Winners 2017
Open World Grantee of Merit Award Winners 2017

On January 23, 2017, Friendship Force International received the Annual Grantee of Merit Award for 2017 by the Open World Leadership Center. The Annual Grantee of Merit Award is presented to organizations who have demonstrated outstanding service to Open World Leadership Center.

Open World Leadership Center is a legislative branch agency that supports Congressional outreach for Members of Congress and conducts exchanges that establish lasting professional relationships between emerging leaders and their U.S. counterparts in democratic institutions. Delegates are provided with extensive exposure to American politics, civic life, and are hosted by American families. In 1999, Congress established Open World. Since then, more than 26,000 Eurasian leaders are alumni of Open World.

FFI hosted its first Open World delegation in 1999. From 1999 to now, Friendship Force clubs just like yours have hosted 2,085 Open World delegates. In 2017, Friendship Force clubs will host 16 delegations from the countries of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Russia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Turkmenistan. Topics covered for the Eurasian delegations include: Legislative Development, Healthcare, Education and Innovation, Media Practices, and Accountable Governance.

Since Open World’s inception, Friendship Force International has been a dynamic player in building strong peer-to-peer professional programming for Open World’s delegates,” said Ambassador John O’Keefe, Executive Director of Open World Leadership Center. “They understand the issues facing our rising Eurasian leaders in their countries and how to craft a program that links them with their American colleagues to create strategies and solve problems.

FFI Financial Controller, Tracy Harrell, Open World Executive Director Ambassador John O'Keefe, and FFI Director of Operations Matthew Nidek
FFI Financial Controller, Tracy Harrell, Open World Executive Director Ambassador John O’Keefe, and FFI Director of Operations Matthew Nidek

“We are living in times in which building bridges of understanding across the cultural barriers that separate people is more important than ever,” commented Jeremi Snook, President and CEO of Friendship Force International. “It is certainly an honor to be cited for our good works by Open World, and this award is very much appreciated by the entire FFI team. We feel genuinely privileged to be partnering with such a wonderful organization – one which shares our mission to help create a more peaceful world.”

Elena McCarty, Regional Support Manager and Open World Coordinator, and all of FFI Staff would like to take this opportunity to recognize the contributions these U.S. clubs have made since 1999 through hosting and planning Open World delegations.

Thank you and congratulations for the significant work you all have done, all of which helped us receive this honor!

Do You Need Travel Insurance?

So you’ve decided to participate in a Friendship Force Journey: the ultimate way to get to know friends around the world, to experience another culture from the inside and to come home changed from the views you’ve experienced.

When planning a trip whether it be with Friendship Force or for personal travel, you pay your money and then plan for the best. But what happens if your luggage and prescriptions are lost? What if your wallet and passport are stolen overseas? What if there’s a medical emergency? That’s where travel insurance comes in. Friendship Force policies require every Ambassador to have insurance that would cover you in case of an emergency. It takes the potential burden off of your host if an emergency were to occur.

When shopping for an insurance policy, it is important to compare the limits and exclusions as well as comparing the price. Friendship Force International is happy to be working with our new preferred insurance providers for our members around the world!

For U.S. residents: The Friendship Force Travel Protection Plan is a customized travel protection plan designed to meet the specific needs of our members. This plan is a custom group policy (number NW007), underwritten by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, a leading provider of insurance to the US consumer. They have the highest rating, A+ by A.M. Best Company, as compared to all other insurance companies in the travel insurance market.

This custom plan provides insurance benefits and services at a flat plan cost based on the total cost of your trip. It is not based on destination or age and includes a pre-existing waiver if the plan is purchased within 15 days of the initial trip deposit. For an overview of the benefits and services as well as the plan costs, please click here, or for specific Frequently Asked Questions, click here. This policy can be used for travel on Friendship Force Journeys or personal travel.


For non-U.S. members traveling outside their home country and not going to the USA, Trawick’s Multinational Plan is the one for you.

Highlights for this plan include:

  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption and Travel Delay Insurance
  • Medical Insurance
  • AD&D and Travel Related Benefits for NON – US Citizens traveling outside their Home Country and not going to the USA
  • Coverage from 5 days to 180 days

For more information, please click here. To get a quote, please click here.


For our non-U.S. members traveling to the U.S., travel insurance coverage for your Friendship Force or personal travel is available though Trawick International’s Safe Travels USA policy.

Highlights for this plan include:

  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption and Travel Delay Insurance
  • Medical Insurance
  • AD&D and Travel Related Benefits for persons while traveling to the United States and worldwide with certain restrictions to specific countries and locations
  • Coverage from 5 days to 180 days

For complete details on the coverage, please click here. To get a quote, please click here.


For any additional questions or inquiries, please contact our resident Travel and Liability Insurance expert, Allison Lindsey at

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rick Steves Recommends Friendship Force

Photo of Rick Steves
Travel expert and author, Rick Steves

Well-known American travel author and expert, Rick Steves, wrote a blog post on March 15 listing organizations he recommends that provide educational tours and experiences to travelers – and Friendship Force made his short list!

As Rick writes,

After taking several trips with organizations offering “educational” or “reality” tours, I’ve learned that getting the most out of a trip to a complicated corner of our world is easier with a guide and in the care of an organization that’s well-connected locally…The new edition of my Travel as a Political Act book will contain a list of organizations offering educational tour experiences to the broader traveling public. Please check out my list and let me know if you have any experience with these groups, or if there are others you’d recommend. Thank you!

According to his post, we will be listed along with other organizations promoting educational, locally-based travel experiences in the upcoming second edition to his popular Travel As a Political Act book, set to be published in early 2018. Rick captured the heart of our organization and mission, describing us as follows:

Friendship Force International, a nonprofit organization, focuses on person-to-person exchanges, with locals welcoming travelers into their homes and introducing their visitors to their cultures. In each destination, a “Friendship Force” club led by volunteers offers homestays and social activities, giving visitors the chance to get intimately acquainted with their hosts. Each one- to three-week program includes cultural experiences, such as learning to make traditional lavash bread in Armenia, visiting historic Brazilian fishing villages, or tobogganing on sand hills in Australia’s Hunter Valley.

Be sure to view Rick’s blog post on the topic as well to share your experiences with Friendship Force! Also check out a photo from Rick’s 2015 visit to Atlanta, Georgia’s local PBS station, where FFI Director of Marketing and Communications, Kaitlyn Ranney, chatted with him about Friendship Force!

Photo of Kaitlyn Ranney and Rick Steves
Rick Steves talks with FFI Director of Marketing and Communications, Kaitlyn Ranney, in 2015
Monday, March 13, 2017

FFI In the News

When foreigners ask if it’s safe to visit the United States

FFI President and CEO Jeremi Snook was recently interviewed by Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Political Blog on March 13, discussing the political situation in the United States and Friendship Force’s 40th Anniversary. As Galloway writes,

If the Friendship Force were a woman, she would be the empress dowager of Atlanta’s ambitions to become an international city.

The foreign exchange network made its debut 40 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, during a White House ceremony presided over by two of Washington’s newest residents, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter.

The concept was novel. Rather than stay in hotels, troupes of regular Americans without rank or government status would bunk in the homes of foreign hosts. The same hospitality would be offered here in return.

In its early days, when the Friendship Force became a vehicle for penetrating the Iron Curtain, journalists embedded themselves within the group. Later, headlines would tell of the World War II vet making a first, mind-changing visit to Japan or the former Vietnam War grunt hosting a woman from Hanoi….

Read the rest of the article from the AJC here.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Legacy Fund Name Change and Wayne Smith Legacy Circle Creation

During their October 2016 meeting, the FFI Board of Directors voted that the Legacy Fund be renamed the Annual Fund to reflect the use of funds received annually in support of our mission. The purpose of the fund will not change – it is a change in name only. When you give to the FFI Annual Fund, 100% of your donation will still go to support programs that encourage worldwide friendship.

Along with the change in name to the Annual Fund, the Board also voted to create the Wayne Smith Legacy Circle for the purpose of establishing a planned giving program. Planned giving involves integrating a donor’s charitable gift into his or her overall financial, tax, and estate planning objectives so as to maximize benefits to both the donor and Friendship Force International. The most common form of planned giving is leaving a bequest in your will to FFI. This new program is being established to honor Wayne Smith’s lasting legacy as FFI’s founder, and to bring together donors who choose to leave their own legacy at FFI through philanthropy. Learn more about Planned Giving to FFI here.

For more information, contact Development Coordinator Pallie Savoie, at

To donate to FFI, visit our Donate Page here.

Friendship Force, pioneer in global homestay experience, celebrates 40 years of promoting understanding, peace

More than 1 million people have enjoyed cultural immersion with new friends as they experience different views and discover common ground

ATLANTA, Ga. USA – Atlanta-based Friendship Force International, a global pioneer in promoting homestay travel experiences, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year of building bridges of understanding through a unique program in which more than 1 million strangers have become friends.

“When Atlantan Wayne Smith and then-President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter boldly announced the creation of The Friendship Force in 1977, they could not have dreamed how their idea would go on to change the world for the better,” commented Jeremi Snook, President and CEO of Friendship Force International. “Today, after four decades in which more than a million people all over the world have welcomed each other in their homes, one can truly believe that the bridges of understanding built by that single idea have resulted in a more peaceful world.

In 1977, Friendship Force quickly took its place on the world stage with a single program supporting a high-profile two-way citizen homestay exchange involving 762 citizen ambassadors between the United States and the United Kingdom.

What began as an experiment soon became a global phenomenon. Over the next five years, several large scale citizen exchanges ranging between 150 and 500 people took place around the world.

With guidance and direction from Smith and an international cast of prominent supporters, along with a determination by many create a more peaceful world, FFI continued to grow as average people eagerly embraced the excitement and wonder of meeting new friends and staying in their home for a few days, a week or more.

Today, thousands of people participate in more than 300 global and domestic travel experiences through Friendship Force International each year. Almost 400 Friendship Force clubs with some 15,000 members dot the planet in 66 countries. Participants of all ages and backgrounds have their choice of dozens of experience-rich, group and individual travel opportunities in which they can enjoy, learn, explore and serve.

“What Wayne Smith and the Carters started, and what has happened since then, are pretty tough acts to follow,” commented Robert Duncan, Chairman of the Friendship Force Board of Directors and President of the Baton Rouge, La. Friendship Force Club. “But we do have specific, research-based plans in motion to make the Friendship Force experience so attractive, meaningful, enriching and relevant to current and future generations that we’re confident we’ll be able to continue the positive impact on humanity those original travelers began so many years ago.”

In a nod to that first exchange to England in 1977, the host city for the international celebration of Friendship Force’s 40TH anniversary will be Manchester, U.K. in August.