Written by: Maria Thomas Fisher
Rochester Global Connections (RGC) is a local non-profit that connects Rochesterians with visitors and students from around the world. RGC (known at the time as the Rochester International Friendship Committee) was incorporated in 1957 and focused on introducing international students to our community. As RGC celebrates its 60th anniversary, the scope of their work has expanded tremendously during this time. Two programs that RGC supports extensively are the Open World Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program.
The Open World Program is funded by U.S. Congress and supports post-soviet area countries. The program helps support positive relationships between our countries, links emerging leaders to professional counterparts & encourages long-term friendships between visitors and host families. Veteran, youth and refugee services are some of the topics that Open World Program visits have been focused around. Recently, due to the volatile situation in Russian occupied Crimea, there have been a number of Ukrainian visitors seeking information about how to best support and serve veterans.
The International Visitor Leadership Program is supported by the U.S. Department of State and brings emerging leaders from around the world to the United States for a three week, three city visit. The topics addressed are based on the foreign policy issues that are significant at the time like countering violent extremism with discussions around engaging youth in positive activities such as youth entrepreneurship. Recently, a group of Nigerian women visited Rochester to learn more about women’s involvement in the US political system. Through this program, Rochester utilizes its strengths as a city to contribute to increasing global knowledge.
Cecelia Hencke is the RGC Executive Director and the only full-time staff person. Cecelia started with RGC by volunteering to host an international student and fell in love with the work. Cecelia is emphatic that the work of RGC could not happen without the dozens of dedicated community volunteers who support this important relationship building work. In addition to the Open World and International Visitor programs there are other opportunities to volunteer. Friendship volunteers support incoming international students and help them feel welcome by doing social and cultural activities a few times during the year. Currently, there are not enough volunteers to support the many international students who are looking for a Friendship Volunteer. RGC would love to expand this program to serve all interested international students. In the fall, RGC hosts an International Student Welcome Picnic for international students with over 200 students attending each year. RGC is also in need of volunteers to host international visitors in their homes. Hosting usually occurs from 2-3 days to 2 weeks at most. Many Friendship Volunteers and Hosts have developed decades long friendships with visitors.
If you would like to learn more about RGC’s international work, RGC and the Middle East Institute have partnered to host a free, special event next week featuring internationally renowned blind photographer and app developer Mohammad Saad. Mohammad will be discussing his innovative technology and how he has been fighting stereotypes of the disabled in his home of Saudi Arabia. The presentation will be followed by a reception and tours of the George Eastman House.
Cecelia Hencke says that one of the special aspects and opportunities of RGC’s work with international visitors and international students is that it forces everyone involved to constantly be learning and to move out of their comfort zone.
To learn more about supporting RGC’s work to “make a difference one handshake at a time”, visit them online:
To learn more about the Mohammad Saad presentation Seeing Clearly Now: Creative Technology for the Blind in Saudi Arabia go to https://saad-ny.eventbrite.com