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Bridging the ‘Last Three Feet’ Over 26.2 Miles

Posted on Wednesday, December 4th, 2019 at 4:39 pm.

By Christian Caudill, Office of Private Sector Exchange, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Exchange Visitors hand out Gatorade to NYC Marathon runners in Brooklyn. Credit: Gisela Nilsson, Cultural Care Au Pair

Exchange Visitors hand out Gatorade to NYC Marathon runners in Brooklyn. Credit: Gisela Nilsson, Cultural Care Au Pair

For the fifth year in a row, the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) comprised the largest group of volunteers for the TCS New York City Marathon. More than 1,600 volunteers—au pairs, interns, students, research scholars, and designated sponsor organizations and Department of State representatives—provided runners from 135 countries with water, Gatorade, and encouragement at miles 5 and 6 in Brooklyn and miles 18, 19 and 23 in Manhattan.

The EVP brings more than 300,000 participants to the United States each year to work, teach, or study while improving their English language skills and understanding of everyday American culture and values.

“The NYC Marathon is an opportunity to expose Exchange Visitor Program participants to volunteerism, a hallmark of American civic life,” said Lynette Evans-Tiernan, director of public affairs for the Exchange Visitor Program. “This experience not only gives participants the opportunity to give back to their American host communities, but our hope it that this experience also sparks a renewed commitment for them to return home and create positive change in their local communities.”

In fact, 90 percent of 2019 volunteers said they are more likely to perform volunteer service at home based on their marathon experience, and 96 percent recommend that Exchange Visitor Program participants volunteer next year.

“If I get the chance to do it again, I always would,” said Teresa Reichelt, an Exchange Visitor from Germany. “Through my volunteering experience at the NYC Marathon, I have learned that doing something to help others or being part of something bigger than yourself gives you a great feeling that cannot be described with words.”

Exchange Visitors replenish a water station along the NYC Marathon route. Credit: Elizabeth Azeizat, Au Pair in America

Exchange Visitors replenish a water station along the NYC Marathon route. Credit: Elizabeth Azeizat, Au Pair in America

Marcia Tyler, director of event staffing and volunteer operations at New York Road Runners, noted the “natural fit” of having EVs volunteer at the race. “I made that instant connection. Here we are in New York City—what a diverse city that we live in. And we look at our runners and all of the countries they come from, and then you have the [Exchange] Visitors.”

Participants agree.

“Seeing people from all over the world, for me, was amazing,” Thabiso Tjatjie, an EV from South Africa said. “I saw everyone—Asia, Europe, U.S., Africa, everywhere—all together. I loved it!”

In addition to the more than 1,600 volunteers, this year, more than 30 members of the EVP community ran the marathon.

Serena Vences, an au pair from Mexico, decided to run this year after volunteering at the 2018 marathon. “I prepared for one year to run the marathon [and] since I did not run long distances, it was a hard year,” she said. “[Being] an au pair for two years was a very important challenge in my life. I thought ‘what better way to close the cycle that running the NYC Marathon.’ I think it is something you need to experience once in lifetime”

Since its inception in 2015, the tradition of bringing together the EVP community to volunteer at marathons has spread across the country. In addition to New York City, EVs have volunteered at marathons in Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Nashville. This year, EVs also volunteered at the Richmond Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC.

Exchange Visitors volunteer at the Boston Marathon pre-race pasta dinner. Credit: Gisela Nilsson, Cultural Care Au Pair

Exchange Visitors volunteer at the Boston Marathon pre-race pasta dinner. Credit: Gisela Nilsson, Cultural Care Au Pair

Whether volunteers or runners, their experiences at marathons leave a lasting impact on EVs.

“Volunteering at the marathon was such a beautiful experience because I saw people from all over the world with different cultures, religion and social status being part of the same thing. There were no differences, it was humanity,” Martina Menti, an EV from Italy said. “I saw different people on the same level. Everyone helps each other and it was so beautiful. This is a marathon but all of the participants win, including the volunteers.”

Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

G. Kevin Saba

G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.

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