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Making Memories Every Mile at the TCS New York City Marathon

Posted on Monday, November 29th, 2021 at 1:53 pm.

By Katie Knoch, Office of Private Sector Exchange, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

BridgeUSA participants volunteer alongside Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange, Nicole Elkon

This year, on November 7, 2021, the TCS New York City Marathon took place after a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19.  The 2021 TCS New York City Marathon commemorated the event’s 50th race with runners from all over the world participating both in person and virtually.

Building on the tremendous success of the past five years, the U.S. Department of State’s BridgeUSA program organized an opportunity for exchange visitors to volunteer at the marathon. More than 500 BridgeUSA volunteers, including au pairs, interns, students, research scholars, and designated sponsor organizations and Department of State representatives, provided runners from 140 countries with water, Gatorade, and encouragement at several mile markers in Brooklyn and in Manhattan.

BridgeUSA programs bring 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.  Volunteering at the TCS New York City Marathon provided a great opportunity to gain memorable experience first-hand.

“I wanted to volunteer today because I heard about how life-changing the opportunity was from au pairs that volunteered in the past,” said Anna, an au pair from Germany. “The team spirit and sense of togetherness from volunteering is something that people don’t forget.”

Tamires from Brazil said, “To be a volunteer at the marathon was an amazing experience because we didn’t know each other but we helped each other. We didn’t just give waters and Gatorades to the runners; we gave them good energy too … When we do volunteer work, we’re doing better to ourselves.”

BridgeUSA participants replenishing water at Mile Marker 6 in Brooklyn

Sherri, a sponsor representative from AuPairCare, said, “it was wonderful to see the au pairs enjoying themselves and feeling such a part of the experience. They were all so touched that the runners were thanking them for volunteering … so much camaraderie–our staff, au pairs, and host families greatly enjoyed the day.”

Since its start in 2015, the tradition of the BridgeUSA community participating in marathons has not only spread across the country, but across the globe as well. Eighteen (18) members of the J1 alumni association of Lithuania volunteered for the second year in a row at water stations during the biggest sport event in Lithuania, the Vilnius marathon. Following the model implemented in Lithuania, 23 alumni from the recently created BridgeUSA alumni association in Estonia volunteered at a cooling station during the Tallin Marathon.

“Helping out at the water stations at the marathons is an opportunity for our exchange visitors to embrace volunteerism, a quintessential value in American society,” said Nicole Elkon, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. “I’ve had the pleasure of seeing first-hand the impact the experience has on our exchange visitors, as well as the effect our exchange visitors have on American runners. It is truly a mutually beneficial experience for all involved.”

Categories: Participants, Program Spotlight

About Karen Ward

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange

Karen Ward

Karen Ward has been with the Department of State and the Exchange Visitor Program for over thirty years. Karen joined Private Sector Exchange as the Director of the Office of Private Sector Exchange Designation in December 2014. She previously had worked on all aspects of the Exchange Visitor Program, including program analyst for the secondary school student, teacher, post-secondary student, research scholar, trainee and intern categories and served as the Division Chief of the Private Sector Programs Division for three years. She spent three years as a Policy Analyst and a Senior Compliance Office within the Office of Exchange Coordination and Compliance. She has extensive knowledge on program management, the regulatory process, form development, and SEVIS administration.

Karen, a native of Maryland, is a career federal civil servant with more than 30 years of service, working mostly in the areas of international exchanges and operation management. She enjoys mentoring and volunteering in her community.