Hidden Gem: Gulf Coast Diplomacy Council

One of the hidden gems of Pensacola is the Gulf Coast Diplomacy Council, a non-partisan, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to create and encourage collaboration between like-minded community stakeholders who value sharing the Central Gulf Coast with the rest of the world. Every few weeks they host a different group of international visitors to the Pensacola area.

John Asmar, local attorney and Mayor Ashton Hayward’s Chief of Staff, chairs the Council board, which includes Gregg Noble (Treasurer), John McMahon (Sec.),
Randy Bullock, Joe Denmon, Dr. Allan Ford, Dr. Richard Hough, Monsignor Luke Hunt, Dr. Jack Kichler, Dennis Kohli, Dr. Angela McCorvey, Dr. Bradley M. Proctor, Dick Schneider, Susan C. Smart and Keith Wilkins. PNJ publisher Kevin Doyle serves in an advisory role.

In in July, the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council hosted the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) for the second consecutive summer. IYLEP is a leadership and cultural exchange program sponsored by the US Embassy in Baghdad which selects students from cities across Iraq as its participants.

Nine of the selected students and one chaperone came to Pensacola as part of their month-long national program. Each stayed with a host family while to give them the opportunity to learn about American culture and family life. The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council also selected local high school students to join the Pensacola portion of IYLEP, giving all a chance to interact and learn about each other while building leadership skills. Council interns Jennifer Reid and Matthew Rizzo served as team leaders for the project.

The itinerary was divided into four categories, volunteer activities, workshops, social activities, and traditional meetings. As a result, a typical day included a variety of experiences. A tour of Historic Pensacola Village, a session of icebreakers at Alabama Square, a canoeing trip down the Blackwater River, and games at Big Lagoon State Park all were part of the schedule alongside attending a meeting of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners, seeing the National Naval Aviation Museum, and learning about area history and ecology at Fort Pickens. While with the Perdido Tribe Creek Indians, the students examined educational outreach and the history of Native Americans with Chief Bearheart, and at the Office of Diversity and International Education at the University of West Florida (UWF), Rachel Errington and Shigeko Honda shared information on the international programs offered at UWF. At Digital Media Education (dMe) the Iraqi students learned how to create, film, and edit videos through actual industry techniques, and at WEAR TV the group observed the filming of the evening newscast.

Volunteerism played a huge role in the week. Students worked with Feeding the Hungry Plus at First United Methodist Church, helped at the Ronald McDonald House, and acted as mentors with Students Taking Responsibility in Developing Excellence (STRIDE), a community-based mentorship program that works with at-risk fourth and fifth grade male students; and after attending two different public speaking workshops, one led by Florida State University graduate student Terry Epps, and the other by Meiga Loho-Noya, a graduate student with the University of West Florida (UWF) Communication Arts Department, the group toured the Pensacola Boys Base and gave speeches on Iraqi culture and history to the residents of that moderate-risk halfway house.

The week’s activities culminated at an awards ceremony where Maren DeWeese, president of the city council, presented each member with a certificate, a group photo, and a copy of the video that was made by the Iraqi students and the staff.

Upcoming visits:

Aug 21 – 24
Nine visitors from Sri Lanka
Youth Leadership

Aug 25 – 30
Seven visitors from Ethiopia, Fiji, Gambia, India, Lebanon, Mauritius, and Serbia
U.S. Judicial System

Sept 28 – Oct 1
Six visitors from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Sudan, and Swaziland
Women in Entrepreneurship

Oct 5 – 11
Five visitors, countries TBA
The Spirit of Volunteerism: Honoring 50 Years of the Peace Corps

Oct 27 – Nov 1
Seven visitors, countries TBA
U.S. Foreign Policy Challenges

Nov 2 – Nov 5
Three visitors from Panama
Combating Domestic Violence