VIENNA - People to People International representative Kristine Knutter was in town Monday night to help teenagers involved in the organization get a better grasp on helping their community.
The Parkersburg chapter of the organization was initiated by Jeff D'Costa and Kimberly Pope-Shulman. Shulman said the organization has participated in a blanket and pillow drive in the past, and plans to launch the initiatives again in the next couple of months.
"It's the first (PTPI chapter) in West Virginia," she said. "We welcome anyone who wants to participate."
Photo by Mandi Cardosi
Members of the local People to People International organization met Monday with a representative from Kansas City. Front row from left, Katie Gnegy, Braelli Somerville, Kristine Knutter, Courtney Oran; back row, Noah Mancuso, Paul Fernandes, Saaman Ghodsi, Alex Eckhart, Alexander D’Costa, Jackson Justice, Julian Dye and Jackson Porter.
D'Costa said the program encourages teenagers to take part in humanitarian projects to raise awareness on issues such as the homeless in their local communities.
Pope-Shulman said the group was formed in the Parkersburg area about a year ago. She initially got involved because her daughter was in high school, and the organization's efforts have been about helping those less fortunate.
The nonprofit movement was started by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The program was founded on Sept. 11, 1956, as part of the U.S. Information Agency, according to the website.
The website states the program was established to emphasize "personal diplomacy and nongovernmental contacts between people." After Eisenhower left office, he "arranged to have the program privatized as a nongovernmental organization that would enable people worldwide to continue on the path toward peace through people-to-people activities," the website states.
Now, the organization is operated by Eisenhower's granddaughter Mary Jean Eisenhower. Mary Jean serves as president and chief executive officer.
The local chapter meeting was held at CJ's Italian Kitchen in Vienna on Monday.
During the meeting, Knutter coached the high-schoolers on how to make their chapter of the organization a successful one. She told them not to focus on numbers, but instead for the teenagers to use the time and tools they have been given.
Knutter works in Kansas City, where the program is headquartered.
"I tell them what resources we have," she said.
Knutter is a manager of student chapters and has been working with the students for about seven years. She said she got involved to make a difference in communities around the world.
"I believed the program could help students learn the needs in (their own) communities; help make a difference," she said. "I truly believe learning about other cultures will bring about peace and understanding."
The Parkersburg chapter of teenagers has a good grasp on the humanitarian purpose of the organization, Knutter said, but added the group could focus more on learning about different cultures.
She gets to visit the various chapters about three times a year. Because of her responsibilities to other communities, the community president holds a lot of responsibility, she said.
"It's a lot of responsibility for the trained chapter president," she said. "I talk to them every summer (over the phone)."
Knutter said she encourages chapters to take part in fun activities to get to know each other. She said that can make all the difference and can leave students knowing each others' strengths.
"They get involved to make a difference," she said. "It's important to know who's good at organizing, who likes to write; identifying personal skills."
Knutter told the group of students the organization offers monetary incentives for groups that do well. By taking a step in the right direction, the 30 best chapters can be issued awards for supporting the activities they work on.
"Knowing each other can make a great chapter," she said.