WorldChicago President Peggy Parfenoff Bids Farewell After 22 Years

After 22 years of bringing countries and cultures together and contributing to peace and stability in the world, Peggy Parfenoff is stepping down as WorldChicago President. She’s been a great stabilizing force for the organization and has overseen a great increase in programming and impact. Please read Peggy’s reflections below on her time at WorldChicago and her optimism for the organization’s future.

The really crucial link in the international communication chain is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another – Edward R. Murrow, Director, USIA, 1961- 1963

I experienced citizen diplomacy and understood its importance early on when I was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris. It was clear to me that people meeting each other on a one-to-one basis changes minds and dispels stereotypes. I was happy not to be an Ugly American. This early citizen diplomacy experience eventually led me to join an international organization like WorldChicago. When I interviewed for the Executive Director role, it was right after 9/11 and I remember saying that citizen diplomacy was more important than ever. After 22 years, I can still say that today. As we look at our children who are growing up in a global community, and as we respond to social justice and inequality issues, WorldChicago will work to make sure that everyone in Chicago, in all our neighborhoods, can be a citizen diplomat.

Showing our Beautiful City to the World

WorldChicago’s international visitors to Chicago are always surprised at how beautiful our city is, how large the lake is, and how friendly Midwesterners are. But what goes home with them is more than just good photos and memories. It is the visitor from Pakistan – when asked what souvenirs he was taking back home said “What I want to take back cannot fit in my suitcase, it is the true sense of freedom you have in the United States.”

There have been so many new and exciting programs - I am honored to have been a part of WorldChicago’s growth and accomplishments. A SportsUnited grant for Brazil allowed us to take experts in Disability rights work to Brazil to discuss the upcoming Olympic games and brought teen athletes with disabilities from Brazil back to Chicago for a two-week exchange. We are all still active supporters of each other on Facebook and we have made life-long friends from that trip.

The Professional Fellows program– matching entrepreneurs from the Balkans with Chicago --was transformative for our organization and one of my career highlights. The alumni network is one of the most engaging, outstanding groups of people I have the honor of getting to know. It is inspiring to see so many generous Chicago entrepreneurs giving back to the next generation. Most memorable and enjoyable were the Board trips to Cuba, Turkey and the Balkans that took our board members to see our alumni in their home countries- the best way to show program impact!

Thank you

I am delighted to be handing over the reins of WorldChicago into Jennifer Dixon’s capable hands. As Vice President at WorldChicago for nearly two years it has been a true pleasure watching her grow into the world of Citizen Diplomacy and implementing international exchanges.

To the many Chicagoans who have been my board members, mentors, homestay hosts, professional hosts, and to all our partners and supporters– thank you. You have made it possible for WorldChicago to grow and be a vibrant international partner.

I am especially appreciative of our amazing team - both staff and Board - and they are what I will miss the most. My entire tenure at WorldChicago has been with a committed, dedicated staff and Board with steadfast passion for our mission. The Global Ties network is the most supportive community I’m delighted to be a part of, and I look forward to remaining engaged with them!

So, after 22 years I am excited to start a new chapter but am confident our paths will cross again soon … maybe in Chicago, or another more remote part of the world. To echo the Murrow quote I opened with, nothing replaces the people-to-people exchange, so please keep raising your hand to host a dinner or a young person for a homestay – it is life-changing for you and the visitor, and it is a sure way to make our world a better place and be a citizen diplomat right here in our great city of Chicago.

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