By: Jillian Sims, HSP Marketing and Operations Manager
Merle Barr, Local Coordinator for CCI Greenheart in Washington state, has been a longstanding member of the CCI Greenheart family. She has seen the organization grow and change, from the early days where operations were run out of President Emanuel Kuntzelman’s parents’ basement to the multi-faceted and growing non-profit that we are today. She began her journey with CCI Greenheart in the early 90s, having worked previously with another exchange organization that eventually joined forces with what is today known as Greenheart International.
She remembers fondly the warm and friendly working relationships and enjoying one of our first conferences held at a golf resort where she mingled with Emanuel and his parents, Peg and Bill. Now, conferences have grown into grander affairs, rewarding our LCs for their volunteer efforts with exciting domestic and international destinations. And because of her ongoing commitment and volunteer work, Merle has had the pleasure of attending many of these.
But before she began as an LC, Merle first started as a host family when a fellow coworker presented the opportunity. This started a journey of more than 20 years in the exchange industry, both hosting and acting as a Local Coordinator. “Not counting the groups, I have placed over 300 high school students for CCI Greenheart…Some families have been hosting for over 20 years. I have a lot of repeat families – (about 18-20).”
In some ways, the positive effect this has had on her community can literally be measured, such as in the case of the trees and shrubs planted by Merle and her students through the Greenheart Club Projects at the Trumball Wildlife Refuge every year.
So many experiences have been gratifying to her over the years, but particularly close to Merle’s heart is the FLEX and YES program and students. Though Merle enjoys working with all of her students, it is the Grant scholarship students that she has found especially inspiring. These are the students that would not have necessarily had the chance to study abroad without a scholarship. Often, they come from regions of the world that differ greatly from our Western culture. The students are often bright and sociable and go through a difficult selection process to be chosen.
As with all of her students, experience with them has time and time again shown both her and their host communities the real heart and purpose of the international exchange experience. And it is thanks to team members like Merle that CCI Greenheart has been able to bring cultural exchange opportunities to individuals and communities since our start in 1985.