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In 2011, Global Connections celebrated its 50th anniversary as a genuinely unique, homegrown, grassroots organization. During the past half century, thousands of Centre Region volunteers have made it possible for Global Connections to assist and enrich the lives of tens of thousands of internationals – and natives – in our communities.
After WWII, ever increasing numbers of internationals came to State College and other local communities to study, work, or take up residence; most of these were Penn State students and scholars and their families but there also were immigrants, non-citizen employees of local businesses, and so on. Over time, various community organizations and individuals recognized the adjustment difficulties many of these internationals faced and moved to offer assistance. The organizations included: Centre County Home Economists in Homemaking, the Junior Women’s Club, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, and the Kiwanis. The individual, non-affiliated volunteers were a diverse group. The services they offered included meeting and transporting new internationals from the bus station and airport; offering instruction on shopping in a supermarket; demonstrating the use of modern appliances; and providing English Language Classes.
By 1960, the pressure of increasing numbers of internationals was leading to problems and misunderstandings in the community, to the point that many restaurants and barber shops would not serve internationals. In 1961, the Burgess of State College spurred a community organizing effort aimed to address these and other problems, and to coordinate the various existing efforts to assist internationals. In 1961, the Community International Hospitality Council (CIHC) was born as a confederation of the various organizations and groups of individuals who had demonstrated commitment. Their mission, as it remains, was to aid in the adjustment and well-being of internationals in our midst and to educate the local community about them.
Over the intervening 50 years, there have been a myriad of milestones. This organization was granted tax exempt [501(c)(3)] status by the Federal government. It became a United Way agency in 1965 and a member of the Centre County Council for Human Services in 1972. The Friendship Program was founded in 1974. In 1982, the Office of International Students (ISS) arranged for an office and overhead support for CIHC and for limited University funding to enable the organization to hire a part-time coordinator to staff that office. During the 1980s, international students and regulatory responsibilities charged to ISS increased dramatically, but the staff did not; three programs initiated by ISS—the Conversation Partners, International Speakers, and Tax Assistance Programs—could no longer be sustained and, thus became CIHC programs. In 1997, the organization was a founding member of the Russian Advisory Group which enabled hundreds of Russian immigrants to successfully integrate into the community. In 2001, CIHC initiated its biennial “Passport on a Plate” dinner, which is by far the organization’s most successful fundraising program. In 2005, CIHC formally became Global Connections (GC), and in 2008, GC opened a modest endowment with the Centre Community Foundation.
In addition to those mentioned above, Global Connections sponsors and operates the following programs: International Children’s Festival, Cultural Luncheons, Found in Translation, Women’s Intercultural Book Groups, the International Friendship Program, Women’s International Night, and Translator/Interpreter Services. Global Connections continues to serve as a bridge between Penn State and the Centre Region, building community across cultures. The work of this organization continues to touch the lives of many people, from the most vulnerable living in the community to those with ample resources.
Currently, Global Connections is housed on the third floor of the Boucke Building, one floor below Penn State University’s Office of Global Programs. The agency is run by three paid staff members and many hundreds of volunteers.