Fort Worth group doesn’t let international boundaries get in the way of friendship

03/04/2014 10:00 AM

03/04/2014 10:01 AM

Imagine inviting a few friends over to the house — from Latvia, or Mongolia or New Zealand.

That’s the mission and the reward for members of the Friendship Force of Fort Worth, a 66-member group that is part of an international nonprofit dedicated to creating an environment where personal friendships are established across barriers that separate people.

The Friendship Force International Inc. was formed in 1977 in Atlanta and is active in more than 60 countries, promoting friendship and goodwill through an extensive network of weeklong home stay exchanges.

The model appeals to a different kind of traveler.

“It’s more personal; you get to meet average people and see things from their perspective, not just a tourist point of view,” said Betty Kessler, a member of Fort Worth’s Friendship Force since 2007. She moved to Fort Worth from San Antonio, where she had been a Friendship Force member there since 1998.

Kessler has visited the Isle of Wight in England, as well as Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Costa Rica.

“So many people are not aware of the Friendship Force,” she said, “and so many would probably like to be involved.”

The Fort Worth club usually has at least one inbound and another outbound exchange each year as well as a domestic exchange. Members get together monthly at ethnic restaurants for fun and friendship and quarterly for business and exchange coordination.

The group’s quarterly meeting on Friday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. will include a special program of Spanish guitar music performed by classical guitarist, teacher and composer Eddie Healy at the Benbrook Public Library Community Room, 1065 Mercedes St.

In 2009, the Friendship Force of Fort Worth, in partnership with the city, developed its most visible project, an International Friendship Garden.

The peaceful garden, in Bluebonnet Park on South University Drive, commemorates each international exchange with paving bricks bearing the name of the foreign club and the date of the exchange. The garden is a gift of the club to Fort Worth residents.

Activities for international guests might include visits to museums, the Stockyards, host ranches, and JFK sites in Dallas. A large welcoming dinner and a goodbye dinner are always part of the tradition.

The Fort Worth club was established in March 1986 to serve all of North Texas, but by 1994, there were enough Dallas members to form another club. There are also Texas clubs in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

There are active Fort Worth members in Arlington, Benbrook, Colleyville, Crowley, Dallas, Euless, Fort Worth, Gordon, Granbury, Hurst, Keller, Saginaw, Southlake and Weatherford. One still-active member lives in San Ramon, Ca.

The Friendship Force of Fort Worth has sent groups to or has hosted groups from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, England, Germany, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia and Taiwan.

This year, visitors will be coming in May from western Australia, and Fort Worth members will then visit Australia in the fall.

Officers for 2014 are James Young, president; Jean Caddell, vice president; Saundra Zieg, secretary; and Peter Lombard, treasurer.

For more information, visit www.fffw.org.

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