The Helena Group that brings international visitors to Montana is going through a tough time

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A longtime nonprofit group that brings an international flair to Montana faces tough and changing times, according to its chairman of the board, who has vowed the organization will survive but isn’t quite sure what his future will look like.

Helena-based WorldMontana’s Jeffrey Tiberi spoke about the challenges his group faces to members of Hometown Helena, a grassroots civic organization, saying they have not recovered from the ravages of COVID-19, in which travel international organizations and human contact was limited.

“The pandemic has knocked our socks off,” he said Thursday, adding that they hadn’t had visitors in so long that many WorldMontana members had lost interest and initiative. “Of course we have Zoom meetings, but they’re not good enough.”

WorldMontana, nearly 30 years old, is one of 95 nonprofit centers in the United States that promotes global understanding through citizen diplomacy. He works with the International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the US State Department. It organizes meetings between international visitors and their professional counterparts to discuss common interests.

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Before the pandemic, WorldMontana welcomed more than 170 visitors from 50 countries each year, Tiberi said. More recently, German journalists visited Helena and Whitefish.

He said it has brought benefits to Montana, as in 2018 WorldMontana turned local $39,000 into $154,000 of economic activity in the state.

Tiberi said he compares WorldMontana to farmers planting the seeds of international understanding and cooperation for world peace right here in Montana. And he said visitors often give Montana top marks on their trip to the United States. This includes people who also travel to Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

“You know how the Montanans are,” he said in a Friday phone interview, “we’re upfront and tell it like it is.”

Tiberi quoted a visitor who said the band had changed their minds about the American Dream.

He told members of Hometown Helena that he once asked a dignitary what was the only thing they could take from us. The answer was: right turn on red.

Nikki Andersen, vice chair of the board who now serves as acting director, said the program attracts emerging leaders from around the world who eventually end up in Montana as part of their visit to the United States. United.

Most study a specific subject essential to their country.

“The people we host in Montana are extremely committed to making the most of their time here in the United States and specifically in Montana,” she said.







WorldMontana


She and Tiberi said that on the Montana side of the equation, there are so many issues that interest these guests, such as mining, Native American issues and entrepreneurship.

They said the visits provide an opportunity to build international relationships that can benefit Montana.

Tiberi told Hometown Helena that since the pandemic, many WorldMontana board members are unwilling to serve another term.

“We are down to four board members, but we are determined to succeed, he said, adding that they “will survive one way or another, but it will be different.”

Tiberi said the board is considering future options: is it following the same model it has used in the past? Is it looking for partners who have the same objectives or should it connect with another international entity?

And in a Facebook post in August, he announced the resignation of executive director Sasha Fendrick, who he said was well known throughout the community. He said they did not fill the position for financial reasons.

He thanked the hundreds of Montanese who have helped over the years.

Tiberi said the band is “limping now,” waiting to hear his grant application from Washington, D.C.

“Once this is confirmed, we will go faster with our vehicle here,” he said.

Those with questions, comments or ideas can contact Tiberi at [email protected] or go to [email protected]

To donate, go to https://worldmontana.org/.

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Associate Editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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