Global Ties Alabama, a Huntsville-based organization, seeks families and individuals who can provide an American home experience for visitors from all over the world.
Founded in 1965, GTA has become the face of Alabama for many international visitors, including emerging leaders and high school students, according to GTA Director Jacquelyn Shipe.
"Initially, it was hosting delegations here in the Tennessee Valley, but since 2009, we've expanded to host delegations for the Tennessee Valley area, Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, Mobile and a variety of other cities," Shipe said.
Delegates come to Alabama to study a variety of topics. They spend their days visiting area schools and businesses or attending meetings with professionals in their related fields.
"It used to be human rights and civil rights," Shipe said. "Now it spans the topics of education in the digital age, foreign policy and human rights, anti-Semitism, youth and civic engagement, primary education, high school education, nonprofit management, women in politics, civil society and cybersecurity."
High school students may stay with a host family for 10 days or up to three weeks. While days are generally filled with activities arranged by GTA, it's the moments after the day is over that are equally important, Shipe said.
"What's important is for these people to learn about American culture, not by sitting in a classroom but by interacting with the family," Shipe said.
That said, a host family does not necessarily have to be a married couple with children in the home. The ideal host would be able to provide a separate bedroom and bed for their guest, as well as transportation at the start and end of the guest's day. They must be able to pass a formal background check, undergo a home inspection and have a desire to learn and share about different cultures.
"As we've watched the programs we administer evolve, there's a lot of people who think globally or want to have an impact globally but can't travel for a variety of reasons," Shipe said, "so we bring countries to Alabama for the same face-to-face interaction and opportunities to learn from one another that can take place without you having to leave the state."
For those that have the desire but not the residential accommodations, there are other opportunities available.
"When our delegations come to their meetings, we love to have a local guide to accompany them," Shipe said. "You can volunteer to go with them to their meetings. You could volunteer to be a greeter, someone who maybe works during the day but can meet them at the airport or for a short time during the day."
There is also an availability for home hospitality hosts, or people who can't provide overnight rooms but can provide a warm, home-cooked meal the likes of which can only be found in Alabama.
"They want to know how the American family eats," Shipe said. "It gives them that interaction and face-to-face conversation that makes such a difference in what we call citizen diplomacy."
And for those who still have energy to burn, there's a need for evening or late-night volunteers, too.
"Being able to take them out to one of the local gatherings where there's maybe trivia being played ... that is an incredible opportunity if someone would want to volunteer," Shipe said. "We have someone who has volunteered for years to do that with us. She doesn't host because she lives at home with her parents, but she loves to take them out to a local restaurant or a local event where they could have some fun."
Of course, none of this is free. GTA receives an appropriation from the city of Huntsville and Madison County, but Shipe said it only covers a small portion of their upkeep. To that end, anyone who wishes to volunteer their finances rather than their time is encouraged to visit https://globaltiesalabama.org/home-2/donate/.
"There are 85 organizations like ours around the country, but we're the only one in Alabama," Shipe said.
To become a part of GTA's citizen diplomacy in action, visit "Global Ties Alabama" on Facebook, call 256-532-3560 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.