The Carters and Friendship Force

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The Carters and The Friendship Force

It all began in 1972 when a Southern governor and his wife traveled to Brazil with a former missionary. The governor? Jimmy Carter. The missionary? Wayne Smith. The result: The Friendship Force.

“I knew the Carters and saw them to be the kind of people who didn’t have to be limited to the formal diplomatic circles when traveling abroad,” Smith remembered. “I challenged them to go as ‘citizen diplomats’ meeting the people as well as the members of the power structure.”

Several years later, the governor became president of the United States. Smith suggested to the Carters that an organization be formed that would provide people of all countries the opportunity to reach out in friendship across the barriers which often divide them. The Carters readily agreed, and on March 1, 1977 — just weeks after Jimmy Carter assumed office — The Friendship Force was launched publicly at a White House dinner, and Rosalynn Carter was designated honorary chairperson, a position she held until 2002.

“It is not so unusual for an organization to have an association with people of the stature of the Carters,” said Smith, who became president of The Friendship Force. “What is unusual, however, is the time, dedication and personal commitment that they have given to us for a full 20 years.”

One of the highlights of the Carters’ Friendship Force connection was the 10th anniversary exchange in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. Both Carters attended and, like the other participants, had a homestay with a local family. They didn’t just talk about making friends. They participated!

According to the Carters, there is an ongoing need for international friendship. In a recent letter endorsing the 20th anniversary exchanges, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter stated, “Many of the old barriers that separated people are gone, and The Friendship Force played its part in making this happen. But the need for friendship between people of different countries is as great as ever. You can help build a safer and friendlier world by participating in an exchange.”

On March 20, 1997, The Friendship Force officially celebrated its 20th birthday. Hundreds gathered from around the world toasted the friendships made and the opportunities that lay ahead. And when the birthday cake was brought out, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter — our First Family of Friendship — were there to blow out the candles.

Reprinted from the January/February 1997 issue of Friendship magazine. Edited for dated references. Friendship is published bimonthly by the Friendship Force, a nonprofit international citizens exchange program. Subscriptions may be obtained as part of membership in your local club.