(BLOOMINGTON) - This fall, Bloomington will be the first Indiana city to be part of "Friendship Force International," a global community.
An Atlanta-based organization, Friendship Force International is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year of promoting friendship and good will among people in 365 cities and 57 countries.
Every year, Friendship Force International members participate in home-stay exchanges and live in the homes of chapter members in a different country for a week or two.
"It is a worldwide organization that is technically a peace organization," said Bill Blaine, Friendship Force member of 22 years who is starting the Bloomington chapter. "In a world of friends, there is a world of peace."
Blaine said Friendship Force International tries to decide which club goes where, and then the individual clubs contact each other. They try to send 20 to 25 people at a time and at the other end, there is a leader who arranges housing and matches people with similar interests, ages and occupations.
"It is really just a matter of meeting people," Blaine said. "The goal is strictly making friends. You actually become part of their family. You contact each other and write back and forth. This is not just in the United States. It is happening all over the world."
Blaine said he and his wife have traveled to 42 countries in the past 20 years.
"It is a very unique club and it almost dominates our life," he said. "It has become an addiction."
Bloomington is only one of the chapter expansions started in celebration of the organization's 35-year mark on March 1.
"This milestone is a testament to the enduring relevance of our mission to promote global understanding across the barriers that separate people," President George Brown said in a press release. "Our mission is just as important today as it was 35 years ago, and maybe more so."
Building world peace is just as big a challenge today as it was in 1977, when the organization was founded, Brown said.
"One friendship at a time, the FFI will continue the slow but steady journey to greater understanding among people, a process we began 35 years ago that can lead to a better world for all," he said.
In addition to the United States expansion, the organization will start new clubs in Mexico, Japan, Colombia, Russia, Turkey, Indonesia, Cuba and East Africa.
"A million people around the world have benefited from the legacy provided by those who built the Friendship Force 35 years ago," Brown said. "Now, it is our turn to build for the future."
Brown said all the great cultures of the world cherish the act of providing hospitality to strangers.
"Spend a few days in the home of a Russian, Japanese or Brazilian, and you'll quickly learn that we don't have a monopoly on great hospitality," he said. "Close to 5,000 people this year will become Friendship Force ambassadors and travel to a foreign community to live with a like-minded member of the host city. A week after entering their host home, they will bid farewell, as friends. With friendship comes understanding, and with understanding the recognition that the differences that exist don't have to divide."
Blaine said the club, whose target age group is 35 to 65 years old, works better in medium-sized towns like Bloomington.
"We hope to get 20 to 25 new people and get them off and running on their own," he said. "College students can't afford it or have the time for it. College professors have the interest in the world."
However, members don't have to travel, and instead can strictly have guests in their home.
"Many members never travel and have people in their own home," Blaine said. "It is almost as satisfying as going abroad."
Blaine said he hopes to have a public meeting in Bloomington in August about the organization and have the chapter started by fall to give time to meet and organize trips for the next summer.
For more information about the Bloomington chapter, email Blaine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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