A 12-member delegation of European policy and political professionals swung through Kentucky last week, visiting The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Ky. on March 11 as part of a five-city tour organized by the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL).
Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center, welcomed the ACYPL delegates from the Roma countries of Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Slovakia to Somerset and took the group on a guided tour of the state-of-the-art facility.
“We are honored to welcome these young professional leaders and European delegates to The Center, and to be a part of their cultural experience while visiting Kentucky,” Lawson said. “By opening a dialogue and networking with these leaders, we can learn from each other through a mutual exchange of creative and productive ideas.”
The Center, established in 1996 through the vision of U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, (KY-05), and other leaders, is a nonprofit organization fueled by a mission to provide leadership that stimulates innovative and sustainable economic development solutions and a better way of life for residents in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.
“It is a great place,” ACPYL delegate Dijana Pavlonic of Italy said after touring The Center. “You would rarely see this (kind of building) in Europe.”
The delegates are members of the European Roma ethnic minority population, a group that makes up two percent of the total European population and that faces major economic, social, and political challenges due to discrimination and limited access to education and employment.
In addition to Lawson, the delegation met with Pikeville College vice president James Hurley and Dr. Boyd Buser, vice dean of the Pikeville College School of Osteopathic Medicine. Afterwards, they had lunch with representatives of Young Professionals of East Kentucky (YPEK), Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, and the Young Chamber Professionals of Lake Cumberland.
Award-winning country and bluegrass vocalist Dale Ann Bradley made a special guest appearance and performed selection of traditional bluegrass music while guests enjoyed lunch. Bradley is a mainstay at Kentucky’s Renfro Valley Barn Dance, and former member of the New Coon Creek Girls group.
“We wanted to showcase the best of our commonwealth,” Nathan Mick, who served as the delegation’s Kentucky host and escorted the group to The Center, said. “That is part of the reason we brought the delegates down to The Center for Rural Development.
“It has been a very positive experience for them and for us here in Kentucky as well,” he said.
Mick, economic development director for Garrard County and a member of The Center’s Board of Directors, is a Roma descendant himself and ACPYL alumnus, having traveled to Australia on an ACPYL program in 2009.
The D.C.-based international education NGO the ACPYL hosted the European delegation while in the United States. During the course of the program, the delegates participated in open discussions with government officials; community, business and labor leaders; social services and NGO representatives; and local citizens.
Through these interactions, they examined government policy-making, American politics, political advocacy, and social and community service efforts aimed at creating opportunities for public policy solutions that address the needs of underserved and minority populations. The delegation also explored the role of political participation and representation in addressing social and economic challenges.
In Washington, D.C., the delegates examined the role and function of the federal government and NGO’s in public policy making. They meet with Congressman Ben Chandler (D-KY), the National Democratic Institute, and the AFL-CIO.
They concluded their visit to the United States on March 12 after making brief stops in Lexington, Frankfort, Somerset, Covington, and Lancaster.
ACYPL programs are generously funded by the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
ACYPL delegate Imre Balog said he received a lot of “good” ideas, particularly in project implementation, he plans to take back home to Hungary.
“When we finish our trip and we have had a chance to summarize everything we have seen here,” he said, “then we can measure what are some of the differences and what are some of the parallels we have with the United States.”