Then Iowa Governor Robert Ray and Mrs. Billie Ray worked directly with Wayne Smith, President Carter and others to create the Friendship Force, “while flying by the seat of their pants”, according to FFI Director Dave Meyer when presenting the Rays with the seventh annual Wayne Smith award in 2011.
One of the oldest Friendship Force clubs, we began in 1977 and was the second club in the nation to participate in an exchange. In 1978, FFGDM sent 254 ambassadors in a charted airplane to Dublin, Ireland. Mrs. Billie Ray, accompanied by Lillian Carter, mother of President Jimmy Carter, led the very first exchange to Ireland in 1977.
Our club membership totals 80 well-traveled men and women. All members are encouraged to participate in monthly social activities in addition to special celebrations of World Friendship Day, Spring Fest, Annual Meetings, and other fun, educational, international programs and events.
The Global Youth Institute was created as a partnership between The Friendship Force of Greater Des Moines and the Des Moines Public Schools in 1990.
A Typical Exchange
There is nothing typical about Greater Des Moines Friendship Force incoming exchanges. Our exchanges include day trips and tours, dinners at host homes and special activities geared toward the interest of the ambassadors. For example, we took a group to visit the Iowa farm where Soviet President Khruschev visited in 1959. Another time we rented an historic theater to showcase the talents of Russian ambassadors. Then again, we visited the famed, German-flavored Amana Colonies. A Meskwaki Indian Pow Wow appealed to other ambassadors.
No matter what the itinerary, the signature experience while visiting Des Moines is warm hospitality, good humor, and glad hands proffered by host families, the officers and members of the club, local officials and local VIPs. We know that building friendships that last require getting past the formalities and really learning to know each other in a condensed time period. The emphasis is on face-to-face interaction, frequent laughter over mutual attempts to converse in different tongues, and shared discoveries of beautiful landmarks or similar history. We are united in a wish to share commonality, to recognize that all of us are one in the desire to live in peace and understanding.
The maximum number ambassadors we can host is 20 to 25. We happily meet ambassadors at the Des Moines airport and transport them to welcoming host homes. No charge, of course!