A Global Volunteer Force for a Global Marathon

A volunteer with the Exchange Visitor Program hands out water during the TCS NYC Marathon.For the fifth year in a row, the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program comprised the largest group of volunteers for the TCS New York City Marathon. More than 1,600 volunteers—au pairs, interns, students, research scholars, designated sponsor organizations, and Department of State representatives—provided runners from 141 countries with water, Gatorade, and encouragement at miles 5 and 6 in Brooklyn and miles 18, 19, and 23 in Manhattan.

The Exchange Visitor Program brings more than 300,000 participants to the United States each year to teach, study, conduct research, or receive on-the-job training while strengthening their English language skills and increasing their understanding of American society, culture, and values.

“The NYC Marathon is an opportunity to expose Exchange Visitor Program participants to volunteerism, a hallmark of American civic life,” said Lynette Evans-Tiernan, director of public affairs for the Exchange Visitor Program. “This experience not only gives participants the opportunity to give back to their American host communities, but our hope it that this experience also sparks a renewed commitment for them to return home and create positive change in their local communities.”

In fact, 90 percent of 2019 volunteers said they are more likely to perform volunteer service at home based on their marathon experience, and 96 percent recommend that Exchange Visitor Program participants volunteer next year.

“If I get the chance to do it again, I always would,” said Teresa Reichelt, an Exchange Visitor from Germany. “Through my volunteering experience at the NYC Marathon, I have learned that doing something to help others or being part of something bigger than yourself gives you a great feeling that cannot be described with words.”

Marcia Tyler, director of event staffing and volunteer operations at New York Road Runners, noted the “natural fit” of having Exchange Visitors volunteer at the race. “I made that instant connection. Here we are in New York City—what a diverse city that we live in. And we look at our runners and all of the countries they come from, and then you have the [Exchange] Visitors,” she said.

Volunteers with the Exchange Visitor Program hand out water to runners in the TCS NYC Marathon.

Participants concur.

“Seeing people from all over the world, for me, was amazing,” Thabiso Tjatjie, an Exchange Visitor from South Africa said. “I saw everyone—Asia, Europe, U.S., Africa, everywhere—all together. I loved it!”

In addition to the more than 1,600 volunteers, this year, more than 30 members of the Exchange Visitor Program community ran the marathon.

Serena Vences, an au pair from Mexico, decided to run this year after volunteering at the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon. “I prepared for one year to run the marathon [and] since I did not run long distances, it was a hard year,” she said. “[Being] an au pair for two years was a very important challenge in my life. I thought, ‘What better way to close the cycle than running the NYC Marathon.’ I think it is something you need to experience once in a lifetime.”

Whether volunteering or running, the experience at the TCS New York City Marathon leaves a lasting impact on Exchange Visitors.

“Volunteering at the marathon was such a beautiful experience because I saw people from all over the world with different cultures, religion, and social status being part of the same thing,” Martina Menti, an Exchange Visitor from Italy, said. “I saw different people on the same level. Everyone helps each other and it was so beautiful. This is a marathon, but all of the participants win, including the volunteers.”

Author: Christian Caudill

Christian Caudill works in the Office of Private Sector Exchange, a division of the U.S. Department of State.

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