I ended my April letter to you with a wish – I wished that after more than two years of pandemic isolation, we would get to see each other face-to-face. I wished that we would get to delight again in the experiences that drew us to the English-Speaking Union in the first place: the exciting learning opportunities, stimulating cultural exchanges, rewarding social interactions and the sense of personal satisfaction from the impact of our generosity on others.
That's why I am delighted to share with you the great news that the English-Speaking Union is moving steadily to in-person programs and activities.
Thanks to your big-heartedness and no quarantine restriction, the ESU TLab (Teachers Learning Abroad) has gone from sending three teachers in the summer of 2021 to 39 teachers this summer to the UK to attend professional development courses at the University of Oxford, the Shakespeare's Globe and the University of Edinburgh. Scholarships from 11 Branches and personal contributions will enable these teachers to study with leading scholars, writers and public figures and seize unique opportunities to connect with colleagues from a range of nations and professional backgrounds.
Big thanks to the ESU Central Florida, Charlottesville, Denver, Greenwich, Kentucky, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, New Orleans, North Carolina Research Triangle, New York and Richmond Branches for supporting our teachers!
Our other educational and international scholarship programs have also returned to in-person programming this year. The 2021-2022 Luard Morse Scholar, Mr. George Pratt, a junior from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, is already deep in study at the University of Manchester, where he continues his education in religion, history, and oratory.
While in the UK, George has been actively involved with the ESU of the Commonwealth, judging local debates as well as the ESU Churchill Public Speaking Competition Grand Final in Cambridge and the International Public Speaking Competition.
A total of nine ESU Secondary School Exchange (SSE) students are just finishing up their 2021-22 academic year in the US and UK, with more SSE students planning to cross the Pond for the 2022-23 academic year. And the ESU Middle School Debate Program held its first in-person championship since the pandemic on April 30, 2022 at the Dalton School in New York. 90 students were thrilled to spend a full day together, vigorously debating tough topics such as "Children under 14 should not use smartphones," "The US should implement compulsory voting in general elections," and "Abolish the Olympic Games."
As I announced in my previous letter, at long last, the ESU 2022 Annual General Conference will be held in-person November 11-13, 2022, generously hosted by the ESU Charleston Branch. Under the theme, "Setting the Stage for Growth," the conference program will center on consultant, Reverend Renee LiaBraaten's study on how to expand participation in the ESU. Rev. LiaBraaten will work throughout the summer with a diverse group of Branch leaders, Members, volunteers and others to discern pathways for growth at the Branch and National levels.
We've secured the perfect location for the conference – the historic Mills House Wyndham Grand Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. Originally built in 1853, the Mills House, otherwise known as "The Pink Hotel," retains most of its exterior design and historic details and combines the charm of 19th-century Charleston with contemporary indulgence. A prime example of historical tenacity and modern renewal, the Mill House will provide a fitting – and symbolic – setting for our Annual General Conference, during which we will chart a path for our century-old organization toward a growing membership and vibrant Branches.
We need this conversation now more than ever before because you – our members and volunteers – are the pillars of the English-Speaking Union. Without you, the ESU would not exist.
Volunteerism has always been at the heart of our organization. A great example is the ESU's English in Action (EiA) program. One of our most admired endeavors, EiA has been welcoming newcomers to the United States since 1976. It pairs volunteer native English speakers with English language learners for weekly one-to-one conversation sessions. Our volunteers offer students the gift of fluency and knowledge about life in the U.S., all the while engaging in a stimulating interaction with people from different countries. The program truly epitomizes the English-Speaking Union's purpose of fostering understanding and bonds between cultures and people through the power of the English language.
Over the past year, we launched a small but promising pilot project to expand EiA beyond its original home base in the New York area. English in Action Across America pairs students from New York with volunteers from Branches across the country for weekly conversations via Zoom. The students are thrilled to meet ESU members outside New York and the volunteers report a deep feeling of satisfaction and intellectual motivation by interacting with English learners from the four corners of the earth.
To recognize our volunteers and encourage others to be as generous with their time and talent, we're dedicating the annual celebration of the ESU Immigrant Services Programs to our volunteer tutors. During the "Volunteerism: Engage, Educate and Empower" event on Thursday, June 23 from 4:30 - 6:00 pm EST, we will celebrate the impact of volunteerism on the lives of both students and volunteers. We will recognize our volunteers' talent and generosity by highlighting examples of their creativity, collaboration and dedication. It will be a hybrid event – both in-person and broadcast on Zoom, so that all of you can participate, even when travel to New York is not practical. I hope you will join us for this special evening. Come and get inspired to bring the spirit of volunteerism back to your Branch!
Dear friends, to quote Leo Tolstoy: "Spring is the time of plans and projects." And I invite you to join us as we make plans for the ESU's future and set them in motion. Take part in the upcoming celebration of Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee on June 3. Salute our volunteers on June 23. Attend events at your Branch and renew your ESU membership in July. Spare some time to provide input into Rev. LiaBraaten's study and come to the 2022 AGM, November 11-13 in Charleston, SC. You are the English-Speaking Union – there is no path forward without you.
And if there is anything you'd like to share with me – a question or a comment, an idea, criticism or praise – please write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'd love to hear from you.
With best regards,
National Board of Directors
The English-Speaking Union of the United States