In September 2016, the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council hosted six Ukrainian professionals participating on the Open World Exchange Program of the U.S. Library of Congress. The purpose of their visit was to examine environmental protection and government accountability.
During their time in Pensacola, the group met with local government officials, environmentalists, and nonprofit representatives to get a better sense of how government and civil society can collaborate to advance and maintain environmental protections. They also presented their work to the community through a talk titled “Ukraine’s Environmental Challenges.”
Their time kicked off with a welcome orientation and discussion of area environmental history by Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers. Also at Pensacola City Hall, City Attorney Lysia Bowling and Public Records Coordinator Matt Shaud spoke about open records requests and the Florida Sunshine Law as mechanisms for promoting governmental transparency and citizen access.
During a visit to Congressman Jeff Miller’s Office, Caseworker Sherry Holmes highlighted the role district offices play in facilitating communication between elected officials and their constituents.
Assistant Director of Sanitation Services and Fleet Management Doug Resmondo was joined by Code Enforcement Officer Keith DeWise for a meeting covering municipal sanitation services and how the city works to ensure compliance with existing statutes and codes.
The visitors visited several state-of-the-art installations providing major infrastructure to support recycling and waste management programs to keep natural environments clean of trash and harmful materials. The group spent time at both the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s (ECUA) Interim Materials Recycling Facility as well as its Central Water Reclamation Facility. The visits were arranged and led by ECUA Public Information Officer Jim Roberts. ECUA Deputy Executive Director of Shared Services Randy Rudd and ECUA Board Member Larry Walker met the Ukrainian visitors at the recycling facility while ECUA Director of Water Reclamation Don Palmer hosted the group at the water reclamation facility. The visitors received a fascinating look at waste management services as well during a discussion and tour at the Perdido Landfill led by Waste Services Manager Jim Howes.
The group also focused heavily on environmental protection initiatives and advocacy during several meetings in Pensacola. Dr. Wade Jeffrey, Director of the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation at the University of West Florida, hosted the delegation for a discussion about environmentally-focused research, the effect of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and strategies to engage students in environmental protection initiatives. Jackie Lane of Friends of Perdido Bay and Mary Gutierrez of Earth Ethics, Inc. shared their perspectives as nonprofit representatives on local environmental issues during a roundtable discussion with the group.
Zach Schang, an environmental specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, met with the group for a discussion on agency regulations which work to protect the environment. Afterwards, the visitors got hands-on and joined Zach for a site visit and volunteer project bagging donated oyster shells to create future oyster habitat as part of environmental restoration projects.
In addition to meetings and experiential environmentally-focused activities, the Ukrainians had some wonderful cultural opportunities in Pensacola. They enjoyed an afternoon on Pensacola Beach followed by dinner and Bands on the Beach. The group even tried their hand at glow in the dark mini golf!
The Ukrainians stayed with local host families during their time in town and we thank Judith Brooks & John Toole, Leigh & Kent DeSantis, Christy Draper, Teresa Frank, Bruce, Beth, & Carlee Hoffman, and Roxolana & Stephen Slobodian for their hospitality. The Young Professionals of the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council also interacted with the group one evening downtown and Arjel Agustin hosted an elaborate dinner in their honor in his home.
One of the Ukrainian visitors shared her thoughts on the program with us. You can find out her perspective on this exchange through this link. You can also explore the group’s time via photos through this link.
photo compliments of Christy Draper