A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.
I am from a rural community in northern Indiana. During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I had the privilege of spending nine weeks in an intensive immersion study program on the northern coast of France. It was a dream experience. I lived with a fantastic host family for the first month and agreed to speak no English for the entire summer. It was my first taste of traveling abroad, and it was life changing. I improved my French speaking skills by learning about everyday living in Brittany, seeing sights like the D-Day coast, and spending a week in Paris unlike anything I had ever experienced.
In college, I chose to live in an academic dorm in which all the residents could speak French. I met several international students there as well. I became a teacher and taught high-school for the next 31 years. In my spare time, I have some eclectic interests, from playing piano to reading murder mysteries to gemology. I also like spending time in northern Michigan where my family has gone for generations.
My PTPI Story:
Fifteen years ago I realized that I needed to become involved in more than my teaching and church activities. I wanted to meet new people and diversify my experiences. I attended a couple of meetings of the PTPI's La Porte Chapter, and at the second meeting noticed a couple of ladies looking in my direction and talking among themselves. After the program was finished, they approached me and asked if I would serve as president for the next year. You can imagine my surprise, and fear – I wondered if I had gotten into more than I had bargained for! They were having difficulty getting someone to take on the job, and I guess they saw me as "new blood." They assured me that they would help, so at the next meeting, I paid my first chapter dues and was elected president – a position I held for the next 10 years! In retrospect, I am so glad that I found PTPI, and that I said "yes." True to their word, the other chapter leaders really did help, and I am grateful that they put their trust in me. Later, I served on the International Board of Trustees, and met many of the PTPI members at various meetings.
I have learned so much from PTPI. Because of the contacts and sharing of ideas and experiences among PTPI members, I feel that I have a better understanding of world issues and cultures. I hope that I am more understanding of the needs of other people and that I am more sensitive in the way I respond to those needs. Mostly, I know that there is infinitely more to learn.
When I decided to join PTPI, I wasn't sure I would fit in or have anything to offer. What I discovered is that PTPI is a very welcoming organization and that everyone has something valuable to contribute. It is great to feel "at home" with others who share President Eisenhower's vision.
One of my most memorable experiences was hosting a young diplomat through the Meet the Diplomats program. He was very friendly and very intelligent, a great speaker, and the chapter members loved him. He had been living in Washington D.C. and working most of the time at his embassy. After driving him around and showing him some of the local sights, it dawned on me that he had probably never been to a Walmart. So we went, and he was so surprised by what the store was like that he actually took pictures!
I suspect that the face of many local American chapters of PTPI will be changing over the next five years. My own chapter has struggled with declining membership and difficulty arranging good programming and events for smaller numbers, and on a limited budget. Of course, change is inevitable, but surely our organization is as relevant for today as it has been in the past. I hope that we can attract new members who share our enthusiasm for our mission. I also hope that our chapters continue to share ways in which they find success.
Being a part of PTPI inevitably leads to making local as well as international friendships. Now, when I hear news from various corners of the globe, I immediately think of the people I know who live there and how the events impact them, their families, and their communities. As a teacher, it was wonderful to be able to share some of the amazing stories of people I have met with my students. It sparked an interest in the world for them, and so there was a sort of "ripple effect" in understanding. I value the friendships from PTPI more than any other aspect.
We have 23,700 members around the world, and each has a story to tell. Discover the drives, dreams and ambitions of our PTPI network members, and then share your story with us. It’s how we break down barriers to peace and understanding.
Thank you for your ongoing support for our mission at People to People International. We, as a whole, continue to strive to live up to the legacy of world peace. But every day we make a choice to make a difference. That difference cannot be made without you and your contributions. Only together can we create everlasting peace and only together can we strive for and achieve greatness.
Merrill Eisenhower Atwater joined People to People International as the Chief Operating Officer in January 2018 and in April of that same year, he became Chief Executive Officer.