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Local Rotary clubs host visit by Armenian women’s delegation

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla., March 25, 2024 — Several Beaches Rotary clubs joined forces last week to host an international delegation of women leaders from Armenia.

Sponsored by the Congressional Office for International Leadership’s Open World Program, the delegation traveled to Jacksonville March 15-23 to study women leaders and gender equality. The group was hosted by the Rotary clubs of Ponte Vedra Beach, Palm Valley and Jacksonville-Oceanside, with delegates staying in Rotarians’ homes and participating in a week of meetings and social and cultural events.

“Rotary clubs have long been a partner to the Open World program, with Rotarians opening their homes to visiting delegates and putting together a week of informative and inspiring programming,” said Jennifer Logue president of the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach. “Given that for the first time ever, the mayors of Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Jacksonville Beach and Neptune Beach are all women, we thought this would be a perfect time to connect the Armenian women’s delegation with our First Coast women leaders.”

Members of the Armenian delegation included: Raisa Aghabekyan, programs manager for Impact Hub Armenia Social Innovation Development Foundation; Susanna Matinyan, president  of Youth Avangard; Tatevik Martirosyan, lecturer at Alaverdi State College and Armenian Representative of the Europe Goes Local mentoring program; Karine Davtyan, attorney and president, Women’s Rights House; Anahit Badalyan, former TV journalist and founder of the Berd Women’s Resource Center Foundation; and delegation facilitator Anahit Khachatryan, public engagement specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Armenia.

During the delegation’s visit, the group met with Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan, St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Sikes-Kline, Jacksonville Beach Mayor Christine Hoffman and Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown. Delegates also attended city council and county commission meetings, met with women business and nonprofit leaders and enjoyed outings to THE PLAYERS Championship, the beach, the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and a tour of Dutton Island Preserve by former Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser.

“I think we learned as much about Armenia through the delegates’ comments and questions as they learned from us,” Logue said. “For example, when the group met on Election Day with St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections Vicky Oakes, she predicted that the turnout for the primary would be around 15 percent. The Armenian women asked if we would have to redo the election, saying that in their country if the voter turnout falls below a certain percentage, the results don’t count.”

The U.S. Congress founded the Open World program after the fall of the Soviet Union to bring future leaders of former Soviet republics to the United States to learn about America’s democratic institutions. Since then, more than 30,000 current and future leaders from post-Soviet era countries have participated in the program.

“The Armenian women were so passionate about learning from our local women leaders,” Logue said. “They all agreed that they were looking forward to taking those leadership lessons back to Armenia to improve their communities and their country.”