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Belarusians visit Jags

The Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation had a special group of visitors on Monday, July 17. A group of five young activists from the country of Belarus, and their interpreters, are on a tour of the United States as part of the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program (The Role of Youth in Social, Economic and Political Development: A Project for Belarus). During their three-week tour of the United States, the group will visit with leaders and individuals of organizations that work with youth and youth issues. Sondie Frus of The International Visitors Corps of Jacksonville recommended this group meet with the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation because of its work implementing social change that impacts youth.

The group met at Alltel Stadium for a tour and to learn how an owner of a professional football team, Delores Barr Weaver, took the courageous step to address a social issue such as teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections by creating the Straight Talk program and an unprecedented partnership with the local media. Through grant making and raising public awareness, Straight Talk's objective is preventing unwanted teen pregnancy and disease through education and communication.

The group was later able to see the connection between the grant making and implementation by visiting the Time to Be A Girl Program at PACE Center for Girls (a Straight Talk grant recipient) following their meeting with the Foundation.

At the stadium visit, Mrs. Weaver welcomed the group and applauded them for their work in their respective areas to effect positive change in their country. She understood and agreed with the importance of their speaking up on issues that they believe are worth fighting for. She did suggest they consider the risk and reward possibilities under their country's dictatorship. Several of the group have already been jailed because of their activism. She also shared that because of the philanthropic opportunity presented by being connected to an NFL team, she believed it important to address an issue that might otherwise be ignored, especially when it is an issue that affects our economy as well as our youth's health, development and future.

It was shared that the importance of engaging youth through education and active participation is evidenced by the peer education programs that are supported by the Jaguars and Weaver Family Foundation; Weaver's creation of a middle school advisory board; and participation of middle school students on the annual televised forum.

The group of the young Belarusian adults were bright, interesting and even challenging in discussion. Diverse in the organizations they represented, in the areas of journalism or faith-based organizations, all were advocates for youth with different points of view. Having learned about the Foundation's support of comprehensive sexual health education, one individual respectfully shared his opposing view, then followed up by saying that it was ok though, to continue the work that we believe in and for him to continue to share the message he believes in. His "we can agree to disagree" sentiment reflects the beauty of America that we often take for granted and a liberty that these young men strive for in their own country.

The group expressed that they found their visit with the Foundation special and important. The Foundation hopes, too, that this discussion of Straight Talk and social responsibility along with a tour of the football stadium left them with a new appreciation of American professional football, particularly the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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