MANSFIELD – International experiences have been life-changing for Richland County native Allison Bates.
However, before her high school graduation, she had little exposure to topics concerning other countries.
In hopes of changing that for the next generation of Richland County high school graduates, Bates founded Interlocal, a nonprofit organization with a three-pronged program meant to introduce 9th through 12th graders to international enrichment and civic engagement opportunities via presentations, site visits and international trips.
“I had a wonderful childhood, but I didn’t have a lot of exposure to these topics, or I felt I didn’t know a lot about the world when I went off to college,” said Bates, the founder and executive director of Interlocal. “College was the first time I was exposed to a lot of people outside my community.”
She went to a Pennsylvania-based college and later spent five years in Costa Rica, where she met her husband, Alejandro. The two moved together to Ohio about two years ago.
Bates accepted a position as an administrator in continuing and distance education at Kent State University. Yet she felt a desire to make a difference where she grew up, so Bates often travels to Richland County, where she recently launched Interlocal.
A shortened pilot program kicked off in February, featuring a variety of site visits and presentations. Three students – one apiece from Lexington, Lucas and St. Peter’s High School – have visited places like Gorman-Rupp to talk about the business’s international reach and heard several presentations about topics like identity and community.
One of the most recent presentations was given by a representative of Where There be Dragons, a Colorado-based organization offering cultural immersion programs. The speaker, from Canton, who is living in China, spoke to students when briefly back in Ohio.
“He was doing some visits, so he came and did a piece about cultural differences in China and the Western world,” Bates said. “It was great. The kids were really engaged. They found it interesting, and I think, it really resonated with them.”
The programming continues until summer, when students are encouraged to participate in international trips. While none are organized specifically through Interlocal, the nonprofit promotes several reputable ones and provides advice on securing scholarship funding.
Explaining that Midwestern students from small cities are often underrepresented in these programs, Bates believes Richland County students have a high chance of earning the available financial help.
“The idea is, if their interested, that we really help them fulfill their goal of going abroad,” Bates said.
One of the pilot program students has already received a full-scholarship to visit the Dominican Republic. Another has applied for financial aid to visit Italy and Greece.
When they return, the students will have a final meeting to discuss their experiences. Bates would also like to see them involved next year as mentors.
The first full-length program will begin this fall, likely in September or October. Bates hopes to have 10 students.
Enrollment is open to anyone in 9th through 12th grades in or around Richland County. Applications and further information are available at gointerlocal.org. There only requirement is that students have an open-mind. Preference will be given to students without earlier international experiences, but all are encouraged to apply.
Bates hopes to later partner with school districts to identify students for the program.
She’s also interested in connecting with people and businesses in Richland County and the surrounding counties who have international experience or connections.
“We’re providing a grab bag of different ideas, and in this pilot program, we’re trying to see what resonates with the kids,” Bates said. “And we’ll go from there. Build the program to accommodate the interests and needs of students in years to come.”