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JBANC Hosts Capitol Hill Event for Visiting Future Baltic Leaders

Aug 19, 2015
By Kara Nordness

On August 11th, the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) hosted its second annual briefing on Capitol Hill for visiting Baltic high school students. The students were in the United States for a three week Leadership Academy program under the auspices of the Baltic American Freedom Foundation (BAFF). 
BAFF, a non-profit foundation endowed by proceeds from a U.S. Government investment fund in the Baltic countries, works “to enrich ties between the United States and Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, through programs of education and exchange centering on economic growth and democratic processes. Visibly strengthening U.S.-Baltic ties is a core goal.”

Forty students participated in this year’s program and over three weeks they worked on their skills as future entrepreneurs and leaders. During their final week in the U.S., the students went to New York City and Washington DC for enrichment programs and sightseeing. 
The JBANC briefing was held the morning of August 11th at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. After taking a tour of the U.S. Capitol, the students arrived for the briefing along with several BAFF directors and members of Center for International Education Exchange (CIEE), which helped in facilitating the exchange from the American side. 

The first speaker was JBANC chair and board member Ingrida Lusis. Ms. Lusis spoke to the students about JBANC, its main functions, and about some of the interns that have spent time at JBANC over the years and where they are now. One former intern was mentioned specifically - Lita Juberte - who was recently appointed as the press spokesperson for the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers. Ms. Juberte was at JBANC in 2013-2014 via the BAFF professional internship program. 

Current JBANC interns Erik Lazdins and Kara Nordness, who helped organize the event, each spoke to the students about their experiences at JBANC this summer. They talked to the students about how working for JBANC has given them the opportunity to discuss concerns in the U.S. Congress, meet ambassadors and diplomats, and work towards educating others about the Baltic countries and the issues and concerns of Baltic-Americans. 

The next speaker was Dr. Agnia Grigas, an energy and political risk expert, hailing originally from Lithuania. Dr. Grigas, who spoke at JBANC’s April conference, specializes in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the post-Soviet space. She is a published author and as a researcher she often collaborates with many American and European institutions. She spoke to the students about her experiences and how all of her choices in school and in her career have helped to make her who she is today. Dr. Grigas told them that even if they start a job but later find that it is not the right fit, they should use it as a teaching experience and see it in a positive way as part of their journey to building a successful career in their chosen field. The students had plenty of questions for Dr. Grigas. Several even asked her how they could become one of her research assistants! 
The final speaker was Hugo Guevara, Deputy Director of the Office of Nordic and Baltic Affairs at the Department of State. He discussed his journey from an engineer to working at the State Department and how each experience he has had has helped to make him successful at his career. Deputy Director Guevara also had to field several excellent questions from the students. 
Following the briefing and lunch, the students then made their way to the Victims of Communism Memorial. Assistant Director of Development David Talbot was there to talk to the students about the Victims of Communism Foundation and its work. The BAFF directors also used the occasion to congratulate the students on being chosen for and completing the BAFF Leadership Academy. 

One of the students, Mart Piirimees from Estonia, took time to collectively thank everyone including JBANC for organizing the events for the day. It was a great day and truly inspiring to see so many young people hopeful about their future as community and business leaders. They all looked forward to going back home and continuing their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs and utilizing the ideas and skills that were taught at the BAFF Leadership Academy. 

JBANC chair Ingrida Lusis, who welcomed participants at the event, mentioned afterwards that "cooperation with the Baltic American Freedom Foundation in helping to introduce American politics, policies, and values to young professionals and students from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania has been a win-win in bolstering people-to-people contacts between the United State, the Baltic countries, and the Baltic-American community." 
In July 2014, JBANC hosted a congressional briefing for the BAFF Future Leaders program, which featured remarks by House Baltic Caucus chairmen John Shimkus (R-IL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and officials from the embassies of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. BAFF was also a leading sponsor of JBANC’s April 2015 conference in Washington, DC. 


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