By JEAN DRISKELL, Special to the Bulletin | Published May 29, 2014
ATLANTA—An annual dinner sponsored by the Catholic women of the archdiocese for visiting scholars from around the world drew about 100 attendees at Villa International Atlanta.
The Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (AACCW) hosted the welcoming dinner for the Hubert Humphrey Fellows at Villa International, near the Emory campus, March 16.
“Every year in August the Carter Center sponsors 100 mid-career professionals from around the world known as the Humphrey Fellows,” Camille Gaffron, executive director of Villa, said. “Emory is one of 15 universities that participates in the Humphrey program throughout the country.”
During spring break, typically in March, the Humphrey Fellows are offered an interdisciplinary seminar here, she said. Villa housed 36 individuals in August; in March 65 additional fellows came to stay at Villa and attend this year’s seminar. During the dinner, Dr. Phillip Brachman, who runs the Humphrey program at Emory University, said this was the largest group ever.
The Humphrey Fellows, other residents at Villa, Emory University faculty, and Villa staff were included in the dinner this year, Gaffron said.
“We had 29 different countries represented during that week,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to get to know each other or to meet friends they haven’t seen in a while.”
Gaffron added that the AACCW embraces the opportunity to show hospitality to visitors, “to sit and talk to them, to interact and mingle.”
“It’s always a delicious homemade meal. It’s nice for their first night to socialize. It’s like a mini United Nations here,” she said.
AACCW has been involved with Villa since the 1970s, and the group’s International Commission chair oversees the dinners. In 1993 Mayfern Barron, from Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Decatur, became the International Commission chair and during her two-year term chaired the AACCW dinners at Villa. When the commissions were re-designed in 2007, Barron volunteered to be the AACCW liaison for Villa and to chair the Humphrey Fellows welcoming dinner at Villa and has been doing it ever since.
“I enjoy doing this,” Barron said. “I keep doing it because I feel this is a mission. We should always be open to welcome the stranger among us.”
She said that as an immigrant to this country herself, she felt welcomed by her parish family.
“Coming to this country, I was greeted by warm smiles. One thing we have in common is smiling and sharing a meal,” she said.
Barron oversees the preparation of the meal. About 20 women came to bring dishes, help set up, cook and visit with the guests. Various dishes prepared by women from the AACCW included chicken, fish, rice, beans, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, shrimp, salad, bread, cookies and cakes. Many of the guests have dietary or health restrictions, so no pork or alcohol is served.
“I enjoy cooking meatless beans and rice, a common food of most countries, and chicken and fish,” Barron said. “I always look forward to serving. It is a blessing for me to serve.”
Before the dinner, Father Bryan Small, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, gave the invocation. After the dinner AACCW women and the guests at Villa introduced themselves.
“This is my first time coming to Villa, and I found it interesting,” said Judy Williams, from St. Mary Magdalene Church, in Newnan, who chairs the AACCW Leadership Commission.
“This experience, to me, was a perfect example of why I participate in AACCW. It’s events like this that broaden my experience,” she said.
She also said that, for her, this was a new type of evangelization, imitating “what Jesus would do.”
“This is not just putting on an apron and serving food,” she said. “It’s very personable, very interacting. We show hospitality and are able to mingle and interact with these students. … This is spreading our faith.”
“I will go back. This experience is very rewarding,” Williams said.
Robin and Lynette Reid, from Sts. Peter and Paul Church, came for the first time.
“For me it was a tremendous experience to be with students from all over the world and who are different ages,” Robin said. “I enjoyed the conversations about their families and education. Some were homesick, but they wanted this experience.”
Lynette said, “We show kindness to someone away from home, and we receive kindness in return.”
“They were very open, candid, about their lives and goals,” she said. “We met one man who said in a questioning voice, ‘we ate something called barbecue?’ He was excited to have eaten it and liked it.”
“You hear negative things in the news from some of the countries represented,” Robin said. “But talking with the students you would not think anything was happening in their countries.”
“The food was good,” he added, “and it’s good to see a lot of different people throughout the archdiocese helping and making the students feel welcomed. It was a humbling experience.”
Cynthia Simien, from Christ Our Hope Church, Lithonia, who is Southeast district president of the AACCW, said she has been serving the dinners for the past three years.
“It’s interesting to hear their stories of how they are doing research at the Centers for Disease Control and some hope to find cures for diseases,” Simien said. “The students are also appreciative for the food and to hear our stories as well as listen to theirs.”
Kristina Silaban, a Humphrey Fellow from Indonesia studying global development and justice at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., said, “This dinner is nice. Villa is such a wonderful community. This community does a good job with a grateful heart. They are wonderful and truly Christian.”