Toni Carr: When The Job Finds You
I like to joke that I met Walter over a glass of wine and before I knew it, I had agreed to host two international visitors in my home for 8 days! Wait… Who’s Walter? I’ll get there in a second.
I remember my life before coming to Global Ties Arkansas. It was a life I loved, though not the life I have come to love. I began my career as an Early Childhood educator. This is not surprising to my family, as most of them knew I had always wanted to be a teacher! I always found myself motivated by the lives of children around me to improve the world through education. I worked for the government funded Head Start Program and the Public Schools in Norman, Oklahoma as a teacher of children ages 4 to first grade.
In 1988, I was privileged to be a part of an innovative Early Childhood Special Education Pre-K classroom in Clayton, New Mexico. The district wanted to be a leader in the state before the Federal mandate for public schools regarding young children with disabilities came to law in 1990. It was there that I saw the need for educational programming as I was had the freedom to create the classroom, best practices, and establish the small town of Clayton as a model for other programs. This program was nationally recognized by The Ohio State University in a national study. My involvement with the Clayton program led me to a position as the first Director of a nine-school district cooperative in Richland County, Ohio. Luckily, my husband Jim (who had owned a successful construction company in Oklahoma for years) had accepted a position in the Construction Management Department of The Ohio State University so I was able to accept this new challenge! I worked with these classrooms for several years before branching out into yet another new endeavor. I took the position as the Department Head of Early Childhood at a small college in Ohio.
Although my husband and I raised our children in Ohio and become accustomed to the area, another great adventure was written in the stars. My husband accepted a position at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I continued my early childhood practice as an evaluator and mentor through Arkansas State University for state funded early childhood programs and became an adjunct professor at UA-Pulaski Tech.
While attending a function at the Clinton Presidential Center, I was honored to meet an amazing man, Dr. Walter Nunn. It was so strange; it was almost as if he had heard of me and been expecting me. Or perhaps I reminded him of someone he used to know. Whichever the case, he spoke of the work he had been doing with international visitors through the US Department of State. His descriptions were filled with intrigue, adventure, and transnational cooperation. He spoke highly of the professionals he worked with from our local and other international communities. I grabbed Jim’s arm and spun him closer to me. I stared him in his eyes dramatically and said, “Okay, Jim. What do you think? There is one thing that we have always shared and that is our love for international travel. What better way to interact with other cultures than to work as a volunteer with his program?”
Though, there is some truth to this joke. Over the years I have become quite the wine connoisseur!
We were hooked! Jim and I provided home stays for weeklong visitors and also hosted more than our share of dinners and parties for short term visitors. After I stopped working full time, I called Dr. Nunn and said that I could expand my volunteering. He put me to work right away planning a week-long program for Iraqi youth. And so, it began…
After a few years of working as a part time staff writing itineraries for programs, Dr. Nunn came to me to say that he was ready to retire and wanted me to take his place. Of course, I told him NO! I had worked for years in administration and was just ready for the fun part! Obviously, he won that battle and I did my interviews with the Board and accepted the position as Director. That was about 8 years ago, and it was a great choice! This job means so much to me.
At first, I felt like I had deserted my first passion of education. But over time, I have come to realize that being a Citizen Diplomat is one of the most important education jobs I have ever held. I have learned so much about other cultures and have tried to convey what it is like to be an American to so many visitors. Arkansas is what we call “real America”. We are so similar to our visitors in so many ways. Introducing visitors to regular people who have similar concerns: family, finances, government and so on, and making them realize that we are pretty good folks is one of my most challenging and rewarding parts of my education career!