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Local club 'builds bridges across the barriers that divide us'

Lake Simcoe Friendship Force welcomes group of visitors from Vancouver; 'It’s about the experience and building new friendships,' said club official

A dozen travellers from the Vancouver area visited Orillia’s Scout Valley this weekend and will be enjoying other local hot spots throughout the week.

The visiting folks are a part of the Friendship Force, a non-profit organization founded in 1977 by Wayne Smith and U.S. President Jimmy Carter. 

Ramara resident Jon Wagner is the co-president of the Lake Simcoe Friendship Force. He says there are about 300 clubs and approximately 10,000 members who are part of the club worldwide who are looking to form friendships with people around the globe regardless of nationality, language, religion, or politics.

Members of the Lake Simcoe club went to Costa Rica this year and will be visiting Japan next year. The club that is in Orillia this week will be staying in the homes of Lake Simcoe members for free but will be contributing to the activities they will partake in throughout the week.

“It’s about the experience and building new friendships,” Wagner said.

Wagner says the Lake Simcoe club is one of the fastest-growing clubs in the world with more than 30 members. They have hosted groups from all over the world and have applicants from Africa who plan to come to Orillia in February.

“It’s really not a travel club,” he explained. “It’s about building bridges across the barriers that divide us.”

The club is centred around learning the culture and sharing in friendships with people from across the globe.

Wagner, 70, says the club took a hit in membership during the pandemic, which has resulted in a bit of a pivot strategically.

“We are trying to move to a much younger demographic,” he said. “We want to get more young professionals and families more engaged.”

A lot of clubs around the world "have gotten older" and the members are getting to the point where they can’t travel as much, Wagner explained. Long-established clubs are operating with a demographic in the mid-70s; others have a demographic of 50-55.

“We want them to start bringing their children and grandchildren into it to keep extending the Friendship Force organization and family,” he said. “We are reaching out to even people in university to see what connections we can make there.”

For more information or to get involved with Friendship Force, click here.

“When people show an interest, we put them on our mailing list with all the activities,” Wagner explained. “We meet at least once a month and have an activity.”  

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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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