The Samantha Smith Foundation

 
 
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The Samantha Smith Foundation was founded in October 1985 by Jane Smith, in honor of her late daughter, America's youngest ambassador for peace.  It was Samantha Smith, a 10-year-old girl from Manchester, Me., who had written to Soviet President Yuri Andropov in December 1982 to ask if he was going to wage nuclear war against the U.S.; who had toured the Soviet Union at his invitation the following July; who, as a result, had become first a media celebrity and then a television actress; and who had died in the crash of a small plane on a rainy, August night in 1985.

For the next decade, the foundation organized summer visits for children, mainly between the ages of 11 and 16, to and from the Soviet Union and its successor states.  In the summer of 1986, Jane Smith accompanied 20 of Samantha's classmates on a trip to the Goodwill Games in Moscow and to a youth summer camp on the Black Sea that Samantha had visited three years earlier.The foundation brought its first group of Soviet campers to Maine in 1987.  Because of threatening letters and fears of disruptions from parents of other campers, the foundation arranged a special two-week session just for the Soviet kids, with counselors' patrolling the camp's perimeter and the state police on alert.  Despite the foundation's fears, there were no problems, and the next year, the Soviet children attended the regular camp session at various Maine camps.  That same summer, American teens attended several Black Sea camps through the foundation's auspices.

Two years later, in 1990, the foundation brought over its first group of children from the Chernobyl fallout zone, many of them suffering radiation-induced health problems.  The next year, the foundation invited a larger group of Chernobyl campers, but due to a last minute complication with their Aeroflot flight to New York, the foundation arranged for a Soviet military plane to deliver them to Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire instead.  It was the first (and probably the last) Soviet military plane ever to land at the now-closed base, coincidentally arriving while Air Force One was parked on the runway.  (The first President Bush was enjoying a long weekend at his Maine summer home at the time.)

Also in 1991 the foundation started what is thought to be the first business internship program in the U.S. for young adults from the Soviet Union and its successor states.  Program participants, usually recent university graduates, each spent a month in a carefully chosen Maine business to learn responsible business practices to help transform their country into a market economy.  In the program's first year, one of the interns was placed with a Portland legal and lobbying firm, and as a result, became the first Soviet citizen to address the Maine Legislature.  (He was also the last Soviet to do so, as the Soviet Union dissolved that December.)

The foundation continued to sponsor campers and business interns through the early 1990's, but by 1995, with the proliferation of newer and larger youth exchange organizations competing for the same grant money, the Samantha Smith Foundation became a victim of its own success.  It stopped organizing exchanges of its own.

The Samantha Smith Foundation still has its 501(c)(3) status and its board of directors meets annually.  The organization is carefully distributing its tiny amount of remaining funds to other nonprofit programs in the same spirit, but no longer runs programs of its own.

For more information write to:
Samantha Smith Foundation
P.O. Box 140
Boothbay, ME 04537

 

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