Ponte Vedra Beach resident and CCPVB director speaks at UN


Last month, Ponte Vedra Beach resident Donna Guzzo was invited to give a presentation regarding world hunger before the United Nations.

Guzzo, who is the director of development for the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach, is also the administrator of operations for the Language Exploration Enrichment (LEE) program for St. Johns County students. LEE provides students with intensive instruction in the Spanish language and foreign cultures. Since its founding, the program has been incorporated into 15 schools in St. Johns County.

As one goal of LEE is to encourage students to explore different cultures, Guzzo wanted to give the students an opportunity to learn about other cultures while also giving back to the community.

“It doesn’t do them any good to know the language if they’re not going to take in the culture,” she said. “Culture has always been a part of our motto: ‘Learn a language, share culture, change the world.’”

When Guzzo was invited to participate in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) task force to end global issues like poverty and hunger, she realized the educational potential for her students. One of the UN’s 17 specified goals was to end world hunger by the year 2030, and as Guzzo wanted to teach students about other cultures, she opted to focus on that goal.

In April, LEE partnered with the St. Augustine High School Interact Club and international hunger relief organization Rise Against Hunger to affect change. April 8, the group gathered and worked for hours to prepare meals that consisted mainly of rice, dried vegetables and soy protein for the hungry.

“When they were preparing the meals, I remember the kids saying, ‘Where are the hamburgers? Where are the hot dogs?’” Guzzo laughed. “I think that’s really when they connected that not everybody eats like us.”

Ultimately, the kids were able to prepare 10,000 meals for worldwide distribution. When the United Nations learned of the students’ efforts, they contacted Guzzo and invited her to come and share her experience with them. She accepted the invitation, and on June 28, she arrived at United Nations Headquarters in New York City with a presentation created by her students, as well as a painting a child made during a summer camp at the cultural center depicting a world full of people of various cultures and a big pizza slice.

Inside, Guzzo said that she and her daughter had the opportunity to eat lunch in the Delegates’ Dining Room and sit in on a meeting regarding weapons of mass destruction.

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m here,’” Guzzo said. “It was just surreal.”

The SDG task force, she said, was touched by her presentation and the enormous impact of the students – some of them just kindergartners – on relieving world hunger.

“They were just like, ‘This is the future,’” she said. “‘This is the generation that’s going to understand what it takes to really make an impact with hunger in the world.’”

The painting that Guzzo brought with her, which has since been dubbed “Pizza for the World,” is to be framed and hung at UN Headquarters. As for Guzzo’s students, she advised that they are already coming up with their own ideas for new ways to make a positive impact on the world.