In his role as an international policy analyst for Bread for the World Institute, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., St. Marys native Scott Bleggi is working hard toward the goal of eliminating hunger and poverty in the United States and overseas.
Bleggi's work, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, involves researching and determining ways in which governmental policies and development assistance can be best applied and most effective in advancing maternal and child nutrition.
Bleggi began his career in government with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a grain inspector working in the port of Houston, Texas.
"I hated my first job and never thought it would turn into a career," Bleggi said.
From there, he went on to join the ranks of the U.S. Foreign Service as a foreign diplomat, serving in embassies in Europe and Latin America. As a diplomat, Bleggi traveled extensively to foreign countries engaging in discourse on Washington trade issues with the goal of boosting exports of food and agricultural commodities.
"At one point every space for a visa stamp on my passport was taken," Bleggi said. "My career in the U.S. Foreign Service was with USDA, not the State Department. I was very proud to be the 'aggie' in in the embassy, working closely with farmers and importers. You could say I was a 'farmer diplomat' who wore jeans as much as a dark suit."
In his tenure with the USDA, Bleggi became involved in the Russian grain embargo, lived in Germany just prior to the fall of communism in East Germany in 1989, and witnessed the economic rise of countries like China, India, and Brazil. During that period, Bleggi also saw the end of apartheid in Africa, a part of the world where he now focuses a great portion of his efforts in working to address issues affecting the continent.
After retiring from the public sector in 2006, Bleggi applied his knowledge of bureaucratic channels in Washington and skills in navigating them to a position as a trade and development consultant for small businesses engaged in commerce with the federal government.
Bleggi's work history began at the age of 11, when he worked in his father's newsstand, the Consolidated News Agency, then located on Erie Avenue in St. Marys. In doing so, he gained an insight into the realm of business interactions and honed skills that would subsequently serve him well in the field of diplomacy.
"I learned at an early age about customer service, being polite and how to speak with people of all ages from different backgrounds. Looking back, that was really helpful," Bleggi said.
Bleggi added that his access to books and periodicals through working at the newsstand helped to cultivate his "sense of wonder about the world outside of St. Marys."
Bleggi, the middle child of five children born to Emmanuel "Legs" and Edna Bleggi, both deceased, fondly recalls his childhood growing up in St. Marys and remembers "exploring all of it by bicycle."
Bleggi attended St. Marys Area High School (SMAHS) and was a part of the Class of 1973, the first class to go all four years at the new school building.
He credits his education at SMAHS with preparing him for his collegiate experience at Penn State, where he received a B.S. in Agricultural Business Management.
Bleggi also attributed some of his academic prowess to the fact that his mother was a kindergarten teacher at Spruce Street Elementary.
"Since all my teachers knew her, I had to stay pretty focused in school," Bleggi said.
He offered an anecdote about one teacher in particular and one that demonstrates how he applied learnings from his schooling in St. Marys in the "real world" of his post-academic life and career.
"I do need to mention my German teacher, Mr. Cheslock. When I was taking a language exam at the State Department, one of the instructors said,'Mr. Bleggi, you know we are trying to teach you to speak like a diplomat. Why is it you speak like a Bavarian farmer?' Since I was working for the USDA, I took that as a great compliment and tribute to him [Mr. Cheslock]," Bleggi said.
Bleggi is married to Nancy Bille, also of St. Marys. The two have raised two children, Jillian of Silver Springs, Md. and Gina, who passed away in 2010. Gina was born with a rare brain anomaly known as Holoprosencephaly, or HPE. Bleggi said that Gina, who died at age 26, was one of the oldest to survive the condition.
"I learned so much from her about perseverance and about what is really important in life," Bleggi said.
As a result of their experience with Gina, the Bleggis have become advocates for people with disabilities, especially young adults who have transitioned out of the public school setting. The Bleggis are involved in organizations like the Potomac Community Resources (www.pcr-inc.org), which provides social, sport, and therapy activities for what Bleggi refers to as "a very neglected group."
Bleggi's work with the Bread for the World Institute, assisting other traditionally neglected groups, seems a natural extension of his priorities. Bleggi said his work with the Bread for the World Institute is fulfilling and rewarding in that he is able to involve himself in a cause he is passionate about and issues affecting those less fortunate.
"Last year, 7.5 million children died from health issues related to malnutrition. One in three kids in developing countries is stunted compared to kids in the rest of the world," Bleggi said. He added that in his role he works to ensure that in a time of declining federal budgets, developmental assistance is focused and directed where it will have the greatest impact through programs helping women and children.
Bleggi said that he enjoys living and working in the Washington, D.C. area and that he still gets a thrill from being involved in the political arena.
"Even after being in D.C. for 30 years, I am still excited about working in the legislative and executive Branches of government, making policy and programs," Bleggi said.
Bleggi said that he tries to get back to St. Marys often, as he puts it, "to stock up on Straub beer and Am's sausages."