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People who travel with Sharon Tennison - even those who have traveled widely before - are unstinting in their praise. ``She brings out everybody,'' says William S. White, president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in Flint, Mich. ``She cares passionately.''

``She's not only thoughtful and kind,'' says Suzanne W. Morse of the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio, ``she's a risk-taker.''

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``She's got unlimited energy,'' says Wayne Windle, a lawyer from El Paso, Texas.

Yet it is the relatively untraveled average American - firefighters, pipefitters, teachers, and the hundreds of others who sign up for her trips - who form the core of Mrs. Tennison's groups.

Since founding the Center for US-USSR Initiatives (CUUI) in 1983, Tennison and her seven-member staff have sent more than 70 groups of Americans to the Soviet Union. Her trademark is the ``home visit,'' an evening spent over a tea table in a Soviet flat. These contacts, says Tennison, have been set up entirely outside government control.

``From the beginning we went to the streets and the Metro - that's where we met people. There's no way that could be controlled, because nobody knew which street we were going to.'' Now, with host families numbering in the hundreds, she says that ``we have contacts that range all the way from dissidents and refuseniks up to the party members.'' (CUUI has also brought some 400 Soviets to the US.)

CUUI trips, which typically last several weeks and cover several cities, are often shaped by the interests of the participants. Forthcoming trips include ones for young leaders, young artists, environmentalists, and community college presidents, as well as those for the nonspecialist traveler.

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