2019 Annual Awards

At Sister Cities International, we know that the work our members do to promote peace through mutual understanding, respect, and cooperation changes the world–one individual, one community at a time. Since 1962, we have recognized a few of our most outstanding members all over the nation for the work they’ve done in the last year to advance the citizen diplomacy movement through our Annual Awards Program.

There are 4 award categories broken out by city population size: best overall, innovation, volunteer of the year, and youth leadership. The innovation category has five subcategories that span the variety of sister city programs: arts and culture, business and trade, humanitarian assistance, and professional and technical assistance.

We’re excited to announce this year’s Annual Award winners at our 2019 Annual Conference, Cities Mean Business, in Houston,  Texas from July 17-19. Seventeen outstanding members and programs, each of whom has made a marked difference in their communities, will be recognized on stage during our Annual Awards Dinner and Gala.

Our Annual Awards winners set the standard for what it means to be a citizen diplomat. If you see them at the conference, be sure to reach out to them to share congratulations and to share knowledge. The more our members work together to improve their communities through the lens of international cooperation, the more successful we all are in advancing the original vision of President Eisenhower.

We are thrilled to share the Annual Awards winners below. To learn more about each member’s work, please click on their program names.

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Best Overall


[accordion title=”Population Less Than 10,000: Aspen Sister Cities (Colorado)” active=”yes|no”]

Aspen Sister Cities reached new levels of engagement thanks to the outstanding voluntary commitment by Sister Cities Committee members, various community organizations and businesses, and community volunteers. As part of a medical exchange program with Sister City Bariloche, Argentina; seven medical professionals from Bariloche spent a week in Aspen doing a peer study with the staff of Aspen Valley Hospital and Valley View Hospital. In turn, six medical professionals from Aspen spent a week in the Bariloche public hospital doing demonstration surgeries, giving lectures, and conducting peer studies/instruction.

As part of a youth exchange with Shimukappu, Japan; seven students in the eighth grade traveled from Aspen to Japan. The students participated in cultural and educational activities in the Shimukappu community and in the schools, while building their Japanese language skills through their homestays , which immersed them in Japanese daily life. Prior to traveling to Japan, the group took Japanese language and culture classes, which were arranged and taught by the Aspen Sister City Coordinator for Shimukappu, Japan.

[accordion title=”Population between 25,001 – 50,000: Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation (Illinois)” active=”yes|no”]

The Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation had an extremely productive and impactful year, as they celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2019. Through a donation of 30 computers to rural schools in Puerto Vallarta, students were provided the opportunity to participate in Virtual Classrooms. In addition, their Virtual Classroom project expanded to include more classrooms and three teachers were sent from Highland Park to Puerto Vallarta to teach in rural schools using the donated computers.

In addition, Highland Park hosted a Sister Cities Youth Choral Festival in Puerto Vallarta, provided hurricane relief to and area of Puerto Vallarta that was destroyed by Hurricane Willa, and continued to support Corazon de Nina, a home for children from abusive home situations, to build transitional housing for residents attending colleges and trade schools.

[accordion title=”Population between 50,001 – 100,000: Asheville North Carolina Sister Cities, Inc. (North Carolina)” active=”yes|no”]

In 2018, ASCI produced their most outstanding year in the organization’s history. They hosted delegations, government representatives, and guests from four of their sister cities and developed events, activities, educational meetings and community engagement surrounding those visits. Two Reaffirmation Agreements were signed with their Mayor at a city hosted luncheon. A large humanitarian project involving several international organizations was completed in January with the delivery of 110 wheelchairs to their two Mexican sister cities, San Cristobal and Valladolid.

The arts, history and culture of their sister cities were shared in an expanded 7 month series of “World Wide Wednesdays” programs. They partnered with the Asheville Symphony and Asheville Area Arts Council on two different community events celebrating their cities in Scotland and Nigeria. The student group from Karpenisi had an incredible week of interactions and educational sharing. New partnerships were formed with the University of North Carolina-Asheville, Western Carolina University, Asheville Buncombe Technical College, and Mountain Area Health and Education Center/MAHEC. Several successful fundraising events featuring the foods and culture of their sister cities were held throughout our community, including planning for their 2nd Annual Global Glitz – Celebrating Diversity.

[accordion title=”Population between 100,001 – 300,000: Lexington Sister Cities (Kentucky)” active=”yes|no”]

Lexington Sister Cities successfully expanded and developed their programs with Deauville, France; County Kildare, Ireland; Shinhidaka, Japan; and Newmarket, England. Twenty-eight high school students (thirteen American and fifteen French) participated in the 2018 Student Exchange program with Deauville, France; as LSC finalized the preparations to begin the University of Kentucky Medical School and Universite de Caen Medical School next year. The University of Kentucky-Shinhidaka Internship program was formalized, and the program was scheduled to begin during the summer of 2019.

Lexington worked tirelessly to create educational opportunities for students at all levels, citizens, business and community leaders, and city officials to experience and participate in any program with Lexington Sister Cities (LSC) and Sister Cities International, as they worked to expand current Sister City Partnerships and visualize the future of their program.

[accordion title=”Population Greater Than 300,000: San Antonio Sister Cities Program (Texas)” active=”yes|no”]

In 2018, San Antonio Sister Cities program leveraged the celebration of San Antonio’s 300 year anniversary to reach out to its global relationships while positively impacting their eleven sister cities and two friendship cities from around the world. The City of San Antonio operated a trade and foreign office in Monterrey that sought to connect business owners on either side of the border who were looking to expand and grow their enterprises. San Antonio Mayor traveled to Guadalajara for the first All Mexico-U.S. Sister Cities Mayors Summit, accompanied by approximately 20 San Antonio civic and business leaders.

Another special event in 2018 was the historic visit by Their Majesties the King and Queen of Spain in June which was featured in media outlets in over 15 countries, especially in Latin America and Europe resulting in over $40 million dollars of media impact in press outlets across US, Latin America and Europe. In celebration of the Tricentennial, the City of Gwangju sent a delegation led by the Mayor of Gwangju to the slew of activities during Commemorative Week. Cultural engagement with Kaohsiung continued in 2018 with a prominent jazz trumpet player from Kaohsiung, visiting San Antonio in February to participate in the Sister Cities Jazz Ensemble. Lastly, 2018 was a landmark year for not only the City of San Antonio but also for San Antonio and its Japanese Sister City of Kumamoto as the mutual relationship reached its 30 year milestone.



Innovation: Arts & Culture


[accordion title=”Population Less Than 25,000: Danville Sister Cities Commission (Kentucky)” active=”yes|no”]

Having established good will through previous exchanges between Sister Cities, Danville, KY and Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, 2018 featured a very successful artist exchange. Each city nominated three artists to their Sister City. The hosting city made their selection from among the candidates based upon their needs and interests. Quite remarkably, host cities independently selected muralists; the nature and outcomes of their experiences differed.
Danville artist, Brandon Long, employed software to combine drawings by children with special needs into a design for a whimsical mural that answers the question, “What makes your community great?” Then, the children painted the mural for their school.

Playwright and 2013 Sister Cities exchange artist, Liz Orndorff, upon returning from her residency to Danville, wrote two plays based on the exchange. Her second play, The Return of Tinker Doyle, was premiered in June at Danville’s outdoor summer theater, Pioneer Playhouse. Then in July, DSCC enjoyed the annual visit of Irish UPLIFT, an arts organization from Carrick Fergus that comes to Danville’s West T. Hill Theatre each summer to run arts camps for 200 schoolchildren, to promote and prepare for Northern Ireland Artist Dee Craig’s upcoming visit.


[accordion title=”Population between 25,001 – 100,000: City of Oak Ridge (Tennessee)” active=”yes|no”]

Thanks to energetic fundraising, brainstorming, engineering, and community outreach, the City of Oak Ridge and its partners successfully dedicated the International Friendship Bell Peace Pavilion in 2018. The bell is a symbol of peace between the U.S. and Japan, created as part of the City’s 50th anniversary, and serves as a memorial to the events of World War II.

After discovering the original home of the bell had deteriorated in 2014, City staff got to work a new plan. Because of their hard work and innovative thinking, the iconic bell is now displayed beneath a modern concrete cantilever with sprawling carbon fiber beams, the longest of their kind in the world, and other state-of-the-art features. The pavilion is surrounded by benches that will include 3D printed seat backs. Curving paths, wide-open park views and a Japanese-inspired raked garden round out the design. Additional improvements, including planted gardens and lighting upgrades, are still underway.

As part of Oak Ridge’s student exchange with its sister city in Japan, middle school children from Naka-shi visited the site in 2018 while it was still under construction. The students, along with their local hosts, were able see the beginnings of the new home for the bell, which will be ringing in Oak Ridge for 1,000 years to come.

[accordion title=”Population Greater Than 100,000: Sister Cities of Nashville (Tennessee)” active=”yes|no”]

Sister Cities of Nashville (SCN) embarked on an ambitious new endeavor in 2018 as they worked to produce a five-day festival in Belfast that showcased the music, food and culture of Nashville. In addition to the Nashville in Belfast festival and in partnership with Belfast City Hall, SCN worked to ensure that our delegates had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with professionals in their respective industries or sectors. After three consecutive packed shows with more than 2,400 in attendance, Belfast residents were exposed to a range of talent from Nashville; and artists were able to build their international following.

Media exposure for Nashville included multiple interviews and concert broadcast on BBC, which airs on Radio Ulster with 536,000 listeners (36% of market); Waterfront and Ulster Hall “Front Row” magazines, featuring Nashville performances along with 17,000 copies; and City Matters Magazine, which featured Nashville in Belfast in which 155,000 residents received copies. Approximately 30,000 Belfast citizens were exposed to the music, culture and food of Nashville at the St. George’s Market. Cinemagic CEO traveled to Nashville to develop plans for a Belfast-Nashville project for 2020 that would bring Belfast youth to Nashville to work alongside local teens to write and produce music videos.



Innovation: Youth & Education


[accordion title=”Population 25,001-100,000: Foundation for Cultural Exchange Grand Junction (Colorado)” active=”yes|no”]

Grand Junction Sister Cities started their scholarship program in 2009 after the community’s Mesa Ciudadana, or Citizen’s Roundtable, approached GJSC and told them that what their community really needed was an opportunity for their children to get an education. School is technically public in El Salvador, but the cost of high school made it essentially out of reach for many of the families in our sister city, whose citizens live well below the poverty line.

Grand Junction Sister Cities began the scholarship program with three high school students, and a total budget of $900. Since then, the program has grown to 35 current scholarship recipients and more than 15 alumni, as well as an annual budget of approximately $34,000. The scholarships start in the first year of high school and are guaranteed through college, unlike any other scholarship program in the country.

The program design is deliberate and important because their students have ongoing support, encouragement, and above all, accountability. Families become stakeholders in the scholarship, and by extension, in their student’s academics. Both parents and students build community and widen their support network as they spend time and work together while they attend workshops and training sessions on a wide range of issues. The scholarship recipients become committed to their community and to its success as they work to identify and solve many of its problems.

[accordion title=”Population Greater Than 100,000: Long Beach – Qingdao Association (California)” active=”yes|no”]

In August 2018, the Sister Cities of Long Beach, Inc., (California) through its Long Beach-Qingdao Association (LBQA), provided support for a new project to bring Chinese and US students together to learn how to program small robots and to compete in multi-national teams to show what they had learned. The LBQA provided business and diplomatic expertise as well as funding for equipment and for some students to compete nationally. The program was designed to give US and Chinese students an intensive cross-cultural competitive experience in team-building, language, and leading-edge technology.

Because of Long Beach sister cities and the programs that they have provided, the students learned how to program robots, and their work was enhanced by using concepts of intentional creativity to solve problems related to food, on a multi-cultural team. They have given students to opportunity to help break down the language barrier as Chinese students practiced their English and American students started to engage in Mandarin. Their concept of multi-national student team collaboration, facilitated by coaches and interpreters, was prototyped and proven successful. They have tested a program framework that can ultimately be grown to create international youth opportunities for multiple skills training—from technical, robotics-oriented to creativity/entrepreneurship and, perhaps, beyond. They have also created a team of cooperative organizations that will be helpful in the future.



Innovation: Business & Trade


[accordion title=”Population Less Than 25,000: Sister Cities of Jasper (Indiana)” active=”yes|no”]

The idea of importing wine from Pfaffenweiler, Germany, to Jasper, Indiana was generated during a discussion held at a joint Sister Cities & Partnership meeting marking their 30th anniversary as Sister Cities in 2015.
The ensuing work resulted in an exclusive trade relationship in the United States. At the present time, the only place to purchase, taste, and drink Pfaffenweiler wine in the United States is in Jasper, Indiana. The goal was to develop an economic activity that would benefit and continue to promote the connection between Sister Cities of Jasper and our Sister City of Pfaffenweiler.

At the end of the year an order for 125 cases was secured after research, planning, and organization, and the order was placed with the Pfaffenweiler winery in November 2018. The shipment arrived in Jasper in March 2019. JSCC has begun preparation for improved labeling of the wine bottles and a more economical means of shipping the product. JSCC hopes that continued communication between all of the players will provide greater opportunity for success and sustainability in the future.


[accordion title=”Population 25,001-100,000: Neighbors Abroad Palo Alto (California)” active=”yes|no”]

Neighbors Abroad of Palo Alto, California facilitated the first forestry-based carbon offset transaction between the United States and Mexico, and the first to apply the Mexico forest carbon sequestration protocol. The transaction generated significant social, environmental and economic benefits in Oaxaca, while allowing the City of Palo Alto to satisfy obligations as a municipally owned gas utility to offset all greenhouse gas emissions.

The $136,000 transaction purchased 17,000 tons of carbon offsets was made through ICICO, a community-based environmental organization. Economic benefits included the generation of approximately 20 new jobs, jobs that keep families together thereby reducing pressure to migrate to the United States. Neighbors Abroad is developing a new transaction in 2019 to extend the purchase across 6 years and 115,000 tons of carbon transferring $1,150,000 to community benefit managing 25,000 acres of tropical forest with anticipated benefit of over 100 new jobs.


[accordion title=”Population Greater Than 100,000: Fort Worth Sister Cities (Texas)” active=”yes|no”]

In the fall of 2018, Fort Worth Sister Cities International, Wild Acre Brewing Co. partners with the city of Trier, Germany to introduce the first-ever collaborative beer at the 5th annual Oktoberfest in Fort Worth. The brew master from German-based Kraft Bräu brewery in Trier attended and tapped the keg of the collaborative beer called Wild Acre Kraft Haus Lager. Similarly, Fort Worth companies Best Maid Pickles and Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. both found a natural partner in Nagaoka, Japan. Best Maid Pickles and Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. (producers of TX Whiskey) were intrigued by this opportunity. Both companies brought samples of their products to Japan and a tasting was arranged to be held with members of Nagaoka’s Chamber of Commerce’s small business group.

Because of this exchange, the two breweries of Fort Worth and Trier were able to connect and share ideas on exchange and commerce. They were able to showcase the Fort Worth Sister Cities partnership with Trier through news and media with a press release, e-blast, news coverage and recognition at the two special events (reception at Wild Acre Brewing Co. and Fort Wurst, a 3-day festival in Fort Worth). Meanwhile, many business and community leaders in Nagaoka thought the “Pickles & Whiskey” business exchange was very fruitful and created an insightful window into the business culture of both countries. Overall, Fort Worth Sister Cities sustains the relationships that help businesses connect globally and thrive locally. The ability to sustain these longtime relationships provides fertile ground for business to grow.



Innovation: Humanitarian Assistance


[accordion title=”Population Greater Than 100,000: Lakeland Sister Cities International (Florida)” active=”yes|no”]

Lakeland Sister Cities made great strides to provide rehabilitation and treatment to deaf or hearing impaired people in their sister city, Balta, Republic of Moldova. The impairments are largely due to meningitis, and LSC provided assistance in the form of antibiotics and hearing aids to both combat the illness, and restore hearing after the event. The most recent trip to Balti was conducted in October of 2018. The clinical work continues, but the focus was to plan for the needs of the upcoming 2019 program.

As the years have gone by the program has grown in many areas from its original mission. Thousands of citizens have received assistance in the areas of speech and hearing deficits. Many others have received aid in areas of food and material support. Training programs and exchanges of doctors have allowed the Moldovan healthcare professionals to take up the cause and provided service to their own countryman.



Innovation: Professional & Technical Assistance


[accordion title=”Population 25,001-100,000: Foundation for Cultural Exchange Grand Junction (Colorado)” active=”yes|no”]

Animal health is directly related to human health, especially when animals are free to roam, as they are in Grand Junction’s Sister City; El Espino, El Salvador. By spaying and neutering dogs and cats, and simultaneously administering critical vaccines, we improve the health of the animals improves, their propensity to stray far from home in search of a mate decreases, which limits the transmission of illness from animal to animal—and in turn, animal to human. This focus on limiting zoonosis is a critical piece of the long-term benefits to the overall health of the community.

Grand Junction Sister Cities’ first annual spay/neuter campaign was carried out in the summer of 2018, spaying and neutering 305 animals in just three days with the participation of 12 veterinary students, which resulted in the prevention of thousands of births in the first year. In 2019, we expect to operate on 500 animals in three days and train more than 25 veterinary students and veterinary assistants. Additionally, the US-based volunteers participated in cultural activities around the country. Many of those volunteers are returning for the second year and have become involved in the FCE at the board level.



Volunteer of the Year

Maxine Hankins Cain - Volunteer of the Year Annual Awards WinnerMaxine Hankins Cain, Lansing Regional Sister Cities Commission (Michigan)

Maxine Hankins Cain, Ed D, an LRSCC member for 20 years, is a former teacher and school administrator who always stressed the importance of understanding global issues, cultures and languages. As an educator of excellence in Michigan, Cain is recognized in Ghana for her educational and humanitarian leadership. She has led the effort to renovate the k-12 schools in Nkyenne Nkyenne, Akuapem South District. In 2018, she had all three schools painted inside and out, purchased white boards, curriculum materials and computers; and gifted each teacher monetarily for their work.

As an educator of excellence in Michigan, Cain has promoted education and health in Akuapem South District. Over the years, she has held numerous teacher training programs including at the Presbyterian Teacher Training College in Aburi. She was active with both the SCI/Gates grant and the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene grant from the US Department of State and helped identify three village sites for community latrines. She participated in fundraising for two 40-foot containers that included medical, X-ray and radiology supplies/equipment, computers, books, school equipment, bicycles, and farm equipment; in addition to her ride in a fully equipped ambulance from Lansing to Baltimore to ship it to Ghana. She continues to lead her church and sorority’s fundraising drives to benefit schools, orphanages, and clinics in Ghana.

For Maxine Hankins Cain, there is no task too consuming. She has always loved being a part of LRSCC and has never turned down a request to help the organization in its efforts to be Lansing’s “Window to the World.”

Youth Leadership

Olivia Connor - Youth Leadership Annual Awards WinnerOlivia Connor, Sister Cities of Nashville (Tennessee)

Olivia Connor has been involved in Sister Cities of Nashville (SCN) since 2016. She applied to be a Student Ambassador to Caen, France and was accepted into the summer program.

She was an exemplary citizen diplomat while in Caen, according to the trip chaperone, as she participated in a two-week educational and cultural exchange. She was invited to join the Sister Cities Youth Advisory board, and since then, has hosted three students from Caen, France in successive years for two-week cultural exchanges, welcoming them into her home and her school community. She has also Served as Volunteer Coordinator (2017-2018) and as President of Sister Cities of Nashville’s Youth Advisory Board (2018-2019), volunteered to help Sister Cities of Nashville as an intern in 2018, and spearheaded a volunteer initiative to support refugee children through Nation’s Ministries.

Over the years that Olivia has been involved with Sister Cities of Nashville programs Olivia has always been the first one to volunteer to host incoming exchange students and has worked hard to recruit more volunteer hosts as well as being a voice in the community for Sister Cities. It has not only been Olivia’s volunteer work with Sister Cities of Nashville, it has been Olivia’s attitude and the approach she has brought to all of her work. Olivia approaches of her involvement with an extremely positive attitude, with energy and enthusiasm, and with creativity.