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Sister Cities awards young artists

One local high school artist is a step closer to a possible trip to Ireland and an international showing of his work after winning a Best-in-Show award at the Suffolk Sister Cities International Young Artist Showcase 2009.

A drawing by Camden Stevens of Nansemond River High School took top honors in the local contest, which was open to students in all of Suffolk’s high schools. Stevens’ work was chosen from among winners in the drawing, painting, photography, mixed media and poetry categories.

The winning artwork will be sent to Washington, D.C., for the SCI Competition. The top 10 U.S. winners at that competition will have their works sent on an international exhibition and tour, and the top U.S. entry will receive a check for $1,200 and a trip to the SCI Youth Conference in Ireland.

Stevens’ entry was one of 93 from area high schools to address this year’s theme, “Your Path to Peace.”

“I think it went great,” said Ann Questore, who served as chairman of the contest committee for Suffolk Sister Cities this year. “The kids seemed to have a good time.”

The contest is just one example of the ways that Suffolk Sister Cities seeks to bring together people of different cultures — not just from across the world, but also from across the city.

“We’re bringing kids together from high schools all over the city,” said Mary Jane Naismith, president of the Suffolk Sister Cities’ board of directors.

“Not only area kids learning about Italian culture and English culture, but they’re also learning about each other’s culture.”

The Sister Cities program encourages local youth to get involved in their home community through various volunteer efforts.

But its focus remains on connecting the citizens of Suffolk, Va., with their counterparts in County Suffolk in England and in Oderzo, Italy.

The first relationship, with Suffolk, England, was established in 1981. Citizens of Oderzo asked to be added as a sister city in 1995 after learning about the connection their native Obici family had with Suffolk, Va.

Sister Cities encourages people “to begin to think globally,” said Naismith, who noted that “We live in an ever-shrinking world.”

The personal contacts that are made between citizens involved in the Sister Cities program, she said, open doors for economic development and help broaden the cultural horizons of students and other citizens.

Though it was formed as a regularly appointed city commission in 1981, the organization incorporated in January and is working to get nonprofit status.

Naismith said the group had grown to the point where the city could not longer provide the sole source of funding.

“We’re pretty busy,” she said. “We’re on a path that we really need to be on to keep the organization going and not burn everybody out.”

In fact, the organization won two of its own awards last year: best overall program for cities with less than 100,000 population, and the Youth in Education Award.

“They’re doing good things,” Naismith said of her counterparts in the local organization. “I’m sure that’s why they won the award.”