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Sister Cities wins award

The Suffolk Sister Cities program has won Sister Cities International’s Best Overall Program Award.

The award was given in the population category for cities between 50,000 and 100,000. It recognizes programs and accomplishments that took place in 2014.

“It is pretty cool,” said Maryanne Persons, president and commissioner for the program. “It was really a banner year for us. We did a lot, and it got recognized.”

Persons named some highlights from the year as likely reasons the Suffolk organization won the award.

“We had the ‘Swing into Suffolk,’ where we sent the 26 students to England to perform with the Bury St. Edmunds county swing band,” Persons said. “The trip to England was a highlight. We also had our first major fundraiser with Carnevale, a humanitarian donation to Project Peanut Butter and the Million Steps Challenge done in conjunction with Suffolk, England. There were a lot of firsts.”

The year also included hosting a graduate student intern from Italy to experience the American business environment, an After Hours Business Social to teach the community about sister cities, a youth exchange and more.

Suffolk has two sister cities — its namesake, Suffolk County, England, and Oderzo, Italy, from where Planters Peanuts founder and Suffolk beneficiary Amedeo Obici immigrated to Pennsylvania as a child before settling in Suffolk.

Persons said the extensive Sister Cities calendar in 2014 couldn’t have happened without a number of partnerships.

“We’re an organization that’s about connecting people, and it begins at home,” Persons said. “None of these could have happened without the partnerships within the city.”

She said Rotarians here in Suffolk as well as in both of its sister cities housed members of the exchange and helped fund some of the activities.

The city of Suffolk and Suffolk Public Schools have been very instrumental, she added. The Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community helped sponsor the Million Steps Challenge, which prodded people in the Suffolks on both sides of the pond to start walking in competition with each other. The Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts once again hosted the student art showcase.

“Building those relationships is important,” Persons said. “It’s giving people the opportunity for citizen diplomacy, whether they’re in Suffolk or they have the opportunity to travel.”

Persons also mentioned the program has some great volunteers.

This isn’t the first time the Suffolk program has won an award from the Sister Cities International organization. Persons said the believed awards had also been won in 2009 and 2011. The organization gives awards for innovation in a number of areas, as well as volunteers of the year and youth leadership.

The awards will be presented in a ceremony on July 18 in Minneapolis, Minn.

The award hasn’t slowed down the busy summer calendar. Persons said Suffolk will send two teens to Italy in July and host four Italian teens in July and August, as well as a full delegation of Italian adults in August.