From Suffolk to the World: Sister Cities encourage citizen diplomacy
Published 7:20 pm Friday, April 21, 2023
By Tracy Agnew
For nearly 30 years, Suffolk Sister Cities has been helping form bonds between people from Suffolk and those around the world.
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Sister Cities International was created at President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 White House conference on citizen diplomacy. Eisenhower believed people of different cultures could celebrate and appreciate their differences and build partnerships through this new organization.
Suffolk Sister Cities formed in 1995 with its first partnership with Suffolk County, England. Its second partnership, with Oderzo, Italy, came just a few years later.
Suffolk has strong historical ties with both of its sister cities. The tie to Suffolk County is obvious; the tie to Oderzo, less so, until one knows the story behind it. Amedeo Obici, the founder of Planters Peanuts and benefactor of Suffolk, immigrated to the United States from his hometown of Oderzo as a boy, eventually landing here by way of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, where he founded the company.
Suffolk and its sister cities partner on programs including youth exchanges and adult exchanges. Locally, there is also an arts showcase for students and more.
Michelle Wren, the current president of Sister Cities, became involved in the organization because of its work with young people. When her children were young, her family hosted a middle school musician from Suffolk County, England, when the band traveled here to play concerts and experience America.
“It was just a phenomenal experience,” Wren said. “I loved it.”
When her children were in high school, they both went on short exchange trips to Italy, further cementing the relationship. By then, Wren was hooked.
“It’s fantastic,” she said. “My passion is the education piece of it. I think that’s huge to bring kids together that aren’t normally around each other and working together, and they’re experiencing something unique.”
When Suffolk students visit Italy, they stay in the homes of Italian families and have an itinerary that brings them together on planned trips along with their host families. Similarly, Italian students visiting Suffolk stay with American families and are able to visit many historic sites, ranging from Obici-related sites in Suffolk such as the Obici House to regional sites like Colonial Williamsburg. There’s usually even a trip to Washington, D.C.
Although it’s been a few years since the exchanges have happened thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wren said a group of adults is planned to go to Italy later this year. She hopes youth exchanges will start back up soon.
There also are plans to repair the Obici-Oderzo Fountain, which sits in the park adjacent to the courthouse on North Main Street. Placed in 2003, the fountain honors the Obicis and commemorates the Sister Cities relationship between Suffolk and Oderzo. It embodies elements of classic design symbolizing the ancient Roman origins of Oderzo. The mosaic tiles were a gift from the citizens of Oderzo.
During the pandemic, Suffolk Sister Cities was able to send monetary aid to Oderzo to purchase medical supplies, further cementing the “sisterhood” between the two.
Find more information on Suffolk Sister Cities at suffolksistercitiesinternational.org.