Sister Act: LCF Group Hunts for Companion City

Vicki Schwartz said she’s long wondered why La Cañada Flintridge didn’t have a Sister City.
“All our surrounding communities have one, and I just think this is the perfect town — the perfect town!” Schwartz said after hosting a recent meeting to prepare six LCF teens for this month’s Sister Cities International’s 60th Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.
A sister city relationship is a long-term, cooperative relationship between two cities in different countries, with elements of cultural, educational, business and technical exchanges.
Like most sister city organizations, LCF’s burgeoning association is a nonprofit staffed by volunteers — and driven, in this case, by Schwartz, whose experience with the Sister Cities Organization dates back 40 years. She was 16 when she spent a year on a student exchange in Regensberg, Germany, the sister city of her hometown of Tucson, Ariz., and the experience changed her life.
Schwartz wants students in LCF to have the same opportunity, so she set out earlier this year to help her city find its sibling. In just a matter of months, with the support of several community groups, including the city of La Cañada Flintridge, the program has found its footing.
Between July 13-16, Schwartz will lead the group on its first significant trip, chaperoning students from La Cañada High School, St. Francis High School and Flintridge Prep as they tour the capital and, on July 14, meet with Congressman Adam Schiff. Mostly, their focus will be on learning more about the organization while sharing information about LCF.
“One thing you’ll run into is people will never have heard of La Cañada Flintridge,” said LCF Mayor Jonathan Curtis, who attended the meeting at Schwartz’s home. “How are you going to describe La Cañada Flintridge? As a village outside of L.A.? Think about what the advantages of it are, what’s special about it.”
He suggested visiting the city’s website to learn more, and to consider talking about Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Descanso Gardens.
There’s another question students can expect to field, Schwartz told the city’s young representatives.
“A lot of people will probably ask you, ‘Who’s your sister city?’” Schwartz said. “We don’t have one yet.”
Officially, LCF is “seeking partners,” Schwartz said. What that means is that LCF is being carefully matched by officials at the U.S. State Department. The process can take anywhere from six months and two years, she said, but she expects LCF will find a suitable sibling sooner than later. Already there are possibilities in Germany, Spain and England.
“They’re looking for a city similar to us in size, but probably a little bigger because we kind of feel — I’m going to use a dating analogy — we can kind of date up,” Schwartz said. “A lot of cities this small are little villages and they may not have a lot of students, and we’ve got JPL, we have big-city contacts, a very educated population.
“They’re looking for a city that would have similar things to offer so you guys can also go on an exchange and have other students your age and things that would interest you.”
The students will arrive in Washington, D.C., with a package of pins to trade, courtesy of the city. They expect to return with a broader perspective on the world.
“What attracted me was the diplomacy of it,” said Kelly Steele, a rising junior at LCHS. “I really like that kind of stuff; I love government politics. It was interesting to me, meeting kids from other places and talking about their experiences.”
“For me, it’s also the history in D.C.,” said Lenny Pieroni, a rising junior at LCHS, whose family has hosted exchange students from Spain and Switzerland. “I’m kind of a history buff, so it’s really cool to see the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington [Monument] and to see just what goes on as far as politics goes.”
When the group — which also includes Amir Wissa, Courtney Johnson, Luke Stefan and Naomi Stephen — returns, its members will have writing and speaking assignments, Schwartz said. She told them they were selected not only to represent their city at the conference, but to represent the new program at home.
“It’s really exciting,” Steele said. “It’s our chance, instead of just joining a program, we get to build the program and to form it how we think it should be formed. I think that’s awesome.”
For more information, visit lcfsistercities.org.

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