In the Pipeline: Sister City program is worth nurturing

Ten years ago, the city of Huntington Beach decided to cut all funding for its Sister City program. As you may know, Anjo, Japan, is our sister city. We also have a new sister city: Manly, Australia, which is known as Surf City down under.

While I know that our city has many budget challenges, it always seemed a shame to me that Sister City was cut out. At $10,000 a year, it represented just .0001% of the city budget.

Thankfully, Carmen Erber refused to let the program go away. She and her husband, George, have been involved in the program for decades, and for the past 10 years, Carmen has been president of the Huntington Beach chapter. The couple chaperoned their son's trip in the early 1980s, and he returned to teach in Anjo and eventually met his wife there (they now live in Long Beach).

Some background on the Sister City program: It is an outgrowth of the People to People program established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Sept. 11, 1956, to "enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures."

In 1982, the original Huntington Beach sister city agreement was signed by then-Mayor Bob Mandic. Anjo was chosen because it is similar to Huntington Beach in size, population and economic development.

Over the years, Anjo donated nearly $100,000 toward the rebuilding of our pier when it was destroyed. It has also hosted hundreds of our students as part of the exchange program, at its own expense, and the 75 cherry trees by the library and at the Police Department are a gift from Anjo, as is the stone lantern at the head of the City Hall fountains.

Recently, I had the pleasure of giving a tour of the wetlands to a group of students visiting from Anjo along with the Huntington Beach students who are in Japan as of this writing. Carmen was also along for the walk, and while she expressed frustration that her organization is now fully responsible for generating all needed funds, she remains just as enthusiastic about the importance of the Sister City program.

"This program enriches so many lives, and we've seen so many students go on to do great things after their experiences traveling abroad," she said. "While the students and their families from Huntington Beach are responsible for providing their own airline costs, once they arrive in Anjo mostly everything is provided for them. I think it's unfortunate that our city is unable to provide any help for the students visiting here, but we will just keep working as hard as we can as a nonprofit to facilitate as much as we are able to."

Local students apply for the opportunity each year, and then a board of advisors reviews the applications. This year, Edison High School students Marisa Poveda, Ryan Melvin and Blake Bonnet, as well as Huntington Beach High School student Natalie Anzivino, were chosen for the trip to Japan.

Carmen and George have tried approaching corporate sponsors to help offset some of the costs of the program but have found it hard to find interest. Personally, I find that disappointing. The Sister City program is a rare opportunity for bright and motivated students to visit far-off places to learn about other cultures.

Given how generous the city of Anjo has been and continues to be with Huntington Beach in terms of hosting our students, I'd like to believe at some point our city can find at least a few dollars to cover maybe Disneyland tickets or food vouchers — just a little something as a token to the students to let them know that we believe in doing things in kind.

Until then, Carmen seems more than determined to keep this program alive because she has seen firsthand the positive results. For me, watching our students interact with the group from Japan was quite a pleasure. The Japanese students loved it here so much that they did not even want to return. After a week or two of bonding, the friendships were evident, as were the cultural impacts.

Students interested in becoming part of the Sister City program can reach Carmen at And if any business owners would like to become involved in helping to fund this program, I'm sure she would love to hear from you as well.

In the meantime, safe travels to our students who are in Japan now and a special thanks to Carmen and George, along with the board members (and Laurie Frymire at City Hall for helping to provide staff support).


Space station

On another note, how deeply satisfying it was to see the International Space Station flying over Huntington Beach this week. The solid dot of white light — silently cruising through the heavens — struck a particularly poignant note because, as my friend Julie Bixby pointed out, engineers at Boeing Huntington Beach built the integrated truss structure, pressurized mating adapters and mobile transporter, along with outfitting the window cupola.

What a lovely homecoming, of sorts, and yet another reminder of how many things are connected to the city.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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