The La Cañada Flintridge Sister Cities Assn. grew by leaps and bounds in 2019, as the number of student exchanges between La Cañada and Spanish city Villanueva de la Cañada nearly tripled from six in 2018 to 17 last year.
In addition to the student and host-family exchanges, two teachers traveled internationally. La Cañada High School Choral singers also performed a “Friendship Concert” in April for residents of French city Puteaux, another town forging a friendship with La Cañada.
Supporters, student members and board members celebrated the group’s accomplishments Thursday during its fourth annual meeting at Descanso Gardens’ Van de Kamp Hall.
“I’m so proud of the growth — it’s exceeded my wildest dreams,” said the organization’s president and founder Vicki Schwartz, who started the ball rolling in 2016. “I’m thrilled the community has embraced the program and they see the impact of having a global perspective.”
Craig Mazin, producer/director of the HBO series “Chernobyl,” emceed the event, which included testimonials from local students about their positive experiences abroad and hosting Spanish students in their own homes.
Mazin briefly touched on his own experience traveling in Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania while filming “Chernobyl,” recalling the empathy fostered in shared rituals, such as eating, talking and laughing or crying with another.
“That’s when people become family. Then, there is empathy,” he said. “I’m proud of what Sister Cities has done to share that with you.”
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy junior Ana Christina Bailey recalled time spent with her Spanish host family during a recent trip as a fun, eye-opening experience.
“It was definitely an immersive experience,” she told the audience. “We had a lot of similarities we didn’t know we had. Thank you to everyone who made that possible.”
Although Villanueva de la Cañada has sent delegates to the annual meeting in years past to speak on the city’s behalf, Mayor Luis Partida sent a heartfelt missive for audience-goers Thursday.
“There are many things we share, like our cities’ names, our friendship and our sister cities relationship,” said a translator, who read the mayor’s words. “We are looking forward to the future in order to enlarge our cities, as we strengthen our ties to make a better world and be better cities as we share in our common values and culture. We wish you a great time at the annual meeting — we hope to visit you soon.”