By Cliff Summerhill, Special for wranglernews.com
As Tempe Sister Cities reaches its 50‐year anniversary, it remains a pillar of education and understanding with cities around the world.
“What we’ve given back to the community, families and students has saved lives locally and internationally,” said David Carrera, Tempe Sister Cities president. “This program really changes lives.”
The organization kicked off its half‐century celebration with a ceremony at its Hackett House headquarters, where the gift shop was renamed “Millie’s Boutique,” after a lifelong donor.
Recently, Tempe History Museum opened an exhibit that runs through Oct. 15 about Tempe Sister Cities and its 50‐year history of “Bringing the World Together – one friendship at a time.”
“The exhibit is amazing, and people are amazed with how great it is,” Carrera said.
In 1956, the Sister Cities national organization was founded at the urging of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Fast forward to 1971. Tempe Sisters Cities founder Dick Neuheisel, with help from former Tempe mayor and U.S. Congressman Harry Mitchell, launched the first partnership with a communist city, Skopje in Yugoslavia. It was a bold move at the time.
While some believed that partnering with a city behind the Iron Curtain was risky, founders believed it was the right move for their mission of fostering peace, education and understanding.
“They pushed forward, and they said, ‘We really need to do this, it’s important,’ ” Carrera said.
In a 2019 article in Wrangler News, Neuheisel shared that Tempe Sister Cities’ first partnership created national shock and disbelief. However, it opened Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Sister Cities, and today there are scores of American cities twinned with cities in those areas, he said in the article.
In 1976, Tempe gained its second sister city, Regensburg, Germany. Over the next five decades, Tempe would add nine more.
Tempe now has 11 sister cities — in North Macedonia, Germany, New Zealand, India, China and in countries across Europe, South America and Africa. Exchanges are rooted in safety, education, culture and student opportunities.
Prior to the COVID‐19 pandemic, Tempe Police received a grant to visit a sister city in New Zealand to learn how their police handle intense confrontations without deadly weapons. Most New Zealand officers do not carry weapons and use de‐escalation techniques that don’t involve deadly force.
Unfortunately, that program was scrapped in March of 2020 due to COVID‐19.
Tempe Fire Department, however, completed an exchange prior to the pandemic with the same New Zealand city, exchanging practices in combating brush fires.
“They took them up to Prescott, where they learned about what happened to the Hotshots,” Carrera said. “It was a very private affair and very emotional for both departments.”
In other exchanges, Tempe educators may step into classrooms with international educators.
Tempe delegates have traveled to nine sister cities for three to five weeks, living in homes of host families and absorbing their culture.
In the summer, Tempe hosts international delegates. During a five‐week exchange, it immerses them in events and recreation.
“All of the international delegates come to Tempe at the same time, leading to amazing friendships and relationships,” said Carrera, who’s been involved with the program since 2012.
Visiting delegates are taken to the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, the beach, a mayor’s luncheon and a youth summit.
Carrera said the organization is looking forward to resuming delegate exchanges in 2023.
And, the donations‐based nonprofit will resume hosting fundraising events, including Oktoberfest, at Tempe Town Lake and Tempe Beach Park.
“We haven’t been able to host Oktoberfest since 2019,” Carrera said. “We feel it’s going to be a huge success this year. People want to get out and do things. We are developing a great program.”
As Tempe Sister Cities moves back to normal, Carrera hopes to not only maintain volunteers but also rejuvenate enthusiasm with new volunteers.
“We can’t be stagnant with leadership, projects or goals,” he said. “It has to be evolving constantly.”
More about Tempe Sister Cities: tempesistercities.org.