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‘Sister City’ delegation welcomes Ukrainian officials

Posted By Sun News On December 22, 2011 @ 8:50 am In News | Comments Disabled

The holidays are a great time for family. Recently it was Sister City representatives that got together, as Sonoma welcomed two Ukrainian officials to here to celebrate the official connection with Kaniv.

The visit began at City Hall, where Consul General Sergiy Aloshyn and Consul Yurii Babkov were touched to see the Ukrainian flag flying alongside the stars and stripes. 

The first of several meetings with community leaders followed.

Lynn Fitzpatrick, director of Curriculum and Instruction, described the school district, and Laura Zimmerman, director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, spoke with passion about the Foundation’s mission to maintain a high standard of education in the Valley despite chronic budget challenges.

In the past, there have been a number of student exchanges between Sonoma and Kaniv. This past spring, three girls from Ukraine studied at Sonoma High and staged dance performances. Zimmerman suggested that a teacher exchange be created as a way to share ideas on a new level.

The Ukrainians also heard from Kathy Swett, executive director of the Sonoma Community Center, who visited Kaniv in the first delegation from Sonoma in 1987 and remembers it very fondly. She spoke of educational and cultural activities supported by the center, largely through contributions from citizens, which is very different from the way the arts are funded in Ukraine. She promised her support for cultural exchanges.

Kaniv, like Sonoma, is a charming and historic city, and both have a museum dedicated to a beloved writer (Jack London here, Taras Shevchenko there). Kaniv has only recently begun to focus on generating tourism. At the city hall roundtable, Peterson shared many ways Sonoma has learned to attract tourists and deliver excellent customer service.  She and the Sonoma Ecolgy Center’s Richard Dale explained how Sonoma has worked to develop tourism by protecting and enhancing the natural environment as well as the historic nature of the town.

Another mutual concern is the preservation or restoration of natural habitats.  Laurie Langton, chair of the Kaniv Committee of Sonoma Sister Cities Association, explained how the company she works for, Hanford ARC, restores, and when necessary, creates riparian and wetland habitats, often designed by the Sonoma Ecology Center. 

Melinda Kelley, a founder of Transition Sonoma, explained how this new grassroots organization works to raise public awareness of natural resources and sustainability. The concept of ‘grassroots’ organizing is in itself a valuable export to Kaniv and beyond.

City Councilmember Laurie Gallian pointed out that the need for both cities to develop greener technologies and support small businesses. 

In the past, Sonomans have participated in health care missions to Ukraine, including the Lions in Sight program which provided glasses to those in need, and a program to diagnose and treat diabetes. Bill Boerum, a board member of the Health Care District, suggested such exchanges continue. 

In 2008, when Tarney Baldinger took a bronze bell to Kaniv as a gift from Sonoma in a joint celebration of ‘First Bell’ for the opening of the school year, she also delivered a gift from Sonoma Valley Hospital, a large case of medicines and medical supplies.

Boerum, who is also president of Sonoma Sister Cities Association, presented the Ukrainian guests with a bottle of Sister Cities Association’s own Sonoma Valley wine.

Overall, the visitors were impressed by the wealth of information shared by local community leaders. The idea of volunteerism and charitable organizations is a new one in Ukraine; under the Soviet system, citizens were not encouraged to address local problems. 

After the City Hall meeting the Ukrainians progressed to a public reception at Palms Grill, where about 50 Sonomans met with them and learned about Ukraine through a presentation by the consuls and by Baldinger and George Shuleshko, who have visited Kaniv many times. They spoke of the unique historic, cultural, and physical attractions of the small city. 

Anyone who would like to help to develop programs or propose an idea for a project is invited to contact Laurie Langton at laurielangton@gmail.com.


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