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Fort Wayne’s Taste of Sister Cities brings cultures together from all over the world

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Steve Fecht
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Mack stresses the critical importance of making a difference, one connection at a time.

Fort Wayne Sister Cities International is excited to resume in-person celebration of its global connections this year, beginning with the return of the Taste of Sister Cities gala on Saturday, April 23.

The event, which is also the group’s major annual fundraiser, will showcase the cuisine, culture and entertainment of Fort Wayne’s sister cities: Takaoka, Japan, Plock, Poland, Gera, Germany, Taizhou, China, and friendship city, Mawlamyine, Myanmar.

The organization is also raising funds for Plock, Poland, to assist with Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war zone.

WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses the group’s focus and activities with board member Stephanie Mack, and how globally advancing friendship and peace through educational, cultural and economic exchanges in this way brings cultures together from all over the world.

Event Information:
Taste of Sister Cities Gala
@ Ceruti's Summit Park Diamond Room, Fort Wayne
Saturday, April 23rd, 2022
5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

For ticket availability and reservations, visit the Fort Wayne Sister Cities website.

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Courtesy/Fort Wayne Sister Cities International
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Where in the world our Sister & Friendship Cities are!

Julia Meek: Stephanie Mack, welcome.

Stephanie Mack: Hi, Julia. Thank you.

Julia Meek: So you'll be back in business celebrating our "sister city-hood" live and in person with a great, five country feast very, very shortly. Now this includes Takaoka, Japan, Plock, Poland, Gera, Germany, Taizhou, China and Mawlamyine Myanmar, which is actually a friendship city to Fort Wayne. How does it feel?

Stephanie Mack: Oh, it feels great. It's going to be so great to be in person celebrating with our sister cities and probably 250 individuals there for the cuisine and the culture and the fun.

Julia Meek: It really does sound mighty tasty. What a great cultural assortment we have amassed of such connections. Stephanie, what does this mean for our entire community.

Stephanie Mack: Our community is so diverse not only here in Fort Wayne, but in our impact around the world. And Fort Wayne Sister Cities goal is to foster friendship and peace, one friendship at a time through educational, cultural and economic exchanges. It's just an amazing way for individuals to meet their counterparts across the seas, around the world and build friendship and peace.

Julia Meek: It almost sounds too easy. And then of course, the flip side of that is it could be impossible, but the one on one and the one at a time--why is that such an effective tool?

Stephanie Mack: I believe it goes back to when Dwight Eisenhower first started the sister cities international after World War Two. He saw that soldiers on opposite sides of the fight, who got to know one another on a personal level were able to become friends and maintain friendship. The fight wasn't with them. It was with the politicians and with the countries. And he realized that to prevent a world war from happening again, it was essential that we as citizen delegates got to know our fellow humans around the world,

Julia Meek: How wise and timeless, of course as a method and the mission. What does it say about the remarkable diversity that we enjoy right here in Fort Wayne, though?

Stephanie Mack: Prior to my involvement with Sister Cities, I had no idea that right here in Fort Wayne, at our community schools, there are over 95 different languages spoken. And it's easy as an individual, as we go about our day surrounded by our friends, to not realize just what an amazing community we have. The Sister Cities takes that another step. It gives us the opportunity to involve high school students, college students and adults and professionals the opportunity to be involved with virtual and actual exchanges with their counterparts in the sister cities. It's an amazing thing. We started doing Sister Cities 45 years ago with Takaoka. And here we are in 2022, getting ready to have three different delegations come over, post pandemic, this year alone. It's just going to be an amazing year for us.

Julia Meek: It's wonderfully diverse, we hope it only ever increases. And specifically Stephanie, how does that all come together on this one wonderful gala day of celebration?

Stephanie Mack: Well our Taste of Sister Cities gala gives guests the opportunity to get a taste of each of these countries culture, their food, as well as their entertainment. Plus, it's the largest fundraiser for Fort Wayne Sister Cities. It allows us to come together-- about 250 people-- and for an evening celebrating each of these cities, celebrating the people that are involved, and really highlighting the incredible impacts that we've been able to have one city at a time in each of these cities. There'll be plenty of fun, but there will be some great inspiring stories as well about what it has meant to be a part of Sister Cities and how you as an individual can be a part of it as well.

Julia Meek: So you're sharing good food and good cheer and a silent auction that has a lot of diversity certainly in a wonderment of auction items, obviously is all designed for that taste.

Stephanie Mack: Absolutely. The silent auction items--not only do we have some fan favorites with red wine baskets and bourbon baskets and local vacation spots, but we have clothing, Chinese clothing, Polish beers, German wines and pastries. We also have hand carved statues from Myanmar. We have beautiful turquoise sculptures from China. Such an amazing array of art and items to help celebrate the cities and also just have a lot of fun.

Julia Meek: Certainly sounds it! Now this celebration was sidelined by COVID along with the rest of the world's activities, but your committee turned those lemons into lemonade last year with a virtual celebration and a very successful Sister Cities cookbook premiere. What did that show you...well, besides about your group's hard work and tenacity, perhaps... it's cred and its popularity with our city.

Stephanie Mack: It's amazing when we were faced like everybody with do we have our fundraisers in person or virtually, we had to look and say, Gosh. We've never done a virtual anything before. Well heck, neither had most of the world when you think about it. And so we dug in. And the response was amazing from our sponsors for the people that took part in it. And then that cookbook, people were telling us, Oh, nobody does cookbooks anymore. Well, let me tell you people loved this cookbook. It features recipes and stories from each of our sister and friendship cities, and we're already in our second printing for it. So I think it shows that there's a thirst and a hunger in our community for those connections, internationally and locally, and who doesn't want a peaceful, more connected world? And this is just a simple way to get involved, go to a party, buy a cookbook, and gosh, maybe volunteer with a great organization.

Julia Meek: I guess you are painting a pretty picture of what happens. And again, congratulations on a great project and also the continuance of this organization's spirit no matter what. So Fort Wayne Sister Cities is also raising funds currently for our sister city of Plock, Poland to assist with the fleeing Ukrainian refugees. Plock is near that border and is greatly impacted by all of this. How was that resonating with the community?

Stephanie Mack: When we first announced to the community that Sister Cities would take donations that would be directly given to Plock, we had an immediate reaction. I mean, this horrible war that Russia has started with Ukraine has resonated around the world. And our corporations, individuals, people have given anywhere from $5 to $20,000 to $50,000. I mean, we have just raised an amazing amount of money close to $85,000, I believe right now, and it goes directly to Plock. It goes directly to assisting those fleeing Ukrainian refugees to help give them a safe place to shelter from this war.

Julia Meek: I am kind of curious, since people represented within our sister cities themselves have been refugees, had many sad things happening to them, do you sense there's a healing or an empowerment built in now that we all can be in this together helping someone else that obviously needs it?

Stephanie Mack: I think that having the direct impact on individuals who've been devastated by war gives us the opportunity as individuals and of course as an organization to make a real difference. As far as whether someone has been through their own crises as a refugee from another country, or even a personal crisis of their own here in America, being able to reach out to people who are innocent victims who are powerless, and to say you're not alone. We see you, we hear you and because we are sister cities with Plock , we're here to extend that hand to you as well. I just think it is an amazing example of how good can triumph over evil.

Julia Meek: And it's happening right here, right here and Crossroads level. That's amazing. And now that you are making up for lost time with everything, post pandemic, what's back on your calendar, otherwise?

Stephanie Mack: Hah! (chuckles) This is a great year for Sister Cities. Obviously with the pandemic, we have not had any exchanges or delegations going to and from our cities, but this year we do. We have theCherry Blossom Festival coming up in May. Gera, Germany will have an official and a citizen delegation here in June. Plock, Poland is sending over the Veesla Dancers and a delegation in July and Takaoka and Fort Wayne will be celebrating their 45th year in October with an exchange.

Julia Meek: Seems like it was only yesterday, but my my, what a celebration that's going to be and of course we have the International Village at the Three Rivers Festival and the Global Youth Leadership symposium coming up in the fall-- all ways to really connect us with our sister cities--with our sisters and brothers around the world, we could say it that way, Stephanie. For outreach and awareness there is nothing like this kind of interaction. Now I wonder in particular about the exchanges. Why are they so important?

Stephanie Mack: We believe that when you bring two individuals from different worlds together, it gives people the opportunity to celebrate what we have in common, and to build a relationship upon that. Obviously, every human being has differences. And some cultures are very different than ours. But at the heart of it, we're people; we have the same hopes and desires, loves, and wishes. And when we are able to meet these people and develop a friendship and relationship, it just goes to show that there is hope in this world. And there's hope for every one of us no matter where we are.

Julia Meek: Oh my goodness, it's a great scenario. And the economic importance of Sister Cities exploded after World War Two, as you mentioned with President Eisenhower. The United States and Japan have always been leaders in that movement. What's your impression of the impact locally, especially on our economy?

Stephanie Mack: When people get to know one another, not just students, but also professionals, it paves the way for a shared economic benefit. And what better way to make people aware of the talents and goods and services that we have to offer others, but also that others can provide us. And when you have shared economic relationships, it really makes one think twice before you want to have war, or disagreements. And so it's just another example of how that friendship and peace not only benefits us on an emotional level, or human level, but a practical level in the economies as well. We've just added the economic factor officially to our mission statement last year at Fort Wayne sister cities, because we felt that it was so important to foster that connection with our sister cities, as well as the cultural and educational aspects of Sister Cities.

Stephanie Mack: Then it sounds like you have broadened your bases, broadened your challenges, and certainly your workload. How's that going to date?

Stephanie Mack: It's very invigorating. We are actively hoping to inspire people who share these values, who want to get involved, whether it's just to learn a little bit more about a country or volunteer or learn how they themselves might be able to help with an exchange. We would love to have people join our group and even ask questions.

Julia Meek: I hope that comes to fruition for you. It's certainly a noble goal. And last question, Stephanie, from your heart, what could we should we be doing to amplify the understanding and further the impact that is possible from such connections as these Sister City International connections that we cherish?

Stephanie Mack: I think that each of us can absolutely make a difference in our daily lives here and around the world. And you mentioned that Julia, you said, it sounds so simple. It really is making that decision to learn a little bit more, participate a little bit more, even if it's just going to a gala to help them financially can make a practical difference. The fundraising we're doing for Plock, Poland and the Ukrainian refugees there is just a tangible example of how individuals by one simple act literally make a difference around the world.

Julia Meek: Stephanie Mack is a board member and gala committee member of Fort Wayne Sister Cities International. Stephanie, your story is a powerful one. Thank you so much for sharing it. Keep up the great connections.

Stephanie Mack: Thanks, Julia.

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.
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