Last month, a 14-member delegation visited New Paltz from its sister city of Niimi, Japan. The group included students and members of the community who volunteered to be part of the delegation. The Sister City International Program is more than 50 years old and was created to promote citizen diplomacy, peace and understanding through exchanges that focus on arts and culture, youth and education, business and trade and community development. The Village of New Paltz established a sister city program in 1998 with Osa, a community of a similar size in a mountainous rural region of Japan, on the large island of Honshu, west of Osaka. The area is known for its history and scenic beauty, as well as hang-gliding. It was a good match for New Paltz because of its similar size and geography and many common concerns. Osa has since consolidated with the City of Niimi, as Japan adopted a policy of consolidating smaller communities.
For over 20 years, many delegations have visited New Paltz and New Paltz residents have visited Niimi. The program is organized by the New Paltz International Exchange Association (NPIEA) and is supported entirely by New Paltz volunteers. Volunteers provide home-stays for Niimi visitors and arrange for a variety of events to showcase popular local sites and experiences.
This year, when the Niimi guests arrived from JFK, they were welcomed at a reception at the fireside room of the Dutch Reformed Church by Pastor Mark Mast, Mayor Tim Rogers, Supervisor Neil Bettez, New Paltz High School Principal Dr. Mario Fernandez, NPIEA’s president Dave Caccamo and their host families. Over their four-day stay, they visited SUNY New Paltz, where they met with Japanese students, the New Paltz High School, Mohonk Mountain House, the Walkway Over the Hudson and the Hudson River Maritime Museum, including a boat tour on the Rip Van Winkle. They were hosted by the New Paltz Rotary Club for a luncheon at Garvan’s Gastropub and at P&G’s. Host families shared their favorite local spots and toured them around New Paltz to see the library, restaurants and shops. Their visit was drawn to a close with a farewell dinner, catered by Lola’s, with their host families and others who have hosted Niimi residents and students in the past. Support for the program was provided by the Nyquist Foundation, Kip Ruger of Smitty’s ,Jim DeMaio of State Farm Insurance, Jarrod Nekos of Dedrick’s Pharmacy, Mike Beck of P&G’s and Vici Danskin, a founding participant.
Currently, there is an exhibit at Elting Library drawn from the archives on the history of the program, with pictures from past exchanges and artifacts. Notably, in 2001, the Japanese delegation to New Paltz was stranded at JFK due to the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, and came back to New Paltz with other stranded Japanese travelers in tow, staying an extra week until international flights were reestablished.
Cara Lee and her husband Steve Stanne have hosted delegation members since the inception of the program. “Niimi visitors fall in love with New Paltz and appreciate the friendly people they meet here,” said Lee. “As hosts, we have had an international experience right in our own home and were lucky to visit Niimi ourselves, where the welcome was fantastic. The Niimi Exchange is another unique part of life in New Paltz.”