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Hot Springs' Sister City Program Wins National Award As 'Best Overall' in the United States | Hot Springs National Park Arkansas

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Hot Springs' Sister City Program Wins National Award As 'Best Overall' in the United States

HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK, Arkansas — The Hot Springs Sister City Program, in which the city partners with Hanamaki, Japan, this week was named the Best Overall Sister City Program in America among cities of its size by Sister Cities International.

“This is a tremendous honor for Hot Springs because it recognizes all our citizens’ commitment to living in a more peaceful world,” said Mary Zunick, director of the city’s Sister City Program.


“We have been sister cities with Hanamaki since 1993,” she said. “Each year we take part in educational, cultural, business, artistic exchanges, and even exchanges between city employees.” 

Zunick said Sister Cities International serves as the national membership organization for individual sister cities, counties and states across the United States. This network unites tens of thousands of citizen diplomats and volunteers in nearly 500 member communities with over 2,000 partnerships in more than 140 countries.

 The Best Overall Program Awards recognize Sister City programs that demonstrate outstanding accomplishments in advancing the goals and mission of the Sister Cities movement.

Hot Springs won among cities with populations between 25,001 and 50,000.

Elizabeth Farris, chair of the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, said, “We congratulate Mary for the fabulous job she does in promoting Hot Springs and our citizens through her hard work for the Sister Cities Program. Her efforts bring international attention and good will to our city every year. She does a wonderful job.”

“Our sister city, Hanamaki, is located rural northern Japan and is known for its natural beauty, thermal springs and bathhouses,” Zunick said. “The connection between our two cities has thrived since 1993 because city and community leaders and volunteers in both cities have dedicated themselves to fulfilling the Sister City mission to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.

“In 2019, Hot Springs Sister City events included Japanese cultural programming and activities with multiple exchanges and diverse community events.

“The spring Cherry Blossom Festival featured Japanese folk dance, music and food. Attendees were able to experience Japanese culture without leaving Hot Springs. The Cherry Blossom festival also acted as fundraiser for the Hot Springs student delegation that traveled to Hanamaki in the summer.

“A citizen delegation traveled to Hanamaki for the annual Matsuri festival in September. This delegation also visited several sake´ breweries and learned about sake´ culture and the business of brewing premium sake´.

“The Hot Springs Sister City Program partnered with an area nonprofit organization to bring a Japan Foundation touring exhibit to Hot Springs that showed some of the similarities and differences between modern Japanese manga and Hokusai Manga.

“The highlight of the year of was the Sister City Baseball Classic played between local high school students and visiting players from Hanamaki on December 7, a day that many remember for the beginning of a war — this generation will remember it as a day of friendship.  The game was the culmination of a week-long sports exchange between Hanamaki Higashi High School and their sister school, Lakeside High School. Twenty members of the Hanamaki Higashi baseball team, consistently one of the top teams in Japan, spent one week in Hot Springs practicing with Lakeside players. While the practices, planned itinerary activities and the baseball game were memorable, the most important result was that the players learned about the bonds of friendship through a shared passion for baseball.”

Cities that competed for the Best Overall Award were judged on:

• Regular exchanges among many or all of their partnerships.

• Exchanges across many sectors, including youth, education, arts, culture, economic development, technical assistance, and humanitarian work.

• Inclusion of a broad array of organizations in their community, and partner community, including municipal government, businesses, nonprofits, academia, cultural organizations, trade associations, and civic groups, as well as underserved communities, including minorities, people with disabilities, and low-income communities.

• Breadth and depth of impact.

• Emphasis on youth and giving young people their first opportunity to travel abroad.

• Expansion or improvement of previous activities or programs.

• A commitment to reinforcing the principles of citizen diplomacy and the mission of Sister Cities International: to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation—one individual, one community at a time.

For more information contact Mary Zunick,