West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 26

The informal motto of the city, “When you go to Banská Bystrica, the only better place is heaven,” also echoes West Virginia’s very own “Almost Heaven.” Performers from Banská Bystrica perform in Charleston during FestivALL in 2013. a result, Christine and her husband, Chuck, moved to Banská Bystrica for three and a half years to head the rural development program funded by the United States Agency for International Development. When the Daughertys returned to West Virginia, they were contacted by Chuck Hirt, an American who was also working in Slovakia. Hirt wanted to maintain a connection between Banská Bystrica and the U.S. He originally planned to involve his hometown of Cincinnati, but when the Ohio city indicated they already had plenty of sister cities, Hirt proposed twinning with Charleston. After working with both communities and making visits back and forth, the Charleston-Banská Bystrica Sister City Alliance, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in 2009. Charleston and Banská Bystrica officially became sister cities in a documentsigning ceremony that took place in Slovakia in 2010 between Banská Bystrica’s mayor and representatives from Charleston, including the Daughertys; the current coordinator, Linda Elliott, and several community members from both cities. Since the beginning of the cities’ relationship, several Charleston businesses and organizations have connected with Banská Bystrica. In 2013, performers from Slovakia participated in Charleston’s FestivALL. The University of Charleston and West Virginia State University have both worked with the Univerzita Mateja Bela; Charleston Area Medical Center has partnered with Franklin Delano Roosevelt Hospital; First Presbyterian Church in Charleston has a ministry to work with Roma youth, also known as gypsies, and the West Virginia Youth Symphony has traveled to Slovakia to perform. In 2015, the youth symphony will again visit Slovakia, performing in the capital city of Bratislava and accompanied by members of the sister city alliance. “The sister city alliance 26 west virginia executive provides a platform for our youth to take part in strengthening ties between two cities while experiencing a new culture through a common language of music,” says Marjorie Cooke, general manager of the West Virginia Youth Symphony. In the future, the alliance also hopes to create a bond through Concept2 rowing. Concept2 rowing machines are used in competition in Slovakia, and the two towns are working to create a program that would motivate youth in each country to engage in friendly competition for distance rowed on the machines. The nature of the beginning of the relationship—rural development—has been the basis for many of the bonds that have formed. “Slovakia is about the same size as West Virginia. We have fewer people, but the topography is similar,” says Christine. “Anytime they visit, they always comment on how similar it looks here to rural areas back home.” Alliance members are constantly surprised by the similarities of the two cities, such as the presence of ramps, a type of wild leek commonly eaten in West Virginia, in Slovakia. The informal motto of the city, “When you go to Banská Bystrica, the only better place is heaven,” also echoes West Virginia’s very own