Visitors from Pisa, Italy, and Leixlip, Ireland, as well as a petition drive to provide more U.S. visas for Polish citizens made for a successful year for Niles' Sister Cities program, supporters said Sunday at the International Taste of Niles, its main fundraiser.
Italian singer Enzo Incandela, Greek dancers and the Polish music of the Red and White Band provided entertainment at the event. Teresa Wywrot, a volunteer at the event, said 315 tickets were sold, and since White Eagle Banquets & Restaurant donated the hall and about 10 restaurants donated the ethnic food, most of the ticket sales represented proceeds for the Sister Cities.
The funds will be used to develop more understanding among cultures, supporters say.
"The Sister Cities' program's No. 1 one reason for being is to bring awareness of our various ethnic cultures," said George Van Geem, Niles' village manager. "The relationships we make are terrific. Everyone now has an appreciation for our cultural differences."
Dennis McEnerney says he certainly does. As chairman of the Irish committee, he helped welcome visitors from Leixlip who came to Niles in September.
"We had one guy who was a former garda (law enforcement officer), one former administrator from the Dublin Institute of Technology, one guy who was a banker and the last guy was a jeweler," said McEnerney, a division commander with the Niles Police Department.
He has gone to Ireland about eight times on his own since 1999, visiting Leixlip each time because he's made so many friends in the Sister Cities program.
"I've met so many people, and the relationship we've built has been unbelievable," McEnerney said. "There have been at least 100 visitors from Ireland coming to Niles since we started.
"I'm in constant communication with them through e-mail. They've opened their hearts and homes to us."
The committee members are not the only ones who benefit. Culver Elementary School in Niles has started an e-mail program with students in Ireland, and Notre Dame College Prep music students went on the last visit to Ireland, staying with families of Irish students.
When visitors from Pisa came to Niles in October, they stayed at residents' homes. Members of the Niles Pisa committee, including chairman Joseph Annunzio, took the five teachers and three students around the Chicago area that included a stop at Maine East High School.
The committee is looking at setting up educational exchanges, Annunzio said.
While neither the Polish nor Greek committees sponsored exchanges this year, the Polish group did start a petition drive that has yielded 1,000 signatures in a few months, said Andrew Wywrot, the Limanowa, Polandd committee's chairman.
Normally, the U.S. does not require citizens of European Union countries, such as Poland, to have a visa when they visit. However, if more than 7 percent of a country's citizens overstay their visits when in the U.S., then the U.S. will require visas, Wywrot explained.
"About 13 percent of Poles overstayed their visits last year, but this year it's only 10 percent," he said. "The economy is pretty good in Poland."
Van Geem acknowledged the Polish committee's hard work on a serious issue.
"Sister Cities isn't just fun and games," he said.