How Fort Wayne can support Ukraine refugees through its sister city connections

On Thursday morning, Karen Richards sent a picture from the front page of the Journal Gazette to her daughter who lives in Texas.
 
The image shows a Zoom call between Fort Wayne City officials and the Mayor of Fort Wayne’s sister city in Plock, Poland, Andrzej Nowakowski. They’re talking about how the two cities can work together to support Plock’s own sister city in Zhytomyr, Ukraine.
 
Since Russia began invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, Plock has been providing essential needs and housing to Ukrainians fleeing the war. Now, thanks to its sister city connections, Fort Wayne has a new avenue to support the cause by donating to Plock’s relief efforts online.
 
To Richards, a Community Liaison/Special Programs Officer for the City of Fort Wayne, the photo of this Zoom meeting is more than just another photo of just another meeting; it’s a depiction of what she believes is central to public service in challenging times.
 
“Loving and caring for someone else,” she says. “I told my daughter, ‘This is what it’s all about.’”
 
During the meeting between the City of Fort Wayne and the City of Plock, both mayors and their staff discussed “the importance and value of solidarity and a commitment to wanting peace and democracy restored in Ukraine,” according to a press release from the City of Fort Wayne.
 
Local residents who would like to donate to essential needs for Ukrainian refugees can do so by giving to the Fort Wayne Sister Cities fund at fortwaynesistercities.net. (Click the “donate” button in the menu, and add “City of Plock Refugee Fund” to the payment notes to ensure that the donation is directed to Plock. The note section is located under the dollar amount once the payment type is selected.)
 
“This is a collaborative effort to support our sister city as they continue to provide support for refugees fleeing Ukraine,” the press release says. “Donations will go directly to their efforts.”

Only one day after the Sisters Cities fund opened, Richards says it had already crowd-sourced more than $29,000. By March 21, the fund had surpassed $66,000.
 
“People in Fort Wayne are coming out and showing their strength and giving,” Richards says. “Efforts like this never fail to remind me what Fort Wayne can be all about.”
 
Richards has been involved in Fort Wayne’s sister cities student exchange program for the past 11 years. Along with Plock, which has been a Sister City since 1989, Fort Wayne's other Sister Cities also include Takaoka, Japan; Gera, Germany; Taizhou, China; and Mawlamyine, Myanmar. Richards sees these connections as vital ways for local residents to connect with learning opportunities abroad and to share the value of Fort Wayne’s own culture.
 
This summer, the Plock Mayor along with members of his staff and a special group of 45 Polish dancers are scheduled to visit Fort Wayne during the Three Rivers Festival and even participate in the annual parade. Plock is located in Central Poland and is home to about 120,000 residents. While these visitors are in town, many will be staying with Fort Wayne area families.
 
Richards hopes these cross-cultural experiences offer Fort Wayne residents something tangible to look forward to and provide them with a direct connection to global events.
 
“We want people to know about our visitors this summer and spend time with them and welcome them while they’re here—even more so now,” she says.
 
Stay tuned to Fort Wayne’s Sister Cities International website for more information.
 
This story was reviewed by the City of Fort Wayne prior to publishing.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.