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City of Palm Desert – 30 Years Engaging the International Community

The Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation and The City of Palm Desert celebrated 30 years of Sister Cities a few years ago. In 1982 and 1981, Palm Desert and Gisborne, New Zealand signed respective Memorandums of Understanding to embark on a Sister Cities program under the auspices of Sister Cities International, the governing world body of the Sister Cities program first envisioned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958.

Click to view the Council Resolution

Foundation Supports High School Art

At Palm Desert City Hall two Palm Desert High School students were awarded prizes for the “Palm Desert Through The Eyes of Youth” Art Competition organized and sponsored by the Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation. The winning piece was presented to the City of Gisborne in recognition of the 30th Anniversary of Palm Desert’s Sister City relationship with Gisborne, New Zealand. Mayor Jean Benson and Foundation President Rosemary Ortega presented the awards during the Council Meeting.

Gisborne Came to Palm Desert

September 25 heralded the arrival of a Mayoral Delegation from Gisborne, New Zealand. Led by Gisborne Deputy Mayor Nona Aston, the group was in Palm Desert for six days to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Sister Cities relationship with Palm Desert. Official activities included a City Welcome Reception, social community event to meet local Palm Desert residents, information seminars from various City of Palm Desert Department Heads featuring Tourism, Energy, Finance and Recycling and an official ceremony commemorating the 30 year relationship.

The following month Sister Cities Board members and local Coachella Valley residents traveled to New Zealand to commemorate the 30-year Sister Cities relationship with Gisborne – the first city in the world to see the light of the new day. Other areas visited during the tour included New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington, Queenstown (New Zealand’s premier year round resort), world famous Milford Sound and New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland – “City of Sails”. Several additional events were also held during the group’s time in Gisborne – the nation’s heartland of Maori culture.

Palm Desert’s Palms to Pines Rotary Morning Club Created a Sister Rotary Relationship with Ixtapa-Zihua

Looking to expand the Club’s international endeavors, Palms to Pines Rotary Club worked with Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo Rotary to establish a Sister Rotary Club relationship under the auspices of Rotary International. Members of Palms to Pines traveled to Ixtapa -Zihuatanejo on a Needs Assessment Trip to set up the Sister Club agreement. For more information:

Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Education

For multiple years The Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation supported  Zihuatanejo’s Conservation project: El Refugio de Potosi. Located some 8 kilometers from the Zihuatanejo International Airport, El Refugio de Potosi is a privately run and financed Wildlife Park and Education facility. In addition, it provides an important Eco Tourism element to the local community and the State of Guerrero and provides vital services in wildlife breeding and protection. El Refugio de Potosi relies solely on donations from private individuals and businesses. For more information visit:

Gisborne Teachers Return for McCallum Aesthetic Education Program

Two teachers from Gisborne arrived in Palm Desert to attend the McCallum Theater Institute’s Summer Program. The intense week long program was complemented by a Welcome Reception held at the Historical Society of Palm Desert, an informal barbecue and various sightseeing excursions. Gisborne Sister Cities won 1st Place in the Air New Zealand Sister Cities Awards in 2010 for their project collaboration with this program. Palm Desert Sister Cities has been partnering with the McCallum Theater Institute since 2002 and 55 teachers from Palm Desert’s Sister Cities have participated in the program.

Palm Desert / Gisborne Schools Collaborate – Joint Student Study Exchange

Students from Abraham Lincoln School of Palm Desert teamed up with their peers at two Gisborne schools to undertake a joint course of study based on the book “The Boy Who Conquered Everest – The Jordan Romero Story”. Based on goal setting and strategies, the two-week course of study utilized Skype and email to facilitate interaction between the Palm Desert and Gisborne students and culminated in an appearance by Jordan Romero at The McCallum Theater for a Q&A session with Palm Desert students.

Local Citizens Honored at Sister Cities Appreciation Day

Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation honored longtime supporters, collaborators and partners at an Appreciation Day Barbecue at Civic Center Park. “Palm Desert Sister Cities Citizen Diplomat” Award Recipients were: Graeme Baxter (Artist); Craig Leibelt (Melissa Morgan Fine Art); Gene Marchu (College of the Desert Alumni Association); Frank Orlett (Burrtec Waste Management); Kathy Strong (Travel Writer); Gary Walker (Producer) and; local CAL Fire/Riverside County Fire personnel: Joel Vela, Jorge Rodriguez, Fernando Herrera, David Avila, Jose Rodriguez, Randy Diaz, Jerry Salmeron and Robert Rubalcava – all of whom have been regular participants in the Foundation’s Annual Bombero Firefighter Training Courses in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Those receiving Special Recognition as “Palm Desert Sister Cities Ambassadors” were: Kajsa Thuresson-Frary (The McCallum Theater Institute) as well as Deputy Fire Chief Ignacio Otero and Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins. Guest Speakers included Rosemary Ortega, President of the Foundation, Mayor Jean Benson and Former Mayor Buford Crites.

Youth in Transition

Youth representatives participate in the Sister Cities program and after selected, must attend four Board meetings and events in order to serve on the Board of the Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation. They are also eligible to attend conferences.

Foundation Youth representatives Laura Baldwin and Will Harvey joined youth from throughout the Western United States in a three-day Regional Conference. Youth representatives at the Western Regional Conference participated on panels and in discussions concerning diplomacy, new media and models of youth engagement, gained a mentor and learned leadership and networking skills within the Sister Cities International community.

Palm Desert Artist-in-Residence Russell Jacques returns triumphant

Local artist and Palm Desert Sister Cities Artist-in-Residence Russell Jacques and his wife Linda returned to Palm Desert following a highly successful visit to Palm Desert’s Sister City of Gisborne, New Zealand. The program requires that the visiting artist produce an art piece in his/her chosen medium (outdoor sculpture) which is then gifted to the host city. After two weeks, Russell’s piece was installed on Gisborne’s main street. Russell was ably assisted by local artists who also benefited from working with one of the masters of the medium. In addition, Russell and Linda undertook various public engagements during their stay. Our sincere thanks to them both. They are fine ambassadors for The City of Palm Desert. The popular couple was sad to leave New Zealand’s shores having made some wonderful friendships.

‘It was a life-changing experience for all participants,” said Mark Talboys, Program Coordinator, “and a classic example of art transcending geographical and cultural boundaries”.


Gisborne Youth Benefit with Donation

The Foundation has presented a check for $3000.00 to SPELD, a Gisborne nonprofit dedicated to helping children with specific learning disabilities. Some 80 children, whose families are unable to fund tuition to help these students, will benefit from the proceeds raised during the Foundation’s annual “Palm Desert Sister Cities Tee’d 2 Read” Golf Tournament.

Palm Desert’s Art of Food and Wine

The Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation has been represented during Palm Desert’s annual Art of Food and Wine on a regular basis. For a few years, the ever popular “Ixtapa Chefs” traveled from Mexico to thrill the crowds with their culinary mastery and innovation. New Zealand has also been represented at the event.

175 more firefighters undergo intense training

Representatives from the Palm Desert and Riverside County Fire Departments took their vacation leave to visit Palm Desert’s Sister City of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico to train 175 local firefighters during an intense week-long training session. Certificates of Proficiency were presented in the three courses offered: Basic; Intermediate and Advanced. Our firemen also took time to visit local schools where local children were delighted to see and listen to “Palm Desert’s Finest” during two morning sessions covering fire prevention. The school sessions were so successful that they will be repeated. Since the program’s inception, more than 700 Mexican firefighters have participated in the training sessions.

Sponsors help make Green

Crucial sponsors contribute to the growing success of the Foundation’s major fundraiser – The “Tee’d 2 Read Sister Cities Golf Classic” which has been held at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert multiple times. Preceding the tournament was the highly popular “Patio Pairings Party” which was held at neighboring Club Intrawest, who served as the presenting sponsor of the event. Teams from throughout Southern California participated, with representatives from Mexico and New Zealand also participating.

Each tee featured a themed appetizer, drink or game that added much levity to the day, courtesy of some of the Valley’s finest restaurants and bars. Afterward, players and guests repaired to Desert Willow’s outside patio for fine food, drinks, auction, awards and live music.


At a  regularly scheduled Palm Desert Council Meeting, local firefighters and representatives from Palm Desert’s Sister City Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico were recognized for the efforts in firefighter training (see story below). In addition, members of the International Award Winning Lifeguard team from Ixtapa were also recognized by Mayor Jean Benson and Council. The Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation has been instrumental in partnering with the Riverside County Fire Department to develop “Bombero Firefighter Training” programs in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo for a number of years. The Foundation also initiated the development of a Lifeguard Training program in Ixtapa in partnership with the US Lifesaving Association which resulted in reducing the number of beach drownings from 15 per year to one. In addition the region received the prestigious “Blue Dolphin” Award – the first region in Mexico to be so honored.


On a hot Thursday evening in June, The Foundation hosted its annual BBQ at Palm Desert’s Civic Center Park to honor and acknowledge the efforts of the Palm Desert & Riverside County Fire Department’s in support of the Foundation’s “Bombero” Firefighter Training program. Firemen from throughout the County were treated to a barbecue smorgasbord by Board members and local citizenry.

Bombero Training

For several years, a group of our local firefighters used their vacation time to travel to Palm Desert’s Sister City of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo in Mexico to train local firefighters. Included in the program are hotel simulation fire evacuation, forest fire and urban firefighting as well as equipment and vehicle maintenance. Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation, in partnership with The City of Palm Desert and Riverside County Fire Department, has donated two fire trucks and four ambulances to the City of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. Fire prevention seminars and demonstrations, given by our firefighters to school children at local schools in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, have also been incorporated. Due to the response from the local schools and the children, the school program will become a regular feature of the annual training program. The “Bombero Training Program” has been so successful that firefighters from as far as Acapulco, Guadalajara and Mexico City now participate and the training is divided into three sections: Basic; Intermediate and; Advanced. The Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation provides airfares for our firemen while the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo Hotel Association provides accommodation and meals during the training week.


The Artist-in-Residence program won second place in a Sister Cities Air New Zealand Awards (Art Category). “Considering that the budget for the winning New Zealand city was $8 million for a ‘City Garden’ project, we think Gisborne and Palm Desert did extremely well this year,” said Mark Talboys, Program Coordinator, Palm Desert Sister Cities.


Central Childcare and Education Centre’s Dinah Marr received a regional award for excellence in teaching at the NEiTA Foundation’s National Excellence in Teaching and Leadership Awards (NEiTA). The awards were held at Parliament in Wellington (New Zealand) and are designed to recognize the role educators play in the lives of their students. “I felt very proud, for myself, my centre and my early childhood community,” she said. The ”people’s choice” teaching awards, enable school parents, boards of trustees, parents or friends associations, management committees and secondary student councils, to nominate teachers and leaders they judge to be committed, dedicated and outstanding representatives of the teaching profession. Part of the judging criteria includes demonstrations of innovative approaches to teaching that serve as models in schools and early childhood care centers. The Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation hosted Ms. Marr, when she participated in the McCallum Theater Institute’s Aesthetic Education Program (AEP), a creative teaching course during the summer of 2007. Ms. Marr adapted the McCallum’s program and included it in her curriculum and attributes her award success directly to her McCallum experience.


Representatives from the Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation regularly represent Palm Desert at the Sister Cities International Annual Conferences. The international award-winning Palm Desert Sister Cities program enjoys a high profile and well-earned reputation among an average of 700 conference delegates representing some 500 cities from throughout the U.S. and the world.

New Center for Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Education opens in Zihuatanejo.

Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation established a productive relationship with the management early in the development of the project which has opened in Zihuatanejo. Construction of “El Refugio de Potosi” a private, not-for-profit, seven hectare ecological park located in the ‘coastal tropical dry forest’ in the region of Barra de Potosi, Guerrero, Mexico began in early 2008. The park is the expression of the desires of Pablo Mendizabal and Laurel Patrick to promote conservation of the local native species. Under a framework of preservation, exhibition, education and research, the Center strives to create a foundation of environmental awareness for current and future generations. The facilities and park will be a center for exploration and investigation. The focus is children, students of all ages and the tourist population that frequents this area. For more information, visit

Palm Desert Sister Cities in Historic First – Belfast, Northern Ireland

Palm Desert Sister Cities participated in an Annual Conference of Sister Cities International held in Belfast, Northern Ireland – the first time that the annual conference was held outside of the United States. That year’s conference theme, “Building an Enduring Peace After Conflict”, was most appropriate as Belfast has undergone a dramatic renaissance in recent years.

Google and Bono receive Awards

Google and lead singer of the rock band U2 received the Global Corporate Responsibility Award and the Michael A. Guido Distinguished Leadership Award, respectively, at the Sister Cities International Conference in Belfast. For more information and other Sister Cities International award winners, visit

Gisborne and Ixtapa-Zihua Teachers ignite at the McCallum

Four teachers representing Palm Desert’s Sister Cities participated in the McCallum Theatre’s annual Aesthetic Education program, designed to explore exciting new ways to introduce the arts into the classroom. Our thanks to The McCallum Theatre and Club Intrawest Palm Desert for their partnership and collaboration.

All Terrain Vehicle donated to El Refugio de Potosi, Zihuatanejo

A Suzuki Ozark 250 ATV, trailer and accessories was dispatched to El Refugio de Potosi, the wildlife refuge and educational center in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. El Refugio will use the vehicle to patrol designated stretches of Zihuatanejo’s beaches to protect and nurture the local turtle population.

9/11 Concerts

Held at the Amphitheatre at Palm Desert Civic Center Park, this free concert is an opportunity to come together to celebrate universal humanity through music and honor the courage of those who suffered and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Presented by the Palm Desert Sister Cities Foundation, the patriotic and tribute themed program features professional artists from stage and screen, local musicians and Public Safety personnel. Attendees are encouraged to bring water, chairs, blankets, picnics and a candle.

Some of those participating include John Rayner, JoAnn Reeves, Wayne Tibbetts, Shep Sanders, Alden West, Rupert Smith, Patsy Garrett, Dana Larson, Organic Sol, John and Marjorie McGihon, Mel Oshins, Yve Evans, Se Layne and Bagpiper Jim McCallum.