March 20, 2011; Source: New York Times | Dallas, Texas residents watched in fear as the tsunami rolled through Sendai, their Japanese sister city. Now, they are teaming up with the CBS affiliate to host a phon-a-thon to support their friends overseas. In Napa, Calif., residents planned a fundraiser after seeing damage caused when the walls of water swept over Iwanuma.

Dallas, Sendai, Napa and Iwanuma are members of a large non-profit network of Sister Cities international. Throughout the U.S., Sister Cities are hosting events and organizing donation drives to reach out and help their exchange program friends.

The first Sister City relationship was started in 1955, when St. Paul, Minn., and Nagasaki, devastated by the atomic bomb 10 years earlier, began a relationship. President Eisenhower formally announced the beginning of the program in 1957 as an opportunity to build international cooperation at the local level in the aftermath of World War II. Now over 600 American cities have 2,000 such partnerships with communities in 136 countries. The United States and Japan have 188 relationships, more than any other country.

Dallas citizens have formed deep bonds with their counterparts in Sendai. Dallas kids go there on exchanges; Sendai students travel to the “Big D”. Volunteer leaders have visited there many times over the years, toured the ancient shrines now described as ”toothpicks,” and visited local high schools that were destroyed. Now they are trying to track down close Sendai friends. Six of 10 students who were part of an exchange last summer have been located; four have not.

From coast to coast, communities have responded to the destruction in their Japanese sister cities, showing the power of these sister-city relationships – how they make neighbors out of people who might otherwise not have the opportunity to connect. Americans again show their generosity and philanthropic spirit.—Nancy Knoche