This June, more than 25 supporters of the Blount County Sister City Organization (BCSCO) gathered at the City of Maryville Municipal Building to welcome Olga Tinyakova and her son Zhenya, resident’s of Maryville’s sister city Zheleznogorsk in lower Siberia, Russia.
Ms. Tinyakova and her son are the most recent of the several hundred visitors from Zheleznogorsk who stayed in the homes of host families in Maryville since BCSCO’s founding in July of 2000.
“Our mission has always been to have citizen-to-citizen programs in the areas of education, health, rule of law, economics, environment and a couple of other areas,” says
John David Randolph, Director of BCSCO. “I can honestly say this is the best example of diplomacy I have ever seen.”
Many of the exchanges are themed; for example, in one media-themed trip, members of the Russian media came to Maryville to exchange information with their Tennessean counterparts about the trade.
The city of Zheleznogorsk was created in the early 1950s to house nuclear facilities, and until the fall of the Soviet Union it was known only as “K-26.” The hidden city did not appear on a map until 1995. Today, Zheleznogorsk is home to about 105,000 citizens, many of whom are scientists and engineers for the modern nuclear industry that still defines the town, which is surrounded by security fences and checkpoints.
However, while Zheleznogorsk may be a closed city, its people have been very open to their visitors from Blount County, and John Randolph reports that many of the guests and host families who have been paired remain in contact. “Every exchange has been a blessing to our guests and to our citizen hosts,” he affirms.
Olga Tinyakova, a teacher, has certainly maintained her relationship with BCSCO. She became involved with Zheleznogorsk’s Sister City program in the early 2000s, and has since led several delegations to Maryville. Following a visit to East Tennessee, she was inspired to begin in her own community a program of volunteerism as she had seen it practiced in Blount County.
In the 9 years that BCSCO has been active, it has earned the respect of organizations around the country. In 2004, BCSCO received the Southern Growth Policies Board's Global Innovator Award, and in 2007, the organization received a volunteerism award from the office of the President.
In addition to these commendations, BCSCO was given the emergency responsibility of hosting a delegation of judges from Republic of Kyrgyz in the fall of 2008, when the judges’ visit to New Orleans was jeopardized by a hurricane. The BCSCO was honored to receive the Chief Justice of the Kyrgyz Supreme Court and lower court judges, and in spite of the circumstances the visit was enjoyable for everyone involved.
Randolph attributes the success of BCSCO to the people of Blount County. “The people make this organization a success,” he says. “These folk give their time and homes to show a quality of respect and love for all peoples. What a jewel these citizens are and I am very proud of all of them.”
BCSCO maintains a membership with Sister Cities International, a program created by President Eisenhower.
For more information on the program or on how to become involved, email John Randolph at email@example.com or call 865-414-2076. Blount County Sister City Organization's mailing address is 201 S. Washington Street, Maryville, TN 37804.