County of Santa Clara/Moscow Sister County Commission Wins Sister Cities International Innovation Award

Program Aims to Improve Lives of Foster and Orphanage Youth

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. (June 3, 2013)— The County of Santa Clara/Moscow Sister County Commission (Moscow Commission) has won the Sister Cities International Innovation Award for Youth and Education, for its work to improve lives of at-risk youth and foster youth in Santa Clara County and Moscow, Russia. The award is for a four-year project commencing with the 2009 Open World Child Protection delegation and culminating with the 2012 project that created a training program to provide Moscow with tools to give support to orphanage graduates and to transition from an orphanage based system to a foster care system. The project also provided Santa Clara County-based social services workers with cultural competency training to enhance their work with Russian children and families in the community.

“The Innovation award acknowledges the Moscow Sister County Commission’s crucial work over the past three years that framed the foundation for the Building Bridges project,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors, and Board Liaison to the Sister County Commissions. “Leveraging the commission’s existing relationships in Moscow enabled its project partners to create a cross-cultural exchange program that is a model of how communities can work together to benefit children.”

The Moscow Commission partnered with two U.S. organizations and two Russian organizations in planning and implementing the “Building Bridges” project, using a $57,000 grant through the Eurasia Foundation U.S.-Russia Civil Society Partnership Program (CSPP). The partners were the Moscow Commission, EMQ FamiliesFirst, a California community based organization focused on foster care, the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency, Bolshaya Peremena, a Russia-based charity foundation which provides support and services to orphanage graduates, and the Moscow Social Services Department.

“The Building Bridges Project was both a culmination of three years of work and an opportunity to continue expanding the Commission’s efforts to improve the lives of youth in Santa Clara County and Moscow,” said Moscow Sister County Commission Chairperson Lorance Wilson. “The Moscow Commission is honored to receive the Sister Cities International Innovation Award as an affirmation of our dedication to working with Moscow on mutually beneficial projects.”

The project was made possible because of the work of Moscow Commissioner Sergey Savastiouk to identify Bolshaya Peremena, and its founder, Irina Ryazanova as the Commission’s Moscow partners, and the relationships formed as part of the Open World “child protection” delegation that the Moscow Commission hosted in 2009. The Open World Program was formed by the U.S. Congress in 1999 to establish a better understanding between the U.S. and other nations.

Ongoing communication with Open World delegates about Moscow’s current initiative to transition from orphanages to a foster care system led to the request to share the County’s best practices.

“Although both regions were focused on improving the lives of children without parental support, the approaches that the two regions were taking were quite different and in many cases complementary, creating a rich opportunity for reciprocal learning and cross-cultural collaboration,” said Moscow Commissioner Nancy Madison, a member of the Building Bridges Project planning team.

The Moscow Commission decided to look for both grant funding to support this project and partners to implement it. The Building Bridges project was launched in Spring 2012 and included two delegation visits, one to Russia in May 2012 to gather information for the training program, and one to Santa Clara County in November 2012 to implement the training. The Santa Clara County Social Services Agency and EMQ FamiliesFirst developed a training curriculum that encompassed all aspects of the foster care system including overall philosophy, pertinent laws and regulations, operations, the role of community based partners, the emancipation process, and lessons learned. During the November delegation, the Russian delegates met and talked with foster youth, foster parents, and birth parents. Site visits included the HUB, an innovative drop-in support center run by graduates of the foster care system to provide independent living skills to youth aging out of the foster care system, as well as a teen court where the Russian delegates were able to observe two cases and have a follow up discussion with the presiding judge.

“Sister Cities International is pleased to recognize the impressive work of the County of Santa Clara/Moscow Sister County Commission and its impact on youth in the communities,” said Sister Cities International President and CEO Mary D. Kane.

The Moscow Commission will be expanding on the work done in 2009 and 2012 through another Open World grant it received this year. The Commission will host a Moscow delegation in the fall to explore services provided to Santa Clara County youth involved in both the juvenile justice system and foster care system.

“What is gratifying is to see the ideas result in tangible changes,” continued Cortese. “There are now programs in Moscow that were inspired by this cross-cultural exchange.”

For more information about the Moscow Commission, its projects, or to apply to become a Moscow Commissioner, contact the County Office of Public Affairs at (408) 299-5115 or fill out an online a​pplication​.

About the County of Santa Clara/Moscow Sister County Commission

The County of Santa Clara, CA, USA, Moscow Region, Russia, and Moscow City Government Sister County Commission (Moscow Sister County Commission) is committed to fostering the close working relationships among the art, commerce, culture, education, technology and government communities between the County of Santa Clara and the Region of Moscow. Members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors and volunteer their time and resources and engage in fundraising activities to accomplish these objectives.

About Sister Cities International

Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International serves as the national membership organization for over 500 individual sister cities, counties, and states across the United States with relationships in nearly 2,000 communities in 140 countries on six continents. The sister city network unites tens of thousands of citizen diplomats and volunteers who work tirelessly to promote the organizations’ mission of creating world peace and understanding through economic and sustainable development programs, youth and education projects, arts and culture and humanitarian assistance.

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