What began 25 years ago as an attempt to unite residents of Herndon with members of another country has now turned into an exchange of not only cultures, but lasting friendships.
"It's a sister to sister program, but really it's a people to people program," said Maggi Sullivan, past president of Sister Cities International for Herndon. "Residents in our communities can act as ambassadors to go back and forth to introduce our community to another culture — it's friends across borders."
At the last Town Council public hearing, a resolution was approved to reaffirm the town's Sister Cities Affiliation with Runnymede, England, as well as recognize the upcoming visit of members from the Runnymede borough who will be in town Oct. 10-16.
"When they come here, the committee plans events," said Sullivan of the upcoming visit. "We try to introduce them to new things, which can be hard because we have some new people but also some old ones."
THE EXCHANGE, which has been going on since Sept. 11, 1979, offers members of the two communities the opportunity to visit the sister city, and partake in the week's planned events.
Each group visits every two to three years.
"A group of Herndon residents went two years ago," said Midge Reece, member of Sister Cities International for Herndon about the trip to England. "It was wonderful."
At the suggestion of friends, Reece said she and her husband Harlon, decided to get involved with the group because they wanted to participate in the exchange with another culture.
"It was helpful to me because we stayed with a former mayor," said Harlon Reece, current town council member. "It was enlightening to compare governmental practices."
As a part of the exchange, members of the Twinning Association are asked to open their homes to the sister city visitors and act as host families, so that the visitors can experience residential life.
"We try to match visitors up with hosts that have similar interests," said Sullivan. "It becomes more than an exchange of ideas, it becomes an exchange of friendship."
Sullivan explained she and her husband have become good friends with members of the Runnymede association to the point where they have met them in Florida for vacation and taken a trip up to Boston with them.
She added on the three or four trips they have taken to the Runnymede borough they have seen the House of Parliament, Windsor Castle as well enjoyed seeing what life is like in England, not as a tourist.
"It's nice," said Sullivan of knowing someone who lives in the town. "You get a better idea of what the area is like because you get a personal view."
FOR THE UPCOMING visit Oct. 10 - 16, the committee for Herndon has planned to take the Runnymede guests to Baltimore to explore the National Aquarium as well as a wine tour of Northern Virginia wineries and the Air and Space Museum, on top of other local events in Herndon.
The first formal event will be Monday, Oct. 11, where the guests will be welcomed to the town with a formal reception that will include a gift exchange as well as a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
For the Sullivans, the upcoming visit is about more than just showing off the town they are so proud of, it's connecting with old friends.
"We've built lifelong friendships," said Sullivan. "I wish every city in the country could do this."