Saluda wins ‘Innovation in Youth and Education’ Award from Sister Cities International

Published 11:58 am Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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Saluda, with a population of about 750, has just been awarded by Sister Cities International with top honors for cities under 25,000 in the category of “Innovation in Youth and Education.”


Saluda formed its Sister City connection with the village of Carunchio, Italy in the Region of Abruzzo in 2014. Since then, the organization Saluda Sister City has dedicated itself to opening the hearts and minds of children in the elementary schools of Saluda, North Carolina, and Carunchio, Italy to each other and to the wider world. 

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This award is based on the efforts of the Saluda organization in the past year. During that time, Saluda Sister City established and expanded an English reading library in the village of Carunchio. Children there learn English and are fluent by the time they finish fifth grade. However, they had only their English language textbooks to read, and the creation of the Children’s English lending library has offered them a broader opportunity to read stories in English and expand their vocabulary and understanding. Each year, Saluda sends additional books to the library carried by the annual Sister City visitors to Carunchio. 


In the fall of 2021, Saluda sent a “cultural suitcase” to Carunchio Elementary.  The suitcase was stuffed with maps, educational DVDs about the U.S., American games including BananaGram and Monopoly, children’s books about North Carolina and the Blue Ridge mountains, stuffed plush animals, a small Statue of Liberty with a book about the statue, a huge floor-sized puzzle of the United States, and much more. Even some Indian arrowheads! The suitcase was presented to the teachers and students in a ceremony in Carunchio Park with the Carunchio Mayor Gianfranco d’Isabella presiding.  


Both elementary schools offer kindergarten through the fifth grade.  Since both are located in small towns, they have a lot in common. The two towns have approximately the same population, are located at the same latitude and altitude, and share similar weather. 


Carunchio is on the edge of the Apennine Mountains and is perched on top of a “Hershey’s Kiss” shaped mountain, with the village spilling down the side…much more vertical than Saluda. The Saluda school has about 160 students while the Carunchio school has about 32. Obviously, the Carunchio school does not have the same resources as Saluda, but the teachers are dedicated and the students are enthusiastic about learning. Like Saluda Elementary, Carunchio emphasizes art in its curriculum, and art is regularly exchanged between the schools in the form of drawings and illustrated letters from the students. 


The two cities connected in 2014 when the first group of 16 Saludians happened to visit the 1700’s Palazzo Tour D’ Eau for a week-long cooking and touring vacation. The touring adventures, the fabulous food and wine, the beautiful countryside and the enthusiasm of Massimo Criscio, the enthusiastic owner/host of the Palazzo, won everyone over.   


On return to Saluda, the travelers approached the Saluda City Commission and arranged for the  official documents to be prepared. Mr. Criscio and the Carunchio mayor did the same and the Sister City connection was made official. Saluda Downtown Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, is the corporate home of Saluda Sister City.  


Over the past eight years, there have been many projects benefitting the students of the two schools; annual trips to the cooking and touring school, Palazzo Tour D’Eau; visits to Saluda by the Carunchio Mayor and others; and student exchanges in the summers.  


The Saluda Sister City program is a member of Sister Cities International (SCI), a non-profit created at President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1956 conference on citizen diplomacy. It now has 500 members in 140 countries with 1,800 city partnerships. The mission of SCI is to promote peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation–one individual and one community at a time. 

For more information on Saluda Sister City or its programs, contact Judy Thompson at 



Submitted by Judy Thompson