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updated: 11/10/2011 6:36 PM

Bensenville may join Sister Cities program

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Some Bensenville families will welcome 10 Italian exchange students to their Thanksgiving tables this month, helping the village in its first steps toward joining Sister Cities International.

Bensenville already has formed a Sister Cities committee and officials said the foreign exchange program is just part of the effort. Sister Cities is a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network that seeks to create economic and cultural ties between U.S. and international communities at a local level.

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Bensenville is teaming with Wood Dale and Fenton Community High School District 100 to welcome students from Cefalu, Italy. Cefalu is on the island of Sicily and officials said they hope it will become Bensenville's first Sister City under the program.

Wood Dale Mayor Nunzio Pulice said officials also have had preliminary discussions on joining Sister Cities, but more research needs to be done.

The idea for the foreign exchange initiative was proposed by businessman and developer Giovanni Gullo, who frequently does business in Italy. Gullo, a native of Sicily, already helped launch the Sister Cities relationship between Elk Grove Village and Termini, Italy, in 2000, said his daughter and business partner, Mariann.

"This area became his home, and uniting the two places he loved so much became a dream," said Mariann Gullo. "Sister Cities was a vehicle to do that."

Giovanni Gullo approached both Pulice and Bensenville Trustee Oronzo Peconio with the latest foreign exchange idea, and the groups partnered with other organizations to help the program become a reality. Partner organizations include Kiwanis, Helping Hands Foundation, Rotary, Bensenville Chamber of Commerce and others.

While the Italian students are here, they will tour businesses, try a variety of American restaurants, visit the Art Institute of Chicago and Navy Pier, watch a hockey game and participate in the lighting of Bensenville's Christmas tree at Holiday Magic on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Peconio said officials also hope to send about 10 students from Wood Dale and Bensenville to study in Sicily in the spring.

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