You never know where a relationship will take you. When former Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau (SCVB) board president Darin Van Tassell and then SCVB Executive Director Heidi Jeffers agreed to host a delegation from Albania for dinner in 2013, they had no idea what the future would bring from the relationships forged around the table.
Fast forward to October of 2016 and Van Tassell, now owner and president of the Statesboro based Professional Development League soccer team Tormenta FC, and Jeffers, Tormenta’s V.P. of Franchise Development, were on a plane to Rome, Italy, part of an eight-member delegation from Statesboro destined for meetings with three semi-pro international soccer teams, Albanian and Italian government officials, the U.S. Ambassador to Albania, the Mayor of Monte Compatri, Italy, and many other officials. The purpose of the visit was to form partnerships with the soccer franchises, develop educational and cultural exchanges with Tirana, Albania, and Italy, and to extend a Memorandum of Understanding for a Sister City Agreement between Monte Compatri, Italy, and Statesboro.
All of the international connections were developed thanks to a relationship forged between Van Tassell, Jeffers, and one of the 2013 group’s hosts, Georgia Southern University professor Lori Amy, a member of the faculty of the Department of Writing & Linguistics. Amy’s Albanian group was also hosted by Georgia Southern’s Department of Political Science & International Studies, in which Van Tassell is an associate professor. From Amy’s point of view, all of the associations came about because of her Fulbright Scholarship Award to Albania.
“Our unique opportunity to twin with Monte Compatri, a historic town in the provinces of Rome, came out of my 2009 - 2010 Fulbright Scholars Award to Albania. My research in Albania connected me to an amazing group of people in Italy -- artists, musicians, scholars, local politicians, business people, athletes, and many loving families. We all shared an interest in developing educational and cultural exchanges that could link the United States, Italy, and Albania, and out of this interest our first study abroad program in Monte Compatri was born,” said Amy.
Amy, who resided in Tirana, Albania, reached out to Van Tassell in the summer of 2016 to make plans for a visit from a Statesboro delegation.
Van Tassell, who has served as a commissioner with the International Baseball Federation; been a competition director for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing; and been Technical Commissioner for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, among other international sports leadership positions, knew very well how all parties concerned could benefit from the positive impact of such a relationship.
“There are four global languages that can be used to build a bridge across borders,” Van Tassell said, “sports, arts, education, and tourism. None of these are controversial areas of engagement for people around the world.”
Van Tassell, wife Netra, Jeffers, City Councilman John Riggs, and other representatives from Tormenta FC met with three soccer organizations and Van Tassell signed “Friendship Agreements.”
“We will be working with FC Academia of Monte Compatri, ASD Grottaferrata Calcio from Grottaferrata, Italy, and KF Tirana of Tirana, Albania, to collaborate through players and our team’s administrations for the mutual benefits of the clubs,” said Van Tassell.
“This is an exciting partnership. We want to grow the brand of Tormenta and these agreements will give us international exposure and open up an avenue between the clubs where we can exchange personnel and learn more from each other,” he said.
Alliances with these clubs and the cities they call home will bring exciting opportunities for future European soccer players to come here to try-out and perhaps play for Tormenta FC. The office staff members will also participate in an exchange program sharing best practices and learning how the different clubs perform their daily operations.
Van Tassell was also able to sign an agreement for the youth soccer program connected to Tormenta FC. Through an agreement with FC Academia the U13 team has been invited to Monte Compatri for a tournament in June of 2017.
The Grottaferrata organization will be sending a marketing and journalist associate to Statesboro for professional development opportunities during a three-month stay that coincides with the Tormenta FC’s season this summer.
Other coaches, international players, and staff members have also expressed an interest in visiting Statesboro.
“Anything is wide open,” said Van Tassell. “In the long term there is nothing legally binding about these agreements, but by cooperating this way, we are becoming global neighbors, extending a hand to the people next door.”
Amy, through her ties with Statesboro, Georgia Southern and the Averitt Center for the Arts, was able to also bring an Averitt exhibit to Albania.
“We had the amazing opportunity to bring the Averitt Center exhibition Presidential Pathways to Albania this fall,” said Amy. “The photographer, George Tames, is a first generation Albanian-American, and this was the first visit of his work to his father's homeland. George's daughter, Stephanie, [former columnist for Statesboro Magazine] visited Albania for the exhibition's opening in the prestigious venue of Albania's National History Museum. The exhibition was funded by a grant from the United States Embassy in Albania, and opened on Election Day. The U.S. Embassy was so impressed by the exhibition that they borrowed the entire exhibit to display at the Embassy's Presidential Breakfast held on November 9, 2016!”
“The 2015 Study Abroad Program, Italy Ancient and Modern, was a great success, and we are happy to say, it has already become a Georgia Southern tradition. Building the study abroad program allowed students and professors at Georgia Southern to learn more about Monte Compatri and deepen our ties to the community, and this in turn helped forward-thinking people in Statesboro and Monte Compatri to build the Sister City Agreement,” said Amy.
“The starting point for all of this was the international educational exchange and research of the Fulbright Program,” she said, “and our accomplishments demonstrate how our international friendships can create exciting synergies and global partnerships -- global partnerships that enhance life and meaning in our local communities and allow us to share our cultures and values, to find what unites us even as we celebrate and learn from our differences.”
In addition to the study abroad program, Bulloch County schools could also benefit from an educational exchange with our Sister City, Monte Compatri, Italy. In the future it will be possible for students to partner with schools there in a reciprocal way enriching both classrooms in many areas such as music, history, geography, languages and the arts.
The Mayor of Monte Compatri, Marcos De Carolis stated, "Mount Compatri looked across the ocean as we signed a friendship pact with Statesboro, Georgia, in the U.S.A. A unique opportunity to continue the sharing relationship we have established with Georgia Southern University after the summer school ends. The idea for us is to create a genuine cultural exchange of information, both financial and professional, with everything from food to sports.
Among the objectives of the twinning between the two urban centers, we would like to promote cooperation and strengthen our partnerships, bringing effective collaboration between two communities, with the addition of a cultural exchange of information, both financial and professional.”
City Councilman John Riggs, who represented the City of Statesboro in signing the agreement stated, “We thank Mayor De Carolis for the hand of friendship he has extended to Statesboro on behalf of his community of Monte Compatri. Our visit to that ancient area of Rome was not only a wonderful adventure, we were also able to make an international connection with a city of similar interests. We have a soccer team; they have a soccer team. They have fresh vegetable markets; we have the downtown farmer’s market. There are so many similarities, I hope that the future holds many opportunities for us to learn from each other culturally and professionally.”
Mayor Jan Moore agreed, “What an excellent opportunity for Statesboro to become more of an international city. We already have companies located here that do business globally. I think this agreement between the two cities will provide opportunities in the future for students, athletes, business professionals and government representatives to learn from each other and to embrace a wider vision of the world. Statesboro is such a wonderful city, it is a pleasure to share our story with a sister city abroad.”
The signing of the agreement with the city of Monte Compatri was a grand affair in the city hall record room that housed records from as long ago as 1000 A.D. Attended by media representatives and 60 others, the ceremony was conducted through translators for both parties.
“I think what we came away with is an agreement to collaborate for the mutual benefit of both communities,” said Riggs. “I believe this association, based on international goodwill, can promote expanded public and private relationships between the two cities and our two nations with the exchange of ideas, people, and information for the benefit of both cities.”