In 1997, Dean Walsh, of the School of Social Work, responded to the first-ever Sister City request for lodging a delegation of social workers. As a “grass roots” endeavor with volunteer leaders and no monies, their goals included to immerse international delegates into Chicago’s best practices, to mutually learn from each other, and to address the interconnected social challenges faced by cities in our global community.
Dean Walsh saw the potential benefits and coordinated an in-kind donation of lodging for 12 delegates in Loyola University of Chicago’s dorms. That act enabled the first time Chicago hosted a Social Services Exchange and subsequently was the beginning of Sister City Social Services Exchanges now for over twenty years expanding to include seven sister cities on four continents.
Dean Walsh who Chicago exchange leaders called “The Angel of Our Exchanges” continued to coordinate exchange lodging for over six years and to include three different sister cities—Hamburg, Germany, Birmingham, United Kingdom, and Durban, South Africa— setting an example that others emulated in following years.
This year, Dean Menon is continuing this important legacy utilizing memorial funds donated by Dean Walsh’s family and school resources to support the connection with South Africa. It is our hope that we can continue this collaboration between cities each year. Delegates have come from a variety of organizations including the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, city government, and a variety of social service agencies interested in conducting research and finding best practices that can serve their communities more effectively.