Forest Park took a first step toward establishing a sister city relationship with the Albanian city of Vlora – something that the village’s Albanian community is eager to see.
In early June, Flamurtari Football Club, Vlora’s soccer club and the oldest soccer club in Albania, played an exhibition match on the Park District of Forest Park soccer field. Several dignitaries from the city and the prefecture — a rough administrative equivalent of a county — attended the game. Forest Park mayor Rory Hoskins, a self-professed soccer fan, went to check out the game, and he ended up talking with the Vlora officials.
As village attorney Nick Peppers emphasized, the resolution the village council approved during Monday’s meeting doesn’t commit Forest Park to anything more than a discussion, describing it as “an agreement to agree on something at a future date.” Hoskins said that sharing culture and policy advice would benefit both municipalities, and the commissioners were generally supportive of at least exploring the idea. The Albanians in attendance spoke fondly of Forest Park, and argued that the collaboration would be good for the village.
Vlora, originally founded by Ancient Greeks in the 6th Century BCE, grew into a major port city in the ensuing millennia under several different empires and regional powers. In the 19th century, while occupied by the Ottoman Empire, it became the epicenter of the Albanian independence movement. This was where the Albanian Declaration of Independence was signed, and while the Vlora didn’t stay a capital for long, it remains a major city.
The park district soccer field is popular with many Chicago-area soccer clubs, including clubs formed by immigrants from south European countries. Hoskins told the council that when he heard about Flamutari FC playing an exhibition game in Forest Park, he decided to stop by.
“I’m a soccer fan, so I stopped by and said hello, engaged in a discussion with the delegation,” he said. “I socialized them for a few hours and eventually invited them to the Forest Park village hall.”
Hoskins said that since Juneteenth was approaching, he told the delegation about the holiday and gifted them a Juneteenth flag, and they ended up giving Forest Park their own gifts.
While Hoskins talked about the convention during his June 12 mayor’s report, the council didn’t revisit the topic until Monday’s meeting.
During the meeting, Hoskins said that while Forest Park had relationships with foreign municipalities in the past, it was never a full-fledged sister city relationship – which is why the village will take a cue from Hanover Park, That west suburban village has 21-year-long Sister City relationship with Cape Coast, Ghana and a 12-year Sister City relationship with Valparaiso, Mexico.
“The idea would be kind of to explore what they did and see if it works for us,” Hoskins said.
When Commissioner Jessica Voogd pressed the mayor for details on what the village would get out of the arrangement, Hoskins responded that within two years, he hopes to see mutual collaboration within three basic categories – cultural, educational and environmental. For example, he said, the two can share best practices on environmental sustainability, which has been a major priority for Voogd.
Commissioner Michelle Melin-Rogovin, whose day job involves obtaining grants for medical research, noted that having a sister city could open grant opportunities for Forest Park.
Commissioner Maria Maxham said that she would like to see Forest Park School District 91 and the Forest Park Public Library benefit from the sister city relationship – something that Hoskins agreed with.
“I think this is just an opportunity for us to show what we have in Forest Park and to learn about the world,” he said. “And I’m always thinking about the schools, so I’m glad you brought it up.”
Several Albanian Forest Parkers showed up at the village hall to support the development of the sister city relationship with Vlora.
The Rrahmani family came to United States in 1999 as part of the wave of ethnic Albanian refugees who fled Kosovo. They settled in Forest Park a year later because Vildana Rrahmani found a job there. She told the Review that she has come to love the village, and Vlora’s historical significance to the Albanian people makes her all the more eager to see the Sister City relationship happen.
“It would be great for Forest Park and Albania, because Albanians are kind, caring people, they are intelligent people, they are educated, and it would be good to [for Forest Parkers and Vlorians] to connect through sports,” she said, adding that “So many [Albanians] come to Forest Park, because they fall in love with it.”
Her son, Labeat Rrahmani, was seven when he came to Forest Park, and he spoke fondly of coming of age at the village.
“A partnership with Vlora will be meaningful to the Albanian community, and I think it will provide opportunities for Forest Park to engage with the [Albanian] community,” he said.
Arben Rama, whose wife is from Vlora, echoed those sentiments.
“Vlora is a beautiful city,” he said. “It’s going to be beautiful for both cities.”