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Tarpon Springs to Expand Sister Cities Program with More Greek Communities

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Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis with Mayor Chris Alahouzos at an event in January in Tarpon Springs. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Dimitris Papamitsos)

TARPON SPRINGS, FL – Tarpon Springs already has four Greek communities in its Sister Cities program, Symi, Halki, Kalymnos, and Larnaca, Cyprus, and Greek-born Mayor Chris Alahouzos has plans to expand the popular program, The Suncoast News (TSN) reported on July 29.

“The program has proven to be so popular that officials with several other Greek cities have expressed interest in forming educational, economic and cultural partnerships with the northernmost municipality in Pinellas County,” TSN reported.

“We received five requests from cities wishing to become our sister cities, and our Sister Cities Committee recommended to the BOC [Board of Commissioners] the cities Ilida, Chania, and Hydra become part of our Sister Cities program,” Alahouzos told city commissioners at their July 14 meeting, TSN reported,

Alahouzos was born in Kalymnos and serves as chair of the Sister Cities Committee, and noted that “the city of Ilida’s history goes way back … this is where the Olympic Games began,” TSN reported.

Alahouzos said that “Chania is the second-largest city on Crete with a population of 108,000, features the archeological site of the Minoan civilization and is also the hometown of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who visited Tarpon Springs for the Epiphany celebration in January,” adding that “Chania has many educational institutions and is home to a merchant marine academy as well as a United States Naval base,” TSN reported.

“I don’t know how many thousands of sailors and marines are serving on the base there, but … I am very honored to say that my son did a lot of training there,” Alahouzos said of the Souda Bay Naval Base, TSN reported.

He said that the island of Hydra has “an impressive history that is evident everywhere you go on the island” and also “features an important tie-in to Tarpon Springs,” TSN reported.

“In 1905 when John Cocoris introduced the technique to sponge dive to Tarpon Springs by recruiting divers from Greece, the first few divers came from Aegina and Hydra,” Alahouzos said, adding that “Cocoris later recruited more than 500 divers and crew members from Simi, Halki and Kalymnos, leading to the creation of Tarpon Springs’ sponge diving industry and forming the foundation of the Sister Cities program,” TSN reported.

“After Alahouzos requested approval from the commission to proceed with developing the Sister Cities unity with the cities of Chania, Ilida, and Hydra, Vice-Mayor Jacob Karr said he supported the request, noting ‘it’s great to fortify these relationships with these Greek cities,’ and “Commissioners Townsend Tarapani, Connor Donovan and Costa Vatikiotis agreed, with Vatikiotis lamenting the fact that Aegina wasn’t on the list,” TSN reported.

“Well, we can’t get Aegina to respond!” Alahouzos replied, adding, “Maybe they’ll be the next one, because Aegina and Hydra are actually the islands that the divers came from,” TSN reported.

“After the meeting Alahouzos, who also helped develop a Sister Schools program between SPC-Tarpon Springs and the University of the Aegean in Rhodes, spoke about the importance of continuing to strengthen the ties between Tarpon Springs and Greece,” TSN reported.

“It’s interesting because the relationship we have with each place is a little different,” Alahouzos told TSN in a phone interview, one day before leaving for a personal trip back to his home island of Kalymnos, “where he planned to deliver a letter from Tarpon Springs High School Principal Leza Fatolitis requesting a partnership with a local high school,” TSN reported.

“For example, the relationship with Kalymnos is different than other cities because many Tarpon Springs ancestors are from there. But with this program we have opportunities we can learn from and have some economic development between us, and they all asked us to be part of it. So, it doesn’t hurt, because it’s not costing us anything. Everything is done on my own expense, and I want to make sure the people of Tarpon Springs understand that,” Alahouzos concluded, TSN reported.