The NI Connections Friendship Four and the Friends Forever organisation, along with 10 kids from Northern Ireland were recently welcomed by Mayor Walsh at Boston City Hall this week.

Ralph Cox, Ambassador for the NI Connections Friendship Four and a former University of New Hampshire (UNH) hockey player, was joined at City Hall with Marty Walsh – Mayor of Boston, John Donovan – Boston / Belfast Sister City Initiative as well as Steve Martineau, Chelsea Fitton and Marshall Bradstreet – all Friends Forever staff.

The Belfast / Boston sister city initiative was setup in 2014 & is designed to foster stronger economic development, trade and investment, tourism, youth, cultural, faith based exchange and educational linkages between the two cities, and to increase awareness of both cities as being growth cities in the connected health and life sciences, creative industries, tourism, financial services and the knowledge economy sectors.

The Friends Forever organisation was formed in 1986 out of Durham New Hampshire. It utilises a grassroots approach to help youth build lasting friendships across cultural, religious and political divides. They have been working on the ground in Northern Ireland since inception.

Mayor Walsh spoke of his connection to Friends Forever and his own life experiences and took questions from the youth of Belfast. Following the reception, Ralph Cox hosted the group on a ‘Tugboat Experience’ and offered them a formal invite to the NCAA hockey games on November 25th and 26th.

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The Friends Forever program, which is a year in length, has three phases. Firstly, the ‘Group Building Phase’ which is held in Belfast before visiting the USA for the ‘Skill Building Phase’ and finally the ‘Community Building Phase’ when they return home. They focus on developing 5 skills; Broadening Perspective, Identifying Resilience, Achieving Impact, Strengthening Communication, and Practicing Empathy.

The group participated in many activities which incorporated these such as a public speaking workshop, meditation workshop, volunteering with special needs youth at both the Monarch School and Friends in Action, receiving Aikido lessons and, of course, attending a UNH hockey game and meeting the team afterwards.