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Coffee Contacts; Diversity Professionals Group with Ms. Brown; Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce luncheon; ICC-WIN World in Your Backyard Series

On Wednesday, May 24th, our only event was a "Coffee Contacts" put on by the Eastern Lake County and Geneva Chamber of Commerce at Powderhorn Golf Course on Bates Road in Madison.

We knew almost everyone there but learned about some interesting events being planned like a "Road Rally" in October, 2017 that will start in Fairport Harbor and take in 40 miles total.

When we told everyone that we planned to spend the upcoming weekend tabling on behalf "Margaret W. Wong and Associates" at the Greek Festival at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Tremont, one of our fellow members told us that the winery she works for has participated in the weekly Farmers Market that now will now take place each Tuesday afternoon from 4pm to 7pm until October.

In addition there were a couple of poignant announcements such as when Mr. James Santiago of "Crawford Insurance" talked about the importance of having infant safety seats properly installed in cars because a recent voluntary exercise in Geneva found that almost all of those participating did not have them hooked up correctly. Mr. Santiago emphasized that an improperly installed infant car seat could have dire consequences should a car accident occur and that there were those with expertise available to help parents install them properly.

It was also especially moving when Mr. Chris T. Carraher from "Vector Security" who serves on the scholarship committee for the Geneva Chamber shared with us how much the high school students who were awarded the scholarships appreciated them. Moreover, itt heartened him to be in contact with such a conscientious group of young people.

On Thursday, May 25th, our first event was a meeting of the Diversity Professionals Group which was held at the Greater Cleveland Partnership on Huron Road East in Cleveland. The speaker was Ms. Charmaine D. Brown who is now the Presidentand Founder of her own company "Connexions Consulting, Inc." whose core principle is "to assist clients with managing cultural change, meeting diversity objectives, and building organizational capacity in order to achieve business results." Prior to that,  she once work for "Forest City Enterprises" where she helped to form and implement its diversity plan.

The topic of her presentation on this day was entitled, "Digging Deeper: Measuring Diversity and Inclusion Beyond Demographics" in which her agenda dealt with industry trends that are radically shifting how organizations are setting a new pathway for outcomes-based measurement; exploring ways to measure Diversity and Inclusive beyond the traditional methods; and the offering of effective strategies for improving meaningful data, analysis and strategic assessments.

During the program, we sat with Ms. Gina Camiola and Ms. Mary Roberts from "Eaton"; Ms. Jill Windelspecht from "Talent Specialists Consulting"; and Mr. Andre L. Burton, J.D., the Executive Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Office of the President at "Northeast Ohio Medical University" who told us to be sure and thank Ms. Margaret W. Wong for her sponsorship of its multicultural festival in November, 2016.

From there we drove to Lake County where we attended an Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at the Perry Community Center on Perry Park Road.

The main speakers for the day were Mr. Peter Zahirsky, Director of Coastal Development for the Lake County Port and ED Authority and Ms. Brenda Culler, Public Information Officer with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Office of Coastal Management. From them we learned about projects designed to enhance the quality of life, increase accessibility, and encourage economic development in the coastal areas around Lake Erie along with the need to properly protect its ecology.

Two other people who spoke were former Lake County Commissioner Ms. Judy Moran and Mayor Dennis Morley of Eastlake who are both heavily involved with "Miracle League of Lake County" and shared with us plans to create an adaptive ball field and playground for people with special needs in the vicinity of Route 91 and Vine Street (adjacent to Classic Park) in Eastlake. The cost will be over a million dollars but the community support has been excellent so hopefully the groundbreaking will be later this summer.

While we were there, we visited with Ms. Marian Norman, Program Manager for "Lake County Planning and Community Development", who told us that her office still uses a "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" mug that they have had for over ten years.

After the program in Perry ended around 1pm, we hurried over the Solon Senior Center on Portz Parkway for a 2pm program on Armenia put on by ICC-WIN as part of its "World in Your Backyard Series."

The main speaker was Dr. Rafi Avitsian whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Armenia. Even though Dr. Avitsian was not born there, he has visited Armenia many times and believes that he "thinks Armenia" and it is very much a part of him but, more than anything else, he loves the United States and is very proud to be a U.S. citizen. Accompanying him, were his wife, Suzelle, his daughter, Taleen, and his mother Ms. Anahid Kocharian who is an active member of the Senior Center and helped to arrange the program.

In the brief time of just 40 minutes of so, Dr. Avitsian presented a compelling account of Armenia's history focusing on watershed events in the 20th Century such as the genocide, the country's brief independence from 1918-1920 before it was taken over by the Soviet Union, and the final achievement of independence in 1991. He also discussed its various aspects of its culture andthe beautiful sights to see if one were to take a tour.

What's more, hetalked about the role of that Christianity has played in Armenia's evolution. We had previously known that Armenia is recognized as the first Christian state (301AD) but we didn't know that Noah's Ark came to rest their after the great flood and that Armenia is home to the Etchmiadzin Cathedral which just might be the oldest Christian church in the world.

After her father was through, Miss Taleen Avitsian spoke for a few minutes about certain Armenian traditions regarding courtship and marriage.

We then had some excellent Armenian food that Ms. Suzelle Avitsian helped to prepare. Among our choices were eggplant served with tomatoes, kebab, stuffed grape leaves, and salad.

Before we left we talked to Mr. Ken Kovach and Mr. Alassane Fall from ICC-WIN who told us that Ms. Claudia O'Brien, Volunteer Coordinator with the Solon Senior Center, had visited 9th annual ICC-WIN summit and invited them to experiment with the "World in Your Backyard" series at the Senior Center. Accordingly, twelve programs have been conducted and the results proved to be excellent so ICC-WIN obtained a grant from "Cuyahoga Arts and Culture" which will enable them to conduct more programs in Beachwood, Strongsville, Bay Village, Westlake and Rocky River.

After we left Solon, we stopped off at the Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA) near 134th Street and Lorain Avenue in Cleveland for its open house. We have visited GALA several times and were in fact at its official ribbon-cutting in July, 2016. As we have written before, it offers an immersion programs in both English and Spanish is Northeast Ohio's first language immersion school and Ohio's only Mandarin immersion school.

This evening we listened to Ms. Meran Rogers, GALA's Founding Director, talked about the circumstances that motivated her to establish GALA, a process that took five years. She grew up in Lakewood, the daughter of a father who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan and a mother who immigrated here from Poland. They struggled about what language should be the official household language and finally settled exclusively on English which was a practical choice but one that deprived Ms. Rogers a vital part of her heritage by not being exposed to Polish and Chinese at an age when she could have easily learned them.

In 2006-2007 she spent a year as an English language immersion teacher in Taiwan and was really inspired by how fluent her third grade students were in English, Chinese, and Taiwanese. She decided that when she had a child, she wanted him/her to be so fluent which lead to the creation of GALA.

Ms. Rogers introduced a mother of one of the GALA students who is enrolled in the Spanish immersion program who talked about what a great experience it has been for him to attend GALA. The mother, herself, was a Spanish teacher who wanted her children to be bilingual and GALA is doing a fine job making this happen. Moreover, her child really enjoys its home-like environment, loves its curriculum, and feels safe there.

Our last event for Thursday, was a meeting of the Lakewood Democratic Club which we attended because Ms. Kerissa MacKay, Program Coordinator at the "U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants" which helps refugees resettle in Cleveland was speaking there.

Ms. Kristine Pagsuyoin, the first VP of the Club, walked over to tell us how glad she was that we were there and Ms. Connie Petrie, who checked us in at the door, recalled seeing Ms. Margaret W. Wong at the Cleveland Asian Festival, the previous weekend.

Ms. MacKay brought with her a family from the Congo who had only been in Cleveland since March, 2017 but was progressing remarkably well since all of the adults have full-time jobs now with opportunities for promotion. Several of them also have advanced degrees (obtained before they fled) and have every intention of fulfilling their dreams to be a journalist, doctor, psychiatrist, and economist.  She mentioned that two of them also got up in middle of the night for two consecutive nights to do extra work in "American Ninja Warrior" which was filmed nearby.

Ms. MacKay went on to discuss the challenges that refugees encounter involving fleeing their homelands, sometimes living for years in refugee camps, obtaining security clearances to come to the U.S. (she was very incensed about recent political rhetoric about refugees being a terrorist threat), and resettling in a new and strange place and learning its customs and languages.

She also shared the convincing data (that we have written about several times before) that shows that refugees have been an economic asset to the Cleveland/Northeast Ohio area and pay back the public monies spent on them perhaps tenfold in terms of business generated and taxes collected.

In terms of what we could do to help, Ms. MacKay made available a list of items requested like winter boots, booster seats, and cleaning products. She also urged us to contact our local state representatives to express our support for refugees. Plus, the van that is made constant use of by her organization is rapidly falling apart and any lead to a suitable replacement would be appreciated. 

The program ended with the mother of the refugee family (who kept it together over the years) speaking for a moment about how much she loved the United States because, from the moment she arrived here, she felt safe and found the people to be very charitable and welcoming.

As Ms. MacKay said in the beginning of her presentation, each day at work is a new experience and she is privileged to work with some of the most resilient people she has ever known.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC