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Lorain County Financial Empowerment Forum; Appetite for Change: How to Combat Food Insecurity in Northeast Ohio; Iftar Dinner with Sedar and Selbi

On the morning of Friday, June 23rd, we first went to Oberlin to network at the Lorain County Financial Empowerment Forum which was put on by the Lorain County Urban League with the sponsorship of several organizations who had offices in the area. It took place at the Hotel at Oberlin and its goal was to explore paths to equitable economic development in the county.

 Among the people that we talked to while we were there was Ms. Shirley Hull from "Business Advisory Services" who recalled seeing us at the Community Foundation of Lorain County luncheon just a couple of days earlier. Another person who recognized us was Ms. Michal Marcus, the Executive Director of "HFLA of Northeast Ohio" who we have talked to several times at Heights Hillcrest Chamber of Commerce gatherings.

 When we introduced ourselves to Mr. Walter F. Ventrice, Jr., he was delighted because he used to advise international students quite frequently when he worked a CSU before he retired and over the years referred several of them to "Margaret W. Wong & Associates." Mr. Ventrice now spends a lot of his time counseling troubled youth at the local corrections facilities. Along these lines we gave our contact information to a person who works at the Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction because he estimated that maybe 10% of those that he deals with are foreign-born.

 We visited for a minute with Oberlin City Councilperson Sharon Pearson (who we know from Lorain County Chamber of Commerce activities) who is also the Community Outreach Manager for the Lorain County Urban League. We talked about Oberlin's policies regarding the undocumented and Ms. Pearson mentioned to us a resolution that was passed earlier in the year.

 We decided to look it up and found an article that appeared in "The Plain Dealer" on May 31st, 2017 by Mr. Michael Sangiacomo entitled "Oberlin adopts 'Sanctuary City' policies, just not the name" from which we learned that while Oberlin is not officially a "Sanctuary City" the City Council "unanimously passed legislation that says it will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities except required by federal law. In other words, if Oberlin police become aware that a local resident is in the country illegally, they will not contact immigration official and alert them. Further, if they are asked to help immigration agents arrest persons who have committed no other crime than being the country without authorization they will decline."

 We also learned that the legislation that the Oberlin City Council passed on March 7th of this year is actually an update of what was passed back in 2009. The "Plain Dealer" article also mentioned that Oberlin recently replaced "Columbus Day" with "Indigenous People's Day" in accordance with "its centuries-old stand on human rights issues."

 We left Oberlin in time to take in a program at the City Club of Cleveland entitled "Appetite for Change: How to Combat Food Insecurity in Northeast Ohio" because, as the program notes indicated, the number of people going hungry on a national level has increased 57% since the late 1990's.

 The format was for this event was in the form of a panel discussion consisting of Ms. Darrielle Snipes from "Ideastream" interviewing Ms. Nicole Debose, County Extension Director, Cuyahoga County Extension, The Ohio State University; Mr. Andrew D. Genszler, President and CEO of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry; Dr. Henry Ng, Director for Internal Medicine/Pediatrics, at the MetroHealth System; and Ms. Kristin Warzocha, President and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Foodbank.

 Before the discussion started, we visited with Mr. Nick Orlando, Jr., VP of Sales and Marketing at the "Orlando Baking Company" who is an old friend of our Ms. Rose Wong and Mr. Alan Rocke and Ms. Christine Rom, a husband and wife team that has been volunteering at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank for years.

 All of the panelists agreed that not only is hunger a pressing problem but it is important that people learn to eat nutritious foods and to have access to them both in price (fast food is typically less costly) and accessibility (the nearest grocery store is often a good bus ride or two away). Accordingly, we learned about projects being conducted to address these issues by the organizations represented by the panelists.

 Among the efforts mentioned were:
 ***the Culinary Arts Training Programs of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries

***the Greater Cleveland Food Bank's undertaking of distributing millions of pounds of perishable food in 2016 and to introduce people to foods they normally wouldn't try like squash (we know from our own experience that a lot of delectable things can be done with it)

 ***religious congregations that have formed "health hubs" to distribute healthy foods as part of an anti-obesity campaign

 ***encouragement of reading nutritional labels and (we didn't know this before but it does make sense) not buying food with names one cannot pronounce

 ***providing at least two meals to children during the summer when they cannot obtain a healthy lunch at school since it is not in session

 ***how SNAP and Meals on Wheels have helped many people and efforts by the federal government to cut back on funding should be challenged

 ***a planned "food pharmacy" at MetroHealth that should hopefully be up and running by the fall

 As much as we wanted to, we were not able to ask a question about the particular problems faced by immigrants regarding nutrition but we did get to talk with Dr. Ng, Ms. Debose and Ms. Warzocha about this issue. Some of what we the things that we were told were that food distribution centers need to be aware of cultural differences in terms of food choices and must be ready to work with foreign-born individuals to overcome the language barrier. On the other hand, sometimes people who have immigrated to the United States from other countries have a stigma against receiving any type of public assistance and they need to realize that it is okay to ask for constructive assistance; in short, if they do not eat well they might develop health problems and they need to be strong in order to confront the challenges already before them.

 Friday night ended peacefully because we received an invitation to an Iftar dinner given at the private home of a gentleman named Serdar, his wife, Selbi, and their small daughter, Selma. We learned that both Serdar and Selbi immigrated to the United States from Turkmenistan a few years ago.

 Soon their good friends, Mehmet and Oslem, who immigrated here from Turkey, arrived to join us for dinner to be followed shortly thereafter by another couple named Bob and Laura. We soon realized that we had met everyone there at the Turkish Cultural Center in Lakewood at one time or another and that Serdar and Mehmet are both employed by the same chain of charter schools and work respectively in Cleveland and Lorain.

 Serdar showed a couple of videos regarding Turkmenistan (a country we had certainly heard of but knew little about) but tonight there were no speeches about Ramadan; it was just good people getting together to have a relaxing evening accompanied by delicious homemade food. As it was said during the course of the evening, "Ramadan is about sharing food with your friends."

 The next day was Saturday, June 24th, and we were looking forward to tabling on behalf of "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" at the 28th Annual Cleveland PRIDE Festival held on this day at Voinovich Park behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Since we wanted to set up our table early, we didn't attend the parade but since we had such an excellent location this year so we got to see all of the marchers as they strode in.

 The Grand Marshall for this year was Ms. Linda Krasienko who founded "A Place for Us" which is a senior housing complex near 117th Street and Madison Avenue which could be said to be pioneering because many LGBT couples, after years of being turned down by other places, have finally found a comfortable home there in their latter years. We were very pleased when Ms. Krasienko stopped by our booth and we were able to give her a copy of Ms. Wong's book, "The Immigrant's Way."

 Other people who received a copy on this beautiful Saturday (both temperature wise and high spirits wise) were Ms. Nuria Cmolik, who immigrated to the United States from Spain several years ago and is now the co-owner of "the Croqueteria" which had a booth in the food court where excellent vegetarian croquets could be purchased and needless to say we partook; a woman who immigrated to the United States 37 years ago from Mexico who has had a green card for years and is exploring becoming a citizen; Ms. Victoria Carter, who along with her family, has worked with and advocated on behalf of migrant workers for many years now; a law student from CWRU who would like to become an immigration attorney; and a journalist who likes to write about social issues and considers Ms. Margaret W. Wong to be a "force to be reckoned with."

 As we previously wrote, we had a fine locale for our table right between NAMI and the recruiters for the Cleveland Police Department so quite a few people stopped by to either greet us or to find out what "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" was all about. Throughout the day we had good conversations with such people as an F1 student from India who is working with his employer on obtaining an H1B visa; a family who adopted a child from India and would now like to help her become a U.S. citizen; another F1 student, this time from the United Kingdom, who would like to remain in the U.S. and marry her partner; an ESL teacher from Painesville who is so aware of the current controversy taking place there pertaining to ICE/the undocumented that he took several of our "Know Your Rights" cards; and a man who immigrated to the U.S. many years ago from Greece and would now like to help his nephew come here too.

 In between the performances of musical groups, there were speeches by local leaders but we were so busy talking to our visitors that we could only them in bits and pieces. We do want to commend Dr. Kenneth W. Chalker, Senior Pastor at the University Circle United Methodist Church, for his fine opening remarks in which he upheld that God loves us all and his/her sexual preference is irrelevant and our friend, Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio who said that we need to keep being who we are and loving who we are.

 From our perspective, the weather was great and it was one of the best attended PRIDE festivals that we have attended. We want to thank the people who we were in contact in with in the weeks leading up to the festival like Mr. Benjamin Langham, the volunteer who we talked to the most and who had the courtesy to make a special trip to our booth to make sure we were okay.
 On Sunday, June 25th, we attended three events one in the west side of Cleveland and the other two in the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.

 First, we went to St. Colman Church for the "Celebrating the Faith of Africa" day which was filled with rhymetic color and music as well as multicultural readings given in Swahili, Krahn, and the singing of songs from East Africa along with a joyful procession that begin the proceedings.

 The homily was given by the dynamic Reverend Milton Kiocha, AJ, visiting us from the "Visitation of Mary Parish" in Akron. He spoke about the need to be bold and to overcome one's fears and speak up on behalf of the Lord. "Love never fails," said Rev. Kiocha, "but fear produces anxiety. Have faith in God and fearlessness will be ours."

 Accordingly, the Universal Prayer read in part, "we pray to banish fear from our hearts that we may embrace each of your children (i.e. those of God) as our own brother and sister; to welcome migrants and refugees with joy and generosity while responding to their many needs; to realize that you call all people to your holy mountain to learn the ways of peace and justice..."

 Also speaking was our friend Ms. Vanessa Campbell, Director of the Office of Ministry to African American Catholics, who reminded us that the "seeds of our Catholic faith were planted in Africa" and that we need to come together in oneness and unity because "we are all one people even though our journeys may be different."

 We left St. Colman Church in time to make it over to the Estonian Garden in time for the annual Victory Day (the decisive 1919 battle that resulted in the Independence of Estonia) and St. John's Day celebrations.

 The "Welcome" was given by Mr. Toomas Tubalkain who said in part that on this day "we commemorate the anniversary of the war for Estonia's independence, as well as St. John's Day, or the Pagan holy day of midsummer. As we gather in the shadow of the symbolic bronze flame on our monument we reflect back on the sacrifices of our fore-bearers in establishing Estonia as an independent country, our parents and grandparents who fought to preserve that independence during World War II and just a generation ago when Estonia re-established its interrupted independence..."

 After prayers, the speaker for the day Dr. Viktoras Stankus, from "Lithuanian American Community of the USA, Inc.", was introduced. Dr. Stankus talked about how, after achieving independence in 1918, the Soviets invaded Estonia, along with Lithuania and Latvia in 1940, and brutally occupied them until March, 1990 when they broke from the Soviet Union and re-established their independence. He concluded his effective presentation by saying, "our three republics (and Finland) have a shared cultural history that goes back to ancient times in words of common origin in the languages, in folk costumes, folk music, in their common national instrument...and a common desire to defend their lands. Estonia is one of 5 NATO members (among 29) that actually meets the 2% NATO agreed upon expenditure for one's defenses. Lithuania and Latvia are working steadfastly to reach that goal soon. Together with NATO, the help of NATO member America, Estonia can defend and maintain its freedom. Bravo Estonia!"

 While we were there we met a couple, Mr. Valdek and Ms. Anu Luus visiting the United States from Estonia. They were accompanied by Mr. Alek T. Siitam, a family member who brought them from Columbus to attend this very happening.

 Ms. Judith Elias, an accomplished flutist, also played some beautiful Estonian melodies. At the end of the program, Ms. Erika Puussaar called all of the young people there together (actually Ms. Puussaar was having troubles with her voice and couldn't speak too loudly so Ms. Teevi Champa repeated her words) and presented them to the rest of us saying that these young people constitute a new generation and they will help us by maintaining the garden that the older people worked so hard to establish.

 All of us then gathered in front of the monument for a group photo.

 After the photos were taken at the Estonia Garden, many of us who were there walked a block over to the Hungarian Garden where the annual "Liszt Concert in the Garden" was getting ready to start. Ms. Vera Holczer, an immigrant to the United States from Budapest, Hungary where she had been studying music since childhood, and the founder of the "Aurora School of Music" brought some of its very talented pupils to perform for some 200 people gathered in the the upper level of the Garden.

 Those who performed Liszt and Bartok pieces were Ms. Holczer, herself, on the piano; Mr. Jimmy Thompson (violin); Ms. Ruth Logan (piano); Ms. Hannah Flower (who sang "mezzo-soprano"; Mr. Brian Harper (piano); and Ms. Rachelle Larivee (cello). The breeze was unusually strong so sometimes Ms. Holczer had to turn or hold down the pages of music (at one point she used clothes pins) so that the players would be uninterrupted.

 Ms. Holczer proudly introduced them all and told us a few things about each of them. For instance, we learned that Mr. Harper was assigned the piece that he played so well just three weeks ago and that Ms. Logan was born in Mexico and had to travel considerable distances in order to take lessons but she did and her dedication paid off. Ms. Holczer went on to say that Ms. Logan started admiring the works of Franz Liszt at an early age believing them to be so "cool" that she learned to play all of them.

 The program was introduced by Ms. Carolyn Balogh, President of the Hungarian Cultural Garden, who reminded us that the Hungarian Garden will soon be 80 years old and that renovations will soon begin. Among these were that the walkway on the lower level was being rebuilt by using the original pattern and materials, and we were delighted to find out that it would be renamed the "Ernie Milhaly Walkway" after our dear friend, Mr. Ernie Milhaly who has been a strong supporter of the Garden as well as the Hungarian community for some 50 years now.

 The emcee duties were performed by Mr. Bob Kita of the WCSB 89.3 FM Hungarian Radio Program who, after the concert was completed, paid Ms. Holczer and the other performers a most appropriate compliment when he said that "you prevailed over wind, helicopters, and sirens!"


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC