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Esperanza, Inc. Celebrates 35 Years, St. Clarence Catholic Church Turns 40

On Friday, June 22, we attended the annual Fiesta of Hope luncheon which was held at the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland.

On this day we celebrated the 35th anniversary of Esperanza, Inc., whose mission is to improve the academic achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland by supporting students to graduate high school and promoting post-secondary educational attainment.

For the 7th year, Mr. Russ Mitchell, Newscaster at WKYC-TV, emceed the event. We arrived early and got to say hello to Mr. Mitchell and other friends such as Mr. Michael Cook, the Community Wraparound Coordinator for Esperanza, Inc. at Lincoln-West High School; Mr. Nelson Ramirez, Executive Director of Hispanic UMADAOP; and Ms. Meryl Johnson, Ohio School Board Member. They filled us in on planned changes at Lincoln-West High School, which Ms. Wong has consistently supported over the years.

Mr. Victor Ruiz, Executive Director of Esperanza, Inc., introduced the program, but took a moment to decry the controversial detainment policies pertaining to the undocumented and aggressive actions by ICE. Mr. Ruiz quoted Bishop Nelson Perez (keynote speaker of the day), who said that our current immigration policies do not constitute a political issue but a moral one, and thus our society has lost its moral compass. Like Bishop Perez, Mr. Ruiz urged our leaders in Washington, DC to expedite the re-uniting of families and pass comprehensive immigration reform so that hardworking immigrant families can get the support they need. 


The first student spotlight speaker was Mr. Abraham Lopez who immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia in 2013. He spoke of his initial struggles adjusting to his new home. He didn't know any English but committed himself to learning five new words each day. Esperanza, Inc. helped him tremendously by providing him with the mentoring he needed. He is planning to major in Biology at Cleveland State University with the ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. Just a couple of months ago, he became a U.S. citizen.


It was time for the keynote, and during his speech, Bishop Perez said he really respected the accomplishments of young people like Mr. Lopez and considered them to be the fruit of the good works of Esperanza, Inc. He went further and said that as a person who came here from Cuba as a small boy, he could really appreciate their struggles. He talked about how important the concept of family or familia is to the Hispanic culture and went on to express his concerns about recent happenings regarding separation of families in detainment, and thanked the media for bringing this to our attention. He said that human rights must be respected and defended by all of us and do not stop at borders; he thus called for the United States to reset its moral compass.

For more on what Bishop Perez has said specifically on immigration matters see these news stories from and the Diocese of Cleveland.

Mr. Gregory Perelka, Board President of Esperanza, Inc., then talked about Lideres Avanzando, a very promising program that supports first-generation Hispanic students in their first years of college in order to address the disturbing dropout rate.


The second student spotlight speaker was Miss Nyleishca Gonzalez who was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Her natural parents were chemically dependent so she was a "crack baby." Fortunately, however, a loving family adopted her, but when she first came to the United States she felt out of place because she didn't know much English, felt alone, and was frequently bullied. Thankfully, Esperanza, Inc. helped her adjust both academically and socially while encouraging her to take pride in her Hispanic heritage. She graduated from high school with honors and at this time is a student at Cleveland State University majoring in social work with a minor in Spanish and the intent of being either a school teacher or a child welfare worker. She really cares about young people and wants to provide them with the love and support that her adoptive parents and Esperanza, Inc. gave her.

Near the close of the program, Ms. Lorraine Vega, Senior VP of Corporate Philanthropy at the KeyBank Foundation, spoke of the need to support Esperanza, Inc. because by helping these young people to achieve a better life we all benefit. She then presented a very generous donation to Mr. Ruiz.

The event closed fittingly with the recognition of 106 young scholarship recipients. Without doubt, these young people standing before us were the highlight of the afternoon.

Our second event on Friday was a dance concert in honor of the 40th anniversary of St. Clarence Church on Lorain Road in North Olmsted. We enjoyed seeing Ms. Bridie Joyce and Ms. Helen Malloy from the West Side Irish American Club and dancing to the various selections played by the Noel Henry Band.


We loved talking to Fr. Neil Kookothe about the history of the church, which started in 1978, although the building that they now occupy wasn't built until 1991. Fr. Kookothe has been the Pastor there since 2002, and we understand he devotes a lot of time providing console to offenders in local jails. He is a good friend of both Fr. Robert Reidy of La Sagrada Familia and Fr. Bob Begin of St. Colman's so, not surprisingly, Fr. Kookothe expressed a keen interest in immigration matters.

Sadly, Fr. Thomas Flynn, Pastor Emeritus of St. Clarence, suffered a stroke two years ago. Earlier it was believed he just might be able to attend this celebration, but it just didn't work out. According to those we talked to who knew him, however, he was certainly there in spirit.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC

Aimee Jannsohn