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Community Meets at Sterling Recreation Center; Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA) ; Lorain Ohio Immigrants' Rights Association Holds "DAPA Dinner"

On the Friday evening of February 26th we attended a community meeting at Sterling Recreation Center on East 32nd Street in Cleveland.

IMG_8402This meeting was called by our friend, Ms. Chia-Min Chen, Asian Liaison to the Community Relations Board at Cleveland City Hall, in order to establish a committee to help the recreation center realize its full potential as a force in the community. This project meant a lot to Ms. Chen because this area was the most diverse part of the Cleveland and it got of "fresh new blood" thanks to the flood of immigrants from Asia who settled there in 2007-2008.

Ms. Chen urged us to think about what the residents of the community needed (particularly in the areas of health, food, and safety) and she was very happy to see a lot of people there (at least 30 by our count) who lived and/or worked in close proximity. In fact, she said that "I am tickled pink" because she had so many friends and "we can do something great here."

She then introduced Ms. Shelli Brooks, the president of the new committee who said that she believed in "short, productive meetings" and that she had known Mr. Gabriel Ramos, the Center Manager since he was "a child."

Ms. Brooks discussed the history of Sterling Recreation Center and how it is so underutilized because relatively few people know that it is there. She had studied the situation and said proudly that Cleveland was one of the few cities in the country to offer free recreation and this works to its advantage. This is one of the contributing factors to Cleveland having no major gang problem as opposed to other cities. When midnight basketball tournaments were played at Sterling years ago, violence went down. Thus, recreation does work.

One potential activity that was mentioned and received support was to organize a health fair. We talked for a while longer and all of us there agreed to send a biography to Ms. Chen in which we would state how we, as individuals, could best serve the committee which will meet on the last Friday of every month which will make March 25th the next meeting date.

As Ms. Brooks said, "we want to bring all ethnic groups to the table and create pretty colors."

In September of 2014, we attended a community meeting regarding the establishment of the Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA) conducted by Ms. Meran Rogers, GALA Founding Director, who explained that the program would be dual language immersion in both English and a target language of either Mandarin or Spanish.

The mission of GALA is to "ensure that each student achieves lifelong academic success, bilingualism and appreciation for diversity, in an engaging and academically rigorous language immersion environment." The vision is "to create a better world through education, elimination of language barriers, and preparation of global leaders for the future."

The big question at that time was where the new school would be located.

Now that question has finally been answered; it will be located at the former St. Vincent DePaul parish school at 13442 Lorain Avenue in the west side of Cleveland and on Saturday, February 27th, we attended its second open house which was attended by about 40 people (the first open house was on IMG_8417February 25th and had 45 people in attendance) who were interested in enrolling their children there.Ms. Rogers and Dr. Jessica Gilway, GALA Founding Principal, explained the concept behind the school and how it would operate to about 40 community members of who were interested in enrolling their children or grandchildren there.

GALA will be a non-profit, tuition-free charter school eventually covering kindergarten through the 8th grade. It will start with K-1 and grow a grade every year. The student/teacher ratio will be 12 to 1. Its emphasis is dual language immersion in English and either Mandarin or Spanish (the two target languages). The student/teacher ratio will be 12 to 1. To put it briefly, the language immersion model for K-2 is 70% of the day in Mandarin or Spanish and 30% in English. Grades 3-5 are 60:40. It does not become 50:50 until grades 6-8.

To be sure, this will require a considerable commitment from the family also. But it will pay off immensely because Ms. Rogers cited very convincing data that showed that the GALA students will be extremely well-developed in the areas of academic achievement, language and literacy, cognitive skills, sociocultural (i.e. multi ethnic and multicultural attitudes), and will have increased employment opportunities. It must be said that these advantages are consistent for students from low-income families as well as high income families.

What's more, GALA will be the first foreign language immersion school in Northeast Ohio and the first Mandarin immersion school in Ohio. In fact there are only a few foreign language immersion schools in all of Ohio. Compare this to Utah were there are well over 100 foreign language immersion schools that include French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin and German.

Ms. Rogers talked about her own experience being the daughter of immigrants-her mother was from Poland and her father was from Taiwan. As she grew up, English, Polish, and Chinese were spoken in her home which made it confusing for her when she started school. Eventually she was enrolled in an English as a Second Language Class and it was agreed that English would be the language spoken by her family. Ms. Rogers went on to excel in school but regretted that she didn't retain the languages of her parents and found it very difficult, as is the case when one gets older, to learn Mandarin. She was inspired to start GALA by an experience that she had working as a language immersion teacher in Taiwan about ten years ago. In her classes, the students all spoke English, Chinese, and Taiwanese. She resolved to do something to bring this form of learning to Northeast Ohio.

GALA will open its doors in August, 2016 with Grades K-1. We are proud to say that one of the honorary board members is Ms. Margaret W. Wong. Ms. Rogers said that Ms. Wong was "a busy lady and an inspiration."

Next on our agenda on Saturday was a "DAPA Dinner" actually a luncheon put on by the Lorain Ohio IMG_8429Immigrants' Rights Association (LOIRA), Cleveland Jobs for Justice and Ohio's Voice at the Sacred Heart Chapel on Pearl Avenue in Lorain..

While we were there we listened to several powerful speakers and were entertained by the "Danza Tonantzin" Aztec Dance Group during lunch.

We said hello to the representatives of all three organizations who were Mr. Jose Mendiola and Ms. Annabel Caron Sanchez, President and Vice President of LOIRA; Ms. Deb Kline, Director of Cleveland Jobs for Justice; and Ms. Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America's Voice. Also present, was Mr. Nick Turner from U.S. Congressperson Marcy Kaptur's office.

Mr. Mendiola began the program by telling us that this luncheon is part of a nationwide "DAPA Dinner" campaign and LOIRA was proud to be part of it. He noted that invites had been sent to the three leading candidates for U.S. Senate in the 2016 election in Ohio who were U.S. Senator Rob Portman (who declined to attend), former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (who had a scheduling conflict but committedIMG_8421 to attending another such function), and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld (who did not respond).

Ms. Kline urged all of us to write notes to all three of the candidates about what touched us about this "DAPA Dinner" and give them to her for mailing.

In the course of the program we heard testimonials from two undocumented immigrants. First, from a man named Salvador who came here eleven years ago with his wife and two daughters. They were very concerned that his oldest daughter would not be able to pursue an education past high school but thanks to DACA she was able to. Salvador went on to say that his family was one of many who came to the U.S. to work for a better life and he and his wife worked wherever they could but if DAPA (which is being held up in the courts) were allowed to move forward their opportunities would be enhanced. "We would come out of the shadows," said Salvador, "and it would be a special day for all."

IMG_8437Another man named Francisco has been living in the United States since 1999. He came here because his uncle told him that this country was a land of many opportunities and he came with a lot of dreams. He now has a family and when he heard about DAPA he was very excited. If it is allowed to be enacted he has great plans for himself and his family.

Mr. Victor Leandry, Director of El Centro said that he respected DACA and DAPA but he believed that they had the potential to accomplish only so much thus comprehensive immigration reform is sorely needed and we must all come together and fight for it. He noted that until approximately 2023 one million Hispanic young people will turn eighteen each year which is a tremendous number of potential voters. "We have the power!" said Mr. Leandry.

A particularly powerful speaker was Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera who talked about how the political posturing of several of the candidates for the U.S. Presidency in 2016 has tragically contributed to the division of the country. It disgusted him that symbolically there were two signs at the Mexican border which read, "Keep Out" and "Help Wanted". He called the recent political rhetoric "fearful and mean-spirited" and asked all of us there to work with Hispanic organizations, such as those sponsoring this event, on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform so that "we can win in the end."

Father Bill Thaden of Sacred Heart Church said that on this day we heard the stories of Salvador and Francisco and hoped that they would serve to unite us all because all humans must stand together and seek just reform.

IMG_8433Father Thaden was supposed to be the last speaker but our friend, Mr. Jeff Kassouf was present and he asked for a moment to say a few words because he wanted us all to know that he was a leader in the Arab American/Muslim community which stood in solidarity with the Hispanic community. "Racism is raising its head," said Mr. Kassouf, "and it affects us all."

On Sunday night Hollywood's finest will walk down the red carpet to attend the Academy Awards but on Saturday night we attended the "Red Carpet Gala for Refugees" put on by US Together at the Restaurant Europa on Pinetree Road in Pepper Pike.

This was a fundraiser for US Together which, as we have written before, works "to coordinate, organize, and initiate service to immigrants and refugees through education, advocacy, support services, information, referrals, and networking opportunities in order to strengthen the community that we live in."

We could only stay a short time here but it is always good to see Ms. Danielle Drake, Community Relations Manage;, Ms. Helen Tarkhanova, Director of Resettlement; and Mr. Bhupati Pradhan, Case Manager, who took our card in case a situation should arise in which the services of Margaret W. Wong and Associates would be needed.

We also met Ms. Maria Teverovsky, Director of Development who generally divides her time between Columbus and New York but was there with us at the Restaurant Europa because she believed that this event was so important.

A newcomer to the organization was Ms. Tali Merdler who just started working at US Together a few IMG_8442months ago. Ms. Merdler's parents were there too and they told us how much their daughter enjoyed working there.

We briefly shared a table with Dr. Susan Lohwater of Tri-C West and her husband, Mr. Tim Graham. For the last two years, we have attended the "Culture Shock" event at Tri-C and Dr. Lohwater invited us back again this year on April 24th.

We understood that later in the evening a talk would be given in which the Cleveland community was praised for providing assistance to refugees from the Congo at a time when help was needed with mentoring, acculturation, and donations of winter clothes.

Probably the most gratifying contact that we made there was Mr. Tom Zych from Forest Hill IMG_8454Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights who told us that he was there with us because Ms. Danielle Drake spoke at his church and inspired him to find out more and become involved with US Together. IMG_8452The other event that we attended on Saturday night was the St. Maron Centennial Feast Day Celebration at La Villa Conference and Banquet Center on Brookpark Road in Cleveland.

We were fortunate to be seated at the same table as Ms. Marianne Dergham, one of the mistresses of ceremonies, and Mr. Paul Chamoun, the son of our friends Mr. Fady and Ms. Sally Chamoun (the co-founders of Aladdin's Eatery) who invited us to this celebration. Ms. Dergham and Mr. Chamoun were a great help to us in terms of clarifying the recent happenings at their church although the program, itself, was quite concise.

We sat only a short distance from the main table so we got to walk over and say "hello" to former U.S. IMG_8443 Congressperson Mary Rose Oakar and several members of the clergy including Monsignor Peter Karam (of St. Maron's); Monsignor William D. Bonczewski from Our Lady of Cedars of Lebanon in Fairlawn;  Bishop Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon; Bishop Antoine Chbeir from the Diocese of Latakia, Syria.

The program for the evening included a dynamic poetry reading and a video containing testimonials of the parishioners of St. Maron talking about how important their church was to them as well as the various activities of the centennial year including the National Apostolate of Maronites (NAM) convention that was held in Cleveland in 2015.

The message that we took from it was that Maronite immigrants from the countries of Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan came to this country with nothing but faith and determination and founded this church in 1915. Thus, it is important that their legacy be honored by the further growth and expansion of the congregation and the church. Along these lines, several capital improvement projects had either been completed or were in the works.IMG_8462

It was a real treat to watch Mr. Fady and Ms. Sally Chamoun receive special honors for their contributions to the Centennial Commission and to St. Maron Church as a whole.

The evening closed with a benediction by Bishop Elias Zaidan who brought up the Oscars when he said that he believed that St. Maron Church was a wonderful parish and believed all who worship were "academy award winners" in the eyes of God.

Written by:

Michael Patterson 

Community Liaison, Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.