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A Celebration of Peace! and Other Events

On Thursday, July 31st

We attended three events and two of them involved the Painesville Chamber of Commerce.

Our first event was a "Combo Grand Opening and Celebration" of four local businesses which had recently relocated to an office building at 10 West Erie Street in Painesville. These businesses were Hennig, Szeman & Klammer Co., LPA; Diversified Insurance Concepts; Diversified Cleaning Solutions; and New York Life Insurance Co.

In fact New York Life Insurance Company had re-located here from South Euclid.

We were happy to see that about 40 people attended this event including a representative from U.S. Congressman David Joyce's office and as well as Ms. Felicia King, Outreach Specialist and Regional Director for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. Ms. King told us that she used to work with Margaret W. Wong and Associates on immigration issues, along with Ms. Michelle Gilchrist, years ago when our current Attorney General was a United States Senator and she served on his staff.

We talked to Ms. Cathy Bieterman, Economic Development Director for Painesville, and Mr. Daniel D. Smith, Chief Operating Officer Real Estate for Consolidated Investment Corporation, the owner of this office building about why this is so important to the community and they both agreed that the relocation meant that these businesses were growing and expanding and creating more jobs and economic opportunities for the community and the citizenry.

Our other chamber event was a combined effort of the Painesville and Madison Perry Chambers of Commerce. It was dubbed the "Mad Hatter Mini-Golf Tournament" and it was held at the Red Mill Golf Center in Perry. The description for this minature golf outing read, " not a golfer...not a good golfer?...can't wait for the chamber's golf outing?...need fun after work for you and your co-workers?" and aptly so.

All participants were encouraged to put on a crazy hat while they played but we decided to play this down and just wore a tan cap. We teamed up with three other players who were Ms. Nicci Vanjo and Ms.Maureen Doherty both from Zito Insurance Agency, and Ms. Jeannine Felasco from Homestead Assisted Living. All of us were primarily there to enjoy ourselves and interact with other members of the two chambers.

We know that someone once said that many of the great business deals were made on the golf course but we doubt if any of that took place tonight. We did, however, exchange contact information with Ms. Janette Hamilton from GTS (group transportation services) which has contacts within Canada. It should also be noted that GTS was a sponsor of tonight's event.

When all of the score cards were totaled, the top two teams had to have a final one hole shootout to decide the ultimate championship and no, our team wasn't one of the top two. Needless to say, it would have been a boring exercise if we did not do our best to sink the ball in two shots instead of four but we were having such a good time engaging in friendly competition that to actually win this tournament tonight wasn't a priority for anyone there.

The term "friendly competition" could have used to partially describe the other event we went to this afternoon between the two chamber events. This gathering was "A Celebration of Peace! Peace Camp 2014 End of Camp Celebration" presented by the youth and staff of Peace in the Hood at their facility on Kinsman Road in Cleveland.

Unfortunately, we arrived late but we were still warmly welcomed and when it came time to make acknowledgements Mr. Khalid A. Samad thanked Ms. Margaret W. Wong for sending a representative and hailed her for her skills as an immigration attorney and as a civil rights activists.

This camp is held every summer and this summer 67 young people between ages 5 to 18 attended what community activist Ms. Alene Barnes described to us as a consciousness raising experience designed to teach young people about peace and love in the neighborhood and how important it is that these young people unite to achieve these goals.

On the wall there was a poster describing the "daily routine" which was:

1. Greeting 2. Nguzo Saba (the seven principles of African Heritage) 3. Language Skills 4. Affirmation 5. Review of Songs and Principles 6. Daily Project 7. Creative Play

The "daily project" and "creative play" obviously included art projects for we saw quite a few scattered around the room. We also understand that their were workshops where subjects like responsible entrepreneurship were addressed.

As for the "Nguzo Saba" principles of African Heritage, there was a poster on the wall for that also which read:

1. Umoja-Unity 2. Kujichagulia-Self Determination 3. Ujima-Collective Work and Responsibility 4. Ujamaa-Cooperative Economics 5. Nia-Purpose 6. Kuumba-Creativity 7. Imani-Faith

Moreover, on the back of our programs for today's gathering was the mission statement for Peace in the Hood/Coalition for a Better Life that seems to embrace all of the above and it reads in part, "We are a transformational and solution-based organization solving youth violence through prevention, intervention, and educational programs that promote personal responsibility, empowerment, and self-sufficiency. We provide young people with structured activities from a holistic culturally specific perspective. This process will enable young adults to learn and implement the tools necessary to become productive citizens in society."

We were so glad that we were able to be here for at least part of this wonderful gathering. As the event came to a close, we all joined hands as part of a circle because, as it was pointed out, a circle is an important part of any traditional meeting/gathering because it allows all to participate in the event.

Before we left, we asked Ms. Meredith Turner from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown's office how she would describe the Peace Camp and she said that it was "a tool kit to be peaceful citizens of the the world"  and we couldn't agree with her more.

On Wednesday evening, July 30th

We attended a "Cocktails & Colleagues Reception with Live Auction" put on by the Lake and Geauga Area Association of Realtors at Classic Ford Lincoln in Mentor.

We chose to attend this event because it has been our experience that realtors often feel the pulse of the the community and know who is who and are potential source for referrals. Indeed the program for the evening stated that an ideal realtor "is a member of local, state, and national professional trade associations and, as such, has access to a vast array of educational programs, research and resources."

And the people at this event tonight were very professional and we made about 25 new contacts. Among these contacts was a person who had a friend whose wife immigrated to the United States from Russia and struggling with all of the immigration paperwork. We also met a person whose son was dating an Italian woman and might eventually have need for our services.

Lastly we had a good time talking to Mr. Neil J. Conway, President of Conway Land Title Company and his wife, Maureen, who are good friends of Mr. George Feudolov who immigrated to the United States from Russian with assistance from Margaret W. Wong and Associates.

Most of the proceeds from this gathering will go towards the Veterans Housing Fund which is a worthy project that we were glad to contribute to and we had a fun, productive time at this event.

On Tuesday, July 29th

We attended the first meeting of the Children's Coalition which started at 5:30pm at Saigon Plaza on Detroit Avenue in Cleveland. This meeting was called by our good friend Mr. Joseph Meissner "to discuss the plight of 60,000 youth at the Mexican-U.S. Border. What can we do? What should we do? Where do we go from here?"

All together about 17 people attended including Mr. Meissner and Ms. Gia Hoa Ryan of The Friendship Foundation along with Father Bob Begin from St. Colman's; Sister Rita Mary Harwood, SND; Sister Marie Manning, SND; Sister Marie Tobbe, Ursuline Sisters; Ms. Judy Peters, Westside Ecumenical Ministries; Ms. Kate Uhlir; Ms. Maureen E.  Pergola; Ms. Kate O'Donnell; Mr. Aklilu Demessie; Mr. Ken Kovach; Ms. Chelsea Mullarkey; and from Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities Diocese of Cleveland, the Director Mr. Tom Mrosko, and immigration attorneys Ms. Camille R. Gill and Ms. Sala R. Gembala; and we provided representation from Margaret W. Wong and Associates.

Mr. Meissner started off the meeting by saying that he had been in touch with U.S. Senator Rob Portman's office which had been very helpful by providing him with information on the current refugee crisis. According to this information, the number of children involved is 60,000 but this it may grow larger.

Then everyone got to introduce themselves and say why they were there. A common thread that seemed to unite us all was the belief that we, ourselves, as well as the Cleveland community and the community of the United States had a moral obligation to aid these children and reunite them with their families if possible.

We then had a discussion and three people who had a lot to contribute were Mr. Mrosko, Ms. Gill and Ms. Gembala all from Migration and Refugee Services which, according to the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which they are affiliated with, "serves as a leader in the protection of unaccompanied children by providing family reunification services to children who enter the United States alone without immigration status and specialized placements in community-based settings to refugee and immigrant children with no viable family reunification options in the United States" through their Safe Passages Family Reunification Program and Safe Passages Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program.

According to Mr. Mrosko, Ms. Gill and Ms. Gembala the biggest obstacle to bringing the refugee children to Cleveland is that Ohio's child care system only provides services or support to youngster until they turn 18 years of age as opposed to states that would support them up to age 21. This is important because the age restriction in Ohio does not allow enough time for the older ones to successfully transition into U.S. society and become self-supportive.

Several of the attendees were well-versed in dealing with refugees so indeed there were voices of experience here this evening including Ms. Peters who had worked with Cubans during the Mariel boatlift around 1980. Father Begin has a long history of assisting refugees from Central America. Both Mr. Meissner and Ms. Ryan are both well-known and respected for their role in resettling refugees from Vietnam. Sister Sheila Marie Tobbe had worked with young people from El Salvador. And Mr. Demessie had, himself, immigrated to the United States so he was naturally concerned and could relate to what the young people were going through.

Moreover, it was pointed out that the reason that these young people were risking so much by leaving their homes, and most of them come from Central America, to migrate to the United States is that they legitimately fear for their lives largely because the power and danger of gangs in their native countries is becoming increasingly widespread due to poverty and lack of successful governmental policies.

During the discussion quite a few things were suggested as remedies or partial remedies for the current situation. We shoud:

  • Call upon local organizations for help and invite representatives to the next meeting including the Interreligious Task Force on Central America, Lutheran Metropolitian Ministries, Catholic Worker movement, and La Sagrada Familia.
  • Help the children who are in detention find their relatives if they are in the Cleveland/Northeast Ohio area.
  • Enlist more lawyers to advocate pro bono on behalf of the children. It was suggested that we find someone to sponsor a one day CLE to educate volunteer lawyers on immigration matters.
  • Provide the Cleveland/Northeast Ohio community with education about who these young people are and why they are migrating to the U.S. and that most of them pose no special danger. We might do this by having "ambassadors" go around and speak to various gatherings.
  • Encourage prominent people to issue statements of support for the children being allowed to remain in the United States and their need for social services and private support. We pointed out that conservative columnist George Will recently wrote a article arguing against deportation.
  • Recruit families to provide home for the children and several people here this evening offered to do just that. We also seemed to agree that private homes and foster care would be better for the children than institutionalization.
  • Raise funds for things like the legal defense of the refugee children and also accept donations of things like clothes, beds, dressers, tables as needed.
  • Give special attention to the needs of mothers who are refugees along with their children.
  • Reach out to the schools and see if there is anything that we can do to help the refugee children assimulate.

 

The Children's Coalition agreed to meet again on August 12th in this location at 5:30pm.  During the course of the meeting Mr. Meissner said that his mother believed that "there is always room at the table for one more" and he believed that this pertained to the plight of these children who have migrated to the United States.

We agree with Mr. Meissner and his mother in this matter.

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