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Breaking Poverty Barriers at the City Club of Cleveland; St. Andrews Night; Muslim Student Association; Cleveland Bratislava Sister Cities

On Friday, December 4th, we went to a luncheon at the City Club where Dr. Donna M. Beegle was the guest speaker. The title of her presentation was "Breaking Poverty Barriers." Before the program started we talked to Mr. John Litton, Executive Director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (who introduced Dr. Beegle) who told us that his organization was instrumental in bringing her here. In fact he was determined to do it before she finished her speech the last time he saw her. We also met Mr. Daniel Karchmer, Senior Director of the Center for Behavioral Health at the Cleveland Clinic who told us that he was more than acquainted with the immigration law office of Margaret W. Wong and Associates because it had helped so many of the doctors there. 

As the literature provided for this event described, Dr. Beegle was "born into a migrant labor family and married at 15. Dr. Beegle is the only member of her family who has not been incarcerated. By age 24, she earned her GED and then, within 10 years, received her doctorate in Educational Leadership. She is an authentic voice from poverty, who speaks, writes and trains across the nation to break the iron cage of poverty for others through services provided by her company, Communications Across Barriers (CAB). For more than 27 years she has traveled throughout hundreds of cities in 47 states and four countries to assist professionals with proven strategies for breaking poverty barriers."

Since constructively helping others was to be today's theme, we were fortunate to sit with several people from the City Mission including Rev. Richard Trickel, Executive Director; Ms. Linda Uveges, Chief Operating Officer for Laura's Home; Ms. Joy Trachsel, Manager of Laura's Home; and Mr. Trent Charles, Crossroads Men's Crisis Center Program Manager. Seated right beside us was Ms. Angela D'Orazio, Program Manager of for Sisters of Charity.

The helping professions were also well represented by the people at the next table who included Dr. Jacklyn A. Chisholm, President/CEO from the Council for Economic Opportunities for Greater Cleveland and Mr. Doug Bennett, the new community liaison for that organization.

During her presentation, Dr. Beegle talked about her background and the various challenges she had to confront in order to achieve the success that she now has. We learned that generational poverty was quite different from situational poverty. An example of the latter that Dr. Beegle cited concerned the child of a doctor who lost his father (as well as his father's income) at an early age and had to work in the family grocery store to get through school but eventually he "pulled himself up" and became a doctor. Dr. Beegle said that when she was younger she and her family would have been in awe of anyone who owned a grocery store or was even related to someone who did.

Dr. Beegle gave people of the middle class and the upper class credit for sincerely wanting to help people living in generational poverty but contended that, for the most part, they have no idea on how to go about it. Subsequently, Dr. Beegle sees it as her role to help others really understand the reality of this affliction.

We asked her for her views on immigrant poverty and she said that no other country blames individuals for their circumstances as much as we do. Therefore, impoverished people who immigrate here from other countries arrive here with a higher level of self-worth. Of course they must overcome language and cultural barriers but they come here with hope and self-esteem and see the United States as the "wings" for achieving a better lifestyle and are thus well-equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that this country has to offer.

As far as we are concerned, Dr. Beegle presented us with an entirely new way of thinking about people in need of assistance. She has written two books which we plan to check out at the library and/or perhaps p urchase for us and our friends. We also intend to visit the website of Communications Across Barriers to find out more about her and her work.

Our next event for Friday was the St. Andrew's Night Dinner and Dance put on by the Scottish American Society which is "a group interested in the culture and history of Scotland and her people." This took place at the SYB Party Center on Hudson Drive in Stow.IMG_6156

We made our reservations to attend this event with Mr. Jim Frost whose wife, Ms. Margaret Frost, is the Scottish Ambassador at so, of course, we had the mutual friends of Mr. Dan Hanson and Ms. Debbie Han son and Ms. Frost was also familiar with Margaret W. Wong and Associates because she referred several people to us over the years. In fact, Ms. Frost recently helped a poet from Scotland with some immigration issues and directed him to American Greetings for empl oyment.

We were among the first people to arrive which gave us the chance to visit with several interesting people including Mr. Brian Thompson IMG_6150who just completed his autobiography in which he tells of how he immigrated to the United States from Yorkshire, England at age sixteen without knowing anyone here and with few belongings. Today, at age 76, he is a very successful attorney at law, certified public accountant, and lay minister/lay pastor.

During dinner we sat with Mr. Jack Robertson and his wife, Ms. Joan Robertson who often perform at functions playing bagpipe and fiddle music. They gave us several good leads about Scottish functions that will happen in 2016.

When Ms. Robertson heard that we are with Ms. Margaret W. Wong, she told us how her church worked with four other churches to assist a Vietnamese refugee family back in the late 1970's. She told us that it was her job to help them so that they could eventually function on their own so the morning after they arrived she visited them taking a book of pictures that she used to help communicate. To get her new friends used to the Cleveland area, she took them shopping for clothes via a bus. All told, she got a lot out of her relationship with the family which has now prospered.IMG_6164

After dinner we were entertained by young dancers from the Urquart School of Scottish Dance under the direction of Ms. Christie Walsh. We particularly enjoyed a number that the smaller children did accompanied by a large Loch Ness Monster puppet.IMG_6160

Before we left, we spoke to Mr. Alex Murray about how he would characterize Scottish dancing. Mr. Murray thought for a moment and said that Irish Dancing was graceful comparable to the movements of a swan while the classic Scottish dances had been created by warriors to perform before they went to battle which made them tough to characterize. With that in mind, we believe that the Scottish dances that we saw had an unusual masculinity which was especially interesting.

On the next day, which was Saturday, December 5th, we drove over to the Cleveland-Bratislava Sister Cities Christmas party at St. Joseph's Byzantine Catholic Church on Brecksville Road. We enjoyed eating an early Christmas pot luck dinner and listening to the Harmonia Band perform American and Slovakian holiday songs.

We also spoke to Ms. Deborah Klucho who used to work for a firm called Logos (no longer in business) that employed scientists from all over the world. She told us that several times Logos worked with Ms. Margaret W. Wong on the immigration procedures.

This was the third year that we have attended this annual event and we always enjoy talking to Ms. Ann Tilisky who was born in the United States but raised in the Slovak culture. On this day, Ms. Tilisky talked to us about the Slovak Christmas tradition.

On Christmas eve her family would always stay home and have dinner together. The main course was usually fish but they always included in the menu a soup that contained some things that were bitter, some things that were sour, and some things that were sweet just like life. Also part of the meal was "opekance" which were small pieces of dough with poppy seed and honey. Then her family would go to midnight mass (which usually lasted an hour and a half) at Benedictine Abbey.

On Christmas day, no work was done at all so whatever food they ate was leftovers from the night before. Later in the day, they would go and visit their relatives. When they arrived, the man of the house would enter the home first and offer a greeting which was "Merry Christmas and happy new year. May God give health, luck and happiness and much of God's blessing. And, after you are gone, the Kingdom of Heaven." And, after he said this, his family would follow him in.

Ms. Tilisky also recalled that every December 6th the men of the parish would go to the various homes dressed up as St. Nicholas and a mean old man known as "Kubo" accompanied by an angel. If the children were good they would receive nuts and fruit from St. Nicholas but if they were bad, they would get something such as a lump of coal from "Kubo". To be sure, it was usually quite cold outside so the visitors would enjoy a shot of liquor before they left to go to the next house but, for sure, they left happy.

We were quite tired and quite overfed by the time we left the St. Joseph's but there was one more event that we wanted to attend which was a fundraiser for Syrian Refugees at the Student Center at CSU. We were astonished to see that the large room on the third floor that we have been to many times before was packed with 400 people of all ethnicities but mostly in the 20's and 30's age range even though there were a few older ones such as ourselves and our friend, Mr. Isam Zaiem, from the Council of Islamic Relations (CAIR).

We asked for more information and found out that the event was organized by Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) and the Cleveland State Muslim Student Association in order to raise money to educate the children in a refugee camp in Jordan. After dinner, we were addressed by Mr. Ahmed Yusef, a representative from HHRD who told us about the his organization and the various programs that it provides.

We sat at a table composed of students and young professionals including Mr. Andrew Kovach who used to be an intern with Global Cleveland and now works for the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. Another person at our table was Mr. Carter Adams, a concerned student who has attended several events concerning the assistance of refugees. In fact, most of the people there that we talked to who were not Muslim told us that they were there because they have Muslim friends.

After so much heated political dialogue lately regarding Islam, this is, for us, a very hopeful and positive sign.

On Sunday, December 6th, we went to St. Malachi's Parish Hall on Washington Avenue in Cleveland to attend the Annual St. Nicholas Spaghetti Dinner put on by St. Herman's House of Hospitality.

We talked to Mr. H. Paul Finley, Local Director of St. Herman House FOCUS Cleveland, who told us that this is their 24th year of doing this spaghetti dinner and very much looks forward to next year when this meal will celebrate its "silver anniversary".

Mr. Finley said that his organization was blessed to have the support of Mr. Dan Jenks and his wife, Ms. Debbie Jenks, who own Augie's Pizza in North Royalton. Not only do Mr. and Mrs. Jenks take and sell tickets at the door for this event but they donate all of the food "at cost" so all of the proceeds can go towards St. Herman's mission which, as its literature states, "has provided over 38 years of service to the poor and homeless in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. St. Herman House offers three meals a day seven days a week to anyone in need...A second house...provides housing for up to 12 men who are ready to make a step towards independent living."

Mr. Finley told us that this spaghetti dinner (to which we are happy to say that Margaret W. Wong and Associates made a contribution) is one of three major fundraisers each year. The other two are a golf classic and a speaker event which we attended this year at the beginning of November at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Tremont.

We have come to this spaghetti dinner event at St. Malachi's quite a few times over the year's largely because we like the homey atmosphere highlighted by the "Mud in Your Eye Band" which is a welcome addition to these affairs.

Mr. Gene Pfaff from Bay Village also attended this dinner with his son, Chris, and his two granddaughters. Mr. Pfaff reminded us that St. Malachi has been standing for 150 years and used to be home to many people who immigrated to the United States/Cleveland from Ireland as did his own ancestors. "A lot of good things go on at St. Malachi's," said Mr. Pfaff.

Another person who was there enjoying the spaghetti was Ms. Caroline Paull who we have known for years. "I always like to come here," said Ms. Paull, "because it has such a good feeling to it."

After we left St. Malachi's we headed to the Highland Heights Community Center for the Christmas and Lucia Fest organized by the Nobel-Monitor Lodge #130 of the Vasa Order of America, a Swedish-American Fraternal Organization which was started more than 100 years ago as a benefit fraternal society for Swedish immigrants to the United States but over time it has evolved to meet the needs of the Scandinavian-American community in general. Mr. Rolf Bergman, the President of the Lodge, told us that emphasis now is on preserving the Scandinavian culture.

This was our second year attending this event and we were delighted when Ms. Susan Erson and her mother, Ms. Anita Erson, who drove all the way from Pennsylvania for this gathering, remembered us and walked over to say hello.

During the first part of the get-together, the attendees enjoyed IMG_6168some spiced Swedish wine called Glogg, which is a favorite at this time of the year and is particularly good if served warm.

We had our dinner and visited with Ms. Laura Beck who is a blend of Swedish and Norwegian and said that she was happy she discovered this organization (along with the Ohio Norsemen) because it mirrored her roots.

Ms. Linda Jaenson told us the story of her father, Mr. Steve Jaenson, who immigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1927 when he was 17 years old. He was inspired to become a baker due to his tenure driving a bakery truck for Holmes Bakery in Ashtabula and, finally, in 1939 he founded "The Swedish Bakery" on Euclid Avenue in the University Circle area. It was quite a success as was a second bakery that he opened in South Euclid in 1950. Ms. Jaenson told us that her father's experiences are recounted in a book titled "True Immigrant Stories: The Swedes of Cleveland, Ohio 1873-2013."

We spent a few minutes talking with Mr. Bergman about Sweden today. He told us that just a couple of months ago Sweden, quite sadly, was forced to shut its doors to Syrian refugees largely because it just couldn't provide housing for them. Nevertheless, Sweden is still the home to quite a few immigrants besides many Syrians which include many from Somalia and Yugoslavia. In fact, in every village one can find a combination pizza/kabob restaurant owned and operated by an immigrant from a Middle Eastern IMG_6180country. Mr. Bergman's family immigrated to the United States from Sweden three generations ago so he would like to see us accept even more immigrants and refugees than what we are doing and we agree.

The party concluded with a lovely Vasa Voices choir performance and a Lucia procession composed of children and young people. Mr. Reid Taylor was the choir director who had been rehearsing with the singers since October. He told all of us that he isn't Swedish himself but he loved the music and enjoyed working with the singers. He then introduced the accompanist who was Ms. Xin Dai, an international student who is studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Before we left a man called out, "I've been coming here for many years." He then admitted that he was a Bohemian yet "it means a lot to me to have this as part of my Christmas season and thank you very much!"


Out & Aboutimwong