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Coffee Contacts and El Barrio Workforce Development

On Thursday, March 16th, we started with two events involving the Painesville Chamber of Commerce. The first was the semi-monthly "Coffee Contacts" at 8am in the morning. For this event, the Painesville Chamber partners with the Mentor Chamber of Commerce and 45 people showed up. On this day gathering was held at a new business named "California Imports Too" which sells swimwear. We had a ribbon-cutting and the Ms. Andrea McKinstry, the new owner, told us that she came here to purchase a swimsuit and liked the store so much that she decided to purchase it also. Ms. McKinstry told us that "California Imports Too" employs seven people and that she and her husband own several other businesses in addition to this one.

"Coffee Contacts" ended at 9am but since we were in the vicinity, we decided to drive over to Madison to attended the luncheon of the Painesville/Madison-Perry Chambers which was held at Joey's Italian Grill. It proved to be a very good restaurant and we hope to go there sometime on our own. We sat with Ms. Keegan of Lake Geauga Recovery Centers and Ms. Jennifer Dobrzeniecki of Ohio Guideposts. We got to meet Mr. Mark Vest, a councilman from the Village of Madison and Ms. Lorraine M. Fende, Lake County Treasurer. One of our friends who works at New York Life told us that he referred a client to us who is working to pass an immigration bill in the state of Ohio; we look forward to hearing about the bill.

The speakers for this luncheon were Mr. Mark Rantala from the Lake County Port Authority who talked about recent economic developments that seem promising and Ms. Fende who talked about the procedure for dealing with delinquent property taxes and what options the homeowners have. Overall, the luncheon and the "coffee contacts" were worthwhile for us to attend because the people that we knew promised to keep us in mind if they ever should encounter anyone who needs help with an immigration matter.

Our last event for the day took us to El Carnicero restaurant in Lakewood for the 2015 Taste Latino fundraiser for El Barrio Workforce Development which our friend Mr. Tom Corrigan said was the best Hispanic job program that he has ever encountered. Mr. Marc Sanchez, the Board Chair, said that El Barrio goes beyond that and urged the attendees to remember the first job that they ever had and the pride and respect that they acquired by working hard. He reiterated that jobs bring people dignity and hope.

Mr. Sanchez recalled that El Barrio started off as a food bank in 1991 with a $5,000 annual budget. In 2004 Ms. Ingrid Angel, the Program Director, was hired and she transformed El Barrio into a workforce development program that served went on to serve 1,162 people in 2014.

When Ms. Angel, herself, spoke she told us that El Carnicero was chosen as the locale for this event partly because of its beautiful luchador mask collection which are "colorful, shiny and represent power and victory." The word "luchador" actually means "combative; fighter; wrestler; one who struggles" which is not unlike the people that are frequently assisted by El Barrio. Many of the masks were for sale and Ms. Angel encouraged us attendees to try them on and have some fun which we, ourselves, did later in evening.

During the course of the event we spoke to several people who knew Ms. Margaret W. Wong and told us to say hello to her including Mr. David Weiss, board member, who likes Pearl of the Orient; Ms. Barb Cierchi who along with her husband, Richard, have known Ms. Wong for years; Ms. Ingrid Angel who told us to thank Ms. Wong for her support; and Ms. Marianela Serrano who immigrated to the United States from Venezuela about 16 years ago with Ms. Wong's assistance.

We especially liked our conversation with Mr. Chris Nance who helps women and minorities find jobs in the construction trades. He said he comes across people who are at first hesitant about women working in this field but he tells them, "you can work on stereotypes or you can work on relationships."

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