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Fiesta of Hope

On Friday, June 19th, we went to the Cleveland Renaissance for the annual "Fiesta of Hope" celebrating 25 years of Esperanza, Inc. whose mission is to "improve the academic achievements of Hispanics in greater Cleveland by supporting students to graduate high school and promoting post-secondary educational attainment." During his welcome statement, Mr. Victor Ruiz, the executive director of Esperanza, Inc, said that five years ago the high school graduation rate for Hispanics in Cleveland was only 31% but thanks to leaders like Mr. Eric Gordon, CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the families of the students, groups such as Esperanza, Inc. and the Cleveland community as a whole it has now gone up to over 60%. Later in the program, Mr. Andrew Connors, the board president said that over the last year Esperanza, Inc. has assisted 750 students and the records show that due to their assistance (and outside evaluators have confirmed this) these students do better in terms of attendance, grade point average and graduation than students of comparable backgrounds who have not had the Esperanza experience. Indeed, our friend Mr. Luis Gomez said that Esperanza, Inc. is "for many, many, years a wonderful organization that has made tremendous contributions to the Hispanic community."

We were particularly eager to attend this event because another friend of ours, Mr. Jose C. Feliciano was the "honored guest" of the day. Mr. Feliciano is currently a partner at BakerHostetler but has served our community in numerous capacities throughout his career like being a Chief Prosecutor for the City of Cleveland and a public defender for Cuyahoga County. He also founded the Ohio Hispanic Bar Association and the Hispanic Roundtable.

Mr. Manuel Dominguez, a board member of Esperanza, Inc., said that "it is good that we have an opportunity to honor Jose who has done a lot for the community and our board. We turn to him for counsel and he is there when we need him."

Mr. Victor Ruiz said to us that Mr. Feliciano is being honored for "a lifetime of dedication to the community. He is one of of the strongest and most dedicated champions. He has always been an advocate for the Hispanic community and one of its loudest voices."

What particularly touched Mr. Feliciano was that Mr. Tim Lippert and Sister Alicia Alvardo, two old friends that he has stayed close to for 60 years went out of their way to be there with him on this day.

During the luncheon, Mr. Feliciano was interviewed by Mr. Russ Mitchell of WKYC-TV on stage along with Mr. Bernie Moreno, the presenting sponsor of the the day, and two graduates of the Esperanza program, Ms. Guadalupe Sanchez and Mr. Jacob Rivera. All of them seemed to agree a good path to success is for a person to believe in himself/herself, never give up, appreciate the efforts of those trying to help you, have a support system, not let fear overwhelm you, and have high expectations for yourself.

Mr. Moreno, a very successful businessperson who immigrated to the United States from Columbia when he was quite young, said that a person must think first about his/her family, then the community and then his/her business. He went on to say that if Hispanics do not take care of themselves, then no one else will. He concluded by saying that you should give "until you hurt" and appreciate the opportunity of giving to something meaningful.

When asked about whether a foreign born person must assimilate to be "a good American" Mr. Rivera replied by saying that "be you and be fine." Ms. Sanchez said that she initially struggled with the "new culture" and tried to fit into the middle class world but it did not represent her or her background so she finally found the courage to go her own way and things have been working out pretty well for her since.

On this day, 106 students were called forward to be recognized as scholarship recipients. They will go to 37 different colleges. In addition to scholarships given by Esperanza, Inc., itself, a very diverse group of individuals and organizations contributed. It was announced that in terms of future donations, the Bernie Moreno Companies would match each dollar up to $100,000.

We shared a table with Ms. Diomne Habet, an international student from Belize. Ms. Habet is currently studying political science at John Carroll University but wants to return to her country and serve in the government in the area of education. She would like to focus on ensuring that the educators teaching the students are of high caliber because they shape the educational experience. Ms. Habet told us that she really wants to use the opportunities that she has been and the skills and the knowledge that she has acquired to "hopefully make a difference."

On this day we said "hello" to a lot of people we knew like Mr. Michael Cook who is the Esperanza, Inc. representative at Lincoln West High School.

At the start of the program, Mr. Mitchell said that "this is always a fun day" and "you will leave with a smile" and he was right.

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