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Out & About in Cleveland

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First Friday Club, Coffee Contacts, and Plexus

Our first event for Thursday, February 5th, was the Painesville/Mentor Chamber of Commerce Coffee Contacts held at Mentor High School. About 30 people attended and we got to greet old friends and make a couple of new ones like Karen L. Suttman, Financial Consultant with Thrivent Financial. In fact, we had a conversation with Ms. Suttman about the difficulties of some workers to obtain visas. We very much appreciated it when another friend of our, Ms. Lauren Jeavons offered to hook us up with a businessperson that show knows how often has foreign born clients. We all shared a birthday cake because it was the 7th Anniversary/Birthday of Coffee Contacts which has helped many members form successful relationships over the years.

The gathering was held at the renovated library (aka the HUB) at Mentor High School which has 8,000 books and a lot of new technology and more forthcoming. We got to take a of both floors and were very impressed by the number of areas available for both group and individual study and were glad to see that the students were taking advantage of it. We are in our 50's age-wise and we talked to a person in his 60's and a person in his 40's and we all agreed that this was not the library that we had when we were in high school but we all were happy that the young people such great opportunities now.

Our second event for Thursday took us to the City Club where we attended a First Friday Club Luncheon put on by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Today the speaker was Father Michael Denk, a young priest who has established a non-profit organization called "The Prodigal Father Productions".

According to its website, the tagline for this organization is "God's Love, Graciously Given" and its mission is to "provide programming, educational tools, and training utilizing existing and new media to bring forth personal awareness, health, and spiritual growth". Along these lines, Father Denk spent most of his presentation discussing an app that he has developed for smartphones and tablets called the "EXAMEN" App which allows a person to access the Examen prayer 24 hours a day. The reason for this is that St. Ignatius said the most important prayer that never should be omitted from daily prayer is the Examen prayer because it is a time set aside for thankful reflection on where God is at in one's everyday life. Father Denk took us through the five steps of the Examen prayer and we briefly discussed each one of them. He and the people there with him from Prodigal Father Productions offered to help people who were there with their smartphones access the app.

Father Denk holds a BA in Communications with a specialization in Video and Audio Production from Cleveland State University. One of his motivations to incorporate digital technology into his ministry was a letter that Pope Benedict XVI wrote for World Communications Day in 2011 urging the church to take advantage of it. Also, Father Denk had noticed over the years that "smartphones had taken the place of the sacraments" meaning that our grandparents used to carry the rosary in their pockets but now younger people carry their phones. In fact, 83% of the people aged 18 to 29 have a smartphone which is exactly the age group that the Catholic Church is trying to target because many of the people of this age bracket were raised in the Catholic Church but don't practice the faith as much as they used to.

During lunch we sat with a very nice retired couple named Leonard and Cynthia Ringenbach who have recently moved to the downtown Cleveland area and love it because so many things like the theatre district and Tower City are accessible to them now. We had a good discussion about the trend towards moving downtown that is continuously growing stronger. In addition to his technological work, Father Denk takes mission trips to Africa and El Salvador so we gave him our contact information in case we can be of help to anyone he encounters who is looking to immigrate to the United States. We also gave our information to a person whose relative would like to marry a woman in Guatemala and eventually bring her here.

The closing prayer was given by Father Anthony Schuerger who said that it didn't matter if one was tuned into technology or not to appreciate the work of Father Denk. Certainly Father Schuerger was the first one to admit that he, himself, was a "digital immigrant" but liked it that Father Denk was a "digital native" because this given him the opportunity to impart God's word to others. He went on to advise the people at the luncheon, who were mostly older, to think of their children and their grandchildren and how valuable this was to them.

Moreover, Father Denk emphasized that the "smartphone can never be Jesus but it can be a vessel to him".

Our last event for Thursday was the Plexus Annual Meeting that took place at the Western Reserve Historical Society. According to Ms. Becky Gross and Mr. David Robinson who were keeping track of the number of attendees, 115 people showed up but no food was served until after the program took place which was probably a wise decision because it would have been a distraction.

The program started with Plexus President Ms. Michelle Tomallo saying that now is the time to reflect back over how we have evolved from the 2010 annual meeting when 40 or so people gathered in the lobby of the Ritz Carton. She went on to thank the sponsors for this evening who were COSE, Sherwin-Williams, and Executive Caterers and expressed pride in the fact that Plexus has such good relations with the business community.

We then divided into four groups called "Live", "Work", "Play", and "Plexus" and rotated to four different stations. We were in the "Live" group which first stopped at the "Live" station where we first met with Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio and Ms. Nicole Thomas of Equality Ohio who told us what was happening on the legislative front including the debate about restroom facilities for the transgendered that is currently taking place in Cleveland. Then the "Live" group moved to the "Work" station were we met with Ms. Kellie Rubesne from Progressive Insurance and Ms. Michelle Tomallo from FIT Industries who talked about how it would be to the advantage of a business to be LGBT friendly and how it can make itself so. Then the "Live" group moved to the "Play" station and talked to Mr. Jeff Kipp from Cleveland Neighborhood Progress and Ms. Phyllis Harris of the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland about their plans for 2015 and it would be both to our advantage and the advantage of the organizations if we got involved. Lastly, the "Live" group walked over to the "Plexus" station where Mr. David Phillips, Board Member of Plexus and Ms. Melissa Marik of Executive Caterers talked about the programs that Plexus has to offer including certification of LGBT owned businesses. They both agreed that what they would like us to do is to join, bring others, and make introductions to LGBT owned businesses.

After that it was time for food and socializing. Among the people we spoke with was Mr. John F. Garofalo of the Akron Community Foundation who knows Ms. Margaret W. Wong through her work with United Way. We also talked to our friend Mr. Jay Fernandez about what could be done to help a foreign born graduate student who would like to remain in the United States.

Just before we left we all had a joyous ride on the restored Merry-Go-Round from Euclid Beach Park.

What really stayed with us from this meeting was when Mr. David Phillips said that "Plexus means networking and creating connections" and when Mr. Todd Lloyd, during the closing remarks, said that "Plexus helps people change their lives."

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