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Out & About in Cleveland

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Many Cultures: Pierogy Run/Walk; Iran Nuclear Info; Farewell Slovenian Consul General Jurček Žmauc; Vault Connections; About M. Fetullah Gulen; & Dr. Janet Yellen in Cleveland

As every week, in the week following Independence Day, we explored the rich diversity of Cleveland's many cultures. On Sunday, July 5th, we attended two fun events on the west Side of of Cuyahoga County.

First of all, we got up early to travel over to Tri-C West on Pleasant Valley Road so we could take part in the 5th Annual Parma Run/Walk for Pierogies which started at 8:30am sharp.

We opted to do the 1 mile fun walk over the 5K run and had a good talk talking to people as we moved along wearing our Margaret W. Wong and Associates golf shirt.

One of the reasons we decided to take part is that our friend, Parma City Council President Sean Brennan plays a big role in organizing it. We asked Sean's wife, Deena, exactly what is Sean's title in this affair and she said slowly, "race coordinator" which sounds right for us.

Providing the entertainment for the morning were Mr. Larry and Ms. Diana Walk from "Larry Walk's Happy Polkaland" which is broadcast for 7 hours each Sunday. They have been on the air for 20 years which is fine by us because we really enjoy listening to polka music. We asked Ms. Walk if she would play our favorite polka song, ""Ice Cubes and Beer" and she said that, unfortunately, they didn't have that one with them but at the next table was Ms. Helenrae Budzilek whose father, the late Mr. Ray Budzilek, wrote it. Thus, we got to tell Ms. Budzilek her how much we liked her father's work and she was pleased.

To be sure, pierogies from Perla Homemade Delights were made available to everyone after they finished the run/walk so we enjoyed a deliciously crisp potato pierogi and a half before we restrained ourselves from eating more.

The proceeds from this activity will be directed towards several organizations including the Parma Animal Shelter, the Parma Girl Scouts and the Cuyahoga Community College Scholarship Fund.

We also collected flyers for about 15 other run/walk events that will take place at various places in Cuyahoga County this summer/fall including one on behalf of the Nepal earthquake victims. We will check our schedule and hopefully will have time to take in a few of them which we probably will since most of them take place in the early morning (before the heat sets in) which means we can partake before we scurry off to our other events for the day which usually take place in the afternoon on weekends.

Early in the afternoon we went to the West Side Irish American Club for its annual summer picnic. This organization has been around for many years at different locations but this year is its 25th year in Olmsted Falls.

Attendees could either bring their own food or buy hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, etc. at the picnic so we chose to bring our own veggie sandwich on whole wheat pita bread from Subway and buy some salad and watermelon at the club. We always like listening to "The New Barleycorn" duo who performed as the club members enjoyed their meals.

Of course one could check out a fishing pole if he/she wanted to fish in the pond and there was a magic show and pony rides for the youngsters.

We moved around and had several good conversations. First, we talked to a man named Fred who has been involved in the club consistently since it relocated in Olmsted Falls. He is Irish on his mother's side and German on his father's side but tends to gravitate more towards the Irish because he considers them "fun". He told us that his great grandmother was the one who immigrated from County Mayo many years ago. He, himself, had never been to Ireland until recently when he finally took a trip there with his buddy, Ed who we also met. We asked Fred if he enjoyed his Irish trip and Fred replied that he did, indeed, because he and Ed obtained a car and got to tour the entire island; there was very little that they didn't see.

We then spoke to a woman named Cecilia whose father immigrated to the United States from County Donegal and her mother from County Cork where people go to kiss the Blarney Stone. Both of her parents settled in Philadelphia back in the 1920's but did not know each other until they both attended a dance at a local Irish American Club. According to Cecilia, her father spied her mother standing nearby and said immediately to his friend that he was going to marry "that girl" even though they hadn't even met. Needless to say her father's friend thought he was crazy but a year later they married, went to Atlantic City for their honeymoon and had six children. We told Cecilia that we worked for Margaret W. Wong and Associates, an immigration law firm and she agreed with us that some immigration reform is needed.

Lastly, we spoke to a very young family with a cute little girl. The father told us that his ancestry had immigrated from Ireland many years ago but he couldn't recall for sure if it was his great or great-great grandparents who made the initial journey. At any rate, his own grandfather was there on this day and his father was expected shortly. Thus, his little daughter made it four generations of family represented here on this nicely warm summer day.


On Tuesday, July 7th, we made our monthly pilgrimage to the Happy Dog on Detroit Avenue for the monthly first Tuesday event, "Happy Dog Takes on the World" made possible by a collaboration between the Cleveland City Club, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, International Partners in Mission, and the Northeast Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies.

On this occasion the program was a very timely one titled, "What You Need to Know about the Iran Nuclear Deal" featuring Dr. Avidan Y. Cover, J.D., Assistant Professor of Law, Director of the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy at Case Western Reserve University; and Dr. Joshua Stacher, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Sciences at Kent State University. They were interviewed by Mr. Tony Ganzer, WCPN host/producer.

We sat with Ms. Patti Davis, Executive Director of HELP which provides educational opportunities to children in Africa. Ms. Davis said that perhaps 10 years ago Margaret W. Wong helped a friend of her former employer on an immigration matter.

Also at this gathering were Ms. Jessica Ice and a table full of people from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland as well as many of our friends from the City Club and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs.

As far as the presentation itself went, both of the panelists were of basic agreement that there were pros and cons about the pending agreement even though they both came down in favor of it.

As Dr. Stacher said, the Iran Nuclear Agreement created "a framework that enables diplomats to go into a room and talk" and because of it" more of these conversations will take place" which is very important considering that relations between the U.S. and Iran have been cold at best since the 1979 revolution. In fact, Dr. Cover pointed out that negotiations started as far back as 2003 between Iran, Great Britain, France and Germany but, unfortunately, the United States did not become involved until years later.

Dr. Stacher discussed the fact that Iran is a highly educated society which has the 29th largest economy in the world and by the lifting of certain sanctions, as the agreement calls for, the Iran economy will very much improve to the benefit of the average Iranian citizen (who is quite moderate and is anxious to be a consumer) and will, of course, help the countries who will trade with Iran.

Nevertheless, it was readily acknowledged that many reservations that have been expressed about the agreement were legitimate including verification that agreed upon conditions are being met and what would happen if Iran created a nuclear weapon. Moreover, as Dr. Cover said, there is a valid concern the agreement might pave the way for nuclear arms to be obtained by regimes in the Middle East even less stable than Iran. Dr. Cover said that it was definitely "a gamble" and President Obama will probably be "holding his nose" when he signs what is finally agreed upon.

An interesting question was asked about whether social media had a lot to do with the moderation of the Iranian citizens. Dr. Stacher said that he believed that social media was "great" but he doubted that it changed anyone's viewpoint. Instead he believed a more positive influence was the people who immigrated to the United States from Iran and continued to communicate with their friends and relatives in their native country.

This inspired us to look up some facts on foreign born Iranians living in the United States so we went to the website of the Migration Policy Institute and found out that:

  • 3 out of 5 Iranian immigrants are naturalized United States citizens.
  • The majority of the Iranian born has a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • More than half of the Iranian immigrant population are employed in management, professional and related occupations.
  • The self-employment rate for foreign born Iranians was almost double the rate for the total foreign born population.

From we heard at this program, we doubted if the Iran Nuclear Deal would have any immediate effect on Iranians immigrating to the United States and neither Dr. Stacher nor Dr. Cover believed that it would either.

Yet one never knows what might happen if the Iran economy improves along with diplomatic relations and trade practices change. We will have to wait and see.


On Wednesday, July 8th, we attended a fundraiser for Western Reserve Counseling Services (WRCS) located in Painesville, Ohio. It's mission is to "help clients improve their lives by learning to respect, trust, and work with others; to assume responsibility for their decisions/actions; and to better cope with their needs and emotions using proven, learned techniques."

WRCS receives funding from the United Way of Lake County and the Lake ADAMHS Board and the fees that the clients pay are figured on a sliding scale according to their income. Our friend Pastor Jeff Sivyer of the Grove Church, who sits on the board, told us that this nonprofit agency offers a very diverse blend of counseling services addressing such issues as anxiety, depression, grief/loss, trauma, divorce, stress, anger management and domestic violence. He was very glad that Mr. Mark Ruth; who used to work with Big Brothers, Big Sisters; is the new executive director because he believes that Mr. Ruth is an innovator who will do a lot for the organization.

We spent a while talking with Ms. Ana Dumett who works with Catholic Charities in the Hispanic Services section and also sits on the WCRS board. We both agreed that confidences between a therapist and his/her client should not be entrusted to a child or a neighbor trying to translate for them so WRCS makes a special effort to provide special "mental health interpreters" for those struggling with English. Plus people can come for counseling at WCRS without fear that their immigration status will be reported to the authorities. Ms. Dumett told us that she had heard Ms. Margaret W. Wong speak at the Cleveland Clinic and was very impressed by her. As it turned out, we both are good friends with Mr. Luis Gomez formerly of the Kucinich office and we both tabled at the Hispanic Leadership Conference at Lorain Community College last April.

Dignitaries at the WRCS fundraiser were Judge Colleen A. Falkowski, Domestic Relations Court of Lake County; Judge Mark J. Bartolotta, Lake County Probate Court; and Lake County Commissioners Judy Moran and Kevin Malecek. There were also people there that we knew from both the Painesville and Mentor Chambers of Commerce.

Attendees could enjoy appetizers, Wii Bowling, and chair massages offered by Bella Donna Salon and Spa. They could also make friends with Parker, the small but adorable therapy dog.

We left the WRCS fundraiser in time to drive back to Euclid to attend a farewell tribute for Slovenian Consul General Jurček Žmauc at the National Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame on East 222nd Street. Mr. Zmauc first came to Cleveland in 2009 and ordinarily would have stayed only four years but in his case, an extension was granted so he has thankfully been with us for six years all told.

Except for the honorary consuls, the Consulate General of the Republic of Slovenia in Cleveland is the only diplomatic/consular representation in Ohio and his jurisdiction covers the additional states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, and Colorado.

Mr. Žmauc loved his job and told us that a person in his position wouldn't achieve much by sitting in his office so he loved to go out and attend all kinds of events throughout his jurisdiction so that he would get to know people of all ethnic backgrounds and they would get to know him.

It was entirely appropriate when Ms. Marie Pevic lead a chorus of songsters in the singing a polka song in Slovenian to Mr. Žmauc that had the words, "I'm a Happy Guy" as part of its title.

As far as assisting Slovenians in the United States, Mr. Žmauc told us that he loved documenting their stories to share with those back home in Slovenia because he firmly believed that these expatriates are part of Slovenia's history. He didn't like it when "intellectuals" from Slovenia would come to Cleveland for a short time to study/continue their education and and then return home ASAP without even attempting to get to know the local Slovenian population.

We asked our friend, Mr. August Pust what it was that made Mr. Zmauc so special and he replied that Mr. Žmauc was truly on top of things and saw that business, diplomacy and the community were all interconnected. Plus, Mr. Zmauc brought his wife Janja, who was there this evening also, and his two children here with him and thus established a positive image of himself as a family person who people could relate to and wanted to work with. For instance, one person told us that years ago he was planning a trip to Slovenia and wanted to connect with his cousin who happened to be the prime minister of Slovenia at the time so Mr. Žmauc stepped in and arranged a meeting.

This gathering at the Polka Hall of Fame was organized by board member Ms. Jeannie Somrak and its president, Mr. Joe Valencic, conducted the ceremonies during which he noted that Margaret W. Wong and Associates sent a representative.

We asked Mr. Žmauc what he thought of the immigration policy between Slovenia and the United States. He replied, only half-jokingly, he would love to pack up in his luggage a lot of the Cleveland Slovenians that he knew and take them back with to Slovenia with him because he believed that their contribution to his native land would be invaluable.


On Thursday, July 9th, we attended a "Cocktails and Connections" networking event that the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) put on in the Vaults at the 9 on East 9th Street in Cleveland.

Since we knew quite a few of the people who were there, we decided to devote our time to having conversations with just a few people to try to get to know them better. We were surprised to encounter Mr. Thomas Chubb who also belongs to the Mentor Chamber of Commerce. In fact, we saw him just last week at coffee contacts held at The Brew Mentor in Mentor.

Quite a few of the people that we encountered at the 9, were involved in small businesses that were devoted to helping other businesses with their hi-tech problems. Thus, we talked to Mr. Brandyn Armstrong, a young man from East Cleveland who is going to CSU part time as he develops his own small business. Both Lisa Mullins from COSE and ourselves were quite impressed by Mr. Armstrong who was ready with his own business cards which show him as the CEO/Founder of his company named Studio Stick. Mr. Armstrong has a dream and he is working with organizations like Jumpstart to make it a reality.

We made an interesting connection with Mr. Bob Pacanovsky from the Vation Group where, among his tasks, he does training/speaking on professional branding, etiquette and corporate culture. He is from Akron and plans to do some work with the International Center because he wants to learn about different cultures and help people who have recently immigrated to the United States understand our culture.

Along these lines we met a man named Nate who just arrived in Cleveland about a month ago from Florida. Nate was full of information about southern Florida specifically how it is composed of many ethnic groups like Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, Chinese and Venezuelans. According to him it is one big melting pot and each group is very proud of their ethnic roots. When Nate heard that we worked for Margaret W. Wong and Associates he said if he still lived there he could have given us a new referral every day. He even suggested we open an office there. That is something we might have to think about for a while but we will think about it.

Lastly we met Mr. Dennis J. Roche who now works for Dorsey and Company which does strategic management consulting. He is an old friend of Ms. Margaret W. Wong and said to say hello to her. In fact, he said that Ms. Wong was "a doll."


 

We left the 9 and headed over to the Turkish Cultural Center in Lakewood for participate in the Iftar Dinner taking place there which was organized by our friend, Mr. Murat Gurer.

At least 50 people were there including Rabbi Enid Lader from Beth Israel-the West Temple and her husband, Harry.

We shared a table with Dr. Abed el-Rahman Tayyara, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies in the Department of Modern Languages, at Cleveland State University, and his wife, Laura. When we mentioned that we were from Margaret W. Wong and Associates, Dr. Tayyara recalled going to our office for some help several years back. Dr. Tayyara is a Palestinian and a citizen of Israel who first came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar and decided he would like to live here. There were some entanglements with both the Israeli and the United States governments that were ultimately worked out and today he has his Green Card.

After dinner, Mr. Gurer conducted a brief program in which he showed a preview of a documentary about M. Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim Scholar who is famous for his pro-democracy, pro-science, pro-dialogue and anti-violence positions and has served as Honorary President of the Niagara Foundation since 2004. The documentary about him will be shown at the Lakewood Library on August 6th and we plan to attend if possible.

Then Mr. Gurer posed the question to all of us: "Who was the first United States President to have an Iftar dinner at the White House during the month of Ramadan?" A young college student and aspiring attorney named Andrew provided the correct answer which was President Thomas Jefferson in 1805.

Next Mr. Gurer shared the microphone with several people who wanted to talk about their experiences concerning this gathering.

Dr. Asim Datta said that he had been coming to the Turkish Cultural Center for years and this was one of the most welcoming communities that he has visited.

Mr. Pierre Bejjani thanked Mr. Gurer for having putting on these events here and then spoke about how proud he was to be see the Muslim people promote faith and community the way that they were doing on this occasion.

Mr. Joe Meissner said that he liked this evening because the food was wonderful; M. Fethullah Gulen (who hardly any of his friends have heard of due to improper media coverage) was recognized and is getting the attention that he deserves; and he can't wait to travel with Mr. Gurer to Turkey in just a few days and actually see Gallipoli because he has been studying the WWI battle that took place there.

Lastly, we got up and seconded all that had been said and talked about how much we love coming here for the diversity of the fellowship and how much we appreciate the many delicious vegetarian options are made available for us at meal time.

And everyone who had something to say got a round of applause.


Our first event for Friday, July 10th, involved going to the Center for Families and Children at 8 AM for a "Coffee Chat with RNC Organizers" put on by this organization as well as the Center for Community Solutions and United Way of Greater Cleveland.At least 60 people attended, most of whom were from health and human resource organizations. Mr. Dave Gilbert, President and CEO of the Cleveland Host Committee for the Republican National Convention divided his time equally between talking about what is/what will be taking place regarding the convention which will take place in July of 2016 and answering questions.

Among the things that Mr. Gilbert said were:

  • When planning for a big event such as this, don't minimize the amount of work that it will take to bring it off. We must plan realistically for what we know will be needed (i.e. 5,000 to 6,000 volunteers) but also for "reacting to things that might go wrong."
  • "I run nonprofits which focus on bringing people here to enhance Cleveland economically so if we do this right the RNC will be a big boost for all of us."
  • "In all of the things I've been involved with never before have I been involved in a process so intense but also so enjoyable. Many sectors have come together on this and are working hand in hand."
  • About $200 to $250 million will be spent here because of the convention. Some sectors will benefit more than others in the short run but the community as a whole will really benefit in the long run. This could pave the way for other conventions to take place here. Remember that by having this convention here, Cleveland is making history; also it has been 80 years since the last time a convention took place in this city.
  • It will not be as congested as one might think. People have to learn that during convention week they don't have to "run for the hills to get out of town" because downtown will probably be less congested than it is during a CAVS game.
  • If we only look back and say, "what a cool week it was" then we have failed but if we look back and point to the things that came out of hanging the convention here, then it was a success.
  • The nonpartisan host committee gets the community ready for the convention but the partisan "committee on arrangements" actually runs the convention. Example: the host committee will secure the hotel rooms while the committee on arrangements decides who stays in them.

During the Q and A we asked Mr. Gilbert about presenting Cleveland as an international community. Mr. Gilbert agreed that that is the goal but the strategy is still under consideration. He said he has asked the advice of news outlets and was told that we must make the message of Cleveland relevant to whatever is making the headlines at the time.

Both before and after Mr. Gilbert's presentation we had two discussions about human trafficking with Ms. Karen Walsh, Director of the Collaborative to End Human Trafficking and Ms.Cathleen Lewandowski, Director of the School of Social Work at CSU. We all expressed optimism that the extra security/law enforcement measures that will be taken at the convention might help to bring this problem into focus and lead to more permanent measures to stop it.


On Friday, July 10th, we went to the Global Center for a City Club event, "Remarks by Janet Yellen" featuring Dr. Janet Yellen, Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Tickets for this event were sold out at least 10 days before it actually occurred and the entire ballroom of the Global Center was full. Among the attendees were U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and his wife Ms. Connie Schultz, Mr. Richard Pogue, Mr. Albert B. Ratner, and Ms. Beth Mooney. We were fortunate to be able to sit with Parma City Council President Sean Brennan, a high school government teacher who knows the rudiments of our economic system, and Ms. Jessica Ice, Financial Analyst with the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland who said that Dr. Yellen was a person and an official that she admired very much.

Ms. Loretta J. Mester, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, introduced Dr. Yellen by saying that working with her and seeing her in action was one of the "great privileges of my job."

Dr. Yellen started off by saying that "free and open communication" is a strong tenet of the Federal Reserve as well as the City Club. She then talked about the damage done by the 2007-2009 recession and how the economy is slowly recovering. She indicated that the recovery will be slow but continuous. Two areas where improvement is needed are unemployment (and she reviewed statistics that showed things are gradually getting better although the manufacturing sector took a big hit) and inflation which is just over 1% where 2% should be the goal. We learned that if inflation is too low wage increases are slow and the economy is weakened by the inability of people to pay off debts. She also said that business owners are being very cautious about investing their money at this point and, even though home sales are up, residential construction is slow.

During the Q and A, we asked Dr. Yellen about immigrant participation regarding community advisory councils which are expected to be formed shortly. Dr. Yellen replied that every effort will be made to include as wide a cross section of the populace as possible and any suggestions would be considered.

The point that Dr. Yellen really emphasized was that the policies of the Federal Reserve cannot, by themselves, significantly improve the economy. The most important factor is productivity growth which require knowledge and the "skills of capital equipment." Thus we need policies that encourage education, training, entrepreneurship, capital investment in order to improve living standards in the United States.


We saw Mr. Malecek again early Saturday morning when we both took part in the "Freedom Road Run" in Painesville Township for the benefit of Project Hope for the Homeless.

The difference was that Mr. Malecek and Mr. Michael Manary, Painesville Administrator, took part in the 5K run whereas we chose to take in easy in the 1 mile walk. Ms. Judy Burr, Executive Director of Project Hope, said that over 100 people participated and it was a 50/50 split between runners and walkers.

We enjoyed the wake-up-in-the-morning exercise and it was a pleasure to walk with Pastor Tom Derevjanik and other members of the Lakeview Bible Church which meets every Sunday morning in the Mentor Senior Center.

After the run/walk, we all gathered back at Project Hope for some golden bananas and cool, crisp watermelon.

Ms. Stephanie Dever, Communications Coordinator, told us that the funds raised today will go towards maintaining existing services as well as expansion; it is their goal to increase the number of beds from 35 to 50. Ms. Burr shared that Project Hope has fed 180 people through the end of June and expects that by the end of the year that number will rise to 400.

It was really touching when the top two finishers of the 5K in both the women and the men's division were awarded with small, nicely framed paintings created by the children of the families assisted by Project Hope and the recipients couldn't have been more happier if they had been awarded golden trophies.

Out & Aboutimwong