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North Coast Chamber of Commerce Luncheon

On Wednesday, May 13th, we attended four events that were all quite different from each other in subject and tone but together they were a good representation of the "diverse" happenings that take place every day in the Cleveland area. Our first event was the monthly North Coast Chamber of Commerce luncheon held on this day at Fratello's Italian Restaurant on Electric Avenue in Avon Lake.

We hadn't been to an event for this chamber for almost two months so there were several new members there for us to introduce ourselves to. We spoke to a person named Andrej whose family had been forced to flee Slovakia many years ago back in the 1940's. He hadn't heard of Cleveland-Bratislava Sister Cities, Inc. so we told him about it and he said that he just might check it out. We also talked to a person named Tina whose mother had immigrated to the United States from Germany back in 1949 when she was only 18 years old. She might be going back for a visit with relatives soon.

Our speaker at this luncheon was Mr. Bob DiBasio, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for the Cleveland Indians. The first thing that he did was to acknowledge that the Tuesday night game was very "aggravating" but firmly believed that the team had some excellent talent but they still haven't learned how to maximize their combined potential at this time. Mr. DiBasio told some amusing stories about a couple of the young players and said that what he really wanted to do was to encourage people to come out the ballpark and enjoy the game and their facilities.

He was aware of how much young people like to visit with each other so he told us about a new $10 ticket that a person can purchase via computer that will enable them to go to the stadium bar and stand around and chat while watching the game from there. As for families, the club house has been upgraded so now there is a huge slide and all sorts of games that young children can play if they get bored with sitting.

We asked him if he had been to the "Chasing Dreams" exhibit at the Maltz Museum and he told us that he certainly had; in fact he was on the planning commission for it. What he found particular interesting was the notation on the large time line about a game that was played in 1926 between the Ku Klux Klan and the Hebrew All Stars of all people. He urged everyone to go to the Maltz Museum and see the "Chasing Dreams" exhibit which he said was really cool.

We liked it that the owner of Fratello's, Mr. Rob Heldorffer took a moment to welcome us and we were pleasantly taken back when we learned that the restaurant has been serving the community for 22 years because this is a really long time for a small business to be in operation. What we liked even more was when we won a dinner at Fratello's as a raffle prize because we thought the eggplant and spaghetti were excellent and we look forward to having such a meal again.

Next we went to the Thwing Ballroom at Case Western Reserve University for "Rebuilding Nepal: Fundraiser for the Earthquake Victims" put on by the Case Nepali Student Organization.

About 50 people of all ages attended which was quite good for an event that took place in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. Food was provided by Mr. Punjabi Dhaba of the Cleveland Tiffin who has known Ms. Margaret W. Wong for years. There were stories from people who had visited Nepal before the earthquake and some talks about health issues after the tragedy.

One talk that we really like was by Dr. Nancy K. Johnson, M.D. of the Women's Health Care Center, Inc. who knows our Ms. Rose Wong and her children. Dr. Johnson spoke of her 1983 climb of Mt. Everest which was 17,900 feet to the top. Dr. Johnson said that she could not have made it had it not been for the Nepali porters who did an excellent job as well as the Nepali villagers who made her party feel very welcome all along the way at every stop. After that wondrous experience, Dr. Johnson said that whenever she meets someone from Nepal she knows that she has found a friend. Subsequently, she urged us to give what we could to assist the Nepali people because, by helping them to help themselves, "we become the greatest country in the world."

The president of the Case Nepali Student Organization was doctoral student Tirth Raj Bhatta who gave a presentation about Nepal and the devastation caused by the earthquake. Nevertheless, he said a great deal of aid has been sent and he credited the volunteers from grassroots organizations who are working "tireless twelve hour days" to make things better.

Mr. Bhatta emphasized that all the money that would be raised at this fundraiser would go directly to the earthquake victims; therefore, every little bit counts and he urged the attendees not worry about giving too little because something that we think as non-valuable might have immense value to others. "It is always challenging to find hope amidst misery and suffering," he said, "but people like you give us hope."

Afterwards, we hurried over to the Ariel Center for a "Big Gig Challenge Bash" put on by One Community which is a "non-profit organization based in Cleveland that works to expand high speed broadband access and adoption to strengthen Northeast Ohio."

Among the people who spoke were our friend Ms. Radhika Reddy who talked about how the installation of fiber optics will help the Ariel Center do its work.

The goals of One Community are to improve government efficiency, enhance economic development, and to encourage innovation. Along these lines grants were rewarded to the Village of Glenwillow (government efficiency), the West 25th Corridor (economic development), and Lorain County Community College (innovations and programs).

One of the speakers was Mr. Charles Stack of FlashStarts who spoke of how the enhanced technology is enabling him to go forward with a project called Start Mart which will be based in Tower City and will function as an engine to encourage the creation of start up businesses in the region. We spoke to him for a moment afterwards and he told us that he had indeed heard of Ms. Margaret W. Wong. He went on to say that he hope to make globalization his focus for next year and that he had lobbied the U.S. Congress for the creation of "start up" visas.

Mr. Stack plans to have the "grand opening" of Start Mart in September, 2015 and all of the attendees of this event are invited. We certainly plan to go.

Our last event for the day was a forum arranged by Lakewood Alive! at the Lakewood Library to answer the question, "Is Equality Alive in Lakewood?" As the flyer stated it was "a conversation about the importance of equality and efforts to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals to our community."

The forum was introduced by Mr. Ian Andrews, Executive Director of Lakewood Alive! (which is, as Mr. Andrews said, a cross between an economic development and a community development organization) who asked if Lakewood is really the "LGBT capital of the world?" and if all groups were really treated fairly there.

The panel consisted of Ms. Michaela Hahn Burriss, Midwest Outreach Manager of Small Business Majority; Mr. Michael Daso, Financial Consultant with AXA Advisors; Ms. Alana Jochum, Northeast Ohio Director of Equality Ohio; Ms. Maureen Greeves, Lakewood resident and parent; and Michelle Tomallo, President and Co-Founder of Fit Technology and Executive Director of Plexus.

What we took from this discussion was that Lakewood was, for the most part, very culturally friendly towards the LGBT community. Policy wise, things were a bit behind, however. For example there are local laws that outlaw discrimination in housing and hate speech. In addition, in 2013 governmental benefits were extended to same-sex couples. There still were not protections involving the use of public accommodations and the firing of an employee because he/she might be LGBT. But present at this discussion were city council people Mr. Sam O'Leary and Ms. Cindy Marx who promised to keep pushing for these reforms.

Ms. Maureen Greeves said that she and her spouse, Kelly, have had a few issues with the written policies of the schools but find that the school personnel, themselves, are very open to hearing their side. For example, there was a father/daughter dance for young girls where the flyer advertising it said in very small letters in a hush-hush manner that the girls could bring men who were not actually their dads. Maureen and Kelly believed that it would have been a lot easier if the dance was simply re-named "Me and My Guy!" and we agree.

What really impressed us about the forum was the positive, upbeat mood of it. There was a genuine ambiance there that indicated that even though Lakewood may have a few rough edges it was still a wonderful place to live and the changes that need to be made will be forthcoming. It was definitely a "glass is at least half full and rising" kind of feeling.

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