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Philanthropia; Brooklyn the Movie; Solon Chamber; Cleveland Cultural Gardens; British-, French-, Netherlands-, & Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce; CAMEO (Cleveland American Middle Eastern Organization); MBE/Urban Professsionals Awards

On December 7th, we went to Executive Caterers at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights for the annual "Philantrophia" luncheon which this year raised $133,844 for 112 nonprofits from all over the Cleveland/Northeast Ohio area. Mr. Harlan Diamond, CEO of Executive Caterers, originated this event after the 9/11 tragedy which resulted in most of the money that people would ordinary give to nonprofits and charities in this area going to help those in New York. Mr. Diamond thus established this luncheon wherein the price of admission would be a $75 or more check made payable to the 501(c)(3) of one's choice in the proximity of Cleveland.

Mr. Diamond spoke for a few minutes today about the success of this annual event as did key supporters like Mr. Damon Frangos of the Frangos Group and Mr. Michael Walker from the Partnership for a Safer Cleveland. Mr. Leon Bibb from Channel 5 served as emcee and Father Bob Stec from St. Ambrose Church in New Brunswick lead us in prayer.

On this day, we chose to support PFLAG Cleveland (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) so we shared a table with our friends Ms. Sharon Groh-Wargo, Ms. Jane Daroff, Mr. Art Thomson, Dr. Jes Sellers, Mr. Tom Roese, Ms. Kavita Sherman, Ms. Ruth Fonoroff, and Ms. Denise Webb.

During the raffle our friend Ms. Mona Alag got to talk about the good works of Project Seva and Rabbi Matt Eisenberg from the Temple Israel Ner Tamid (the father of Mr. Teddy Eisenberg from the City Club) told us about his congregation makes sandwiches for those in need each Friday night after the worship service.

We made several new friends here like Ms. Annette Stocker whose business, Joey's Italian Grill, is part of the soon-to-be Painesville/Madison-Perry Chamber of Commerce; Mr. Clark Fitzgibbons, Chairman of the Board of the Cleveland YMCA; and Dr. Hans Nagpaul, a retired sociology professor who immigrated to the United States from India in 1965 and taught at CSU for many years. In fact, two of his former students were former U.S. Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich and his brother, Mr. Gary Kucinich. He recalled meeting Ms. Margaret W. Wong years ago when she hosted an event for former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell.

Entertainment was provided by the Singing Angels as we were walking in to lunch and as the program concluded. But during the luncheon, a musical group named "Humble G Tha Fiddla" lead by fiddler/violinist Mr. Myles Smith performed some musical numbers that were so lively that several people from the PFLAG table were inspired to get up and dance (including ourselves).

We had been hearing a lot of good things about the new movie, "Brooklyn" so we decided to go to the Cedar Lee and check it out. "Brooklyn" is set in the early 1950's and tells the story of a young Irish woman named Eilis from County Wexford who immigrates to the United States at the bequest of her sister because her opportunities in her native land are quite limited at the time.

Eilis's subsequent adventures should probably be familiar to other immigrants settling in a new land both then and now. For instance, on the ship crossing the Atlantic she is mentored by another person who has made this journey before who instructs her to eat as little as possible (due to the strong potential for motion sickness) and how to negotiate the use of the bathroom in cramped quarters. After Eilis arrives in Ellis Island she is told to "act like an American" and behave "like you know where you're going" and not to cough under any circumstances to avoid internment.

Eilis obtains a room in a boarding house for women and a job as a sales clerk at an expensive department store. With the help of a friendly local priest, she enrolls in Brooklyn College for bookkeeping courses. Of course, she is very homesick but as she is told "homesick makes you feel bad but moves on to someone else." In time, Eilis grows more accustomed to the American way of life and becomes romantically involved with a young Italian man named Tony.

Due to family tragedy, Eilis is forced to return to Ireland for what she believes will be a brief visit but the bookkeeping certificate that she earned in the United States opens the door to a good employment opportunity and a man from a fairly well-to-do family takes an interest in her. She is thus torn between remaining in Ireland or returning to the life that she had worked so hard to establish for herself in the United States.

We found "Brooklyn" to be a charming film that both entertained us and has something to say about the immigrant experience. The character of Eilis is played by Irish actress Ms. Saoirse Ronan who does a terrific job and will probably receive a well-earned Academy nomination for her performance. Filmgoers might remember her for her work in such films as "Atonement" and "The Lovely Bones."

We especially liked a scene where Eilis has volunteered to help out at a Christmas meal for destitute men at the local church. Her friend, Father Flood explains to her that these men (most of them older) had immigrated to Brooklyn from Ireland and were once laborers creating the New York infrastructure but such work is no longer needed so they have little to do. When Eilis asks him why don't they return to Ireland, Father Flood sadly replies that many of them have been here for 50 years and know no other life now and there is nothing for them to return to.

Nevertheless, the film ultimately ends on a positive note as Eilis now has the chance to pay it forward and mentor another young Irish woman on her way to the United States for the first time. Eilis tells her that for quite a while she will be homesick, just as she was, but it will pass and some day she will suddenly just start thinking of this new place as her home; just give it time.

On Tuesday, December 8th, our first event was the holiday luncheon of the Solon Chamber of Commerce which was held at the Bertram Inn on Aurora Blvd.

We met several people that we hadn't met before such as Mr. Thomas Wade, Ms. Maureen McChrystal, and Ms. Deanna Sivillo who all work at MotionSource, an international company located in Solon specializing in industrial lubricants. They do a lot of business in England and Dubai and were pleased to take our contact information.

Along these lines, a person at our table asked for our business card because he knows a college student from Serbia who would like to remain in the United States.

We also talked to Mr. Arkady Polinkovsky, a young engineer who immigrated to the United States from Moldova with his family in 1991 when he was seven years old. They were helped through the immigration process by Mr. Abraham Kay who has done a lot to help people in similiar situations. We asked Mr. Polinkovsky if learning English was a problem and he smiled and said that four languages were spoken at home. We talked for a few minutes about how knowing one language is often a bridge to learning another language. For example, Mr. Polinkovsky knew Spanish so when he visited friends in Portugal it didn't take too long for him to be able to make himself understood.

The highlight of the luncheon was a visit from the Solon High School Madrigals under the director of Mr. Gary Lewis. We learned that many people have performed with the Madrigals over its 30 year history. To be sure, the young singers had quite a day which started at 6:15am when they boarded a bus to travel to Fox 8 News where they performed before they left to go to a senior citizen's center in Solon. After they left us, they were scheduled to sing at another senior center in Garfield Heights.

The Madrigals helped us get into the holiday spirit (common agreement is that the warm weather is welcomed but it doesn't feel much like Christmas) as they beautifully sang some Christmas songs as well as a medley of Hanukkah songs. We especially liked their rendition of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

On Tuesday night we attended the annual Cleveland Cultural Gardens (CCG) holiday party organized by our friend Mr. Pierre Bejjani at Kan Zaman restaurant on West 25th Street. Mr. Bejjani chose this location because it is the only restaurant in Cleveland that faithfully represents the Arabic culture thanks to the efforts of Mr. Wael Ayyad, its owner.

An important topic of discussion at this event was how 2016 is expected to be a watershed year for the CCG which will be celebrating its one hundred year anniversary. Mr. Sheila Crawford, President of the CCG, told us that there will be a gala celebration in April and a big One World Day in August. What's more, many of the individual gardens are planning events.

Moreover there are a few gardens in the works to be created in 2016 including the African-American Garden and those representing the countries of Lebanon, Mexico, Russia, Ethiopia, Turkey, and Vietnam.

Plus, the Peace Garden of the Nations will be renovated. We discussed the plans for this with Ms. Jen Batton who told us that the basic design will remain intact and the stone works will undergo repairs but there are exciting plans for the landscaping. Ms. Batton is very pleased to have secured the services of an architect working pro bona and Mr. Jim Funai of the Tri-C Horticulture Department is helping tremendously. She is also thankful to the students of Montessori High School of Cleveland who come over each week to help clean and maintain the Garden.

Along these lines, our friend Ms. Mari Galindo-Da Silva and Ms. Angelica Gassman told us about what to expect from the upcoming Mexican Garden which is important because Mexicans are now the largest minority in the United States. Ms. Galindo-Da Silva said that there are 62 different dialects in Mexico and she wants the Garden to reflect this diversity. Accordingly, the Garden will be modeled after the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco initially created by the Aztecs. Ms. Galindo Da-Silva and Ms. Gassman told us that the plans for all of this have been created and only have to be approved by the appropriate CCG committee. Then construction should begin.

Throughout the evening we mingled with people we knew who were associated with the various Gardens as well as being associated with such groups as CAMEO, St. Elias Church, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs and the Turkish Cultural Center. We were entertained by members of the Ajyal Dabke Group of Middle Eastern dancers and a young female belly dancer who performed with stunning grace.

Towards the end of the evening, Dr. Anthony Yen of the Confucius Institute announced that starting next year he would no longer be in charge of the Chinese Cultural Gardens and that Mr. Eddie Ni, an international businessperson, will be assuming that role. Earlier in the evening we had spoken with Mr. Ni who told us that he has known Ms. Margaret W. Wong for 15 years and just last week sat next to her on a flight from New York to Cleveland.

Before he began his opening prayer, Father Naim Khalil said that he hoped that all humanity would lay aside their individual differences, come together as a family, and use the special talents of individuals to help the greater whole. We think that what is going on at the Cleveland Cultural Gardens is an outstanding example of how this can work. Moreover, as Ms. Sheila Crawford, reminded us, the mission of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens is "peace through mutual understanding."

On Wednesday, December 9th, we went to the 6th Annual Joint International Christmas Luncheon of the British-American, French-American, Netherlands-American, and Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce which was held at the 100th Bomb Group Restaurant on Brookpark Road in Cleveland.

We shared a table with Professors Franklin Triplett, Anne Triplett, and Bertrand Landrey all from the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio. Professor Tripplett remembered that Ms. Margaret W. Wong once helped a fellow professor from Japan negotiate the immigration process and Professor Landrey told us that Mr. Francis Fungsang from Margaret W. Wong and Associates helped him obtain his green card.

In fact there were several people there who knew of our services like Mr. Dan Neubert of 1-888-Ohiocomp, Inc. who said that Ms. Margaret W. Wong helped his son's in-laws when they immigrated here from Turkey. Ms. Anne Lukas remembered working with Ms. Wong about 10 years ago when she ran the paralegal department at Notre Dame College. She said that the work that Ms. Wong did had special meaning for her because her parents immigrated to the United States from Poland to escape the holocaust.

Mr. Cedric Le Rouge was glad to take our contact information because he had just started an international business. Mr. Le Rouge talked to us for a few minutes about how he first came to the United States from France in 2000 on a G1 visa. It took him a while to properly work through the various channels of immigration but he was very proud to say that he became a United States citizen in 2012 and did things the right way and we too are proud of him for this.

The speaker for the day was Mr. Lute Harmon, Sr., Founder and Publisher of "Cleveland Magazine." Mr. Harmon contended that a good title for his talk would be "Every 20 Years the Place Goes Crazy" which is the story of Cleveland from his perspective.

He talked about how the years 1976-1996 produced some great things like Key Tower, the Galleria, the Rock Hall, Jacob's Field and the Great Lakes Science Center thanks to the public sector/private sector partnership established by Mayor George Voinovich and carried forward by his successors.

Mr. Harmon considered the years 1996-2016 to be build-up years in which world-class institutions in the fields of health, education, recreation, and the arts became entrenched in our local culture.

He then predicted that 2017-2037 will be boom years/crazy years in which the goals that these institutions have strived for will be realized and/or come to fruition by way of a new partnership of public sector/private sector/nonprofit sector all working together. Mr. Harmon believed that the 2016 RNC will be the big kickoff point.

He concluded his presentation by reiterating his viewpoint involving the need for a healthy, vibrant community. "The better the community, the better you are," he said, "and the better you are the better the community is."

On Wednesday night we attended the 25th Annual CAMEO (Cleveland American Middle Eastern Organization) holiday party held at the Holiday Inn on Rockside Road in Independence.

About 70 people turned out and we were glad to say that some people who were not of Middle Eastern descent turned out to support their friends. For instance, Mr. Rafael Davila was there from the Hispanic community as was Dr. Asim Datta, the past president the Federation of India Community.

Several elected officials showed up too like Judge Colleen O'Toole (who came all the way from Lake County) and Cleveland County Councilpersons Yvonne Conwell, Chuck Germana, and Dale Miller. In addition, Ms. Josette Burns was there from the Office of Ohio's Secretary of State Jon Husted as was Ms. Anjanette Whitman, bailiff for former domestic court Judge Janet Rath Colaluca and Ms. Doris Durica from the Republican State Central Committee.

During his brief remarks, CAMEO President Pierre Bejjani acknowledged that we were present on behalf of Margaret W. Wong and Associates. He even let us set up a little information table for our office.

We talked to Judge Pauline Tarver and her bailiff, Mr. Michael Howell, who asked that we tell Ms. Wong that they were very sorry for missing our holiday party but Juge Tarver aunt had recently passed so there were family obligations at that time.

The evening was spent visiting with old and new friends and listening to some holiday music provided by Michael J. Sawczak, Jr. from "Mike Jr.'s Sound Services".

Of course, the topic of the Syrian refugees came up in conversations and we were impressed by the fact that there were different well-articulated opinions regarding this controversial topic. But, as Mr. Bejjani said, it is CAMEO's role to address issues affecting the local community of Northeast Ohio and no official stand is or will be taken on international issues. "That's how we stay in business," said Mr. Bejjani with a twinkle.

Before we went home Mr. Bejjani paid tribute to those who serve on the CAMEO board and/or were its officers like our friends Mr. Tony Abdulkarim, Mr. Fred Bourjaily, Mr. Joe Charif, Mr. Sam Tanious, Ms. Sara Elaqad (who works with us at Margaret W. Wong and Associates), Mr. Faris Alameh, and Mr. Bill Studney. We agree with Mr. Bejjani that all of these people worked together to make 2016 a successful year for CAMEO and we believe that 2016 will be just as good, if not better.

On Thursday, December 10th, we attended the 2015 MBE/Urban Professionals Awards presented by North Coast Minority Media, LLC and the Diversity Chamber, LLC (both under the leadership of Mr. Lou Acosta) held at the COSE Conference Center. These awards are given annually to individual entrepreneurs from the different ethnic communities of Cleveland. We are proud to say that Margaret W. Wong and Associates contributed to this event and in 2013 she was a recipient herself.

The individuals selected to receive the awards for this year were Ms. Pam Thomas, owner of the Christopher Amira Studio and co-founder of Change of Direction, a non-profit; Ms. Tracey A. Nichols, Director of Economic Development of the City of Cleveland; Mr. Kimberly Martinez-Giering, President/Owner of KLN Logistics Corp.; Mr. Seongchan Jeong, Chief Executive Manager of eBreze; Dr. Yazan Al-Madani, owner and founder of Buckeye Dental; Ms. Lucy Torres, Hispanic Liaison of the City of Cleveland; Ms. Lorraine Vega, Senior VP, Corporate Philanthropy, KeyBank Foundation at Large; and Mr. Sudarshan Sathe, who has been a civic and a business leader for years-amongst his accomplishments was the founding of New Concepts, Inc.

Awards were also presented to two institutions which were the Hampton Inn, a corporation, whose honor was accepted by Mr. Joseph Jones, Director of Sales, and to Project Seva, a nonprofit whose honor was accepted by Mr. Sanjay Garg, a committee member.

Due to prior commitments, Ms. Vega and Ms. Nichols could not attend the ceremony so their respective honors were accepted by Ms. Megan Allen, External Affairs Director at KeyBank and Ms. Robin Brown, Economic Development and Technology Manager of the City of Cleveland.

About 50 people attended this affair which was presided over by our friend, Ms. Rita Singh who said that those chosen to receive these awards were all leaders and a leader is one who makes others do better as a result of his/her presence and arranges things so that the positive impact of his/her tenure remains after he/she has departed.

Another good friend of ours Ms. Chia-Min Chen, City of Cleveland Community Relations Board Asian Liaison, put for a moment and said that the population loss that Cleveland has experienced is due to its native-born residents departing but this is being made up by the arrival of industrious and motivated immigrants. She stressed the importance of providing services to these newly arrived people in all the ways that we can because it will ultimately pay off for us all. Along these lines, Ms. Chen and Mr. Acosta are in the process of creating a very comprehensive diversity business directory.

In the program booklet for this event, Mr. Acosta included his essay, "A Nation of Immigrants and Entrepreneurs" which concluded by saying, "Today we thank those businesses and professional leaders who came to our country to build a better life and encourage the type of high-growth entrepreneurship that contributes to our long-term economic strength. We thank those who knew that a change must be made and a voice must be heard. We thanked those who created jobs, by helping others create businesses. We thank those who are contributing to our youth through the giving of sponsorships and scholarships, and we thank those today who are helping their communities by creating awareness, dissemination of information, and ongoing events that help businesses and organizations reach the people of their communities. They make the City of Cleveland, the County of Cuyahoga, and the State of Ohio a better place."

On Thursday night we went to the Quail Hollow Resort in Concord to attend the holiday celebration of the Painesville and Madison-Perry Chambers of Commerce.

The first thing that we noticed when we arrived were the unique, small granite coasters created for this event by Jim Belding Monuments in Madison. On each of the coasters was printed the message, "We rise together. Eastern Lake County Chamber of Commerce" indicating the new chamber that will be created when the two chambers are joined in January, 2015.

The closest thing that we had to a conversation about immigration on this occasion was one that we had with Ms. Chris Brille-Packard concerning Brody, her Kerry Blue Terrier who is a champion show dog having won the "Best in Show" award from a prominent dog show in Canfield, Ohio that was held this summer. Ms. Brille-Packard showed us Brody's picture and he was, indeed, a beautiful dog. His breed originated in Ireland and Kerry Blue Terriers are not too common in the United States. In fact, as Ms. Brille-Packard told us, only 400 puppies are born here annually.

During the course of the evening, Mr. David Komjati of KeyBank talked about how this event should be regarded as a "rehearsal dinner" regarding the "marriage" of the two chambers. He contended that the what would happen was a marriage because it signified two excellent organizations coming together as one. It was not a "merger" which signifies one organization assuming the identity of the other; the connotation being that one organization was weaker than the other. This part of the evening concluded with Mr. Nick Rhodes leading us in a toast as he said, "may our marriage live long and prosper!"

We did make several new contacts like Mr. Brint Learned of the Rabbit Run Community Arts Association and Mr. Matthew Swiger, Private Events Director for the Quail Hollow Country Club. We asked Mr. Swiger what his job entailed and he said that "I organize events like these" and we replied that "We go to events like these" and then WE toasted each other.

Out & Aboutimwong