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Women of Excellence

On Tuesday, March 24th, we attended an Executive Caterers Corporate Club luncheon highlighting "Women of Excellence" attended by about 300 people. Among the people that we spoke to were Ms. Donese Harris, a counselor from Collinwood High School who really appreciated the work that Margaret W. Wong and Associates does. Ms. Harris told about her recent experiences helping young women who had immigrated to the United States from Somalia assimilate into the U.S. high school environment.

Ms. Shilpi Biswas from GE Lighting told us that she was very aware of the work that Ms. Wong does by way of assisting people who have immigrated to the United States from India.

Ms. Carol Sanderson, CFO at Herschman Architects, Inc. said that Ms. Margaret W. Wong was "one of the most dynamic women in Cleveland."

We shared a table with Ms. Alysse Dalessandro, the daughter of our good friend Ms. Gina Dalessandro from Plexus. Ms. Dalessandro, a designer for the apparel company Ready-To-Stare, was there with her friend, Ms. Kristen Strickhouser, the Catering Manager of the Holiday Inn of Independence where we often attend events. Also at our table, sitting next to us was Ms. Amy Gladieux, Director of Ticket Sales for the Lake County Captains which we enjoyed discussing with her.

This luncheon's panel discussion consisted of Ms. Maryrose Sylvester, President and CEO of GE Lighting; Ms. Margaret Mitchell, President and CEO of the YWCA of Greater Cleveland; and Ms. Robyn Minter Smyers, Cleveland Office Partner In Charge of Thompson Hine, LLP being interviewed by Ms. Stefani Schaefer of Fox8 News. Ms. Schaefer told us prior to the start of the discussion that we "will feel inspired by these extraordinary women" all mothers of at least three children who balance their career and motherhood."

The panelists went on to talk about such things their beginnings, what it is like being a woman in the corporate world of today, their support networks, who inspired them, and what advice they had to give others; and, since they all had supportive parents, what advice they had to give to parents.

Along these lines, Ms. Smyers said that everyone should have the experience of working for a founder of a company/organization; in her case it was Ms. Julie Sandorf who founded the Corporation for Supportive Housing in South Africa because she saw "a need and took off with it." When asked about the qualities that parents should impart to their children, she talked about how she recently took her daughters to see the new version of "Cinderella" and was impressed by its message to "have courage and be kind."

Ms. Sylvester said GE provided her with such excellent role models as Ms. Beth Comstock and Ms. Charlene Begley and she tries to pay this forward by being actively involved in the GE Stem program for young students. On a more humorous note, she smiled as she talked about how her young daughters were so used to meeting important leaders who were women that when they took a tour of GE Lighting they turned to their mother and asked, "you mean they let men work at GE?"

Ms. Mitchell acknowledged that women still have a tougher time advancing in the business world than men do but believes that this will grow easier as generations go by. She said that the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan was an inspiration to her because when Ms. Mitchell was younger she heard the congresswoman speak in person and found her to be "very captivating." Ms. Mitchell talked about how depressing it was for her when a company that she loved working for was sold and she was faced with having to find a new environment after working so hard. She ultimately pulled herself together, though, and told herself, "I don't do crazy" and was able to turn this misfortune around and use it for personal growth. Subsequently, today she is very happy with her position at the YWCA.

After listening to what these three women of power and stature had to say, we believe that one of the things that bound them together was wanting to be in a position where they could make a difference. We talked to Mr. Nick Borelli of Colortone Staging and Rentals and we came to the conclusion that this program was certainly of value to men as well as to women.

Agreeing with us was Mr. Harlan Diamond, the CEO of Executive Caterers who got up to say a few words at the end of the program. Mr. Diamond received a round of applause but he said that the applause should be reserved for these ladies on the panel. He urged the attendees to check out a recent article in the "Plain Dealer" that maintained that "when there are more women at the top, a business sees greater profits." Mr. Diamond concluded by saying that Executive Caterers was built by women and "I went along for the ride."

On Tuesday night we decided to go to the Cleveland Film Festival because it was showing an Austrian film titled "Macondo" that was being promoted by Global Ties Akron, the International Center at CWRU, and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs.

"Macondo" refers to the squalid factory based, multicultural area of Vienna where the story takes place. The center of the story is an 11 year old, Muslim boy named Ramasan who is living in a public housing structure with his mother and two younger sisters all of whom were forced to flee Chechnya after his father was killed in the war. We follow Ramasan as he tries to help his mother run the household and set a good example for his younger sisters. At one point he is drawn into criminal activity due to the peer pressure of his friends and the apparent lack of other opportunities to better his life. Throughout the film, he is at odds with a kindly man, also a refugee from Chechnya, who takes an interest in his mother and tries to befriend him because Ramasan feels that his position as the man of the house is being threatened.

Even though this is a Austrian film that deals with Chechnya refugees, a lot of it holds true for what is currently happening in the United States like a scene where an immigration counselor interviews the mother (whose grasp of the German language is not too good) with Ramasan having to translate the way children often have to do for their immigrant parents here in the United States. During the course of the interview, another familiar note was struck when the counselor presses the mother for a copy of her late husband's death certificate which she does not have and cannot obtain without endangering their relatives back home.

We urge people to give this stark but moving film a view should it receive a theatrical release (most likely at the Cedar Lee) or it becomes available on the cable channels.

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