Coffee and Conversation, Fiesta of Hope, Lorain International Festival

The events of Friday, June 27th, took us from the basement of the IdeaCenter on Euclid to the luxury of the Renaissance Hotel in Public Square and, finally, to Black Water Landing in Lorain.
Our first event was a “Coffee and Conversation” put on by the Foundation Center featuring two representatives from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland who were Ms. Erin McIntyre, Program Officer, and Ms. Teleange Thomas, Program Director for Health.

Ms. McIntyre and Ms. Thomas talked for a while about their foundation, its history, and its grant making process. The mission statement of the Sisters of Charity is that it “works to improve the lives of those most in need with special attention to families, women and children living in poverty, working to end homelessness and reduce health and educational disparities in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood.”

It accomplishes this largely through the awarding of grants to various nonprofits such as Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, College Now Greater Cleveland, Children’s Hunger Alliance and Building Healthy Communities to name but a few. Ms. McIntyre said that they view their grantees as their partners and that “we are all pieces of a pie”.

While we were there we spoke with Ms. Sonya Patel of Zenworks Yoga who is the niece of our good friend Suresh Bafna. We also spoke to Ms. Roslyn Chao, who works with the Mercy Foundation of Lorain County who knows Margaret W. Wong through once being a student at CWRU and once joined other students to visit our office.

It certainly sounds indeed like the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is a very conscientious organization that has supported organizations, through its grant program, who have done meaningful things and we applaud them for it.

After the “Coffee and Conversation” ended we walked over to the Renaissance Hotel to attend the annual “Fiesta of Hope” luncheon put on by Esperanza, Inc. to honor their 103 scholarship recipients this year which is an increase from the 80 honorees last year.

Mr. Victor Ruiz, the Executive Director, told the attendees that this annual luncheon is one of his “favorite days of the year” and that the students being honored are “the very best that this community has to offer”.

Esperanza, Inc. is Ohio’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and advancement of Hispanic education achievement. Its mission statement reads that its goal is to “improve the academic achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland by supporting students to graduate high school and promoting post secondary educational attainment” and it will accomplish this “through proven, measurable programs and passionate staff and leadership.” And from everything we saw here today, Esperanza, Inc. is very successful and growing more so.

According to several speakers, including Mr. Andrew Connors, the Board President, over the past four years it has tripled the number of students that it has worked with and more parents have gotten involved in the process and the end result is that the GPA, attendance, and the graduation rate for these students have gone up.

Today’s keynote speaker was Ms. Alejandra Ceja who is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and is, herself, the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States from Mexico. She started her speech by asking all of the parents of today’s honorees to stand up and be recognized for all of their hard work and support. She went on to say that education is “the civil rights issue of this generation” and is the “key to economic growth”. She concluded her speech by urging the honorees to pursue their passions and strive to exceed the expectations place upon them; help to open the door for other to follow in their footsteps; and to never give up.

But no doubt the most poignant moments of this program were the “student presentations” of three of the honorees:

The first was by a woman named Maria (who was one of the older people being honored) who was urged by her ten year old grandson to return to school. She turned to Esperanza, Inc. who helped her learn how to use a computer and guided her academically so, as of now, Maria is on her way to becoming a chef of Spanish cuisine.

The second was by a young man named Edward who was not very sociable, having problems with his family, and not doing well academically before he turned to Esperanza, Inc. who set him up with a mentor who worked with him and helped him to ultimately be accepted by a program of the Cleveland Institute of the Arts. In retrospect, Edward says that he used to be afraid of both failure and success and now believes that “when you fall you get back up again and overcome pain…you need failure in order to succeed.”

The third was by a young woman named Guadalupe whose parents, like Ms. Ceja’s, immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Both of her parents instilled in her the value of hard work but after they split life grew harder for Guadalupe, her mother and her brothers and sisters. Subsequently, she decided to “take her education into her own hands” and turned to Esperanza, Inc. who helped her enroll in some college classes. Today Guadalupe is headed for Columbia University and wants to eventually work for a non-profit. Moreover, she wants to help other students the way that Esperanza helped her.

We either visited with or said hello to a lot of people here today like Mr. Alex Machaskee; Mr. Jose C. Feliciano; Mr. George T. Richard, Assistant Vice President/Director of University Relations with Baldwin Wallace University; Mr. Victor Ruiz, Ms. Marcia Moreno, Mr. Jesus Sanchez and Mr. Andrew Connors, all from Esperanza, Inc.; Ms. Diana Greenberg of DBG, PR who offered to help us fill in the gaps on our notes for this program; Mr. Jerry Skoch who used to work with Ms. Wong “during my days as an attorney” but now works for St. Ignatius High School from where Ms. Wong’s nephew Vincent graduated just a few weeks ago.

As we left we thought about about something that Ms. Alejandra Ceja said to the honorees during her speech which was “do not limit your dreams but work to make them happen. You will be knocked down more than once but keep on going you are lifting your family and your community up by doing so.”

We look forward to attending this luncheon next year when, as it states on the back of the 2014 program booklet, our good friend Mr. Jose C. Feliciano will be honored for his commitment to Esperanza, Inc. and Greater Cleveland.

Our last outing for today was the 48th Annual Lorain International Festival so off to Lorain we drove for the opening ceremonies which were very impressive because one couldn’t help but be aware that a conscious effort had been made to include people of all nationalities and ethnic groups.

First, everyone sang the United States National Anthem. Then the Polish National Anthem was sung as Poland was the country the festival was highlighting in this particular year.

During their speeches both Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and Mr. Don Nickerson, President of the Lorain International Committee called for solidarity in the Lorain community and expressed hope that “we will always respect each other’s heritage.”

The opening prayer was given by Father Gerald Keller who said, “Good and Loving God, you have blessed our community with people who have come here from many nations.”

This was particularly apparent when the Festival Queen and the other princesses were introduced because they were all young women who represented such countries and/or ethnic groups as Mexico, Hungary, African American, Poland, Puerto Rico, Native American, Slovenia and Finland.

We walked around for a while and enjoyed mostly looking at mouthwatering international food that couldn’t help but be delectable. We spoke to a person from Greece who had family members there that he would like to help to immigrate to the United States but he thought the process would be too daunting. We also spoke to people at the Vietnamese food booth who knew our very good friends Mr. Joseph Meissner and Ms. Gia Hoa Ryan.

What we especially liked, though, was visiting with Father Keller who is the former pastor of St. Adalbert Church in Berea, Ohio. Many years ago he worked with Ms. Wong to help his cousin immigrate to the United States from Poland. Father Keller was a delightful man and we hope we see him again soon.

We look forward to going back to the Lorain International Festival next year.