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Heartland Latino Leadership Conference Features Dynamic Speakers for Networking, Motivational, Recognition Events

November 24, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Each year the Who’s-Who of Latino Omaha gather for the Heartland Latino Leadership Conference and as I’ve done the last few years I wrote an advance piece about the event and some of its keynote speakers, and my story previewing the 2012 conference and select presenters follows.

 

 

 

Heartland Latino Leadership Conference Features Dynamic Speakers for Networking, Motivational, Recognition Events

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico

 

Motivational speakers will draw on personal stories of achieving high educational and professional goals in the face of hardships at the annual Heartland Latino Leadership Conference & Expo. Now in its 13th year, the November 8-9 event will focus on the themes of authentic leadership and community success in talks by local and national presenters.

Conference highlights:

Thursday                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Career Expo, 1-4 p.m.

CoolThink Youth Rally, 4-5:30

Welcome Reception, 5:30-8:30

Friday                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Registration and exhibitor booths open, 7:30 a.m.

Scholarship Luncheon, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. (Sixteen local students will receive college scholarships)

Latino Leadership Gala Awards Reception, 5:30-6:30

Latino Leadership Gala Awards Dinner, 6:30 to 8:30 (Community service awards will be presented)

Keynote speakers and personal, community and corporate development workshops are scheduled throughout the day on Friday.

All of it takes place at the Omaha Hilton, 1001 Cass Street.

 

Conference chair Julissa Lara, a Mutual of Omaha distribution compensation specialist, says she’s eager to hear speakers address topics close to her heart.

“An authentic leader to me is talking the talk and walking the walk. It’s doing (things) to benefit not only yourself but others and that will grow your community.”

About the “great” lineup of presenters, she says, “You may not remember their names but you’ll remember the content of what they say, I can guarantee you.”

 

Shayla Rivera

 

 

 

Life change artist Shayla Rivera is the featured speaker at Thursday’s 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Welcome Reception. The Puerto Rico native went from knowing zero English to earning an aerospace engineering degree to working as a NASA astronaut to becoming a motivational speaker and corporate trainer to remaking herself into a successful standup comic.

Leaving everything behind she knew in Puerto Rico for America sent her into a depression. She determined to learn English. She says experiences like these taught her the power of “making a true decision,” adding, “I’ve made a lot of pretty radical changes in other people’s eyes but they seemed logical to me. You have to listen to yourself. It’s easier not to do that. It’s easier to listen to the voice of your parents or of obligation or of what’s ‘realistic.’ That’s ca-ca. You gotta listen to yourself and not just listen but take a step and be kind of bold about it.”

“The people who are really following themselves are the trendsetters,” she says. “We’re not taught how to do that and we’re not given permission. You kind of go through life not thinking about what you believe. You kind of march in step. Latinos especially, We’re expected to be all of a certain political inclination and religion and all that stuff. We have to foster individuality and let people be whatever they are.”

As “an awareness expert” Rivera challenges us to uncover our beliefs “because our beliefs determine our lives. The process is painful but learning how to laugh at yourself will keep you sane.”

She says despite all she’s done “I still feel like I have a whole lot more to do.” She’s sure she’ll” reinvent herself again. Each new path, she says, “found me because I was open to it.” In today’s fluid world she says “it’s imperative we embrace change – life and technology demand it. We’re used to asking our children, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and what we need to ask anymore is, ‘What do you want to be first?'”

 

 

 

Joaquin Zihuatanejo, ©photo, artandseek.net

 

 

Friday’s 8:15-10 a.m. session keynoter Joaquin Zihuatanejo went from award-winning classroom teacher to world champion poet. In finding his bliss he’s living proof education can be transformational. He made it out of the east Dallas barrio with the encouragement of his grandfather, who forced him to read aloud to him nightly. At first resisting the ritual, Zihuatanejo says, “I came to find the beauty in what I was reading. I just became enamored with words. It was my salvation ”

He says it can be for others, too.

“Reading and writing and education are the great equalizers. If you become good with reading and writing you in turn become a strong student and thus you become good at education and when that happens I don’t care where you come from, it makes you equal to any other student on the planet because you can excel.”

It’s a message he drives home with youth.

“If I can talk young Latinos into empowering themselves through the act of reading and writing, they may not grow up to be a world champion poet but then again they may grow up to be a dentist or a doctor or an accountant or a lawyer. Anything you do you have to be an effective communicator.”

He acknowledges many Latino youths face obstacles that make learning difficult but he adds, if they can just find that book that makes them think, ‘This is me, they’re telling my story…’ For me that book was Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.”

He says he’s always encouraged young people to chase their dreams but it wasn’t until one of his students challenged him to follow his own advice that Zihuatanejo quit teaching to become a full-time poet. That makes two callings, teaching and poetry, he’s cultivated and he’s committed to inspiring others to find theirs.

HLLC Chair Julissa Lara says as the annual conference has grown over its 13 years  so has the number of high caliber keynote speakers. Friday’s Scholarship Luncheon keynoter, Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, is the author of the best-selling book Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them. Tiscareno-Sato will discuss “Grabbing Opportunity in the Green Innovation Economy” through real stories of  “creative Latino entrepreneurs” and innovators rarely featured in mainstream media.

 

 

 

Graciela Tiscareno-Sato, ©latinastyle.com

 

 

 

“We need to show who we really are and how we’re really contributing economically,” she says. “Something that isn’t known is we start businesses at twice the national average.”

In Omaha she’ll offer case studies of Latinos on the cutting edge of America’s transition to a green economy and share ideas for education-career paths that best prepare Latinos to tap into this new paradigm,

“There’s a lot of different ways to participate and some of them are technical and some of them are not,” she says.

She enjoys inspiring audiences with her tales of Latinnovators. She says two typical reactions her stories elicit are: “Wow, I didn’t know that,” and “Hey, that person’s just like me.” She says the only way these stories get the attention they deserve is if Latinos communicate them.

“Latinos, due to culture and tradition, are told we don’t talk about ourselves. We’re not used to telling our stories and proclaiming from the rooftop and being loud and proud. That’s not what we do. But it’s up to us, we own this responsibility, we own telling our stories and getting them out there.”

Marie Quintana, president-CEO of her own management consultant business, Quintana Group, is a success story in her own right. For her Friday Gala Awards Dinner keynote she’ll discuss strategies for tapping the inner leader in us all. Her talk “Embracing Authentic Leadership: Unleashing Your Strongest Life” draws on her personal and professional empowerment experiences.

 

Marie Quintana

 

 

 

“I will share some stories from my life that reflect times when I had to really reach deep down to ensure I was being authentic,” she says. “I think it’s important to be an authentic leader but it’s also important to be first of all an authentic person and to do that you have to start with a strong awareness of who you are, your roots, your values, your integrity.

“I was born in Cuba. I came to this country in the ’60s. In trying to navigate through these two worlds I had a difficult assimilation. So I had to be sort of the trailblazer. I think every Latino is always going to have that – where you’re very connected to your roots but then you go to work and maybe it’s not as familiar. I think the balance of that is very important.”

She advises doing self-appraisals.

“I think the first thing a person needs to do is to look at their life as a story. I call these defining moments. There’s been defining moments in every single stage of my life. Something happened at each stage that reminded how important it is to connect to who I am, to where I came from. That has built a foundation for me to take on whatever challenges and opportunities have come in my life. I think our strength comes from these moments.

“That (process) helps you become authentic and more aware of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing, so your life takes on a much more deeper meaning. Through my journey I’ve become a better person and a more authentic leader because I really call out my Latina heritage. I use the best I’ve been given through my roots and family and who I am and I bring that to my work.”

She says whether you think so or not leadership has something to do with you.

“I think we’re all called to be leaders in one way or another. People who don’t believe they’re leaders don’t believe in themselves. It really starts with you. You have to believe in yourself for other people to see you as a leader. Once you develop your gifts, then you’re ready to operate from your strengths and not your weaknesses. You get courage, you can take risks, you’re much more capable moving your life forward.”

She advocates Latino youth find mentors and sponsors to guide them and she reminds adults they need guidance too.

The public may register for the entire conference or purchase event-only tickets. Visit http://www.heartlandlatino.org for details.

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Wild about chocolate

November 24, 2012 2 comments

Chocolate.  Say no more.  This delectable indulgence makes anyone with a taste for it weak in the knees with anticipation.  Count me among the afflicted.  When I heard about a local festival dedicated to chocolate I thought perhaps I had died and gone to heaven.  This is a story I did in advance of the second Great Omaha Chocolate Festival. It is an annnual fundraiser held in the fall.

 

Great Omaha Chocolate Festival

Wild about chocolate

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in The Reader

 

Year two of the Great Omaha Chocolate Festival at UNO celebrates one of popular culture’s great food indulgences.

Organizers of the September 30 event, which benefits the Omaha Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, say chocolate’s diversity will be highlighted in displays by 44 vendors. Sample wares ranging from cupcakes to cookies to candies to frozen yogurt to dog treats. Chocolate lotions, candles and clothing items, along with cookware, will also be available.

Big O 101.9-FM radio personality Dave Wingert will emcee the proceedings.

Bakers Candies of Greenwood, Neb, is the corporate sponsor and its general manager Todd Baker says the event will offer “chocolate made to almost every conceivable taste, from the highest end elite artisan confections all the way down to the mass produced broadly available consumer products.”

Festival co-chairs Beth Friedman and Joanie Jacobson, who’ve partnered on several NCJW projects together, say whether you’re a connoisseur or not the fest’s Willy Wonka-like sampling should please anyone looking to get their chocolate fix.

“It’s the variety,” says Friedman, a Brooklyn transplant. “I think it’s the fact that no matter what you may want you can find something to satisfy your chocolate fancy. A lot of it is about the vendors, we could never ever do it without the vendors’ participation and support. They provide the samples that fuel the festival.”

Jacobson, a Des Moines native, doesn’t believe the strong response to last year’s inaugural fest, which drew 2,200 people, has anything to do with a foodie fad.

“I just think chocolate is the ultimate, quintessential comfort food,” she says. “It is ambrosia. It’s this staple that’s a part of people’s lives. There’s T-shirts and mugs and greeting cards and lewd magazines that talk about chocolate. Chocolate’s everywhere and I think it always will be because I don’t know anything else like it.

“It’s amazing the appeal of chocolate. It makes people happy.”

Jacobson’s enthusiasm for the subject is personal.

“I’m a registered, card-carrying chocoholic. I’m 66 years old, so I’ve been eating chocolate for a long long time and I really believe with all my heart and chocolate soul that a good 75  80 percent of the public is in love with chocolate.”

 

©photo The Jewish Press

Todd Baker says while chocolate never goes out of style there are trends and the festival showcases what’s new or hot in the chocolate universe.

“The festival will be a great place for not only vendors but the general public to see what’s happening within the industry,” he says. “What you’ll continue to see this year and actually got a hint of last year is really unprecedented manufacturing attention in the field of dark chocolate. As the American palette has matured more Americans have developed a taste for dark chocolate.

“Industry studies also point to the superlative health benefits of dark chocolate – everything from lowering blood pressure and stroke risk to increasing happiness and well being. The only thing people needed to eat more chocolate was an excuse and the studies have provided that for us.”

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He says Bakers will not only scout for new products and ideas there but introduce new flavors at the company’s own booth.

“We’ve worked very hard on three new meltaway chocolate flavors to debut at the chocolate festival this year, which is the most new flavors we’ve ever added in any one year.”

In 2011, he says, “Bakers Candies became the first candy company in the world to mass produce a chocolate potato chip cluster.” It was introduced at the fest, where samplers were blissfully unaware of the logistics behind it. “It took a tremendous amount of work on the automated production technology side to get potato chips and chocolate solidified before they got soggy and ruined the formula,” he says.

Baker, whose father Kevin launched the company after a career as a missile defense contractor, realizes most chocolate lovers don’t care about where the chocolate they enjoy comes from. But Baker says they might be interested to know the U.S. now has “access to all kinds of coca we’ve never had access to before,” adding, “The variety of chocolate available to the American consumer is unprecedented anywhere in the world. It’s quite fantastic.”

It’s why he says there’s never been a better time to be a chocolate fan, though he says the automation that’s allowed companies like his family’s to grow comes with the price of compromising the flavor of old-time, hand-made recipes. On the other hand, he says some of the best chocolate innovators are small shops just like the ones slated for the festival.

Proceeds support local social action projects by the Omaha Section of NCJW, whose mission, Friedman says, is improving the lives of women, children and families. While she concede chocolate won’t fix bullying or domestic violence, it’s a safe, fun, family-centric thing. The Iowa Western Community College Culinary Arts program will offer hands-on chocolate activities for kids along with The Cordial Cherry. Cooking demonstrations are planned too.

The noon to 5 p.m. event takes place at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Field House. The $5 admission includes buys five samples. Children under 10 get in for $3 and receive tickets for three samples. Extra samples may be purchased.

The irony for Friedman is that since becoming co-chair she’s been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, meaning she’s had to eliminate all sweets from her diet. No matter, she’s just glad to carry the chocolate banner for a good cause.

For details, visit http://www.omahachocolatefestival.com.

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