Marisa’s Fashion is a model for west-side Hispanic-owned businesses

Story and photos by JACOB RUEDA

Hispanic-owned businesses in Salt Lake City are becoming the staple in the local economic landscape. The rise of such businesses began in the early to mid-1980s and has become prevalent due to the influx of people migrating from other states and other countries. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2019 says Hispanics or Latinos are the largest non-white ethnic group in the city.

Despite their growing numbers in Salt Lake City, the presence of Hispanics is not as commonplace compared to places like Los Angeles or Houston. While Hispanic-owned businesses in those cities are typical in their local economies, their impact went unrecognized in Salt Lake City until recently.

Marisa’s Fashion was one of the first Hispanic-owned businesses in Salt Lake City. The store is located at 67 W. 1700 South.

“Marisa’s Fashion is one of the first Hispanic-owned stores in Salt Lake City,” says Refugio Perez, a local business owner and entrepreneur who started the clothing and general retail store 40 years ago. After arriving from California and receiving settlement money from a work-related injury, he started Perez Enterprises and created Marisa’s Fashion from it, naming the store after one of his children.

“It is the only one that is still in business out of an initial group of five stores that were established,” Perez says in Spanish.

The store located at 67 W. 1700 South has had the support of the Hispanic community from the beginning. Although at the time the Hispanic population in Salt Lake City was small, people around the Wasatch Front and other states knew of Marisa’s Fashion and came to shop there.

“We started to grow quickly because there weren’t that many places and people were limited as to where they could shop,” Perez says. “We had people from as far as Ogden, Park City and Wendover [Nevada] coming to our store so it worked out for us and we were able to grow our business.”

Refugio Perez is the founder of Perez Enterprises. He started Marisa’s Fashion in the early to mid-1980s.

Marisa’s Fashion grew as a result of demand but also from knowing the responsibilities of running a store. One of the challenges in today’s business world is lacking that knowledge. Perez says some Hispanic entrepreneurs today go in ambitiously without being aware of basic operational skills.

“Nowadays, someone starts a business and they do it without knowing the basics of how to start or run a business,” he says. Aside from the legal and financial responsibilities, staying on top of technological advancements in the digital age is essential in today’s market.

“There have been a lot of professional Hispanic businesses of late and that’s why they are important tools for success,” Perez says.

The longevity of Hispanic-owned businesses is determined by the ability to overcome obstacles. Perez says it has not always been easy staying on track, especially in times of a national crisis.

“9/11 really affected us,” Perez says. “I felt at that time that the State of Utah was the last to get hit economically because of what happened in New York.” An analysis from online small business website The Balance says the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, caused a recession at the time to worsen. Perez decided to hand over responsibility of Marisa’s Fashion to his brother as a result.

“I told him that if any of the businesses survived, I’d prefer it be his and that’s what happened,” Perez says. Since then, the business has carried on in Salt Lake City’s west side. Economic downturns and other setbacks aside, Hispanic-owned businesses like Marisa’s Fashion and Perez Enterprises continue to grow and establish themselves permanently in the area’s commercial landscape because of the economic and social influence they have.

Aaron Quarnberg, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says “understanding the Hispanic business community” is necessary “for any company looking to grow.”

In his welcome letter to the 2019 Hispanic Small Business Summit, Aaron Quarnberg, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says “understanding the Hispanic business community” is necessary “for any company looking to grow.” Statistics website Statista reports the buying power of the Hispanic community in the United States is expected to reach $1.7 trillion by the end of 2020. (That figure was calculated before the impact of COVID-19 in March 2020.)

“Latinos are contributing a lot not only with their businesses but with their taxes and it’s something that I think governments should really pay attention to,” says Moises Olivares, a Realtor and author based in Los Angeles, in a Facebook chat. He also says Salt Lake City can learn from cities like Los Angeles by expanding the perception of the Hispanic community as more than just what is propagated through stereotype.

A February 2019 study from the Peterson Institution for International Economics says “Hispanics, especially the foreign born, exhibit higher levels of entrepreneurship than other ethnic groups in the United States.” Despite these findings, Perez from Perez Enterprises says the Hispanic community in Salt Lake City still lacks recognition for its overall economic contribution. 

The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce helps Hispanic-owned businesses thrive in the local economy while helping them comply with city regulations.

“People like to spend cash,” Perez says. “We know that helps business, even [non-Hispanic] businesses. If they did not have the economic support from the Hispanic community, they wouldn’t be in business.”

Regardless, Salt Lake City’s west-side Hispanic-owned businesses continue in spite of setbacks, crises or perceptions from others. Weathering the ups and downs of the market, cultural shifts, and technological changes helps businesses like Perez Enterprises and Marisa’s Fashion endure for as long as they have.

“When one is patient and is secure in the knowledge that they have to keep at it and keep going,” Perez says, “it becomes important so we can keep fighting and not give up to the last breath.”

Editor’s Note: Read more stories about local entrepreneurs, the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the impact of the Hispanic community in Utah.

 

Ballet Folklórico de las Américas: a home away from home

Details on a costume used by the group.

Story and photos by PALAK JAYSWAL

On the edge of downtown Salt Lake City, just behind the Gateway Mall, resides a small building in a fenced-off area. During the day, the white brick shines, the title on top proudly giving it an identity. The Centro Civico Mexicano, on 155 S. 600 West, is a nonprofit organization that is home to many different local groups. 

Late on a weekday night, you’re bound to run into a youth soccer group in the middle of practice. On the opposite side of the gym, behind a polyester red curtain, lives a stage. It is set for the dancers from Ballet Folklórico de las Américas. The oldest Latin American folk dancing group in Utah practices in the building twice a week, undeterred by conditions such as freezing cold temperatures in the winter. Each member arrives with a smile and a welcoming hug to all the members (and guests alike). They’re ready to immerse themselves in cultural dance for the next two hours. The silent message from the group is clear: everyone is welcome here. 

Ballet Folklórico de las Américas celebrated its 40th anniversary in November 2019. The group, originally formed in 1979, has continued to uphold its original mission “to unite the community under one heart as we communicate with the universal language of music and dance to show that Latinos are an important group contributing in our mainstream society with traditions and celebrations that bring enrichment to families and communities together as we celebrate diversity.” 

Legacy and Roots 

Members of Ballet Folklórico de las Américas.

The group celebrates diversity within Latin American countries as well as within a community of Latinos in Utah. Giselle Cornejo, a past dancer and continued supporter of the organization, identifies as Afro-Latina. She has been with the group since it originated when she was 15 years old. Her mother is one of the original founders and Cornejo’s experience and legacy with the group has helped her find her own identity. “When you’re learning a dance from Latin America, you learn why you do things a certain way. You learn what the movement means. It’s deeper than just a dance. It’s a projection of a culture,” Cornejo said. 

It is a culture that Cornejo has passed along to her own two daughters, now older, who also joined the group. The folk dance group not only becomes a second home for many immigrants, helping them adjust to their new lives and retain their identities, but also helps them stay in touch with their culture. In fact, Cornejo encourages involvement for this very reason. “If you have Latin American roots, I would say this would be a good place to bring your kids. It’s a fun group and it keeps families together. I think it helps [kids] identify who they are,” she said. 

Hats used in one of the dances.

While Cornejo is a generational legacy within the group, even the newer participants share the same sentiment. Miztly Montero, another dancer, has only been dancing for three months and she can already attest to the difference she feels in her life. “It’s an extended family, in a way, and it’s part of the culture you don’t get in any other scenarios where other people dominate the sectors,” Montero said.

As a first-generation child of an immigrant, Montero felt increased pressure to prove herself to her family and to the world. “You feel like people are looking down on you,” she said. “Part of that led me to work harder in school, at work, but it also led me to miss part of my culture and not embrace it as much.” The part of her culture that Montero missed out on is rediscovered through folk dancing — where she gets to learn about her heritage through songs, dance moves and community. 

Montero urges everyone to support groups like Ballet Folklórico de las Américas through attendance and inclusion. “It’s cool to embrace the value groups like this bring. Not just to the Hispanic population, but to other cultures and how we can come together and embrace those differences.” 

Resiliency, Teamwork and Patience 

Those differences are exactly what led Artistic Director Irma Hofer to her discovery of the dance group over 36 years ago. Hofer found herself drawn in by the different cultures of Latin America, not just the sole focus on her own Mexican heritage. “Latin American folk dancing has more variety and more stories. I learned history, traditions, celebrations and customs through that. The idiosyncrasies of Latin Americans,” Hofer said.  Through learning dances like the merengue, salsa, mamba and others she continues to grow. 

Boots and Decorations used during the dances.

Through her leadership, Hofer strives to make the group a place where her dancers can not only embrace their identities, but also learn to be better people. “We learn a lot of our personal and human values in this group,” Hofer said. “We learn resiliency, teamwork and patience.” 

All three of these traits are being put to work as the folk dance group, among various others who use the civic center, raise funds for a new building. With so many different groups using one center, there is simply not enough room for everyone. More often than not, Ballet Folklórico de las Américas has its practices canceled because other groups can’t get their work done with music playing. 

“The Mexican Civic Center is in much need of funding because we need a new building. We need dance classrooms, art classrooms, conference rooms where people can meet and not be canceled,” Hofer said. “This is the space we have. This is it.” 

The Mexican flag at the Civic Center.

Despite the circumstances, the dancers and members of Ballet Folkórico de las Américas continue to dance away, committed to making the most of what they have with a group that has offered so many of them a home away from home. The energizing music of the mambo, the dance the group is practicing, fills the cold building. Costumes are brought out for the dancers’ performance that weekend and a Mexican flag proudly waves next to the stage at the Centro Civico Mexicano, welcoming anyone who is looking for a place to belong.

 

 

 

 

 

Glendale/Mountain View Community Learning Center broadens early childhood educational opportunities

Story and photos by ELLIE COOK

Within the streets of the western neighborhoods of Salt Lake City, Navajo Street stands out because it is not your typical neighborhood block. Sitting in between Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School lies the Community Learning Center. A place with a plethora of services for the locals, it also houses the Salt Lake City School District Early Childhood Program (ECP). For decades, the ECP headquarters has sat within the main district building in downtown Salt Lake City. However, moving the office has allowed easier access for families, and assisted in a significant expansion of classrooms and various educational opportunities.

The community center offers various education options for children and their families. More hands-on curriculum has been introduced, which allows the parents and children to learn together.

The program is recognized by Utah State Office of Education as a High-Quality Program. Though the district provides early childhood programs across the Salt Lake Valley, it centers its attention toward Title-1 schools. As time went on, the program became more needed, but that caused overcrowding. Families were being turned away because all classrooms were at the maximum of 18 kids. This left financially strapped parents with few other options. “Families require some type of care/schooling for their child. Preschool programs are much more productive than throwing their child in a daycare,” said Ann Cook, former director of the ECP. So, what could be done to provide for more families?

After much contemplation and planning, in 2012 the  board of education decided to construct a 30,000-square-foot facility to serve the west-side community and house the headquarters for the early childhood program.

Cook and her colleagues helped oversee the construction to assure the center provided a beneficial layout for their classroom and office needs. This included more/larger classrooms, garden beds, larger playgrounds, and appliances such as sinks, toilets and water stations that accommodated 3-4-year-olds. Lastly, it allowed the ECP to create a spacious office area to serve the community. “Moving our office from the main district building allowed us to assist our patrons much easier by making it more accessible for families who live on the west side,” Cook said.

By 2013, the dream center had become a reality. Since then, the ECP has been able to assist many more families and host various programs. The center has occupied multiple pre-kindergarten (half-day and full-day) classrooms, four kindergartens, and a Head Start room for infants.

The center sits between Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School. There are various services offered within the center, including a public kitchen, a food pantry and dental office.

With the sudden growth of classrooms needing occupants, the expansion opened the doors for employment as teachers and paraprofessionals were in short supply. “We are a pretty amazing program with wonderful teaching staff. Our teachers are dedicated to supporting the students within our district,” said Teacher Specialist Robyn Johnson. Usually, classes have one teacher and one paraprofessional. Many of them are bilingual, mainly in Spanish and English. The ECP recognizes that it serves a large Hispanic community and therefore needs to ensure everything is communicated correctly, and respectfully. This applies to the classrooms and the main office. Communicating in more than one language is essential in a classroom setting, especially if English is not the child’s first language.

With such success with this center, this leaves room for potential expansions for the ECP. “We would love to provide more opportunities for pre-k. Families have asked for more full-day opportunities and we have been able to add a few more sites to meet their requests. Ideally, we would love funding for universal pre-k to support all families,” Johnson said. Currently, due to financial constraints, families are forced to pay on a sliding scale.

Three community learning centers are now operated at Mountain View/Glendale, Liberty Elementary (formally known as Lincoln Elementary), and Rose Park Elementary. However, the facilities are not as expansive as the one at Glendale/Mountain View. The district has already begun planning for the construction of even more community learning centers. These expansions would hopefully be able to grant more space for the ECP. Until then, Salt Lake City School District early childhood programs remain at other schools in the Salt Lake area. If interested, families may still register per usual.

How to Enroll?

Registration for the 2020-21 school year begins Feb. 26, 2020. Visit the website or call 801-974-8396.

 

Arts education empowers Salt Lake City

Story by PALAK JAYSWAL

Salt Lake City is home to a growing art scene. Whether it be intricate murals that color the sides of buildings or exhibitions and galleries, there is something for all art lovers. 

Many of the artists on the west side of Salt Lake City use their art as activism, teaching people about their culture through their work and educational experiences. Activists and artists find their path in several different ways, but increasingly on the west side, education seems to direct them.

Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), a program dedicated to bringing greater civic engagement to the west side, has seen the impact of art education. Working with organizations like the Mestizo Institute of Culture & Arts (MICA), Mayer-Glenn said, “Art is a way to connect with the community.”

One example of such impact is featured in the 2020 issue of “Community Voices,” the UNP magazine. A group of 10 youth artists participated in an art residency where they collaborated on the creative process. The result is a mural located at Sugar Space Arts Warehouse that explores the theme of cultural identity. One of the lead artists on the project, Ruby Chacón, holds an art legacy here in Utah — and she has experience with using her artistic voice for activism. 

Art as Activism

Chacón graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in fine arts. She credits her education as a catalyst to create art. “The experience of growing up in Utah as a person of color was kind of what informed my work,” Chacón said in a phone interview.

Yet she never imagined she’d become a teacher. After a negative experience with a guidance counselor in high school, who repeatedly told Chacón she would never graduate, the last thing on the artist’s mind was to become an educator.

Ruby Chacón posing next to one of her murals. Photo courtesy of Ruby Chacón.

It wasn’t until Chacón had her own son and had to think about what kind of educational experience she wanted for him that she understood she was in a position of great power. “I realized I need[ed] to go back and change from the ground up what needs to be changed in schools,” Chacón said. “I wanted to be the teacher that some kids might not have.” 

More than that, she wanted to execute in her teaching and art what she didn’t receive as a child: representation and a listening ear. “My whole experience of living in Utah and going through the school system and not seeing myself in books we read, images we saw — they did not represent me,” Chacón said. “For the longest time, I thought we were immigrants because that’s what everyone told us.”

Chacón wants to take control of her cultural narrative and show young kids they are allowed to dream and create art. When the dominant narrative is one that doesn’t include someone who looks like you, it has a lasting impact. Paying it forward is the next step to addressing this issue. 

Chacón’s TRAX Mural. Located at the Jackson\Euclid TRAX station, 850 W. North Temple. Photo courtesy of Ruby Chacón.

“It’s really important that they can see themselves reflected in a positive, dignified way to counter those narratives that are very poisoning to their identities,” Chacón said. She now teaches middle and high school art in a different state. As the co-founder of MICA, she still speaks fondly of the mission and organization: “It brings an insider’s perspective to share their voice through their art. It purposefully resides on the west side.” 

Education Empowers Artists 

Miguel Galaz, another west-side artist, didn’t realize he could pursue art as a career until he reached higher education and took an oil painting class at Salt Lake Community College. Eventually, he discovered the power of art and activism during a backpacking trip through Mexico and Central America, which helped his art career take off. 

“I was exposed to a lot of different cultures that were just fascinating,” Galaz said in a phone interview. “We went to a lot of Mayan ruins, we were just drenched with different colors, textures, food and music throughout the whole trip.”

This cultural deep dive is what led Galaz to understand what he wanted to present with his art. “I was born in Mexico, but raised over here (Utah). I sort of felt like an identity struggle of not belonging. So going on this trip made me feel connected with my identity and the richness of my culture,” he said.

In 2015, when a friend asked him to do a piece for a restaurant located in West Jordan, Utah, he wasn’t expecting controversy to occur. The experience shook Galaz to the core, but it was another pivotal moment.

Miguel Galaz’s mural in West Jordan. Photo courtesy of Miguel Galaz.

“It made me realize the power of art,” Galaz said. “How applying paint to a wall in a certain way to really impact people can move them.” This idea led to the creation of Roots Art Kollective. “We wanted to do something for our communities,” he said. “To inspire people to want to learn more.” 

Chacón and Galaz are just two of many examples of artists who believe in the power of  art education for students. On the west side, this education can lead to community, creation and connectivity. As Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of University Neighborhood Partners put it, “Art is a way to express repression and oppression.” 

 

Planting a seed: how to grow your own educators in Salt Lake City

Elizabeth Montoya, left, writing a note about an event to Maricela Garcia, who is pictured with her daughter Karen Sanchez Garcia at the Glendale Mountain View Community Learning Center at 1388 Navajo St., Salt Lake City.

Story and photo by IVANA MARTINEZ

The concerto at the Glendale-Mountain View Community is ongoing. It begins with a chorus of students shuffling to class, kissing their parents goodbye at the early morning drop-offs and continues several hours after school finishes. And it wouldn’t be possible without the orchestra of people who ensure the children get the resources they need. 

With severe teacher shortages in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah’s Neighborhood Partners has teamed up with schools around the west side in Salt Lake City to address this issue through the program Grow Your Own Educators (GYOE). 

According to the Grow Your Own Educators 2018-19 annual report, the program provides a framework for parents and community members to teach at Title 1 schools. Title 1 schools are defined by Salt Lake City School District as schools that have a high concentration of low-income students who receive federal funds to assist in meeting students’ academic needs. 

According to the report, GYOE has been working closely with a cohort of 12 paraeducators from Salt Lake City School District during the 2018-19 school year.

The program has paraeducators participate in eight training sessions once a month where they sit down and study topics that correlate with Utah state standards. 

Paraeducators can be found in the halls of Mountain View Elementary School reading with students. They can be found in the Glendale Middle School helping teachers in their classrooms. Or, they can be found at the Community Learning Center (CLC) in the kindergarten rooms. 

Ruth Wells has been a paraeducator for the last five years. Wells’ pathway into education began with a desire to be involved in her children’s lives. “I wanted a way of being home when they were home,” she said. 

“I decided that helping a teacher in a classroom would be the perfect way of still being a part of education,” Wells said, “while still being able to take care of my kids the way I wanted to take care of them.” 

For other paraeducators, like Myrna Jeffries, a teacher who migrated from the Philippines, becoming a paraeducator was a way to continue her career here in the United States. Jeffries was recruited one day while walking around the neighborhood by Elizabeth Montoya.

Jeffries began working for only a few hours a week until she asked to take on more responsibilities at the school. JShe began going to the CLC and into the elementary school to assist teachers and help students. 

The most challenging aspect of the work, Jeffries said, is communicating with the students. According to the Utah Department of Health, one in seven Utah residents speak another language, and one-third speak English less than well. Communication barriers are often present for community members at the CLC, but Jeffries said she works around that by using body language to overcome the barrier. 

The Beehive 

Most people in the community know family-school collaboration specialist Elizabeth Montoya, who has worked at Mountain View Elementary for the last 16 years. On most days, students and parents will see Montoya riding on her large blue tricycle around the Glendale area carrying food or binders in her rear storage basket for a program. Montoya recruits parents or members around the community to come in and help out with activities occurring at the Glendale-Mountain View Community. 

Montoya’s specialty is acting as the community’s megaphone. She ensures families know about opportunities and programs that are offered. Her job is connecting parents to resources that help them partake in their children’s education, or advance  their personal and career ambitions. Montoya creates connections with parents and informs them about programs such as GYOE. 

“That’s what we want,” Montoya said. “We want to educate people in the community.”

If Glendale were a hive, Montoya would be the queen, said CLC Program Director Keri Taddie. Montoya has worn many hats throughout the years and created educational opportunities for parents, such as Padres Comprometidos. The program connects Latino parents to these schools by providing a pathway to invest in their child’s academic success and continue their own as well. 

“They’re our children and we should invest in their school too,” Maricela Garcia said in Spanish. She began volunteering at the CLC when her oldest daughter started preschool years ago. 

“I would go help the teacher check homework or have the kids read with me,” Garcia said. 

Although she isn’t currently a paraeducator, she actively engages and participates in the Glendale-Mountain View Community. 

Language barriers haven’t stopped her from volunteering either. Despite the fact that she didn’t speak English at the time, she had students read to her in English. Garcia then began coming to the community meetings at Mountain View Elementary even before her daughters began attending the school. 

Garcia, who is currently taking a leadership class at the CLC, wants parents to know about resources available for their children. She wants them to feel empowered to learn about their options — whether they have legal status in the United States or not. 

A leading obstacle, Garcia told Voices of Utah, is that Latino parents don’t have adequate information about post-secondary education. She said many of them don’t believe it’s possible for their children to go to university because they don’t have scholarships. 

With programs such as GYOE, there are pathways for parents, young adults and community members to have access to new professional development in their lives. Because many paraeducators come from various backgrounds with education, the initiative grants access to paraeducators to work toward teacher licensure.  

“Many students can keep studying. And there are many opportunities for everyone,” Garcia said. 

The importance of the community background is pivotal to the Glendale community, which has a high concentration of students from diverse backgrounds. An understanding of a student’s culture provides context to support and foster their educational pathways. Because many of the paraeducators come from within the community, it establishes a unique understanding of how the community works. 

“I think that we’re always trying to pull back from that part of the community,” CLC Program Director Keri Taddie said, “and bring those strengths into the school because they have relationships and cultural knowledge and community knowledge that we don’t always have.”  

The Glendale community doesn’t run by itself. It’s an entire ecosystem composed of volunteers, parents, educators and paraeducators who prioritize education and make sure that students are benefitting from the educational system.  

“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh thank you for all you do,’” Montoya said as she shook her head. “No. We do it together. I don’t do it myself.” Montoya recalled a saying from her mother about a community of bees and how it takes a whole beehive to make a lot of honey. 

Catholic Community Services remains a helping hand for those in need in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by HAYDEN S. MITCHELL

“All we want to do [as an organization] is help folks in our community,” said Aden Batar, immigration and refugee resettlement director at Catholic Community Services, located at 745 E. 300 South in Salt Lake City.

The primary goals of CCS are to help those in need and create hope for people who have none. According to its pledge, “Catholic Community Services of Utah has been empowering people in need to reach self-sufficiency.” CCS does this by lifting up those in the community, regardless of gender, race or religion.

In 1945, the Rev. Duane G. Hunt of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City saw there were many people in need of assistance. These folks were poor and no help was coming their way. So, with that, Hunt started an organization to contribute to his community. According to the CCS website, this organization started by creating adoption centers, poverty assistance, foster care, counseling and transit programs.

“There have always been people in need … that is way we must help if we are able to,” Batar said. “Not everyone can do it themselves, which is why organizations like this are around.”

Following 1945, Hunt’s organization continued to expand, beyond his death in 1960. It grew from a single office to four different sites and buildings that deliver social services to folks in need of help in Utah, specifically Northern Utah and the Wasatch Front. As the organization grew it strove to help more and more people in need of assistance. The Rev. Hunt’s organization joined the United Way Agency in 1951, allowing them to help more people, according to the CCS website.

The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop and Soup Kitchen were opened in 1967, as an extension of the Rev. Hunt’s organization. It began providing food and clothes for the homeless, which continues to this day. Over 1,000 meals a day are served to needy Utahns at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall located in 437 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City. It is a mid-day and evening meal service, according to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul,

Ethan Lane, a local high school student who has volunteered at the soup kitchen over the last couple of years, spoke very highly of the work they do, saying, “Having a reliable place to go get a nice meal is important.” Lane added, “Without this place providing the service they do, there would be a lot more hungry people here in Utah.”

That is why it is important for community organizations to continue their work by maintaining the places like the soup kitchen and increasing their reach. Poverty and hunger continue to be an issue in Utah. According to the U.S. Census, more than 10 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. That is one in every 10 people living in Utah. Add to that, Utah is ranked fourth in the United States for the highest rate of very low food security.

Not only has Hunt’s organization made efforts to help the hungry and homeless in our community but they also strive to help others in need like immigrant and refugees, says Batar. The Rev. Terence M. Moore added the refugee resettlement program to Hunt’s organization in 1974. The refugee foster care program was established the next year to assist unaccompanied minor refugees.

Shortly after the organization began assisting with refugees it added immigration services in 1981. Included in those services was aid to the disabled and the Utah Immigration Project. Both immigrants and refugees are facing a new environment but they are coming from vastly different situations. Immigrants are choosing to resettle in a new location whereas refugees are being forced to leave their homes and find a new one, according to cnn.com. Although they don’t all come from the same situations they need some of the same assistance.

“Refugees and immigrants have the same difficulties adapting … they have a hard time with the language, the weather and the feeling of being home takes a while,” Batar said. “It is important for them to understand that they have help and they are not alone in a difficult time.”

Soon after the additions of the refugee and immigration services, the organization changed its name to Catholic Community Services of Utah but the mission remained the same. According to the CCS website, that mission is “to practice gospel values of love, compassion and hope through service, support and collaboration.”

“We are a medium-sized non-profit organization that provides some great help to our community,” said Danielle Stamos, public relations and marketing director at CCS. “We will continue to expand our efforts to help in all aspects of our organization … making people’s lives easier is what we try to do.”

Stamos said CCS will continue to contribute to the needs of others by helping those weakest become strong and functioning members of the community. “Hopefully, in the future we will be able to help more people, knocking down the number of people in need,” Stamos said. That may be a harder challenge for the CCS refugee services compared to the organizations other programs. The problems come from political controversies and new policies centered on refugees. With threats of policy change and residents angry about potential safety concerns, the number of refugees getting help may be reduced.

Bradford Drake, executive director of CCS, said in a newsletter, “Even in the wake of this uncertainty, CCS continues to do what we have always done — provide help and hope to those most in need.”

Drake wanted to reassure the staff, volunteers and those who receive assistance from CCS, that the organization will continue to help refugees transition into a new country, culture and lifestyle.

Of course, any organization is only as good as their volunteers, Stamos said. Without volunteers CCS would never be able to reach its full potential. So, if you want to get involved with some volunteer work, the website lists multiple opportunities. One can volunteer to assist refugees, or monetary donations are always welcome.

With all the challenges facing people today, it’s nice for people to know a resource like Catholic Community services is available to assist them.

 

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The Women’s Business Center: A support in the entrepreneurial journey

Story and photos by LIZ G. ROJAS

One of Utah’s best-kept secrets for aspiring entrepreneurs is the Women’s Business Center, located in downtown Salt Lake City within the Chamber offices.

The WBC is a nonprofit organization that is partially funded by the federal government through the Salt Lake City Chamber. Because the center is a 501(c)(3), it is expected to match the funding it receives through fundraising or sponsors.

The Women’s Business Center’s goal and purpose is to help increase the number of women-owned businesses in the state of Utah through consulting, training and networking opportunities.

The center has been operational for 17 years and has a consultant who provides a variety of different services. Services are free to the public and range from helping with business plans and cash flow projections to government consulting.

Former day-care owner Lorena Sierra missed the opportunity to work with the Women’s Business Center.

Lorena Sierra

Lorena Sierra

“I know a lot of times I needed help with grants and I wasn’t able to apply because I had no idea how,” Sierra said. “I wish I would have known of an organization like that [WBC].”

Sierra owned a day-care center in Utah County alongside her business partner for 17 years. In 2012, after her partner sold her half, Sierra ran out of funding options and chose to sell her business.

According to American Express, her center was 1 of 73,000 businesses in Utah that are women-owned, compared to the 9.1 million nationally that are owned by women.

The Small Business Administration defines a woman-owned business as one that is owned at least 51 percent by a woman. In addition, the woman can make independent decisions regarding the business without being undermined by anyone and is responsible for planning the short- and long-term activities.

Ann Marie Thompson- Program Director for the Women's Business Center

Ann Marie Thompson

Ann Marie Thompson, program director for the Women’s Business Center, says there is demand for a woman-oriented organization because there are different stresses for women than there are for men.

Most women are trying to start a business from home or as an addition to full-time responsibilities. They’re driven by flexibility because their first obligation is to their family. The majority of clients who meet with the WBC have these similar backgrounds and priorities.

Evette Alldredge, a local business owner, was guided by the Women’s Business Center and benefited from its services.

In a phone interview, Alldredge said that she arrived at the center with a partial business plan and high hopes. She met once a week for approximately five months with the center to create a business plan and explore all aspects of the planning.

Alldredge was able to present in front of Utah’s Microenterprise Loan Fund and received funding from the nonprofit for her business.

In April 2014, Evette Alldredge’s business, Super Gym Gymnastics, opened its doors.

However, even though the business center does direct its organization toward women, its services are for everyone. Thompson said that 20 percent of the WBC’s clientele are, in fact, men. She said, “We consult with anyone who wants to come.”

The Women’s Business Center has a broad range of connections and partnerships. Some of the partners are the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund and the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

The center also works with the Salt Lake City World Trade Center and Salt Lake Magazine. The WBC refers clients to the World Trade Center if they need help learning how to import and export.

Salt Lake Magazine features the Women in Business section in the September/October issue. The WBC is highlighted in that issue.

Although the center is associated with the Salt Lake City Chamber it is not confined to the Wasatch Front. Thompson said Google Hangout and Skype are frequently used to communicate with clients throughout the state.

According to the Small Business Administration, twice as many women-owned businesses are opened every day, compared to three years ago. However, there are still barriers that haven’t been overcome by women business owners.

One of the barriers is the compensation gap. Even if a woman is the owner of a business, her salary is lower compared to others in her same position.

“Women choose to pay themselves less, not knowing what others are paying themselves,” Thompson said. “Women are also choosing jobs that pay less. ”

American Express reported in 2014 that the goal shouldn’t be to motivate more women to open businesses, but instead to financially support those who are already established and help them expand.

Regardless, the need for the Women’s Business Center in Utah is crucial. As Lorena Sierra said, “We do need a lot of support. We have the desire to have our own businesses but we don’t have a guide.”

The WBC is one of Utah’s best-kept secret support systems for aspiring business owners.

“If it weren’t for the Women’s Business Center I would not be where I am today,” said Evette Alldredge, owner of Super Gym Gymnastics, who continues to work with the center for a business expansion loan. “I am the most happy, successful entrepreneur.”