Thank You Season

I was reminded recently on the power of a sincere thank you. A local reporter who I worked with on a lot of stories with asked to get a beer with me before leaving town. She gave me a hand written thank you note. I was thankful for her coverage of many stories that were important to me personally and professionally... so she helped me. We helped each other. I thanked her with a free beer (at Brew Werks of course) and I have momento as she travels to the plains to bigger and better things.

It reminds me of the importance of being thankful, and now today is Thanksgiving. Its hard to celebrate this "holiday" for what it pretends to historically celebrate, but we can reclaim it as a time to tell people thank you.

So take time today to do that... I don't tell people thank you enough. To my team at La Casa, that tireless work towards helping others, to my family that support each other no matter how far apart we are in this country and around the world. To my South Bend family and friends, who come to events, support my work, love me regardless of how scattered I am, and encourage the work that makes this world a better place.

I could write a paragraph about all the people that I owe a thank you to this year. I need to be better about dropping thank yous to people and checking in with friends and family more often. People know I hate, I mean HATE talking on the phone, but I will try to be better this year.

Thank you. Thank you to those who challenged me to think different, thank you to those who encouraged my crazy ideas, thank you to those who jumped in to help, thank you to those who let me fail when I had to learn a lesson, and thank you to everyone who continues to be there for me, and there for my family.

Gracias a todos. Happy Thanksgiving.


Bolivian Fricase Recipe

I have made this the past few years... slowly getting better and better, and this summer I was in Bolivia and my Tia Lilia showed me some of her trips for preparing it. The trick is getting certain ingredients or creative substitutions.

Here is my recipe and what I have learned Fricase is a dish served in the mountain region of Bolivia. It is a really a pork stew if I had to give it a basic name, and to relate it to something my friends would know it is close to Mexican Pozole.

4 to 6 pounds of pork ribs (I tried lean cuts or pork loin but it is not the same)
1 White Onion
Aji Amarillo (Yellow Pepper) Paste (Inca Foods, from Amazon - link)
Aji Amarillo spice (ground dried pepper) that I got in Bolivia
Black Pepper
Carne Asada Seasoning - most Mexican stores will sell this
Chuño - this is a naturally freeze dried potato from Bolivia (Amazon - link)
Potatoes - I substitute this for Chuño usually
Mote - this is large white corn from Bolivia
Hominy - Mexican Style White Corn (try to get 5-6 cups)
One Green Onion

I take the meat out and season it with the Carne Asada mix. Just lightly dust it and let it sit while I prep the rest. I chop the onion, three garlic cloves, and green onion.

I get a stock pot, and start to boil 12 cups of water. I put in half of what I chopped (onions, garlic) and then a teaspoon of Aji Amarillo seasoning, teaspoon of black petter, teaspoon of cumin, and a tad of salt, onion salt and a little more carne asada seasoning.

I heat a large pan and put some olive oil in it and toss the other half of the onions, a tea spoon of the aji amarillo paste and garlic in the pan. Once it heats up I quickly brown the pork on all sides. Once it is browned I put it in the stock pot and let it boil for a little bit and then turn it down. I cook it until pork is falling off the bones, usually about 2 hours.

Once the fricase is getting close I cook potatoes (or chuño which cooks the same, except you have to remember to rehydrate them overnight). Peal them well and cut them into quarters or like 1-2 inch pieces. This all depends on how much you want I don't make a lot and cook it in a small pot. I try to have this done just before I am going to serve.

Once I think the fricase has about 15-20 minutes to go I put in the hominy. I strain it, and lightly rinse to get some of the salt off since the soup should have plenty. Then just put the hominey right into the stock pot.

To plate it, traditionally you would put the potatoes and chuño in a large soup bowl, and then serve the fricase on top of it. It is good because it keeps the flavors apart. I keep the potatoes separate until we eat it, and put 2-3 pieces of potato in the bowl, and serve the soup.

The Aji Amarillo paste can be very hot, so you have to be careful with how much you put in but flavor to taste. The cumin can also be overpowering, but it is in important part of the flavor in my opinion.

It is definitely not like my abuelita made, not like Tia Lilia either, but I get better each time and my kids love it so that is a win. Happy eating, CIAO CIAO.


Lessons from Grandma Millie

Coates Cousins in Saginaw
On September 28th, 2017 my grandma Millie, Mildred Coates, left this earth. I had gone up a couple weeks before to visit her and glad I got to spend some time with her before the end. My older brother Miguel and I spoke at her funeral and I am combining my words, and his, into a blog about things I learned from Grandma Millie.

Power of Kindness
My grandma was kind, from inside out, kindness just came from everything she did. Many shared stories about this, but mine was from when I was a young boy. When we moved to the USA, my parents left my older brother and I with my grandparents. They went back to Bolivia to sell our belongings, and Miguel and I stayed and started school. I spoke no English, she spoke no Spanish, but her kindness made me feel loved when I came home from a long day of a new school where I understood nothing. That kindness helped me through months of being away from my parents.

Importance of Routine
Grandma and grandpa liked routines. From how early they woke up, to how they took their coffee or even how she did the dishes. Everything included routines. It made them successful, my grandma worked for a bank, and my grandpa ended up owning his own shop - Coates Tire. I remembered during that time that I lived with them that each Friday we had pizza. Another routine, something to look forward to, something to end the week positively, no mater how stressful, it ended with delicious pizza. Pizza-Pizza.

Value of Silence
Miguel shared how great it was to share times of complete silence with them. Time spent fishing on a boat and not saying a word. Sitting on a porch with some coffee, just looking out at the sunrise, in complete silence but the surrounding emotions took the place of noisy words. In their presence, with words or not, you felt a spirit of love and support.

Link to Obituary: Case Funeral Home

It was a powerful few days we all spent together in Saginaw. My cousins all came together, for the first time in many years, to celebrate a life well lived. We are blessed that grandma wrote a memory book in 2000 and wrote a lot about her birthplace, early life, marriage to grandpa (72 years), and much more. We mourned her loss, but we all celebrated her life.

May we all live a life like grandma, full of love, routines and needed silence. Love you Grandma Millie.


Not Just About Tacos Sometimes

Why Vote for Taqueria Chicago for Taco Wars?  LINK

Vote. Vote Again. 

So Taqueria Chicago is in Visit South Bend's Taco Wars. When I heard they were doing Taco Wars man I knew we had to jump into this and support the West Side of town. Well three of the spots that we visit for West Side Wednesday's made the finals! Of course my heart was set on one place... 

But this is not just about tacos... 

Vote. Vote Again. 
Not just cause the tacos are good. Vote cause they opened a place in 1996 on Western Ave when few believed in this side of town. They made it through economic slumps, major construction projects and now Maria and her family are still holding it down. 

Roberto and Mayor Pete at
West Side Main Streets Kick off.
Vote. Vote Again. 
I still remember Roberto bringing in tortillas he just got at Rosales Plaza. Meetings with him about construction projects at La Rosita. Being with Roberto and Maria at the ribbon cutting for the Western Ave improvements. They are a large part of the reason that block is so beautiful now. Roberto thanks for your years of hard work, I wish you could see it all now. 

Vote. Vote again. 
Your vote is believing in South Bend, is believing that the West Side is the best side. Your vote tells others to visit our neighborhood. Taqueria Chicago, and Maria, whenever you ask for help or we tell them about a West Side Wednesday event... "What can I do?" is her first question. Not what do I get out of it... but how can I help. You don't get that a lot anymore, pure selflessness and hard work.

Vote. Vote Again.
They have catered countless La Casa de Amistad events, tours for Notre Dame classes, community groups, immersion tours, fed volunteers on a block clean up project... they have held it down in the neighborhood for over twenty years and deserve your vote. My first time meeting Becky (former La Casa Director) was right there, on Western and Camden... home for Taqueria Chicago.

Western Ave ribbon cutting in
front of Taqueria Chicago
Vote. Vote Again. LINK
The winner of the Saint Joseph County competition will be announced on July 31st. You can vote every 24 hours and please share with friends. You don't have to live in our county to vote, and if you have ever visited me you know thats where I take people, and know that if you visit I will hook you up there...

Vote. Vote Again.
I won't get more emotional about it all now. If you have ever been there, been on a tour of the neighborhood, volunteered at La Casa, met with me there... please vote, share, vote again, like and share and vote and vote. I really want to see them recognized...

This isn't just about tacos... it is about Latino entrepreneurs who took risks, worked hard, and deserve your vote. 


Right Side of History

I have jumped head first into the fight for Immigration Reform. If you have followed my journey while working at La Casa de Amistad you can see that my focus has continued to sharpen on this controversial topic. I have struggled with when to be vocal, how best to advocate, what actions are to take, who are the best partners...
Auschwitz Survivor Confronts ICE Director

As I hear the rhetoric from both sides all I can think of is... one side will win, and I know it is our side. It might take two more years, it might take ten... but we are going to win this. Which makes it sad to see all the people trying to stop us. 

The right side of Women's Sufferage, Civil Rights, Religious Freedoms... and this week this video came up about being on the right side of history.

I draw my energy for my work from knowing... knowing that we will be on the right side of history. I know that our win will come, and our work will see success in the end. It will just take time, our work will make that timeline shorter, and our fellowship will make the time pass faster. It won't make it hurt less for those who will fall victims to the attacks of the oppressors, but it will not deter us, it will strengthen us.

Each time I sit in a forum and a mother or father speaks of the heart ache of their fear over what will happen to the children if they are detained and deported... or yesterday I say with a business owner who told the story of her child being deported and not able to help in her business anymore. Those tears fuel my fight, strengthen my resolve, and like this man... remind me that we are on the right side of history.

Article (video there): Huffington Post


Why I Hate "Give Back" Nights

So each time a friend posts a Hacienda "Give Back" night coupon on Facebook and asks for friends to support their child's "club" I have to heckle them. I heckle cause come on, Hacienda, really? (News Link)

They always say, it was my kids school, I didn't pick or hey it is an easy fundraiser, etc. Despite their defense strategy, I heckle on. 

Here is why I hate those... Most of them are done by big ol' companies. Most give a tiny percentage back. Most of them are a major inconvenience and shame you into going.

Here is how the math works and a couple better suggestions.

Lets say you decide to support this local drama club at Hacienda. You take your family of four, you get food disguised as Mexican, you get free GFS chips (plus you know you don't need the carbs) and watery salsa. The bill with tip maybe comes to like $50 or more if you got drinks (which don't count for give back). Of that bill, your friendly local server got a few bucks which is nice, but your daughters drama club probably only gets like $2 and you got heart burn.

So how about instead... you take your family to a local taqueria, in a real Mexican neighborhood. There I bet your family of four can eat authentic food, chips made from real tortillas, and the bill comes to like $35. Your friendly local server still gets a tip, a local owner makes some profit, and then you go write a check for $10 to your daughters drama team.

You saved five bucks and BAM! You look like a hero donor, and more importantly you feel like a decent human being for supporting a great local business.

Or hey, if you really want to raise money? What happened to pasta fundraisers? I was just at one for a fraternity at IUSB (Delta Sigma Phi's Don't Stop the Pasta). The Drama team can develop their team work skills, cook pasta, and during the pasta dinner do a little play for us! Show us where the money is going, and keep 90% of the sales. And you didn't have to hassle all your friends to come to a restaurant super out of their way and spend money they don't have to support a cause they barely know about.

You're welcome... and if you want, La Casa will take the $5 you saved for our No Human Being is Illegal campaign and you just broke even. Think like an advocate when you spend money.

Don't you feel like an even better human being now?


Want to help? 3 Suggestions #NoHumanBeingIsIllegal

Click to Join Our Campaign
I get this a lot, "I want to help"... and I give a couple suggestions, some people follow up. So I thought, maybe I write a little something and put it out there for whoever wants to read and share it.

I think there are a ton of ways to help. Here are my small things you can do easily that make an impact. These are focused on ways to help Latino communities around the country, who are right now especially vulnerable. 

Where do you spend your money? I don't mean jump on the newest boycott of a business, actually in reverse, go spend money. Go spend it in a locally owned taqueria. Trust me, no matter where you live there is one, and it is delicious. I mean I was just in Goshen, IN a town of barely 30,000 people and there were several. I tried Taqueria San Jose and it was good. Then when you go... share it on social media and tell your friends. (See, like I just did). 

Volunteering is great, if you can, try to find 1 to 2 hours per week. Just calling a center to say you want to help usually just creates work for them unless you plan to be a consistent volunteer. It is just the reality of running a community center we can't have random people stopping in. You also can plan a special volunteer event; offer to come and help with yard work, or bring a group for some painting projects or neighborhood clean up. 

We need more positive comments. You don't have to fight a troll, but at a minimum go and LIKE a positive comment, and then write something... guess what? Our community sees those, and they see and know about all the negative comments. Help turn the tide, yes sharing it on your page is nice, and gets you likes from your friends... but leave a positive comment directly on a news story. You don't have to reply to someone who challenges your positive position, but leaving it there means a lot to people.

Grab a No Human Being is Illegal button from La Casa, start a conversation, help change a mind. If we are going to recruit more supporter, we need more people talking to people who disagree with our position. And we need to get people in the middle to move over to our side. Start talking! 

Take time to research the topic, read both sides, understand the issue. I never thought I would learn so much about Immigration Law, maybe relive my dream of Law School again... but if you want to debate it, you need facts, and real facts, and to understand the issues. Cause the challengers have all their misinformation down pat, so you need the right information to fight their fire. 

Yes I know... it was more than three suggestions. So now pick three things, and go do it. We need your help! Whether you donate $, or give time, or leave positive comments... we need you to help.

My new slogan is that advocacy is not a spectator sport, we need you off the bench and in the game helping. You might feel what you give isn't enough, but if we get a little from everyone, we can turn this tide faster. History is on our side... so let's write this story faster. 


One Million Dollars for La Casa

As we wrap up the year I get reflective, and one of my goals for next year is to celebrate milestones better. So I was looking at the La Casa budget, and realized... hey... I raised over a $1,000,000 dollars so far! I need to celebrate that somehow, so I figured I'd blog about it.

Historically La Casa would do about $150k annually in grants, and about $60-80k in contributions and event fundraising. At that pace it would take five years to raise a million dollars.

So how did we raise a million in three years? It was just over $700,000 raised in grant writing, we broke $200,000 in contributions, and events have raised nearly $250,000. Yes I know its well over a million, but I haven't been keeping track...

What is great about this is that it doesn't include pledged out gifts and multiyear grants. We have nearly $300k in pledged receivables.

So am I writing this to brag? No, well, maybe a little, lets be honest I am really proud of the work happening at La Casa and proud to be a cog in that machine.

I am writing about how we did it... it is something I learned as an engineer and that I taught students while working in higher education. Do Something Different. Don't look at what everyone else is doing and try to improve it; look at your problem, think about it from a user perspective, and design a solution.

So how did we do it? Without giving away all the tactics...

When grant writing, we asked for what we needed. We didn't double the budget, throw lots of padding in there, make up things we don't need hoping to get the things we do need. How is it working? Well so far four grants that we have written actually got more than we asked for! What? I didn't know that was a thing, but has been lately.

When doing appeals we do it our way. As a donor to several orgs, I hate "appeal season" because my mailbox is packed tight with fancy and expensive appeals. So this year, we sent a holiday card, that said Thank You and Merry Christmas. Are we broke? Nope, so why say it in a letter because I am supposed to? But could we use more money, absolutely.

Guess what happened? Typical donors gave, and we landed a few more through our continued promotion of what we do, our mission, our programs, our kids, our clients... and we saved all the paper, postage, and time spent on creating an appeal.

Our "You're Welcome" Post HERE
Several people thanked us for the card we sent, and a couple thanked for not sending an appeal. So we posted a "You're Welcome" message on our website.

Guess what happened? We are going to have a record December. And we had a record November, and record Giving Tuesday (300% over last year).

I know some of this is linked to a good economy, but I also think we are building a new track record of trustraising. Its maybe one of the things I am most proud of at La Casa, the trust we are building with donors, volunteers and supporters. People know where we stand, and we know who we can count on, and we aren't pushy.

Fundraising isn't sales, and I hate analogies to it being like sales. We are friendraising, trustraising, supportraising, causeraising, but we sure aren't sales.

Well there are some of my secrets. It wasn't just me, it was the incredible team at La Casa that got it all done this year. While I know that 2017 will for sure be an interesting year, full of uncertainty and obstacles, we are ready, and together we will best our challenges.

Thank you everyone for your support and your trust. The next million we will raise in half the time, and continue to grow and meet our critical mission.



Use Your Privilege to Advocate

Tonight I spoke to close the La Casa de Amistad Immigration Forum at Harrison Primary Center. I was inspired to give advice to advocates. Several people asked for my speech notes... which I didn't have since I usually just speak of the cuff bouncing ideas from others who spoke, but I thought I would write it down before I forget.

"To our advocates here, thank you, we are blessed you are here and showing our community how much they are loved and cared for. 

To those who speak English, we need you to speak up. Speak for others when they can't, translate for them at a store, stick up for them when someone says something. Use your words, your language, to help those that can't. 

To those with the finances to care for you family... give money to help others. If you can afford a nice car, you can afford to give to help others. Gifts of any size matter, whether sponsoring someone's legal fees, or helping pay for a youth program for a family. Anything helps for those who can't.  

To those of us with documentation, we must stand in the gap for those who don't. The gap is getting wider and deeper and we need your help. The issue is serious, just earlier in the program we had a woman ask our attorney a question about formal letters about what should happen to her children if she is detained/deported... I can't imagine having to think about that, luckily I don't have to, and the rest of us that don't need to fight for those who do. 

I then spoke to our community, in Spanish: 

We are there for you, and La Casa isn't alone in supporting you, look at all the people here to help! From the school that hosted the event with us, the priests, the lawyers, the leaders and administrators, the volunteers... all here to show support. But, you also can help, we need everyone in the community who qualifies for citizenship to apply. We know it is difficult, but La Casa is here to help, and we need your help to become a citizen and help move us forward. You can help this fight!"

When speaking at events and rallies I tend to go without anything planned, and feel the energy of the crowd, listen to others, weave that all together and trust it will come to me. Last night my inspiration was all the supporters who came, the timely question from the crowd, and my talk with Father Paul while waiting for my turn to speak.

I was truly touched to see so many supporters there for the community. It was a long week, and a longer weeks to come, but we will see this battle through to the end. Be an advocate, recruit an advocate, and lets work together to make this world a better place for our kids.


Cleaned My Desk

November 9th, 2016

I cleaned my desk, organized my office, sorted my office archives...

Around me calls came in, people worried, staff questioned what we would do, people called crying, everyone was stressed.

I cleaned my desk. Dusted it. Looked at pictures of my kids.

Around me emails came in, asking for meetings, asking for reports. My calendar for the rest of the week filled up quickly.

I cleaned my desk. Cleaned all the paperwork off my couch. Organized grant files.

Around me our pre-school class carried on like any other day. The trash truck came, and took our trash away. People came for our food pantry.

I cleaned my desk. Sorted stacks of business cards. Organized all the news paper clippings, binders and annual reports.

Around me were a lot of questions. I am the one who is supposed to have answers. People came to me and I had nothing.

So I cleaned my desk. I could control that. I could decide how I would get it done, and no one was going to stop me.

I cried about it, but now my desk is clean. What's the next challenge? Bring it on...