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...


Change Shoes

I wore my sneakers this week.

Everyday. Even on days I should of dressed up a little...

Not sure why, I also cleaned my office.

I did things I don't always do. Its good to break routine, do something different, change your perspective.

I am struggling, we are all struggling to understand what this election means. Do people hate that much? Or are they just pissed about corruption in politics? Or is it both, neither, maybe some of each and more of something else?

I don't know. What I do know is that our country is full of hypocrites. Don't worry, I include myself in that pile.

If Clinton won, when protests broke out we would of called them ignorant, and racist, and that they don't love this country and the people in it. They would of said they are leaving the country and we would of laughed and told them good, go. They would of tried to overturn the electoral college and we would of demeaned their understanding of democracy, called them sore losers, and laughed at their failed attempt to get their candidate to win, and all while calling them un-American.

Well Trump won, and what are we doing? Protesting, rioting in some places, creating petitions to get the electoral college to elect Clinton, talking about moving to Canada and burning the American flag.

We are all kinda the same right? Oh but it would be blasphemous for me to say something like that, that is totally un-American of me to say that we are similar. Clearly people who don't think like us are un-American.

So what are we supposed to do? Rally? Protest? Sign petitions? Yell at people?

I don't know, its hard for me not to know, I am the guy who is supposed to know what to do. I can't just plug forward business as usual, but I can't just drop everything else.

For now I am collecting ideas, how can I get more people involved? How can others help create change? How can we solve this problem not just complain about it. How can we harness this rally energy and turn it into action.

Right now we all need to stop, and put ourselves in other peoples shoes. The shoes of an undocumented worker. The shoes of a rural farmer. The shoes of a DC politician. The shoes of a protestor. The shoes of someone not like us, and think from their perspective.

I remembered one of my favorite quotes about brotherhood from Edwin Markham, and when I went to find it to share, I found this quote instead. Perfectly timed. Let's think about others and love them, it just might be the only thing that saves us now.


I Can't Imagine

I have a pretty good imagination, I mean look at my online profiles, I love the Einstein quote about creativity being more important than knowledge. But this year as I get one year older there is one thing I just can't imagine, and this years political talk on immigration is what got me thinking about it a lot more lately.

It was Christmas 1984, my family was here in the USA visiting my moms family, and my parents, exactly my age now, made the decision not to return home. They were 38/39, had three kids, my mom was pregnant, we had a dog named Tony back in Bolivia, my dad had parents and four brothers, a nice little house, small business... and we didn't go back (technically my parents went back to sell everything, but we never "went back").

I wrote a blog about it: 1st American Christmas

Well I just turned 38, my life is just like my parents at this age: I have three kids, own a nice house, I run my own business and a non-profit, my wife has a great job, my kids love their schools, we don't have a dog, but pretty much everything else is the same. My life isn't prefect, but it is pretty great I think.

I like to think of myself as mature, and have it all together, but man I can't image right now moving to another country. To a place where I don't know the language, where I don't have my siblings with me, where I will struggle to make it.

The narrative in this country right now about immigrants drives me insane. Like people waltzed over, snagged a high paying job, and conned the government into taking care of their kids needs for them while avoiding paying any taxes. Lets be honest, people want to veil their distaste for immigrants by saying they are anti-illegal immigrants is BS. The only differences between me and undocumented Mexican immigrant is who my dad happened to fall in love with. So don't get it twisted, all of us immigrants are the same. We came to America because there was opportunity here, you know, the opportunities Americans brag about having.  We could work, buy a home, raise a family, and we could celebrate the benefits of being an American.

They say as you get older you appreciate your parents more and more. Well thats true for me, so as I roll one year closer to 40, I grow even more respectful of my parents. My dad didn't speak the language, didn't get to see his brothers or parents for years, and we had to struggle through many obstacles to succeed. Thanks mom and dad, thanks for making me strong and resilient. Thanks to everyone else who has been a part of my 38th rotation around the sun. Ciao.

Edit: to add while I am sharing this for the #ImAlreadyHome campaign... my parents sacrifice now means between their four kids they now have 1 PhD, 3 Masters degrees, 1 nurse, and a small business owner, and most importantly 10 grandkids