Neither Side Wins, Neither Side Loses In Pitched Battle for Accessible Apartments
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
Both sides won and both sides lost in a pitched battle that pitted apartment builders versus the so-called ADA community (ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act). The argument in question is that the builders want to change an Ordinance that requires them to build and make at least five percent of their apartments accessible for people with disabilities. They want to change it to two percent.
The ADA community came out in force, many of them in wheelchairs, to demand that the city keep the ordinance as originally written ca. 1987, with the 5 percent requirement intact. Each side presented its case for either changing the ordinance, or for keeping it as written. City Council, however, didn’t give either group a complete victory, voting, 6-2 to lower the requirement to 3 percent.
There is one caveat, however, that a complete study be conducted that will determine exactly how many people in El Paso are disabled, and, therefore, determine how many accessible apartments need to be build. The study, which will go out for bids in an Request For Proposals, should be conducted in the next six months. Meanwhile, Rep. Emma Acosta, who made the motion to adopt the 3 percent rule, said the study must be completed as soon as possible, and must be made available in Spanish.
“We need to be fair to the ADA community, and we need to be fair to developers,” Acosta said. “That’s why I’m proposing a compromise between five percent and two percent. The data base that we asked both groups to create is suffering from lack of marketing. In essence, people who need accessible apartments don’t know where they are. The database has created a huge disconnect, and nothing is being done to correct it.”
The motion which was made and carried, is to rewrite the ordinance to reflect the three percent change, but, only temporarily. Once the study is finished, it will determine whether the percentage should be lowered, should stay where it is, or should be raised.
“I’m not satisfied with the results,” said Luis Enrique Chew, the executive director of VOLAR Center for Independent Living (CIL), the lead group in the skirmish. “We wanted to keep the five percent until the analysis is done. Then, we can determine if we need to raise it or if we need to lower it. I believe that lowering it is not an option.”
The VOLAR Center CIL, assists people with disabilities to become independent by becoming fully integrated into community life. “I’m worried that with council’s action today, there will soon be a shortage of apartments. It’s unfortunate that, during Fair Housing Month, we are weakening the code. I’m fearful of the future.”
Builders like Tom Bohannon, however, are worried that lowering the requirements to three percent will have a negative impact on his business. A Mr. Baca, who said he’s not a builder, but, does own apartments, said he had eight available units for people with disabilities, but, he could only rent one. “We did not get a single referral from people who need those accessible apartments,” Baca said. “We want to rent the units, but, where are the renters? This (battle) makes us sound nefarious.”
About 20 people signed in to speak to the issue, primarily from the ADA community. Lisa Turner, one of the supporters of ADA people, said that there are 410 apartments available for a population of 101,000 people with disabilities; Marc Salazar protested and castigated City Council angrily for what he considers unfair treatment of people with disabilities; Rep. Eddie Holguin, said that the issue is one of “social justice, one of fairness.”
The problem, most people agreed is that the apartments which are, allegedly, accessible and available, are not being marketed correctly. ”Not everyone has a computer, or even access to the Internet,” said one speaker. Not only that, but, many people in the ADA community speak only Spanish. Are there efforts to reach out to them?” The issue will be revisited, once the complete study and analysis is completed.
Two Men Making A Difference For El Paso
This year approximately 40,000 women bowlers with family and friends, will come to El Paso. They will sleep in our hotels, dine in our restaurants and shop in our malls. They will deposit in excess of $35 million into our city’s infrastructure. From March 27 – July 9, we are the proud destination of the United States Bowling Congress 2010 Women’s Championship.
Becoming the Host City for a sporting event of this size was no easy task. But to El Pasoans Gene Calabro and Brian Kennedy, it was a matter of knowing that El Paso would not only be the perfect city, but a deserving one as well.
Gene Calabro, a native New Yorker has a passion for two things: the sport of bowling and the city of El Paso. In 1986, Calabro convinced the city and county of the potential economic impact of bringing a national bowling tournament to El Paso. Several unsuccessful bid attempts followed. The bid for the 1991 tournament was lost to Toledo, Ohio and the 1992 tournament bid was awarded to Corpus Christi, Texas.
In 2003, Brian Kennedy, President/CEO of the El Paso Sports Commission, held a public meeting at the Coliseum and invited anyone with an interest in a particular sport to attend. Gene Calabro was at that meeting.
At the end of the meeting, Kennedy asked for questions and Calabro (wanting to give his dream one more chance) asked “ What can you do to help us bring a national bowling tournament to El Paso?’
“I thought it was one of the craziest ideas I’d ever heard” admits Brian Kennedy. “But I made a promise to do the research.”
Gene remembers the meeting when he detailed all that would be involved in hosting such an event, “ but when I told him about the revenue that other cities had generated –his eyes began to open wider and wider and he finally said” “I’m going to give this my #1 priority.”
It was in that moment that the dream was reborn. Brian Kennedy formed the coalition that included the Sports Commission, County of El Paso, City of El Paso, El Paso Hotel/Motel Association, and El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Preparations began to submit a bid proposal for the 2011 Men’s Open Championship. Funding sources were contacted and the Commission, County and City each approved and budgeted their share of the $750,000 bid fee required by the USBC. So in 2004 the El Paso delegation was off to Reno, Nevada to make their presentation.
Award decisions are based on a vote by members the USBC Committee. El Paso would be defeated by one vote, but proud to have made it that far in the selection process. The United States Bowling Congress knew they had not seen the last of El Paso.
In 2006 ,the El Paso team was invited to Milwaukee to bid on two tournaments. El Paso was awarded the bid to host the 2010 Women’s Championship.
El Paso owes these two men a debt of gratitude, but if you ask them why they did it they will tell you simply that they love our city and its residents. They will tell you that El Paso deserves to be recognized in this way and Brian Kennedy will add, “It was just the right thing to do.”
David D’Angelo: Magician Extraordinaire
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
When David D’Angelo was in the fifth grade his interest in magic was so strong that it’s all he could think about. His fondest dream was to travel throughout the world, to as many cities as he could, performing as a magician. Even though he was just starting out learning his future trade, he had every confidence that he would accomplish his goals.
“Today, I’ve been traveling for more than 30 years, and have visited and performed my magic in more than 250 cities across the world,” D’Angelo said. “Now, finally, Asia is opening up to me and I’m looking forward to making my name known in China. I’m even learning to speak Chinese.”
Born and raised in El Segundo Barrio, one of El Paso’s and the nation’s poorest communities, D’Angelo didn’t let that stop him from working towards his goal of becoming a professional magician. “Magic was the tool that allowed me to explore the world. It opened doors for me and I haven’t stopped since.” D’Angelo attended Alamo and Guillen, but graduated from Austin High School.
Every year, around February and March, D’Angelo comes to El Paso to perform his magic before school children. He combines his art with educational programs to entice the children, and to grab their attention. The magic has them wide-eyed in anticipation, while he gives them lessons without them knowing they are also being educated by the world-famous magician.
“Magic is a hook to get their attention,” D’Angelo says. “I give them magic with such lessons as ‘The Magical Amazement of Science,’ or ‘The Universal Wonderland of Mathematics.’ The magic helps to pique their interest in Science, Math, and other subjects. I also throw in self-esteem, drug awareness, and other elements to increase their attention span. Thus far, and through the years, I’ve done my show at more than 400 schools in El Paso alone.”
To D’Angelo, elementary schools are vital in what he’s trying to do. “We’ve got to catch the youngsters while they’re still young and while they’re still sopping up knowledge like sponges. For example, I was poor, growing up in El Segundo. But, kids in Tornillo, Texas, now, those kids are truly poor. Yet, they can also excel despite their economic condition. Tornillo Elementary is the poorest school I’ve ever served, but the kids there are super-smart.”
In order to become the best magician he could be, D’Angelo studied with a man whom he calls “magic’s greatest secret.” His name is Baltazar Fuentes, and, even though Fuentes never became world famous, he still is, in D’Angelo’s mind, the best there is. “He’s the Master of the Masters, as far as I’m concerned. He’s a well kept secret who has trained many other magicians in Mexico and the United States.
“Magic is the only thing that has ever made me happy,” D’Angelo said. “At the age of 25, I decided that’s what I wanted to be and I have done it.” He has worked the Norwegian Cruise Lines, and many other venues. But, the greatest thrill was performing at Magic Castle in Los Angeles. “There is only one Magic Castle in the entire world and, it’s in L.A. Magic Castle is a club for magicians and only the best perform there. I was honored to have been included and I have performed as a professional at that venue.
“Anyone who becomes a pro, loves performing there, it’s the ultimate for a professional magician because, there, you are judged by your peers, and they’re a tough crowd to please. It’s like a mecca for us, and I love it there. It’s like a Disneyland for magicians.”
D’Angelo said that he is always willing to travel to El Paso from wherever he is to perform his magic for schoolchildren. He may be contacted at 214-349-4946, or via email at MagicDavid14@yahoo.com. His future plans include traveling to Beijing, China, to Stockholm, Sweden, and to other world communities. He wants to continue traveling to learn as much about the world as he can, never really forgetting his wish to see the world. D’Angelo was able to do that, he said, “thanks to magic.”
Read NOW: The Power of Positive Thinking
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
Beth Mendoza believes strongly in the power of positive thinking. So strongly, that, when she realized that too many school children were struggling to read, she decided to get involved. “I saw that there was a great need. A friend asked me to tutor her daughter, who had problems reading. I was reluctant at first, but, when I saw the need, I decided, yes, let’s do it.”
Mendoza, a Curriculum and Instructional Specialist at O’Shea Keleher, said she initially received her inspiration to create a program that would teach kids to read when she was watching Oprah. “She was discussing a book called ‘Secret,’ which focuses on the power of positive thinking. I realized that there was a great need, that too many school children are not able to read at their grade level.
“Read NOW occurred to me as one way to remedy the problem,” Mendoza said. “It’s not that the schools are not teaching kids to read, they are. However, not every teacher has the ability to teach reading skills. Not every teacher is trained to teach reading. Our educators at Read NOW are fully up-to-date with the latest educational research and strategies. They provide positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation.”
Read NOW was founded under the principle that effective reading instruction is comprised of five components, including phonemic awareness, word identification/phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Unlike other reading programs, Read NOW is affordable, at $100 per week, and, if the child does not need tutoring, the parents are immediately informed.
“We don’t have contracts, all our students are on a pay-as-you-go arrangement,” Mendoza said. “Literacy should not have a financial barrier. We believe that lengthy contracts are not necessary for the struggling reader to make progress. At Read NOW, we create a warm, nurturing environment that will allow your child to grow intellectually, socially, and personally.”
Mendoza said that parents can also be reading instructors, but, they must commit. She suggested that parents should read to their children every day. They should stop at the end of each paragraph to ask the child if he understood what he read. Another thing she suggests is to focus on fluency – that is, how fast do they read and how well do they comprehend. Time them, work on the same passage until the child gets it right. Don’t just skip to the next graph in frustration.
For the interested parent, Read NOW can be contacted at 694-4992, or be visited at 10420 Montwood, Suite F. Children are accepted from ages 6 to 16, with classes held Monday through Friday, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. “Each child is assessed prior to enrolling,” Mendoza said. “If the child is assessed as not needing tutoring, we tell the parents immediately. We tell them that the child does not need tutoring. We’ve come across kids that simply needed glasses.”
Socorro ISD’s G.R.E.A.T. Program: It’s Pro Student, Anti-Gang
By Joe Olvera ©, 2010
More than 10,000 children in the Socorro Independent School District have been G.R.E.A.T. Graduates. That’s G.R.E.A.T., as in the Gang Resistance & Education Training Program – a project that works with parents, teachers, counselors, and pupils to show students the impact and consequences of negative behaviors, including gang membership.
“We talk to the kids about bullying, about communicating with each other, and we give lessons on how to become a great citizen,” said Socorro ISD Police Officer, Ricardo Holguin – the coordinator of the GREAT Program. “It’s a federal program run by the Bureau of Justice Administration.”
The curriculum, taught by five Socorro ISD Police Officers, including Rafael Amaro, Armando Sanchez, Araceli Silva, Efren Pulido, and Holguin, purports to teach young students the elements involved in gang violence, and it teaches other skills such as prevention and awareness. “If we get them while they’re still young, we can teach them to respect authority.”
Founded in 1979 in Phoenix, Arizona, the GREAT Program has prevention as its main objective. Two curriculums are offered – a six week plan designed for 4th and 5th graders, and a 13-week program for 7th and 8th graders. The focus is on providing life skills to students to help them avoid using delinquent behavior and violence to solve problems.
Students at both curriculum levels learn to develop refusal skills, conflict
resolution, anger management, and basic decision-making abilities. Currently, the federal program is in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. In 2006, the project was delivered in 400 cities across the U.S.
“Some communities don’t think they have a gang problem,” Holguin said. “But, they may be in denial, because those problems do exist. In Socorro, there may be five or six gangs that are generating violence and criminal activities. The biggest gang is the Moon City Locos, but, there are other gangs as well.”
Holguin said the Socorro ISD has received anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 on a given year to run the program. This year, however, the district wasn’t funded. “We mainly use the money to provide incentives for the kids. It helps if you give them some sort of reward for their participation. This year we have 1,000 students participating. But, in the past ten years, we’ve had as many as 10,000 participants. The program just keeps growing and growing.”
At the end of each curriculum period, graduates receive certificates and a prominent person is asked to address the students. “Everything is like a mini graduation,” Holguin said. “We want the students to feel proud of their accomplishments. This is one excellent way to help them understand that it takes hard work to be a good student and a great citizen. We get them while they’re still young because, if you wait until they’re older, they won’t listen, because they will know too much already.”
Centennial Live! Comedy Series kicks off with Warren B. Hall, Ponchi Herrera and Cedric Reed
Ready, set, laugh! The Centennial Comedy Series at Fort Bliss presents Warren B. Hall, Ponchi Herrera and Cedric Reed, on stage Saturday, February 13. Enjoy $1 draft while you laugh the night away at a great show featuring some of the hottest up-and-coming comics around.
Doors to the adults-only show at the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center, Bldg. 11199 on East Fort Bliss, open at 6 p.m.; the show starts at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. Guests without a Fort Bliss vehicle registration sticker must obtain a day pass before entering the installation.
Worried about getting on post? Don’t be … it’s simple! All you have to do is present your valid drivers license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. It’s that easy!
“We’re so excited to kick off the year with the great comics we have lined up,” said Lora Diem, special events coordinator for the Marketing and Special Events Division of Fort Bliss Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. “We worked with Sun City Comedy to bring in performers we thought would appeal to our Soldiers and their families, as well as the El Paso community.”
Warren B. Hall was handpicked for “Last Comic Standing” by the show’s host, Bill Bellamy. You’ve seen him on “Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen,” and he has performed for our troops in Iraq and Kuwait not once … not twice … but three times! He dares to be different with his comedy routine, employing a style that purposely avoids using the white vs. black angle – a style he feels has become all to common with many mainstream comics.
As a child, Warren was influenced by Eddie Murphy – he wanted to be just like the man he saw on “Saturday Night Live,” “Raw” and “Delirious.” Unfortunately, Warren’s mother was not impressed when her 10-year-old son began repeating some of Murphy’s more colorful language; being just like Eddie Murphy was out of the question. On a positive note, Warren’s style of comedy evolved into the issues drive routine he plays today. For a peek at his show, search “Warren B. Hall” on YouTube.
Ponchi Herrera has done two USO tours in Japan, South Korea and Germany. He made an appearance on “LOCO Comedy Jam” and “Latino Laugh Festival: Diamonds in the Rough,” and has opened for Paul Rodriguez, Tex Alexandro and John Wesley Austin.
Guests ages 18 and up may purchase tickets for the adults-only show at Fort Bliss ITR, Bldg. 1743, Victory Avenue. Tickets cost $8 for one or $15 for two. For more information, call 588-8247.
Additional shows in the Centennial Live! Comedy Series are scheduled for April 14, July 24 and Sept. 25. For the most up-to-date information on who’s coming, stay tuned to www.blissmwr.com.
AMERICAN War hero becomes an El Paso hero as well
AMERICAN War hero becomes an El Paso hero as well
By Joe Olvera ©, 2009
Vietnam War Hero Rafael Hernando III says working with young children has helped him overcome some of the nightmares which he still attributes to his military service during that war – a war in which he lost his leg when he stepped on a mine. As his body flew in one direction, he could see his leg flying off in the opposite direction. Although he’s one of the co-founders of the Socorro ISD’s After School Athletic Program, he’s had to pull out temporarily due to his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “I’m not with the program right now because I had a visit from the war,” Hernando said in an interview “I had problems with myself, problems with PTSD, but, I plan to rejoin that program in the Spring. I’m getting better.”
Hernando, who had a school in the Socorro ISD named for him, said he is proud and honored to be mentioned in conjunction with educational pursuits because he wants every young El Pasoan to graduate from high school and go on to college. “The athletic program is all about getting kids and parents involved. When the kids see their parents participating with them, they get more excited about school.”
Hernando said the middle school was named after him on May 12, 2005. “The board was looking to name an elementary school and a middle school. My name did not come up until after the elementary was named. As far as I know one of the board members, Willie Gandara, asked about a veteran that was helping Joe Hernandez with the Afterschool program. That was me.”
Hernando said he feels especially proud whenever some youngster whom he mentored in the past, approaches and thanks him for helping him or her become a college graduate. “Some of these kids didn’t have any inclination to stay in school, they were all for dropping out because they felt that nothing was being done for them. When Joe Hernandez and I started the After School Program, we gave these students an impetus, a reason to continue in school. Many of them turned out to be successful people.”
Hernando, who suffered his debilitating injury in Vietnam, today gets around mainly in his electric wheelchair. Being disabled has not curbed his enthusiasm for working with children. On the contrary, he wants them to see him as he truly is, injured and disabled, but, still working to help youngsters reach their most cherished goals. “We follow them through their school years, and we see them do some great things. Some of them go on to college, then, when they graduate, they come to us to thank us for steering them through the most difficult years.”
As a veteran, Hernando was awarded the Bronze Star, and the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster for Meritorious Service. He also received a Purple Heart for injuries received in combat. His community service in behalf of veterans include organizing the Paralyzed Veterans of America in El Paso in 1980; organized wheel chair sports organization for Viet Nam Veterans in El Paso in 1980, and started volunteering in Socorro schools in August, 2000. “Children do better in school when their parents are involved,” Hernando said. “That’s why we encourage every parent to get involved in their children’s education. That’s the greatest thing that can happen to any child.”