ROCHESTER — Dana Michaud said she thanks God every day for the support of three Ibero-American Action League employees who are assigned to East High School in Rochester.
“They do so much for our students and know so much,” Michaud explained during Ibero’s 49th-annual luncheon held Oct. 12 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The event raises funds for the agency’s Early Childhood Center and family services division.
Michaud, who works in East High School’s attendance office, further explained the valuable role the Ibero staff played in resolving a family situation for a student who had missed many days of class. With Ibero’s guidance, the family connected with a social worker and found a health insurance plan for the father, who was undergoing a serious illness and had been the underlying cause of the student’s long-term absences.
Thomas Lapiana, the student’s father, stood by Michaud at the podium as she told the family’s story.
“If it wasn’t for Ibero, I don’t know where I’d be today,” he said. “I’m thankful these people worked with me instead of just putting me into the system.”
Michaud said alleviating the stress of the health crisis also led to Lapiana’s son catching up on missed work and finishing eighth and ninth grades.
The Ibero staff also help connect families with resources to obtain food, clothes and housing as needed, she added.
“There are so many impediments to these kids not walking into a school building,” Michaud noted.
Helping families and children is part of the mission of Ibero, noted Hilda Rosario Escher, the organization’s CEO and executive director.
“Together, we are building stronger families and greater self-sufficiency,” she said.
Ibero is one of the many reasons why Rochester is a “phenomenal place to live,” said Arunas Chesonis, chief executive officer for Sweetwater Energy, during his keynote address at the luncheon.
Chesonis walked around the ballroom as he spoke and showed slides of his experiences from college to the present. Based on those experiences, he said he has learned that a successful organization is one built on teamwork, trust, integrity and vision.
“Ibero-American Action League is at the top of what they’re doing,” he said.
In addition to the speakers, the luncheon also included the presentation of several community awards:
• Vendor of the Year: AVANGRID/RG&E
• Friend of the Year: Augustin and Linda Meléndez
• Community Service: James Norman, Action for a Better Community’s chief executive officer
• Alicia Torres Award: Hector Aguinzoni, retired City of Rochester recreation director and currently a volunteer disc jockey with Ibero’s radio station
• Lo Mejor de lo Nuestro (The Best of Us): Mercedes Vázquez Simmons, founder of Pretty Girl Promotions
Rosario Escher said Vázquez Simmons has demonstrated a unique level of determination in creating her female-led boxing promotion company.
“She has established herself as a highly respected professional in our community,” Rosario Escher added. “She has the ability to work with anyone in the community.”
Vázquez Simmons said she has always felt that with success comes the responsibility to give back.
“Hard work and dedication is really what it (success) is all about,” she said.