Community members honored during luncheon

ROCHESTER — Mayra Rodríguez received a scholarship from the Ibero-American Action League and went on to graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology and works as a physician’s assistant at Esperanza Latina.

The Ibero scholarship "was affirmation that someone believed in my dreams and supported my academic goals," she said.

Rodríguez was one of three speakers who talked about the positive impact Ibero has had on their lives during the 44th-annual luncheon and awards recognition ceremony held Oct. 24 at the Hyatt Regency Rochester. About 400 people attended, said Zory Martínez-Allocco, the agency’s director of development and communications.

As an Ibero volunteer, Rodríguez recently began working with Martínez-Allocco on an Ibero initiative — Operation Holiday Cheer — to provide gift cards and other goodies for the seniors at the Centro de Oro.

"It’s hard to believe life can come full circle," she noted.

Wanda Markert also talked about the circle of life and described how happy Ibero’s Centro de Oro made her parents in their golden years. Markert works with the Rochester Police Department’s "Do the Right Thing" program.

The center "provided them with socialization and constructive daily activities," she said of her parents, Maria and Epifano, both of who are deceased. "And it gave me piece of mind."

Ibero continues to serve the community through such programs as Centro de Oro despite the challenges the agency has faced with funding cuts, said Hilda Rosario Escher, Ibero’s chief executive officer and executive director.

"We didn’t lose focus of our purpose," she said, noting that this has been a key to the agency’s success.

During the luncheon, Ibero also released copies of the report "Profile of the Hispanic Community in Monroe County: How Are We Doing?" which was conducted by the Center for Governmental Research and sponsored by The Community Foundation.

The study showed that the Hispanic population grew by 30 percent in the last decade and makes up about 7 percent of Monroe County’s total population. Additionally, more Hispanic students are graduating high school — the rate was about 53 percent in 2011, the report states. But only about 16 percent of Hispanics who are 25 or older have obtained higher-education degrees.

Gabriela Lemus, the keynote speaker, elaborated on the need to boost education and job skills for the workforce of the future.

"It really doesn’t matter where you’ve been or where you want to go, because you’re not likely to get far in the current job market without the right training and credentials," Lemus said. "That’s why the Department of Labor is focused like a laser on this issue."

But challenges remain for government officials as they strive to reduce the 7.8 percent unemployment rate even though are more than 3.7 million jobs available in the country, she said.

"Those two numbers, taken together, have caused a lot of folks to scratch their heads," Lemus remarked. "With so many people looking for work, American employers have millions of jobs they can’t fill. That should be a wake-up call to all of us about the ‘skills mismatch’ that exists right now in America."

To fill those jobs, government, businesses and agencies such as Ibero must work together to ensure a better-trained workforce, which will require more people to obtain some form of college education, Lemus said. For workers now, the goal is to help them find certificate programs for some jobs. Younger people will need assistance to find the resources to get to college, she added.

"America needs more scientists, more engineers, more researchers and more technicians," Lemus said.

Community leaders, who are helping others in areas of education and business, also were recognized during the event:

* Fran Weisberg, executive director for Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, was named Friend of the Year for her efforts with the Ibero Hispanic Scholarship program.

* Marie Bell, a clinical assistant professor in nursing at Nazareth College and intensive care unit nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital, was honored as Volunteer of the Year.

* Al Burgos, owner of Burgos Tax Service, received the Alicia Torres Award for his behind-the-scenes volunteer efforts at the Puerto Rican Festival and other community events.

* Maurico Riveros, vice president with the Pike Co., was named "Lo Mejor de lo Nuestro" (Our Best) for his involvement in various community agencies despite being a relative newcomer to the area.

"(These) are community leaders who really work hard to make a difference in our community," said Rosario Escher.

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