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FUERZA Awards


Celebrating Latinx making a difference in Pittsburgh

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FUERZA Awards


Celebrating Latinx making a difference in Pittsburgh

Cafe Con Leche Presents The 2016 FUERZA AwardEEs!

The FUERZA Awards celebrate local Latinx talent and the contributions they have made to the Pittsburgh region.
— Tara Sherry-Torres, Founder of Cafe Con Leche

Cafe Con Leche presents the 2016 FUERZA Awardees! The FUERZA Awards bring visibility to the Pittsburgh Latinx leadership. There is a diversity of Pittsburgh Latinx working across a variety of sectors in Pittsburgh, from non-profit to corporate, from artists to students. 

The 2016 FUERZA Awardees reflect a true dedication to culture, to pride, to hard work and to the possibility of creating a community that reflects our values, our identities and our histories. Latinx have never been one to shy away from challenges. And we are here, contributing to make the Pittsburgh region a more vibrant, a more equitable and more just place for all who call it home.


Celebrate the 2016 FUERZA Awardees

Friday, Nov. 18th, 5-8pm

Alloy 26

Tickets are $10 if bought in advance, $15 at the door.

Enjoy live music while Sampling Caribbean hor d'oeuvres - such as croquettes, tostones, empanadas and pixtos - all freshly prepared by Pittsburgh's own Boricua chef, Juan C. Gonzalez. 

About Guest Chef: Juan C. Gonzalez

Juan Gonzalez is a fearless Executive Chef that hails from Puerto Rico and brings with him an impressive culinary lineage From Puerto Rico to Hawaii. He Began honing his skills in some of P.R. Most popular hotels and restaurants including The Hotel San Juan and Pepin’s Café and Tasca. This up and coming Chef would then go on to cook to at such prestigious Clubs like Snowmass Club, Aspen Co. Ocean Reef Club, Key Largo, Fl. The Homestead Hotel 1766, VA. The Riviera Hotel, Palm Springs Ca. As well as on board of the U.S.S. Pride of America ,Hawaii. Later on he was fortunately enough to work closely under Executive Chef Alex Rosado and Corp. Chef Luis Pous at the Little Palm Island Resort in F.L. Key’s. It was ultimately his position as Executive Chef ofThe Cask Republicof Stamford, Ct. That would trust this young Chef’s Career into high gear. Chef Gonzalez has become a force to be reckoned with his seasonal & local inspired combinations and bold flavors. The menu that Chef Gonzalez has created for The Revolving Door Restaurant is Bold and vibrant. Featuring an eclectic repertoire which incorporates Chef Gonzalez sphere of influences from his travel’s and mentors. 

Additional sponsors

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About Cafe Con Leche

Cafe Con Leche is an award winning creative lifestyle brand and community minded business. Since 2014 we have been highlighting the very best of Latin Food + Art + Culture. Through events and digital media we inspire Latinx to express their creativity, celebrate their culture and become innovative community leaders. 

Sign up for Cafe Con Leche's newsletter + follow us on social media for all the latest!


 

2016 FUERZA Awardees

Diego Chaves-Gnecco


Diego Chaves-Gnecco


Diego Chaves-Gnecco MD, MPH, FAAP is a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician, Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, Director and Founder of the program SALUD PARA NIÑOS. Dr. Diego graduated from Gimnasio Moderno in Bogotá, Colombia. He obtained his title as a Medical Doctor from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana where he held a position as Instructor of Physiology and Pharmacology at the School of Medicine. From 1995 to 1998 he completed his residency in Pediatrics at Hospital Universitario San Ignacio, Clínicas Infantiles Cafam and Colsubsidio being Chief Resident during his last year. In 1998, Dr. Diego came to Pittsburgh as a Visiting Instructor at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine Center for Clinical Pharmacology where he worked until 2002. He obtained a Master degree in Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), in 2000.  In 2002, he started his residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and joined its Community Oriented Residency Education (CORE) program, an area of concentration in the pediatric training program that aims to train leaders in community health and child advocacy. As part of his CORE training, in the summer of 2002 Dr. Diego created the First Pediatric Bilingual-Bicultural Clinic in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Since its creation, this clinic has expanded to the program Salud Para Niños (Health for the Children).

At Salud Para Niños, culturally and linguistically competent primary care for children and families is complemented with activities oriented toward prevention and empowering the community about its own health. Some of the activities of Salud Para Niños include: a weekly clinics in Oakland at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Primary Care Center, a monthly free clinic at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Care Mobile and at the Birmingham Clinic, participation in the organizations of the community fairs, a literacy program where children are given bilingual books to promote literacy and learning of English as a Second Language for both children and parents, translation of health prevention materials into Spanish, and Hispanic/Latino Car Seat Checks in which emphasis is made in car safety issues. Dr. Diego has been honored with several recognitions for his work and to his services to the community.

At Salud Para Niños, culturally and linguistically competent primary care for children and families is complemented with activities oriented toward prevention and empowering the community about its own health.
— Dr. Diego

Francisco Laguna-Correa


Francisco Laguna-Correa


Born and raised in downtown Mexico City, Francisco has lived between Europe and the United States for the last twelve years. Since he began his undergraduate studies, Francisco knew that he wanted to become a teacher. Throughout his professional career, Francisco has taught at almost all levels, including kindergarten, elementary school, adult education, and university-level courses in various disciplines such as history, anthropology, creative writing, and Spanish language.

Francisco earned a Ph.D. degree in Hispanic Studies at The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and thanks to the K. Leroy Irvis Fellowship, this fall he will complete an M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. An award-winning author of four books of fiction written in Spanish, and this year Francisco's first book in English will be released: Crush Me/Ría Brava, a “broken novel”. It portrays the social and psychological struggles that undocumented immigrants experience in the United States.

Currently Francisco serves as a Visiting Assistant Professor at High Point University, where he teaches courses on critical thinking, college writing, Spanish language, and Latin American history and culture. His favorite two places to eat in Pittsburgh are El Milagro (on Beechview Avenue) and Everyday Noodles (on Forbes Avenue). 

I always knew that I wanted to become a teacher.
— Francisco

Jeimy Sanchez-Ruiz


Jeimy Sanchez-Ruiz


Jeimy was the Director of Bilingual Youth Programs at Casa San Jose, a community resource center that links Latino neighbors in need with service providers and other resources to advance their welcome and integration. At Casa San Jose, Jeimy developed culturally-sensitive programs for Latino students in the Pittsburgh Area.

The first program she directed was the after-school sessions at Beechwood Elementary School twice a week. Jeimy would focus on helping children ages 5-8 improve their English as well as their Spanish. In addition, she collaborated with local schools and universities to create additional learning opportunities for all the school-aged children and their parents. After seen so much need in the community Jeimy started a Saturday children’s program for children aged 8-14 where she coordinated various field trips to museums, parks, and pools while also providing resources such as dental clinics, winter coats, and notebooks. This program was focused on Latino children interacting with one another and understanding that they didn’t have to be ashamed of their culture and how they can use that to integrate in the American culture as well. Jeimy also started a teen program so teens could interact and learn about their culture and the American Culture together. Throughout these programs Jeimy served 47 children and took them to 15 field trips in a year.

What motivates Jeimy the most is that she is also a child of immigrants from Mexico, she wanted the youth she served to be children and forget about the responsibilities they have at home for a couple of hours. She saw herself through these children and they were her motivation to show them as much as possible, to have fun and to learn from one another other. Because although we are different we have one thing in common and that is our culture.

What motivates me the most was that I too am a child from immigrant parents and sometimes you just wanted to be a child and forget about the responsibilities you have at home for a couple of hours.
— Jeimy

 

 

Juan Jose Fernandez


Juan Jose Fernandez


Juan Jose Fernandez was born in Caracas, Venezuela 1990. He is a cartoonist and comics maker. He grew up in Cleveland, OH and later moved to Pittsburgh. He fell in love with the city. He co-organizes the annual Pittsburgh Zine Fair and does educational outreach for Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in Swissvale, PA. He leads the Pittsburgh Comics Salon, a series of free monthly events aimed to build solidarity among a growing network of cartoonists and comics makers. In his personal arts practice, he makes work that explores how we see and remember the world.

I attempt to master the accidental through making comics.
— Juan

 

Louis Anthony Irizarry


Louis Anthony Irizarry


With family roots in Utuado, Puerto Rico, Louis moved to Pittsburgh a little over three years ago from Youngstown. While it is only 66 miles from Youngstown to Pittsburgh, he has come a long way since that time. By meeting people and taking advantage of what this city has to offer, he has been able to be part of organizations that strive to improve the lives of young people, especially Latinos. This growth is what drives Louis to continue advancing his career. When he started working at Bunting Graphics, Inc., Louis quickly took on the responsibility of managing the company’s human resource compliance needs in addition to handling various accounting functions.  While he has a diverse professional background, Louis is an accountant at heart and is pursuing his CPA licensure in Pennsylvania. As Louis' roots deepen in Pittsburgh, he hopes that the city can continue to attract the kinds of folks that add to its vibrant tapestry.

Louis' favorite place in Pittsburgh is Walnut Street in Shadyside and during his down time he enjoys going to the gym, playing soccer, keeping up with tech news and walking his dog.

I hope that the Latino community in Pittsburgh will continue to let themselves be discovered by taking advantage of the growing number of activities and events created for us. This will create community awareness but also allow us to advance our careers by networking and discovering the opportunities this city is providing.
— Louis

 

 

 

 

Melanie Weiser Krugel


Melanie Weiser Krugel


If you had to ask Melanie for one word to describe herself she would probably say colorful! Originally born in Dallas, TX, Melanie was born into a multicultural family filled with love, laughter, and pride. Her family’s origins include Spanish, Turkish, Cuban, Jewish, and possibly Polish and Melanie’s pride and love for where her family comes from drives where her future leads her and the work that she does.

Melanie relocated to the Pittsburgh area in 2014 after leaving Texas A&M University. In her current role as the Assistant Director of Student and Diversity Recruitment for the University Of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School Of Business she works closely with the Admissions team to identify and recruit high quality diverse candidates to Katz, attends recruitment fairs throughout the U.S., and is now planning the 2nd Annual Katz Diversity Student Weekend which she helped to create. She loves her job because she has the opportunity to work one on one with students and help them to make their dreams a reality through Higher Education. She also feels very fortunate to be a part of their journey from the beginning, to graduation, and hopefully beyond. Outside of Katz, Melanie is also the Founder and President of the newly founded University of Pittsburgh Hispanic and Latino Professional Association and is very involved with diversity and inclusion initiatives across campus. When Melanie started at Pitt she was shocked to find that there was not a Hispanic and Latino professional organization and thanks to the support of her friends and community it is now active and will hopefully continue to grow as the years pass.

In her free time Melanie enjoys exploring Pittsburgh, spending time with her husband Brad and their precocious pup, Manny, salsa dancing, cooking,  and getting together with friends and family. 

I love my job because I have the opportunity to work one on one with students and help them to make their dreams a reality through Higher Education.
— Melanie

Victoria Snyder


Victoria Snyder


Victoria Snyder is the past Director of Multicultural Student Services at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently the Community Director for COTERIE Pittsburgh, a female focused co-working space. She is also the founder of Diversity Partners, a diversity training, consultation and talent management company. She also serves as Senior Producer for Ya Momz House, Inc, a mixed media arts production and film company. She sits on several boards including the Young Leaders Board of the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, accessibility advisory committee for Bricolage Theaters, and a member of the advisory board for the Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Victoria received her undergraduate degree in History and Media Studies from the University of Mount Union. She received her first Masters from the University of Akron in Higher Education Administration and received her second masters from Duquesne University in Leadership in Professional Administration.

My passion to create conversations around hard topics.
— Tori

Vivian Varlotta


Vivian Varlotta


Mrs. Varlotta was born and raised in San José, Costa Rica where she resided with a large a loving, very close familia de padres, hermanos, abuelos, tíos and primos.  

While studying languages at the University of Costa Rica, Mrs. Varlotta was also teaching at various language institutes in her country and was offered a scholarship for international students to finish her degree at Chatham College in Pittsburgh .  After graduating, she was hired to teach Spanish with the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) and soon married her novio of six years who was from Pittsburgh. While her children were young, Ms. Varlotta stopped working. When they began school, Mrs. Varlotta was blessed to be re-assigned a position at Phillips Elementary School, the same school her children were attending.  An additional blessing came when, through all of the turmoil of PPS restructuring, Mrs. Varlotta landed at Brashear High School.

With over 100 Latino students enrolled at Brashear, the school has the largest Latino population of any school in the region, and Mrs. Varlotta has become the most trusted and valued resource for those students.  In addition to sponsoring the Latin American Student Association at Brashear and serving as a mentor for most of the Latino students in the building, Mrs. Varlotta has also taken it upon herself to serve as a liaison between the school and all of its Latino families.  Having over 150 different students every year though, the majority who are not Latinos, has allowed Mrs. Varlotta the opportunity to also serve as a bridge between the Latino population in her community and the community at large.

I serve as a liaison between the school and all of its Latino families.
— Mrs. Varlotta

Gloria J. Rodriguez-Ransom


Gloria J. Rodriguez-Ransom


Gloria J. Rodriguez-Ransom is native to San Juan, Puerto Rico and came to Pittsburgh to attend college in 1991. A husband, three children, and a dog later she is still here in Pittsburgh. Gloria received a BA in Psychology from La Roche College in 95’, furthered her studies at Duquesne University with an MsEd. in School/Community Counseling in 98’ and received NBCC in 02’. She began her career as a CYF Caseworker and became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 04’. Gloria worked for the AIU3 and currently works for the Office of Child Development, University of Pittsburgh, providing mental health supportive services to children, their families and school age/early education providers. Gloria completed the Infant Mental Health Certificate Program at Chatham University in 2011 and became a P.L.A.Y. Project Licensed Consultant in 2012. Gloria is also a background volcalist, minor percussionist and dancer.  

While searching for a career brought Gloria to Pittsburgh it is her family and Latino community that keep her here. Gloria and her husband, Jace, have three children; 18 year old son, Jace, 16 year old daughter, Cali and 12 year old daughter Jali. It is her children who awaken a yearning for sharing the Puerto Rican culture with not just them but with the Pittsburgh community. Gloria joined the Latin American Cultural Union as a student seeking cultural fellowship and later become an active LACU member who participated, developed, implemented, performed and collaborated in a myriad of cultural activities that cultivated the Latino identity of her children and others. Tying both professional and cultural worlds together Gloria collaborated and lead the creation of the Latino Family Center for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services along with Latino community leaders and Latino families.

To stay connected, Gloria followed Machete Kisumontao’s performances throughout the city, dancing to their Salsa, Bomba y Plena. Machete is a Puerto Rican Riot band local to Pittsburgh. In 2012 lead singer, Maria Eugenia Escoriaza “Geña” recruited Gloria for a “Parranda” at the Coro Latinoamericano “Navidad Caribe” concert. It was then that Gloria became part of “Machete Kisumontao” as a dancer, vocalist and percussionist. Gloria is currently a Licensed Professional Counselor, serves as LACU’s Vice-President, performs with Machete Kisumontao and leads a Latin Aerobics class in the community as a YMCA Group Exercise Instructor.

My children awaken a yearning for sharing the Puerto Rican culture with not just them, but with the entire Pittsburgh community.
— Gloria

 

Walter Aguirre


Walter Aguirre


Walter Aguirre, owner of L.A. Taco, started his small business with a tarp and a charcoal grill. It has now grown into a food truck staple in the Kittanning area, encouraging other food trucks to open for business in the area. Walter also spearheads a local group, the First Friday Foundation, which hosts a monthly event in downtown Kittanning. Thanks to Aguirre, a group of local food trucks gather each month and donate a percentage of their net sales to a specified charity.  

Aguirre, who grew up in Los Angeles, always wanted to become a restaurateur, specializing in burritos and tacos, but put his dream on hold to serve in the Marines in 2005. He trained at Camp Allen in Norfolk, Va., where he met his wife, Amy. Walter's goal is to increase awareness in the Pittsburgh region for the different Latino cultures by bringing flavors from all over Latin America and introducing locals to the delicious flavors each country offers.

The L.A. Taco truck has created a menu that not only caters to the local pallet, but introduces new Latin flavors to a mostly blue collar community by serving items such as pupusas from El Salvador, Sofrito from Puerto Rico, creating local a fusion that locals can enjoy. 

I have worked with the Pittsburgh Latino community and am very happy to see our community grow, open businesses and make Pittsburgh a more diverse city.
— Walter