“Every day is special. Every day should be celebrated. I celebrate my Hispanic heritage daily." - Beatriz Miniaci
Meet Beatriz Miniaci:
War - yellow stars worn on clothing and concentration camps propelled two young people -- he from Romania and she from Austria -- to flee their native countries. They arrived in Chile, eventually met, fell in love, married and gave birth to Beatriz and then a second daughter.
Her parents’ experience and other world events, in Europe in the early 20th century, helped to shape Beatriz Miniaci’s life and her world view.
Beatriz was born in Santiago, Chile. Her parents were economically comfortable and this carefree, multilingual (Spanish, German, English and Hebrew) teenager loved her life.
Already scarred and somewhat traumatized by persecution, Beatriz’s parents became increasingly alarmed about the political climate in Chile. Alarm grew to concern and eventually the family was on the move again - this time not as war refugees but as immigrants.
They pulled up stakes – carrying only one suite case each – and left their home, Chile, and everything else behind so they could quickly move to safety. It was not until they found refuge in the United States that Beatriz recounted her family’s experience and fear of persecution. They felt safe in the U.S. and that there was no other place to go. (At HUF we often hear the same from other immigrants: “We came here because want to feel safe.”)
After becoming acclimated, Beatriz and her family had short stints in Washington, D.C. and Miami Beach. However, it was some time before they set down deeper roots in New Jersey and Long Island.
While living in the U.S., Beatriz realized how much she loved being an American – it was even as much as she loved being Chilean. And, out of all the memories – both good and bad - the most memorable “American” moment to Beatriz was becoming a U.S. Citizen at 18. It touched her heart deeply.
“Every day is special. Every day should be celebrated. I celebrate my Hispanic heritage daily,” she said.
Beatriz’s earliest memories about the U.S. is learning English from newspapers and books with the help from neighbors. And there was that brief magical day at the Fontainebleau where she wore an organza dress with yellow polka dots and sang her heart out. She doesn’t recall if she and her sister won the signing contest – but she recalls the gorgeous dress and the magic of the day.
Not all was lovely. In NJ the girls were called “Jewish coffee beans” because they had yet to perfect their English skills. Years later, one of Beatriz’s first community volunteer activities was to read books to the visually impaired. She loved reading in English and loved how the English language sounded to her ear.
More than 30 years ago, Beatriz joined a very small group of individuals who sought a different approach to health – through nutrition, exercise and nature. She remains committed to health and continues in this field.
And today, Beatriz is best known through her community and philanthropic work. She and husband Albert support a number of local and national organizations. Most of which involve children and many an educational component. One gift was even a request by Tony Bennett (yes the Tony Bennett). The passion for giving back is a family affair. Beatriz, Albert and the children are mindful of what they have and are committed to the concept of paying it forward. Beatriz and Albert have been especially kind to HUF. They have opened their home, wallets and rolodex on the agency’s behalf. They have adopted our preschoolers for the holidays and provided scholarships. Most recently they provided seed funding for a new Family Strengthening program.
Beatriz has both her mother and mother-in-law as role models. Her mother-in-law, Mrs. Rose Miniaci, frequently reminds her that the more you give the more you receive and therefore you should keep on giving. Both Rose and Alfred Miniaci (Beatriz’s in-laws) were both born in Italy and as first generation Americans understand the immigrant experience. “Rose has simple needs and is giving all the time.”
This is quintessential Beatriz – an authentic individual who loves life, speaks her mind and gives generously. Beatriz believes that whatever she doesn’t spend – she can “pay it forward to someone else who can use it and needs it.”
"I felt that America gave me the opportunity to affect change, to do something that would improve how others (and myself) lived. America did not disappoint." - Gus Vidaurreta
Meet Gus Vidaurreta:
At age 13, Gus Vidaurreta had to leave behind everything he knew. He and his family left Cuba (where his father was a political prisoner) in search of a better life. They traveled to Spain, then the U.S., where at 15 Gus had his first job: delivering the Miami Herald at 3 a.m., seven days a week, driving a $50 car without a license.
Despite the challenges before him, Gus adapted to life in the U.S. gracefully. Gregarious in nature, he's quick with a smile and enjoys speaking to strangers. "I remember my assimilation into the U.S. culture as having been easy," he says. "I don’t know why, I was poor, did not speak the language, played a sport that no one else played (soccer), my hair was too long … but still, I found it easy, maybe because I love the country and its people so much."
Now an author, successful entrepreneur, philanthropist and proud Hispanic American, Gus is a community leader. He founded the Systems Consulting Group (SCG), a full service information systems consulting firm (later purchased by Cambridge Technology Partners (CTP) for $30 million). He co-founded Top Secret Nutrition; owned Adjoined Consulting, P&O Packaging and Horizon Bank; co-founded RAM Strategy, Inc., a consulting, training and executive coaching firm; and wrote the popular book, Business Is a Contact Sport. He also helped form the Board of Advisors of Mobiquity, Inc. and was recently selected to join the Board of Directors of the Centro Mater charity organization. He has two daughters and a wife he adores, and eventually plans to run for office with a message of inclusivity: "Proud of who I am and happy for who you are."
Above all, Gus sees America as a land of promise and community: "I felt that America gave me the opportunity to affect change, to do something that would improve how others (and myself) lived. America did not disappoint."
Meet Gus Vidaurreta at HUF’s Entrepreneur Summit on Oct, 8 at NSU. Ricardo is part of the Keynote Panel of outstanding and successful entrepreneurs. He also will receive the 2015 American Dreamer Award.
“We have such a diverse and rich culture, it should be explored all of the time, not just on vacations and cruises." – Yvonne Lopez
Meet Yvonne Lopez:
Growing up, Yvonne Lopez and her family didn't have a lot of money, but they did have plenty of love. Born and raised in the Bronx, Yvonne and her four siblings were inspired by their mom, a single woman who made the most of challenging circumstances. From candlelit dinners when the Con Edison bill couldn’t be paid to a Christmas tree made from a broom stick and a bed sheet, she was always creative, and the family learned to make the most of everything they had and to do all things with love.
Like many others, Yvonne's family shared the dream of "making it" -- getting out of the neighborhood and getting an education, and Yvonne and her siblings did exactly that, earning college degrees, raising families, engaging in community service, and owning homes, all of which made their mother (who passed away in 2002) deeply proud.
As part of her commitment to philanthropy, Yvonne has been sitting on the Hispanic Unity of Florida's Board for many years; spends time with her two little brothers from the Big Brother, Big Sisters program; and volunteers with the girls from house 3610 at SOS Children’s Village. She attributes her dedication to charitable causes to lessons learned from her mother: help others with open arms, treat people as though they're special, and smile often.
Yvonne has been one of HUF’s longest serving board member – 13 years. Her second tour of duty at HUF ends December 2015. She has been Board Chair, and held other officer level positions; she has led numerous committees including most recently marketing. Yvonne has been a steadfast and vocal advocate and ambassador and has rolled up her sleeves with assistance in the public relations area. When not engaged in her work as Community Relations Director for the City of Coconut Creek, she takes lots of photographs to capture special moments, nature and people.
Yvonne sees education as the foundation for success, and believes inner-city/low income neighborhood schools need to be up to par with their suburban peers. This is her vision of the American dream, and part of what she's helping to work towards through her many contributions. Her commitment to HUF reflects her love for Hispanic culture, and as she says with a smile: "We have such a diverse and rich culture, it should be explored all of the time, not just on vacations and cruises."
"Our family’s American dream is not unlike any other: to have access to new opportunities. I come from a humble home, and I take nothing for granted. Not the ability to drive my own car to work, owning my home and having a successful, growing business." - Ricardo Villadiego
Meet Ricardo Villadiego
Born in Colombia, Ricardo Villadiego came to the U.S. at age 30 -- and brought his company, Easy Solutions, with him. He saw opportunity in the American market, and was committed to leveraging the power of technology and creating a brighter future, all while honoring his Hispanic heritage. Fast forward to now, and his business is a global leader in electronic fraud prevention.
"I feel very fortunate to have the opportunities that I’ve had thus far and to have built a growing company that employs more than 160 people and contribute in a meaningful way both as a company that helps protect organizations and consumers from fraud as well as at a local level – to provide opportunities to young people with limited resources to develop their potential through education and enable them to become entrepreneurs," Ricardo says.
Before founding his own company, Ricardo worked in high-level positions at IBM, Internet Security Systems, Trend Micro, and Unisys Corporation, winning awards for his high sales figures and leadership. As an entrepreneur, Ricardo says his skills including creative persistence and resilience have helped him thrive. He also offers words of advice to budding businessmen and women: "Have a vision, stick to your vision, but recognize things are going to change and allow yourself to adapt."
Above all, he believes in the American dream and the power of perseverance. "Our family’s American dream is not unlike any other: to have access to new opportunities. I come from a humble home, and I take nothing for granted. Not the ability to driving my own car to work, owning my home and having a successful, growing business. "
Meet Ricardo Villadiego at HUF’s Entrepreneur Summit on Oct, 8 at NSU. Ricardo is part of the Keynote Panel of outstanding and successful entrepreneurs. He also will receive the 2015 American Dreamer Award.
“It is important for me to give back to the program that gave me so much support as a toddler. It is because of the teachers that cared that I love learning and reading.”- Kelly Pinilla
Meet Kelly Pinilla:
Kelly Pinilla may be young, but she’s accomplished. The now 11-year-old athlete, academic and philanthropist first discovered her passion for learning at age three, when she was introduced to Hispanic Unity of Florida’s Family Literacy program.
As her mother attended adult ESOL classes, Kelly learned the alphabet, colors, numbers, and how to read. She was enthralled, and what she remembers most is “learning how to write [my] name, learning the importance of reading, learning English, getting to play in the new playground, and teamwork,” she says.
Now, Kelly is entering sixth grade at Ramblewood Elementary in Coral Springs, Florida, and is actively involved in academic, sports, and community service activities. For the last two years she’s made her school’s science and mathematics teams and joined them in the SECME Science competition and Math Olympiad. Kelly’s remarkable prowess in the classroom has allowed her to score 5’s in reading and mathematics FCAT/state examinations, repeatedly achieve straight A’s on her report cards, and earn acceptance to the Great Explorations in Mathematics (GEM) program where she’ll be learn high school mathematics in middle school.
In sports, Kelly is an avid swimmer, figure skater, and runner. She obtained four Junior Olympic times in 50 m backstroke and 100 m backstroke (short course and long course). In her two half 5K races she reached 2nd and 3rd place in her age category.
The 11-year-old dynamo is also committed to giving back. Last summer she created her own community service project to provide swimming playtime for kids with disabilities. She raised almost $400 dollars by placing lemonade stands at swimming competitions and making her own bracelets in support of the Michael Lomberg swimming foundation and the U.S. Paralympics team. In addition, Kelly actively volunteers her time reading to three to five year olds at HUF’s Unity4Kids program. “It is important for me to give back to the program that gave me so much support as a toddler,” she says. “It is because of the teachers that cared that I love learning and reading.”
More than anything, Kelly wants to serve as an example to other generations of Hispanic students. As she learned during her time at HUF, she hopes she can inspire them to believe that anything they set their mind to is not only possible, but entirely doable.
To quote an old saying, “the apple does not fall too far from the tree.” Kelly’s mother is a regular HUF volunteer and her sister – soon to be a graduate of the University of Miami - has been volunteering at HUF since she was 14 years old and has left an indelible mark on HUF’s Citizenship program.