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U.S. Embassy Celebrated American Heritage Month in Ecuador with DreamTown Screenings

My recent trip to Ecuador….

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This past February, I had the pleasure of traveling to Ecuador, courtesy of the U.S. Embassy and by invitation of Ambassador Todd C. Chapman, for screenings of DreamTown in celebration of African American Heritage Month and Afro-Ecuadorian culture.

As the producer representing our team, Director Betty Bastidas (Maracuya Productions) and Producer Christian Mejía Acosta (Retrogusto Films), I was incredibly touched to participate in an event honoring African culture through a film showing the struggles that three soccer players from the impoverished community of Chota Valley — Anibal Chala, Carlos Maldonado and World Cup player Ulises de la Cruz — face on their path to a better future through the sport.

Traveling to Quito, my birthplace, with a project that has been so close to me for the past few years was truly inspirational and a dream come true. DreamTown was not an easy production to complete, between following three distinct stories from the U.S. and then raising funds to ensure the film would be completed (2 successful Kickstarter campaigns and many grants), the experience was one of personal and professional growth.


Throughout these years, I have met so many people from various communities — storytellers, filmmakers, soccer aficionados, high school and college students, business, civic and community leaders, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters and families — who shared how they were impacted by a story that underscores the reality that “the other” in society confronts while reaching for a dream. For some, that dream is accomplished with hard work and unwavering consistency, for others that dream may transform itself into a more attainable goal while remaining noble in its cause. After all, we all are looking for belonging and a purpose in life.

DreamTown has been a long and winding journey for each of us on the production team. What is interesting is that while we, independent filmmakers and storytellers, work on our passion projects, we too experience the same forms of struggle in completing our projects. So much goes into a production and so much more goes into getting the word out and building our audiences.

Showing our film in Ecuador, where DreamTown was shot and where the heart of the story is, during its final stage of the film festival circuit before acquisition and distribution, was one of the highlights of my career. Seeing engaged audiences, watching them react to specific scenes, hearing them laugh during lighter moments, and answering questions from the audience, was a profound personal experience. This is the reason why I love being a filmmaker. For me it’s simple, my commitment is to share stories that give voice to underserved communities with the goal to inspire compassion and motivate others to connect to universal themes celebrating the human spirit.

Again, I’d like to thank the incredible support DreamTown and I received from the U.S. Embassy, Ambassador Todd. C. Chapman and the following: Program Officers (Quito) Nazanin Berarpour, PDO; Alexandra Anda, Outreach Coord; Program Officers (Guayaquil) Erin Markley, PDO; Carlos Coello, Cultural Affairs Asst.

Also, a BIG Thank you to Diego Arcos (TC Television), Lucciola Gonzales, Director of Fundación Afroamerica XXI, Jorge León (Duran Mayor’s Assistant), Juan Martin Cueva, Director of the School of Film at the Universidad de las Artes, Dr. Carlos de la Torre (FLACSO), Victoria Proaño (UTN), Helene Sikos/Juan Fernando Verdesoto/Michelle Dávila (Yachay University), Jorge Luis Narváez (at Centro Cultural Ibarra del Ministerio de Cultura). If I have inadvertently left someone out, I apologize.

Diario El Norte, El Comercio, Ecuador TV, UTN TV Station, Radio Publica del Ecuador, El Telégrafo

The U.S. Embassy Organized the following screenings of DreamTown in Ecuador at:

· El Nacional with youth soccer players (Tumbaco)

· Centro Cultural Ibarra del Ministerio de Cultura

· Yachay University (Urcuquí)

· Universidad Técnica del Norte (Ibarra)

· FLACSO (Quito)

· Public Screening at Super Cines (Quito)

· Defensoría del Pueblo (Guayaquil)

· Centro de Convenciones (Duran)

· Universidad de las Artes (Guayaquil)

· CEN Centro (Guayaquil)


Interview with Top NJ-NY Personal Injury Attorney Rosemarie Arnold

On January 24, 2018, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor. That same week I sat with another Rosemarie and who has been on the SuperLawyers List in NJ and NY for over a decade.

Meet Rosemarie Arnold, a personal injury civil attorney who has been a powerful advocate for victims of sexual harassment and assault. For the majority of victims whose cases don’t make it to criminal court, there is the civil personal injury option, and this informative interview will help shed light on the process.

This interview is part of the transmedia initiative WeToo that is in development with a group of impassioned artists located around the world (scheduled for release Summer 2018).

Thank you for tuning in.

WeToo Transmedia Initiative In Development  to Launch Summer 2018

The #MeToo Movement has been a catalyst for many of us who have had direct experience with sexual abuse, harassment and assault. Whether we were direct victims who became empowered survivors after climbing the mountain of individual or group therapy, or perhaps we were the ones offering needed compassion and support to a friend or family member, the reality is that we, men and women, need to come together to promote healing and understanding.

As storytellers and survivors, we feel a responsibility to share stories through WeToo that can help others feel connected to our experiences and that healing is possible, as well as empowerment. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.

Credits:

I’d like to thank Rosemarie Arnold and her team at her law firm for all the support. Director Photography Claudio Flaygolz, Editor Roman Rojas, and also Jen Begeal and Ellen Mendlow of Storyforward.

Empanada Fork Inventor Hipatia Lopez Would Like You to Know You Are Not Alone

Empanada Fork Inventor Hipatia Lopez Would Like You to Know You Are Not Alone —HSN Project American Dreams Empowers Latino Entrepreneurs to Reach 90+ Million Households

by Giovanna Aguilar

“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.” — Seneca

Inspiring. Driven. Made of Steel and Ignited on Full Blast by the American dream.

That is the Latina entrepreneur, inventor Hipatia Lopez who is in good company too. She is part of the demographic that represents the highest increase in female business ownership of any race or ethnic group between 2017 to 2012 when businesses owned by Hispanic women grew 87 percent, from 800,000 to 1.5 million, according to data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners. She holds a design patent for a handy stainless steel kitchen utensil — The Empanada Fork — from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, placing her within an elite group of Hispanic women inventors who are fewer than 1 percent of U.S. patent holders.

Last month I interviewed Lopez at Home Shopping Network’s NYC office where she and four other winners of HSN Project American Dreams participated in an intense boot camp to prepare for the opportunity to pitch their products live, on March 13, 2017, to over 90 million households. HSN Project American Dreams provides “the tools and resources to build brand awareness and keep team members on board with what the product is, why it was created, and who would benefit fro using it.”

 

As a foodie, I confess that I love empanadas and with all sorts of fillings. In Ecuador, where my family is from, empanadas are usually fried, filled with cheese and served with sprinkled sugar on top for a little added crunchy sweetness to the savory experience. But, if you are like me, you opt out of making them. Why? Because they can be a pain to make by the dozens. Getting the pastry dough to close tightly with our fingers or the kitchen fork is time-consuming and thumb-numbing.

Hipatia’s journey to invention began while making about 100 empanadas for her family’s holiday party. As part of the Lopez family tradition, she and her husband give out bottled water and empanadas to guests as they leave. Frustrated by the empanada-making dilemma, she took on the challenge to figure out a way to make the process easier and convenient.

Lopez, an accountant whose parents are immigrants from Quito, Ecuador, tapped into her company Christmas bonus and the support of her family. Initially, she had mixed feelings. “As a mom, you feel guilty spending money on yourself. I basically held a little family meeting at my house, my kids were a lot younger then, but to my surprise, they were all like ‘that would be so cool, mom being an inventor,’” she shares.

While initially, she felt alone, she quickly realized that there was a whole community sharing her passion for the American dream of business ownership and success. She was proactive and connected with like-minded visionaries and joined organizations such as the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, recognized in 2016 as the best chamber in the USA by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “You’re really not by yourself even though you feel like you are because sometimes you feel like you can’t turn to someone because you are afraid of what they think of your failures. I had a lot of bumps in the road and shed a lot of tears. But you have to realize the whole human aspect of it.”

Lopez is extremely grateful that HSN Project American Dreams helps Hispanic entrepreneurs like her make their dreams a reality.

“With HSN you hit so many people from different avenues and nationalities. I mean it is television and that by itself is a dream come true.”

Her vision is to see her invention used across restaurants and stamped with their logos.

However, Hipatia underscores that the opportunity to sell on HSN, every entrepreneur’s dream, was not reached overnight. It took her about four years of a lot of hard work, from concept to design to production to networking. Her first prototype of the Empanada Fork was made of plastic and did not work well, so the final version was made with stainless steel to make it sturdy. Thanks to the ease of the hand press, empanadas can be made by the dozens conveniently and without any frustration. She highlights the benefit of her handy and reliable kitchen utensil is that it is ideal for all types of stuffed-type dough foods such as calzones, apple turnovers, pierogies and more.

Yet not only does HSN provide an unparalleled platform for inventors like Lopez to reach millions of eager consumers but they also provide winners of Project American Dreams with a boot camp where they learn the tools to succeed as the voice of their brands from industry experts and mentors — Multicultural expert, CEO and co-founder of Cien + Lili Gil Valletta and “The Billion Dollar Man” and TV’s ORIGINAL Home Shopping host Bob Circosta, and U.S. Bank representatives.

To help “get their voice right,” Valletta prompts mentees with questions about the features and benefits of their merchandise and reminds them that consumers buy “WHY” you sell what you sell, not the “WHAT” of your product. In other words, entrepreneurs need to target their prospective consumers with why their product is going to make a buyer’s task or life easier.

Lopez who also won the HSN Project American Dreams $5,000 Social Media Award from U.S. Bank, for strategically tapping into her fast-growing online community, adds that the support she receives from her family, friends, industry peers and now as one of the winners of HSN Project American Dreams, has empowered her on a personal mission to rally behind other women to tell them they can be inventors too, because ‘women need to put their name down in history.”

She ends our interview with the self-realization that she is a fact a feminist whose “spark is ignited on full blast!”

Hipatia’s Tips on Keeping the Spark:

  • Build your online presence. Check out a recent article by Karen Gutierrez, “Social media success: Just stick a fork in it”
  • Let Google be your best friend. Hipatia’s reliable go-to- search engine helped her locate the manufacturing companies she needed and connect with like-minded networks and industry organizations such as the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.
  • Encourage others. Your success relies on others success too. Be generous with your contacts and provide guidance to those starting out.
  • Don’t be intimidated. You are not alone in your quest for the American dream. Turn your fear into energy and connect with others who share your drive and vision.
  • If at fail at first try, try again. Remember the prototype of her Empanada Fork did not work yet she did not throw in the towel
  • Don’t say “No.” The sooner you eliminate the word “no” from your vocabulary the sooner you will be able to nurture much-needed positive reinforcement for the long haul.
  • Love what you do. You find your spark when you have the passion for what you do and if it’s making empanadas for your family and friends then that’s a great way to build a business around love.

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On Vérité with Linda Lajterman on Her Son’s Death to Drug Overdose

A Mother Shares the Consequences of Her Son’s Death to Drug Overdose with the Hope to Prevent Others from Going through the Same Pain

Life After You- What Your Death from Drugs Leaves Behind

This was a tough story for me to work on. But I had to.

One thing is to read the CDC’s stats that indicate that every day there are 78 deaths from opioids, another is to be deeply touched by the reality that surrounds us. These are real, personal stories of loss for many families who we may know. And this could also be yours. It could be someone I know and love, too.

Yet too often we believe that our family dynamic may insulate us from such trauma. “How could a parent not know?” is the accusative question that too many unjustly ask. Well, do you remember being a teenager? I do. And till this day my parents do not know that I had an eating disorder for years. I hid that reality very well.

So many teenagers struggle in isolation with their own issues because they may feel disconnected from those closest to them and fear ensuing judgment or punishment should they open up about their problem. Then, of course, there is the jarring reality that is continually echoed in Linda Lajterman’s experience when she hears, “Drugs and my Kid? Never!”

Life After YouMy latest podcast is an interview with Linda Lajterman about losing her 19-year-old son Danny to a drug overdose. Linda shares why shortly after her Danny’s death she was motivated to write about her tragedy in the poignant letter Dear Friends, although intended for her local community, and how her words touched addicts and their families all over the world. The tremendous connection that so many people had to her story inspired her write the book, Life After You -What Your Death from Drugs Leaves Behind, which presents a sobering yet very real picture of death from a drug overdose and the aftermath that follows, such as in Chapter 5: Your Death and Chapter 6: Your Funeral.

Linda hopes her book, which also addresses long-term debilitating health issues due to drug abuse, can help our youth and families engage in open conversations. Her mission is to help those with drug addiction to seek help from loved ones instead of struggling in isolation.

She can be reached at www.lifeafteryoubook.com, and Facebook Life After You -What Your Death from Drugs Leaves Behind –  and Twitter at Lajterman23.

f6e94b_bf736c2b991248b89c7adfc04a9517caLinda is a member of the Family Advocacy Partnership (FAP), created by Steven Rogers, the Commissioner of Nutley, NJ, who invited me to facilitate this much needed support and resource group, to launch in August 2016. Family Advocacy Partnership is a network of family advocates whose experience with drug-related trauma will serve other families immediately dealing with a loved one’s drug overdose or a related health crisis.

Drug overdoses are an escalating problem within our national drug-related health epidemic. Between2000 and 2014 about half a million people died in the United States from drug overdoses. 2014 went on record as the year of the most deaths from drug-overdoses with most of them (6 out of 10) due to opioids.

For more stats you can visit the CDC’s Injury Prevention & Control: Opioid Overdose.

Giovanna Aguilar

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