May 2017 Issue

  • Salsa dancing adds spice to Downtown Roanoke eatery

    Edgar Ornelas walks into Leonore’s – a Venezuelan and Italian restaurant on Campbell Avenue in Downtown Roanoke. He immediately appears approachable; his lips curved in a subtle default smile, as he scans the front lobby. Edgar sports his usual iron-pressed khakis and staple ivy cap hat. When he spots a young Latino man sitting at the bar, he gives him a pat on the back in greeting. “Como estan? Estan aqui para la salsa clase?” Edgar asks. “De donde es usted?” The best icebreaker for Latinos who are coming to salsa for the first time is to ask where they are from, he says. “Honestly, anyone who comes in for the first time, I like to ask where they are from,” Edgar says. “Everyone has a different story. Asking them where they’re from helps them open up about something they’re proud of.”

    Edgar is sure to linger in the lobby so he can introduce himself to anyone curious about the salsa lessons posted on the outdoor sign. He wants anyone with reservations to be reassured – all levels are welcome. If his intentions are not genuine, he’s nevertheless extremely convincing. Once the customers begin to clear out of the restaurant’s dining area, Edgar helps Leonore’s staff push tables and chairs to clear an area for the lessons. Perhaps the space isn’t ideal for a dance class considering the confinement and lack of mirrors, but Edgar makes the best of it. The staff is welcoming, the music is inviting and the regulars have high energy.

    Edgar begins the lessons by stepping to the front of the room, back turned to the crowd. He makes up for the lack of mirrors with constant narration, metaphors and charismatic hand gestures. “Ladies, imagine you are confined to a bubble. You don’t want to expand your motions past the bubble, but you don’t want to shrink inside your bubble. Stay consistent,” Edgar says.

    Edgar Ornelas was born in Mexico City where he was exposed to various Latin American forms of dance and music, including salsa, cumbia and mambo. While growing up, quinceaneras played a prominent role in his love for dance. Ornelas says his family’s Latin band “Sabera” was an influence as well, but he asserts that his salsa skills are primarily self-taught.

    Edgar and his mother moved to California when he was in the first grade and then to Roanoke when he was in the sixth grade. His uncles were one of the first Latino transplants in the Roanoke Valley and established themselves with a chain of Mexican restaurants, including the El Rodeo restaurants on Williamson Road and Brambleton Avenue. Despite having left Mexico, Edgar always was able to preserve his sense of culture through his family. After several dance collaborations with the Jefferson Center, Edgar had the idea to provide his own salsa lessons to the Roanoke community. In 2010, Edgar created Salsa Noke with the intention of consistently providing the region the opportunity to learn Latin dance. Through Salsa Noke, Edgar has succeeded in fostering a diverse family of regular attendees. “We do have some Latinos who come to the weekly socials, but we also have people from all sorts of backgrounds. Black, white, Asian,” Edgar says. “It really is a melting pot.”

    Zena Azar, a Lebanese American woman and owner of Azario Day Spa and Salon, has attended Salsa Noke classes for about two years. She has danced ballroom and Lebanese style dance for most of her life but wanted to branch out to something new. “I love to dance. It’s how I unwind all the stress,” Azar said. Salsa Noke “is like a little family, we are always checking in on each other. It’s like we take care of each other.” Azar attributes the group bond to Edgar’s kindness. “Edgar always makes sure to include people, he always says hi to everyone, [He] wants to know how everyone is doing, even if he has never met you,” Azar says.

    In addition to bringing folks of all backgrounds together, Edgar also met his wife, Shirin Ornelas at the salsa lessons he taught. Shirin left Memphis to follow her parents to Southwest Virginia when they retired in 2011. “I’m the only dancer in my family, aside from my cousin Shonda,” Shirin says. One evening in 2013, Shirin’s cousin Shonda wanted to go dancing with Shirin. Shonda Googled “Salsa in Roanoke” and saw Edgar’s workshop for salsa dance. Shonda took salsa classes in college and encouraged Shirin to try it. It would be something new for Shirin, who now teaches ballroom dance for Arthur Murray Dance Center.

    Shonda and Shirin arrived at the workshop, which was held at Havana at the time, a Cuban restaurant that has since closed. Shirin immediately fell in love with salsa… not Edgar. It “was NOT love at first sight,” she says. That’s because both Shirin and Edgar were in separate relationships. After several classes, Shirin joined the performance team, a group of six men and women, including Edgar. The performance team performs locally and travels to salsa competitions. Edgar encouraged Shirin to practice a bit more. “Well, I think you should probably take some more beginner classes.” Shirin was furious. “I think I was mad at Edgar for at least a month,” Shirin says, all the while grinning now. “I still joined the performance team.”

    The team now consists of Edgar, Shirin, Shonda and her fiancé John, and two other couples. The performance team has danced in Washington, Toronto and Orlando for their “Salsa Congress” or at salsa festivals. The next performance will be at the White Party in Blue 5’s White Room on May 27.

    Shirin and Edgar continue to dance in socials and in competitions, and build a sturdy foundation for their future relationship. They are friends, too. Through salsa, Shirin and Edgar continue to grow closer. “When Shirin dances, she is in her zone. She is free and always smiling,” Edgar says. The two would use the weekly salsa socials to catch up on each other’s day during their dancing. While the flirting and talking was meant to be subtle, they suspect the rest of the regular salsa dancers caught on quickly. Shirin describes the group as a family; like brothers and sisters who constantly check up on each other. If dating Edgar had to be a secret, it would not have been a secret that would have been kept for long. To dance with your partner is to know your partner on a different level – you learn the inner-workings of a relationship by observing how someone leads and how the other follows.

    “Edgar is a perfectionist. He will do it again and again. For him, it’s all about repetition until everyone gets it right. He is so determined. He always has a plan,” Shirin says. “He is so devoted to this movement, he loves bringing people together… of all different nationalities, religions, backgrounds.” Most Roanoke salsa dancers and people close to Edgar will agree with Shirin: Edgar loves uniting people who are different from each other. Miguel Liendo is the owner of the Venezuelan and Italian restaurant Leonore’s, on Campbell Avenue in Downtown – where the salsa dance classes are now held. Liendo met Edgar about seven years ago when he started regularly dining at Liendo’s sister’s restaurant in Grandin. Liendo feels a sense of pride that Leonore’s is able to host the lessons.

    “It’s important to me because it makes our culture more visible… while also being able to integrate people who are new to Latino culture,” Liendo says. “Music and dance is important in every part of the world. It’s how cultures communicate.” Liendo describes Edgar as outgoing, kind and above all else, caring. “He cares about people. He cares about Salsa,” Liendo says. “When you love and care about something, it comes naturally. It isn’t forced. It truly makes you happy.”

  • Stedman Speaks: How to Leverage the Value of Your Home for Large Expenses

    Stedman Payne is an experienced financial professional who serves as Member One’s Market Executive in the Lynchburg area. His financial education series offers tips for making smart decisions when it comes to managing your finances.

    Home equity is the difference between what your property is worth and what you still owe on your mortgage. Did you know that you could borrow against this and use it toward things like home improvements or even unexpected expenses? Read on to learn more about home equity and how to tap into this hidden value.

    Q: How exactly do I calculate my home’s equity?
    SP: You can calculate your home’s equity by starting with your home’s value then subtracting the amount you owe on any mortgages. Let’s say your home is valued at $200,000, and you owe $150,000 on your mortgage. That means you have $50,000 in equity you could potentially tap into. If you decide to move forward with a home equity loan or line of credit, you’ll have to get an appraisal to determine the home’s value. Don’t rely on house-hunting websites for this number because they’re often inaccurate.

    Q: What’s the difference between a home equity loan and home equity line of credit (HELOC)?
    SP: With a home equity loan, you receive the money you’re borrowing in a lump sum payment. A home equity loan usually has a fixed rate and often is best for large, one-time expenses like a new roof or a car. A HELOC operates more like a credit card in that you can draw money as needed from an available maximum amount. This is best for ongoing expenses that require spending flexibility. With a HELOC, you’ll receive checks or a credit card to draw against your funds, and you also can transfer the money to your checking account.

    Q: So how do I access equity to use for large expenses?
    SP: You have to apply for a home equity loan or line of credit through a financial institution. As with any other loan, shop around for the rate and features that fit your financial situation. It’s important to understand that committing to a home equity loan or line of credit means you’re using your home as collateral – if you don’t repay the loan, it could go into default, and you could risk losing your home. Make sure you understand the terms and only borrow the amount that fits your budget.

    Q: What kind of large expenses can I use my home equity loan or line of credit?
    SP: One of the most common ways to use a loan or line of credit is for home improvements because they add even more value to your home. But you also can use it for things you might not expect like college tuition. Other uses could include debt consolidation, unexpected medical costs, a car, or even a family vacation.

    Q: How soon after buying a home can I get a home equity loan or line of credit?
    SP: You might be able to get it as soon as you buy a home, but bear in mind that the amount you can borrow depends on a lot of factors. You’ll have to consider how much equity you have in the home upon purchasing it because that will determine how much you can borrow. Just like you did with the first mortgage, you’ll have to qualify for a home equity loan or line of credit, and that could be more difficult since you just took on a large debt. Just make sure you can afford to take on more.

    Q: This seems like a great way to get some extra spending money, right?
    SP: That’s one way to look at it, but there are instances where a home equity loan or line of credit might not be a wise financial decision. Just like any other debt that you’re taking on, you need to make sure it fits your budget. If your income is unstable and you can’t keep up with the payments, it’s probably not a good idea to incur more debt. If you don’t need to borrow much money or you’re just going to use this for basic day-to-day expenses, it might be wise to consider different loan options or reevaluate your spending habits. If you’re still not sure what to do, consult a local financial institution to discuss your needs and determine if a home equity loan or line of credit meets those.

    Watch for Stedman Payne’s column in the next edition of ColorsVA for more useful financial tips.

  • From Uruguay to Danville: Seeing the World through Language

    Silvana Andrea Miller holds this sentiment near and dear. When she immigrated to Los Estados Unidos in 2003, Silvana knew her aim was to become a self-sufficient woman and a productive member of American society. Silvana has accomplished those goals and many more.

    Q: Why did you decide to immigrate to America? What were your thoughts and expectations about the United States, and have we lived up to those expectations?

    A: I came here after serving as a missionary for 18 months in Paraguay. My brother came to the United States first, and I came after him. Like every single immigrant, I came for a better life, a better future. At first I planned to come only to save money, and then to return home. But, there were more and better things waiting for me. My expectation was to obtain that better life, and I have received that, absolutely. I came here with little more than a suitcase. We come here with dreams to do better, to help our families, and to grow professionally. It’s been one of my best decisions. This is home for me now. I am a U.S. citizen, and I am proud of my achievements.

    Q: Tell us about your country of origin and the things you miss. What cultural aspects do you try to hold onto?

    A: My country, Uruguay, is very small. It can actually fit inside Virginia 15 times! I miss the beach, my family and my friends. Uruguayans live a very simple life of family, friends and food. I do return every two years. I keep a hold on the value of family and the importance of the smaller things in life. We are hard workers so I know that if I work hard I can do anything. I came here so many years ago with nothing, and everything I have now is because I worked hard. Every immigrant arrived with the American dream. I own a house and a car. In my country, few people own their homes, and few have cars.

    There are full opportunities here; and we don’t enjoy that back home. If you work hard here, you can own the business. Back home, you can work hard, and still not have many things to show for it. Immigrants to the U.S. see the opportunity here because we are looking in from the outside.

    Q: Give your thoughts regarding the ongoing immigration state of affairs. Do you agree with those who say that immigration should only be legal, or do you empathize with those coming illegally, some of whom are fleeing peril in their own countries?

    A: It’s very tough. I know a lot of immigrants who come here to work and provide for their families. The system should be improved so that people can come legally. The immigrants I know are very good people. They teach their children to attend school and college so that they can go further in life, just like native-born Americans. In Danville, there are about 250 Uruguayan immigrants. Their story is my story.

    Q: If you were to sit in conversation with one opposed to any kind of immigration, how would that conversation go? In your experience, are most Americans welcoming? Have you felt any hostility on a personal level?

    A: I would ask them, “How would you feel if it were you?” It would be a hard conversation because many people don’t know what they are talking about. The ideas that we take jobs, or we don’t pay taxes, they are not true. They are missing information. So, I would try to explain who we are. I have been lucky and supported 100 percent.

    Q: Describe your naturalization ceremony.

    A: When I became a citizen, the ceremony was amazing. It was held at Patrick Henry’s Red Hill. Everyone was so welcoming, including Patrick Henry’s great, great, great grandson who was present. We even had veterans who attended, and offered a warm welcome to the United States of America. I became a U.S. citizen May 6, 2016.

    Q: Did you view or hear Irish Prime Minister Edna Kenny’s St. Patrick Day speech in which he, in front of President Trump, reminded everyone that St. Patrick himself was an immigrant, and that the Irish, who were deprived of opportunity and other freedoms including food, were immigrants?

    A: I did not see that speech, but it is a big step for someone to come to a different country, a different culture. It is very difficult to leave all you know behind and to take on a new language and a new culture. People need to think about that.

    Q: You own and operate a language school, Sur Language and Culture. Talk more about that.

    A: Sur is a language school that focuses on many different languages. Among the languages that we teach are ESL, French, Italian, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. Language is more than speaking. It is also the culture of that country. We teach our students about the country of a language’s origin. We realize that you can see the world through language and food. We do our best to teach the whole, not just the half. At Sur, we provide translation services for local factories. For instance, workers may need assistance fully understanding things like insurance. They need that explanation, and we provide that. We also work with doctors’ offices and other businesses. I used to be a Spanish teacher at a private school. Some children would say that they didn’t have any talents. I would always tell them that everyone has a talent. Everyone can contribute. I may not be very good at math, but, I can learn any language, and I can teach it. I use that ability to help others. I am the Director of Marketing for San Marco’s restaurants, and I am working on my second business. It is a pastry business named after my youngest daughter, Flore. It’s named, Flore’s South American Delicacies.

    Q: You have a lot on your plate. Where do you get your drive, and from whom do you take your work ethic?

    A: I get my drive and passion from my father who always had a vision. He is my business role model.

    Q: What do you think about the so-called, travel ban? Did you see the Super Bowl commercial in which the mother and daughter’s dream are nearly shattered by the wall? How did it make you feel?

    A: The travel ban affects mostly doctors and other people in professions that are really needed. When you are becoming a citizen, there is so much to do. You are checked out by the FBI and fingerprinted. There are interviews and tests with so many questions. You must learn about the constitution. They make sure that you can read and write. It’s not an easy process. So when we as immigrants take that step, it is because we really want to be American.

    That commercial made me cry. It was so beautiful. It could have been me. Their house looked so familiar because my family did not have much. Most kids here have the television and the cell phone. I had my first television at age 12. It was black and white. I did not get a phone until I was 19! We enjoyed and appreciated the little things like drinking mate (MAH-teh) every day at five. Mate is like green tea, and we would sit, talking and drinking. One person would drink and then pass. The mate would go all around. We shared, and that was intimacy. As a child, I only received one gift. Then, at age 12, I received none. The gifts stopped after age 12. That commercial gave me feelings of home.

    Q: What would you like to leave with our readers?

    A: Talk to people, don’t assume. There are some bad; but most immigrants are good, hard working people who want what you born in American want – the good life, the home, the car, the family with what it needs. We all need to get to know each other before anything.

    To the women, I am a single mother of two girls. I work. I am successful. I came here, and I am independent. That is very important to me, to be independent. That is what I teach my daughters. Never say that you cannot do something.

  • Too scared to leave and too scared to stay

    In 2012, there were more than 17,000 cases of domestic violence reported to law enforcement in the Virginia, according to the National Coalition Against Violence. However, the State Attorney General’s office says nearly half of those who experience intimate partner violence or domestic violence never report it to authorities.

    The justification for not reporting domestic violence might be due to fear of retaliation, social and cultural pressure, financial dependency, caring for children or pets, or lack of legal status. However, Total Action for Progress steps in to do what law enforcement or federal agencies might not be able to do.

    TAP is a non-profit organization founded in 1965 by Cabell Brand. Brand had intended to take advantage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 in order to help Roanoke fight poverty. Today TAP focuses on helping community members achieve economic and financial independence through education, employment, affordable housing and a safer environment. One of the many programs TAP offers is the Domestic Violence Services program, which has been running for nearly 30 years.

    Stacey Sheppard is the director of housing and human services at TAP. After devoting 30 years to law enforcement, and adopting three boys, Sheppard wanted a career change that would still provide an opportunity to serve her community. “I wanted to be able to know for sure I could come home to my family at the end of my shift,” she says. Sheppard’s involvement with the special victims unit as a police detective prepared her for working with survivors of domestic violence. “Our role is to provide a lot of listening,” she says. “It isn’t rare for a survivor to mentally check out during court hearings or important meetings. Our court advocate will review everything [with the survivor] … remind them of what the judge said or walk them through the court process.”

    Prior to becoming a TAP crisis intervention specialist, Sharon Dungee worked as a substance abuse counselor. She has spent nearly 30 years in the field. The very first thing she asks a domestic violence victim is, “Are you safe? Do you need medical attention?” As a crisis intervention specialist, she then explains that TAP is not a government agency, and therefore, is less restricted by legal obligations providing more opportunity for comprehensive counseling.

    “People on the outside often don’t understand why a survivor will stay with their abuser,” Dungee says. “A lot of times the abuser is the provider for their children or pets, or they only have one mode of transportation or have limited resources. That’s where TAP can help.” It can be as simple as TAP providing a ride to school for their child or children, or as complex as bringing the survivor into a TAP location to go over legal paperwork to understand the steps to take to leave the abuser, or how to change the locks on the door to their home.

    “The wonderful thing about TAP is that we can utilize the resources offered by other TAP programs. Here in Roanoke, we are lucky to have Legal Aid. We have lawyers that work for a reduced fee or for pro bono,” Dungee says. TAP also offers support groups for trauma survivors to understand how one’s past can affect the present and future. “We do everything we can to attract a client to our services. We try our best to use educational methods. We want survivors to learn how to empower themselves,” she says. “But we cannot force anyone to do anything. Our services are 100 percent voluntary.”

    Throughout Dungee’s three decades as a crisis intervention specialist, she has observed that domestic violence seems to rise when the economy is suffering. “If one of the parents or partners is out of a job, the likelihood of being at home abusing alcohol increases,” Dungee says. “The fulfillment of providing isn’t being granted and often times [he or she] will take it out on loved ones.” Both Dungee and Sheppard agree there are not enough mental health services in the community. There aren’t enough licensed counselors who know how to work with victims of trauma. Additionally, childcare costs have tripled within the last decade, therefore survivors cannot afford to leave the abuser or the abuser is the one watching the child.

    TAP’s Domestic Violence Services collaborates with many organizations serving the community, including the Roanoke Police Department, Family Services for Mental Health, Turning Point, Sexual Assault Response and Awareness (SARA) and Carilion Forensic Nursing. The partnership with Pastor David Calhoun of the Spanish speaking church La Mision Hispana, stands out, Sheppard says. Calhoun is a bilingual church leader who advocates for immigrants in the community through El Puente legal services at Emmanuel Wesleyan Church. He grew up in Weslaco, TX, near the Mexican border and adapted to the Latino culture. When Calhoun moved to Roanoke for a construction job, he learned of a local Spanish speaking church and he and his family started attending services.

    Calhoun got more involved with the church by teaching English to Spanish speakers and eventually teaching Spanish Bible study. Today, La Mision Hispana is made up of a diverse Latino-American congregation. “We have Dominicans, Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorians, Colombians and Cubans,” Calhoun says. “It’s a great opportunity for all of us to come together and learn about these cultures.” For the past 10 years, Calhoun says he has served God by serving the immigrant community. He is not Latino, but he believes it is his Christian duty.

    “When I study the teachings of Jesus, I think that if he were here now, immigrants would be apart of his life,” Calhoun says. “We are trying to build a bridge both ways – for immigrants to attain proper resources and integrate in the United States and for Christian U.S. citizens to recognize how they can help, too. The church is supposed to represent the community. And the community is a melting pot.”

    Trust is especially crucial for an undocumented survivor of domestic violence. In light of the current presidential administration’s stance on immigration, TAP representatives believe victims have reportedly dropped charges against their abusers or avoided filing complaints altogether out of fear of deportation. Calhoun has played an integral part in connecting survivors to TAP’s resources. “Word of mouth is everything in the Latino community,” Calhoun says. “My reputation relies on the past decade of my involvement in the community. It is how I gain trust.”

    Calhoun has worked with TAP and law enforcement to build communication and trust with the Latino community, which has in turn, helped undocumented survivors of violence seek help. For him, it’s all part of his calling. For those who question his ethics, he cites one of his favorite, relevant Bible verses: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt, for I am the LORD your God.” – Leviticus 19:34.

    Sheppard has seen a vast increase in Latino clients seeking help from Domestic Violence Services in the past year. She says someone might mistakenly attribute this to an increase of violence in the Latino community, but she sees it as a good thing.

    “This likely means that there are now avenues to get help that there might not have been before,” Shepperd says. “This could be a result of our bilingual services, our outreach or an increase in population. If we are making ourselves more available to survivors and people are calling more attention to domestic violence, I think that is a positive.”

  • Scholar of the Month Elisha Moyer

    Patrick Henry High School senior Elisha Moyer is well on his way to greatness. Just last month he traveled to New York with his school’s symphonic band to perform at Carnegie Hall. But even with his talent, he remains humble and caring. As his mother recalled, “Since he was a little boy, Elisha was always the kid that would stay behind and help the lunch ladies with the trays or help the teachers clean up the classrooms. He thinks so much about others before himself.”

    Elisha is very close to his mother. She gave birth to him as a teenager, and while being a young single mother was not without struggles, it allowed them to grow together and form a strong bond that helped them through difficult times. Elisha’s grandmother struggled with mental health problems and committed suicide before he was born. He had a good relationship with his great grandmother, but when she passed away, it was like losing a best friend.

    His mother always has worked hard to provide for him and encouraged him to do well in school. She enrolled him in TAP Head Start and he later attended Raleigh Court Elementary, Grandin Court Elementary and Woodrow Wilson Middle School. In a stroke of misfortune a few years ago, she suffered a back injury that caused her to lose her job and move to another part of town outside the Patrick Henry School district.

    Elisha dislikes the idea of uprooting his life to a new school and leaving his friends behind; he was determined to stay put. School buses did not run near his new home, so Elisha woke up every morning at 5:30 to catch the Valley Metro in time for zero period. He achieved perfect attendance that year. “I just realized that school is really a key factor for the rest of your life,” he said. Despite these hardships, he was able to stay focused on his work and studies. “There are a lot of kids that come to school and go straight to in-school suspension each day. If they can do that, I can come to school and still be a good student.”

    This year he is enrolled in classes totaling 30 credits and has achieved a 3.578 GPA through constant studying. In some measure, Elisha has photographic memory, so flash cards and re-reading his textbooks are most effective. Elisha aims “to come to school and make sure tomorrow is at least a little better than today. You have to try to go up every single day.” He uses peer pressure — both negative and positive — to his advantage. While Elisha avoids concentrating too much on others’ negativity, he uses it as an example of what not to do. He was handpicked for a Roanoke City leadership program helping demonstrate the negative effects of bullying. He prefers to pay more attention to positive feedback from his peers since it partly helped him discover his passion for music. When he signed up for band in sixth grade, he felt that it was not for him and debated dropping out. A fellow trumpeter encouraged him to stick with it and soon Elisha found he not only enjoyed music, but also had a knack for it.

    By eighth grade, he was one of the most recognized members of the band at Woodrow Wilson. Since then, he has participated in VH1’s Save The Music program and has received numerous other awards. He is very involved in jazz band and wind symphony, and for the last two years, he has been drum major in the marching band.

    Music runs through Elisha’s veins. In high school, his grandmother was also a drum major and played in the Roanoke Symphony. She later received a music scholarship to Virginia State University and played in their marching band. She wrote music and played an assortment of instruments. Elisha is teaching himself to play acoustic guitar and piano after uncovering his grandmother’s 1987 Yamaha keyboard. Elisha’s mother often told him stories about his grandmother, which originally incited his musical interest. While he never had the chance to meet his grandmother, music is the parallel force between them and has allowed Elisha to connect with his grandmother on some level.

    These days Elisha is keeping busy. He works part time at Chick-fil-A in order to earn extra cash for college and to help his mother out when she needs it. Of course, he attends marching band and wind symphony rehearsals during the week and, on weekends, attends music symposiums at Radford University where he intends on going this fall. In whatever free time he has left, Elisha tutors younger trumpet players at Woodrow Wilson Middle School. He sees the importance in giving back to his community and tries to follow in the footsteps of his mother, grandmother and great grandmother. He also values the lessons learned from his teachers, especially band director Alex Schmitt and art teacher and administrator Fletcher Nichols. The knowledge they have passed on to him and his own experiences are what motivate him and he vows to pass it on: “All of the stuff that I’ve been through since I was little is nothing compared to what I’m going to give back.”

  • Caffeine: How does it affect your health?

    Caffeine is found naturally in certain plants, such as coffee beans and tea leaves. Man-made caffeine is added to many foods such as drinks and medicines. Regardless of how it is ingested, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, reducing feelings of fatigue and increasing concentration and alertness.

    For most healthy adults, moderate doses of caffeine – two to three eight-ounce cups of brewed or drip coffee (about 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine) are not harmful. However, people who regularly consume caffeine are less affected by the stimulant.

    It is best to limit the amount of caffeine a child gets, as it can affect children differently than adults. Caffeine also can limit appetite, so children who consume too much of it might eat less. Women who are pregnant should limit their caffeine intake to less than 200mg per day, as overconsumption increases the risk of miscarriage.

    • You may want to limit your caffeine intake if you are:
    • Prone to stress, anxiety or sleep problems
    • A woman with painful, lumpy breasts
    • Experiencing acid reflux or stomach ulcers
    • Experiencing high blood pressure that does get lower with medicine
    • Having problems with fast or irregular heart rhythms
    • Suffering from chronic headaches 
    • Pregnant or planning to become pregnant

    Caffeine can interact with many over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Therefore, it is important you talk with your doctor about any possible interactionscaffeine may have with the medication or supplements you take.

    Although moderate caffeine intake is not likely to cause harm to your body, too much can lead to negative and even dangerous effects. Heavy daily caffeine use — more than 500 to 600mg a day — might cause:

    • Insomnia
    • Nervousness
    • Restlessness
    • Irritability
    • Stomach upset
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Muscle tremors
    • Anxiety
    • Depression

    It is important to be aware of the daily amount of caffeine you are consuming through food, drinks and medicines. If you are consuming too much, reduce your caffeine intake slowly to make withdrawal symptoms (headaches, feeling tired, etc.) as mild as possible.

    To learn more about how caffeine might be affecting your everyday life, speak with your physician and visit

  • Cuban Island Restaurant offers authentic, flavorful dishes from Beef Empanada to Chicken Fried Steak

    A Welcoming City or a Sanctuary City? These are questions for politicians to answer. Either way, it is part of the reason we have Cuban Island Restaurant and its menu items for our dining pleasure. Let’s start at the beginning.

    Estela Gonzales and her husband, Manuel Hidalgo, left Cuba September 1994 and landed in Guantanamo Bay. After only a month, they moved to Miami where they spent just one night. It was there immigration officials told them Virginia was the place to go, Roanoke to be exact due to its status as a Welcoming City. (Learn more about Welcoming Cities here

    The couple, and their daughter Helen, did not start out as restaurant owners. After being laid off from a local company, they decided it was time for something different. Mrs. Gonzales had been cooking for a long time, a skill she learned from her grandmother. That helped her make the decision to open Cuban Island in 2010. She passed on her culinary knowledge to her husband and the business has been growing and expanding ever since.

    Deciding on Cuban Island for dinner while on a double date with a fairly “meat and potatoes” kind of couple, we were confident they would enjoy the meal. There is a very casual atmosphere inside the restaurant, and the building boasts a wall of windows.  The colors are bright – yellows and reds – with Cuban artwork gracing the walls. Patrons can either order at the counter or they can be seated and have the server take your order. We decided to sit and peruse the menu, explaining what a few of the dishes were to our friends. We chose a couple of appetizers to split and the guys ordered beer, Negro Modelo for Kirk and Presidente for Kevin. Unfortunately, our main entrees arrived prior to the appetizers, but I will review the food in order. The appetizers arrived hot. First up was the Beef Empanada with only one pastry being a serving. An empanada is similar to a hand pie – dough filled with meat folded over itself, edges pressed together and fried. The crust on the outside is flaky and easy to cut with a fork, and there is no sauce on the inside, only ground beef.  On its own, overall a very good flavor that was enhanced with the sauces we received.

    Next up are the Cuban Tamales. This dish put my friend in mind of southern food because of the masa, similar to cornmeal, which surrounds the chicken. Tamales are usually not my favorite because of the soft texture, so imagine bite-sized pieces of chicken mixed in with very soft cornbread, carefully wrapped in a corn husk, steamed in a pot and then served...that is a tamale. People always think of hot tamales, but Cuban food is not served spicy. When asked, Mrs. Gonzales says the differences between Cuban food and other ethnic foods is that a lot of spices are not used, only fresh ingredients.

    Our entrees were served with two different sauces – a green sauce that is cilantro based and very citrusy, and a red sauce that is a peppery and very spicy. The pepper used in the red sauce is a Chile de largo from Mexico. These sauces are made in-house, as are all items on the menu, including the array of cakes in the display case upon entry to the restaurant.

    LaTia selected the Chicken Fried Steak served with rice and beans and yuca. This chicken dish gets its name due to the way the chicken is cut and flattened to resemble a piece of steak. I was expecting a battered piece of chicken, but that is an American tradition. The pan sautéed chicken is tender and juicy and although LaTia felt the rice was a little dry it was still very flavorful. Yuca was a new experience for her, and based on her reaction she will have it again. Yuca is a starchy vegetable, similar in texture to a potato. Cuban Island’s preparation includes boiling and seasoning with olive oil and garlic. Her husband, Kevin, also opted for chicken, Pollo Frito. However, instead of rice and beans he chose a double order of plantains. Pollo frito is bone-in fried chicken served with a leg and thigh. The leg was a disappointment, very dry and may have been sitting for a while after being cooked. The thigh was the winner, tender and juicy and he kept going back for more of the red pepper sauce. Kevin also was a fan of the plantains, saying they were worth going off his diet.

    After asking Estela the most popular dish on the menu, Kirk went with the Chicken and Shrimp, also choosing plantains, rice and beans as his sides. The chicken is cut into chunks and the shrimp left whole. The plantains are sautéed along with green and red peppers and onions. The shrimp is well cooked and not chewy; this can be hard to achieve in a dish containing another meat.

    Fish was my choice for the evening — Tilapia served with plantains and rice and beans. The white fish filet is fried well, edges crisp and inside tender and flaky. I enjoyed the sweetness of the plantains and the addition of the green cilantro sauce adds an overall freshness. We were all excited about the recent expansion of a nightclub with weekend hours 10 p.m.–2 a.m. We finished our meals before it was time for the club to open, but Mrs. Gonzalez allowed us a peek. It is very spacious with plenty of seating and lots of room to dance.  Also featured are high ceilings and a smoking room with a ventilation system that is up to Roanoke City code requirements. There is a fully stocked bar that offers traditional Cuban cocktails such as a Cuban mojito, Cuba Libre and Pina Coladas.

    The moral of the story is that you can head over to 3150 Williamson Road in Roanoke for a delicious meal Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and then dance the night away on the weekends. I hear it helps burn calories! Feel free to call 540.529.7762 for take-out or to check for specials.


  • Editor's Note

    Bill O’Reilly, formerly with the Fox News Channel, has me thinking about the Williams Brothers song “Sweep Around” your own front door before you try to sweep around mine. The song goes on to say you know there are too many people trying to take care of others people’s business and they can't even take care of their own. Well, Bill, what you think? In light of your recent firing that came on the heels of multiple charges of sexual harassment, it appears you have a problem controlling words that come out of your mouth. But who are we to judge what other people do, take a look at yourself and you could find some faults, too.

    O’Reilly, you have spent decades in the news industry passing judgement on others, maligning character, especially against people of color. There are numerous instances where you have said clearly racist things while claiming you are not a racist at all. Let’s recap some of those comments…You said Donald Trump would have a hard time helping black people get jobs because most of them are “ill-educated and have tattoos on their foreheads.” Hmm! You once told Martin Luther King III that the African American community should wear “Don’t Get Pregnant at 14 T-shirts.” No you didn’t! You blamed Freddie Gray’s death on his “lifestyle.” Gray was the Baltimore man who died from a spinal injury after being tossed around in a police van. In late April you chose to make a super sexist joke about Rep. Maxine Waters of California following a critical comment she made about President Donald Trump, You said you didn’t hear what Waters said because “I was looking at the James Brown (wig she was wearing). If we have a picture of James, it’s the same wig.” Oh my! You need to take a little time, stop, look in the mirror and check yourself Bill.

    Now that brings me to the most recent issue relating to your character…talking to women in a sexually harassing way. Perquita Burgess, one of the women who has accused you of making unwarranted gestures and comments, said you leered at her as she sat at her desk at Fox, and you even called her “Hot Chocolate.” Verbal abuse, lewd comments and unwanted advances have no place in society, especially the work environment. Finally, Bill, I hope you realize the need to clean it up, I wouldn't let it be said I waited too late. Clean it up, stop going around talking about people. Don't you know that that's a sin? How can you criticize someone else when you are doing wrong yourself? And, finally, be careful how you through stones because one might shatter your ivory tower.


    Getting it right...

    From time to time, mistakes occur. And when that happens, we want to make certain we get it right. In last month’s edition...

    Story on “Badges and Barbers,” Officer Bryan was referred to as Luke. His name is Lucas. The opinion piece on “Diversity among judges,” failed to acknowledge Uley Norris Damiani, first person of Hispanic descent elected judge in Virginia in 2009; Jon Tran, first Asian American elected circuit court judge in Virginia in 2013; and Rupen Shah, first Indian American judge elected in 2017.

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