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Helping the homeless

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on December 14, 2011 with No Comments

For two decades, Carlos Rivero, owner of don Quijote Restaurant in Valparaiso, has invited longtime friends and friends he just now met to a special holiday celebration to help the area homeless.

Included in the life lesson is his special message he prepares for the day, using children from area high schools.

“This project is one I really believe in,” said Rivero.

“It’s something that really touches my heart.”

Robert Cespedes, the Spanish teacher at Valparaiso High School was there with his team of Spanish Club members and classroom students. Students had been in the community gathering the donated prizes for the silent auctions and raffles. They continued to work the crowd selling still more raffle tickets.

“This is more of giving information (to the students),” Cespedes said. And they learn by watching Rivero work.

“He’s a very giving person,” said Cespedes. “Very kind. He gives 100 percent of what we raise here today. You see him work and you gain a mentality. “

Catherine Shook of Housing Opportunities, the homeless shelter which is the beneficiary of this annual event, could not agree more.

“This is obviously one of our biggest fund raisers,” she said. “But think of this: When we had our own dinner for clients and sponsors, Carlos also supplied that food. A lot of places might give you a price for costs, but he never asks for anything. He is making people aware of the homeless in our area.”

Shook said Housing Opportunities currently has families with 91 children clients. Most of those, she said are in the 6-8 age range. So, when high school students are made aware of the children benefiting from the program, it really registers.

“Carlos makes the students aware,” Shook said. “Wherever they go from here, out in to the world, they now have a sense of what it means to give back.

Rivero agrees he especially reaches out to the children of families currently without a permanent home.

“First hand,” he said. “I spoke at a Liberty Township church and all the kids over there were ready to help.

“You may see a child in school and he’s just another child in your school. The homeless do not look any special way. They are just normal kids in school.

“Their parents may just be between jobs, maybe three, four, five months and they have lost their home for now.

“You have to be able to see the eyes of these kids. They want to feel (they are) part of society.

“There are bad things but they are not bad people.”

This year, Spring Valley Homeless Shelter reopened, as Housing Opportunities and Christian Community Action reached an agreement to transfer the shelter to Housing Opportunities.

Rivero said he understands how the people he wants to help feel.

“This happens every time I talk with homeless,” said Rivero.

“Most people think of someone living under a bridge or maybe standing around a barrel with a fire in it to keep warm.

“No, we are talking the traditional homeless. Most of the time, what they need is three, four or five months to get back on their feet.”

And he starts that process with his fund raiser.

Every participant paid $35. “One hundred percent of the money goes to the homeless,” said Rivero. “Even my waitresses over here, they’ll put in their tips and they work this for free.

“We have a buffet, we have music, we have door prizes and a silent auction. The people each get a $15 gift certificate they can use here later.

“We don’t keep any money.”

As an immigrant, Rivero says he sees so much in this holiday season that reinforces he made the right choice to settle in Valparaiso.

“It’s not just me,” he said. “I go to other events and I see a certain group. I go to another and here’s my friends in my community again. It’s not just me.”

He subscribes to the theory that even in this recession, maybe especially in this recession, the hometown heroes try harder, reach deeper and give more than ever.

“OK, so it is the holiday season and this also makes you feel good,” said Rivero. 

“It’s a win situation because we are helping those in need and that is a win for them as well. It is a win situation for those who come here because they get more than they pay for and that includes how they feel. I think it’s a win situation for me to get involved with the students, with the homeless, with my friends in my community.”

For more information on don Quijote Restaurant in Valparaiso, 119 E. Lincolnway, call 219-462-7976.

For more information on how to help homeless, visit www.ccatransforms.org. To help support housing services throughout Porter County, monetary donations may be sent to Housing Opportunities, 954 Eastport Centre Drive, Suite A, Valparaiso, IN 46383. For more information, call 219-548-2800 or visit www.housing-opportunities.com.

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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