Holland Chamber Honors Minority Business

April 14, 2006
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HOLLANDHolland’s minority business community is growing, and the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce’s first Business Connections Recognition Awards reflect that fact.

Herb Weller, of Weller Language Services, was recognized as the inaugural Outstanding Advocate for Minority-Owned Businesses, while Tony Castillo, president of Milagro Six and owner of three Holland-area McDonald’s, was honored with the Minority Business of the Year award.

Both Weller and Castillo said they were honored by the recognition and pleased with the sold-out event, which brought together a diverse group of 200 people.

“It was great to see the number of people,” Castillo said.

Castillo said the award was not just recognizing his efforts as a minority business owner and a member of the community, but also the diversity in the community itself and the other people who have played a part.

“There could have been many others who are certainly deserving of this,” he said.

Weller, who accepted his award in Spanish and repeated his acceptance in English, said he believed the event and the awards represented the chamber’s recognition of minorities in business and the diversity of the Holland area’s population.

“It’s a part of a growing recognition on the part of the chamber of the need to reach out to the minority community,” he said. “I’m delighted that the committee has been able to put the event together.”

The Business Connections Committee is one of the largest in the chamber, said Patricia Strachan, committee member and chamber administrative assistant.

“This does make such a statement,” she said of the committee’s popularity and the event’s success.

The committee meets the first Wednesday of the month at a different minority-owned business, said Eleanor Lopez, a member of the committee. Each meeting is attended by about 20 to 30 people who meet to discuss issues affecting minority business owners. Lopez said the committee is an important part of accepting minority business owners.

“Our community has become very diverse,” Lopez said. “We don’t want to be a community divided.”

Alfredo Gonzales, HopeCollege associate provost and keynote speaker at the event, told the audience that Holland has a chance to have the diverse population work together and avoid racial issues that have plagued cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit and New Orleans

“We are a changing community, and changing very rapidly,” he said.

Gonzales also encouraged people to learn more about people of other races, religions and cultures through the many resources in the area, including the variety of churches, Buddhist temples and the Institute for Healing Racism, as well as events such as the Tulipanes Film Festival, which Castillo chaired.

Frank Coronado, president of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and corporate relations manager at DavenportUniversity in Holland, nominated both Castillo and Weller. Coronado said he is grateful for both men’s dedication to the area and to diversity.

Weller, a retired Hope College Spanish professor, started Weller Language Services in 1996. The company specializes in translating English to Spanish and Spanish to English, and offers private Spanish language lessons.

“It’s so good to see Herb be an advocate for minority businesses,” Coronado said. “Herb’s an advocate for everybody.”

Coronado added that Castillo’s enthusiasm for the community and for events such as Tulipanes is fantastic to see.

Dante Villarreal, business consultant for the Small Business and TechnologyDevelopmentCenter and member of the Business Connections Committee, said he thought the event reflected well on Holland’s commitment to diversity and to minority business owners.

“It’s great to allow people to recognize the minority business’ contributions to our local economy,” he said.

Villarreal said the diversity of the attendants also spoke well of the city.

“I think it is representative of our community,” he said. “That’s something that’s important for everyone to digest.”    

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