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From Committee to Council

Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce's Hispanic Business Committee expands to council level.

Pairing students of immigrant parents with community businesses, organizing a Hispanic Business reception for more than 300 people where 25 immigrants were sworn in as United States citizens and conducting community outreach at annual events in Reston and Herndon.

This is just a small list of accomplishments for the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce's Hispanic Business Committee since its inception in the spring of 2004.

Due to these successes, and increased involvement from groups outside Herndon's business community, the committee was recently elevated by the chamber to a council level.

This change will allow the group to continue it mission through partnerships with businesses and groups outside of the Herndon-Dulles area.

"We have taken a regional initiative to create an alliance of Hispanic chambers," said Danny Vargas, former vice chair and current member of the Hispanic Business Committee, about the groups' latest efforts.

An active member of the chamber and president of VARCom Solutions — a provider of marketing, sales and communication services — Vargas is one of Herndon's many successful Hispanic business owners. Because he is active within the Hispanic and business communities, Vargas — along with other chamber members — immediately saw a disconnect between the two groups.

"We wanted to bring Hispanic businesses together with mainstream businesses and vice versa," he said about the reasons for the creation of a Hispanic Business Committee.

After meeting with Pat Williams, the current chamber chairman who's agenda included combining Herndon's multicultural community with the business world, the committee's formation began.

"The committee provided a home for Hispanic businesses to become a vital part of the chamber," said Williams, president of GraceFul Care, a company that provides non-medical companionship and assistance for seniors at home.

AT ITS INCEPTION, the committee — now council — was only a task force, said Ellen Kaminsky, chamber membership director. This was done to ensure there would be enough business support and involvement to move forward.

"It began as a task force because minority businesses in the area were not as well seen," said Kaminsky. "We wanted them to have access to the chamber and its resources, so we created a steering committee."

After a few meetings it was evident that there was an interest among Hispanic business owners to create a committee.

"The chamber provides a lot of opportunities for its members to have an influence over the things they care about," said Kaminsky. "It became clear right way that this was a thing that would grow into a committee and eventually a council. But, first we needed to determine if the commitment was there."

Almost two years later, the commitment is so strong the group's monthly meetings are standing room only. Even chamber members outside of the Herndon Dulles area have inquired about how they can team up with the council to reach Hispanic businesses in their communities.

Kaminsky said once a committee reaches the level where outside businesses and organizations contact the chamber to work with it, that committee then graduates to the council level.

WITH 2005 BEING its first full year to implement community outreach programs, the council collaborated with groups like the Loudoun County Small Business Development Center and Liberty's Promise.

The small business center partnership used bilingual chamber members to serve as instructors and subject matter experts for the small business development center's small business classes taught in Spanish.

Liberty's Promise, a group dedicated to providing opportunities for students of immigrant parents, is currently working with the chamber to pair student interns with businesses in the area.

Additional 2005 highlights include a large Hispanic Business reception where more than 300 in attendance witnessed 25 immigrants sworn in as United States citizens. Community outreach efforts included appearances at the annual Reston Multicultural Festival and the Herndon Hispanic Heritage Festival. The group also created a Hispanic Resource Guide that provides information in Spanish for employers, employees and new immigrants. The guide includes the chamber's Web address, which can also be accessed in Spanish.

Working with U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf's (R-10) office, the council assisted with the congressman's continued gang prevention efforts through an initiative to link businesses with young people.

Currently the council is working with the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to offer a joint membership arrangement.

Headed by Giovanni Cozzarelli, of the Loudoun County Small Business Development Center, the Hispanic Business Council's 24 business members are already planning the next steps, including an adopt-a-company mentoring program and a "Taste of Latin America" reception in September.

"There is a view with this group beyond 'what can this council do for me?'," said Williams. "There is a view of 'what can I do for the community?'"