By SKEETER TOWER
Special to the OBSERVER
In this season of Christmas giving and gratitude, let us be vigilant and grateful to members of the community who give of themselves in very special ways that enrich the lives of those around them. They are everywhere around us, quietly doing kind and thoughtful things. I want to highlight one little cluster of Latino women who are on a mission of sorts to contribute to this community.
Standing, from left: Gisela Garcia, Martha Monsalve and Giced Garcia. Seated: Marleny Garcia.
Perhaps you have wondered about the three-season, bright oasis of flowers which greets residents and visitors to Dunkirk just as you enter the curve on Maple Avenue (Route 60) across from School No. 3. Suddenly, this blaze of color appears and two modest but tidy homes stand out in the landscape. A sign in the window in Spanish reads "Casa de Paz" (House of Peace). For two years in a row, this location has been selected for "Yard of the Week" representing the Fourth Ward and serving as a welcome to the city itself, as well as an inspiration to the many little children who walk across the highway to school.
I was curious about the people who transformed this property and wondered just what ingredients made for the contrast of these two homes against the backdrop of the nearby neighborhood. I stopped to inquire. I discovered a Spanish-speaking household, composed of one woman from Cuba and three other women from Colombia, South America, who own and care for these two houses at 152 and 154 Maple Ave. They live in a cooperative initiative where each has a talent or skill to offer.
Martha Monsalve is in charge of the gardens. Giced, Marleny and Gisela Garcia all contribute to fixing and painting and upgrading the two houses. The first they bought to live in. The second they bought to protect their real estate investment, deal with a shared driveway, to provide a quality rental property next door.
I was welcomed into the home and offered a tropical drink. They happily explained the message on the sign, "House of Peace." It refers to a Biblical reading from Jeremiah Chapter 29:5 "Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them And seek the peace of the city. And pray unto the Lord for it, for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace."
These devoted Christian women met in 1980 at the Baptist Seminary in Manhattan and came to Dunkirk first to practice their missionary ideals. They fell in love with this city by the lake, loved the brick streets (now mostly covered over), the trees arching over the streets (many since cut down) and committed themselves to return. Martha and Marleny were the first to move here permanently in 1987. They purchased the house at 152 Maple Ave. in 1990, cherishing it for the beautiful woodwork inside. They work together cooperatively as "sisters in Christ" to serve the community and to support themselves.
Giced has worked for 12 years at the Carriage House, currently on the syrup line. She is very proud of her work and the products of the company, lining up a collection of the items produced there to send home with me. One could not ask for a better public relations person for a company! In fact, she has been chosen employee of the month on two different occasions. Marleny has worked for 15 years at Carriage House and also has been chosen twice as employee of the month.
Martha is employed at Walmart. She is the petite woman who many remember as the friendly greeter for customers at the door or helping customers in the garden shop. She currently works in the produce department. She, too, has been recognized by her employer for outstanding contribution to the company.
Martha and Marleny provide outreach at the Chautauqua County jail in Mayville every other Sunday serving the Spanish speaking population. Spanish Chaplain Alfonso Pagan speaks highly of their services, and feels very fortunate to have them on board." They are able to reference the devastating impact of the drug culture in Colombia and the Americas during the terrifying reign of Pablo Escobar, continuing even today, a message which speaks to the prisoners in a powerful and personal way." It is their hope that at least some of the inmates will listen to the message and be able to turn their lives around. These women are very modest and explain, "Our mission is to glorify the Lord." It is to this end that they, along with 17 total members, have tithed, and established the Baptist church at 201 Washington Ave. It was these "sisters," who this summer put on their work clothes, and painted the Baptist church building across from the Literacy Council Bookstore a peaceful mint green. Each August they host a picnic for the community and give away items to anyone in need in the public.
The most recent sister to join the group is Gisela, also from Colombia. Her role in the household has been to cook for the others while learning English. She is soon to start work at the Resource Center. When I commented on the wonderful aroma from food on the stove, Gisela generously offered the recipe for one of her favorite native specialties and invited me to dinner. I am passing this on for others to enjoy as well:
Pollo a la Malta
Mince two tomatoes and two onions, three fresh leaves of cilantro and add to 2 teaspoons of Goya adobo (all purpose seasoning), a bottle of Goya malta and a small can of tomato sauce to make a marinade. Add one cut up chicken and marinade for three days. Select a large pan, add a little oil and stir fry the chicken for about half an hour. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes.
Many new immigrants have contributed to the growth and success of Dunkirk. Here are several who rejoice in their faith and are serving the community in a variety of ways. Bienvenida y muchas gracias Martha, Marleny, Giced, Gisela - and Shanno, their adorable dog. Thank you for your prayers and vision of peace for the city.