It’s All Relative: ‘The Onyx Family’ Builds Hit Brand Through YouTube

It’s All Relative: ‘The Onyx Family’ Builds Hit Brand Through YouTube

Imagine creating a work environment where every member of the family is gainfully employed. It’s also profitable enough to be the sole source of income — and don’t have to leave your house.

For Rita and Mirthell Mitchell, that’s a dream come true. The couple built a brand based on their four kids. Now, Shalom, Sinead, Sade (Shasha) and Shiloh are brand ambassadors and content creators.

Better known to the YouTube world as “The Onyx Family,” they have created a huge following.

“The Onyx Family”  claims 6.3 million total subscribers, over 81 million monthly views and nearly 3 1/2 billion lifetime views on their channel. Opportunities to work with Dr. Fauci, an interview with actor Matthew McConaughey and an invite from the Biden/Harris campaign tops an amazing year of growth. This family prides itself on giving as much as it receives. Their philanthropy work includes funding community outreach programs and contributing to HBCU scholarships.

Zenger News spoke with Rita and Mirthell Mitchell to discuss their unique work situation and the decision to quit their 9-5 jobs and build the family brand.

Percy Crawford interviewed Rita and Mirthell Mitchell for Zenger News.


Zenger News: It must be a dream come true to turn an idea into an empire. Did you ever see ‘The Onyx Family’ becoming this big?

Rita Mitchell: No! When we first started, we felt it would be us going on YouTube, making some great family memories. But we didn’t have a concept of how people made money on YouTube, much less build a brand. Everything evolved with time and experience.

Percy Crawford interviewed Rita and Mirthell Mitchell for Zenger News. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Mirthell Mitchell: In 2015, we were dabbling around with YouTube and making funny videos. Not seriously. It wasn’t until 2016 that Rita started doing some research, and then we took it really seriously in March. We got a channel and did all these videos, and in that month, it actually took off. We had never seen that much money in our lifetime in one setting. And in two months, we paid off all of our debt.

Rita: In two weeks, I quit my 9-5. I was at a crossroads. I had to decide if I’m going to work with my family or if I’m going to build this medical company that in the long run could turn a profit. When you’re launching a regular business, it’s more overhead and stress. We put out our first video, and it got a few views. And I thought: “Well, where’s the millions of views?” I started to do my own research and learned about search engine optimization, how to make an appealing thumbnail.

I also let my kids and their creativity just go! Kids can speak to kids. We said: “OK, you’re really good at this, focus on this.” And we did that with everybody. My whole thing was organizing everything, researching, so that when it all came together, it was having the maximum impact.

Zenger: Did you get “You’re crazy for leaving your ‘real’ job” treatment?

Rita: When we first started, I never involved my family or my friends. In fact, for about nine months, we didn’t tell a soul what we were doing. We just did it and depended on loving who we are. We never asked anyone to support it. People really didn’t know what was happening. They saw us going on certain vacations, and they were thinking it was all from my medical company. Till one day, I decided to start sharing what we’ve been doing and letting people know that I actually hadn’t been working in the medical field in a long time. Because the results had already been proven, they were much-much more open, then if we had said, this is what we’re going to do.

Mirthell: They were more curious than anything.

Zenger: What was your “Wow,” moment when you realized how much the brand was growing or went to sleep only to wake up to the views being through the roof

Rita: We had posted this video, I think on a Friday. We hadn’t checked the views, but by Saturday night, it had over 3 million views. It wasn’t even a full 24 hours. We had no clue something could go that far, that high so quickly. When you saw the revenue going up by the thousands every day, it made us understand why some people are doing it full-time. That was my a-ha moment! If you can continue to do this formula, you can get out of the whole 9-5 rut.

Mirthell: I had left my job in October to join my wife in her medical company. I had worked at my job for about 17 years. I loved what I did. I was a marriage and family therapist and also an ordained minister. I really didn’t want to leave my job, but my wife had supported me for many years, and she had this opportunity with these doctors to start this medical company in Florida. It was really her being a nurse practitioner that carried us financially. It brought us to a place where we could sustain ourselves.

A few months later, I actually resigned and left the congregation. I’m Canadian, so I cannot work in the United States — so I am depending on this medical company to be the thing. So, you can imagine when my wife tells me she doesn’t want to do the medical company anymore, she wants to do this thing. And she’ll figure it out. She could foresee that she wouldn’t like it. I was just beside myself: “What are we going to do now?” My a-ha moment came when we started to do YouTube in March. About six months later, it took off. I was like, “OK. We can do this.” It seemed like a blessing outside of anything I could have ever imagined.

 

Zenger: Then a global pandemic hit. Did that affect the way you put out content or the family dynamic of working together?

Rita: Since we home school and work from home, the only thing that was different is we didn’t focus so much on work. We were conscious of the fact that, as an adult, it’s hard living in a pandemic. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a teenager or 20 and wonder what my future is going to be like. When it came to our daily schedule for YouTube and other things, we took a relaxed approach, making sure that everybody’s mental health was prioritized.

Mirthell: It created more intimacy than content. During this time, Shiloh, who’s into gaming, came to us and said: “I’d like to learn Japanese and coding.” We enrolled him in a coding class for part of his homeschooling and he started learning Japanese because a lot of the games that he’s interested in are Japanese. We like to give our children that leverage to be able to discover where they would like to go. That happened during the pandemic.

And then when things like George Floyd happened, we kind of rolled with the punches. We went out there for some time just lending our voice to the movement. As well as with the pandemic, we would create jingles about washing your hands, making sure you’re quarantining effectively. Dr. Fauci saw some of our videos, and he called us and wanted to collaborate. The Biden and Harris team got wind of our channel, and they asked us to help with, ‘Rock the Vote.’ And when they won, asked us to participate in the inauguration.

Zenger: I understand Vice President Harris is related to one of you?

Mirthell: Yes! We didn’t know this prior. We found this out in 2019 when Kamala was running for president, and her father put out his memoir. His memoir kind of went viral, her Jamaican roots, especially within the Jamaican community. My parents are both Jamaican. My mom saw the pictures and the name, and she said: “I know these people. They are my relatives.”

It was quite the surprise to hear the stories from my mom about visiting Kamala’s grandmother back in Jamaica. But we never really met Kamala or her father. I’m not even sure if Kamala knows all of this. It was our little secret, and we enjoyed it, but it did make it a little bit more special. Not only that it was the first black female Vice President that my wife and my daughters could be proud of, but in our hearts, we were like: “Yeah, we in the White House, ya’ll.”

Zenger: You have four kids and allowed each to use their talents to keep this engine running. You’re not forcing them to be a part of something they’re not into.

Mirthell: There is a book that we just read from Matthew McConaughey … we’re doing an interview with him in the next couple of weeks. He described his mother as saying that raising her child was almost like a bowing arrow and a target. Rather than pointing the child toward the target as the arrow, she saw it more that he was the target and the focus was coming toward him. We could identify with that because you get one shot to get them to hit that target. Instead, their gifts and talents were more like magnets, drawing the opportunities to them, as opposed to us trying to make them hit that opportunity.

Fast-forward: They are 21, 20, 18 and 14, sitting at the table with the very professionals of some of the cartoons they were watching as a little kid. The leaders at Nickelodeon responsible for SpongeBob and The Proud Family are all working on our cartoon. The first season launched and is now bought by Amazon Prime. They’re sitting at the table as writers, as producers, my daughter creates the music, and it’s just like, “Whoa!” You shift from them hitting a target to people coming to you.

Zenger: How important is it to keep building the brand and maintaining healthy working relationships with a number of different companies? 

Rita: It’s very important. I always teach the kids this. Now and then, I’ll put on a show, or I’ll put on a song from the ’80s or ’90s and ask: “You think these people are still around? You think they are doing what they were doing back then?” 99% of the time, it’s a no. What I try to do is let them know we are not just entertainers, but a business. That’s why it’s so important to make connections. Brands come and go. But as long as we are networking, we’re being professional and showcasing our platform, but also allowing it to be a platform that showcases other people’s inventions or products.

There is going to be a peak for us, so I’m trying to teach them there can be a legacy — they can pass this on to their children. And have that leg-up we were not allowed to have as black people. The way you do it is by continuing to have business relationships along with being entertaining and fun.

Zenger: Speak a little about the charitable things you have done and are doing. 

Mirthell: We make sure we take a certain percentage of our income, and we set it aside just to give back. We don’t even consider it ours. And we encourage our children to look for opportunities to give. Every week, we give to some family in need, whether it’s online, or it’s brought to our attention that they have a problem. And we encourage our kids to look for individuals in need, so that we can give back to them. Systematically, we give as well to our church and Historically Black Colleges [HBCU]. Every year, we make sure we are giving to the college funds and the university funds. Right now, we have a project that is happening in Africa.

Rita: In Zimbabwe.

Mirthell: The way the pandemic is affecting them is unique, as well as some of the political issues. We are working with a foundation to help. We’re constantly looking for ways to give back to our local community as well as abroad.

Rita: Just last night, one of my daughters came in and said: “Mom, can I have the card?” We call it the ‘giving card’ or the ‘charity card.’ It’s connected to that account, and they know to just get the card. They are always looking for opportunities to give. We do it intentionally every week, but also, we just do it when we see it. We just think it’s very important to give back.

(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Fern Siegel)



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Carmen Solano’s 15 McDonald’s

Carmen Solano’s 15 McDonald’s

Carmen Solano came to Chicago from her native Dominican Republic with a single suitcase and a huge dream: to become an artist. Today, she is an entrepreneur and the owner of 15 McDonald’s.

When she set foot in Chicago in 1980, Carmen Solano-De Carrier knew she wanted to study broadcasting at Columbia College and pursue a career behind the cameras and microphones.

The 19-year-old was the daughter of Rafael Solano, a famous Dominican musician and composer, and grew up admiring her father. (Rafael Solano composed Por Amor, a song translated into several languages ​​and performed by such artists as Plácido Domingo.)

“My father had a show called Solano. When I was 12, I introduced people to the show. From that time, I loved the microphone, television and being behind the cameras. I sang with my dad, and that’s what I wanted to do,” she said with a smile.

But to fulfill her dreams, she had to work first. Solano did not realize it then, but she chose a job that would set the course for her life.

“A McDonald’s restaurant was opening then. I applied for a job and secured it. I worked from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; at 2:00 p.m., I would go to Columbia College until 10:00 p.m., and I would do the same the next day.”

 

Solano worked her way up at McDonald’s, from being a cashier to executive positions. While working behind the counter, she met her first husband, married, had children and continued to grow with the company. She was an employee for 23 years, but suddenly her life took a turn, and she became an entrepreneur.

“I divorced my first husband and met my second husband at McDonald’s. He was a department head in the company, and I worked as a consultant for franchise operators. It was then when I learned what an operator was,” she said.

Pregnant with a baby girl and with two decades of experience in the world’s largest restaurant chain, Carmen and her husband decided to buy their first McDonald’s franchise in 2002.

“People in the central office were not very happy because they did not have many Latinos in high ranks in Chicago. They didn’t want us to leave, but they ended up helping us and wished us luck,” she said.

McDonald’s had a rule of thumb at that time: it did not grant Chicago franchises to company employees. So, the couple opened their first two restaurants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. How did Solano and her husband secure the initial capital? They used money from their 401K and a company loan.

That’s where Carmen started her mini-chain. Later, the possibility arose of opening a restaurant in Chicago, and another came, and another. The couple controls 21 restaurants today, 15 of which belong to Carmen.

“When you become an owner, it’s as if a train passed over you. There are many things that you are not taught as an employee and that you have to learn as an owner,” she said.

The businesswoman sees her colleagues and employees as part of a family. *** La empresaria ve a sus compañeros y empleados como parte de una familia. (Negocios Now).

People want to work with Carmen

Asked about the challenge of getting 15 restaurants in just 17 years, the businesswoman acknowledges that she has had many challenges, but none harder than finding employees.

“Right now, for all businesses, the most difficult thing is to get the staff. I have been fortunate. Chicago has a large Latino community, and people who come want to work for Carmen, not for McDonald’s,” she said.

The businesswoman attributes it to the special relationship she has with her employees. “I talk a lot with them. We have a very close relationship. I go to different restaurants every day, and I try to get to know them. Some tell me about their personal lives, and I try to help them,” she said. “If they have an emergency, I give them a loan, and they pay me little by little with their check.”

She has built a kind of family that is key when dealing with 15 restaurants simultaneously. “A lot of people have made their way up here, starting from the bottom,” she said. “When I see that they have potential, I send them to classes. McDonald’s has one of the best business training in the world. I didn’t know anything about business because I wanted to be on television. I learned it here.”

Carmen Solano believes that McDonald’s has been a great help and an incredible opportunity in her life. *** Carmen Solano considera que McDonald’s ha sido una gran ayuda y una increíble oportunidad en su vida. (Crystal Jo / Unsplash).

Carmen would like to say other businesswomen who are dealing with a myriad of challenges, “As Latinas and women, we have a lot to contribute to a company. We are moms, and ‘we run’ the house business. We are the ones who go to the supermarket with a budget to spend, the ones who usually make the children’s medical appointments, help them with homework. I mean, we know how to plan and that makes things a little easier.”

“As Latinas, we protect our children. We want them to be with us at home. We believe a lot in family life, and we take those ideas into business and make a family. This is what I have done, and I believe that’s why I have done so well,” she said.

“What is the limit of Carmen Solano? Where do you want to go?” we asked her.

“This is something people usually ask me,” she said. I don’t know, because when I started, I didn’t think I would have 15 restaurants. But I’m one of those people who believe that if there’s an opportunity, one has to take it.”

The post Los 15 McDonald’s de Carmen Solano  appeared first on Negocios Now.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Melanie Slone and Carlin Becker.)



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Halloween Fight Night: Leo Santa Cruz Battles Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis in Texas

Halloween Fight Night: Leo Santa Cruz Battles Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis in Texas

If you can’t trick or treat on Halloween night, you can catch a treat of a boxing match featuring two highly skilled world champions fighting for both the WBA super featherweight and lightweight championships. Leo Santa Cruz (37-1-1, 19 knockouts) is set to headline his first pay-per-view event in his 40th professional bout.

Santa Cruz is a high-energy fighter known for his high volume of punches. His fan-friendly style has helped him land several high-profile televised fights. ‘El Terremoto’ is trying to win a title in his fifth different weight class.

Santa Cruz last fought nearly a year ago, when he defeated Miguel Flores by unanimous decision on Nov. 23. Gervonta Davis, Santa Cruz’s next opponent, is 23-0-0 with 22 knockouts. Expect 4th of July-like fireworks on Halloween night at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

During a recent conversation, Santa Cruz opened up about his fight with Davis, how his father’s health struggles motivate him and much more.

Percy Crawford interviewed Leo Santa Cruz for Zenger News.

Santa Cruz is a high energy fighter known for his high volume of punches (Photo courtesy of Mayweather Promotions)

Percy Crawford interviewed Leo Santa Cruz for Zenger News (Photo courtesy of Percy Crawford)

Zenger: How are you doing, Leo?

Leo Santa Cruz: I feel good. I just got done training, so I feel great. How are you?

Zenger: I’m great. Thanks for asking. I know you have a tight schedule, so I’ll keep it short. When you look at footage of Gervonta Davis, what are your takeaways?

Santa Cruz: He’s a great fighter, great talent, great skills, great puncher, great power. He has everything that a fighter can ask for. The only thing is maybe his stamina, but he’s been training hard for this fight, and it shows. Hopefully, he’s in great condition. I don’t take anything away from him. He’s a great fighter.

Zenger: You seem to live a very comfortable life right now. At 32 years old, what keeps you motivated to continue to fight at such a high level?

Santa Cruz: What keeps me motivated is my family. We grew up really poor. We struggled a lot, and I don’t want to go back to that. I continue to train hard in the gym, make great fights and keep my family straight for them to live and create a good future.

Zenger: We just watched Vasiliy Lomachenko, a 32-year old guy, move up in weight and lose to a 23-year old fighter who was bigger than he was. You are 32, and Gervonta is 25. You’re moving up, as did Lomachenko. How do you prevent having the same fate as the perception of the bigger and younger fighter having the advantage?

Santa Cruz: Yeah (laughing). I think the difference is I have a heart. I have that Aztec Warrior Mexican heart. I’m going to go out there no matter what. I’m not going to be scared to throw punches. No matter if he is the bigger guy, I’m going to go out there and throw punches and be on top of him. We don’t back down from nobody. We are going to be there with him with that Aztec spirit.

“I’m going to go out there no matter what. I’m not going to be scared to throw punches,” said Santa Cruz. (Photo courtesy of Mayweather Promotions)

Zenger: This fight will take place on Halloween night, which is the last day of October, which marks the last day of essentially ‘Cancer Awareness Month.’ Your father’s health issues and battle with cancer are well-documented. Are you using them as motivation to fuel you for this fight, or do you feel it’s best to leave those emotions out of it because that can be a dangerous approach?

Santa Cruz: I don’t have to fight emotional. My dad is great motivation for me because he has struggled going through everything he’s going through. What I’m going through in the gym, training hard and everything, is nothing compared to what he’s going through and what he’s been through. So, when I feel myself feeling down or a little bit tired, I think about my dad. I do this for him. I know that if I get this win, he is going to be very happy, and it will be extra motivation for him to continue fighting against cancer, and that’s what I want. But like I say, this is boxing, and you never know. Anything can happen out there. I just want for hopefully both of us to come out healthy from the fight. And I want my dad to not worry about me if anything goes wrong. I want to motivate him and make him proud.

Zenger: Most observers are viewing this fight as a volume-versus-power fight: Your volume against Davis’ power. Do you agree with that, or do you see this fight as being more than just that?

Santa Cruz: I think it’s a little bit more. I’m not only just volume. I can box. If I throw my volume, he will catch me. I can get caught with something, and he could catch me with a good power punch. I don’t want to go out there and just throw a lot of punches. I just have to go out there and be smart, pick my punches and fight a smart fight. But once we’re in there, we know we have to fight him; and whatever is working, that’s what we’re going to do.

Zenger: Obviously, Floyd Mayweather can’t fight for Gervonta, but his presence in this camp has been instrumental — or it appears to have been instrumental in how Gervonta has trained. Do you think Gervonta could possibly get caught up in trying to impress Floyd too much and that could lead to opportunities for you?

Santa Cruz last fought nearly a year ago, when he defeated Miguel Flores by unanimous decision on Nov. 23rd. (Photo courtesy of Mayweather Promotions)

Santa Cruz: Yeah, hopefully he does make mistakes because of that. When you have someone like Floyd Mayweather around you … if I had Floyd Mayweather in my corner, I would be trying to impress him so much that maybe I would get too carried away and do something wrong. Or get too frustrated trying to do what he’s telling me, and I can’t do it. So, it’s a little bit of both. It can be extra motivation, and it can be a distraction. We’re going to see fight day how it plays out.

Zenger: You’re adding weight and muscle to your frame. Physically, how do you feel?

Santa Cruz: Physically, I feel great. I feel strong. I look strong. People are telling me I look really big, and I’ve been looking strong in the sparring and on the mitts and everything. I like to hear that because I’ve been working hard and doing everything that I have to do in the gym to go out there and give a great fight. We are happy with the results right now.

Zenger: You always give us your best. I appreciate the time. Good luck on fight night, and I hope both you and Gervonta walk away healthy.

Santa Cruz: Thank you, man. I appreciate it and have a great day.

(Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)



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‘Made It Out’ Author Recalls Escape From Streets of New Orleans and Corporate America

‘Made It Out’ Author Recalls Escape From Streets of New Orleans and Corporate America

Ross Williams made it out, and then he wrote a book about it.

Growing up in New Orleans’ 7th Ward can be rife with challenges. The horror stories far exceed the successful ones. Ross’s journey is an exception, and an exceptional one.

Surrounded by a solid family with community values, Williams attended Tulane University where he studied sociology. He has gone on to become the author of two best-sellers within an eight-month span.

 

“Made It Out” is testimony not only to his journey, but also to the similarities of surviving the streets and corporate America. His follow-up book, “Crabs In A Barrel: War On Racism,” gives a different perspective on the phrase that focuses more on the barrel than on the crab.

Author is just one of Williams’ many hats. He is also CEO of Williams Commerce Writing Services, which aims to empower job seekers, authors and entrepreneurs.

Photo courtesy of Ross Williams

Zenger News invited Williams for a Q&A session to learn more about his break-out book and journey of discovery.

Percy Crawford interviewed Ross Williams for Zenger News.


Percy Crawford interviewed Ross Williams for Zenger News (Photo courtesy of Percy Crawford)

Zenger: How did you break the cycle, so to speak, and make it out of the 7th Ward in New Orleans?

Williams: Really learned as much as possible. So, really learning what cursed prior generations and trying to avoid those same things. A lot of that came from learning from my parents who were born in the 1940s, so a lot of my family members are older. So, I have a lot of old-school values. I had the chance to learn about life before my era… I was able to accumulate all of that and just learn from every lesson or loss that I had in life and just never settled.

Zenger: What was it like growing up there and seeing some of the things you experienced?

Williams: I had a sense of pride about my community. My mother’s side of the family has been part of the St. Bernard, 7th Ward community since it was established back in the 1930s and 40s. A lot of people talk about the downfall of the neighborhood. Of course, I discuss that in my first book, “Made It Out,” some of the things I experienced. But one of the big things my neighborhood helped with was just building a confidence about myself and my abilities. At first it was basketball and then it became a swag with everything I do. I believe that I can be the best at whatever I put my mind to.

Zenger: What made you decide to even write a book?

Williams: Really to help other people to make it out of situations that they encountered. At first when I was writing my book, it was kind of like making it out of the inner city. I felt my lessons were applicable to any environment that you can grow up in. Like I said, learning from mistakes, gravitating towards positive energy, and learning from your losses. I really just wanted to give people the blueprint because halfway through the book it became about making it out of corporate America and becoming an entrepreneur. As of right now, even just picking up from there, I’m trying to show the world that I’ve made it out since then. Since the book, I’m still making it out.

Zenger: You actually make parallels in the book about the similarities of making it out of the street life and making it through corporate America. As crazy as it sounds, there’s not very much separation, is there?

Williams: I think in society with social engineering, a lot of us feel that if we are a different race or different religion, society has taught us that the next person is very different from us. And we can’t see eye-to-eye just because we come from different worlds or experiences. Gangstas and crooked people growing up in inner cities are no different than white collar gangstas. White collar gangstas are actually more cutthroat because at least in the neighborhood you know who to look out for. In corporate America, a lot of people have ulterior motives, but they project friendly energy. It’s not really necessary. It’s not these people need me to get by like in the neighborhood. It’s just out of malice. That’s why I feel like it’s grimier in corporate America because of how it’s presented to you.

© CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Zenger: It can be difficult to navigate that.

Williams: Right. And something that my neighborhood taught me, once I started communicating with people in higher level CEO positions or people that made in the upper six figures or north of that, just the intellect and growing the confidence once I interacted with these people, it’s like, “Oh, I can sit in these positions too.” A lot of times we are made to look at certain people as if they are superior to us, especially when we’re coming from inner cities. But we have the same abilities as those people. A lot of those people had easier routes to get there. That’s one thing of just gaining confidence along each step of your journey.

Zenger: Did you anticipate becoming a best-selling author and your books having the kind of impact that they have had?

Williams: Humbly speaking, my mom always told me, “Don’t step at all if you are going to half step.” So, I know the tears, the blood and sweat that I put into each project, or even a client’s book. I put that same energy towards everything. I’m very strategic and I move with a sense of urgency. I visualized the successes that I have had in my career so many times over and over, that all of the excitement is poured into the process each day. So, when it happens, I’m kind of militant about it, so I’m really not surprised. I really put my all into each thing and utilize my natural skillset. I haven’t been surprised so far.

(Edited by André Johnson and Judy Isacoff)



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Caught Between Covid-19 and Immigration Struggle, Shelter on U.S.-Mexico Border Struggles

Caught Between Covid-19 and Immigration Struggle, Shelter on U.S.-Mexico Border Struggles

The plight of the elderly, mentally ill and physically disabled homeless living on the U.S.-Mexico border often gets lost in the chaos of the immigration struggle.

For the last few years, the nonprofit Albergue Centauro Sifuentes shelter in Coahuila, Mexico, has been trying to change that by keeping these people off the streets and providing food, clothing and medicine.

But since the coronavirus pandemic has curbed donation flow and other revenue streams, the shelter’s founder isn’t sure how it will survive.

Albergue Centauro Sifuentes is located in Ciudad Acuña, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas. Founder Victor Sifuentes saw a health need that wasn’t being met in Acuña, so he and his wife, Maria del Carmen Medrano, have endeavored to fill it.

The shelter, located in an old school, houses 53 people ranging in age from 16 to 83 years old. Most have a variety of disabilities and mental illnesses, and medicine is typically the most urgent need — and the shelter’s biggest expenditure.

“The medication provides mental and emotional balance; otherwise care management could become challenging,” Sifuentes said.

As the pandemic has impacted donations and the shelter’s ability to hold its own fundraisers, Sifuentes is concerned about the organization’s ability to provide for its residents.

“We survive through donations,” Sifuentes said. The shelter is raising money online.

To augment the charitable donations it receives, Albergue Centauro Sifuentes sells food plates and hosts events for people to play “loteria,” a Mexican bingo game.

“But right now because of the Covid-19, we can’t work with food or sell plates or anything,” he said.

The cause is personal to Sifuentes.

At 11 years old, Sifuentes left his hometown of Francisco Madero in the Mexican state of Durango because of an abusive environment. His father, an ex-soldier, was strict and violent.

“For any little thing he would abuse us,” Sifuentes said.

Consequently, the emotional pain Sifuentes suffered nudged him onto a dark road. Emptiness and loneliness seemed to fill his life, he said.

The young boy ventured north to the border and found shelter at a cemetery for six months in crime-ridden Ciudad Juárez. But finding employment proved difficult.

He became a coyote, smuggling immigrants across the border. In his downtime, he acquainted himself with heroin and a syringe.

“When I found myself at that point — doing [work as a coyote] — I told myself, ‘This has to stop,’” he said.

Eventually, he ended up in a Mexican prison.

While living in the cemetery, Sifuentes met an older man known as Pancho, who sheltered there too and was battling a mental illness. He gave Sifuentes a space to stay within the cemetery and provided him with food regularly.

Pancho was the only person who offered to help Sifuentes the entire seven years he was in Juárez, Sifuentes said. But one day, while attempting to secure food for them, Pancho was hit by a car and died.

Inspired by Pancho’s selflessness and compassion, Sifuentes committed to helping the homeless and those with mental illnesses. So, he made his way back to Durango, got married and prepared for a new life.

In 2017, Sifuentes and his wife hit the streets of Acuña and began cooking meals for the people they encountered. But they felt that wasn’t enough, since there were still hungry people on the streets.

So, they opened a shelter.

Initially, the Albergue Centauro Sifuentes shelter used a small house to care for its residents. But soon, a larger property was needed. The state of Coahuila offered to lease them the site of a former public school — rent-free and indefinitely.

Sifuentes took the deal. But no more assistance has come from the state.

In Mexico, the government has not established a specific social policy connecting homelessness to mental health.

“Instead, homelessness is criminalized, and the judiciary system deals with the problem using ‘decency’ laws and other types of infractions to public space,” said Martha Tepepa, research scholar at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. “They assume that these people cannot be rescued from their situation. They assume … that they are unemployable … you’re outside of the market. The market doesn’t want you.”

Poverty is steered through social programs that basically disqualify individuals who don’t have a home. Program benefits can only be issued to people who have permanent addresses, she said. So the gap in support for this group has to be filled by others.

“The attention to the homeless population with mental health problems is mainly left to charity handled by religious organizations and private foundations,” Tepepa said.

Corruption hinders policy and programs while election rhetoric promising to address the issue falls short, she said. Mexico implements impermanent programs but not legislative policy.

“Like Coahuila, that has been a bastion of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and the PRI as you know … has a long story, not just corruption, but also manipulation of masses,” she said. “Now ideologically, they say they’re going to do a lot of stuff and at the end resources kind of disappear and nothing ever gets done.”

Today, some of the people at the shelter are referred there by family members. Others are picked up after having been dumped and abandoned on the streets of Acuña.

One man there, who does not have legs, was forced by relatives to live outside, under a tree. Sifuentes fought with the man’s family for custody of him.

“I told them, ‘You have him living like an animal,’” he said.

Sifuentes and his wife have no formal training in mental health but said they’ve been moved by God to care for the homeless.

They are already seeing results: 10 of the first 30 people they rescued from the street have successfully reentered society, reunited with family and are now gainfully employed.

“My goal is to have fewer people on the streets, give them a better life,” Sifuentes said, “for them not to die on the streets like animals from cold or hunger.”

(Edited by Cathy Jones and Natalie Gross.)



The post Caught Between Covid-19 and Immigration Struggle, Shelter on U.S.-Mexico Border Struggles appeared first on Zenger News.

Caught Between Covid-19 and Immigration Fight, Shelter on U.S.-Mexico Border Struggles

Caught Between Covid-19 and Immigration Fight, Shelter on U.S.-Mexico Border Struggles

The plight of the elderly, mentally ill and physically disabled homeless living on the U.S.-Mexico border often gets lost in the chaos of the immigration struggle.

For the last few years, the nonprofit Albergue Centauro Sifuentes shelter in Coahuila, Mexico, has been trying to change that by keeping these people off the streets and providing food, clothing and medicine.

But since the coronavirus pandemic has curbed donation flow and other revenue streams, the shelter’s founder isn’t sure how it will survive.

Albergue Centauro Sifuentes is located in Ciudad Acuña, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas. Founder Victor Sifuentes saw a health need that wasn’t being met in Acuña, so he and his wife, Maria del Carmen Medrano, have endeavored to fill it.

The shelter, located in an old school, houses 53 people ranging in age from 16 to 83 years old. Most have a variety of disabilities and mental illnesses, and medicine is typically the most urgent need — and the shelter’s biggest expenditure.

“The medication provides mental and emotional balance; otherwise care management could become challenging,” Sifuentes said.

As the pandemic has impacted donations and the shelter’s ability to hold its own fundraisers, Sifuentes is concerned about the organization’s ability to provide for its residents.

“We survive through donations,” Sifuentes said. The shelter is raising money online.

To augment the charitable donations it receives, Albergue Centauro Sifuentes sells food plates and hosts events for people to play “loteria,” a Mexican bingo game.

“But right now because of the Covid-19, we can’t work with food or sell plates or anything,” he said.

The cause is personal to Sifuentes.

At 11 years old, Sifuentes left his hometown of Francisco Madero in the Mexican state of Durango because of an abusive environment. His father, an ex-soldier, was strict and violent.

“For any little thing he would abuse us,” Sifuentes said.

Consequently, the emotional pain Sifuentes suffered nudged him onto a dark road. Emptiness and loneliness seemed to fill his life, he said.

The young boy ventured north to the border and found shelter at a cemetery for six months in crime-ridden Ciudad Juárez. But finding employment proved difficult.

He became a coyote, smuggling immigrants across the border. In his downtime, he acquainted himself with heroin and a syringe.

“When I found myself at that point — doing [work as a coyote] — I told myself, ‘This has to stop,’” he said.

Eventually, he ended up in a Mexican prison.

While living in the cemetery, Sifuentes met an older man known as Pancho, who sheltered there too and was battling a mental illness. He gave Sifuentes a space to stay within the cemetery and provided him with food regularly.

Pancho was the only person who offered to help Sifuentes the entire seven years he was in Juárez, Sifuentes said. But one day, while attempting to secure food for them, Pancho was hit by a car and died.

Inspired by Pancho’s selflessness and compassion, Sifuentes committed to helping the homeless and those with mental illnesses. So, he made his way back to Durango, got married and prepared for a new life.

In 2017, Sifuentes and his wife hit the streets of Acuña and began cooking meals for the people they encountered. But they felt that wasn’t enough, since there were still hungry people on the streets.

So, they opened a shelter.

Initially, the Albergue Centauro Sifuentes shelter used a small house to care for its residents. But soon, a larger property was needed. The state of Coahuila offered to lease them the site of a former public school — rent-free and indefinitely.

Sifuentes took the deal. But no more assistance has come from the state.

In Mexico, the government has not established a specific social policy connecting homelessness to mental health.

“Instead, homelessness is criminalized, and the judiciary system deals with the problem using ‘decency’ laws and other types of infractions to public space,” said Martha Tepepa, research scholar at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. “They assume that these people cannot be rescued from their situation. They assume … that they are unemployable … you’re outside of the market. The market doesn’t want you.”

Poverty is steered through social programs that basically disqualify individuals who don’t have a home. Program benefits can only be issued to people who have permanent addresses, she said. So the gap in support for this group has to be filled by others.

“The attention to the homeless population with mental health problems is mainly left to charity handled by religious organizations and private foundations,” Tepepa said.

Corruption hinders policy and programs while election rhetoric promising to address the issue falls short, she said. Mexico implements impermanent programs but not legislative policy.

“Like Coahuila, that has been a bastion of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and the PRI as you know … has a long story, not just corruption, but also manipulation of masses,” she said. “Now ideologically, they say they’re going to do a lot of stuff and at the end resources kind of disappear and nothing ever gets done.”

Today, some of the people at the shelter are referred there by family members. Others are picked up after having been dumped and abandoned on the streets of Acuña.

One man there, who does not have legs, was forced by relatives to live outside, under a tree. Sifuentes fought with the man’s family for custody of him.

“I told them, ‘You have him living like an animal,’” he said.

Sifuentes and his wife have no formal training in mental health but said they’ve been moved by God to care for the homeless.

They are already seeing results: 10 of the first 30 people they rescued from the street have successfully reentered society, reunited with family and are now gainfully employed.

“My goal is to have fewer people on the streets, give them a better life,” Sifuentes said, “for them not to die on the streets like animals from cold or hunger.”

(Edited by Cathy Jones and Natalie Gross.)



The post Caught Between Covid-19 and Immigration Fight, Shelter on U.S.-Mexico Border Struggles appeared first on Zenger News.