Tag Archives: Vanessa Vargas

Honoring Volunteers in Birmingham through Ignite

“Volunteers are not paid…not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

This quote has been around for some time and I’ve heard it spoken over the years.  I’ve even used it myself when thanking volunteers for the work they’ve done to help at an event, nonprofit or other special occasion I’ve headed up or lead.  When people step up to help, they may not think it at the time, but they are making a difference that can be felt and seen in our communities.

Inaugural Ignite Volunteer Awards Ceremony on April 25, 2017 at The Club in Birmingham, AL.

Last year, Hands on Birmingham, United Way’s volunteer arm, created an event they named Ignite, to recognize and celebrate outstanding volunteer service.  Because it was a brand new event, I hadn’t heard much about it until my sweet friend Vanessa Vargas mentioned she had been asked to be on the host committee by the executive director, Benga Harrison.  Now, Benga is a powerhouse in our community and a great friend to me.  She is someone with so much passion that when she speaks to you, your own passion is ignited!  I kid you not!  When I heard the name of the event I thought it was a perfect reflection of her!  So, when I found out she was the driving force behind this event, I knew it would be a hit!

What I didn’t know at the time was that Vanessa was going to nominate me in the corporate/company category for this awards ceremony.  There were quite a number of people nominated in this category.  I surely wasn’t expecting anything to come of the nomination but to my surprise, I was one of two finalists!  The two finalists in each category received a special medal to wear at the brunch so they could be recognized to attendees, which was really a nice touch.  The other categories included Hands on Birmingham volunteer, government/community volunteer, nonprofit volunteer, student volunteer, small business volunteer, and faith based volunteer.

It was thrilling to be in a room filled with such wonderful community servants.  It was even more wonderful to actually know so many of these people who give so much.  Another reason for my excitement was due to the number of Hispanics nominees!  Hispanics were definitely represented at this event and of the six, three were finalists (me, Theresa Deleon, and Jairo Vargas) with one going on to win his category!  I was so pleased when Jairo Vargas, Publisher of Latino News, was announced as the winner in the small business category!  I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving and it was great being able to celebrate this honor with Jairo, his wife Lucero and of course, his daughter Vanessa!

For a first time event, the turnout was tremendous and the number of nominees in each category was so diverse.  I know Benga and the organizers were thrilled and ready to jump into year two of Ignite!  And on that note, Benga recently asked me to serve as the Chair of the Host Committee this year and I said yes!  I can’t think of a better way to give back to our community than to help nominate those who do so much to make it a better place for us all.

If you are in the Birmingham area and want to nominate a dedicated volunteer who has made a significant difference in Central Alabama, you have until November 30, 2017 to do so!  Click here for more information on how to submit your deserving community volunteer!  Then mark your calendar for the 2nd Annual Ignite Awards on April 17, 2018 at The Club Birmingham!

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Fiesta 2017 – A Celebration of Generations!

Fiesta Co-Presidents, Teresa Zuniga Odom and Vanessa Vargas pose with the newly unveiled Fiesta 15th Anniversary – Quince – logo!

A Celebration of Generations…that’s what Fiesta 2017, the Quinceañera, was billed as and it definitely delivered!

Planning Fiesta has turned into a year-round job for our board of directors and our incredible event manager, Denise Koch.  In recent years, we’ve begun the planning process in November instead of waiting until February.  As the festival grows, this is a must in order to stay ahead of the game and also make sure we are offering our patrons new and exciting additions to the event each year.  We are a working board but everyone also has a day job too so…

Our Fiesta t-shirts this year – Fiesta…then Siesta!

During our anniversary years in the past, the board had a new logo created in celebration and we’ve looked for significant ways to make Fiesta more exciting.  Our 15th anniversary – Quinceañera – was quite a milestone so we really wanted to ramp thing up!  It was a coming of age of our festival!  Last November, the board decided that during our anniversary years, it would be beneficial to have co-presidents at the helm in order to share the work load.  Board member, Vanessa Vargas and I were voted in as co-Presidents which lent itself nicely to our theme – with Vanessa representing the younger generation – the daughter, and me representing the older generation – the mother.   The next month, over lunch with board member Lui Fernandez, the Fiesta theme was born which cemented our charge for Fiesta 2017 – “a celebration of generations!”  I remember getting goose bumps when Lui explained his ideas for the year and threw out the tagline!  Vanessa and I were so excited and ready to assume our roles as “Fiesta Mother and Daughter!”

Looking back on Fiesta 2017 and our path to Quince…I have to say…it was our best festival to date!  Every quadrant of Linn Park was filled and we had well over 100 tents in the park – a record for us.  Park Place, the road running on one side of the park, was also filled with the presence of the McDonalds Fiesta Tour which had rebranded and looked amazing!  McDonalds, our Title Sponsor, was also handing out slushie samples and I heard they ran out!  That’s a lot of people drinking slushies!!!

The weather was gorgeous all day long and I once again loved going from booth to booth to photograph friends – old and new –  and thank them for being a part of Fiesta’s Quince!  This year I had Vanessa with me for most of the visits and loved having that experience with her.  I also really can’t remember a time when we had as much pre-publicity for our event!  Vanessa and I were booked on every station and one radio station leading up to the event.  At one point during the festival, Vanessa and I had “dueling TV interviews” going on in the VIP section!  Vane was talking to CBS and I was talking to NBC.   We always had a great time with Claire Per-Lee of Style Advertising (Fiesta’s Advertising Agency) at each interview and she always photographed and videoed so we could have that memory.  She made each appearance so easy for us complete with talking points and props needed for the interview.  Claire, Vanessa and I were in such constant contact in the weeks leading up to Fiesta that it’s a little weird not getting several text messages a day from each other now!

Everywhere I looked at this year, sponsors and nonprofits were doing a great job of reaching patrons and drawing them in.  Swag from these booths was over the top!  There was just SO much activity all over the park that it was hard to catch it all.  That’s when I know we’ve hit a home run!   We always throw sponsor items from the stage, but this year we really ramped it up and the crowd loved it!  We’ve done this before but not to this level.

Throwing swag from the stage!

Volunteers…I can’t say enough about volunteers in general.  They can make or break your event. It you’ve been involved with events, you know this.  For Fiesta though, we’ve always been fortunate to have wonderful volunteers who have the spirit of the event at heart.  This year I wasn’t able to secure a volunteer coordinator for this festival so I took on the task myself.  And I was a little worried, I have to admit…especially with all the other responsibilities I had leading into Fiesta.  That is…until I got a message from a Spanish teacher Charity Jackson at Parker High School.  She said she had about 15-20 students who wanted to volunteer!  I was ecstatic!!!  And then she contacted me and said she had more students who wanted to volunteer!  By the time I had the volunteer schedule pulled together two days before the event, she had 35 students committed to working at Fiesta!  Ms. Jackson kept thanking me for having them at Fiesta but I told her several time that she really saved “me” by having her students there.  They were incredible…and so was she!

Spanish Teacher Charity Jackson with her students from Park High School – these kids were the best volunteers!

There are so many more stories about Fiesta 2017 that I could tell…but as I have done in the past, I think it’s best shown in photos.  If you came out to Fiesta, thank you…from the bottom of my heart for sharing our Quince with us!  If you weren’t able to be there…for whatever reason, I hope you enjoy a walk through our Quince in these photos!

 

Fiesta Fridays! 2016

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

For Fiesta 2016 there was a renewed focus on our Cultural Village and what makes it the “Corazon” of our event each year.  We depend on the kindness of the Hispanic community when it comes to pulling this village together.  It is because these community members want to share a bit about their countries of origin that the village is always such a wonderful place.

This year we decided to have a competition to encourage participants to take it up a notch or two.  Word got out quickly when this was announced on social media and we had quite a turnout.  Not to mention, the booths were incredible!  Our cultural village chair and board member, Lui Fernandez, always has something special in mind as he creates the village atmosphere.  This year, he really wanted to encourage the community to sign up early for our 15th anniversary celebration and he decorated a booth with photos from all the previous Fiestas.  It was such a great way, in my opinion, to personalize the village even more!

The winner of the competition was chosen by three anonymous judges who went through the village throughout the day to observe and make notes.  At the end of the day, Mexico won the competition and a $500 prize!  Interestingly, the Mexico booth also has photos displayed all over the tent of past Fiestas!  Great minds…as they say!

Fiesta 2016 was also warmer than the year before!  If you read my post from last week you’ll remember that it was a cold and drizzly day.  This year made up for it with blue skies and warm weather.  It was beautiful…  And because of this, I think that’s why I remember people dancing so much!  We decided to use the gazebo in Linn Park as a Dance Station this yea and got DJ Ivan Correa to host music there.  He is always so wonderful and engaging with people.  He gave dance lessons and would also draw pictures of people who took a quick lesson from him.  Each time I went by there was always a steady stream of people.

Last but certainly not least, we had the McDonalds Fiesta Tour return for a third year thanks to our Title Sponsor, McDonalds!  This year, the tour went through a bit of a makeover with updated colors, design and also some new items on display.

Here are a few more photos from that day – some for how colorful they are and others because they are of family and friends who make Fiesta so much fun because they are there…

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Fiesta Fridays series as much as I’ve enjoyed going through my photos and telling them.  If you are in Birmingham on Saturday, September 30, 2017, I hope to see you at Fiesta for our 15th anniversary…and if you are, SMILE!  I’ll have my camera and you may just end up in my Fiesta photo collection!

Fiesta Fridays! 2015

Rain ponchos were seen all around Fiesta 2015 for several hours but thankfully no heavy downpours!

NOTE:  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003.

Fiesta 2015 was a cold and rainy one…and if I were superstitious, I would have said all this happened because it was our 13th year!  However, even with the cold and steady drizzle, Fiesta was a success because of the people who threw on rain ponchos and came out to enjoy the day with family and friends.  I have many great memories of Fiesta 2015 in the rainy weather which I shared in my blog post that year called “Fiesta 2015 Rain or Shine!”

Mosaico Flamenco performs at Fiesta 2015 on the Main Stage.

This year we had a group called Mosaico Flamenco perform on the main stage.  I always enjoy watching and photographing dance groups and this group was incredible!  I love the swirling of the costumes and the angles of the bodies captured in mid-movement.  This dance group was really beautiful and I ended up staying to watch their entire performance.  Usually, I will photograph for a few moments and then move on to capture something else going on at Fiesta.  There is always so much to catch and experience!  This time though, I caught a rather intimate moment the group had right before taking stage too…they huddled together by the stage and said a prayer.  Like I said…it was such a sweet and intimate moment.  I watched for a few second and wasn’t sure if i would photograph or not but I wanted to remember it so took just two photos.  The group also had their own live music to dance to and that added quite a nice element to the performance.

Fiesta also tried something new with food that year by creating a separate ticketed area we called “Cocina Latina.”  A limited number of Latino food vendors participated and provided samples of their best dishes.  Attendees loved this and probably got to sample dishes they wouldn’t have ordinarily tried!  There was also the opportunity to sample Hornitos tequila too which was definitely a hit!

Some of the food samples at Cocina Latina at Fiesta 2015!

Our artists were also crowd pleasing that year which was proven when people braved the cold and wet weather and hung with us until the soggy end!  In fairness, the drizzle had stopped by the last two acts but i just remember my feet being so cold from walking through the wet grass all day – AND…I didn’t have on the best shoes that day.  Oh well…live and learn…

Toby Love sings to the crowd at Fiesta 2015!

We had a return visit from Toby Love, sporting a light…almost white colored suit, which made his presence even more stark when the fog machine started rolling out the fog!  It made for some great photos during his performance including one I took from the back of the stage of Toby Love center stage and singing directly to the crowd.  It’s one of my favs!!!

Members of the Fiesta board pose with Headliner – Bobby Pulido – before he takes the stage! (L-R Chris Miller, me, Vanessa Vargas Bobby Pulido, Matt Ennis, Cristina Almanza and Carlos Aleman.

Another favorite photo is one taken of several members of the Fiesta board with the last headliner – Bobby Pulido.  He is such a personable guy and was great with the crowd.  I got quite a few photos of him performing with his band but one that we’ve used for many Fiesta promotions and advertisements is of him playing his guitar right in front of the audience.  I love crowd shots and this one was perfect from my vantage point…the lighting from the stage hit the people in the front just right and so I began snapping away.

Come back next Friday for my last post in this Fiesta Friday series and read more about Fiesta 2016!

Oh…one last photo that I love from Fiesta 2015…me with board members, Vanessa Vargas and Cristina Almanza!  #selfie!

Selfie with board members Vanessa and Cristina as we began the day! My hair was still dry at this point!