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SATURDAY SALUTE: Making contact with Hispanic community is her passion
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SATURDAY SALUTE: Making contact with Hispanic community is her passion

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A well-earned Saturday Salute goes this week to Sandra Barrera Fuentes and her passion for assisting Grand Island’s Hispanic community.

At Grand Island’s University of Nebraska Extension campus, Barrera Fuentes connects the city’s Spanish-speaking residents with the resources needed to start their own businesses.

This includes licenses, inspections, paperwork and various trainings.

“Everything that has to do with opening a business,” she explained.

Barrera Fuentes is also the founder of the Grand Island Latino Network, which meets and hosts sessions online to connect Grand Island’s Hispanic community with other resources that might be needed.

Barrera Fuentes enjoys being able to help Grand Island’s potential Hispanic entrepreneurs as a UNL Extension rural prosperity educator.

This year alone, through UNL, 90 people have started new businesses in Grand Island.

In September, Grand Island hosted the state’s first Latino Small Business Conference. The event had 100 participants locally and 55 people from the Omaha area.

A key effort for Barrera Fuentes is Grand Island’s Fourth Street, which hosts many Hispanic businesses.

“We want to see better streets, sidewalks, illumination. We need paint,” she said. “We have them to start, but we need to see people on Fourth Street so we can increase sales.”

Grand Island Latino Network is a critical communication source for Grand Island’s Spanish speaking community. A key effort has been COVID-19 guidance.

All of this is done in Spanish because it makes the group feel more comfortable and makes the information as clear as possible, Barrera Fuentes said.

Barrera Fuentes’ passion for helping others deserves mention here but should be emulated by others in our community.

Thank you, Sandra.

Ray O'Connor delivers for Grand Island

A hearty salute also goes out to local businessman Ray O’Connor for donating the former Shopko space for the Grand Island Public Schools’ O’Connor Learning Center. A community open house was hosted last Sunday to unveil the 50,000-square-foot facility that can serve up to 300 GIPS students in the early childhood learning program.

GIPS Superintendent Tawana Grover called the completed product “more than what we could have imagined.”

“We’re so grateful for Mr. O’Connor and his vision, coming along at a time when we already knew that it was upon us to be able to move our students from the old building into a space that creates a learning environment that’s representative of their creativity and what it takes at an early age to ensure they thrive for the long haul,” Grover said.

Completing the project has been exciting for the community, O’Connor said.

“They’ve waited a long time, I think for the past 12 years, to have a new facility built,” he said. “The need has always been there, but other things have pushed it back.”

O’Connor said he donated the space for the project because of his belief in early childhood education.

“I think it’s very important. It puts all the kids on an even playing field,” he said. “With society the way it is today, moms and dads both working, they don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time as they would like with their kids, so it’s worked out very well.”

Ray, thank you for your ongoing vision to improve our community time and time again.

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