Food, friends and a shared cause

SCENE & HEARD

April 15, 2007|By SLOANE BROWN

When guests arrived at the National Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute for the organization's "2007 Celebration," they were faced with some difficult choices. Should they check out the silent auction first? Maybe they should start at the food stations, sampling some of the fabulous dishes offered by local chefs? And what about all those old friends to catch up with?

Honorary chair Don Frieson and his wife, Marilyn, had gone the auction route first thing. Frieson, a senior vice president of Wal-Mart, already had his bid in on a "very special cognac" in the silent auction. His wife had her eye on something else.

"There's a watch in the live auction. So we'll see," Marilyn Frieson said with a smile.

Paul Cambon, a partner at the Livingston Group, had a challenge on his hands. Literally. He struggled with some chopsticks, while downing sushi from Matsuri.

"I didn't drop it," he proudly announced.

Jim "Woody" Woodall, senior sales representative for Sanofi-Aventis, and Barbara Johnson, a nurse at University of Maryland Medical Center, couldn't decide which they liked best - a shrimp dish offered by Bonefish Grill or a pork loin with apple and bacon compote from Corks.

Meanwhile, there was lots to catch up on for one group of friends. Romeo Edmead, Marco Carranza, Jason Ewell, Matilda Ziegler and Stacy Cervenka all knew each other through the federation, but hadn't gotten together in awhile.

"This is a good chance to network with people, and a way to give back," said Carranza, an orientation and mobility teacher for Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.

Edmead managed to enjoy a couple of the evening's benefits at the same time. He chatted with friends in between plates of food.

"They talked me into coming down here from Brooklyn, N.Y.," he said with a laugh.

"So, I'm going to force myself to eat more."

A Drink With Y. Maria Welch

Sharing good fortune natural as breathing

Her life is the stuff you'd expect to read only in a novel. Yolanda Maria Welch, 44, was born and raised in Northeast Baltimore to a Colombian father and Costa Rican mother. At the age of 14, she entered into an arranged marriage in Colombia to a lieutenant colonel in the navy there. After having a son at 18, she and her first husband amicably divorced in Baltimore when she was 21. Two abusive marriages and financial ruin followed. Watching her father, a former ironworker, receive what she considered substandard care as he was dying of asbestosis inspired Welch to enter a program run by Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore Inc. to start her own business.

In March 2001, that business - Respira (which means "he breathes" in Spanish) Inc. - began in the basement of her Timonium townhouse. Respira now has its headquarters in Linthicum, has 45 employees, and provides respiratory home care to patients with pulmonary disease throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Chief executive Welch is now married to John Welch, Respira's president, and has a 26-year-old son, Michael, and 10-year-old daughter, Dimitra.

If your life was a movie, the critics would say it was too over-the-top to be believable.

It is. And I would like Julia Roberts or Jennifer Lopez to play me. Or Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz.

Do you enjoy life these days?

Oh, I do. I am, I am. I've met the most amazing people. I have phenomenal mentors. They guide, support and scold me when necessary. I'll never be rich because I give it all away. I sit on about 16 boards and I can't give enough.

How is that possible, after everything you've been through?

To me, that's why I'm here. As a Hispanic businesswoman, [some] people now realize there's a Hispanic community here. ... It's like, all of a sudden, people woke up and saw this Hispanic community.

So, you feel one of your biggest responsibilities is to represent the Hispanic community?

To responsibly represent it. But, at the same time, I'm very proud to. I want to be a beacon of hope for people whose lives haven't turned out the way they wanted. We make mistakes. We're human. But we just want to do good. People like me don't want handouts. We want to work for what we have. As a survivor of domestic violence, I also want those women to know they deserve a life and they don't deserve to be beaten.

Do you ever take time off?

No, but I need to. I've been thinking of going to Vegas with a bunch of girlfriends. You know, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Actually, it would be a spa weekend.

What are your guilty pleasures?

I do love to stay home. I plant flowers. I sit and talk with my mom, Yolanda Better, who lives with me. Sometimes I just watch stupid reality TV shows. ... I eat two pounds of Hispanic fudge a week. It's very rich. It's so sweet it makes your mouth pucker. It's called dulce de leche. It's vanilla, a combination of sugar, milk and condensed milk. No chocolate. I eat 'em like crazy.

How would you describe yourself?

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