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underserved communities during the pandemic

Ojala Threads social entrepreneur supports underserved communities during the pandemic

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected us all in countless ways. However it has not affected us all equally. We cannot claim to stand in solidarity with each other if we are not also working to support underserved communities during the pandemic as well. 

Currently there are 48 million Americans living below the poverty line. For those living paycheck to paycheck, this time is not a time of “rest” or a break from their lives. Instead they are filled with increased stress as they wonder how they will afford to live and keep a roof over their heads. 

underserved communities during the pandemic

Ojala Threads founder and social entrepreneur Ramona Ferreyra interviewed in Open by BronxNet (Photo courtesy Ramona Ferreyra)

The issue of safe housing is also one that many privileged individuals often take for granted. Being quarantined in a comfortable suburban home is a much different experience from being quarantined in a public housing complex. Unfortunately, inner city environments are often more prone to the transmission of disease and unsafe public housing can make pre-existing conditions worse. Additionally, it can simply be difficult to social distance in an urban environment where people are already living in close quarters and forced by necessity to take public transportation.

If we are truly committed to helping each other through this time, then we must also commit to support underserved communities during the pandemic. 

“Doing good in our hood”  

underserved populations during the pandemic

Ojala Threads baby (Photo courtesy Ojala Threads)

Ramona Ferreyra has been working to just that. For years she has worked to support her community of the South Bronx, and has specifically focused on improving public housing conditions. Owner and founder of Ojala Threads, a social enterprise that creates baby bodysuits inspired by Hispanic Heritage, Ramona uses her business to give back to her community. 

“My goal was always to use Ojala as a tool for good,” says Ramona. “While we had been making significant contributions to our community before Covid-19, we increased our ‘doing good in our hood’ efforts significantly in March.” 

She began using her company to advocate for public housing back in 2018. As a public housing resident herself, Ramona knows first-hand the challenges faced by residents. 

“Living in NYC public housing means that we live in unsafe homes,” says Ramona. 

She describes how the presence of mold, leaks, faulty boilers and elevators worsen pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, which Ramona herself suffers from. 

“Combined with a high index of diabetes, limited access to health foods, and poor health systems Covid-19 has found a perfect home in the Bronx,” she says.

This is why Ramona has made securing masks for her community her priority. Since March she has distributed 500 masks and has also secured a pledge for 3,000 additional masks. 

“These masks will keep our neighbors safe for months to come. Personally, these efforts have been fulfilling,” she says, “but the illness has taken a toll on me emotionally as our community has been hit pretty hard.” 

You might be interested: NJEDA launches Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program Phase 2

Coping with grief and finding peace 

It is especially important for us all to support underserved communities during the pandemic because they are the communities that are the most vulnerable. 

According to the CDC, Latinos account for 16.7% of all coronavirus cases and African Americans account for nearly 20%. Underserved communities are also at an increased risk of chronic disease. These chronic conditions unfortunately contribute to an increased risk of mortality among coronavirus patients. 

Ramona has seen the effects of Covid-19 as it has hit her community. Her neighbor, Luciano, contracted Covid in late March. He spent two weeks fighting on a ventilator while Ramona did what she could to help him. Unfortunately, Luciano passed away on April 18th. 

“He was like a grandfather to me,” Ramona says. “I haven’t made much time to mourn him, but at moments it creeps up on me and I am overwhelmed with anger. I wish I had gotten masks sooner. I wish we had known that fevers weren’t a main symptom. But I did all I could for him with what I knew.” 

Luciano’s passing has been difficult for Ramona, but she has been able to find peace in her work. She continues to bring attention to NYCHA residents and the fiscal deficit it faces of $34B. 

underserved populations during the pandemic

20% of sales go to underserved populations in Citymeals. (Photo courtesy Ojala Threads)

“I am grateful to have founded Ojala as a social enterprise,” says Ramona. “At moments like this we are positioned to support the communities that we’ve served before and will continue to serve in the future.” 

Ramona began Ojala Threads on public assistance and always sought mentorship and resources. She knew that doing so would ensure long term success, and more importantly resilience. Now she wants to work to give back. She is determined to continue to make an impact by securing masks for her community. 

Ramona will also be donating 20% of Ojala’s gaiter sales to Citymeals

If you are looking for ways to help support underserved communities during the pandemic, check out these resources. There is also a GoFundMe run by Ramona to help support the seniors at Mitchel Houses and improve living conditions in public housing. 

babies of Hispanic heritage

Babies of Hispanic heritage find bonding to traditions in unique clothing line

Ramona Ferreyra, recent winner of the 2018 Latinas in Business Inc. Pitch Competition and founder and CEO of Ojala Threads — a unique clothing line for babies of Hispanic heritage– shares her journey as a Latina entrepreneur. 

babies of Hispanic heritage

Babies of Hispanic heritage now have options they can wear with pride!

A Dominican-American born to a single mom in New York City and raised by extended family in the Dominican Republic, Ramona was instilled with resilience, boldness, imagination, and strategic thinking from an early age. 

“Growing up with very little, I would make things for myself all the time,” Ramona explains.

She learned how to be strategic with her resources, using them effectively and economically. For instance, in high school she would recycle old shirts to make herself cardigans. This eventually helped her build her business where she is able to utilize her resources on a tight budget.

Upon returning to the U.S., Ramona managed the first urban Gap Kids and Baby while completing her BA at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She then moved to Hawaii where she lived for ten years and also completed her Masters Degree and two additional graduate certificates at Hawaii Pacific University. Ramona has also undergone leadership training at the Kennedy School at Harvard and the Center for Creative Leadership.

Throughout her career, Ramona has led outreach efforts for the FBI and Department of Defense, focused on community engagement and environmental resilience.

Clothing for babies of Hispanic Heritage, motivation found in the family

babies of Hispanic Heritage

Onesies Ojala Threads

In 2017, she decided it was time to start something new: her clothing company Ojala Threads, which creates unisex bodysuits inspired by and for babies of Hispanic heritage. The idea came about after volunteering to watch her nephew, Jadiel, for a week as he recovered from meningitis.

During that week Ramona realized that the clothes her nephew wore did not reflect who he was. They did not speak to his identity as a baby of Hispanic heritage. She recalled how when living in Hawaii, she would regularly purchase baby onesies inspired by the local culture.

“The pieces were unique and beautifully allowed parents to reflect their pride,” says Ramona.

She was inspired to launch her own line that would do the same for Hispanics and so, that very same week, she began to research the feasibility of starting her business.

Born from this idea that one’s clothing should reflect their identity and heritage, Ojala Threads is more than just clothes. They are  also a “parenting tool” as Ramona says.

“Our products are recognition that our children are an extension of our identity, a living legacy. As parents we are responsible for instilling upon them lessons and stories that eventually mold them.”

Ramona’s idea that Hispanic babies can and should have their own clothing that reflects their heritage is a “bold one” but one that is catching on. She comments how whenever she does pop up events “folks are shocked that they have this option.”

Lack of funding, a common thread for Latina entrepreneurs

babies of Hispanic heritage

Ojala Threads creates unique designs for babies of Hispanic heritage clothing

As with any new business ventures, there are always some obstacles. A lack of funding was the main struggle Ramona encountered early on. No longer able to hold traditional employment due to health reasons, Ramona has been on disability for three years now and saving money to put toward the business was difficult.  

“After applying to numerous business competitions and losing every single time, I decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign,” says Ramona.

The campaign was a “humbling” experience. The goal was $15,000 but in the end only $2,600 was raised.

“The emotional side effects of missing my goal, and not being supported by the majority of my friends and family, were a huge hit to my ego. I was pretty demoralized and simply stopped asking for help. But I decided to do what I could with the money we raised.”

With that money, Ojala Threads ran their first design for babies of Hispanic heritage in 250 shirts. For the second round of inventory Ramona had to take on credit card debt.

After losing, I finally won!

Ramona Ferreyra pitch Competition

Ramona Ferreyra, founder of Ojala Threads, winner of the Latinas in Business Inc Pitch Competition

“I would advise anyone in my position to hang on, after losing non stop I finally won!” says Ramona of winning the 2018 Latinas In Business Pitch Competition. The winnings will go toward printing two additional designs for Ojala Threads.  

Despite the struggles, Ramona has never let them get her down. She is always looking to the positive.

“I love how far we’ve gotten with so little. I know one day I’ll have employees, achieve our corporate responsibility goals and think back to operating with a $100 monthly budget.”

She encourages anyone to go for their ideas that they are passionate about. There may be rough patches, but in the end it will be worth it. “Remind yourself daily of why you are pursuing your business idea. My inspiration was my nephew; whenever I felt like I couldn’t go on I looked at his pictures wearing my first design and kept going!”

She believes it is also important to find mentors and resources to guide one throughout the process as these become invaluable when times are tough. Make a business plan, too, she advises as it is important to establish the key pillars of your business before you start spending money.

Ojala Threads has been quite the journey so far, but it is one that Ramona loves and would not trade for anything. “This entire experience is my favorite story!” she exclaims.  

Ramona Ferreyra

Latina entrepreneur Ramona Ferreyra wins 2018 Pitch Competition

Ramona Ferreyra, founder and owner of Ojala Threads, a Latina-owned company that produces infant bodysuits with feature designs inspired by Caribbean American heritage, colloquialisms, language, and experiences, is the winner of the 2018 Latinas in Business Inc. Pitch Competition.

Ramona Ferreyra pitch Competition

Ramona Ferreyra, founder of Ojala Threads, winner of the Latinas in Business Inc Pitch Competition (Photo credit: Americanonewspaper.com)

“We aim to authentically represent Hispanics, while equipping them with a tool that will make their heritage tangible, and shareable with the next generation. At Ojala Threads we understand that what our babies wear tell the world who they are. We don’t take this lightly. Our designs proudly reflect our Hispanic heritage and create the space for conversations inspired by then. We are hopeful that they will help parents, and grandparents, easily pass on to our youngest generation the best of us,” Ramona said.

Over 300 participants and visitors registered for the event that took place at the Culinary Conference Center in Jersey City, NJ. Co-hosting the event this year were the Hudson County Office of Business Opportunity and the Hudson County Community College.

“Every year, we see more solid and focused Latina entrepreneurs taking advantage of this opportunity to promote their products and services. We wanted to thank our sponsors, supporters and the fantastic media and sponsors Jurors who judged the competition,” said Susana G Baumann, President, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Latinas in Business Inc.

The Expo featured 71 Latina and minority-owned small businesses, supporters and sponsors who helped promote the growing community of Latina entrepreneurs. “This year has been the most successful so far, with the majority of vendors being Latina-owned businesses. For us, this is the greatest achievement, to bring these innovative, creative and driven Latinas and their stories to the forefront,” Baumann explained.

Ramona Ferreyra

Expo Journal and Latina SmallBiz Expo Ticket

It was an emotional moment when the winner was announced. “I have participated in other pitch competitions before but never won because the audience was not ‘my people.’ I knew my proposition had value, but this recognition was only possible among you,” Ramona said.

Other two finalists were 3L Communique, a public relations, media and event production firm created by award-winning journalist and public relations veteran, Zayda Rivera., and LaDi, elegant maternity tops and baby shoes by fashion designer Laura Diaz-Alberto.

One of the highlights of the event was the “Latino Dessert Reception” offered by faculty and students of the Institute of Culinary Arts at Hudson County Community College.

“I invite the community to continue to support these #LatinasPoderosas and all vendors, that year after year come back because they see the value of our initiative,” Baumann said. “As part of their package prize, the winner and two finalists will be attending the Red Shoe Movement Signature Event in NYC and will meet national and international influencers and decision-makers that might help them advance their businesses.”

Ramona Ferreyra pitch Competition

Latino Dessert Reception offered by Hudson County College Institute of Culinary Arts Faculty and students (With Susana G Baumann, Left – Photo credit: Latinas in Business Inc.)

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8 Latina entrepreneurs

8 Latina entrepreneurs announced as Pitch Competition finalists from NJ and NY

The 8 Latina entrepreneurs that will participate at the 2018 Pitch your Business Competition representing the states of New Jersey and New York were announced by Latinas in Business Inc, the national non-profit digital platform that advocates for the economic empowerment of Latinas and other minority women entrepreneurs.

8 Latina entrepreneurs

(From L to R) Gladys Vonglahn, founder and CEO of Gladys Cleaning Service; Judy Perez, CEO, Judy’s Dream Cakes; Yenny Espinal, founder of Yenny’s Creations; Brittnie Reyes, founder, Britt’s Catering Services; Angie Piedrahita, Founder, Chivas Bar Bus; Laura Diaz-Alberto, founder, La-Di Clothing and Accesories; Samantha Cordova, founder, She Can Tutors; and Ramona Ferreyra, Founder, Ojala Threads.

Latinas in Business Inc., the national non-profit 501(c) 3 organization that advocates for the economic empowerment of Latinas and other minority women entrepreneurs, announced the eight participants in the 2018 Pitch your Business Competition. The event will take place at the Culinary Conference Center, 161 Newkirk St., Jersey City, on November 8, 2018 from 3:00 to 7:00pm. Co-hosting the event this year are the Hudson County Office of Business Opportunity (HCOBO) and the Hudson County Community College (HCCC).

“These 8 Latina entrepreneurs are stepping up to promote their products and services to a Juror composed of media in the region and participating sponsors,” said Susana G Baumann, President, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Latinas in Business Inc. “They are residents of the states of New Jersey and New York, and they will compete for an opportunity to win this year’s Latinas in Business Best Business Award,” she added.

The Expo will also feature other small businesses and sponsors that year after year support these growing community of Latina entrepreneurs. “We will have DJ Music, sponsors’ giveaways for the first 50 visitors to the Expo, Latino food and beverages, and a ‘Dessert Reception’ offered by students of the HCCC Institute of Culinary Arts,” Baumann explained.

Visitors will also enjoy make-up touch ups and hair make-overs by beauty consultants and hair designers during the Expo.

“The Pitch your Business Competition is the signature event that attracts strong and established Latina small businesses for an opportunity to be promoted, while gaining business knowledge and exposure to decision-makers in the region,” Baumann said.

The participants –in registration order- are Gladys Vonglahn, founder and CEO of Gladys Cleaning Service; Judy Perez, CEO, Judy’s Dream Cakes; Yenny Espinal, founder of Yenny’s Creations; Brittnie Reyes, founder, Britt’s Catering Services; Angie Piedrahita, Founder, Chivas Bar Bus; Laura Diaz-Alberto, founder, La-Di Clothing and Accesories; Samantha Cordova, founder, She Can Tutors; and Ramona Ferreyra, Founder, Ojala Threads.

“I invite the community to support these Latinas Poderosas and all vendors, especially if you are looking to shop for the Holidays!” Baumann added.

The 2018 Latina SmallBiz Expo and Pitch competition will take place at the Culinary Conference Center, 161 Newkirk Ave, Jersey City NJ 07306, on November 8 from 3:00pm to 7:00pm.

Students with ID can register for free, and all others who would like to attend can register using the code LIBFAN100 for a FREE Early Bird Expo and Pitch ticket (Reg. $10) until November 7 at https://2018-latina-smallbiz-expo.eventbrite.com.

For exhibitors’ opportunities, please contact Susana@latinasinbusiness.us/

About LatinasinBusiness.us
LatinasinBusiness.us is a national non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization that advocates for the economic empowerment of Latinas and other minority entrepreneurs. Susana G Baumann, President, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of LatinasinBusiness.us is an award-winning business writer, published author, speaker and multicultural marketing expert. For this initiative, launched only four years ago, she has received the 2015 Hispanicize TECLA Award, the 2015 LISTA (Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology) Award and was named 2017 Latina of Influence by Hispanic Lifestyle Magazine and honored with the Red Shoe Movement Leader award in 2018.