Sara Lee director going to summit

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 22, 2002

Felix Venezuela’s heritage may be what landed him the chance to participate in the National Hispanic Leadership Summit this fall.

But Venezuela, manufacturing director of Sara Lee’s Coffee and Tea Consumer Brand’s Suffolk plant, says he will use the forum to bring forth issues that all people – regardless of ethnic background – struggle with daily.

This country’s diverse population makes it difficult to single out problems specific to Hispanics, he said.

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&uot;I’ve never looked at this just as a Hispanic thing,&uot; said Venezuela. &uot;But if my ethnic background is the vehicle it takes to get my message across, then so be it. I’ll use it.&uot;

U.S. Sen. George Allen nominated Venezuela, 50, to serve as one of the 350 Hispanic business leaders nationwide invited to join in the summit being held in Washington, D.C., Sept. 17-18.

The event is being held to bring Hispanic business leaders and government policy-makers together for dialogue on an array of issues: national and personal safety, education, health care, economic planning for the future, and expanding business opportunities for Hispanics.

Participants will also hear from several high-profile Hispanics who serve in Congress or are members of the Bush administration.

&uot;I consider it a great honor to be asked to participate in this summit,&uot; said Venezuela, who’s been at the helm of Sara Lee’s Suffolk plant for just two years.

Education – or rather, the lack thereof – is one of the most critical issues Venezuela wants to see addressed during the two-day forum.

&uot;The lack of education is at an epidemic level as far as I am concerned,&uot; he said. &uot;…There is not a lot of awareness about the educational issues and opportunities that are available in the community.&uot;

Venezuela believes Sara Lee has been successful in helping tackle that problem in Suffolk since the company’s Learning Center two years ago. The program was initially established to help employees who wanted to advance their computer skills or to pass the GED exam to get a high-school level degree.

But upon realizing the need was community-wide, Sara Lee opened the center to the public. The center is equipped with new computers and classes are taught be professors from Paul D. Camp Community College.

To date, more than 200 people – approximately half of which are employed by the company – have taken advantage of Sara Lee’s free classes, Venezuela said.

Venezuela and his wife, Sandy, live in Chesapeake. The couple has three sons: Michael, 23, Matthew, 17, and Daniel, 15.