2019 Honorees

Immigrant Entrepreneur Leadership Award Recipient: PENNY FURGERSON

Penny Furgerson has always enjoyed dance, and her late husband’s encouragement made it one of her passions. Penny and Lee Furgerson co-founded Gateway Dance Theatre in 1972 as a safe and arts-oriented place for kids from underserved communities to go to school. Gateway Dance Theatre’S offerings to include Japanese Taiko drummers, Brazilian Capoeira martial artists and a variety of dance classes including Mexican folk, Filipino, Soca fitness, Brazilian samba, and merengue. Penny is a long-time advocate for public spaces to be made available to community performing arts groups to encourage their founding, growth and success.

Immigrant Spirit Award Recipient: ERIC AND LORRAINE ROKITNICKI

Eric and Lorraine Rokitnicki migrated from Poland to Des Moines in 1966. Their family left communist Warsaw, Poland with a suitcase and $5 for each family member. Life in Des Moines started modestly, but they experienced kindness of America through their neighbors who helped them become self-sufficient. Eric later attended DMACC and worked at a printing company. Lorraine attended nursing school and worked at the hospital while raising their two children. In 1976, Lorraine and Eric formed Bindery 1, Inc., a printing and binding company. Today, Bindery 1 is a full service printing and binding company which employs 35 people. Lorraine and Eric, both in their 70s, remain active in the business along with their daughter, Renatta, and her husband, Jason Bolen. They look to give back and support their community whenever possible.

Outstanding Immigrant Business Award Recipient: RUSSEL KARIM

Russel’s passion is developing technology-based businesses that creates more jobs for society. Launching his first business at the age of eleven, Russel is always looking at new ways to implement technology within a new or existing businesses. One example of this is UNI Traditions Challenge app that Russel created as a student at UNI, which replaced the paper-copy book of lists given out to every freshman. Russel also co-founded FanFood (fanfoodapp.com) in 2015 to maximize guest experience and improve concession sales at venues of all sizes. Russel’s newest endeavor is Dhakai.com, which he founded in March 2019 with a vision to close the gap and empower everyone in the apparel supply chain.

Karen L. Evans Award (Immigrant Champion Award) Recipient: CULTUREALL

CultureALL is a Central Iowa nonprofit organization with a mission to lead communities in valuing our culturally rich diversity. It connects with immigrants and refugees, developing them to become Ambassador educators who share their native culture and traditions in Iowa schools, businesses, and communities. These Ambassadors often share their personal experiences as immigrants and refugees, which not only helps community members understand the challenges facing foreign-born Iowans, but also the value they add to the community. Additionally, working for CultureALL has provided a number of new immigrants with extra income, as well as experience honing their public speaking skills and building their resume to help them find further employment.