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Meet Graciela Katzer of 14th Plano International Festival and 5th annual Fitness and Wellness Fair

Today we’d like to introduce you to Graciela Katzer.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story?
The Plano International Festival got its start over a decade ago as the very first initiative to come from the city of Plano’s newly formed Multicultural Outreach Roundtable (MCOR). MCOR was created in 2002 by former Mayor Pat Evans as an advisory board to the City Council. MCOR participants, all volunteers from many different ethnic backgrounds, help the city keep in touch with the needs of the diverse community and provide workshops and services to help meet those needs. The first idea from MCOR was to shine a light on the vibrant cultural mix in Plano by holding a festival where all those cultures could share parts of their heritage with the whole community. In 2005, a group of dedicated volunteers pulled together and held the very first Plano International Festival. In that year, I managed the children’s activities, and in every year since, I have served as president of the Festival.

The Festival celebrates Plano’s cultural diversity by raising awareness of our many ethnic communities. We are breaking down barriers of communication and dispelling myths to erode prejudice and foster inclusion. We enlighten, enrich and educate all who attend regarding the rich diversity of the area’s cultures. We foster and promote understanding across cultural groups. We promote the City of Plano as a premier destination for cultural entertainment and enrichment, a city where cultural diversity is embraced and celebrated. All of this leads to reduced conflict and peaceful coexistence. And we do all of that with a team of passionate, dedicated grass-roots volunteers who devote countless hours to this labor of love.

Our accomplishments are many. We are the largest, longest-running multicultural event in north Texas. While the city has festivals devoted to smaller cultural subsets, only the PIF encompasses all groups. And we present an unparalleled variety of programs, activities, and experiences. We offer a unique forum for countless community, civic, and cultural organizations to reach out to the diverse community and educate them about their offerings. The PIF hosts the area’s only outdoor naturalization ceremony. Every year, about 50 new citizens are sworn in. It is a deeply moving and meaningful part of the event. It gives attendees a glimpse into the hard work and dedication it takes to become a citizen and reinforces our mission of building bridges across cultural groups.

Our on-stage program of multicultural music and dance performances is a world tour of cultural entertainment. It offers performances from every continent, all in one day, on one stage. There is no other event in the area that offers the wide variety and amazing quality of cultural performances. Another unique aspect of the Festival is our Zero Waste program. This pioneering, stand-out initiative strives to minimize the Festival’s environmental impact by reducing the amount of landfill waste generated. It is our goal to be a Zero Waste event and we hope that other festivals and events will follow in our footsteps. An exciting expansion of our green program is the “Green Village” where companies offer environmentally friendly services, programs and products.

Four years ago we introduced fitness and wellness themes and activities in our Children’s Global Village with great success. We expanded this initiative the following year and, in collaboration with Plano ISD Education Foundation, and the sponsorship of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano, we developed and held a full-fledged Wellness Fair at the Courtyard Theatre and Fitness activities at the Sailing House, all held on the morning of the Festival. The Fitness and Wellness Fair has become a major attraction over the past four years.

People line up an hour before the event for free flu shots (for children and adults alike), vision and dental screenings, hearing tests, blood pressure checks, glucose testing, blood donations, HIV testing, and more. These services improve the health of the community by pointing out potential health risks and informing attendees of how to get treatment. Education on healthy lifestyles, fitness and other relevant information for the well-being of the entire family is also offered. This is a truly unique aspect of the Festival and our way to give back to the community. No other event in the area has anything resembling this offering. The services fill a great need in the community and help improve individuals’ and families’ health and well-being.

Another attraction we pioneered is the Multicultural Art Exhibit, in collaboration with the Plano Art Association, featuring original works by local artists representing multiple countries. This is a unique opportunity for artists from different cultures to showcase their work, and it offers the community a unique way to interact and engage with those cultures. Two years ago, PIF introduced another way for attendees to engage with and learn about other cultures by adding a foreign film screening at the Courtyard Theater. In partnership with local non-profit Indie-meme, an independent film from India was screened: “Gauru: Journey of Courage”, and the following year we showed an independent documentary from Pakistan called “Song of Lahore”. These films were engaging and well received.

We also collaborated with Plano Public Library System to bring a popular attraction to the festival, “Reading Around the World”, which features a storytelling tent with local authors reading tales from their native lands and bringing them to life with puppet shows. We have added STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities to our portfolio of educational offerings, and we would like to grow this area through expanded partnerships with local educational groups. We have already collaborated with the UT Dallas Science and Engineering Education Center, the Plano Public Library System, Sci-Tech Discovery Center, Plano ISD robotic clubs  and Plano ISD Council of PTAs. The STEM area features hands-on activities for children in robotics, biology, chess and chemistry.

More than 190,000 people have visited the festival since its inception with a record of 23,000 visitors last year! The PIF has been recognized and has won awards over the years The multiple awards received indicate the quality, innovation and creativity of our programs:
-2016 For the Love of Art, Art Organization
-Awarded the 2014 Community Leadership Award In recognition of the Outstanding Contributions to the Students of the Plano Independent School District.
-Four-Time Recipient of the Environmental Star of Excellence Award City of Plano Sustainability and Environmental Services 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014

Has it been a smooth road?
Since the Festival is a grass-roots run organization with no paid staff, we are always challenged to find enough time and hands to do all of the work that’s needed to put on such a large event. We are all passionate and dedicated volunteers, so we always make it happen, with help from many partner organizations, our sponsors, and some support from the city. An interesting phenomenon we have noticed is that many of our new initiatives end up being copied by other groups and events after they see our success. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then we are quite flattered!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with 14th Plano International Festival and 5th annual Fitness and Wellness Fair – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Our mission and accomplishments are spelled out above, but I’d like to add that I am so proud of the amazing dedication of our volunteers, and the enthusiastic support of the community. It’s always a beautiful thing to see the Festival come together, after working so hard all year long.

It is so gratifying to see the proud faces of the new citizens being sworn in, the fascination on kids’ faces as they perform science experiments, and the enthusiasm of the audience as our performers dazzle everyone with their colorful costumes, dynamic dances, and beautiful music. It is such a special celebration, with so many varied offerings and experiences for the whole community to enjoy, all in one day and one place. Where else can anyone find such a cornucopia of cultural experiences?

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Interest in the Plano International Festival is growing every year, with rising attendance and rising numbers of participants in all areas of the event. Our plan is to continue to offer the amazing celebration of cultures that we are known for and to innovate with new programs. We may need to consider moving the event to a larger venue at some point in the future as our audience and participation continue to grow.

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