Weaving Polish Pride: Connecticut Sisters Share their Love for the Motherland

Many children of immigrants lose their parents’ cultural identity, and with it, the language, customs and traditions brought over from the old world. In fact, many immigrants themselves often turn away from where they came from to fit into their new country.

The trick is, whether you’re an immigrant, or the child of one, to embrace your new country while also preserving your roots. It’s a trick that sisters Anna and Patricia Lakomy of Connecticut have mastered.

Daughters of Polish political refugees, the Lakomy sisters were born in Brooklyn, New York before moving to the Constitution State. “Being Polish is a huge part of our identity” says Patricia, who is currently in college. Her older sister, Anna, works as a market researcher.

The sisters attribute their strong Polish pride to the way they grew up. “We were always closely connected to Poland,” explains Patricia. “Our mom is from Elbląg and our dad is from Sanok, and we would visit those places very often as children.”

Stateside, the girls attended Polish school, spoke the language at home, ate the food and prayed in Polish churches. “I think that whether you embrace your Polish heritage comes down to the environment you’re raised in,” says Patricia, admitting that all too often the people who forget their traditions are the ones who weren’t truly exposed to them to begin with.

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Anna (left) and Patricia (right) Lakomy are passionate about sharing their Polish heritage with others.

Sharing Polish pride through clothing

The Lakomy’s Polish pride is so huge, they’re wearing it on their sleeves—literally. The sisters founded Apolonia, a Polish apparel company focused on instilling their love of Poland in others through clothing.

“Apolonia provides a means for Polish Americans to share their Polish pride through what they wear,” says Anna, who created the first t-shirt for her husband. “After I designed a shirt depicting a half-Polish, half-American eagle, I realized this could become something bigger.”

One of the company’s signature shirts depicts red and white lips—the Polish flag’s colors. “We try and go for a subtle, youthful look for our t-shirts,” says Patricia. The sisters also offer iPhone cases with similar Polish designs.

Although motivated by their Polish roots, the sisters recognize that every country can instill the same level of national pride in its people. “We are considering creating t-shirts for other nationalities as well,” explains Patricia. “We see Apolonia becoming a means by which people of all cultures and traditions can express their national pride.”

In a sense, the sisters are making it cool to act Polish, or whatever nationality you are. “Being Polish is our passion, and, ultimately, we want everyone to feel that same passion for their heritage, no matter what it is,” says Patricia.

To browse the sisters’ online store, visit https://www.facebook.com/Apolonia.Community/

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Pokemon GO Hits Poland: Why Poles Should be Careful

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Pokemon has hit Poland. While the viral mobile phenomenon known as Pokemon GO made its global premier on July 6, it didn’t become available in Poland until July 16. Since then, it has spawned the same level of obsession and hysteria among Polish people as it has in people the world over. It’s even leaving social media sites like Twitter and Instagram in the dust in terms of number of users.

For those not familiar, Pokemon GO is a free mobile game that uses GPS technology to create a virtual world where players can hunt and capture fictional monsters called Pokemon. For example, if you are walking down the street and you turn the game on, it will show a virtual version of that street with Pokemon walking around. There are also certain hotspots, known as “gyms“ and “PokeStops” around the world where people congregate.

The game, released by Nintendo, is based on the Pokemon games and TV shows that reached global popularity in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Those who were childhood fans back then are now adults, many of whom are downloading and playing Pokemon GO for nostalgic reasons. Within four days of its release, Nintendo made $14 million and its stock prices soared.

Now, the same Pokemon GO craze is infecting Poland where sometimes groups of 20 people or more are seen traveling through parks and in town centers searching for the digital monsters. One Polish marketer observes that these are typically males with smart phones who have an interest in the latest gadgets and technology.

man with smartphoneThose are the facts of the game, and people’s reactions to it range from total fascination to absolute horror.

On one hand, the game is positive in that it encourages movement. If you don’t physically walk around, you won’t find Pokemon and won’t be able to progress in the game. In the U.S. where there’s an obesity crisis, experts have been searching for ways to get people off the couch for years. Now, Pokemon GO has done it in days. I’ve personally seen more people than ever frequenting parks, trails, forests and other areas where they think they’ll find Pokemon.

But for me, the negatives might just outweigh the positives. While people are, in fact, out and about more, they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. For example, there’s been an increase in people visiting cemeteries, not to pay their respects to loved ones, but to capture so-called ghost-type Pokemon. In Poland, there have been reports of people visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp memorial to capture Pokemon. This is sick and wrong, and I applaud the people who run the Auschwitz memorial for their recent ban of Pokemon GO on the premises.

Furthermore, even though Pokemon GO players are technically being more active outside, they’re still staring at a screen. The problem here, aside from people’s eyes not getting a break from that artificial lighting, is that players are all too often totally oblivious to their surroundings. Since Pokemon can appear anywhere, people have been caught trespassing onto others property, walking through oncoming traffic and even DRIVING while playing the game.

There are further reports of people driving into trees, falling into ditches and off cliffs and getting mugged all because they are watching their phone screen for Pokemon and not paying attention to their surroundings. Don’t believe me? Check out some of these stories. So far, I haven’t heard of any serious accidents in Poland, but it’s only a matter of time if this hysteria keeps spreading.

I’m not trying to be  negative here, but it’s this Crazy Polish Guy’s opinion that anything can be fun and positive as long as it’s played responsibly–unfortunately we have a lot of totally irresponsible Pokemon GO players out there. Poland is coming into the craze comparatively late, I hope and pray that they learn from the mistakes made by people in the rest of the world.

Meet Mateusz Mach: Poland’s Teenage Inventor and CEO

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Ask the average 18-year-old boy what his chief concerns are, and he’ll probably mention high school graduation, college applications, partying and girls. On the flip-side, inventing new technologies and kick-starting a multinational business is probably not on his priorities list.

That is, unless you ask Polish teenager Mateusz Mach,  who, despite being only 18, has already designed groundbreaking software to help deaf people communicate and convinced seasoned professionals to invest in his project.

Mach developed Five App, which was initially a downloadable phone application that allowed users to send different hand signs to their  friends instead of traditional texts. A hip hop enthusiast, Mach’s original purpose for Five App was to let people communicate in a fun way using symbols seen in the hip hop world, the idea being that only they and their friends would understand the messages.

Everything began to change when Mach recruited Blake Wind, an English tutor from the United States, to perfect the English in the app’s original version. Wind had considered the possibility of transforming the app into something more early on and connected Mach to Cindy Chen, an occupational therapist who is deaf in both ears, with a cochlear implant in her left ear.

“Blake explained to me that they wanted to build a platform that deaf people could use to communicate,” says Chen. “My unique experience of living as a hard of hearing individual who signs intermediate-level ASL and understands deaf culture allowed me to discover the purpose of Five App and its enormous potential. I contributed by providing feedback and sharing my ideas on how to bring this app to the next level.”

Mach was instantly sold on the idea.  “Up to 80 percent of deaf people have problems with reading and writing even simple messages. Moreover, they don’t have a proper messenger to communicate in sign language,” explains Mach. He realized that, instead of merely allowing the sharing of hip hop signs, his app could be a sign language messenger.

Entering the Shark Tank

Having the idea was one thing. Diving into the figurative “shark tank” and convincing seasoned investors to support the venture was a completely different ball game. The cards were especially stacked against Mach, who, as a teenager, ran the risk of not be taken as seriously by the investors.

This teenager, though, was not to be underestimated. Another person in his shoes might have tried to act extra formal during investor meetings, wearing a shirt, tie, slacks and expensive watch. Not Mach, who showed up wearing a hoodie and baseball cap.

Why? For Mach, convincing investors comes down to trust and staying true to oneself. “The main problem linked with finding the venture capital for any project is to make investors trust you,” explains Mach. “During the meetings I wear my baseball cap and hoodie not only because they are comfortable, but also because I believe that I owe my point of view to the environment in which I grew up, and that is why I respect hip hop culture so much.” It’s a genuineness that the investors respected and, ultimately, led some of them to back Mach.

Zrzut ekranu 2016-04-04 o 12.37.25 AMMoving Forward

Currently, Mach’s goal is to perfect Five App using American Sign Language (ASL) before eventually rolling out a Polish Sign Language version. In fact, this month the team expects to release a totally redesigned version of the app.  “The new app is a full fledged messenger with a base dictionary of 800 custom animated ASL signs, built to accommodate more,” says Blake Wind, who is now Chief Marketing Officer at Five App. “We’re working on a sign language messenger that will be as straightforward as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.”

For her part, Cindy Chen now works closely with Five App’s animation team, reviewing the 800 animated signs and submitting comments and videos of corrections before they are released on the app. “I ensure the signs are all correct before they go live,” explains Chen.

According to Mach, “We’re taking a global perspective moving forward because we believe the possibilities are limitless. We are also keeping our fingers crossed for the possibility of cooperating with the United Nations. We are proud of the fact that more and more deaf people and authorities have expressed interest in helping us build the product.”

Despite his international strategy, Mach is aware of the significance his invention has for Polish innovation. He explains his hope that once international investors notice Polish inventions like Five App, they will be more inclined to support other Polish ventures. “In order to attract foreign partners here, we have to first prove the ability of the Polish startup community to create valuable products. I hope that Five App is, and will continue to be, a shining example of this,” states Mach.

To download Five App, visit http://fiveapp.mobi/

Snapshots From the 125th Polish Constitution Day Parade in Chicago

Saturday was the 125th annual Polish Constitution Day parade held in Chicago, commemorating the May 3rd Polish Constitution of 1791. Since 1891, the event has been a focal point of Polish-American life in Chicago and draws thousands into a yearly sea of red and white.

This year, the parade was held along State Street, in between Lake and Van Buren Streets. Below are some images from the parade.

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A major theme during this year’s parade was the 1,050th anniversary of Poland’s baptism, which these traditionally-dressed children emphasized at the front.
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Some older marchers dressed as various figures from Poland’s history. We see a couple knights and winged hussars in the mix.
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A traditional Krakow “Lajkonik” leads a group of Polish folk dancers down State Street in Chicago.
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A man driving a horse-drawn carriage with a horse fully decked out in Polish colors.
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Some historical reenactors dressed up as World War II Polish soldiers.
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More Polish World War II historical reenactors standing with the flag of Poland.
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A float dedicated to the 1,050th anniversary of Poland’s baptism, which possibly took place in the town of Gniezno, Poland in 966.
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Members of “Dziennik Związkowy,” Chicago’s premier Polish-language newspaper.
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Members of the famous Polish folk dancing group, Wici.
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Polish highlanders from southern Poland join the march.
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These communist-era cars no doubt struck a chord with audience members who remembered them back in the 1970s and 1980s in Poland.
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Polish motorcyclists closed off the parade in a hardcore fashion.

Polish-Made Robot Treats Children

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Two young Polish scientists are helping place Poland on the forefront of innovation and technological advancement with their recent invention—a robot specially designed to provide therapy for children suffering from cerebral palsy and other gait issues.

Grzegorz Piątek developed the Prodrobot automatized gait trainer in 2010, which is now being used in a few clinics across Poland and will be used in more. I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of the developers, Bartłomiej Wielogórski, who works with Piątek, and oversees their newly-found company Prodromus.

What was the inspiration behind the Prodrobot?

“Grzegorz Piątek (my brother in law) is the inventor of Prodrobot. In 2010, when he was a student, he wanted to finish his studies with something which would not only be theoretical, but also a real and working device.

His colleague was a father of two boys affected by cerebral palsy. When Grzegorz heard his story, he decided to help him by building a medical device that could provide long term treatment for the boys. The resulting invention was the first prototype of the Prodrobot. After graduating, he decided to donate the robot to the boys.”

What sets the Prodrobot apart from the competition?

“The Prodrobot is the only device on the market that allows the user to train all six joints of the lower limbs at the same time, making it equivalent to having six trainers!

A sitting assistant allows the patient to adjust himself or herself while sitting and, unlike other machines, it does not have a treadmill, which makes it possible for patients with ankle joint problems to still train. It’s also extremely adjustable for patients whose limbs are different lengths.

Finally, it’s very easy to use, even for young kids. The accompanying software does not require specialized knowledge and only a few hours’ worth of training should suffice—if you can use a cash machine, you can use the Prodrobot .”

How affordable is the Prodrobot, and where is it being used?

“The Prodrobot is three to six times less expensive than other, larger gait training devices. Currently, there is a Prodrobot being used in a private healthcare center in Warsaw. Soon, Prodrobots will also be used in a private healthcare center in Krakow and a children’s hospital in northern Poland. We often showcase the Prodrobot at conferences, congresses and other events all over the country.”

How do you think that innovations like the Prodrobot will impact how the world sees Poland?

“I hope that our Prodrobot will be a very effective tool to show other nations that we have good inventors and engineers in Poland. We can manufacture, develop and sell our Prodrobot all over the world. Most importantly, we can effectively help children all over the world make their adulthood more comfortable and happy.”

Wielogórski and Piątek plan to make the Prodrobot available throughout Europe and eventually around the world. Wielogórski mentioned that they will continue to improve upon the Prodrobot and develop other rehabilitative devices as well.

For more information about the Prodrobot, visit http://www.prodromus.pl/