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.

Polish sisters
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/

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.

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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/

Polish-Made Robot Treats Children

Podrobot

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/

Broadcasting Polish Pride: FOX Chicago’s Jenny Milkowski Shares Her Polish Story

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There’s not many morning TV shows in America where you can get your traffic report and learn the proper pronunciation of the Polish word pączki. That’s because there’s not many on-air Polish traffic reporters like  Jenny Milkowski.

Jenny brings a uniquely Polish personality to the weekday morning show at FOX-TV Chicago, “Good Day Chicago.” Aside from sprinkling informational tidbits about Poland in between her traffic reports, she serves as an on-air Polish guru. That’s right. Whenever anyone at the station is covering anything involving Polish culture, you can probably bet that Jenny will be involved. Her Polish pride shines through the TV camera lens, making her among the most passionate and visible proponents of Polish culture in the Chicago metropolitan area.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jenny to discover more about her Polish background. Here’s the full interview:

What is your connection to Poland?

“I was born in Chicago, but my parents where born in Poland. My mom came to Chicago in the seventies when she was 20­ years ­old. She had just finished nursing school in Poland and came for a touring visit. Her mom, my grandma, was already in the states and convinced her to stay. My mom eventually met my dad while shopping at his father’s store, and they started dating shortly after and got married. Both of my parents are from the Tarnow area. My mom is from Miechowice, and my dad is from Wietrzychowice. My dad came here on a boat with his mom and some of his brothers when he was just seven years old!”

Jenny Milkowski

Did you grow up more Polish or American?

“I was born on the northwest side of Chicago, which is a heavily Polish neighborhood. My younger sister and I grew up in a very Polish household and didn’t speak English until we went to school, and even in preschool I didn’t know English that well.

When you’re a kid, you learn languages quickly, but I was very shy…so that didn’t help! So because I was shy and didn’t know how to ask my teacher if I could go to the bathroom, I would pee myself! Almost every day my mom had to bring me a new pair of pants to change into, but by first grade I was fluent in English so it wasn’t a problem anymore. In addition to going to “regular” school Monday through ­Friday, we also went to Polish school on Saturday mornings!”

How can people tell you are Polish?

“Being Polish has always been a huge part of who I am! Not only did I grow up with parents who came straight from Poland, but I knew the language. People can tell I’m Polish because I’m always sure to tell them, haha! I am proud of where I came from and my culture. Growing up and living in Chicago and being Polish is great because there is such a huge Polish community that makes you feel welcome!”

“I LOVE talking about the Polish culture and my Polish upbringing on TV! I think sometimes anchors on television can be a little stiff and don’t show the audience where they truly come from. I believe that I should be myself–which is Polish and quirky! I want all the Polish men and women and children who watch at home to say ‘wow, that’s really cool! She’s like me, and she’s on TV, and she is proud of who she is!’ My coworkers enjoy my stories, and they love to learn about how it was growing up Polish.”

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Jenny’s family owns a Polish store in Chicago–Bristol Deli.

Ok, most important question: What is your favorite Polish food?

“That’s a tough question! There is SO much good food! and get this, my family owns a Polish store! It’s called Bristol Deli on 5205 West Belmont in Chicago. We have an amazing chef that cooks delicious Polish salads and dinners! We call it Meals By Babcia! We also have tons of wonderful Polish candies and desserts. I think my favorite has to be pasztet, kielbasa and zurek!”

What’s the best part about your job in television?

“My favorite part of my job is being able to connect with Chicagoans and Polish Chicagoans and Polish people from all over the world! I am on Facebook almost all the time. Please see my videos and talk to me at Jenny Milkowski TV!”

Jenny is extremely approachable and loves interacting with her fans on social media. Click here to like her on Facebook or visit her website at jennymilkowski.com to learn more about her.

Here’s some more videos/photos from Jenny:

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