Lita Abele: FASSJ Love Awardee 2017


The New Jersey press called her the “woman going against the grain”, maybe because she found herself in a job that is largely held by men. The fact is she did not get with a stroke of a pen but by sheer hard work and determination to prove herself in the most deserving fashion. Our 2017 Love Awardee, Lita Marcelo Abele rolled up her sleeves and got to work. The first thing she did was get to re-educate herself and worked her way up. No stranger to education she got through with flying colors and would soon head her husband’s company, U.S. Lumber. The job that may looked so masculine but in reality the nitty-gritty of the lumber business she find easy to handle and with grace. The passionate poem of Joyce Kilmer, “Trees” so passionately define her steps as she steers her company; U.S. Lumber to a future she feels comfortable navigating; this time along the “grain.” Freddy Panes, P.R.O. with Past President Hermie Aczon had the rare  opportunity of interviewing Lita. Click here to view FASSJ Souvenir Journal

FASSJ:  You have always been a person who is determined and focused. Did you have that mindset even when you were in the Philippines?

LMA: Yes, as a matter of fact, before I came to America, I had a teaching degree. My teaching career provided for me and my family. I began my life in America as a domestic worker, having escaped the struggle of poverty in the Philippines, where I had two small children and limited resources. I reflect on those days with sadness and discomfort… until I remember that I triumphed in the end. My journey took me through many stops along some bumpy roads, but all of them leaving me with these lessons learned.

FASSJ: You evolved to become a community leader, and a business woman? Did that come easy or were there major adjustments into your life?

LMA: You won’t often find that the things that change your life come easy. To that point, I’ve made many major adjustments throughout the years – I’d say that the most impactful ones were based on self-teaching and personal growth. I would read, read, read… anything I could get my hands on for getting new ideas, thought and information.

I also sought out structured teachings, like seminars, conferences, internet programming and online classes. I do strongly believe that continued educa-tion is worthy and necessary, but most of your applied knowledge will come from your life’s experience.

FASSJ: Running a business is no easy task: it’s a whole new world of responsibilities and requires a lot of energy? Where do you get all that?

LMA: I could give you a standard answer about staying physically healthy and exercising, but while that is important, I feel that taking care of your inner self is a critical factor. I intentionally stay away from negativity, jealousy, gossip and closed-mindedness.

FASSJ: I gathered that you went to attend business classes. You really dig into the business side of things, I suppose Merill was on your side?

LMA: Meeting my husband Merrill profoundly changed my life. Every opportunity that came to me is because of Merill, and I thank him for his gifts of love and confidence in my abilities. Now, I reflect on how far I have come in nearly 36 years of living in the U.S. and note that  despite where the opportunities first come from, one has to have the strength, drive and determination to realize your desired dreams. Having a solid support system is an invaluable asset.

FASSJ: As a member of the board of Rowan University, to what extent will you go to encourage younger Fil-Am Students to engage with our community?

LMA:  I was instrumental in the creation of RUPAC.  This have allowed our younger Fil-Ams to be aware of their roots and engage their fellow students to know about our culture. I also started with Rowan and exchange study program that the University is coordinating with the University of the Philippines. We are making progress.

FASSJ: We attended an event where you hosted the NJ Senate President and State officials; and also welcomed Ambassador Cuisia and Consul General de Leon. It looked so natural for you to be conversant with them. Had it always been your personality?

LMA: No. I was once very shy and intimidated by others that seemed, from my own perception, to be more skilled or more educated than I was. I had to learn, and continue to remind myself, that we are all capable individuals and that we each have experiences that contribute to the people we become. Even if someone has an impressive background in their field, I have come to recognize that I too have an impressive collection of my own skill-sets and knowledge. In coming to America, I promised myself that I would never hide my talent and abilities, for that would allow another person to feel more powerful than me. In fact, this idea is central to my personal philosophy as I am now better able to celebrate and harness the true talents of others. Why would one individual silence their voice, when everyone stands to benefit from its wisdom?

FASSJ: Words to live by..?

LMA:  Because of my experiences, I believe in sharing my knowledge with others to help them work toward the achievement of the American Dream: “Education is the foundation for all growth. Sharing the knowledge one has learned with the community promotes new opportunity for leadership within you and within others.”

” I reflect on how far I have come in living in the U.S. and note that despite where the opportunities first come from, one has to have the strength, drive and determination to realize your desired dreams. Having a solid support system is an invaluable asset.”

FASSJ: If you are going to give advice to a young person, what would it be?

LMA: Don’t hide your talent and embrace who you are, ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Adversity can only tear down your structural resolve if you choose to live with it silently. In fact, most people actually seek ways to help each other for the simple human fact that it feels good to make others feel good. Take advantage of the ability to join forces, create partnerships, seek mentors and use good     advic

FASSJ:  What are your plans for the future, in regards to your involvement with the Fil-Am community?

LMA: I would like to stay involved serving as a mentor for the Filipino Community in organizations I have chosen; and share my knowledge and experience to those who are planning/starting a business. I will continue to give philanthropically to those who I choose to be deserving in our community.

FASSJ: What is inspiring to you? Who do you get inspiration from?

LMA: Watching my husband build this company from the beginning and support the idea that we can do anything . What inspires me now is the drive to be more successful and create a better life – I want to see my business become a legacy to my children and grandchildren. They are the ones that I get inspiration from each day.

FASSJ:  Are there things you missed about home?

LMA: Spending quality time with my relatives just reminiscing all our childhood times, laughing , talking, and all cherishing the happy times. I miss eating the locally grown fruits, such as atis, lanzones and all the original home cooked Filipino dishes.

FASSJ:  Last book read?

LMA: “The Self Architect : Redesigning Your Life” Edited by Linda Ellis Eastman. Just having recently published this book, I am one of several co-authors in this international release. My topic matter of “Breaking Barriers of Diversity” is something very important to me and this was a special project that I much enjoyed.

FASSJ: Things you would like to do; if given the chance to go away for a year?

LMA: My idea of the perfect year away would be to relax and unwind on a cruise around the world and make sure do some shopping at each port.

FASSJ: Are you spiritual?

LMA: Yes.

Editor’s Note:  Lita Marcelo Abele is recipient of many local community, State and organizational awards because of her tireless efforts in promoting the ideals of good business, and good citizenship.  FASSJ recognizes her tremendous work for our young Fil-Am students in her capacity as a member of the board of Rowan university in Glassboro, New Jersey.


Elysa Marie Pena Guerrero, FASSJ Miss Valentine 2017

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Want to view FASSJ Souvenir Journal Online? Click here.


Pres. Charito & Dr. Ricky Mabanta

Charito Mabanta, FASSJ President would like to thank everyone who attended their recently-held  FASSJ Valentine’s Ball last February 11 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The event will ushered in the reign of 2017 Miss Valentine Elysa Marie Guerrero also recognize FASSJ’s “2017 Love Awardee”, Lita Abele. Click here to view 2017 FASSJ Souvenir Journal.

Elysa is a junior student at Penn State University Behrend; majoring in Psychology with Minor in Teaching Special Education. She also works as a student supervisor at the work place in Penn State University. Click here to view Elysa’s personal message to our Fil-Am community.

lita-abele-roundLita Abele, CEO of U.S. Lumber was honored with FASSJ’s prestigious “Love Award” succinctly described by Board Member Boots Benitez: “The Love Award is given to one individual or a couple who have demonstrated their love of community”.

Mrs. Abele, no stranger to a string of awards and citations from many organizations and associations accepted the award with husband Merrill on her side. She thanked the many supporters and admirers during the event as her “children”, mainly students from Rowan’s University’s RUPAC organization presented their own unique version of the Philippine “Tinikling”.  Click here to view Lita Abele’s interview by FASSJ.

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Many of our Philippine American community leaders were present that evening, as everyone danced the night away.

|  By: Freddy Panes

Kim Barroso: OSAC’s quintessential Choir Director

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by: Freddy Panes | Born in the Philippines Kim Rojo Celestino Barroso began his piano study at the age of 4 under his grandmother’s tutelage, Anita Celestino. Soon he was performing as a student at the Yamaha School of Music and at the Centro Escolar University under the guidance of Marina Diokno, who encouraged him to audition for the Philippine High School for the Arts.

There he continued his studies with Araneta Lim and Regalado S.L. Jose, who conducted his Graduation Recital performing with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Through Regalado Jose’s advice he took lessons from Bien Panganiban, founder of the Ryukyu Academy, in Okinawa, Japan while studying as International Exchange Student under the Youth for Understanding Program. He suggested Kim apply for Winthrop University in South Carolina where he became Kim’s benefactor.
Under Dr. Eugene Barban he graduated with honors with a BM in Piano Performance, receiving First Honorable Mention two consecutive years from the South Carolina Music Teachers National Association Piano Competition. It was also during this time when Kim took the opportunity to collaborate with collegiate and high school choirs, musical theater, church and ballet studio accompanying among others.
Receiving his Masters in Music degree from Temple University in Piano Performance and Piano Chamber Music Accompanying where he studied with Harvey Wedeen and Lambert Orkis, he is currently an Artist-in-Residence pledged to performing and accompanying for various concerts, choirs and auditions among others. He also works at Rutgers-Camden University as a lecturer as well as a piano studio instructor.
A member of the Pi Kappa Lambda National Music Honor Society and Assistant Alumni Advisor for the Omicron-Upsilon Chapter of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, which he helped chartered at Temple University. Kim’s community involvement also landed him the opportunity to be president of the Filipino American National Historical Society – Pennsylvania Chapter (FANHS-PA) from 2007-2010.
He currently serves as music liturgy coordinator/ choir director at St. Augustine Church in Old City Philadelphia, and has performed recently as soloist with the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia, Ambler Symphony Orchestra, Olney Symphony Orchestra and as collaborative pianist at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall and with Philadelphia Orchestra violinist Jason De Pue.

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Kim took his Philadelphia friends to New York City to watch one of his performances at a famous opera house.



FAABCI spreads love and support to children


December sets the stage for the traditional annual “Pasko sa Nayon” celebration of the Filipino American Association of Bucks County. Click here to view their 2014 Book. The event, scheduled December 5 at the Radisson Hotel, Trevose, PA is meant not only to herald the arrival of the Christmas season but also to celebrate with friends, supporters and benefactors their achievements for the year. As the year end draws near, outgoing President Nida Imperial beams with pride on the record she leaves behind as she encourage her successor to follow in her footsteps.

FAABCI is very grateful of your continued support, they were able to increase the number of sponsored children from 4 to 8. From our Funds we have able to:

  • Donated $1200 to the Family of our Sponsored Children toward the repair of their house
  • Donated money for the Typhoon Haiyan victims and to the Familly of our members who were affected by the most devastated typhoon  in  the Philippines.
  • Donated  (1) one House to the Gawad Kalinga project of the FECGP
  • Pledge $500 for the repair of The Pearl Buck House in Perkasie, PA.
  • Able to Buy our own Sound System.
  • Sponsor our young generation to have a FAABCI  Basket Ball Team for the FACAA.
  • Support the FECGP and other associations on their Fund Raising Event and much more.

Pres. Nida Imperial reports: FAABCI have been sponsoring children in the Philippines through Pearl S. Buck International for several years now and FAABCI Board Member Norma Yabut and husband Rick regularly visit these kids every year. Last February 16 & 17 Jay and myself, together with the Yabuts, Director of Pearl S. Buck International Manila and Staff visited 13 children; 8 of them sponsored by FAABCI.

Since this was my first time to visit the kids I was so excited and emotional. I cannot stop the tears of joy and happiness and was able to interviewed them:  how they are in school and how they feel that they have a sponsor.

They told us that they are lucky and life has changed and they are inspired to study harder to have a better future. They were equally thankful with our little “pasalubongs” and the Christmas money that we always give for the holidays.

We could not forget the warm welcome of their families who proudly showed us their Posters outside their doors saying Welcome FAABCI members. Our 2 days visit in Subic Bay, Zambales, Pampanga and Bulacan was a very unforgettable and wonderfully special.

One of the Kid presented us his gift: an artwork from school saying “Thank You FAABCI for sponsoring me. Hope and wish that we could join the Yabuts every year and them again. Please if you could try to sponsor some more of these unfortunate children in the Philippines.”  Read more.

Dungca family needs our help

Dungca Family needs help Photo

By: Ann Dimapilis Bratelli, FASSJ President  This is a time for all of us to gather and help our friend Eli and Bec Dungca who lost most of their belongings at a recent fire, October 24th. The fire quickly swept through their building, and luckily no one was hurt or injured in their family.
Through the generosity of friends and family, they have been helped in the area of clothing and essentials. The boys are: Elijah who is 10 (size 12-14) and Isaiah who is 9 (size 10-12).
While they appreciate all of the help given to them by family, friends and community, the most recent text I received from them said “the best form of assistance has been monetary donations in the form of prepaid cards or gift cards.”  (These can be sent to the care of:
  • FASSJ Dungca Project, 4 Village Drive, Voorhees, NJ 08043 and I will get it to them. If you can include your email, I will let you know that it was received.)
  • You can also send your donations to FECGP, 4 Sugarmaple Lane, Horsham, PA 19044:  Pay to: FECGP, Memo: Elias Dungca, Jr. Support
Eli is the eldest child of Elias Dungca, Sr., one of the co-founders of the Executive Council of Greater Philadelphia, Inc. Manong Elias Dungca was a pillar in our community and a great supporter of many community projects and efforts during his time.
When I was a member with the FAAPI Dance Troupe, Eli was my dance partner. Eli was also a survivor of the 9/11 bombing of the Pentagon.
My personal thought is that if we can help those we don’t know around the globe, we should help those who are a part of the FECGP family here in the Greater Philadelphia area.

The First Asian American Miss America Responds to the Hate


The Huffington Post | A Reblog | By Noel Alumit | It is a small sorority of women who can call themselves Miss America. It gets even smaller when you consider how many women of color have won. This week, the sisterhood of Asian Miss Americas has grown to two.

In 2000, Angela Perez Baraquio, an American of Filipino descent, won the Miss America title. She has some choice words for the racism that occurred in the past week and sage advice to our current Miss America, Nina Davuluri.

What was your immediate reaction to the racism directed at our new Miss America?

I was shocked, disturbed, and annoyed at the ignorance of the remarks. Nina was born in Syracuse, NY, lived and studied in the Midwest (in Oklahoma and Michigan), and currently resides in New York. She is every bit American as you and me — and now she is living the American Dream. I couldn’t be more proud of her for breaking new ground as the first Indian-American Miss America.

With her platform of Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency, she has the opportunity to educate others about what being a true American is all about, and to make an impact that can potentially be more far reaching than she ever imagined.

This is a timely topic. Given the nature of the backlash that she is enduring, I believe if she just speaks her truth and stays true to her beliefs, she can and will change minds and hearts during this very special year of service.

You became Miss America before Twtter or Facebook, which allows for immediate and uncensored opinions. Do you think people were upset when you won in 2000?

Yes, it’s true that I won Miss America before the onset Twitter and Facebook, and in many ways, I am grateful for that! Everyone has an opinion, and unfortunately, some people impulsively post how they feel without thinking or realizing how their words have a lasting impact. During my year, I’m sure some people were upset when I won, but I chose not to pay attention to all the sites that discussed the pageant’s outcome. My friends warned me not to get caught up in all the gossip because it would just get me down or hold me back from what I was meant to do. I decided to only focus on the positive comments and enjoy my time as Miss America.

Overall, I felt lucky to be able to represent the state of Hawaii at Miss America, which naturally celebrates diversity and multiculturalism. I was welcomed in every state and I realized that the title of Miss America is, generally speaking, well-respected. If people felt racist towards me, I was completely unaware.

I remember being at the Late Show with David Letterman and many people were waiting outside for pictures and autographs. Once I was the Grand Marshall in the Independence Day Parade in DC. There were 100 high school cheerleaders from California, all blonde-haired, screaming in unison to me on my float as I passed by, “Aloha, Miss America!” It was an unforgettable experience.

Miss America is a symbol of national identity. She is someone who represents our current society. As Miss America, I was able to combat any kind of racism towards me by publicly saying that in Hawaii people are mostly colorblind, due to the melting pot of so many cultures.

With 5 Asian Americans in the Miss America Pageant this year, the face of the country is obviously changing. How is Miss America relevant to the changing demographics in the United States?

It’s not very different from when I stood on that same stage 13 years ago. When I was competing, the top three Miss America Finalists were all minorities. My First Runner-Up, Miss Louisiana, Faith Jenkins, was African-American,; and Second Runner-Up, Miss California, Rita Ng, was the first Asian Miss California, of Chinese descent. Even back then, the pageant served as a striking reminder of how diverse our country has become through the years.

America’s cultural melting pot has been evolving for years, and the Miss America pageant is relevant to the changing demographics in the U.S. because it is slowly catching up to reflect that diversity in its winners. America has already begun to accept and embrace different versions of beauty, and that is a noteworthy victory in itself. I hope that in the next decade, as the pageant nears its 100th anniversary in 2021, more women of different ethnicities begin to emerge as the new faces of American beauty.

Do you have any advice for the new Miss America?

Yes, first off, keep a journal! You may think you will remember every amazing and life-changing detail of this whirlwind, but you are in the eye of the storm right now. Trust me, you won’t remember it all! Write things down and take lots of pictures. Also, strike while the iron is hot. Many opportunities will come your way over the course of this year and beyond, but if you stay grounded in your faith and family, you will choose the right path to set up your career for the rest of your life.

Remember that even when you’re tired, be grateful for the whole experience, as hard as it may seem at times. When you stop to realize that so many other women would love to be in your position, your perspective immediately changes. You only have one year to be the current Miss America. I know it can be a grueling schedule, but the rewards are beyond worth it when you see how you can inspire someone or somehow make a difference.

No matter what, your Miss America title will stay with you for the rest of your life. Finally, always give your best to others. You may be the only Miss America someone will ever meet. You have a pulpit now to express your views. Use it wisely. You can rest after your year is over. Enjoy it! I’m so proud of you. Welcome to the sisterhood!

Is there anything else you’d like to say to Ms. Davuluri?

Nina, it is so nice to finally say that I have another Miss America sister who is of Asian descent. It’s long overdue, but I’m glad the time has come. I am looking forward to meeting you in person someday soon. I’ve seen you on many of the media outlets making your public appearances and you are already doing such a beautiful job of representing our nation. Congratulations on your historic win, you deserve it!


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