National Hispanic Heritage Month is a tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans whose work and lives have enriched the United States in countless ways. This level of recognition resonates deeply with Caldwell alumna and trustee, Elizabeth Chalas Berman.
Berman, of Dominican-Cuban heritage, is a staunchly proud advocate for the Hispanic community, with an unwavering belief in that community’s power as a positive influencer in business, entrepreneurship, education and the arts. “More Latinas and Latinos are expanding the status quo in all sectors. We have increased representation – and that’s a good thing. We are being counted,” she says. Despite the pandemic, Hispanic-owned small businesses continue to provide economic stability while creating new opportunities, says Berman.
After graduating from Caldwell with a degree in education, Berman was a public school English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for 15 years before joining her family’s business, Continental Food and Beverage Inc., in 1998. The company is an authorized bottler for Inca Kola, a soft drink brand that originated in Peru and was acquired by the Coca-Cola Company. In the area of corporate responsibility, Berman’s role is to help support mission-driven local, national and international organizations. Her company supports the Friends of Lead-Free Children, an organization focusing on environmental and health issues in the Dominican Republic.
Berman’s company and her family helped organize volunteers to remediate one of the worst lead contamination sites in Haina, Dominican Republic and support ongoing efforts to minimize risks to pregnant women and children through education and locally-supervised support. She and her family continue to participate in humanitarian aid missions in that country and have helped create a network of temporary nursing clinics, staffed by nursing students, that provide health assessments in poor communities.
Berman’s outreach and work on behalf of the Hispanic community extend to leadership positions with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Corporate Board of Advisors of the New York State Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and the Executive Board of the Centro Civico Cultural Dominicano, Inc.
She is enthusiastic about Caldwell’s recent designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education, which will increase access to higher education in New Jersey. “It is a wonderful achievement,” she says, adding, “The core philosophy of Caldwell aligns with the values of the majority of Hispanic families. Caldwell, a choice for education based on Catholic values, represents the future for Hispanic students in New Jersey and beyond.”