Saturday, January 9, 2016

Renee Villatoro - The Changing Face of Portland

Renee Villatoro – Strong Roots to Bridge Troubled Waters into a Futuro Brillante

Renee Villatoro’s family roots go so deep she is like a stately old growth tree that stands majestically on the banks of the Ohio withstanding the strong currents and raging flood waters that have shaped and reshaped the history of the historic Portland Neighborhood in Louisville. Before the Europeans came, her Native American ancestors – the Cherokee and Blackfoot – hunted and gathered in virgin forests so rich in natural resources that the area was set aside as a game preserve and closed to settlement. Her great-great-great paternal uncle was a steamboat captain who owned the Lockhart House near the falls of the Ohio.
Renee’s maternal ancestors were Irish Catholics who immigrated to the area near the end of the 19th Century and worked in the development of the Church of Our Lady, now Good Shepherd. Her great grandmother and Grandmother Nancy Bailey Criswell were active in the church until their deaths. Renee’s father, Bobby Hert, now deceased, worked as an iron worker building the bridges that span the Ohio River and Renee’s uncles are still active in the profession. Renee’s paternal grandfather, Jack Criswell, was an entrepreneur who grew up in Portland and operated Criswell Upholstery serving Portland and Southern Indiana for over 30 years until his untimely death in 2009. Renee’s mother, Jackie Butts, lives in Portland with her husband Gary Butts and is in banking, managing one of the L & N Credit Unions in the area.

 Renee is a life-long resident of Portland and carries on the traditions of hard-working entrepreneurs devoted to church, family and community. Renee has also carried on the traditions of ethnic diversity in her family through her marriage to a Honduran immigrant, Ramon Villatoro, who has lived in Portland for 4 years and now qualifies for citizenship. The couple has two lovely bilingual children, Jocelyn and Jacob, three and one-half and one and one-half respectively.
When Renee was in high school at Portland Christian School, she began making mission trips into Mexico and learned very quickly what true poverty and hardship meant. Those trips inspired her to pursue a degree in International Studies from IUS, (Indiana University Southeast) in 2009. During the course of her studies, Renee spent two semesters studying abroad through Murray State and Campbellsville Universities. Fluent in Spanish, Renee is a certified interpreter for the state of Kentucky.
In addition to the above Renee owns five shotgun houses that she has restored with financial help from her mother, the remodeling expertise of her recently deceased Uncle Jamey and her husband Ramon’s concrete talent. “I bought my first house when I was 19. I rent four houses to those people whose lives are in chaos at present and need an affordable place to live. Eventually, I want to make one house a place where volunteers who come into Portland to serve can live for a nominal fee while they are here. Ramon and I also operate The company hires quality concrete workers with the idea of providing low cost concrete work to the people of Portland. Sometimes, we do the work as a donation to the church community here.” These activities might be enough for some people, but Renee seems to have boundless energy and has recently started another enterprise.

Renee now uses the commercial kitchen at The Table to create fabulous desserts for the restaurant’s popular lunch menu as well as creations for her new business “This is an endeavor to work with single moms to provide affordable sweet treats and party favors for all the important celebrations (birthday parties, weddings, etc.) in their lives.” The company is named for a lady named Louise who made candies and treats for the children when Renee’s mother and Aunt Jill,
 as well as Renee, were growing up. “I want my children to have that experience also,” said Renee.
            As if all the above were not enough, Renee’s newest adventure involves the teaching of Spanish at the recently opened Love House at the corner of 26th and Alford. “The classes will be provided on donations based on a person’s ability to pay.” Renee especially wants to work with teenagers because her long range goal is to sponsor mission trips into Mexico and Central America so that teenagers living in Portland can understand what true poverty and dangerous living really look like. “Our young people don’t have the experience of travel like adolescents from more affluent communities and this is a way for them to mature and broaden their perspective beyond the limited confines of our neighborhood.”  Renee Michelle Villatoro – deep roots building toward a Renaissance and revitalization by carrying on love of God, family and community, openness to ethnic diversity, entrepreneurship and hard work for a futuro brillante for all who live here now or come in the future.   

 Top photo Bobby Hert front working on bridge against changing Louisville skyline. 
Christmas with Renee, Jocelyn, Gary Butts, Jacob, Jackie Butts, and Ramon.
Looking forward to the future, Jocelyn, Renee, Jacob and Jacqueline.

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