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Marina Narvarte: “It’s your dream; make it happen!”

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Do you know the saying, “This is a Chamber of Commerce day?” It’s usually descriptive of weather, and the sunny photograph beside that saying should include Marina Narvarte! She epitomizes that warm, positive outlook, and she truly is the face of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce as its director of membership. No matter what the weather, her face and smile brighten any day.

She is extremely proud that in its 96-year history, the Lodi Chamber of Commerce membership has never been healthier. The Chamber gained 124 new members in 2015 and is growing to this day. “We have held over 75 ribbon cuttings and The Lodi Chamber was voted number one out of approximately 245 chambers in W.A.C.E. 2016 relevancy survey. Our Ambassador program continues to grow, with over 40 active members. For Lodi on the Road, I took 30 Chamber members to Elk Grove to showcase their businesses, to connect and to celebrate our members that are not in our area,” she revealed. “A grand ribbon cutting extraordinaire was created for our members that don’t have an office to celebrate their business.” 

Devotion to Family
Marina’s path to her happy place has taken twists and turns, and her life is a testament to what hard work can do. Born in the beautiful city of Manila, Philippines, she is the youngest girl in her family of eight. Her mother and older siblings raised her, since her father passed away before she could walk. “I have always admired little girls who had their father help raise them and who had close relationships,” she noted. “In the Philippines, my family and I struggled. All eight of us lived in a two-bedroom house. My clothes and shoes were hand-me-downs from my other siblings, so what were supposed to be black shoes looked gray, loose and disfigured by the time they reached me. Every day I watched my mother work grueling hours selling specialty desserts and washing our neighbors’ clothing to feed all of us. I began working with her at age seven. These were some of the earliest moments I learned that a mother would do anything for her children. Little did I know this was a belief I would carry with my own future family.”

Her mother remarried, which helped their plight some and allowed them to adopt her younger brother. “Our family believes that regardless of how young or how old you are, it’s your responsibility to help the family,” Marina said. It was when she decided to follow her older sister to Okinawa, Japan, that her young life changed. Her sister, a dancer, joined a group of professional performers and began helping support the family, exposing them to imported candies, shiny clothes and new experiences.

“I took the chance and was so glad that this small decision would change my entire life. When I moved to Japan, work kept me busy and allowed me to become financially independent enough to support myself there and my family back home. As a young girl, I never saw myself getting married and having children,” she continued. “All I knew was to work and support my big family. When I arrived in Okinawa, it led me to a new culture, new friends, and, eventually, meeting my handsome husband, Sra. Jonathan Narvarte. He was tall and had a beautiful smile.”

Marriage and Family
“We were so young and didn’t know what life we were facing, but we knew that we would tackle it hand in hand. Soon after getting married, we had our first daughter; things were not so easy. What did I know about raising a child with no guidance from my mom? It was a nerve-racking time to be a first-time mom. Most of the time, my husband was deployed to other countries, and I was left alone with no one to talk to and to ask for help. I didn’t even know how to cook at that time!”

She learned to be independent, to say the least. One of her hardest times, she admits, was when the family lived in Guam and a typhoon hit the island. Her husband was overseas; she, her infant and young daughter had no electricity, no water and a limited gas ration, as the bases were closed. “No one could get in or get out,” she described. “My daughter has a picture of me washing clothes out on the carport. We gathered sticks to start a fire to cook.”  

The couple has been married for over 25 years and has two daughters, Joana Mari, 25, and Jada May, 17, and a son, Juanito Cezar, or JC, 8. Through their many moves and countries, Marina kept busy working as a sales associate supervisor at AAFES, or Army and Air Force Exchange Service, and a plethora of other jobs in Guam, Japan, New Mexico and Las Vegas. With her experience in retail management, she decided to go into a different field and tried the banking industry in Las Vegas and other locations, excelling wherever she went with her zest for life and excellent attitude. She attended Rizal High School in Pasig City, Manila, Philippines, completed the course in Okinawa, Japan, to get her high school diploma, studied in Pima Medical Institute’s medical assistant program, and continued her education through Thomson Education Direct.

Career Choice
Since 2015, Marina has been the director of membership for the Chamber. Her journey with the organization began in 2012, when she was membership coordinator for Mokelumne Federal Credit Union. She had recently moved from Las Vegas, Nevada, and wasn’t too familiar with the San Joaquin Valley or Lodi. When the credit union’s CEO asked if she would be interested in joining the leadership class provided by the Chamber, she jumped at the chance.

Today, she is completely plugged into the community and believes in Lodi. She organized a fundraiser to help Santa’s fire truck, helped to beautify the office for One Eighty Teen Center and sold water at the Farmer’s Market to get to know people. Her hard work earned her the Deanna Enright Ambassador of the Year award. When the Lodi Chamber offered her the job as director of membership, she stayed on with Mokelumne Federal Credit Union for two years to make sure she would like it. The rest is history.

It is easy to see what drives Marina and holds her up; it’s family. Each night, they eat dinner around the table as a family at 5:30. Saturdays are catch-up days of cleaning and Sundays are family days. “I’m so proud of my children. My oldest daughter is completing her master’s degree at the University of San Francisco, my younger daughter is graduating a year early and about to begin college life at California State University Fresno, and my baby bear, JC, was recently awarded the most caring, responsible and always looking out for others,” she explained.

A Mother’s Sacrifice
Marina proved her love further when she donated one of her kidneys to her older daughter, Joana, August 28, 2013, at Stanford Medical Hospital, after several arduous years of Joana’s being plagued by seizures and unexplained illnesses. “Both my husband and I were a match, and my daughter likes to joke around and say that her dad’s kidney would be too big for her, as he is a tall guy, and she would walk in circles with his kidney weighing one side of her body down,” she related. “We are so glad that we have our cousins in Nevada and California to help us during these difficult times. This year will be six years of her being healthy post-transplant; every day as a family we live life gratefully to be with each other in good health. That experience brought every emotion out of us and tested us. But in the end, we have become closer and have a better life because of it. I never say my family is perfect, but with all the struggles we have had, I say it makes us a whole, and it was perfect for our eyes.”

Through her non-stop days, she is inspired to become a better person every day for all the challenges that come her way. Each day she wakes up and her family gives her the strength to better herself, to be strong and healthy for them and not pay attention to negativity. “I’m pretty adventurous; wherever our family goes, I go. I enjoy cooking when I have time and feeding a battalion. My husband says I always cook too much; my motto is always to have more than less,” she continued. “I enjoy watching shows, dining out, trying new food, karaoke, movies, bowling, shopping, listening to audio and just sitting in one room with the family.”

Focus on Lodi
The Lodi Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a Multi-Cultural Festival on May 18 at the Sikh Temple of Lodi. Its goal is to promote cultural awareness and cross-cultural engagement in a fun, interactive way through entertainment, storytelling, food tasting and activities. The festival hopes to attract hundreds of Lodi area residents as well as tourists of all ages and the surrounding county. Local multi-cultural groups will entertain while ensuring that their traditional and historical cultures are highlighted.

“Lodi needs higher-paying jobs, and we need those jobs to fit into a compact footprint. We are not like cities in South County; they have lots of space, so they are building large warehouses. Our available land is not as great, and just outside the city limits the finest grapes in the world are grown. Therefore, the Chamber has brought together member businesses to fund and create a new website just for attracting new businesses and growing jobs. I’ve seen a little bit of what’s being developed, and it is awesome! I swear, Lodi has never looked better; it is very well done,” she confirmed. “We are focusing a marketing program in the Bay Area to drive traffic to the website. There they see how they can lower their costs doing business in Lodi, shortening the commute for employees and lots more. When it comes to the great quality-of-life experience in Lodi, we have lots to show and tell.”

Marina pointed out a bit of research she believes in. According to a research study by The Shapiro Group, Inc., and Market Street Services, when consumers know that a small business is a member of their local Chamber of Commerce, they are 44 percent more likely to think favorably of it and 63 percent more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future. Every year, the Lodi Chamber holds more than 200 occasions, events and meetings during which people come together to improve some aspect of Lodi. With nearly 770 members, they have won awards from the state and national chamber association. Any business can join, and it is not a time-consuming membership. You can pick the events to participate in.

When asked advice she would give women wishing to follow their dreams, Marina reflected, “A dream, a vision, a goal, a desire; these are all things most of us know we need when we are working toward success but have, somewhere along the line, forgotten why it is so essential we follow them through. Through accomplishing your dreams, you will come to appreciate the experience of failure and know that failure is just part of success; it wasn’t all that bad, as it was all worth it in the end.

“Chasing your dreams will develop your courage. Courage is your fuel to achieve incredible success in life; follow your dreams and exercise courage. In time, you will be unstoppable. Regret is a terrible thing, and a dream is powerful enough to bring you disappointment if you don’t take the chance to at least follow it. You are never too old to dream, and success becomes sweeter when you persevere. Age means nothing when we know what we want. Be fearless and don’t let anyone stop you from reaching your dreams! It’s your dream; make it happen!”

Marina’s life is a testament to her beliefs. What an inspiration!