Ever since she was a child Belkis Lora always envisioned herself as a boss. Today, she celebrates 10 years as a business owner in the South Bronx.
“Everything I’ve always wanted it, I feel I have it,” she told the Bronx Times.
However, her path to success did not happen overnight. Lora, 48, was born and raised in the countryside of the Dominican Republic. While her grandfather owned a farm, her grandma, Lucilla, ran the family.
Lora hoped to one day be a strong leader like her.
At 15, she immigrated to Washington Heights, where she lived for a year before moving to the South Bronx. Life in America was not easy, as no one in her family knew English.
“It was very difficult,” Lora said. “Going to school you didn’t know a word of English. It was very hard.”
With the guidance of her high school teacher Ms. Perez, she slowly began to understand the language. Lora described her as patient and someone who made her feel comfortable. While her parents worked long hours in construction and at a factory, Lora did her part, and in high school took on jobs at McDonald’s and a factory.
Lora obtained a business degree from Bronx Community College and after finishing school, began working at an office in a meat company. In her mid- to late-20s she coached her son’s baseball team. While she wasn’t a huge fan of the diamond, her late brother, Jose Luis, passed on the love of America’s pastime to her.
“My brother was a big influence,” she said.
During that time, she began to ponder her future and how she could help the community. She had coached many little league baseball teams and came to learn first-hand that these groups of families and children needed many other resources in order to be able to achieve their goals of offering children opportunities to be successful on and off the field.
Therefore, she set out to build an indoor batting cage so that children and their families did not have to travel long distances in order to access such practice facilities. She spent about six months looking for a spot, but rent was high everywhere. Finally, she found a site on East Tremont Avenue and knew it was perfect. In 2008 — in the midst of a national recession — the batting cages were born.
“The kids in the Bronx deserve to have a batting cage,” she said.
According to Lora, she could have opened the cages in another part of the Bronx or a different borough, but she wanted to cater to the people in her community. Not only did the building have space for batting cages, but the first floor had an old church, which they converted into the banquet hall.
“People were telling me this is crazy, how are you going to open a business now,” she said.
In 2011, she quit her job at the meat company and devoted her life completely to baseball. Dubbed, the Grand Slam Foundation, it added the batting cages and the Grand Slam Little League, which also launched in 2011. The league has 14 teams for boys and girls ages 3-18.
Lora understood her community was not full of affluent people, so she made the prices fair; for some people, she didn’t ask for money at all. Over time, people would tell her to get rid of the batting cages because they weren’t bringing in enough profit. However, she was making a difference, which mattered more.
Her success has become known boroughwide. Since opening in 2008, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., has helped facilitate the league playing its championship games at Yankee Stadium every year. “That’s something I’ve very grateful to Ruben Diaz for,” Lora said.
In her 13 years in operation, she has seen many kids mature on and off the baseball field and is still in touch with them as they have gone on to college and their careers. Knowing that she helped so many children over the years is a “feeling she can’t even describe.”
“Everything I’ve always wanted I feel I have it,” Lora said. I love my family, and if you work together as a family you can do anything you want to do.”
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.