Graduation: Personal Labor Comes to Fruition


SAS Ai Class 2014

SAS Ai Class 2014

Our volunteers who run the everyday business of the SAS Ai financial aid program experienced their labor’s just reward at the graduation ceremonies of our first 2014 class of scholars. They remembered a group of kids, some shy and timid, who joined us in the program last 2009-2010. They were no more than young, tender saplings, newly graduated from intermediate school, filled with dreams and high expectations. They enthusiastically dove in, head first into the school year.

We all remembered the times when some of them faltered, slowed down by the dizzying array and sheer volume of high school work. Pop quizzes, periodic tests, quizzes, exams and research assignments, writing projects, athletic intramural sporting events, and vocational shop classes all added to the burden. But true to their promise they slugged it out and prevailed making all of us so proud. Four of them placed in the honor roll with one finishing as the class salutatorian. At the graduation reception, they stood beaming with pride along with their parents, teachers and mentors. Amid the flurry of activity from the paparazzi, they all thanked our donors and program supporters.

“We thank you all, our dear benefactors, donors, and sponsors.
Without your generous help we couldn’t have finished high school.
God bless you, your family, your health and your work.”

A few members of the Board of Trustees based abroad made it to the Philippines during the graduation ceremony. Joining in the celebration they saw how our newly graduated scholars extended their gratitude and appreciation as they spoke with all the dignitaries and guests. Talk about some happy campers. Our scholars looked so grown up. Where has the time gone? With smiles and grins and small conversations later, our volunteers, donors and supporters all agreed: “It was all worth it – all that sacrifice and labor.”

And so it is.

Baby’s Breath


Plain and uncomplicated but stunning in their lace-like simplicity

Plain and uncomplicated but stunning in their lace-like simplicity

In the field grew all kinds of plants – no particular organization, just plants randomly taking root and thriving, reaching for the sky. Some more established plants stood tall above the tangle of weeds and grass, their flowers dominant under the bright sunlight. How beautiful a sight to behold. Purple, orange, pumpkin, bright yellows, oyster shell white, hot white, even lavender and of course red – myriad of colors. I stood there transfixed soaking in the view, breathing in the subtle perfume and sweet scents wafting all around me.

Cropping up in bulges like a rooster’s comb, out to my far right at the edge of an irrigation ditch or water splash culvert, several layers of tiny flowering plants grew in profusion. The plants themselves were not showy at all. They looked rather plain and common – much like weeds, saw grass and dandelion. In the breeze their spindly branches danced. Their tiny flowers sprouting at the end of long stems looked like tiny popcorn bursts, or white buttons and even tiny white daisies. But upon closer scrutiny the flowers were actually very dainty and fragile like snowflakes.

What’s so special about Baby’s Breath? These plants are definitely related to the dandelions and buttercups – lowly ground creepers largely ignored by nursery growers. Bunched up in a bouquet by themselves, they would look like some white duster contraption – or even maybe a witches’ fly swatter. Yet when tiny Baby’s Breath blossoms surround long-stemmed red roses, the roses seem more prominent – almost ostentatious in their red velvety petals becoming deeper red still.

Such is the way our organization works. We are a non-profit manned and operated by unpaid volunteers – each doing their specialty, keeping the organization humming like a well oiled engine. We have our executive officers – I suppose they would be the long-stemmed regal roses, or exotic blossoms and orchids. And all around them are the support folks – the baby’s breath blossoms in a bouquet, simple, uncomplicated – or the many volunteer workers in the background dedicated to making things work. Ultimately all members of the organization as in a bouquet – be they roses, orchids, ferns, baby’s breath, squash flowers or plain ever green leaves – help our group achieve its mission and vision.

A Determined Spirit


Rose Ann's family kitchen

Rose Ann’s family kitchen

“Mom, can I stay home today and work on my math assignment? I am behind.” Rose Ann sounded worried. As a family they planned to harvest the corn the whole day. It was just her and her parents.

“Rose sweetheart,” her mother softly replied, “you have to do what you have to do. School’s very important and your father and I will manage.”

Rose’s parents, Mr and Mrs Fajardo want Rose Ann to keep up her good grades so that she can keep her scholarship. Like most folks in the village, the Fajardo’s live by the “scratch and peck,” system of daily survival. Their field’s planted all year round with cash crops like corn, mung beans, sugar beets, and rice. Tenant farming puts food on the table but not much else. The Fajardo ladies don’t buy fabric from which to sew dresses; they use softened flour sackcloth or empty rice sacks. The little money saved from produce sales goes to the livestock feed and fertilizer. For this reason Rose Ann applied for financial aid to finish high school.

Mature for her age, Rose Ann performed well in elementary school maintaining a grade point average of 89%. Shy, introverted and demure, her classmates make fun of her timidity – all in jest – no malice. Members of our Field Team counsel and coach her to open up, be vocal specially during classroom discussions. “Ask the teacher questions. Don’t be afraid of ridicule,” they strongly suggest. “Class participation is critical, and if you don’t speak up, you won’t get any answers,” they would continue. For her part, Rose Ann gave opening up a good try. She is getting better each day and the Field Team makes it a point to recognize her improvement during scheduled meetings.

Rose Ann wants to finish high school and go on to higher learning. With her indomitable spirit and self-confidence we are hopeful of her future. We are proud to help her attend high school. On behalf of Rose Ann and on behalf of all our scholars, we thank you our benefactors. Without your generous help and donations, we would not be able to conduct our mission.

 

Dogs Don’t Chase Parked Cars


Dogs Chasing Moving Truck

Dogs Chasing Moving Truck

“Dogs don’t chase parked cars,” my father was fond of saying. It seemed as if it was his “Ultimate Windex” canned response to all dirt, grime and slime problems submitted to him for clean up consideration.

I remember telling my father about a problem I had with another high school paper staff writer. Every day this boy would scream and yell at me, “You don’t know how to write! You can’t write. You have no idea what you are doing! What are you doing here?”

“Sheeessh…” I thought. He could at least show me where I was falling short, help me correct my mistakes, or how I can improve my style – whatever. Not this constant ridicule, personal attacks and public humiliation. But no such luck. The harassment went on. I said nothing to the Principal or home room teacher about the boy and his hostile actions. I let his juvenile outbursts slide.

The editor in chief, a teacher assigned to head the paper, would intervene and get in between me and the bully – if she were there present in the room. There were times it would be just me and the agitator in the room and I would suffer much from his bellicose attitude and taunts. I’d bite my lip so hard my inner mouth lining bled or formed packets of blood clots. I didn’t want to fight the boy. Honest. I wasn’t afraid of him. I dreaded suspension and shaming my parents in front of the priests and nuns who ran the school.

Talking to my father and pouring out my troubles gave me a sense of calm. “Dogs don’t chase parked cars,” he said it again. “You’re doing something right for that paper… you’re on the move,” he continued. “Why else would this boy act so agitated toward you? Almost seems as if he wants you out of there. Too much competition maybe?”

My father’s words sank in, percolated, and like cream rose to the surface. I took my cue and thought to myself. “If I were a car, why would this dog be chasing me?” A window burst open in my mind and streaming sunshine came pouring in. “Of course! If I were a car… hey, I am not a parked car. You know? I am moving!” I laughed and hugged my father. “Thank you Sir…” I managed to blurt out as I ran out to the yard.

Monday morning. The editor called me in to her office. “You’ve got the interview with the President of the University. I am assigning it to you because you’ve earned it. You write more like a journalist as opposed to a comic book writer.” She looked refreshed, glad and ready for the week. “Here…” she held out an envelope and motioned for me to take it.

I gasped as I regained my breath. Good grief. I didn’t even realize I had stopped breathing. “I… I… thanks Ms David. When is the President coming to visit?” I asked as I stepped closer to her desk.

“Here’s the assignment packet.” She handed me a brown envelope. “All the information is in there. Familiarize yourself with the dates, times, venues, and talk with his personal secretary to schedule the interview. You might as well do the whole kit and caboodle.” Ms David seemed pleased with her decision.

It was a moment to celebrate… It felt good to be recognized for one’s own work ethic and performance. Indeed, dogs don’t chase parked cars.

“Work for Food”


Why...

Why…

The man stood by the crossing holding a cardboard sign that read:  “Work for food.” I wondered how long he had stood there in the oppressive heat with nothing to cover his balding head. By his feet lay a plastic shopping bag, a back-up sign, and what looked like a tarp from some military surplus store, heaped with all his meager belongings.

I began to wonder as I drove away if he would eat that day. Would a concerned soul offer him a job or a meal; it was getting late in the afternoon. I tried to catch a parting glimpse of him via the rear-view mirror. I thought to myself, “Was he homeless perhaps? Or maybe just an itinerant wanderer?” I didn’t know what to think. But I’ve always been one to lean toward the right – that if I have to wash dishes, flip burgers or dig ditches to eat I would. It bothered me to think about how could such a man allow himself to descend into the pits so that he has to beg for food?

I know I am judging and I shouldn’t. Forgive me. There are a myriad reasons why we do the things we do. For all I know he could be an undercover agent on a stake out. Or a man stepping out to avoid being sequestered at home with his nagging wife. Who knows? And here I am playing “here come the judge…”.

I arrived at the grocery store, bought the items on my shopping list and on the way out stopped at the store’s food counter. “A double cheeseburger, fries, large soda to go please.” I retraced the same route home. Yup there he was, sign in hand, still hoping, still waiting. Pulling over to the side where he stood I turned on my emergency signal as I stepped out of my vehicle to approach him. A surprised look formed on his face. He probably expected me to offer him a job. I handed him the bag of food. “Just a little something… hope it helps.”

Reaching for the bag, he looked into my eyes momentarily. I saw his eyes grow misty. They glistened in the afternoon sun. He took hold of the bag and with a parched voice he said, “May God bless you brother. Thank you.” I wept all the way home. I know the statistic: We are only one paycheck away from being homeless.

“I believed Cha…


“I believed Charity began and stayed at home, until a complete stranger helped me and my family get unstuck from a freeway exit ramp because our car had blown a tire, ran out of gas and was disabled…”

Especially for a minority immigrant like me and my family, the early sixties in the Southland were precarious days to be traveling on the road – to put it mildly. Serving in the Navy I was moving my family from Sanford to Jacksonville on a permanent change of duty station orders.

It rained sheets during the drive that day reducing visibility down to a couple of feet. Hesitantly, I parked my old Chevy off to the side of the road. I figured at least I, my wife and baby would be safe since we’re not moving. But we weren’t to be spared. A small pick up truck grazed our rear end, jolting us a bit but not too roughly. It was a hit and run. The pick up truck quickly disappeared into the mist.

We waited an hour more for the rain to subside then resumed our trip. It never occurred to me to inspect the car for possible damage before moving on. Coming closer to Jacksonville we entered the exit to Cecil Field. While in the curve the car blew a tire careening into the guardrail. I had no time to panic; the car was slowing down. It was out of gas. The hit and run punctured our gas tank. The gas spilled as we drove along. There were no phones.

To get help we waited for a highway patrol officer to come by. There were no such police vehicles on the road. In the quickly darkening twilight a pick up truck pulled up behind us. The gentleman driver hopped out from the cab, extended his hand to shake mine. Grinning he said in a deep Southern drawl, “Howdy! Ya’ll need some help?”

To make a long story short the gentleman took care of all our needs, getting a tow truck to tow our disabled car to the nearest shop, driving us to Cecil Field to check in at Navy Housing, and buying us a hot meal at the local A & W. After he was satisfied we would be okay, he bade us farewell. “If you’re ever in the Lone Star State, look me up in the phone book. The name’s Billy Bob Berenson.”

Become Involved; Join the Mission


Bo-te-te - toxic but good eating

Bo-te-te – toxic but good eating

The Good Book describes the Kingdom of Heaven as like a fisherman, who throws his net into the waters and catches all kinds of fish. He goes through his catch, separating the good eating fish to one side, while setting the not-so-good for eating fish on the other side. And so it shall be on judgment day. I paraphrase of course.

Reading these stories about the Kingdom-of-Heaven-being-at-hand in the Good Book and reflecting on it, I am thinking that yes, the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. The master fisherman throws his net in the waters catching all kinds of People. Well, people come with different characteristics and make up. For example, some people can feel the need to support a cause while others cannot and won’t. Some remain unmoved and sit on the fence. Still, some people are so turned on they will go the extra mile and begin to promote the cause bringing in more support. These advocates would be like the yeast, in another Kingdom of Heaven story – the change agent the woman added and mixed with the dough making the dough rise and double in size.

And it touches me so deeply to see our supporters and volunteers in action. Friends who donate to the program, complete strangers who sponsor these bright kids through high school, and those who champion our mission. I am speechless; how do they do it? What moves them? I take a deep breath, inhale the spirit and think. Indeed the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.