Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Hero, Mary!

1992 was the year. The devastating LA Riots were taking place. Mary and I were on the phone like we were almost every night. She lived in Pheonix and I in Encinitas. During this particular phone call Mary was troubled by the Riots. She was sad because this kind of thing could still take place in our great country. She then turned to her own life and said "I'm not doing enough, I want to make a difference in the world" It was during this conversation that Mary decided she would become a teacher, to "make a difference".

A difference she has made and contnues to make. In her first year teaching she turned a badd ass tough talking 9th grader, Zefarina into a student. That student graduated highschool and personally came back to thank Mary for her efforts. This was just the first of year after year, student after student, Mary making a difference. About 6 years ago a similar discussion was taking place. Her students at the time had everything against them. They were brought to the US by there parents and put into the stringent US schooling. They were asked by those same parents to contribute to the family financially. They lived in Gang Central in San Diego. They were going to school but really got no help from family, after all most of the family members hadn't gone past 7th grade and certainly none of them had graducated high school. These same parents because of how they were raised did not really see the benefits of going to school beyond high school. So, Mary and I talked. She wanted to help these kids. She wanted to make a difference in their lives. So she started "First in My Family". A foundation to help kids , who are the first in their family to graduate highschool, go to college.

As you know, foundations don't just happen. Lots of hard work, personal funding and passion goes into creating a foundation. Mary did all of that and more. Becasue funding was weak the first recipients received small amounts $500 or $1000 to pay for books or that first college class. Mary kept plugging away, raising money. Oh yeah, she also had to be mentor, mother and just plain guardian for many of these kids. She made sure they had a safe place to focus on their work so they could graduate.

The first student Mary worked hard with will graduate from San Diego State next Spring.
Two years ago a friend of the family Estela Cohen, had a party to help Mary raise funds for the foundation. That party turned into a Newspaper article. The article turned into a TV inteview. The calls started coming. Cash came in, boats, campers, vans and fund raisers. The foundation (run by the San Diego High) multiplied.
At the party a young man Juan (Highschool sophmore) stood up to a Micorphone and talked about Mary. He was very polished and just a great kid. The bond between he and Mary was visible. It was love, the kind of love a teacher has for a special student and the kind of love a student (in a lonely world) has for his mentor.

The move to Germany was a shock to Juan. He was afraid he couldn't do it without Mary. Mary was also concerned because she new Juan had so much to give if given a chance. Over the past year, Mary and Juan have kept in contact. He emails her when he's having trouble at home or school and she emails him encouragement. It's has not been easy for either of them but they have managed.

On Tuesday of this week, Juan will graduate from Cima at San Diego High. He will graduate at the top of his class. Juan will be the first in his family to ever graduate. On Tuesday Juan will also be handed a certificate from the Foundation. The certificate is scholarship funding of $10,000. In September, Juan will begin classes at San Diego State University. This kid is special, he will go way beyond college and make a difference himself. I think if you ask him today, He would say it wouldn't be possible if it weren't for Mary.

Mary, you are making a difference!

It's a good life....


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