“We can teach them to believe”

Jose Nine’s remarks after receiving the Merilee Turner Volunteer of the Year Award in 2016:

Thank you Judge Williams. I am sure my mom and dad are high fiving each other and saying – “we did a good job after all.”

I am extremely honored and accept this recognition with great humility in my heart.

Tonight, I have the privilege that my wife Josefina and my daughter Gabriela are here with me. As a man who at times tends to stretch himself a bit too thin, you better have a great team with you. You see, they have always understood and supported what I do with ProKids. They are my pit crew. When I am, a bit burned out or losing faith in what I do, they gently remind me that I can do it, and that “my kids” need me.

I’m going to ask that you please grant me a few minutes to share with you the significance of this recognition and introduce you to the real volunteers of the year.

First, I’d like to thank Tracy, Charlotte, Jennifer, Raynal, and above all Candy Stemple for believing in me and helping me channel my passion while we teach others to think differently about the children I support.

To my brothers and sisters, Nick and Denise, Carlos and Marisol, Darrell and Lucy, and Gonzalo and Denise, who are always helping me collect and distribute clothing, toys, school supplies and furniture to “my kids”, I say, muchas gracias y los quiero mucho.

When I started this journey, my first reaction after the first case was – what in God’s name did I sign up for? Having lived in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco I was used to being part of a community where many government and community organizations work together to help refugees with vast services and resources in multiple languages. I thought, this is going to be hard.

But then I heard about Su Casa Catholic Charities. I called and made an appointment to meet Margaret Singer, their social worker, Maria Messer their Health Services director, Michelle Spotts, Education Services Director, and Allison Herre, who oversees their legal team. Ladies and gentlemen, these are the true volunteers of the year. Day in and day out, they meet with Latino families in need of everything and they make it happen for them. From mental health counselors, to dentists, to immigration lawyers, to English teachers, to computer literacy programs, to job seeking support; this team and their colleagues do what in those cities I mentioned takes multiple agencies and NGOs.

In closing I want to talk about “my kids.” I have been involved in over 58 cases, in the 2 ½ years I have been a ProKids Guardian ad Litem. Some may ask, why are those kids here? I can explain.

  1. They are here to be with their mother or father who they have not seen in over 10 years and only know the sound of their voices when they tell them “to be patient that one day they’ll get together again.”
  2. They are here to escape brutal crime and violence in their home countries.
  3. They are here to try to get an education and break the cycle of extreme poverty they come from.

Others, ask, in a more compassionate way, what do they need?

  1. They need the understanding of our community
  2. They need the unconditional and continued support of our education institutions to help them navigate very “foreign” and challenging system.
  3. They need an opportunity to pursue happiness

The last question we should be asking now is, what can we do?

We need to protect them from those who want to take advantage of them because they don’t sound or look like us

We can kindly, but firmly, advocate for them in front of those individuals and institutions whose ethnocentric fears and ignorance are manifested in divisive guidelines and marginalizing policies.

Last we can teach them to believe.

To believe that they are much better than others tell them they are.

To believe that they can achieve their ultimate dreams of becoming a nurse as Andrea will do in four years when she graduates from UC Nursing school or a Wal-Mart greeter because Evelio said that in becoming one, he could make other immigrants like himself feel welcome and not intimidated by something they had never seen in their lives.

To believe that they will make incredible contributions to our society because we are an inclusive nation where we judge people not by their funny names or strong accents but by their moral character and personal achievements.

Ladies and gentlemen, I leave you with some words that I heard a couple of weeks ago by someone who I admire and support. Let us be judged, and rewarded not by what be build, but by how many lives we touch in our journey. Thank you and God bless you!