(Every now and then someone sends me something special or tells me a story that helps me remember how much goodness there is around us. I’ll post these stories to share with everyone, hoping we’ll be inspired to do good things ourselves, in whatever ways we can to enrich our world.)
She was a little girl dressed in a Spiderman costume.
And he’ll never forget the day he met her.
His name is Jason.
Born and bred in the U.S.A, he grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, a middle class All American boy-next-door, through and through. A topnotch athlete in any sport he ever played, and he played them all. One of those millennials all those articles tell us are privileged and self-absorbed, Jason would be the first to say that was right – well, the privileged part, at least. He grew up with two loving parents in a big beautiful home; there was plenty of food on the table every day, clean clothes on his back, and he didn’t have a worry in the world.
But that self-absorbed part?
Not a chance.
Jason was living in a bubble, that’s how he describes it. “I’m thankful my parents gave me everything I needed or wanted. But why me? There are so many other kids out there without equity.”
When he went to college, he soon saw that up close.
At UCSD, Jason met all types of people – from all different races, classes, cultures, and religions. “Going to college gave me a different perspective on the world, and it opened my eyes. It showed me all the work that had to be done.”
As an undergraduate, he worked at The Pruess School that was comprised of students living in poverty. The goal was to provide educational equity for those students, surrounding them with the best teachers and resources. The school became one of the top high schools in California. And Jason was there, opening his eyes and learning.
It was just a natural fit for him to graduate from UCSD with a major in History and a minor in Teacher Education. He didn’t waste any time at all before putting himself through Point Loma’s teaching credential program by tutoring students ages 5-18, subjects ranging from learning the alphabet to AP Calculus. And he landed his first teaching job right away at Mount Miguel High School where he motivated students, and turned the failing baseball program into a winning one.
Three years later, he was offered a job as Vice Principal.
That’s what brought him to El Cajon Valley High School. A school with a large transient student population, over 20% of its students are refugees from Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and other countries in Africa. Maybe because of its demographics, ECVHS was a perfect school to get involved with the “Bridge Baskets” program that took place this last December.
“One of our teachers – Ryan Trammell – sent out an email about a project started by Bridge – a community organization that was set up to help refugee families recently resettled in El Cajon. These were people in our community – mothers and dads with little children – who were struggling just to get by. And they really needed help.”
Everybody at ECVHS jumped on board.
From the administrative staff, to the faculty and students, the school became the drop off center where supplies for “Bridge Baskets” were gathered and sorted.
Bridge is an initiative that provides services to Middle Eastern newcomers (specifically low income families) in the San Diego area. Many Syrian and Iraqi families have arrived in the United States with minimal resources and limited English. They’ve been traumatized by conflicts and wars that have forced them to flee for their lives and the lives of their children. Suffering from hardships and the difficulties of getting out from their countries, many have had to leave other family members and loved ones behind. These survivors are suffering and in great need. The organization helps by providing the necessities of day-to-day living to these families when they first arrive here in the U.S. “Bridge Baskets” contain simple everyday items: toothbrushes and toothpaste, bath soap, laundry detergent, a water filter for a faucet, and one bike per family for transportation. Items we probably take for granted, but they are items so important in everyday life.
“The power of action was overwhelming in the amount of support that came from that one email that was sent out by Ryan,” Jason said, with more than a hint of pride for his school.
“Everybody pitched in and took that next step, not really knowing what to do but putting it out there anyway and having the community work together.”
For two days in December, items were dropped off at El Cajon Valley High School.
The school community bonded together as collectively they found a way to help. Staff members worked side-by-side with student leaders to sort everything – clothes, toys, and everyday supplies.
A collaborative effort between Bridge, Bright Nations, and ECVHS, with assistance from the Persian Cultural Center, the Bridge Baskets were packed up and loaded into pickup trucks, and the deliveries were made to the thirty families living at a small motel in El Cajon.
“When we drove up to the motel I couldn’t believe that this run down looking place was where families were staying.” said Jason, knowing this was a big difference from the way he grew up in Rancho Cucamonga.
But some things were the same.
“A bunch of kids were playing in the parking lot, like they had no cares in the world. They were happy to see us, not even knowing who we were!”
“We put room numbers on every bag. There was an equity when we handed everything out. It wasn’t a free-for-all; we brought the boxes to each motel room where a refugee family was living. Families of five, six, seven, and eight were living in one room with only one bed.”
It was a mix of people – young children, not even in high school, with their mothers and fathers. All had recently fled from the war in Syria. The International Rescue Committee had placed the refugees there for 30 days as temporary housing.
Jason was very affected by what he saw. “To go from war, straight off the plane, and to this inhumane environment now – the small crowded rooms, a little rundown motel, and without much to live on.”
But he soon found hope there in the faces of the refugees.
“In their eyes, they were so thankful. Their sheer appreciation for everything we were giving them was remarkable. In spite of the trauma they had seen, in spite of knowing their lives in the U.S. would be difficult, they were relieved that their kids were finally safe. The sacrifices they had made in the name of the love for their kids was powerful. And I couldn’t help but think that my parents would have done the same for my brother and me.”
And then, he saw the little girl in the Spiderman costume.
“The look in her eyes I will never forget. In spite of those conditions around her, and the trauma she had been through, there was such a look of joy and freedom on her face. She knew where she had come from but she just knew she would be okay now.”
Jason still is silenced and humbled by that moment.
“It will be ingrained in my core, forever,” he finally says. “I wish every human could experience that moment in time. Anyone who loves kids or who’s raised them,” he added. “Any concerns Americans might have, it would all make sense to them – to understand what it means to be a refugee.”
“Although this little girl and I didn’t understand a word we were saying to each other, we realized we didn’t have to. Love knows no language. God bless America.”
(If you’d like to help a refugee family in need, you can learn more information or make a donation to Bridge of Hope – San Diego (Facebook page) or International Rescue Committee by clicking the organization’s name in blue. )