By Barbara Shaw
Fundraising activities for the Community Center in La Peñita are in full swing now, during the winter tourist season. Los Amigos de Jaltemba — this being Jaltemba Bay -– is a group of volunteers committed to supporting the Center’s many programs. Vern Porter is a Los Amigos board member. He explains that fundraising activities have kept the center going and expanding into new areas of need. The money that events and projects generate goes entirely to support numerous educational efforts that benefit working people and their children, living in this community all year.
Now Porter is in charge of the scholarship program for promising local youths who need help to stay in school. “This year there are 26 scholarship students,”. Porter says. “We have a committee of nine parent volunteers that coordinates and monitors the students. Each student must maintain a Grade Point Average of 8.5 on a scale of ten.”
This year’s cohort:
Most of the students attend CONALEP, the vocational training school on the highway a short distance north of La Peñita. One girl who is in Preparatoria (academic high school) gets additional help from a private individual. Cost is about $3200 pesos for year at CONALEP.
Porter says, “I wish that folks would get together and sponsor a student. If four people want to choose one student to educate, that’s only 800 pesos a year per person, or fifteen pesos a week, the price of a soda.” Few donations that small are guaranteed to turn a young person’s life around. We forget that $800 pesos is about a full week’s wages for a maid here, working six long days. For some families nearly every centavo goes to food, rent and survival, leaving little for vocational training or any education beyond the basics.
Scholarship students are held to a high standard, says Porter. “Part of their responsibility is to do community service.” People on the committee keep records of that but a few students get by without doing it. “These kids maintain their grades and work hard,” says Porter. “Part of the criteria for selection is need. A lot of them have to work after school and on weekends, so many find it hard to make time for both study and community service, or for meetings after school.”
When volunteer service opportunities arise, scholarship students are notified by text. At any fundraiser for Los Amigos, such as Taqui Toorist, the Tres Amigas events or the Rock and Roll Party, several scholarship students will be on hand to serve, set-up, or clean. They can also volunteer at the Community Center, do beach clean-up, other community service or just wait to be notified of other needs.
Porter and his artist wife Olga moved here in 2004, found property and built a house on the road to El Tonino. He’s been here long enough to appreciate, as few short-term visitors can, the deep poverty and struggle to get ahead that is the lot of many working people in Mexico. Vocational education, as a route to a better life, is close to his heart. As an industrial arts instructor at Mt. Hood Community College near Portland, Oregon, Porter taught welding, metal fabrication and other trades.
His first stint as a volunteer here began in 2007 when he was a member of the group that started the plastics recycling program, made the mesh bins and lined up a truck to collect the plastic for sorting. Porter was involved in the evolution of that effort for a number of years, and is happy to see that the goal of Los Amigos has been met with its continuing under the management of a local man now.
Your attendance at any of the fundraiser events sponsored by the Community Center, or your time and energy at the Center, will be of great benefit to the ongoing support of the most capable young people in the local community.
“Don’t forget the 50-50 raffle,” says Porter. “Buy a ticket for 10 pesos and the winner of the drawing gets half the pot. Recently a local woman won 750 pesos. “She was really happy about it.” Raffle tickets are sold and the winner drawn at many of the Los Amigos events and at the LA booth at the Tianguis market on Thursdays.
Students from a while back:
Editor’s Note: Watch for a couple of stories from Barbara about the Community Center later this week.