By Dave Schwab
Bird Rock resident Ray Fulks really wanted to do something this past holiday season to drive home the value of giving to children he leads in the Seminoles, part of the la Jolla YMCA guides and princesses program.
So The Seminoles group, which has about 20 local families involved in its “troop,” participated in a hands-on humanitarian project that not only benefited needy people, but allowed direct personal contact with them.
“We wanted to further instill the value of giving to boys and girls in our circle, so we decided to do some giving activity, and a good friend of ours recommended sponsoring a family through the International Rescue Committee (IRC),” said Fulks. “I just wanted to put a face with the giving process. Instead of just donating money to something and not seeing the results, kids got to deliver the donations to the actual family.”
The family The Seminoles sponsored had just come over from Ethiopia where they’d been staying in a refugee camp for 18 years. The family of about 15 members was living in a tiny, tidy one-bedroom apartment.
Fulks said the family was asked through an intermediary what they needed. Their response: blankets and a big pot.
“So we collected money and raised enough to buy pots, pans, blankets and some food,” said Fulks, who added he and his Seminoles group delivered the goodies in person to the recipient family.
Ray said the experience struck a resonant chord with his son, Jake.
“Afterwards, Jake said, ‘Dad, I just feel good inside,’ ” said Ray. “He was blown away.”
Ronit Austgen, Fulks’ friend who tipped him off about the IRC, said it's not uncommon in troubled areas of the world for people like the Ethiopian family the Seminoles helped to get trapped in the limbo of a refugee camp.
“Their first choice and the ideal situation is to go back to their home country,” said Austgen, adding that’s not always possible and often the only immediate choice is for families to remain for years in refugee camps. “Unfortunately, many families’ children are born there,” she said adding, “The process to get a family to the United States is really quite extensive.”
Jennifer Roach, who also has children in the Seminoles group, said the YMCA program is meant to facilitate father-son and father-daughter group interaction, camping trips and the like. “It’s basically getting them out doing things together,” she said.
Another parent in the Seminoles group, Jennifer Roach, asked the patriarch of the host family what he thought of his new home. “He started crying and said, ‘Where I came from I was in hell. Now I’m in paradise.”
Roach said their family had had no running water or electricity in the refugee camp.
Roach said the spirit of giving rubbed off on her son who decided to give one of his favorite jackets to a boy in the host family of about the same age. “He said, ‘He needs it more than I do,’ ” she said adding she then asked him how he felt, to which he responded, “I feel good. This is what Christmas is all about.”