Champions Among Us

Champions Among Us

Trophy Winners Celebrate Sports VictoryThe World Cup…French Open…NBA Finals…Stanley Cup…Sports fans must be rejoicing right now with all the current and upcoming championships in the next few weeks. I admit, even I found myself caught-up in “California Chrome Triple Crown Fever” over the weekend as I stood in a room full of strangers-thousands of eyes anxiously locked on the Belmont Stakes track cheering for the unlikely Thoroughbred to win the trifecta. Yes, if you love sports then you have more than enough to keep you occupied and content. But while you celebrate the champions of athletic competitions, I’d like to celebrate a few of the community champions among us.

Last week, the people of Moreno Valley proved to be champions when they overwhelmingly recalled Mayor Tom Owings and replaced him with a more suitable public servant. This week the group Residents Ending Corruption and Lies scored another victory when they officially turned in 3,426 signatures (they only needed 2,547) to recall Moreno Valley Mayor Pro Tem Victoria Baca.

Last week I participated in another small event that reminded me that we have every day champions living, working, and studying in our own community. Every year Lea Petersen, Public Affairs Manager for The Gas Company and a champion for graduates who have had to overcome great personal challenges in order to graduate from high school, invited me to her “Energizing Our Future” scholarship award presentation. The event was a luncheon held at The Gas Company’s Riverside Operations Base and Lea asked a few people to share their life and education experiences with the graduates. Woodie Rucker-Hughes and her team at the school district helped select the students. Lea facilitated the scholarships, $1000 for students attending four-year colleges and $500 for those attending two-year colleges. Additionally, this year Bill Bunger of Smart Riverside surprised the students with free desktop computers.

Many of the students are first generation college students, others experienced even more challenging obstacles, like the student who is the oldest of nine children and the first in her family to attend college, or the student facing the reality of aging out of the foster care system and as of this week has no financial support and no place to live. As a freshman she didn’t have electricity in her home and had to beg for food on the streets. She struggled with school and spent most of her time hanging out with the wrong kinds of people. She turned her young life around as a sophomore and became a much more serious student. Now she is preparing to attend Riverside Community College to further her studies. “As long as I’m productive, I’ll be happy,” she said in her scholarship essay. Now that’s a champion.

Lea said, “if they can graduate high school facing such daunting challenges just think how great they could be with a little support, positive role models, and encouragement to continue on with their education.” So as you spend your time rooting for your favorite athletes or favored teams, remember the champions among us: the students who have overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to complete and continue their education; their champions, the Lea’s and Woodie’s of the community; and the community itself, the folks of Moreno Valley, who have decided to join together in a collective body to eliminate corruption from city government.

And as you root for Nadal or the Spurs, or the Kings or Honduras (my husband’s team in the World Cup), or the USA, take a minute, maybe during a time out, and think about the champions in our own backyard.

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