Tammie Pereira is not a morning person, but she says she’s been waking up at 5am every morning the past few weeks to prepare for the Bay Area Gardeners’ Foundation 10th Anniversary Fundraiser on Saturday. Approximately 400 people, from students to elected officials, are expected to attend, and the newly appointed Presidential Medal of Freedom Award recipient, Dolores Huerta, will be the keynote speaker.
This year, the foundation, which has dedicated a decade to helping economically disadvantaged students afford college, will be awarding 20 graduating high school students with college scholarships for $1,500 each. Two students will each receive an additional $1,000 for the Cheyita Award, named after the late Cheyita Doswell McRoskey, whose son is a gardener. State Sen. Leland Yee will also be providing an additional $1,000 each to five students.
“It started with a group of commercial gardeners,” says Pereira about the Bay Area Gardeners’ Foundation, which was launched by Catalino Tapio in 2002. “Catalino said, ‘Let’s start a foundation to help our children go to college, and it’s grown from their children to all nine counties of the Bay Area.”
A lot of alumni will be present at the fundraiser, including Claudia Lopez, a first generation Mexican-American who received a Bay Area Gardeners’ scholarship in 2007, and today works as a spokesperson for California Senator Leland Yee.
“She always tells us that it was our scholarship that kept her moving,” says Pereira. “She felt she had people behind her. We were always backing her up. She knew she could count on the Foundation for books, etc.”
Lopez says financially speaking, there was no way she could apply to Berkeley or Stanford even though she had a 4.03 average. But she was able to go to San Francisco State University, where she double majored in Latino studies and sociology.
“I was able to focus more on my studies,” says Lopez about receiving the scholarship from the Foundation. “The $1,500 was a help. It didn’t solve all your problems, but it did help some. It shouldn’t be a privilege to go to college, but a right. If we don’t go, it limits our chances.”
She says she made the senator aware of the financial strife many students go through and urged him to give extra scholarships to those in need.
“They are all achievers making less than $15,000 to $10,000,” says Lopez about the five students chosen for Senator Leland Yee’s scholarships. “They are gardeners on the weekend, and some have suffered domestic abuse.”
Pereira says that approximately 90 percent of the scholarship recipients are Latino. All a student needs to apply is to have a 2.5 GPA, two letters of recommendations, 25 hours of community service and the dream to go to college.
“Last year we had an Asian kid studying to be a dentist, who immigrated from China,” recalls Pereira. “When he went up to give his speech, he said, ‘Si Se Puede!’”
It is with this fighter spirit and dedication to community service that the Foundation prides itself, and Pereira says the founder really wanted to have Dolores Huerta, renowned for her community activism, speak on Saturday.
Pereira herself says she dedicates so many hours volunteering for the future of these students, because that’s all she knows, and she want to raise awareness.
“I watched my parents do volunteer work,” she says. “My parents would always make us save the stuff we didn’t need in a box and drive down to Tijuana to give away our clothes…They said, ‘You are not the only one here, you have to give back always.”
And Lopez, as well as others, are proof that her work has not been in vain.
“If I could be the next Sotomayor, I will do that, but I think the possibilities are endless,” says Lopez. “Maybe the next U.S. senator or the the next TV co-host.”