Susan Hassett was determined to pull up a stubborn patch of tall, dry weeds in the front yard of Anayeli Zambrano and Raul Medina’s home in Barrio Logan. It only took a minute or so, but when she successfully uprooted and cleared it away, she treated it like a small victory. She jumped up, wiped her brow and expressed genuine happiness working so hard on a beautiful sunny San Diego day — to help others.
“This is going to be a success, I can already feel it,” said Hassett, the mother of two sons, both of whom are University of San Diego alumni. “When I arrived here this morning and saw the big truck loaded with dirt, the plants and everything I said to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s happening, it’s really going to work!’”
What was working — and working hard at that — last Thursday were several USD Parent Association Board members. The USD Parent Corps, a group of parents of current USD students, including some who themselves are alumni, took part in their first hands-on, one-day community service project of this kind.
The group of volunteers included current students Austin Pavin, Shayna Mohammad and Shannon Merrill and some USD employees, too. Together, they cleaned up the small home’s front and backyard, performed some notable landscaping, painted much of the house and a few of the surrounding fences and more.
“This is an extension of the kind of philanthropy that these parents already do,” said Renda Quinn, director of USD’s Office of Parent Relations and 1986 alumna. “Seeing students out here, too, with their parents shows me that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Our parents have modeled to their children the importance of community service work and helping others.”
Said Hassett, who along with her husband, John, had flown in early from Boston to work on this project before attending their youngest son’s USD graduation. “USD is an Ashoka (U) Changemaker Campus and we, as parents, are Changemakers, too. That’s what we’re doing here today.”
The small home of Zambrano and Medina, which they’ve lived in for four years and are raising three children who range in age between 4 years and eight months, was selected by the USD group with the help of San Diego’s chapter of Rebuilding Together.
The USD Parent Corps wore specially designed t-shirts with the slogan “dedicated to compassionate service.” Hassett, the immediate past president of the USD Parents Association Board, couldn’t stop smiling about what inspired this idea.
“I saw the Dalai Lama at USD last year and I remember taking a moment after listening to what he said and tried to put it into perspective for my life,” Hassett said. “When I walked away from the Parent Board after last year, but still knowing all of the wonderful and compassionate things it has done for the students, I asked myself ‘What else can we do? How can we best serve the community?’”
Hassett brought her idea to the attention of current USD Parent Board co-presidents, Jim and Bonnie Trumbull, who live in Oregon. They liked it and began planning for the big day.
“This is a natural way for us to give back to the community,” Jim Trumbull said. “The university is service-centric and we felt this was a good way for us to have a role in doing some community outreach, let the community know that we care about them as much as they enjoy USD being part of the community.”
When Thursday’s big day arrived, the USD Parent Corps delivered results.
“I knew when we woke up this morning, we knew we’d be here getting our hands dirty,” Jim Trumbull said. “Normally we sit in a boardroom, talk about the good we’re trying to do for others, such as making financial contributions to programs or contributing to student scholarships, but it can be a little sterile. Here we get to really dig in, work, and immediately see the fruits of the labor. This is a deeply satisfying project.”
The Trumbulls and Hassett effusively praised San Diego resident Sonny Thadani, father of USD student Shanyelle Thadani, for taking charge of the project locally.
“This would not have been done without Sonny,” Hassett said. “He was the project manager, the point man for everything. He’s got so many contacts in San Diego.”
Added Jim Trumbull: “Sonny has been a bulldog about this project from the start. We thank him for all of the work he’s put into it.”
Thadani was humbled by the praise. He worked closely with Rebuilding Together to secure the designated house, one that fit the 25-30 USD Parent Corps’ volunteers for a first-time effort. He placed calls to several local businesses for donations of food, snacks, water and more to support the volunteers. The USD Parent Corps also presented the family with a large food and supplies basket.
It was all done to help others, a trait that’s at the heart of USD’s mission. It’s not just about a student’s education, but rather a byproduct of the USD community.
“At the end of the day, there’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment because it’s very gratifying to give back to the local community,” Thadani said. “This project shows that giving back is not only about money, but also your time, energy and effort. USD parents are coming together to do this and I feel it’s a turning point in our thinking. Right now it’s baby steps, but I think this is a project that we can do more often and get others at USD involved.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photos courtesy of Nick Abadilla