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Education Secretary Duncan praises food bank volunteers
He missed the first shot, but he made the second. And he had never before played basketball with “Criminals,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made time for a short game with local high school students during a Thursday visit to Yuma, part of his “Strong Start, Bright Future” back-to-school bus tour.
Duncan stopped at the Yuma Community Food Bank to thank volunteers and highlight community service that strengthens communities.
Beryl Durazo, the food bank’s resource and development assistant, led Duncan in a tour of the facilities as high school students filled backpacks with food to be delivered to disadvantaged students for the weekend.
Then Duncan, who played basketball at Harvard and professionally in Australia, shot some hoops with Yuma High School students.
In a short program, Durazo shared her story of needing the food bank while growing up and now working there.
“When you don’t have to worry about hunger, it’s a wonderful feeling,” she said. “Now I’m fortunate to help hungry children like I was once.”
Ashton Guenther, dressed like a cowboy, talked about the challenges of living in a rural area. The 9-year-old Mohawk Valley School student said that sometimes his family doesn’t have enough gas or money to get to the food bank in Yuma.
Alex Deckey, a student volunteer and food bank ambassador, said that hearing stories like Ashton’s moved him to try to make a difference.
Hailey Bernardo, a Gila Ridge High School student, talked about how she didn’t know about hungry children and how she committed to do something when she learned about it.
“A third of the community doesn’t know what the food bank is. I’m embarrassed to say I was part of that statistic,” Bernardo said.
Rigo Orta, a student at Arizona Western College, pointed to the grim situation in Yuma, which has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. He started volunteering at the food bank in high school and continues to do so.
Angelyna Reichman, a sixth grader at Gary Knox Elementary, explained the POWePLAY’te program and how community gardens like those at her school help hungry kids.
She also issued a challenge: The Yuma Community Foundation is supporting the food bank’s efforts to end hunger in Yuma with the War on Hunger Backpacks Fund. With a $25,000 match gift from Charlotte Thomas, the foundation established an endowment fund, which will grow in perpetuity, to support food insecurity in Yuma.
Angelyna invited community members to help match the gift before the end of the year. For donations or information on planned giving, contact Janell Johnson, YCF Western Regional manager, at 928-539-5343.
And ever so helpful, Angelyna offered to assist Duncan. “If you ever need help in Washington, give me a call.”
Duncan spoke briefly about the link between the nation’s economy and the education system. Touring gives him a chance to “get out from behind the desk” and see what communities are doing, he said.
Children deserve the chance, whether their families have money or not, to move up in life, and the way to do that is through education, he added.
However, it’s hard to focus on school when a child’s tummy is rumbling with hunger, he noted.
Duncan praised the food bank and its volunteers for exemplifying how a community should take care of its neighbors.
Calling him one of his personal heroes, Duncan praised Ivers, a fellow native of Chicago, for his long history of service to the community.
“This is his life’s work, what he is about,” Duncan said.
However, Ivers credited donors like Thomas and community members and organizations who support the food bank. He said that five weeks ago, the food bank ran out of food and sent out an SOS. In five weeks, the community donated more than 27,000 pounds of food.
Duncan has been touting the President’s Preschool for All proposal, in which Arizona is to receive about $78.2 million in the first year. Combined with an estimated state match of $7.8 million, some 9,000 children would be served.
“Our theme of ‘Strong Start, Bright Future’ also speaks to the importance of starting the school year off right and providing all our children with high-quality preschool to prepare them ultimately for success in college and careers,” Duncan said.
Department of Education grant funds, from Promise Neighborhood Grants to School Improvement Grants, support innovative efforts to serve Native learners and transform struggling schools.
In Yuma, he pointed to the Military Child Education Center, which will hold its latest no-cost training opportunity later this month to focus on meeting students’ social and emotional needs.
Duncan’s last stop of the day was at Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, where he joined military leaders, service members and their families to discuss the importance of supporting military-connected students and their families.