Board President Leah Gallardo Switzer with Kennedy Lindsey Elias, a Pierce College Scholarship Recipient.
Message From SAI Board President
On behalf of the SAI Board of Directors, we are elated to send you the first edition of our newsletter. We want to keep you informed about what is happening in SAI and our dreams to help Latino/Latina students achieve their educational goals. You will also learn the stories of our former scholarship winners and the impact that SAI has had on their lives.
Personally, I love being the President of the Spanish American Institute Board of Directors. For me, this is a dream come true to be part of an organization whose mission is: “to provide Hispanic students with scholarships to enhance their education for a better future.” SAI has been helping Methodist students, college students, and vocational students for over 100 years. Back in 1909, a Methodist Church dreamed of starting a school for Mexican boys to receive an industrial education. The boarding school had to close in the 1970s but that didn’t stop the dream or vision of SAI moving forward.
Now, we give scholarships to both young men & women and partner with community colleges, TELACU, and United Methodist Churches in continuing to help students as they pursue furthering their education. One of the joys of being a board member is meeting scholarship winners from various community colleges and hearing their stories and dreams for the future. All of the SAI scholarship recipients I have met have been worthy of these scholarships. They are hard-working, studious, and want to make a difference in their communities.
Help Students Succeed! Donate Now!
If you visit our website at https://saischolars.org/, it will introduce you to our scholarship programs, upcoming events, and history. Also, you will see that we have no staff because we are a volunteer-run organization. Each board member gives of their time to keep expenses as low as possible. I am so proud of all our board members who have a heart for helping students reach for the stars. We want our scholarship recipients to know we are here to help them as they pursue their educational goals. As you read about SAI and the quality of our recipients, perhaps you might think of donating to our cause. You can do this by visiting our website listed just above and visiting the donation page.
Pierce Scholarship Award Ceremony
As I previously stated in the President’s message, one of the joys of being the President of the SAI board of directors is attending the award ceremonies of the various community colleges and meeting the students who receive our scholarships. Recently, I participated in the Pierce College Community awards in Woodland Hills, Ca. The winners were: Jacob Javier Banuelos, Eddie Hernandez, Guillermo Alkire, and Kennedy Lindsey. It was a delight to meet these students and see how grateful they were to receive the SAI scholarships and to be honored in front of their peers at a beautiful award ceremony. I applaud the Foundation of Pierce College and its leader Ed Albrecht for all their hard work in recognizing these students.
Kennedy Lindsey, a biology honor student, remarked: “Winning the SAI scholarship will help me financially, but I also feel empowered to know that SAI sees what I am doing as a student to be worthy of this recognition.” Further, Lindsey remarked, “As SAI blessed me, I hope to bless other students with inspiration to join me in the future as an SAI-recognized scholar.” SAI’s dream is to continue to be a blessing to students like Lindsey and other scholarship recipients. You can watch Lindsey’s presentation about SAI on the SAI website. Please watch it and hear her story.
2022 SAI/UMC Latino Youth Scholarship Recipients
The (SAI) Board of Directors offers $1,000 scholarships yearly to qualifying United Methodist Youth preparing to attend a four-year college, a two-year community college program, or an accredited technical/vocational school. This year's winners are Ammy Quiñones, Nate Polvani, and Camila Viches. They were also winners of the TELACU Education Foundation (TEF) scholarships. These school scholarships are given in memory of SAI Gardena Alumnus Cesar Lizarraga by his son David Lizarraga.
Ammy Quiñones is a member of Huntington Park UMC, where she is the office coordinator. Since she was in high school, Ammy has also been a member of the design team for Spanglish, a camp designed for Latino youth. She is studying accounting at East Los Angeles Community College and hopes to become an accountant for the church. But her dreams do not end there. She comments, “ I hope my accounting major can help me with my entrepreneurship endeavors, a long-time dream of mine.”. Ammy loves embroidering, and her creations that memorialize the succession of family dogs and cats over the years are truly spectacular. She is also an avid runner.
Nate Polvani is a member of Magnolia Park UMC, where he is part of the Sunday technical crew. Nate did his Boy Scout Eagle project at this church. He has also gone on several Sierra Service projects with his youth group. Currently, Nate is studying mechanical engineering at Pasadena City College. Nate remarks: “I want to make a difference in public transportation and be part of a racing team.
Camila Vilches is a member of Huntington Park UMC, where she has been in attendance since she was just 15 days old! Her father, who emigrated from Cuba, is the pastor of the church. Camila is very involved in the youth group there and loves doing community projects around the church. For example, she delivered food to the workers outside Home Depot with her youth group. Presently, she is studying psychology at College at the Canyons. Her goal is to become a marriage and family therapist. Camila says, “I have had a calling to find a job where I can help people.
SAI congratulates these young people who both aspire to serve in their communities and be active members of their local churches. Their service includes Spanglish, Sierra Service projects, and feeding-the-hungry programs. The SAI board of directors is impressed with this group of young adults and glad to make them recipients of SAI scholarships.
Alumni Spotlight: Jerry (Jeronimo) Gil
As members of the SAI Board of Directors, we are thrilled when we hear from our Alumni, who tell us how SAI has impacted their lives. Last year we heard from Jeronimo Gil, who attended the SAI Methodist School for Boys in Gardena, California, from 1956 to 1964. He prefers to be called ‘Jerry .’When Jerry shared his story, we could see how SAI had helped him develop the skills that have lasted his entire life. We want to share his story to capture what it was like living at the SAI Methodist School for Boys.
Jerry’s story begins in Tijuana, Mexico, where he was born in 1944. When he was 12 years old, his father emigrated to this country along with his sister Raquel. Jerry’s father first heard about the Spanish-American Institute (SAI) while Jerry was attending a school in Tijuana. Jerry’s father thought it would be better for his children to attend school in the U.S. He was eager for his son to attend SAI, especially when he heard of all the benefits the Institute could offer him. When Jerry arrived at SAI in the summer of 1956, he did not speak a word of English. But Dr. Howe immediately started teaching him and all students the English language to prepare them for school in September. Jerry remembers Dr. Howe as being very kind and very caring. Jerry says, “Children arriving from another county needed this kind of loving support.”
Every Sunday and Wednesday, the boys attended the chapel on campus where Dr. Silverton preached, and his wife helped with the music. The students learned moral values and spiritual songs, which enabled them to grow in their Christian faith. This practice also helped them in learning to read. For Jerry, coming from Mexico, learning to read English was a high priority.
SAI not only helped the students with their language skills but also to excel in sports. Under coach Sidney Shue's guidance, the SAI sports director, Jerry became quite an athlete in various sports, including track and field, with his specialty being the 200-meter and 400-meter races. Coach Shue entered Jerry and his classmates in multiple meets with other high schools so they could hone their racing skills. The coach was eager to see his students succeed in sports. Coach Shue himself attended SAI and ended up playing football with Pepperdine University.
When Jerry got to high school at Gardena High, the football coach recruited him his junior year, which was a delight for Coach Shue. Jerry had a strong arm and was sprint-trained quickly from his track days. He played for two years on the varsity football team and was voted the best athlete in his graduating class.
After Gardena High, he attended Compton Junior college and played football there as well. All this time, SAI was overseeing his development. So, when Jerry enrolled at Compton Jr College to continue his education, Dr. Watson inspired him to start a baseball team on the SAI campus. Jerry was learning the value of hard work while also accumulating leadership skills. And speaking of hard work, from the get-go Jerry and his fellow SAI students were up at 3:30 am daily to milk the cows and then return to their dorms. SAI was not just a boarding school but also a small farm on the premises! Jerry comments, "There was work all the time so no one could become lazy. All this hard work was preparing me for my future careers."
Jerry joined the Air Force after attending San Diego State College, then worked for Western airlines from 1969 to 1987 as an airplane mechanic. After Delta bought Western, he worked for Delta until retiring in 1997. He accepted a position at the Federal Aviation Administration as an Aviation Safety Inspector. He was named FAA Inspector of the Year in 2002. Then after 22 years at FAA and traveling worldwide, he retired in December of 2018.
Even though he is retired, Jerry still keeps busy with his 18 grandchildren and plays tennis four times a week even though he is in his late 70s! His athletic days at SAI, Gardena High, and college have served him well all his life. Presently, he still attends church every Sunday. And those chapel services at SAI instilled a deep faith in Jerry. Jerry comments,” I could not write a better script for my life than the life I have lived.” We at SAI are thrilled that we played a pivotal role in that script.
Remembering John Shelton
As I said in my message we have very dedicated board members. John Shelton, a former board member of SAI, passed away during the COVID Pandemic. We would like to honor him by sharing some of his life experiences.
John became a member of the Spanish American Institute Board on February 4, 2012. In 2018, John became Treasure and set up Quick Books Online as SAI’s accounting software.
For the last 11 years of his life, John was a member of the Glendale Elks Lodge #1289. He actively supported various charitable programs, especially the California-Hawaii Elks Major Projects Inc, on behalf of children with disabilities.
It was the place where he enjoyed being with friends and homing in on his dance moves during Friday night dinners with a live band. Dance became a passion, and he could swing, salsa, waltz, and fox trot so elegantly that he was never without a dance partner.
A humble and discreet person, few knew that John contributed to the development and innovation of spy planes. For 28 years, from 1978 to 2006, John was a true pioneer in avionics. His expertise in electronic systems and avionics equipment led to his favorite projects: the F-117 Nighthawk stealth bomber and the reconnaissance U-2 aircraft. In a literal sense, John contributed to making the best machines for the best military in the world.
John reached for the skies with his hobby of flying. He acquired his private pilot’s license in 1979 with a hard-earned instrument rating. Always adventurous and enthusiastic about new experiences, John and faithful co-pilot, Netta flew their planes to 11 different countries in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and south of the Equator.
Two of John’s endearing stories occurred when he invited Angela Arvizu (in her teens), an SAI Board member, and her brother, Michael, to fly with him in his private airplane for lunch. On separate flights, they could invite a friend for a day of flying. On each flight, John wanted to demonstrate that flying in a small single-engine private airplane was safe, a good glider, and could fly without the engine running. So, John turned off the airplane’s engine and stopped the propeller from turning. Don’t know what the youngsters learned, but their private airplane pilot of the day got their attention.
John lived a full life. He was an intelligent, persistent problem-solver. Ambitious, yet steady and calm, he reached his many goals and tried his best to encourage others to reach for theirs and that is why being an SAI board member was so fulfilling for him. He. He will be dearly missed. He is survived by his lovely wife Netta and his son Andy.
(Left to right) Larry Estrada, John Shelton, Netta Shelton, Angela Arvizu Szymusiak, and Andy Shelton.
Just before his passing, Angela and her dance partner Larry Estrada came to see John and treated him and his friends to a special Mexican dance exhibition in his own backyard. John's eyes were full of wonder as dancing was one of his greatest joys in life. Thanks, Angela for this special gift you gave John.
Board Member Highlights
As President of the Spanish American Institute, I want to thank all the board members for their commitment to SAI. These board members spend many hours volunteering their time and resources to help SAI continue expanding its programs. The members of the board of SAI include Dina Aguilar, Rev Lupita Alonso-Redondo, Bob Arvizu, Eli Cortez, Leslie Lopez, and Angela Arvizu Srymusiak.
Also, we want to congratulate Leslie Lopez, vice-president of the Board of Directors of SAI and a former SAI UMC scholar recipient, on her graduation from the University of California at Irvine. Leslie, a vocal performance major at the UCI Claire Trevor School of the Arts, hopes to inspire other students to let nothing stop them from fulfilling their dreams. She keeps pretty busy directing the Summer SAI Music Concert Fundraiser, serving as the Music Director of Moorpark UMC, and working for the LA Opera. SAI is so proud of you, Leslie! Keep up the excellent work!
Leslie Lopez - Board Member and Graduate
Unforgettable Fourth Annual SAI Music Concert
The fourth SAI annual music concert attracted friends and supporters to Van Nuys United Methodist Church on a sunny afternoon on August 28. Nearly 60 persons attended the show to raise funds for the SAI scholarship programs.
Leah Gallardo Switzer, President of the SAI Board of Trustees, welcomed and shared a short video of the recent scholarship winners. She also introduced special guests, including The Rev. Dr. Song Ho Yi, the new Senior Pastor at Van Nuys UMC, Mr. Jung, president of the board of trustees of Van Nuys UMC, and Jerry ( Jeronimo) Gil, a former Alumni of SAI. Gil attended the SAI Methodist School for Boys in Gardena from 1956 to 1964.
The first opening number featured guitarist Santiago Vasquez, music director of the Van Nuys Music Academy/ Director of Hispanic Music, performing “Mazurka in E minor”. His wife, Silvia Cruz Vasquez, also performed “Bouree in E minor” by J.S. Bach with him. Another couple who performed was Dr. James Shin and his wife Sophie Shin, who sang a beautiful rendition of “Ariang”, a Korean folk song from the Joengseon, Gangwon Province.
Other performers included pianist Aaron Lopez and cellist Emily Morse, music students at Cal Poly Humboldt State. Their duet from “Spirited Away” by Joe Hisaishi was haunting. John Tyson, last year's emcee, and jazz artist/comedian did a rousing rendition Come Back to Me. Also, Joyce Lee, the Van Nuys United Methodist Church organist, played “Prelude in C Major” by J.S Bach on the church's pipe organ. Ms. Lee studied at USC with renowned organist Thomas Ladd and has a Master's Degree in church music from Hope International University. Leslie Lopez, a recent graduate of the UCI music school, performed “Quia Respexit” by J.S. Bach. Leslie Lopez is also a board member of SAI and a former SAI scholarship winner. Leslie Lopez, Santiago, John Tyson, and Kris Taduran, music worship leader from San Fernando First UMC, closed the concert singing "Dancing on the Waves”.
Sue Leather, an audience member, attended her first SAI Concert in support of her friend Leah Gallardo Switzer, president of the board of directors of SAI, said. "I had no idea I was going to hear such an array of music from Bach to Spanish music," Leather said. "I am so glad I attended because I had such an enjoyable afternoon instead of staying home. "
Mr. Greg Switzer, a supporter of the SAI and award-winning cross-country coach, emceed the event. His tidbits of information about the pieces and performers added a special touch to the concert. In addition, a videotaped performance of a Board Member and dancer of the Los Lupenos Dance Company of San Jose, Angela, and her dancing partner, Larry Estrada, brought tears to people's eyes. She had performed this dance in the backyard of Board Member John Shelton's home just before his passing.
The SAI board of directors wants to thank all the performers, Mr. Greg Switzer and Van Nuys United Methodist Church, for hosting the event. Special Thanks to Leslie Lopez, who directed the concert, and Elisa Cortez, who produced the event, for making this concert so special. Thank you to our board members Bob Arvizu and Elias Cortez for attending and showing support.
Santiago and Silvia Vasquez
Sophie and James Shin
Thank you for making this concert so lovely, especially Van Nuys UMC!
It was great seeing former scholarship winners.
Leah Helen Gallardo Switzer
Leah Helen Gallardo Switzer