I retired a little over a year ago and every day I walk my dogs — Namba and Tashi, both Lhasa Apsos — past San Benito County San Andreas School and Community Center. I know this because those words are written on the sign in front of the building.
Years ago, when I was involved with the San Benito Stage Company as president, I attempted to start a partnership drama program at that school and for a number of reasons, it failed. I take responsibility for that, and to be honest, it has always bothered me.
So one day, while walking my dogs, I stopped in and left a note for the principal to call me. I learned that the school has a new principal this year and wanted to see if there was interest in starting a drama or music program for the students, who for the most part attend alternative education classes as a continuation school because things didn't work out for them at other schools. And I'm not here to judge.
A couple weeks pass and Principal David Burke calls me and we talk on the phone about some of my ideas and I just ask: "Are you interested?" Yes, he is interested. Yes, he too is a frustrated musician like me. Yes, he would like to meet to discuss further. And so we schedule a meeting at his office.
Mr. Burke lives in Hollister, but made his career in education in the North Monterey County school system. He has an impressive résumé as a teacher and principal, but decided to apply for and interview for the San Andreas School principal job to be closer to home and spend more time with his family.
I quickly learned during our meeting that Mr. Burke has assumed a great deal of responsibility and also has a keen interest in providing the best educational opportunities for his students. And while he has an interest in brainstorming and partnering with others to provide extracurricular activities for his students, what he would really like to do is work with the City of Hollister to transform the rather blatant eyesore/vacant lot known as McCarthy Street Park adjacent to his school into a functional space his students can utilize for P.E.; soccer, handball courts, a small track. Maybe even a community garden that would double as an earth science project and a farmer's market where the student-grown produce could be sold or donated to the Community FoodBank.
I offer to contact Hollister City Councilman Ray Friend who represents the neighborhood where the school is located. I know Ray pretty well. I bug him all the time, especially now that I'm retired. In fact, I can almost see his eyes roll through the phone every time I call him even though we don't use FaceTime. So I ask him about the school and he is a wealth of information, and I'm instantly glad I voted for him —especially since he ran for office unopposed this term.
So we talk on the phone about some of my ideas and I just ask Ray: "Are you interested?" Yes, he is interested. Yes, he wants to help the students. Yes, he would like to meet the new principal. And so we schedule a meeting at the principal's office; a place I was all too familiar with in my ill-spent youth.
I introduce Ray to Mr. Burke, who I am gradually comfortable enough to call by his first name, and we all hit it off. We brainstorm, we discuss the city/school relationship, we talk about McCarthy Street Park and Councilman Friend says there are budgeted funds to rehabilitate the park and he would love to hear some ideas to improve the space from the students themselves.
Soon, I suggest we ask local architect David Huboi if he would be interested in helping with any design work if we decide to build a temporary stage or amphitheater for community concerts, special events, graduations, etc. We all think that is a good idea.
So I call Huboi and we talk on the phone about some of my ideas and I just ask: "Are you interested?" Yes, he is interested. Yes, he too is a frustrated musician like me. Yes, he would like to meet with the new principal to discuss further. And so we schedule a meeting at the principal's office and we all hit it off.
And even though Huboi has some minor surgery scheduled in December and a busy work schedule, he agrees to meet with the students to listen to their ideas to transform McCarthy Street Park and introduce them to the work that he does as an architect, but that meeting will have to wait until January.
Twenty students from San Andreas High expressed an interest in learning how local government works on their behalf. They want to provide input about what types of facilities that would benefit them as students who will utilize the park and took the initiative to meet with Councilman Friend. Some of those students participate in a leadership group and some participate in a mentoring group. And there will be some student turnover when the new semester starts after the holidays.
But there is a growing interest from the community to make this project a success and an as-yet-to-be-determined expected outcome. More work is required to solicit ideas from more stakeholders in the community and to listen to concerns from neighbors and nearby businesses that may be impacted by community concerts, plays, musicals or other special events that will draw significant numbers of community members to such events in the future.
There are opportunities to help at-risk youth and underserved families everywhere in our community. If you have a certain passion for live music, drama/theater, the arts and you want to awaken and enable the hidden talents of others in your neighborhood, then feel free to support this project with your donated time, your skill sets, your professional connections or a few dollars.
For more information, contact Raymond Friend by cell phone at (831) 313-3099 or email at [email protected].