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Reedley College Alumni and Friends Reunite in Dominican Republic

IN THE January 11 ISSUE

FROM THE 2020 Articles,
andEducation,
andJim Mulligan,
andReedley News
SECTIONS

by Jim Mulligan

On October 26, 2019 at Restaurante Il Cappuccino in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, a contingent of over 40 people met to celebrate a long history and connection to Reedley and to some of its residents. Those in attendance included a small delegation from our Valley town of Reedley, and from four Central American and Caribbean nations. Those who made the journey from Reedley included former instructors from Reedley College, families who hosted international students in years past, and friends of everyone involved in a relationship that began over 30 years ago. Former Reedley College students came from Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. They traveled to see old friends, share updates, and enjoy time with their American families and friends from their college days.

Beginning in 1988, and all the way up to 2013, Reedley College was engaged in a program that sought to build human capital in developing countries in the hope of creating better social and economic opportunities for those countries. In partnership with Georgetown University and through funding by the United States Agency for International Development, more than 300 young people studied at Reedley College over the years and returned to their home countries to become agents of change, and to promote growth in their communities and beyond. The program had three different names over the years, including: CASP (Central American Scholarship Program), CASS (Cooperative Association of States for Scholarships), and SEED (Scholarships for Education and Economic Development). The countries involved in the program at one time or another included: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The program specifically targeted youth from the most rural and most socio-economically disadvantaged parts of those countries. Most students came to the U.S. as ambassadors, eager to learn and grateful for the opportunity, traits that endeared them to the people of the college and community of Reedley.

The very first group of CASP students who arrived in 1988.

Reedley College was one of only 14 colleges in the nation to become partners with Georgetown University in this great undertaking. Through connections of the college district’s new chancellor at the time, the Reedley College Agriculture department was chosen to become the newest partner in 1988 to provide a course of study in English language and agriculture for the students. Retired instructor and first program coordinator, Bud West, recalls that he was asked to be the program lead and organize the budget, class schedules, host families, and every other aspect of the program for the two years the students were in Reedley. “It really began the first time we picked them up from the airport,” remembers West. “They arrived looking like young waifs and through their time at Reedley College they became confident and skilled young men and women. Some of those first students are still today making a very positive impact in their countries as business owners, politicians, and community leaders.”

Not only does Reedley College hold the distinction of being one of the very few in the nation to partner with Georgetown in this unique program, it is the only partner college that began—and continues—the tradition of tri-annual alumni reunions. The reunions began in Costa Rica in 1995 as a way for host families, instructors, and friends to reconnect with alumni, as well as to let the alumni welcome their Reedley families and friends to their home countries. Every three years since that first meeting, alumni and Reedley friends and family have met in a different host country to catch up on alumni progress, meet new additions to students’ families, and reenergize each other with moral support that goes both directions. The 2010 reunion was slightly different in that a large group of alumni came back to Reedley where it all began, seeing for the first time many who had never been able to attend other reunions.

A group picture of the attendees at the 2019 reunion in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic.

A reunion is not a one-day affair. The reunion dinner is typically a culminating celebration that is at the end of or during a week-long tour of the host country and visits with its alumni. Some alumni who cannot be at the week’s activities make sure to attend this special evening. While the developing countries visited for reunions generally lack some of the sophistication and development we are used to in the U.S., they do not disappointment when it comes to natural beauty and hospitality. The most recent reunion in the Dominican Republic was a full seven days that began with a tour of a tomato processing plant in the Department of Azua, and then a long trip to Santiago and Jarabacoa to see cigar-making and the Baiguate Waterfall. Then, after the dinner back in the capital, many enjoyed several days at a resort in beautiful Punta Cana at the edge of the Caribbean Sea; it seemed to be right next door to paradise.

A small portion of the group touring the cigar factory.

Host families were an integral part of the student experience. Many Reedley families hosted students, but few hosted from the very beginning until the last group. David and Janice Englebright did, hosting many students over the years. They are also a driving force in keeping the reunions going. While they are not the only example, they are great illustrations of a committed host family who provided important support while students lived in Reedley; they also developed relationships that have continued to encourage their students and others for some time after they left. The Englebrights summed it up well, “One of the best things about these reunions is seeing the alumni. We have stayed in touch with many of them, especially our kids. We have formed extremely close bonds with our kids and other alumni and seeing them is like seeing family.”

Janice Englebright at the 2019 reunion presenting the slideshow.

Outside of the host families, there may be no greater champion for Reedley College alumni of the CASP/CASS/SEED program than their first coordinator, retired instructor and department chair, Bud West. While West may have taken on the task of heading the program so many years back at the request of his boss, but over the years he jumped whole-heartedly into the role of advisor and cheerleader for all alumni, which he continues to be to this very day. He is personally committed to providing continuing personal development for alumni who, despite their education and training, still face challenges in their countries. Since his retirement in 2007, West has made over 40 trips to visit alumni in their countries. He not only provides personal and business advice to many, he has organized Goal Booster conferences in several countries to help younger alumni glean knowledge from previously successful alumni. He does this all on his own dime.

The group bus as they traveled around the Dominican Republic.

Many often wonder if a program like this will ever come back to Reedley. The answer is not clear. The social-political tensions that existed in the mid-80s in the world, and especially in Central America, are not the same as they are today. No one knows if the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C. will decide again to create opportunities for grassroots nation-building that were attempted in this unique program. One thing is for sure, lives were changed for the better, in Reedley and in partner countries. Alumni of Reedley College are business owners in the Dominican Republic, teachers in Guatemala, building schools in Haiti, running for local office, and providing for the care of orphans in their countries. They are working hard to be the agents of change they were selected to be.

Jim Mulligan is a 6th generation Californian, born and raised in Selma. He has been employed in Reedley on and off for the last twenty years. He married his college sweetheart, a Reedley-ite, Kristi. They now reside in Reedley with their five children. Jim loves to create Bonsai and travel as much as possible, both near and far. He is a member of the KCUSD Board of Trustees and is employed by Reedley College as the Tutorial Coordinator.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bud West January 11, 2020 at 11:13pm

Great article Jim Mulligan! Well written and notes the significance of Reedley College and the Reedley community in providing worthwhile opportunities for youth. Thanks for taking time to create this nice article! And thanks to you for your leadership as one of the final coordinators of this international program and for your continuing dedication to youth though currently serving as a school board member!!

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2 Bev Buckley June 25, 2020 at 9:54pm

I enjoyed reading your article, Jim. Rod and I hosted Ligia in the first group and Segerio in the second group. It was a wonderful experience. Lots of good memories.

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