As I See It – Foster Grandparent Program: A tribute to a colleague who didn’t know the word “retirement”

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Yesterday, I attended the memorial service of a former colleague under the Santa Clara County Seniors Council – Foster Grandparent Program – who worked with me and other academic instructors of San Jose Job Corps Center (SJJC) as a Volunteer Teacher Aide for more than six years.

Grandpa Avelino Ocampo, passed away on July 4, 2021 due to cancer at the age of 81. Before he succumbed to death, instead of retiring, spending his time at home, going to vacation places, and enjoying his moments with his family, he was still working with us even before the corona virus pandemic struck us a year and a half ago. He was a foster grandparent volunteer assigned to Job Corps, a partner of the Seniors Council in education. 

Job Corps is a federal program under the Department of Labor (DOL) giving opportunities to marginalized youths to earn their high school diploma, trade license and GED certificate. Our center partnered with the Seniors Council Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion Program from Santa Clara where Grandpa Avelino is a foster grandparent. He was a partner in education, the best gift ever, for parents to give to their children… and…  he was part of this obsession.

With my long association with Grandpa Avelino, Grandma Julieta, grandpa’s wife and Grandpa’s son Gerry, asked me to say a few words during the memorial service held at the Oak Hill Cemetery (Oak Hill Chapel of the Oaks) … Grandpa Avelino helped me in engaging the students in completing their assignments and assisting them in earning their high school and/or GED. At his age, I often told him he belongs to a group of special people who don’t know the word “retirement.”  And he answered me back saying: “Mr. Elpi, even with my old age, I still want to render public service because it is in my heart. I love doing it and I find satisfaction whenever I see a student benefit from what I do, even in a very little way.” That’s Grandpa Avelino to us… to our students.

At the classroom, Grandpa Avelino served as a mentor and a role model to the students. He worked with the students on their schoolwork and assignments, assisted them in their cognitive activities, and provided positive encouragement. Grandpa Avelino was a big help to the students, especially in Algebra and other math subjects where most of the students are struggling.

San Jose Job Corps is thankful for all the services he extended to the students. He was a positive addition to the classroom working with me… with the regular teachers. 

My colleagues in the San Jose Job Corps Center have these to say: Teacher Annie Zacharia, who teaches Math, said: “It was Grandpa’s birthday on July 2. He will be greatly missed. He was a great support for me and the students. I was in touch with him the past year. He told me that he still worked on a few math problems every day. He loved Math and always challenged himself. May his soul rest in peace.” 

For Amritha Matthews, our finance manager, had this to say: “You are absolutely right, Elpi (Referring to how I described Grandpa in my email to all staff informing him of his demise). We all, as well as students, loved Grandpa so much. I have many memorable moments with Grandpa. Even he fed me some special sandwich and cookies when he was on center. I love him so much and miss him.”

Our center Director Leslie Gilroy said: “He was such a nice and loving soul.”

GED Instructor Denis Marks has this to say: “I worked with Grandpa Avelino for several years in the Math Room at San Jose Job Corps. If there was a problem I couldn’t help a student with (quadratic equations come to mind), I would ask my most excellent helper, Grandpa, to work with him/her one-on-one at his desk and he would patiently, graciously and lovingly guide them through the steps toward the solution. He was there for me and for the students as is presence here will be remembered. I can still see him sitting at his desk working on math problems to increase his own knowledge and skills that he could share with me and the students. His presence had a calming effect on the students and on me due to the respect he deserved and the respect and appreciation he gave to our students and it was a sad day when he came here no more and an even sadder day to learn of his death. He’s up in heaven now helping God with his multitudinous math problems and looking down and smiling at us.”

I was told by Mr. Marks, that Mr. McFarren, the retired math teacher whom grandpa Avelino worked with longest, that he wanted to attend grandpa Avelino’s memorial service to pay his respects, but somehow was not able to come. 

Grandpa Avelino touched so many lives. In fact, some of the students whom Grandpa touched their lives, wanted to attend his memorial service too, but were not allowed by the center due to the renewed surge of the Delta variant of the corona virus.

Grandpa Avelino, you touched our lives…our students…you left us… but your memories will always remain in our hearts and linger in our minds… forever!

May your soul rest in peace!

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