A young man, achieving at the top of his class, was entering his senior year at CSU Monterey Bay (CSUMB), when it became clear he would need to return to the fields near his King City home to earn enough money to complete his education. “It’s okay; it keeps me humble,” he said, seeing this, not as a road block in the journey toward his college degree, but merely as a curve in the path on which he would continue toward his goal.
A year later, as the first member of his family to graduate from college, he commenced from CSUMB and went back to work. But not picking produce.
Frank and Donna McDowell have long admired immigrant parents whose lives seem to be about paving a better path for their children, and who have taught them the value of education and the potential opportunities inherent in a college degree. They also understand that children of undocumented parents, no matter how well they do in school, cannot qualify for the scholarships essential to afford a college education.
Frank, a private pilot who had retired from real estate lending, and Donna, an artist, who retired from teaching art, writing and special education, most recently from Monterey Peninsula Unified School District, were looking for a way to sponsor young adults in school. They met with education advocates Leon and Sylvia Panetta, who suggested they work with CSUMB.
“We believe very strongly,” says Frank, “that education is the best possible solution we have to make a difference in society. So we created a program with CSUMB, which not only enables us to give a helping hand to a handful of students each year, but also to get to know these students. In sponsoring their college education, we want them to know this is not just money, but people who are proud of their efforts and achievements, and who have a genuine interest in them.”
Students whose education is sponsored by the McDowells, more than a dozen to date, receive not just financial support but also friendship. The couple make themselves available for conversation and advice, and they truly want to know how these students are doing. They have attended many graduations, weddings, and special engagements, and some students have dropped in for a visit.
“This is not a sterile gesture,” says Frank. “We want it to have a human element, to create a connection. It is our privilege to aid these bright, talented young people who are so motivated to go to college, to allow them to get to where they want to go. They aren’t entitled; they don’t expect a handout or a free ride. Instead they are so grateful, and they make the most of it.
“We are very impressed with the development of programs at CSUMB to create well-rounded young people who pay attention and care about what’s going on in their communities and government.Many of our students return to their communities to make a difference there. They are the ones, we believe, who can.”
A small stone sits silent near the path to their door, engraved with the word Love. Without the right glance at the right moment, one might miss it. But the message becomes clear in other ways upon meeting the McDowells, whose lives seem motivated by it.
They hold hands as they talk.
Through the front door, the space opens to a wall of windows, which provide vantage on the coastal enclave that is their home. Built on an ancient gathering place for Native Americans, the property hosts artifacts of an early fishing village in shards of abalone,carbon dated to 1150-1350 AD. In caressing a piece of shell, the couple can sense the connection to those who held it before, keenly aware of their place on the continuum of time.
“Looking across the majesty of this property and out to sea,” says Frank, “we feel both insignificant and integral to this place. It puts everything in perspective. We don’t actually own this property, any more than those have before us. We are merely stewards, temporary caretakers honoring the past and protecting the future.”
They see their children, their grandchildren, and their CSUMB students as the future.
“These kids come to us as special citizens and high achievers at their high school,” says Donna, “having had no idea that, despite all their hard work they, who need it most, will never qualify for a scholarship. Many had no idea they are undocumented until they tried to apply for a scholarship to school. But what we do know is there is away. Particularly if they keep their focus forward. There is a way.”