A letter to the editor in the June 8th Naples Daily News really impressed me:
I am currently a student at Naples High, as a junior I am looking forward to my coming senior year and making the transition into college. Since I arrived in this country at the age of five, my parents instilled in me the importance of setting goals and reaching my full potential. My education is my highest priority. I have completed six advanced placement college level classes, two years of drafting and design, and maintained a 4.0 GPA. I have been a part of Naples Eaglettes, Spanish Honor Society & JSA. I have 40 hours of community service with Habitat for Humanity & Domestic Animal services. My senior year I will have completed 2 additional AP classes & written a Laureate paper. I have been accepted to attend Junior Statesmen of America’s academic program for future leaders at Princeton University this summer. I come from a hardworking humble family who do not have the means to finance this great opportunity. I am writing to seek help from the community and local business in making this dream a reality by helping finance my tuition. I am the first in my family to attend college and attending this program is a chance to expand my mind and bring me a step closure to making future endeavors a reality. If you wish to make help make my dream come true please contact me at email@example.com. I hope to make my dream a reality, thank you and God.
My passion is engaging people – especially women and students – to become active in civic life, and the JSA program at Princeton sounded right up my alley! I emailed Erika my congratulations, said I’d like to help, and asked for a copy of the acceptance letter, which she promptly emailed:
Congratulations, Erika, you have been ACCEPTED to the 2011 JSA Princeton Summer School! ...The Orientation Packet can ... be downloaded here. ...
This summer is a great time to be studying politics and discussing current issues with students from all over the nation and around the world. A new spirit of civic engagement is taking hold and The Junior Statesmen Summer School will prepare you to get involved as a leader and make a positive difference in society. At the end of the program, you will graduate with expertise in your area of study, sharpened leadership skills and a bunch of new best friends!
... Once accepted, many students and their families turn their attention to pulling the tuition together. [Note: Erika received a scholarship for $2,500 or 50% of the tuition.] Many students raise funds for their tuition from community sources.... These students were successful and you can be too. You can download a copy of The Junior Statesmen Foundation Fundraising Manual that has helped countless students over the years attend the program.... Don't let the tuition be a barrier to your participation....
But before I got around to sending Erika a check, the letters to the editor started:
If she is so scholastically accomplished why hasn’t she been able to get a scholarship? If she didn’t make the grade then there’s always a student loan. It’s called Sallie Mae. If her family is hard-working why don’t they have the finances for her tuition?
My parents and I worked hard for my college education. My parents didn’t attend high school; they attended trade school. My father became and airline mechanic. My mother became a beautician. She took out a loan and started her own beauty salon to help the family and to save for her children’s college education.
Unlike Ramirez, I did not have the luxury of performing volunteer community service. Every summer after the fourth grade I worked in my mother’s beauty salon, sweeping up hair. When I was 14 I worked as her receptionist. Never would my parents and I have considered taking money from "the community." That’s charity. But these days "pride" doesn’t prevent people from soliciting handouts.
— Pearl Becker
And in yesterday’s paper:
I was appalled at the request of Erika Ramirez’s letter for donations for a summer program at Princeton.
Let’s slow down here. She is already very fortunate to have immigrated here at age 5 without first picking tomatoes. She is fortunate to not be called a gold digger.
Many Americans have worked hard to get where they are only to lose their homes and jobs due to this economy.
I doubt the summer program at Princeton will amount to much.
I hope no one donates to her cause. Whenever I have money to give it goes to the veterans who have lost limbs, etc.
I get pictures of them thanking me. It breaks your heart.
It is evident that Ramirez just doesn’t get it. It is so easy for her to send an attractive picture and write about all she has accomplished and, of course, the Naples Daily News helped a lot.
It can be a long, hard road here in America. Many people have sacrificed for what she is taking for granted and yet it is not enough.
She had to take a shortcut. — Helen L. Serrao
And in today’s paper:
Editor, Daily News: Re: Erika Ramirez’s letter asking for donations to help attend a summer program at Princeton.
It was very distasteful and disgusting.
I am a single mother of four children. I have never lived on the government; I’ve always worked two or three jobs.
Recently two of my kids graduated from Lely High School; they got no help for scholarships. My daughter has a dream to go to college, but it probably is not likely because we don’t live in the system.
The only time I asked the public for help was for funeral expenses for my 3-year-old daughter in 1994.
Unlike Erika, I was really in need.
I am an American with diabetes and can’t even get health care. I live paycheck to paycheck.
Where are her parents in all this?
I see a lot of people from other countries who are more secure than us Americans.
What has happened with the world that it is OK to beg and get everything for free instead of working and earning it with pride as true Americans always have?
Donations can feed and take care of people here who are really in need.
— Diana Brown
And there were others.
As I’ve read these letters and others like them over the past weeks, I’ve been dismayed at the mean-spiritedness.
After the first letters appeared, I emailed Erika asking if she’d seen them, telling her they upset me. She responded:
I have not read these editorials quite frankly I'm not interested in these people's heartless opinions.
Good for her. She’s not going to let the mean-spiritedness of some Neapolitans get her down. (Or at least, she says she’s not.) Wish I were as strong.
I’m sending a contribution toward her tuition to the JSA Summer Program, 1600 K St. NW, Ste 803, Washington, DC 20006-2840, for the benefit of Erika Ramirez, JSA 2011 Princeton Summer School.