Upside: Inspiring volunteers everywhere

FORMER Philippines Vice President Leni Gerona Robredo was on top of my list of keynote speakers for the first of the two major events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the all-volunteer team of community educators called ALLICE.  She lives on the other side of the planet, for one.  Wasn’t the idea overly ambitious?


Where would she be in June, after trotting all over the globe to see to her daughters’ schooling while speaking at world-renowned institutions about her efforts to elevate the lives of her country’s underserved?


We – 14 of us who call ourselves Kumares & Kumpares (that’s co-parent, literally, or confidante, figuratively, if you do not speak Filipino) – always try to practice what we espouse in our mission to promote healthy relationships: diversity, equity and inclusion.  In team interaction whether verbally or otherwise and in presentations, we aim to be the change to which we aspire.


Our 14th annaul Our Family, Our Future elder care/abuse prevention event was less than half a year away when my dear classmates from 49 years ago began peppering our Viber group with chatter about a meeting with the widow-lawyer who painted the Philippines pink during her 2022 campaign for president.  Rivers of all hues of the color of love and kindness cascaded through the nation’s metropolitan areas where her supporters marched in her name before pouring out into rallies where goodwill pervaded.


“Leni,” as most of her compatriots familiarly refer to her, was not declared winner of the election but was stoked to redouble public service with the private organization she consequently formed to spark volunteerism as a way of life.  Because isn’t that intrinsic to all Filipinos?  And, more importantly to my search for a speaker, isn’t volunteerism and sharing resources to stage free education activities the soul of ALLICE?


We were elated that longtime champions Consul General in San Francisco Neil Frank Ferrer and San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa had already committed to keynote from the Philippine and U.S. perspectives.  But for our team dominated 11-3 by women serving a community where women outnumber men, representation clearly was unfulfilled.


Would the current darling of western media find our grassroots movement worthy?  Only way to know was to ask her.


Thanks to my classmates Millie Santamaria Thomeczek and Angge Pacifico, a personal invite arrived at the intimate Manila meeting with the founder of Angat Pinas, or Lift Philippine Lives.  Faithful Maryknollers, Thomeczek is a retired PH Ambassador to Berlin and Pacifico is fiercely devoted to her homeland despite living and leading organizations for peace in her homebase Zurich. Advocacy is a hallmark of our alma mater which strives to “build a culture of peace, upholding gender equality, and helping save the environment through our advocacy centers whose programs are integrated in curricular and co-curricular activities.”


Thomeczek, 2023 Chair of the Maryknoll/Miriam College Alumni Association, wrote Jaycee Belmonte, Angat Pinas Partnerships & Linkages Manager, to introduce a fellow Communication Arts major without mentioning our request, deferring to me to make the pitch for a video message.


We sent the link to our website, followed by newsclips from previous events, my self-introduction and detailed summary of who we are and why this year is especially significant as it would be our first in-person get-together since October 2019, and our 20th anniversary.


Soon we were emailing talking points, timeline and tech specs.


In late April we released the beautiful flyer our founding president Bettina Santos Yap designed, little expecting that before the end of May we would receive the coveted video message filmed to match our spring floral motif reflecting enlightenment and renewal.


“Will Leni Robredo be at your event,” was a recurring question from excited folks who picked up the flyer at Bay Area community fairs prior to the event.


Surely the 150 people who attended our 14th annual “Our Family, Our Future” co-presented by Philippine News Today, Positively Filipino, San Mateo BHRS and the City of South San Francisco had various reasons for being at the SSF Municipal Services Building that sunny June 17 afternoon.


Supervisor Canepa fired them up with a call to action against anti-Asian hate and San Mateo County Behavioral Healthy & Recovery Services Director Jei Africa unlocked safety tips for people experiencing and witnessing hate attacks.  Peninsula Family Service Filipino Peer Counseling coordinator Tessie Madrinan listed simple ways to empower older adults.  Aurea Cruz, Conrad Domingo, Cynthia Bonta, Perla Ibarrientos, Peter and Estrelle Chan proved aging is “grand.” Food flowed from Lucky Chances, Moonstar, FilAm Cuisine 2, and Fort McKinley, raffle prizes teemed.  Everyone received a backpack from PFS and the “A-List” resource guide sponsored by the Town of Colma.


The positive tone was set by the Angat Pinas founder who harked back to our ancestral values, our sacred duty to care for family especially our elders, our gratitude for their sacrifice in their prime.


With us Kumares & Kumpares and particularly the 25 resource providers addressing questions about their programs, Leni Robredo’s words  (see Philippine News June 22, 2023 issue) resonated, affirmed her as the ideal representation of the Filipina, yes, and the Filipino too – resilient but resolute, caring and courageous.



(Philippine News Today Executive Editor Cherie Querol Moreno is founder and executive director of ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment.)