Sandburg Proud: Mr. Mendoza and the Semper Fi fund

Liz Kang, Entertainment Editor

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Imagine swimming for 1.2 miles, then going on a 56-mile bicycle ride and finishing off by running a half marathon. This is called a Half-Ironman Race. Just thinking about this race makes me out of breath and tired. Despite this, a light shines on a racer and US Marine Corps veteran Michael Mendoza. He is the husband of Carl Sandburg’s Spanish teacher, Kelly Mendoza. Known as the Patriot Racer, Mendoza is attempting to break the world record for most half Ironman races in a year. While on this journey, Mendoza is fundraising to help former service members and wounded soldiers with the Semper Fi Fund.

With some school spirit, the Social Studies department at Carl Sandburg decided to help Michael Mendoza’s journey by supporting Semper Fi Fund through a beard-growing contest. Mr. Mattera, a teacher from the Social Studies department, became aware of Mr. Mendoza’s attempt to accomplish this goal while fundraising for veterans. Mr. Mattera said, “Semper Fi fund was an idea because I knew Mr. Mendoza ever since teaching here for the past thirteen years, and through Facebook I learned that he was trying to break the world record for completing the most half-Ironmans in a year.”
Once Mr. Mattera discovered the fundraiser Mr. Mendoza was helping, Mr. Mattera also looked into it and its significance. He said, “I saw what they did for veterans, and they provide support for 18,000 veterans with mental and physical help for the people who need it. When you donate money to this fund, the more that I looked, over 90% of the money donated will go directly to the veterans, which is rare. In a foundation, normally only 70% is towards the cause and 30% will go towards administration: hiring people and advertising.”
To attract the students and staff at Carl Sandburg, Mr. Mattera came up with the idea of using beards to raise money. Mr. Mattera thought that the idea would be a cool way to raise awareness to the Semper Fi Fund. Mr. Mattera said, “I was in Japan over the summer with Mr. Brigham and Mr.Drzonek’s trip and I didn’t shave. I did it on purpose to stand out in Japan because they love beards there. When I came back, I kept it for the summer and I just had a beard. A friend of my wife said that, at her school, the Social Studies department holds a historical beard competition. So I stole that idea and tied it to the Semper Fi Fund.”

Many students were interested and curious about the beards. At first, no one seemed to know why the social studies teachers were growing out their beards. But soon, the word got out that they were participating in a competition to support Mr. Mendoza. A junior, Ines Martinand, said, “I thought it was cool to see the transformation.”

This fundraiser stresses the importance of veterans’ accomplishments and what they have done for this country and that was what made the support strong for this fundraiser. Mr. Mattera highlights the reason why Semper Fi Fund is so important to be recognized and participated in by students. Mr. Mattera said,“I always felt, as a school, there are many great activities going on but we could do even more for veterans to draw attention to the people that serve. I thought it would be important to do something during veterans’ week because many people are like, ‘Why are we here at school and why don’t we have the day off?’ We are here to remember and talk about veterans but we don’t actually talk about the veterans and people who have sacrificed.”

Many teachers at the Social Studies department participated in this event. While it was for a great cause, the teachers had fun becoming a person of their choice by using their beards. One of the top fundraisers were Mr. Woolley and Mr. Brigham. Mr. Woolley raised over $1,000 on his own with the help of Sandburg students and staff. Mr.Woolley grew his beard to become George Clooney. He said, “Many people have told me, ‘Mr. Woolley, you do not look like George Clooney.’ Yet I must, because I won the contest. I have hard data that I look like George Clooney.”

Overall, with the efforts of the students and staff, Sandburg was able to raise over $3,030 within one week. Although most of the money was in change, the achievement still counts and was very successful. The teachers in the social studies department cannot express the amount of support they have received from everyone at Sandburg. Mr. Woolley said, “Hundreds of students and teachers gave me money. The students and teachers of the school are so generous and humble. It is remarkable. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the students and staff.”

On the same subject, Mr. Brigham expressed his excitement from the positive responses that he received. Mr. Brigham said, “Even though it took us a while to grow our beards, it took one week to raise over $3000 which is amazing from the student body.”

Mr. Mattera also demonstrated his gratitude and the positive reactions. He said, “It is so cool to see. We are very lucky as teachers to have so many amazing students that work so hard. We have a great group of students who were so willing to give away their change. I was impressed and proud of the students.”

Whether it can be for personal reasons or the desire to participate in the Semper Fi Fund, we are reminded every day of the sacrifices that veterans have made for this country. Mr. Woolley said, “My grandfather was in World War I, my dad was in World War II, my uncles were in Korea, my cousins were in Vietnam and the first Gulf War, my cousins’ children were in the second Gulf War, one of my cousin’s children was killed in Afghanistan. I just think that it is appalling to send men and women off to fight for this country and don’t take care of them when they return. It is all about responsibilities to take care of these men and women. The amazing contribution that Mr. Mendoza and their families have made to this country it’s amazing. The risks that they have taken and for what Mr. Mendoza is doing means we should support him any way we can.”

There were various reasons why different people would participate in this. Madena Mustafa, a junior, expresses her support for this beard competition. She said, “I thought that the Semper Fi Fund is a great fundraiser to participate in because I get to help wounded veterans.”

Once again, Carl Sandburg is reminded of the strength of the student body and staff, as well as the dire need to help the people who risk their lives. Mr. Woolley said, “I am reminded of the true strength of this nation. Although we are going through some rough times, we need to remind ourselves that we are all Americans. There are things we all believe in. We have to keep that in mind and it will get us through these rough times.”

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