(A Tribute to Daniel Hernandez, Jr. and the Upward Bound Program)


We can find heroes in every walk of life, every group, and every geographic location.  But a hero, by its very nature, tends to be “unsung” or at the least camera shy.

Typically we think of a hero as one who performs a risky job or selfless act.

No one sets out to “be a hero today” when the morning alarm clock rings…. It is situational and spur of the moment.  On the continuum of heroes, you might have saving a cat caught in a tree at one end… and at the opposite end, a rescue worker in the Twin Towers of New York City. Heroes, according to my definition, are heroes because of unforeseen circumstances, thrust into situations that created “extraordinary heroic acts.”   Although I have much admiration and respect for police and firefighters, heroic acts comes with the job and becomes their calling.

When it comes to crime, the true measure of a hero may be anyone who responds to a grave risk, saves others in the commission of a crime and survives… or ultimately does not survive.  Who immediately comes to your mind? Could it be a member of the military in a war torn country or a police officer in an inner city neighborhood?  I say “no” on both counts.

My new favorite hero is a most unlikely hero.  His name is Daniel Hernandez, Jr., a political intern for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  Just five short days earlier he had begun his assignment to assist Gabby.


This junior at the University of Arizona acted quickly and remained collected under a barrage of bullets!  Why is this feat so remarkable?

1)    He acted without hesitation.

2)    He used triage methods commonly enforced in emergency situations to quickly assess who needed help most.

3) Using his hand, he applied pressure to the entry wound on her forehead, pulling her into his lap and holding her upright so she wouldn’t choke on her own blood.

4) He used a clean smock from Safeway’s meat department on the entrance wound, unaware that there was an exit wound.

5) He never left her during the ordeal…

Daniel waited at the hospital while she was undergoing surgery.  He reportedly heard on National Public Radio and comments from others that Gabby had died.  Later, he learned she was alive in body and in spirit…

Arizona State Representative, Matt Heinz, who is also a physician, told the Arizona Republic newspaper, “The fact that Hernandez was nearby and was able to react quickly probably saved Giffords life.”


Daniel’s comments included: “Of course you’re afraid. You just have to stay calm and collected.  You do no good to anyone if you have a breakdown….  It was probably not a good idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help.”


The impetus for such a selfless act, for such character, caring and strength may, at least in part, be attributed to Mr. Hernandez’ days as an Upward Bound student in Tucson.

A Little History…


Upward Bound, the oldest of a series of programs known as Trio, was created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”.  Specific legislation for the program was initially authorized under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and later moved to be included under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.  This legislation which authorized the TRIO programs sought to provide educational opportunity for all Americans regardless of race, ethnic background or economic circumstance.

Currently, there are approximately 950 to 1,000 Upward Bound Programs in the United States, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.  A pilot program began in 18 colleges and universities throughout the country in the summer of 1965.

Upward Bound provides fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance. The program provides opportunities for participants to succeed in their pre-college performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. Upward Bound serves high school students from low-income families; and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a college degree. The goal of Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education.

Types of Projects

Upward Bound projects provide academic instruction in mathematics, laboratory sciences, composition, literature, and foreign languages. Tutoring, counseling, mentoring, cultural enrichment, work-study programs, education or counseling services designed to improve the financial and economic literacy of students;  Non traditional and underserved populations such as students with limited English proficiency, students with disabilities, students who are homeless children and youths, students from migrant families and those in foster care are but a few examples.

Quick Fact:
Students in the Upward Bound program are 4 times more likely to earn an undergraduate degree than students from similar backgrounds that did not have Upward Bound’s support and resources.


This writer had the pleasure and wonderful opportunity to participate in the Upward Bound Summer Residential Program beginning in July 2009 in the San Diego- Imperial Valley area as a motivational speaker…  From that point on, a love affair began and has continued to this day…. as a fan, friend, volunteer writer, fundraiser and creative donor.

Although I was to travel 3,000 miles from Connecticut, as well as create and carry out a multi-modality presentation, any inconvenience was far overshadowed by the rewards I received.  This writer spent five months in intensive preparation creating visual display boards, props, bilingual music, illustrations and handout packets chronicling my personal, professional and educational experiences.

I used my own brand of “Keys to Success” and demographic data comparing the states of California and Connecticut.  Topics included personal experiences relating to education and job discrimination, personal tragedies and challenges overcome, the power of positive thought   and discussion of several minority affiliations and tolerance issues with which this blogger is intimately familiar.

This was a summer “boot camp” of sorts where I got to re-live the dormitory experience again for a few days with staff and the students.

It was my friend, Rosalie Lopez; Upward Bound Program Director at Imperial Valley College, whom I met by chance on a cruise vacation that afforded me this great opportunity! Dedicated counselor- teacher extraordinaire, anticipator of students’ needs, problem solver, substitute mother, master coordinator and van driver… all rolled into one.  She was, and is, among the best of the best…

As a guest speaker, I was treated with respect, kindness and personal attention.  I have no doubt that other speakers following me were treated in the same manner.

I was also touched that Imperial Valley staff members willingly shared their personal stories with me regarding how they achieved self-respect and hard fought academic success in spite of their struggle as migrant farm families.

With regard to the Upward Bound Program itself, I will forever sing its praises.  The experience created such a positive impact on me!

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it takes a very holistic approach, versus solely academic drill.

In my professional life, I have worked with many similar populations and strongly feel that experiential learning “beyond academics” is just as vital to success.  Their emphasis on ending the cycle of poverty;  academic focus on mathematics, science and language proficiency; promotion of self-esteem; the introduction of independent living and survival skills; social etiquette, adequate nutrition, exposure to cultural and recreational activities and timely career trends via use of a variety of guest speakers tied everything together quite nicely!

Personally the experience paid off in ways I can’t quite describe. Although my efforts might not have reached every single student, I feel confident that I gave them a lot of information in an hour, and they, in turn, participated and provided feedback that was often quite compelling and very touching.  I am so proud of that!

Speaking of Teaching Moments….

1) It really struck me one morning while standing in front of the dorm bathroom mirror one sunny morning.  It was yet another difference between them and I that brought it down to basics. …  Although I was to stay but a few days, I typically brought approximately a dozen personal hygiene products for use, neatly lined up on the shelf. (And I don’t even wear makeup except lipstick!)  I casually looked over to the shelf where two student interns were sharing space.  There was only two items on their shelf!   I always remember that moment!)

2) One morning during camp, my new friend Rosie and I were having breakfast in the cafeteria at UCSD. A situation arose in which a particular student’s family requested help.  The family in question was unable to fund an upcoming recreational activity.  Given the constraints of the program, all allowable monies had been offered.  Ms. Lopez called the Student Council President (whose name I believe, was Eric) over to the table and presented the problem.  She suggested that the Council might possibly do some fundraising by asking others to contribute 50 cents or a dollar so that the student could attend.

Council President Eric looked directly at me and said, “Perhaps the guest speakers can get involved.” I smiled to myself and applauded the student’s business acumen.  I enthusiastically offered to assist and remarked to Ms. Lopez that he was indeed shrewd, thus the reason for his position.

Ultimately, I was happy to cover the fee and a bit extra.  However, I recommended that we not divulge such information in order that they continue the good practice of fundraising, as new needs were bound to arise.


Imperial Valley and the New York Times

Friday, June 18, 2010

Imperial County, California: Unemployment Epicenter

The Wall Street Journal reports that California’s Imperial County has the nation’s highest unemployment rate.

Cities here in Imperial County, a vast swath of desert wedged against the borders of Arizona and Mexico, are stuck in a deep malaise. A few years ago, California’s housing boom promised to transform the largely agricultural region. But now, the county’s unemployment rate is 28%, making Imperial the metropolitan

area with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Food banks are overwhelmed. Families splinter as members leave to find work in San Diego or Los Angeles, more than 100 miles away.

“It’s just bad and doesn’t seem to be getting better,” said Guadelupe L. Ponce, a community-services director for Campesinos Unidos, a social-services agency in Brawley, a farm town not far from the U.S.-Mexico border. “Sometimes I have sleepless nights thinking about it.”

The Census Bureau reports the following statistics for Imperial County, which is located in California’s southeast corner, bordering San Diego and Riverside counties, Arizona, and Mexico.

Population, percent change, April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2009: 17.2%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, percent, 2008: 76.8%
Foreign born persons, percent, 2000: 32.2%

The WSJ indicates that until the housing bubble, the region was chronically depressed, but once the free money started flowing in, it boomed. Now that lending standards have tightened and the world

has gone into the diversity depression, Imperial is headed back to its normal state, that of being an outpost of Mexico.

This writer witnessed first hand how these students can successfully broaden their horizons, be a contributor to society and to their future destiny ….and break the cycle of poverty.

Postscript from the Past

In 1968, Dr, Thomas A. Billings of Western Washington University, National Director of the Upward Bound and Community Action Program in the Office of Economic Opportunity, stated his philosophy of Upward Bound as follows:

“…Upward Bound is not, and should not become a national conveyor belt mindlessly processing youngsters for the nation’s workforce as if they were so many carrots to be canned, so many units to be programmed.


Hopefully, our programs will assist youngsters to be competent and effective participants in the American social and economic order.  Beyond that, we should assist Upward Bound youngsters to bec

ome sensitive human beings, free, informed and committed to the human struggle for excellence.”


Daniel Hernandez, Jr, My Hero, Survivors of Crime’s Hero, Society’s Hero,   El Valiente…….. and definitely so much more than canned carrots!

Anyone interested in making a student donation to the Upward Bound program in Imperial Valley, California, (or elsewhere) Contact:rosalie.lopez@imperial.edu.


  1. Nice The Census Bureau reports the following statistics for Imperial County, which is located in California’s southeast corner, bordering San Diego and Riverside counties, Arizona, and Mexico. In which The WSJ indicates that until the housing bubble, the region was chronically depressed, but once the free money started flowing in, it boomed. Now that lending standards have tightened and the world has gone into the diversity depression, Imperial is headed back to its normal state, that of being an outpost of Mexico. Thanks a lot for posting.

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