THURSDAY (6-12) IS SUNOL GLEN'S COMMENCEMENT
and next week I'll fill you in on all the details. Each and
every one of the 15 graduating eighth graders is an important
and praise-worthy person, but today I'd like to share a story
about two of them.
Katie Surles came to Sunol Glen in the fall via Oakland, Alameda,
Hayward, Sunol, Livermore and finally back to Sunol to stay
- an itinerary that reflects the instability Katie has experienced
for most of her 15 years. Sarae Van Dyke lives with her family
at their beautiful Sunol ranch and has attended Sunol Glen since
first grade, and has by any standards a stable and comfortable
life. The two girls couldn't come from more different backgrounds,
and yet, within a few days of meeting, they began growing a
friendship that is likely to last a lifetime.
The space it would take to catalog the difficulties Katie has
overcome would leave no room to celebrate her and the generous
people who have helped her. Suffice it to say she left her drug-addicted
mother at age 12 and became the legal ward of her loving aunt,
"My aunt has always been there for me," Katie said.
"Since birth I've always been her little buddy." Andrea
and her ex-husband, Al, were active in Katie's life from day
one. "Al is like a dad to me," Katie said. Though
divorced from Andrea five years ago, Al continues to be a positive
part of Katie's life. Katie's mother left her father when Katie
was two; he moved to Texas and there was no contact for the
next five years. Though Katie speaks to him occasionally now,
they aren't close.
Andrea has two children, Chloe, 5, and Ava, 21 months, and
still always made room for Katie. Aunt and niece share a love
of horses, which brought them to Sunol. Rhonda Ivaldi, a Sunolian
Katie had worked for at summer camp and a fellow equestrian,
welcomed not only Andrea and the kids, but also her horse, Buck,
who is now Katie's.
After Katie and Sarae met and began riding at the Van Dyke's
ranch almost every day, Buck took up residence there. Andrea
and the girls moved to Livermore for six months, and Katie commuted
to Sunol Glen with lots of help from Sarae's mom, Guin. All
were relieved when they moved back to Sunol and into a lovely
house on Kilkare Road.
Sarae and Katie are inseparable. They don't ride as much as
they used to - schoolwork has taken precedence. They enjoyed
Sunol 4-H together this year, and take a weekly Gymkhana class
at Michele Ulrich's Horseworks on Alpha Lane in Sunol. Andrea
and Katie both work there as well. "There are competitions
once a month," Sarae said, "but we don't compete against
each other - we compete with each other." Guin says the
girls pretty much take turns winning first place ribbons.
Guin takes her commitment to Katie seriously. "I want
to be a constant in her life," she said. "I love her
and I'm seeing her learning that the world is at her fingers
tips and there are actually people in it who care - and care
for her!" Guin and her husband, Korbin treat Katie like
a member of the family. Guin has even arranged for Katie to
receive needed orthodontic care from Dr. Thomas Marcel of Livermore,
and jaw surgery Dr. John Dann of Lafayette. The two caring docs
are helping Katie pro bono.
Katie takes none of this for granted, and expresses her gratitude
enthusiastically. "I call my Aunt Andrea 'Momtie,' 'cause
she's like a mother to me, and I call Guin 'Guintie," 'cause
she's like an aunt," Katie explained. "Guin is so
cool and wonderful. She came into my life and has done so much
Katie watches Sarae squabble with her brother Treg, 19, and
tells her she's a lucky girl to have a brother to fight with.
Katie has a brother, 8, and sister, 2, who still live with their
mother, and an older brother, 24, whom she hasn't seen in a
while. "I miss them every day," she said.
Sarae and Katie recognize their friendship is something special.
They finish each other's sentences and often speak in unison.
Both will attend Foothill High School in the fall, and Katie
recently found out she's going to be even busier than your average
freshman - she was selected from many applicants to serve as
Foothill's 9th grade class secretary.
Andrea and Guin couldn't be more proud. And they deserve quite
a few pats on the back themselves for giving time and love to
make a difference in a youngster's life.