June 9, 2003

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, Andrea Mosely.

"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 for me."

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.

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