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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 7, 2006

Ex-teacher top volunteer

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

Basilio Fuertes

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Basilio Fuertes, who has helped disaffected students at Waimea High School on Kaua'i turn their lives around, will represent Hawai'i volunteers at the annual Jefferson Award for Public Service in Washington, D.C.

Fuertes was selected from five Hawai'i Jefferson Award recipients for his community work in helping alienated students carve out a farm on a school campus.

The Jefferson Awards for Public Service honor ordinary people who do extraordinary things for the community without usual recognition or reward. The Jefferson Awards are sponsored by The Honolulu Advertiser and KGMB-9, the first television partner in the state. The recipients were recognized at a luncheon ceremony Wednesday at the Pacific Club. Fuertes will join an estimated 200 other volunteers selected from around the country at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in June.

At the national level, five winners will be chosen for their volunteerism.

The other four recipients in Hawai'i are: Fred Blas of the Big Island, who saw a drug dealers haven and turned it into a community park; Nickie Hines, who runs the Kokua Food Basket in Waimanalo; The Rev. Bob Nakata, who has become a vocal homeless advocate; and Jack Sullivan, whose passion for soccer has helped scores of children over the past 30 years.

Fuertes, a retired teacher, just can't get enough of Waimea High School. It was his work with young people in the school's program for alienated students that was especially inspiring. Through his tireless efforts, Fuertes showed the students how to turn their anger and resentment into a field of vegetables and flowering plants on vacant land at the West Kaua'i campus.

"I was really surprised," Fuertes said yesterday. "I was thinking there were others who were better candidates, but I guess because of my work with youth and agriculture, they chose me."

Volunteering comes naturally to Fuertes, who watched his father spread his kokua to friends in need, he said.

Fuertes' work with the students encouraged many to graduate from high school. Some went on to enlist in the military, others found jobs at nearby seed companies and the younger students were able to return to regular class schedules.

"Everyone has their different lives, but they should try to contribute something, even little things," Fuertes said. "It makes you feel good when you help others and they are happy.

"Somehow you get closer to a lot of different people that you wouldn't meet otherwise."

The Jefferson awards were created 34 years ago by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sen. Robert Taft Jr. and Sam Beard. The award represents the "who's who" of outstanding Americans.

The winners were nominated by friends, neighbors, family or colleagues for their outstanding work for the good of others.

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.