Monday, October 26, 2020

Los Altos Rotary’s Unstopable Passion and Compassion For the Veterans at Foothill College

Past president of Los Altos Rotary David Smith and current president Frank Verlot – with accordion player Mike Zampiceni

By Lina Broydo

“It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” – Stephen Hawking

Nobody knows how to party for a good cause better than Los Altos Rotarians. An evening of fun, fabulous food and excellent wines were on the menu at the recent (March 9) Cioppino Feed enjoyed by 110 attendees including a number of distinguished guests, past graduates of this program as well as 12 Veterans who are currently studying at Foothill College. Did I mention the most amazing live auction of the Danube River Cruise for 2; A week at Club Med Resort in Mexico; 2-nights stay in Honolulu and much more?

Serving Cioppino has become a pinnacle dish during the crab season and the Rotarian Master Chefs did not disappoint. They keep the cioppino treasured recipe a secret by serving it only as a special treat for this annual event. Originally created in 1880s in San Francisco and prepared on the boats while the fishermen were at sea, cioppino was built on flavors of tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, red or white wine and, of course, fresh fish (crabs, clams, mussels, squid, and white fish.) Everyone’s recipe reflects certain differences because cioppino is a happily versatile dish. “You can not sell passion, you can taste it.”

Ron Labetich; Thuy Thi Nguyen; Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian; Marty Manoukian; Michael Manoukian

A warm and enthusiastic greeting by Thuy Thi Nguyen, President of Foothill College inaugurated the evening’s activities after the singing of the National Anthem: “Thank you Los Altos Rotary for helping Foothill College be a ‘home of the brave’ for our student veterans.  They are brave, not only for their service to our country, but also for their courage to go to school after service and make a new life for themselves and their families. And I honor you and thank you.”

“It was a festive gathering to salute and raise funds in support of the U.S. Veterans studying at Foothill College, the Veteran Resource Center, the Book Vouchers and the Captain Matthew P. Manoukian Memorial Scholarship Fund” said Ron Labetich, the Cioppino event’s chairman.’’

U.S. Marine Captain Matthew Manoukian (1983-2012) resident of Los Altos Hills, CA was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. “His heroic service to our country and his sacrifice will live forever in the hearts of all who cherish freedom” said Frank Verlot, the Los Altos Rotary Club’s President.

A special memorial scholarship in honor of Capt. Matthew Manoukian, has been established by Los Altos Rotary Club to provide financial assistance to benefit student-veterans who are pursuing college degrees while they successfully integrate into community life after their brave service to our country.

The Rotary Club’s Veterans Support Committee provides mentoring, offers guidance for veterans’ benefits and legal issues as well as sets up a monthly presentation by the Silicon Valley’s professionals who share their expertise and offer guidance in the veterans’ quest and search for appropriate jobs upon their graduation.

Veteran Students preparing the cioppino dinner

I spoke to Justin Menchaca, McNair Scholar and Public Health Undergrad who was among the student guests of the Rotary’s Cioppino dinner. He stressed the importance of Veterans finding a Rotarian mentor. “I was very lucky to meet Rotarian, Tracie Murray. She heard that I was pursuing a degree in Healthcare Administration, and approached me. We talked about my dreams, goals, and struggles with school, military, and career. We exchanged information, and she offered to allow me to shadow her at her workplace for a day. I took her up on her offer, and since then it has been a remarkable experience. Not only I am certain that I want to pursue a career in Healthcare, but I am also confident that I want to be able to manage and lead my team and facility like Tracie does hers. Besides the career insight, Tracie has also bestowed me with life leadership and personal knowledge.  I currently volunteer at her facility, where I help with anything they might need as well as learning more about being an administrator. Besides allowing me to see how she works first hand, Tracie has written a recommendation letter on my behalf to get accepted into the McNair Scholar program at San Jose State University. She is the true definition of a mentor and friend. And I can only hope that every Veteran at Foothill can one day find themselves a person like her. I transferred last year from Foothill Community College and now attend San Jose State University. While at Foothill I utilized the Veteran Resource Center daily, received a Rotary book vouchers and won one of the Friends of American Veteran Scholarship award that honors the late Capt. Matthew Manoukian. I am projected to graduate from San Jose State University next spring with a major in Public Health and a minor in Public Administration and Policy.

Concurrent to school, I am also a Technical Sergeant in the Air Force Reserves. I am stationed at Travis Air Force Base, where I am a Loadmaster on the C5 airframe. Previously, I have been stationed at Kadena Air Base, Japan, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming and Tallil Air Base, Iraq.

Los Altos Mayor Jean Murdo and wife Barbara Murdo

As tributes poured in I communicated with David Granfard, also a graduate of Foothill College. “I was an Army special operator and intelligence Linguist and spent 18 months in Afghanistan. I finished my education at Foothill and then went on to Grad school in San Francisco where I got my MS/MBA and finished last year in May. I have been working at a Pivotal Software company for the past 2 years as Technical Talent Acquisition and Veteran Ambassador.” I am happy to report that thanks to David Granfard, the Pivotal Software company has donated funds to the Foothill College Veterans Program

A festive evening came to a conclusion by emotional and inspirational remarks by Michael Manoukian, Captain Matthew Manoukian younger brother. “It is a true privilege to have been asked to share a few words at this event Five and half years ago on August 9, 2012 – a crisp night with an almost-full moon – our family was visited by several members of the United States military who informed us that one of the five pillars of our family, Captain Matthew Manoukian, had been killed in action while selflessly serving his country in Afghanistan. As you can imagine, our family was shaken at its core. For me personally, Matt served many, many roles. He was my older brother, my confidant, my sounding board, my biggest source of inspiration, one of my biggest fans, and my hero. With his death, in one moment, I lost so many things.

Rotary’s Cioppino Master Chefs: David Luedtke, Lee Lera, Steve Bianchi, Jerry Moison

Shortly after Matthew was killed, a dear friend of mine who is a retired Captain of the United States Marine Corps called me to offer his love, support, and condolences. After we shared some words…and some tears, my friend told me…”just wait, Mike, greatness will come out of this tragedy.” Being the cynic I am, I responded, “we’ll see, buddy.”

In the five and half years since Matthew’s death, we have been visited by literally countless members of the United States Military; mostly Marines that Matthew served with, and individuals that considered Matt to be not just a phenomenal commanding officer, but a leader, and a friend. One of the common pieces of information these individuals have shared with our family is that Matt always stressed to them the importance of education, and how finishing one’s education, and obtaining a college degree would open limitless doors and provide an individual with opportunities to better serve the world.

Now here we are, five and half years later, and I can say, that thanks to you all, I am a believer – greatness has come out of Matthew’s death. This scholarship has provided tremendous opportunities already to several Veterans, and it will continue to open doors for these individuals.