Our Voice: Still plenty of room to grow in land of opportunity

Growing citizens

From time to time, a story reminds us that being an American is like winning the lottery. Life is good here.

A pair of Columbia Basin College students are inspiring not only because they help prevent us from taking our good fortune for granted but also by showing us what Americans can achieve through hard work.

Amjad al-Sharkarji, a 19-year-old immigrant from Syria, and Schwe Zin, an 18-year-old Southridge High School senior in the Running Start program, were recently selected as CBC's All-USA Academic All Stars for the 2013-14 school year.

Schwe, whose family fled political oppression in Burma, wants to become a pediatrician. Amjad wants to become an electrical engineer. Those who are familiar with the teens are confident they will reach their goals.

"The sky's the limit," said Terry Marie Fleischman, adviser to the Phi Theta Kappa honor society's CBC chapter and an adjunct faculty member.

But if their families hadn't reached America, the future surely wouldn't look as bright.

Schwe's family came to the U.S. in 2005 from Thailand, where they had been living in a refugee camp. They fled their homeland of Burma because Schwe's father was involved in a student anti-government group.

"It's crazy to think I'm going to be a doctor," Schwe said. "I grew up in a hut. I played in the dirt."

Amjad's father, an Iraqi, fled his home country for Syria in the late '80s and started his family there. The Syrian government wouldn't recognize his dad's engineering degree or grant him or his children citizenship. That prompted the family to seek political asylum in the U.S. in 2000.

It's hard to imagine what life in Syria might be like for Amjad if his family hadn't managed to escape. Syria's civil war has turned the country into a hellscape in the last few years. The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by the conflict.

We're a nation of immigrants who came to the United States in search of a better life, and so many of our ancestors found it. We're grateful to live in a country where that story can still be written.

Schwe's take on the land of opportunity strikes us as a quintessentially American point of view. "If there's something you want, there's a way to get it," she said.

Growing community

One way our forefathers succeeded in a new land was by pulling together. We're happy to see that spirit thriving in Pasco, where volunteers are ready to help build the city's first public community garden.

Several community groups have volunteered to help build the project in east Pasco's Kurtzman Park. Vendors have offered to provide materials.

Lowe's Home Improvement has pledged to make the garden one of its community action projects, where its employees work on the site. Volunteers with the Washington State University Extension's Benton-Franklin Master Gardeners Program are expected to provide guidance, a $500 grant for materials and seeds for planting.

But the real effort will come from Pasco residents who spend their summer tending the garden. They'll gain more than fresh, healthy foods for their tables. They'll gain a sense of community by rubbing elbows with neighbors pursuing a common goal.

We're thankful for opportunities to nourish body and soul.

Room to grow

Unfortunately, community gardens can't meet the nutritional needs of every family in the Mid-Columbia that needs help getting enough food to eat. But our community isn't retreating from the fight to end hunger.

Sen. Jana Holmquist-Newbry, R-Moses Lake, joined Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, and Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, recently in Pasco for a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate construction of a new 26,000-square-foot warehouse for Second Harvest, an Inland Northwest hunger relief network.

Jean Tucker, development manager for Second Harvest, said the new warehouse, paid for by a $3 million state grant, will allow the network to increase distribution to food banks from 5.5 million pounds annually to 9 million pounds annually by 2018.

Alleviating hunger is a worthy use of tax dollars. The new warehouse will help. But filling the warehouse depends on your contributions.