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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | August 2009 

A Weekend of Feeling Like a Million Dollars
email this pageprint this pageemail usPolly G. Vicars - PVNN
August 20, 2009

Bernice Starr With Friend

Buri Gray and me, fresh and ready for the day!

Buri and Martita Hard at work

President Mariel de Fregoso setting up the files

Linda Azcarate & Carl Johnson getting the checks ready

Linda Wirth arranging the myriad of papers

Sergio Valle, who helps at every Becas event

Secretary Sylvia Sorenson handing over the lists for the meetings

Richard Bendix, Elinor Prawer, Pat Bendix, Linda Azcarate flanked by Carlos Fregoso and Husband

Mariel orchestrates while the students sign in

Mama & Papas, sisters & brothers wait patiently on Los Mangos Porch for the scholarship students to finish

AMF President Carlos Fregoso taking a break with Husband, AKA Hubert Vicars

Junior High students filling out their vouchers

The Future of Puerto Vallarta - hard at work

Ana Caty, Richard and Hector giving out the school supplies
Puerto Vallarta's first junior high school, Escuela Secundaria Tecnica #3 Eti, opened in 1960, with excitement and celebration. Previously, Vallarta children financially able to continue their educations past the mandated 6th grade had to move to Guadalajara or Tepic, leaving behind the children from average and poor households.

Among the celebrants on the day that La Eti opened was Bernice Starr, a Californian who had moved to Puerto Vallarta for a more tranquil life, but after the excitement of the school opening was quelled she noticed that almost none of the children around her had enrolled.

Her discreet inquiries found that the cost of buying the obligatory uniforms, school books (not furnished by the government then) and school supplies made it impossible for most children to attend even this local junior high school.

Bernice immediately rounded up several of the neighbor ladies, Mexican and American, and proceeded to raise funds so that some of those children could go to school. From that small beginning the America-Mexico Foundation, Inc. (Becas Vallarta, A.C.) emerged. To date, thousands of bright Puerto Vallarta young people of scarce economic resources have been afforded the opportunity to not only finish junior high, but high school and university.

This school year there are more than 300 scholarship students, 8th grade through university, reaping the rewards of Bernice’s tireless work, now continued by a small group of caring Mexicans, Americans and Canadians with the generous participation of the artistic and business communities of Puerto Vallarta and several other Mexican cities.

Bernice would have been ecstatic this past Saturday and Sunday when the all volunteer cadre of Becas Vallarta members met with more than 300 bright young Vallartenses in the “Bernice Starr Salon” at our fabulous Los Mangos Library. (Not incidentally, Bernice was the driving force behind Vallarta finally getting a full-fledged public library, designed pro bono by former becado, Cachi Pérez.)

120 high school and 76 university students were scheduled to come to Los Mangos on Saturday bringing any problems they were having as well as copies of their grades, tuition receipts and voting credentials (theirs or one of their parents.) In return they would receive their semester stipends: high school students - $2750 pesos and university - $3500 pesos.

Buri Gray and Mariel de Fregoso maintain each student's folder, which holds copies of birth certificates, original applications for a scholarship with pertinent family information, grades since becoming a becado and records of any health or personal problem they may have brought to the attention of Becas Vallarta.

The young people know that they can telephone Buri or Mariel with any subsequent problems - and often do. These dedicated women devote an inordinate amount of time working to be sure that each becado has the very best chance of succeeding and a special bond forms between student and mentor.

I have had the privilege of helping both Buri and Mariel at these meetings and have witnessed the besos, abrazos and the almost euphoric smiles exchanged. My heart swells, my tears well up and I know that I am the luckiest person in the world to be able to witness and help these two Mexican women of great status who unselfishly, graciously and sincerely strive to see that these incredible young people get the educations they desire and deserve.

Because President Mariel was to attend her grandson's baptism on Saturday, she asked if I could take over for her with the high school students. Not blessed with a mathematical mind and with Southern accented Spanish, I, in turn, asked member Linda Azcarate, who is totally bi-lingual, and member Carl Johnson, our Treasurer-in Training, to assist. I previously had helped Buri with the university kids, so she called on her close friend, originally from Chile, Martita Vial and member Linda Wirth, who can do anything (and always does) to help her.

Because of a new regulation, we could not give the students cash, as had been the case, but had to write out individual checks to each student, which was an event in itself. On Friday, our Treasurer, Cuquita Preciada, came to our condo to bring me the checks, which she and Mariel had signed for hours the night before.

As she tried to explain to me how to write the checks, the receipts, etc. I called a ‘time out’ and telephoned Carl to come to help. He has only been a Becas member since they moved from Chicago to Puerto Vallarta about 8 months ago, but has already become an indispensable member with many talents and so far, has never turned down one of my frequent cries for help.

After sufficient instruction from Cuca, Carl sat down to write the almost 200 checks, sans the student’s name, we would need the next day. Each had to be placed "just so" over carbon paper to record the transaction and of course, had to be legible, which eliminated both Husband and me as check writers. Hours later, Carl left promising to pick me up Saturday morning at 8:45 to go to Los Mangos and prepare to receive the young people.

Saturday morning found at the library Buri, Martita, Linda Wirth, Linda Azcarate, Carl and me, joined by loyal supporter Sergio Valle, who always helps set up and brings the cooler with ice, water and soft drinks as well as runs any errands needed. We soon had the Bernice Starr Salon’s air conditioner running, the tables and chairs set up and asked the students to come in to the cool.

It was slow going at first as we got our routines down. I first talked with each student and signed them in from a list previously prepared by our incredibly efficient and lovely secretary Sylvia Sorenson.

I checked to be sure they had the required papers, then sent them on to Linda who gave them paper work to sign, a half-sheet of paper with a large number to identify them for the photos we were taking of each student. She sent them on to Carl, who wrote in their names and had them fill out a receipt that they had received their money. The same routine was happening in the other side of the Salon with Buri signing in, Martita handling the paper work and Linda the checks and receipts.

Member Kai Doyle arrived to help with the picture taking, which Linda Wirth and I had been sandwiching in between other duties. What a day. Buri said it best, “Meeting with the students and parents make it all worthwhile. What an incredible group of good people. In spite of the heat and the waiting period, they all radiated good energy, patience, enthusiasm, all very appreciative. We saw many high scores - 9 to 10. Wish we could help more of them.”

Sunday was an entirely different kind of day with 109 junior high school students expected. Linda Azcarate, Pat Bendix and Blanca Ortiz share the junior high responsibilities, each working with 4 or more schools.

At 9:00 am, President Mariel, her husband Carlos Fregoso, her beautiful mother Carla, Ana Caty Fenyvessi, Linda Wirth, Pat Bendix, Richard Bendix, Eleanor Prawer, Husband and I began setting up the Salon for this day. We needed tables on the grand porch of the library for the school supplies former becado, teacher and businessman Hector Ulloa would bring, and tables where each of the junior high students would sign in and receive their book of vouchers and their numbered sheet for their photos.

The families of these scholarship students are so proud of their becados that many times Mama, Papa, sister, brother and maybe even aunt and uncle accompany the young person to the meetings. Of course there is only enough room for the students, so these proud families sit on the porch or under the trees and wait patiently until the meeting is over. It is a beautiful sight and I always try to talk to the parents and get a few pictures. For me it is a humbling experience and a lesson in living that re-enforces our decision to spend our retirement years (so far, 21 of them) in this beautiful environment.

Sunday morning was divided into two sessions, with half the schools coming at 10 am and the other half at 11 am. After the students signed in they went into the air conditioned Salon (Hallelujah!) where they were grouped by schools.

President Mariel explained the program (about half were new scholarship students) and went through their vouchers with them to be sure they had one voucher for each item, uniform, gym clothes, school and tennis shoes.

The students filled in each voucher with their name and school and then listened attentively as she explained the use of them. We have a payment arrangement with Lans Department Store, a long time supporter of Becas Vallarta, that eliminates the need for the youngster to handle money.

Earlier in the year the students had chosen their items and put them in lay-away. Now, Mariel told them, they could go pick up their things by presenting the vouchers. She explained that later Lans will present the vouchers to us and we can pay them in one check. She also told them that we have the same payment arrangement with the schools that sell their own uniforms and gym clothes.

With that process thoroughly understood, she sent them in groups out to the porch where Hector had the more than 100 bags of school supplies: notebooks, pencils, pens, paper, erasers, sharpeners, dictionaries and calculators for the students to pick up and take home.

This is always a happy time as Hector and Richard Bendix and Ana Caty take their vouchers and hand over the goods. The kids have everything they need for the school year, the parents are relieved of a huge financial burden and the members have that feeling of a job well done! Who could ask for more?

The entire process was repeated at 11 am with the same happy results. I could never say enough about Mariel and Carlos Fregoso who have busy lives with children, grandchildren and a host of friends, but who give so much of their time to see that these bright young Vallartenses with so much potential and so little economic resources have the chance they so richly deserve to get a quality education. They, like I, fervently believe that by giving these young people this small hand up great things will happen. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and the world will be better places when they take their places as professionals and leaders in this beautiful city and country.

You can be a part of this grand endeavor in many ways:

• You can join our foundation that has no paid employees, no office or office equipment, but does magnificent work by an all volunteer force.

• You can make a tax deductible (either in the US or Mexico) donation: $160 US for a junior high scholarship, $550 US for a senior high scholarship and $700 US for a university scholarship.

• You can become a Compadre or a Comadre with a donation of $5000 US or more.

• You can come to our monthly breakfasts that will begin Wednesday, November 18, 9:30 am at La Palapa Restaurant.

• You can donate raffle and auction prizes from your business.

• You can help us plan and facilitate other fund raising projects.

• You can be sure to say, “ˇSí al redondeo!” (Yes, I want to round up!) when you shop at OXXO.
Click HERE for more information.

Call me at (322) 223-1371 or email me at phvicars(at) and let’s get together. I guarantee you that helping Becas will make you feel like a million dollars!

To learn more about Becas Vallarta, click HERE or visit If you would like to volunteer or make a tax deductible donation, please call Polly Vicars at 011-52-322-223-1371 or Buri Gray at (322) 221-5285, or send an email to becasvallarta(at)

Polly G. Vicars and her husband of almost 60 years, Hubert (a.k.a. "Husband") retired to Puerto Vallarta in 1988 and soon became active members of several charitable organizations. Polly is the author of "Tales of Retirement in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico" [a sell-out!] and "More Tales of Retirement in Puerto Vallarta and Around the World." Proceeds from the sale of her books go to the America-Mexico Foundation, a scholarship foundation that is their passion.

Click HERE for more articles by Polly Vicars, or click HERE to learn more about Becas Vallarta and the America-Mexico Foundation.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
the included information for research and educational purposes • m3 © 2009 BanderasNews ® all rights reserved • carpe aestus