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Redwood City gardener still hard at work giving scholarships after 15 years

JA: Redwood City gardener still hard at work giving scholarships after 15 years
JA: Redwood City gardener still hard at work giving scholarships after 15 years 04:16

REDWOOD CITY  -- When Catalino Tapia came to the U.S. many years ago, he had a sixth-grade education, six dollars in his pocket, and the American dream. He won a national Jefferson Award for his creative scholarship program in 2009. Since then, has given hundreds of students a chance to pursue their dreams.

]Tapia gets misty-eyed when his office manager reads letters from people whose lives he's touched.

"I want to personally thank you for providing hope for future generations," read one letter.

We first introduced you to the Redwood City man 15 years ago; He arrived in the U.S. in 1964 and took a job as a baker.

"They used to pay me 45 cents an hour," he recalled.

He took many jobs over the years; finally, he became a gardener. And when one of his sons graduated from UC Berkeley's law school, that sprouted an idea: to help low-income students go to college.

"Who would've thought that one day I'd be witnessing my son's graduation day? That was big for me and the family," he said.

Tapia gathered fellow gardeners, and they raised money from their clients and community businesses.

In two years, his Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation had given 31 students nearly $50,000. Fifteen years later the grand total is beyond his imagination: 400 students of diverse ethnicities awarded more than $800,000 in scholarships.

"Through the years we've touched so many hearts, changed so many lives," Tapia beamed.

Today, Tapia is 79 years old and lives with Parkinson's disease. But he remains firmly rooted in what's been renamed the Catalino Tapia Scholarship Foundation in his honor. And he still hears from award recipients who now bear fruit in the work world.

"Teachers, nurses, lawyers, engineers, all that make us all proud," he said.

Rene Rivera Rosales received two scholarships years ago so he could be first in his family to go to college. He had his fair share of struggles on the path getting there.

"I was actually homeless for a time," Rivera Rosales said.

But the scholarships planted seeds of hope and strength to graduate from San Jose State with a bachelor's degree in economics.

"I couldn't believe it. Someone really cares for me and cares for my future!" he said.

"Sometimes what they need is not much money, but that little push, 'Come on, you can do it! Go for it!' And they do," said Tapia.

Rivera Rosales has worked at the Sheraton Hotel in Palo Alto for eight years, where he coordinates reservations and sales.

And now he's paid it forward, serving on Tapia's scholarship board.

"He has a great heart, and really cares for his community," said Rivera Rosales.

Although Tapia himself has received many awards, he still treasures the students the most.

"They're all right here on my heart. I consider them to be part of my family," said Tapia.

For him, it's a blessing to help them harvest their own American Dreams.

The Catalino Tapia Scholarship Foundation can be reached at

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