Armando Perez qualifies for free lunches at a central Fresno elementary school where almost every child lives in poverty, but that’s not stopping him from helping feed children around the world.
He’s among more than 300 members of a walk/run club at Birney Elementary School who earned more than 5,750 packets of food for malnourished children abroad by walking and running through a partnership with UNICEF. The United Nations Children’s Fund gave one packet of food for every 9,600 steps a child took during the month of May, tracked through electronic wristbands.
You’re making poor kids happy.
Armando Perez, about helping hungry children
Birney’s walk/run club has made a big difference for Armando.
“It makes me feel like I’m part of the good kids and not the bad kids. … It makes me feel good because when somebody says my name, they don’t think, ‘Oh, he’s bad,’ ” Armando says.
The boy spent a lot of time in the principal’s office last year for disrupting class.
“I was feeling sad because last year we moved even farther from my dad,” he says, “so I could hardly visit him.” Armando’s parents separated when he was 3 years old.
His sadness led him to act up in class. Robert Garcia, campus culture director at Birney Elementary School in central Fresno, wanted to make things better for Armando. He regularly visited him in the office, encouraging him to change and inviting him to join the school’s walk/run club, which he leads. Armando joined, and it changed his life. One of the best parts: He met his best friend, Ethan Vang, through the club.
“Any bad stuff that happens in my house, I just tell him, which I never will tell anybody else,” Armando says of Ethan.
Walking together recently, Ethan tells Armando, “You’re a good friend because you are always helping me when other people are being mean or bad to me.”
The 11-year-olds are really close.
“Every time Ethan is sad, then I feel down,” Armando says, “and then when he’s happy, then I’m happy.”
They love that their walking and running is helping feed hungry kids through UNICEF, an organization that provides aid to people in more than 190 countries and territories.
“It makes both us and other people from different countries healthy,” Ethan says. “It makes me feel very, very happy because the food that they are sending over there is healthy.”
We can visualize them being happy in our minds.
Ethan Vang, about sending food to malnourished children overseas
Armando is very happy, too.
“You’re making poor kids happy. … If you save one life, you can save a lot of other lives,” Armando says.
The boys are also helping people in need in the central San Joaquin Valley. Members of the walk/run club raised around $5,000 for Terry’s House, which provides free lodging for families of hospitalized patients at Community Regional Medical Center, and around $2,000 for the American Heart Association. Armando went door-to-door around his neighborhood asking for donations, along with chipping in $30 of his own money that he received as a gift from his dad. Collectively, Armando contributed around $75 through three jogathon and jumpathon fundraisers.
Armando’s mother, Jeanna Perez, cries as she thinks of the big change she’s seen in Armando over the past year. She says Armando’s love of walking and running – and the friends he’s made along the way – has been a positive outlet for him. He’s logged around 200 miles since he joined the walk/run club.
Now Armando encourages other kids who feel sad at his school.
“I always tell them, ‘Come on, go walk/run, you’ll feel happy,’ ” Armando says.
Ethan agrees: “We’re always getting happy.”
The boys hope the food they’ve earned through exercise will help kids overseas feel happy, too. They won’t be able to meet those kids, but that’s OK.
“Even though we don’t see them,” Ethan says, “we can visualize them being happy in our minds.”