By Rene De La Cruz
Surrounded by hundreds of thankful hearts, Donald Tatera, president of the Rotary Club of Apple Valley, found himself in a pool of joyful tears as the Rotarians presented wheelchairs to a group of disabled people in southern Mexico.
“I understood some of what the people were saying,” said Tatera, whose team gave out 300 child and adult-sized chairs during a September trip to Puruandiro. “If I understood Spanish, I would have cried even more.”
During Thursday’s luncheon, the club welcomed Manny Hernandez Sr. and his family from Puruandiro as they brought greetings from the Mexican city.
“I want to express my deep appreciation to you all — you have touched so many people,” said a tearful Hernandez, as his family looked on. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Part translator, bodyguard and behind-the-scenes guy in Mexico, Hernandez and has family had become like family to the High Desert group, Tatera said.
During their trip to Puruandiro, located west of Guadalajara, the Rotarians were the talk of the town as the team’s act of charity was written up in two news publications, including a photo of a 103-year-old woman sitting in her new wheelchair.
“We handed out the chairs on behalf of the Apple Valley Club and District 5300, which includes Nevada and Southern California,” Tatera said. “As the clubs raised funds, the district and Rotary International matched those funds.”
Since the team’s visit, a domino-effect of charity has begun in Mexico as several wheelchair owners have organized to help other disabled people, Tatera said.
“One man used to pick up his children everyday with a homemade cart pulled by his donkey,” Hernandez said. “We gave him a chair once we found out that he could not walk and that his donkey had died.”
The Puruandiro club, which is considered a Rotary sister city to Apple Valley, received a fire truck in 2001, with the help of the local Rotary Club and the Apple Valley Fire Protection District.
“We raised $30,000 to give our old truck to their fire department,” Tatera said. “It is a joy to hear that the truck is helping lives today. From trucks to wheelchairs, that is what service above self is all about.”