SMC Student Nominated to Win Up To $1 Million

We live in a society that encourages
and rewards success through the
pursuit of self-interest. "What's in it
for me?" is one of the most common
questions materializing in our heads
as we go through the daily grind.

Every now and then, we need a
reminder of what it feels like to be
brought back down to Earth.

Brian Verdugo, a computer science
student at Santa Monica College,
has been selected as one of the 10
finalists for the Lenox Extra Mile
Hero Contest. The contest awards
individuals who have demonstrated
the spirit of going above and beyond.

According to the official website,
the contest looks for people "whose
jobs are physically demanding,
day after day, and still find time to
SMC Student Nominated to Win Up To $1 Million
contribute to their communities in
a meaningful way." Along with his
role as a student, Verdugo works in
property management but does not let
this interfere with setting aside time to
help others in a myriad of ways.

It is almost impossible not to feel
at ease with Verdugo. He seems
to always take a pause before he
speaks and does not speak too loudly
or hastily. Although Verdugo is
nominated for the award, he and his
wife Melissa undoubtedly work as
a team, and both have a passion for
helping others. They both seem to
share a desire to live beyond the daily
motions of self-sustenance.

The couple has traveled to India
performing theatre for at risk youth
and has also been known to drive a
van to Mexico simply to drop off used
clothes and food for those in need over
the short weekend, while many of us
are busy seeking pleasure in the form
of beer and passive entertainment.

Verdugo, with his wife traveled to
India in 2002, performing theater for
at risk youth with the organization,
Youth For Christ. The couple traveled
for three weeks through Southeast
India to areas such as Puducherry
and Chennai. The two utilized theater
to entertain and communicate to
children the beauty of art.

Although performing theater does
not come to mind as the primary
means of aid to a third world country,
Verdugo explains that it is crucial
for children to witness people who
care enough to come into their
neighborhoods to entertain them.
Although food and other necessities
are crucial to helping those in need,
art and human interaction are often
not given as much attention as they

During their time in India the couple
also worked with "rag pickers." Rag
pickers are homeless children in India
whose only means for survival is to
go through rags and trash. Along
with performing for these children,
Verdugo helped teach many of these
children woodworking skills so one
day they would not have to resort to
rags for survival.

Verdugo explains that his time in
India was a reminder to not take things
for granted. He said, "being poor in
India and the U.S. is very different.
Being below the poverty line in the
U.S. would be considered wealthy
in India." He went on to explain that
many of the poor in India, unlike the
U.S. have nowhere to turn because
of the lack of intervention by the

Verdugo and his wife have been
volunteering with the organization,
Youth For Christ for over nine
years. As one of the ten finalists for
the Lenox Extra Mile Hero Award,
Verdugo will receive $3,100, with
an additional $3,100 donated to
the charity of his choice, Youth For

As a finalist, Verdugo will attend
the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Lenox Race in New Hampshire in
June. A grand prize winner will be
chosen out of the ten finalists and
awarded with the winner receiving
$31,000, and an additional $31,000
going to the charity of the winner's

Finally, if the vehicle Jeff Burton
drives (sponsored by Lenox) wins
the race, the Grand Prize winner will
receive $500,000 instead of $31,000,
with $500,000 going to the winner's
selected charity, which would amount
to a total of $1 million. This would
allow the Verdugos to realize their
dream of going into full time charity

If the couple wins the one million,
the Verdugos hope to work with Youth
For Christ and head a performing arts
ministry. The two would continue
performing theater to those in need
but would focus most of their energy
in training other organizations and
multiplying the idea of bringing
entertainment to children living in
poverty. The Verdugos would train
groups working with the organization
into leadership positions so they could
reach those in need on a larger scale.
Although having volunteered abroad,
Verdugo continues to give back to the
community he resides in.

Locally, Verdugo volunteers with
Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit
housing organization that builds
simple, decent, affordable housing in
partnership with people in need.
In his spare time, Verdugo can also
be found handing out lunches to the
homeless. Rather than simply giving
homeless people money, Verdugo
prepares lunches with his wife and
hands them out personally. When
time permits, the couple is not shy
to invite those who ask for food to
lunch with them.

They explain that the invitation is
an opportunity to sit down and share
food with a group of people that
are often ignored and ostracized by
society. Verdugo explains that it is
important to help the homeless feel
valued in a society.

"It gives me insight into why they
are there and how I can help them.
Anyone can be homeless. My wife
and I both have supportive families
that would help if we were in these
situations. There is evidence of lack
of support for these people, they have
no support," he said.

Verdugo goes on to explain his
desire to help others, "it puts into
perspective what is and what is not
important. I can tell when I haven't
done something for a while because
my perspective changes. It's easy
to forget."

We can all learn something from
Verdugo and his wife. At the very
least, their actions are a reminder of
what it means to step out of our own
lives and reexamine the blessings we
too often take for granted.

Voting for the Lenox Extra Mile
Hero Contest can be done at: www. Voting ends April
30. More information on Youth
For Christ can be found at: www.