By Christine Valdez
Web Production Assistant
“If you can believe it, You can achieve” was always a mantra that David DeOliveira lived by and it was one that he would share with his students at East Side High School in Newark. He always believed in motivating his students to advance their education beyond high school, while leaving behind a legacy of his own.
During his time as a teacher and athletic coach at East Side, David believed that his students — whom he often referred to as his kids — had the power and ability to change their lives. According to his sister, Christina DeOliveira, David’s mission was to have the students believe in themselves and give them every opportunity possible to succeed. It was a mission that he kept until his passing in February 2011 from brain cancer.
Christina recalls her brother not only as another teacher to his students, but as a father, brother, mentor and role model for countless students.
“His mission was to get them to believe it too and give them every opportunity to succeed,” Christina said.
As David wanted his students to go on and achieve their dreams, he would try to help them by looking for scholarship opportunities for college. He would even try to chip in for the students’ education if there weren’t any resources available.
“Coach, as he was referred to by his kids, left no resource untapped when it came to searching for scholarship funds to help pay for their education,” said Christina. “Where there was no money to be found in the school system, he often gifted money from his own pocket.”
David’s generosity toward his students helped change their lives. During David’s wake, Christina said that many of David’s former students approached her and her parents with stories about how David made an impact.
“During that time, former students approached my parents and I with stories of how David touched and changed their lives forever,” she said. “How they would not be where they are or doing what they do had it not been for his influence, encouragement and support.”
While listening to the various stories, Christina says that it was at that moment when she realized how much her brother meant to people in the community and the school.
“It was then that I knew how incredibly special my brother truly was and I needed to do something to keep this part of him alive,” said Christina.
In order to keep his memory alive, Christina came up with the idea of starting a foundation in his honor and keeping a cause that meant a lot to him.
Over time Christina began to work on establishing a foundation in her brother’s honor. In order to achieve that goal, she reached out to some of David’s former students that were still friends with him on his Facebook account.
“When I started the foundation, I reached out to former students that I found were still friends with his account on Facebook,” she said. “I didn’t remember any names or know who they were. So I just posted a general message on his page about what I was doing and asking for people to reach out to me if they wanted to be part of the effort.”
After posting the message on David’s Facebook page, Christina immediately heard back from some of David’s former students and athletes. Soon enough Christina held a meeting at her house to discuss the plan for the foundation with many of the students that had contacted her. During the meeting, a Selection Criteria and Process Committee was created with the students, along with criteria for selecting a scholarship recipient.
With the foundation in its planning stages, the committee opted to keep the scholarship within East Side High School.
“Since East Side High School was David’s home away from home, the benefiting students will be from that school,” said Christina. “Initially, we will look for an athlete from the girls volleyball team. Moving forward, we hope to get enough support to expand it to others.”
After deciding on the criteria for the foundation and who would benefit from it, David’s Gift, the Education Alternative was officially established in February. Upon of establishment of the foundation, events in order to raise awareness and to begin fundraising for it were beginning to take form.
As some of the members of the selection committee on the foundation were David’s students and former volleyball players on the girls team he coached, the idea of a volleyball game between East Side’s current varsity team and David’s former players came up. Since many of the girls shared those same memories, it was decided that the game would serve as the foundation’s kick-off event. That game was later schedule for April 10 at East Side.
“In their communications with each other, they reminisced about all the memories and good times they had when they played and how long it’s been,” said Christina. “From there, the idea of having an ‘All Star Game’ was born. Seemed like an appropriate way to officially kick off the scholarship.”
Since many of the girls spent their time on the team with David as their coach, Christina says that they found the foundation and scholarship program as a way to give back in memory of their coach.
At the scholarship and foundation kick-off event, scholarship applications were made available to the senior athletes on the girls volleyball team. While trying to raise awareness about the cause and gaining support from people in attendance, T-shirts and brain cancer awareness pins were being sold. Along with an entrance donation fee and a concession stand, all proceeds made at the event are set to go toward the scholarship fund.
Before the game took place, some of David’s former students took the time to talk about their former teacher and how he made an impact on their lives — in the form of essays and stories that they had prepared for the event.
One former student, Ursula Tiago, recalled how she had met David, how he would help her throughout school and how he became a friend.
“I went into high school not knowing anything about anything and I graduated knowing that whatever obstacle I encountered, I could count on my teacher/coach that became a family friend and that I will be forever thankful,” said Tiago.
Another former student, Nilmara Zanette, talked her time at East Side and having arrived at the school from a different country. She mentioned how it was frustrating to go to school at first until she met David and he approached her about joining the school’s girls volleyball team and how it changed her life.
“Playing became everything to me,” she said. “It gave me hope and made me see the school in a different way and suddenly it wasn’t so bad any more.”
Christina describes the scholarship kick-off as a success and now has a few other events lined up. Another event in the works now includes some of David’s other students — the boys versus the girls.
As the foundation and scholarship program continues to grow, Christina says that she will continue to do what it takes to help as many students reach their goals as possible.
“My goal is to do whatever it takes to spread the word and raise necessary funds so the scholarship continues to grow in a way that we can help as many deserving students go to college as possible,” she said.