A pathway to education for underprivileged youth

Ernie and Mencie Hairston

Ernie and Mencie Hairston

By Maricar CP Hampton

Recent retirees Ernie and Mencie Hairston seem to be taking very seriously the adage that “having purpose and vision during retirement is one of the most important determinants of mental, social, spiritual, and physical well-being in later life.”

Last year the couple set up the non-profit High Bridge Foundation, Inc. aimed towards helping young people from under served communities to achieve their full potential.

They offered five scholarship awards for high school graduates in the DC, Prince Georges, and Montgomery counties in Maryland, and Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia.

“Our focus is the underprivileged,” Mencie told The FilAm D.C., enumerating the high school seniors who may qualify: those who are experiencing life’s hardships, who are new immigrant, who are adopted, or dealing with a disability.

The couple, both educators and recipients of scholarships themselves, wants to give back to the community through their foundation.www.highbridgefoundation.org

“My husband is deaf, but he rose beyond his disability to become the first black deaf person to receive a PhD from Gallaudet University,” said Mencie.

“So that is the population that we are looking at. We are not looking at the high achievers since there are already many doors open for them. We are looking at people that are a lot of times overlooked but have the potential and the desire to go beyond and rise beyond their challenges, ” Mencie explained further.

“We are giving 5 $1000 awards that would help pay for the cost of attending a community college, trade schools, college or university.”

A go-getter, Mencie is active with various FilAm organizations in the Metro DC area—from cultural awareness to charities. She also currently serves as a Commissioner on the Maryland Governor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs and the University of Maryland – College Park’s Asian American Studies Program Scholarship Committee.

One of these organizations is Mabuhay, Inc., which runs a Culture School every Saturday. It also runs Camp Mabuhay, a summer camp for children adopted from the Philippines and their families. There are three camps held in Connecticut, Indiana and Maryland.

“The Mabuhay Culture School is doing very well,” she said. “In fact we have opportunities to mentor other groups in the area to help set up their own cultural programs similar to the culture school. We helped set up Paaralang Pinoy in Virginia lead by Ed Tiong. We are poised to help start a similar program for the children around Oxon Hill at the Philippine Cultural Center led by Mya Talavera and Grace Villanueva. They already came over to observe our classes and we’re going to help them set up their curriculum and train their teachers.”

This unique school attracts Filipino American kids as well as Americans who are married to Filipinos and are raising biracial children.

Ernie and Mencie have always shared the passion for developing programs that help empower young people to become contributing members of society. Their hope is to duplicate the projects to be able to reach a wider audience.

“I believe if the idea is good there should be a multiplier effect. You should not own the program and the program should not only reside in one person,” she said. “I don’t want to be known as the one person who did this; I want to be known as the “one who started this and enabled others to do the same.”

In spite of their swamped schedule, the couple finds time with their grandchildren.

“My grandchildren are my fun. The youngest is 4 months old,” Mencie said.

From left:  Darlene Jackson, Mayumi Escalante holding  grand daughter, Lina,Tala Hairston, Ernie, Mencie and Malaya Chatman.

From left: Darlene Jackson, Mayumi Escalante holding grand daughter, Lina,Tala Hairston, Ernie, Mencie and Malaya Chatman.

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