Ed Kershaw speaks with a slow, measured cadence, carefully choosing each word to make his point. He draws you in with a pause rather than volume or pitch. You listen. He can sell you anything, even hope.
Grandson of area pioneers in the Yakima Valley, he works on the same ground originally settled by his family in 1887, though the 40-acre pear and apple ranch is now headquarters of Kershaw Fruit and its marketing arm, Domex Superfresh Growers, large operations even by Washington State standards. He and his brother, Bob, built their fruit empire, and they love what they do.
For Kershaw, it has always been about family. And about business. It might have stayed just another family business success story with accumulated wealth handed down from one generation to the next. But things changed for him when Brian died.
Sixteen years ago, Kershaw’s eldest son Brian was killed in an auto accident caused by an inattentive driver in a second vehicle. “Brian was a seriously good kid,” said Kershaw. He paused.
“Something in me died that day,” he said.
“When someone suffers a major tragedy, your emotions are elevated to a new level,” he said. “I think you become more caring.”
Ed Kershaw, left, talks with Union Gospel Mission Executive Director Rick Phillips at Domex Superfresh Growers new packing facility. The two men have spent many hours discussing ways to better the future for the children of tree fruit industry workers.
After Brian died, Kershaw first put his energy into his business, driving himself and his staff to be the best. He said he has a passion for the fruit industry, and working hard gave him an outlet to move through his emotional issues. During that time of healing, he also developed a greater personal connection with the Hispanic laborers who made his business flourish. He recognized that without them, he could not take his business where it needed to go, yet he also saw that the price paid by his workers was great. Although the Hispanic families were likely financially better off than they had ever been, the change in culture from Mexico to the United States was destroying their families, and particularly, their relationships with their children.
Kershaw’s appreciation for the family-centered Mexican culture solidified when he travelled to rural Mexico in 1993. He was on their turf for the first time, he said, and realized that in any Mexican business relationship, it was about family. He was invited into their homes where he ate dinner at the family table. Children were on either side of him.
“It’s fair to say that the culture of the Hispanics is that they are hard working, energetic, and have a willingness to persevere through hardships that our generation [of Americans] has not really experienced,” Kershaw said. “This enables them to survive in a foreign country where they do not speak the language, and to take over the role of our labor force.
“At the same time, the Yakima Valley has grown to almost a majority of Hispanics. I think our industry has been looked upon—fairly or unfairly—as being responsible for some of the issues that we have today in our communities.”
Kershaw knows his industry has to get involved with the surrounding community, and he believes he has to be a part of that involvement.
“I was introduced to Madison House three and a half years ago,” he said, adding that he had nothing to do with the concept. “I’m a Johnny Come Lately. Madison House was a youth center of the Union Gospel Mission—which is critical to the whole thing.” Having the backing of a strong religious organization with a legion of volunteers and a vision to make Madison House a place where youths could be in a safe environment, gave Kershaw what he needed to invest his time and money.
“Today, I view Madison House as a safe haven for the disadvantaged neighborhood of the family units employed in the fruit industry,” he said. “The families are all in survival mode. And the children many times do not have the opportunities that other children have in our community.”
Kershaw sees Madison House as that, but even more, he sees it as a model for the tree fruit industry in any community where importation of farm labor has a negative impact on either the community or the children of industry workers. It’s a model for growers and shippers to come together in leadership to promote the mission of Madison House and to provide the money to run it.
“I see Madison Houses,” he said. “That’s what I see.
“I see them in other parts of Yakima, in Wenatchee, and in other communities. Some point in every person’s life, they need guidance, order. They need exposure to the opportunities that are out there—and they are there!” Kershaw draws out the last four words. “They are there,” he repeats.
“I view our industry as a fabulous catalyst for this. Our industry has evolved to the manufacture of food products. And there are so many roles in this industry other than entry-level fieldwork.
“If you take a look at the leadership of Hispanics in this industry, they are in so many roles, and when it comes to the kids making a decision on what path to take in life, introduce them to these opportunities. Have them choose between a gang and furthering their education.
“I envision these youths in intern roles in many industry companies as they grow up. I see them in line for scholarships for those who want to further their education. That’s why I coined the phrase that Madison House is really ‘The Journey of Hope.’
“Madison House is a wonderful example of what communities can do to help further the opportunities of the Hispanic youth today and their families. Madison House isn’t replacing families—Madison House is inclusive of the family,” he said.
“Let’s get real on what success is for these kids. Success can lead to making them better people without us. But it can be something so much more than that by opening their eyes to the world around them as they watch their parents struggle simply to put food on the table. As our industry grows, growers’ relationships with their Hispanic help are going to become much more personal as they realize how valuable they really are.”
“Growers now recognize this through their generous support of industry organizations like WAEF [Washington Apple Education Foundation] for scholarship support of children of our employees. Madison House is attempting to capture youth before they get into the scholarship stream. That’s why I think it’s critically important. That’s when good and bad decisions are made that impact the rest of their lives.”
Kershaw explains that we have an environment in the United States where Mexican families are immersed in this culture. But many have lost that family-first attitude. “Many are struggling with that,” he said. “It’s hard to be family-first in this culture when you are below the poverty line, and you are struggling to offer your children more than you had. You are struggling to grab the brass ring that is available here.”
Recreating that sense of family is what drew Kershaw to Madison House where there were situations where there was less order in their families than there was in Mexico. “Hopefully, Madison House will help create order with these children and engage their parents,” he said.
“One of the first things we need to do is to help them understand that earning something is much more than receiving something, more gratifying. It makes them more respectful of themselves for what they can accomplish and respectful for those who do accomplish.
“Many of the children who go to Madison House expect something,” he said. “This is it: ‘What do I get? I showed up.’
“It’s a good start,” he laughs. “How do we teach these children how to appreciate what they get and understand that it isn’t the responsibility of everyone else to give it to them?”
“Madison House is not the house of entitlement,” Kershaw concluded. Maybe not, but maybe the Madison Houses Kershaw envisions will set these children out on their own personal journey of hope.
Sara Holtzinger makes it her job to know and love the children at Madison House. Alejandro Guzman is just one of about 300 students who use the facility yearly.
Sara Holtzinger talks with her hands, hugging her way through the children at Madison House, explaining why it is her privilege to work there. Some of the kids are timid, but even those soak up the attention, clearly not ready to let her go as she moves past them and to others. Each student has a story, and she wants it told. Some of those stories will wait, though, until they can be told in private.
Holtzinger is the director of development for Yakima’s Union Gospel Mission, but her passion is for the children and for her faith. She’s also the key to involving the tree fruit industry in the mission’s outreach to the children of industry workers, though she likely won’t admit to that, crediting instead the volunteers from the industry.
From a prominent family in the tree fruit industry, Holtzinger said that Madison House serves 250 to 300 students annually, with approximately 40 students committed to come every day for tutoring. She said that Madison House instructors, especially the head of educational development Gané Bourgeois, work closely with the Yakima School District and have access to student records, enabling them to track the student’s progress in classrooms and to guide them to complete their education successfully. They believe these students should have the same opportunities and dreams that their wealthier public school counterparts take for granted.
“It has been a great privilege to raise our own family with the resources from the bounty of the Washington fruit tree industry,” Sara said. She and her husband, Mark, have been able to provide their three children a quality education, and to raise them in a safe, healthy, happy environment. She wants similar opportunities for her Madison House children.
“The youth at Madison House are primarily the offspring of migrant labor,” she said. “Whether born here or in Mexico, they have been born into the confines of intergenerational poverty. They do not know the comforts of having a safe, happy home and neighborhood. For many, a healthy family meal is nonexistent. Most come from unemployed single-parent households where domestic violence is high, gang relations common, and substance abuse prolific.”
Madison House sits squarely in the middle of a ten-block radius of poverty. It is Yakima’s ground zero, she said.
“It’s hard to measure in a quantitative way how successful we are at Madison House,” Holtzinger said. But she does personally witness each child’s progress. “These children take responsibility for each other, for their cousins, because pain and hardship are so commonplace in their lives.”
As an example, Sara explained that one girl from Madison House comes to her home regularly to do her homework either alone or with school friends. “It’s a safe place,” she said. Instead of witnessing violence that is too common in her own house, the girl sees that a home can be quiet and stable and loving. Creative and bright, this girl has a place to practice for a school play with friends or to do activities with the Holtzinger family: simple things like growing tomatoes in the backyard or preparing a meal.
Of course, the staff at Madison House can’t bring all of the students into their own families, but they do have a mentorship program that they coordinate with the local YMCA. They have educational resources for students who need extra help or who have been suspended from school and need a tightly supervised program to get them involved again. And they have fun with tennis, games, boxing, and even a big-screen television for entertainment. A nutritious meal is served regularly as well, with the students volunteering to act as servers. Madison House, at over 17,000 square feet, is really a home for children who need one.
“They are gifted kids in art if they have the opportunity,” added Sara, an art aficionado herself. “That’s why I stress having the fine arts as an integral part of their growth at Madison House.”
To help staff appreciate what these kids endure, Sara has formed a partnership with Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health to work with those children who have suffered from human trafficking and the sex trade—things most parents assume happen only in other countries, third-world countries—not to children in their own public school system. By working with Comprehensive Mental Health, she knows which kids are at greatest risk, and she serves as an advocate for them to help them have options.
And for students who get suspended from the schools, Madison House gives the students another chance before they’re expelled.
As an advocate for the children and a public face for the work going on at Madison House, Holtzinger uses the generosity of the tree fruit community to make a real difference in the lives of children.
Gané Bourgeois is, at 34, the old-timer at Madison House, just completing her 18th year, first as a high school volunteer for her church outreach mission, and now head of educational development for the Union Gospel Mission’s Madison House facility. She’s come a long way from those first nights sleeping on the floor at Madison House. She earned a BA and MA in education from the University of Washington, then taught six years for the Yakima School District before taking on the educational leadership for the mission.
Asked what has kept her so focused on Madison House, she said it was her “family.”
Educator Gané Bourgeois has been with Madison House—and her “family”—for 18 years.
“The kids encourage us to be a family,” she explained. “I wanted to be a biochemist when I started college, and wanted that work to include methods for growing organic fruit. Then I went to South America at the end of my sophomore year.”
She believed the trip would help her to learn Spanish, but the summer away from her Madison House family convinced her that her life’s work would be in Yakima with “her” kids, not in a foreign country, not as a biochemist.
Back at school and before Christmas and spring breaks, Bourgeois would hear her friends yelling in the residence halls, “I’m going to Cabo!” She would reply, “I’m going to Yakima!” And she was excited about it.
And she’s stayed excited, trailing off into laughter or tears whenever talking about this rambunctious extended family of hers. Today, her time is spent teaching the Madison House students and helping them set and achieve long-term educational goals. The peals of laughter that punctuate her sentences are a cover for the emotional commitment she has made.
Bourgeois developed the Madison House program to coordinate with the Yakima School District. As a certified teacher, she is able to access their records and work closely with students, particularly those who have been suspended, and get them credit for the work they do at Madison House. And she keeps the classroom teachers informed when the students are having problems.
“Kids like ours fall through the cracks,” she said, “because they don’t want to admit they aren’t getting it.” Bourgeois makes sure they get it. When they do return to school classes, they’re more willing to participate, and they get back on track. “And it’s more fun for them to go to class when they have their homework completed,” she said.
Asked to give an example of how Madison House makes a difference to these youth, Bourgeois recounted last year’s field trip to the University of Washington campus. One student who was not doing well at school, and who often was difficult to handle at Madison House, asked to go. She believed his interest in the field trip was simply to get out of school.
“I was dreading taking him, because he was a handful,” she said sheepishly. “I was really thinking how great it would be if he failed to show up!” She laughed the “Gané” laugh. “That’s terrible for a teacher to say!” she said, shaking her head.
Instead, the boy was at Madison House by 5:30 a.m., the first one there. “What am I going to do with him?” she thought. She warned him that all of his homework had to be done by the time he returned from the trip. “I want you to have a good time,” she scolded, “but I’m going to be watching you.
“I thought that if it was enough of a threat, he would decide not to go.”
But he went. And she watched him.
Bourgeois filmed the trip, and at the end, she asked each student to recount the value of the day. She expected the worst from this challenging boy. She turned the camera to him. But she saw no smirk or disinterest. Instead, he got tears in his eyes, and said, “I never thought I could go to college until I set foot on this campus.” She turned off the camera. And both of them stood there crying. No laughter this time.
“Any kid can go to college if they have the dream,” she said. And the tears were back in her eyes. “He’s still on track to graduate next year,” she added. “He’s not a stellar student, but he’s planning to do his work here, so he won’t be so distracted. My goal has been to keep on that kid and keep him in school.
In their corner
“These kids are so inspiring,” she added. “They overcome more things than anyone should ever have to overcome. They pick themselves up and just keep going forward. I’m the cheerleader in the corner to help them get it done.
“I’ve seen two Madison House kids graduate from college,” she said, acknowledging that that number may not be as large as outsiders might hope. But she points to the lack of encouragement from their peers. “Their friends say they can’t go to college.” Most come to school with no awareness that they can aspire to be more than laborers.
Parents often get blamed for the problems these kids have, said Bourgeois, but she thinks that they support them in the way they know how. “There’s no animosity. They support their kids.” The breakdown, she thinks, is that the parents don’t speak the language. They don’t have the education. And they are embarrassed about these failures.
As cheerleader for this squad of children of laborers, Bourgeois is on a mission. She will be watching them. And she’ll keep on them to keep them in school and on a track to a better life.
A number of years ago, the Holtzinger family’s tree fruit company had in place a scholarship program for promising children of company laborers, and it was that program that originally sparked in Mark Holtzinger an interest in providing help to underprivileged youth. Later, his children’s babysitter worked for the Union Gospel Mission as a volunteer, and her enthusiasm for that program channeled his interest in a direction. Finally, a church Habitat for Humanity trip to Peru put his interest into action. There, with a physician friend who had the skills to build the home, Holtzinger quickly learned that his talents were elsewhere, with the children. He learned that playing with them made a difference in how they related to what Habitat was doing for and with their families. And the experience gave him great personal satisfaction.
Time passed, he changed jobs, his children grew up, and his interest in contributing to youth evolved.
Antonio Ramirez completes a sale of apples at a Rotary meeting as Mark Holtzinger looks on.
The husband of Union Gospel Mission’s Director of Development, Sara Holtzinger, Mark Holtzinger began to volunteer at the Madison House youth center. Though a graduate of the University of Denver, it was not his business skills that at first proved most useful there. Instead, the late-night hours he had spent with college friends playing foosball in his residence hall ended up both practical and effective at Madison House.
“The kids couldn’t believe that an old white guy was killing them in foosball!” he laughed. But they watched him, learned his techniques, and in a few short weeks, started to beat him at his own game. By then, the bond between the kids and this old white man had been made. He could talk to them on their level. And the relationships strengthened his desire to be useful.
“The kids take a while to trust you,” he said. “They can see through you if you’re putting on a front. After a while, though, they would wait for me, excited to have a male figure in their lives.”
The big trip
Last year, the educational program run by Gané Bourgeois included a field trip to Washington, D.C. She had the plans, but needed help getting the money for the program.
“Gané is a vivacious, exciting woman,” Holtzinger said. He wanted to help make sure the trip happened, and that meant organizing a fundraiser. This time it wouldn’t be his foosball expertise that would save him.
“I had sold light bulbs door to door in college. It was the worst job,” he said, shaking his head at the memory. But, he figured he could set up a better fundraiser and do it in a way that it would also be educational. So, he prepared a business plan similar to those he had taught to students in Junior Achievement (another one of his volunteer efforts at Madison House). He selected a CEO and support staff from Madison House students, chose gift boxes of apples as the product, and went to work. The group bought their apples and boxes wholesale, assembled them, then set out to make sales. Holtzinger said that though he could have had the apples donated, having the kids learn about business practices was too important to the effort.
“We sold them at church,” he said. And the kids learned that even people at church weren’t always willing buyers. “We made some money, but not a lot,” he said. This year, he’s already putting together a second attempt at selling the gift boxes, with the hope that it will fund a trip to Florida for the students.
“This year, we have a presentation box that slides into a sleeve. It’s a great product,” he said. “We’re going to try to get it out earlier [for Christmas sales].
“One of the things I most appreciate about these kids is their willingness to work hard. Some are legal, but most are undocumented. They use their siblings [who have papers] to get them a job. They do what they have to do to survive. You hear this on television, but to hear it from the kids is different,” he said.
He hopes that the skills he teaches them will help shape their lives and that having the opportunity to travel and see other parts of the country will show them how many opportunities are out there. It’s not easy. At times, the kids don’t acknowledge him, don’t say hello, don’t say thank you. They’re like any teenager, said Holtzinger. They don’t really know how they should act. But they also are smart and fun and worth the effort, he thinks. He said he has to do some “ass chewing,” but if he keeps his expectations high, the kids will rise up to those expectations. If nothing else, these kids have perseverance, he said.
“Without wanting to sound too gushy,” said Mark, “it’s the love from the kids. To be able to exchange love with the kids is really cool. The feedback playing foosball, playing Ping-Pong, seeing them fly out to leave southeast Yakima for the first time, that’s really cool.”
When he looks at them, he said he thinks, “You guys are going to be taking care of me, and I want you to be fully equipped to do it.
“We need leaders, and we need to grow our own. That is the self-serving part of this equation,” Holtzinger explained, referring to the fruit industry’s investment in Madison House. “So many of these kids want to see beyond the field, but there’s so much technology in the field.”
If Mark and the others behind Journey of Hope are successful, these children of the field won’t have to leave to build successful lives for themselves, their own families, and the communities where they live. The opportunities are all around them.
Growing and packing quality tree fruit in the Naches Valley of Washington State has been Buzz Rowe’s profession. But as successful as he’s been with produce, his calling is spiritual. Now that he has cut back on work at Rowe Farms, his family-owned orchard and packing company, Rowe has redirected his focus to children in need—primarily the children of his industry’s laborers. And his charisma makes him a remarkably successful missionary for the American dream.
Yakima is a small city of fewer than 100,000 residents, yet its reputation as a center for crime and gang activity bedevils the community that knows it’s better than that reputation. At the Union Gospel Mission’s Madison House, volunteers battle gangs by reaching out to the most vulnerable, giving children someone they can count on. Rowe doesn’t have to do much reaching. He’s a kid magnet.
Buzz Rowe uses time with his mentee Alejandro Guzman to support the civic and religious values common to both Mexico and the United States. With Alejandro, far left, are his cousins Saul, center, and Alex Pelcastre.
“I wanted to do something more than complain about our gang problems,” he said. “I wanted to be part of the solution.”
Rowe started last winter by working with the Yakima YMCA’s Aspire program, a youth group operated by the Yakima YMCA that provides role models for youth. That group had developed a close relationship with Madison House to coordinate the two organizations’ efforts.
Although education and coordination with the area school district is a major component of Madison House, Rowe functions more as role model. He, like several other volunteers, has been assigned a “mentee” to work closely with as a responsible adult. Rowe does this with passion by taking his mentee, Alejandro Guzman, to area events on a regular basis, and including the boy’s family when possible.
“One of the first things I did with Alejandro was to take him and his cousin Alex out to a cattle ranch in the spring,” he said. “I took the kids to show them some baby calves.” Rowe knew the experience would be a first for the boys, but he hadn’t anticipated what would be the most memorable part of the trip.
“There was manure in the corrals, and it had been raining,” he said. “Mud and manure and two boys who were quickly stuck ankle deep. They were ecstatic!” laughed Rowe.
Then he took them and another cousin Saul to a bull ranch where the owner Gary Long [of G.S. Long, an industry supplier] was judging his stock for bucking potential…then to Rimrock Lake for a boating outing…then fishing…then a pumpkin-launching cannon event on a tree fruit ranch. Simple things. Important things. Things that change lives.
Rowe explained that the children he works with are already fairly “dynamic,” but his effort is to make them really dynamic. And by that, he means that they are realizing that they can pursue higher education, that by having goals, they can shape their lives.
Like most good parents, Rowe isn’t reluctant to share his own journey with these kids. “I talk to the boys about having a relationship with Jesus,” he said. He realizes that they will make their own way in life, but Rowe wants to know that they will have some adult guidance. Some love. And some options.