Hometown Heroes: Joe Vera

By M.G. Angulo –

Ray Aguilar, Joe Vera and Don Kerstetter at Classic Chevy Sugar Land.

Ray Aguilar, Joe Vera and Don Kerstetter at Classic Chevy Sugar Land.

Of the many lessons his parents impressed upon him, what stands out in Joe Vera’s mind is what his mother used to say about pursuing an education. “She used to say, ‘Look at your teachers; they are there to teach you, to guide you. They are a second parent, so absorb as much knowledge from them as you can.

“‘Be an asset,’ she would tell me. ‘Don’t be a problem. Ask questions. Be involved.’” It was a directive Vera, now 70, uses this very day to motivate him as a chairman of the Fort Bend Hispanic Heritage Forum board of directors.

Established in 2005, the Rosenberg-based nonprofit is, among other aims, intensely focused on providing financial assistance to students who want to further their education following high school. To date, it has awarded between $120,000 and $130,000 worth of scholarships to a diverse population of students since its inception.

“We saw a need among many graduating students,” Vera explained. “Some were not continuing their education because of the lack of finances, or they were applying for scholarships too late. We wanted to help those students who wanted to go to college.”

Vera, who refers to himself as “from the old school,” recalls his days at Martin High School in Laredo, Texas when counselors would push students to “stay on route.” In his day, students were either pushed on an academic route or a vocational one, and counselors would ensure each student reached certain goals by graduation.

“Many students now are not following any route,” said Vera, who earned an Associate Degree in Counseling and Administration from the College of the Pacific, San Diego, California after enlisting in the Navy. “We wanted to find a way to increase awareness, to guide students and show them how to prepare for college.”

Among the forum’s success stories, Vera’s favorite is Sierra Garivey, who was awarded $500. Garivey, who earned a degree in education and eventually earned her master’s degree, became a teacher at Lamar Consolidated High School before becoming an assistant principal at Lamar Junior High. “She is like our poster child,” Vera said proudly.

His work with the forum, however, is one of many of Vera’s volunteer efforts to improve his community. He is a member of the Fort Bend County Chapter No. 1772 of the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons (AARP), the Hispanic Leadership Council, the Fort Bend County Fair Association’s Go Tejano committee, Fort Bend County’s Disabled American Veterans Chapter 233 and a Downtown Rosenberg Historical District charter member.

In the past, Vera was also a board member of the Rosenberg National Little League and involved with the adult softball program for the City of Rosenberg. “I wasn’t just a member,” he said with a smile. “I was a player too, but I quit playing about two years ago. I tell people I’m a free agent now,” he added jokingly.

Vera, who is also a drug abuse and alcohol counselor and career counselor, was also a member of the City of Rosenberg’s former Graffiti Abatement and Gang Eradication Committees. “We found mostly kids were in gangs for a sense of belonging and purpose. Little by little, along with the help of the Rosenberg Police Department, we began educating those kids, and slowly, those gangs disappeared.”

Vera, who is a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, said his volunteer efforts are about fighting for a better tomorrow. “I feel like I have a lot to contribute to Rosenberg. People often come up with good ideas, but they do nothing. I want to do something.”

Classic Chevy Sugar Land • 13115 Southwest Freeway, Sugar Land, TX 77478 • (281) 491-9000 • www.classicchevysugarland.com