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A 9-year-old GECAC success story
Quick to make friends Matthew Refuerzo stands with Sheriffs Sergeant Steven Rivera who he told without hesitation that he wants to be a police officer after graduating from college. The officer and the Give Every Child a Chance student met for the first time at Saturdays Ropin on the River Rodeo. - photo by GLENN KAHL


• WHAT: Ropin’ on the River CCPRA sanctioned rodeo
• WHEN: Today at 2 p.m. Other activities including Cowboy Church start at 10 a.m.
• WHERE: Dell’Osso Family Farms, Interstate 5, Manthey Road, Lathrop
• ADMISISON: Entrance to grounds is free. The actual rodeo is $20 for adults, $15 for children ages 3-12, and $15 for seniors.

Matthew Refuerzo could easily be a poster boy for Give Every Child a Chance.

The 9-year-old was at the first day of the Ropin’ on the River rodeo singing the praises of the free tutoring program.

He was begging his dad to stay longer at the rodeo that continues today. They had already spent more than three hours at the event that serves as a benefit for GECAC that helps over 4,000 kids just like Matthew do better in school each year without charging for their services.  Matthew hadn’t seen enough – he hadn’t played enough.  

I came across Matthew as he was enjoying a large cup of raviolis. I just couldn’t let the moment pass without asking the boy to share some of his raviolis and – believe it or not – he was willing.  His dad had just paid $5 for the large cup he had in hand.  There was only one spoon, but that didn’t appear to be a hang-up either.

It didn’t take long before he was telling me about his experiences with his tutoring program and why he had come to the rodeo in support of Give Every Child a Chance while the weather had scared off countless adults from the Manteca and Lathrop communities.

He had just been promoted to the fourth grade at Shasta school and - according to his dad - Matthew  had been struggling with reading before entering the after school tutoring sessions at his elementary school.

“I think they are nice people.  They help little kids so they can learn,” Matthew quipped.

“It helps me in reading.  I’m a faster reader now and I like reading more than before,” he said.  “I used to play with video games all day and after school.”   He said he has some 20 of those including the Mario Brothers.

Matthew said his class this year had 30 students in it and the teacher did not have a lot of time to spend with each student individually.  

He explained to me that the afterschool tutors, Evelyn Moore and Janet Miller, have had more time for him.  “They sit down with me and they read the questions to me and they practice reading with me,” he added.

Matthew’s father Reginald Refuerzo, who was standing at his side listening intently, interjected that Give Every Child a Chance has really made a difference for his son who he’s been raising by himself as a single dad.

Even more curious about this young deep thinker, I had to ask if he had any plans for the future.  Without hesitation he said, “I want to be a cop some day!”

Of course the next question for me was whether he had any police officers in his family.  He said he didn’t but that he had met “Officer Randy” saying he really liked him.  He was talking about longtime Manteca canine officer Randy Chiek who had recently befriended him at a Manteca shop.

Matthew said he had met Chiek several times in a donut shop on Main Street where the officer was picking up donuts on weekends for his children . In talking to Randy later on Saturday evening, he told me about his appreciation for this special young man.

It was then that Sheriff’s Sergeant Steven Rivera came by the front of the Country Store at the rodeo grounds where we had been talking.  Hearing that the 9-year-old was interested in a career in law enforcement, he knelt down on the gravel driveway and talked with him man-to-man and face-to-face.  Matthew didn’t flinch, but began with questions of his own.

With a strong eye contact the boy asked the officer, “Is this a real badge…..and do cops have to speak Spanish?  He was told that it was real, and no, cops don’t have to speak Spanish, adding that it’s better if you learn it to be able to talk with more people.   Matthew said he planned to go to college before becoming a police officer.

Sgt. Rivera was obviously as impressed as I, because he took him out to his SUV patrol unit and gave him a tour of the resources of the vehicle.  Matthew ended up with a paper gold paper badge on his shirt and a steel police helmet on his head with a better understanding of the Sheriff’s Department.  He even posed for a picture with the officer at the side of the vehicle.

As the two were parting company, and Matthew was walking away toward the parking lot with his dad, he shouted back to the officer,  “Say hi to Officer Randy for me.”