PAJARO VALLEY—A group of education advocates is looking for former Watsonville High School students to share their stories of educational and professional success, in hopes they will inspire other students to seek their own success.

The volunteer group—Migration and Adaptation in the Americas (MAIA)—is hoping to hear from former participants in that program.

The 40-year-old program was founded by California Central Coast rancher William MacKenzie as a way to help the children of the farmworkers he knew.

Working with WHS counselor Michael Sullivan, they identified and mentored hundreds of college-bound students from low-income and farm working families.

Throughout its history, the program has sent hundreds of Pajaro Valley students to colleges and universities, and on to successful careers.

Examples of the stories come from sisters Ana Ventura Phrares and Alicia Ventura, daughters of farmworkers who benefitted from the program and went on to successful careers.

Ventura Phrares says their father expected all six of his children to go to college.

After a WHS counselor told her college was not for her, her father told her to find another counselor. She soon found Sullivan, who told her, “You have good grades, you’re going to do good things.”

She attended Santa Clara University, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish Language and Literature. She then earned a J.D. degree from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.

Ventura Phrares then worked in Santa Cruz County government for 22 years as the Equal Employment Opportunity officer, and later was a Watsonville City Council member and Mayor. She was a directing attorney with the California Rural Legal Assistance, and now is executive director of Catholic Charities Diocese of Monterey.

“I saw how providing support and assistance makes residents aware of exercising an equal voice,” she said.

Dr. Alicia Ventura, MD is a Family Medicine Specialist in Salinas and has more than 29 years of experience in the medical field.  

She graduated from UC San Francisco School Of Medicine in 1991 and has been affiliated with the Family Medicine Residency since 1994. 

She graduated fourth in her class at WHS in 1980. She was accepted to Princeton and Stanford and a few other schools.

“I arrived at Princeton in New Jersey with just a suitcase,” she said. “Some students made rude comments, hinting that I was not good enough to be at an Ivy League university, but I remained focused on my studies and my goals.”  

Ventura graduated from Princeton with a degree in Biology/Chemistry, earned her master’s degree from UC Los Angeles and completed medical school at UCSF.

After completing her residency at Natividad Family Medicine, she stayed on as a full-time faculty member for 13 years.

She works at the Monterey Health Department’s Alisal Health Center in Salinas and teaches residents part time. 

Hearing inspiring stories is particularly important during these challenging times, says MAIA Foundation board member, Ann Carlos.

Stories could include your early life and schooling in the Pájaro Valley, universities attended, work, your struggles and triumphs during school, college and career.

“What you believe to be the source of your resilience and perseverance,” Carlos said.

Anyone who attended Watsonville High School from 1970 to 2015 and participated in the MAIA program is asked to email Ann Wykoff Carlos at [email protected] or write the MAIA Foundation, 9055 Soquel Dr., Suite H, Aptos, CA 95003.

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