Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

May 11, 2004 > One Child: Reach Out And Help A Child!

One Child: Reach Out And Help A Child!

by Praveena Raman

"... If I but reached one child,
And made him feel his worth.
Then all the raw, disheartened days,
Would vanish from this earth..."

I first saw Bernie Dutra two years ago at a Candlelighters lunch where representatives from the organizations applying for grants presented information about their needs. I was impressed by her composure and grace. I was also struck by her demeanor - she was friendly, easy to talk to and exuded confidence. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Bernie again and spending a couple of hours talking with her.

During our conversation, I discovered that her confidence is the result of much hard work and support by family and others. One Child: Clothing the Spirit, a non-profit organization was started by Bernadine Dutra (aka Bernie) in Fremont with the hope that a community can reach out to its children.

One Child extends a helping hand to needy children, providing new clothes and school supplies to improve their appearance and self-esteem leading to a better chance for success in school. New clothes are displayed in a retail environment to emphasize the value they hold for a "buyer."

Bernie's motivation for founding One Child stems from her personal childhood experiences. She vividly remembers being poor, not having clean clothes to wear and often being hungry. As an introverted child with very little self-confidence until well into her thirties, Bernie says "all of us can relate to the taunts that under-dressed children receive and the lasting impact this can have on the self-esteem of a child."

When her husband, John, who worked at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, decided to sell real estate part time to earn additional money to support their family, Bernie was still shy and withdrawn. Soon John wanted to open his own real estate office but knew he needed Bernie's help. Bernie had difficulty believing she could staff the office.

It took John a year to convince Bernie to study for her real estate license and feel confident of her abilities. Bernie says with a smile, "John was a wonderful teacher. The process of learning real estate made me do things that resulted in achievements and increased my self-esteem. I will always be grateful to him for that." As the Dutra business flourished and Bernie's confidence grew, she never forgot the painful lessons of her childhood dreamed of helping needy children.

In 1999, Bernie told her family that she wanted to start a small non-profit organization to give underprivileged children new clothes. Family members, especially John whose own family had been on welfare and had a hard childhood, were extremely supportive of the idea. Registration paperwork was completed in 2001 and the nonprofit organization, One Child: Clothing the Spirit was born.

With the help of her daughter-in-law Dianna, a teacher at Brier Elementary School, the school's principal and the Dutra family, One Child opened in a room at Brier Elementary The room was decorated as a department store - new clothes on racks - and called, "The Look". Teachers identified fifty-one children, including siblings, who were invited to "shop" at "The Look" to select a set of new clothes, backpacks, books, school and dental supplies. However One Child still faced a bumpy road..

After a month of operation, "The Look" was seeking a new home. Brier Elementary School notified Bernie and her volunteers that the room was needed by the school. Bernie was determined that her idea would survive and approached then Fremont Unified School District Superintendent Sharon Jones. The result was the relocation of "The Look" to two Kindergarten classrooms at Marshall Elementary School.

"I always tell people that God is my CEO. You don't hear of things like this happening," laughs Bernie. As the young organization settled in at Marshall, Bernie spoke at many community meetings to increase awareness of One Child and its vision. The ultimate goal for One Child is to provide a building with stores, a gymnasium, after school tutoring, counseling and access to important services. Nancy Farber, Chief Executive Officer at Washington Hospital, heard Bernie speak at the Niles Rotary about One Child and was so moved that she not only made a personal donation of $250 but also offered to provide space at the back of the hospital near the receiving area. Following approval from the Board of Directors, the area was refurbished and rented to One Child for $1 a month including PG&E and cleaning. "They were just fabulous," says Bernie. "I just can't thank them enough." Soon after, Nancy, Bernie, her staff and volunteers from the hospital held a painting party and barbeque and readied One Child for business.

With new clothes displayed attractively on racks, families come, one at a time, to "shop." "It is so wonderful to see the faces of not just the children but of their parents," says Bernie. "They are so happy for their children. They are finally going to get something new." One Child, while emphasizing new clothes avoids "trendy" clothes, working with schools to support existing dress codes.

One Child has received help from many community sources including large grants from Fremont Bank and SBC. Steve McKinley of Steve McKinley Graphic Design donated his services and created the One Child: Clothing The Spirit logo and Dr. Ricupito donated his orthodontic services to One Child while Dr. Norman and Kathy Wat have helped the children with dental work.

Besides partnering with the public schools, One Child has also been working with Healthy Start, Tri-City Homeless Coalition and Fremont Resource Center to identify and serve needy children. One Child served 51 children in 2001, 104 in 2002, 201 in 2003 and they expect to serve at least 400 children in 2004. At present, One Child operates only in Fremont but they hope to expand to include the Tri-City and greater East Bay area.

To celebrate her birthday on May 21st, Bernie Dutra will host a fundraising party for One Child with ice cream and hot dogs. One Child is dependent upon donations and support from the community for its success. It supports children from infant through high school. The estimated cost for clothes and supplies per child is approximately $250. Information about making monetary donations or donating new clothes or supplies can be found on the website or by calling 510-713-8643. To make monetary contributions, checks should be written to "OneChild", and mailed to the attention of Bernadine Dutra at P.O. 200 Mowry Avenue, Fremont, CA 94538.
Happy Birthday Bernie!

One Child: Suggested Donations:
New clothes for children from kindergarten age through high school, regular and husky sizes are needed. Specifically:

  • under shorts or panties
  • socks
  • shoes
  • jeans/slacks
  • outdoor shorts
  • shirts/blouses
  • sweatshirt (heavy)
  • pair sweats
  • backpack
  • school supplies
  • dental supplies

      To Touch a Child
      by Mary Catherine Daigre

      "If I but touched one child,
      Oh how my heart would sing.
      And take flight to rejoice,
      On gossamer tipped wings.

      If I but reached one child,
      And made him feel his worth.
      Then all the raw, disheartened days,
      Would vanish from this earth.

      If I but guided one child,
      To be the best he could.
      And see him standing soldier tall,
      Where a defeated child once stood.

      If I but comforted one child,
      Whose sadness knows no bounds.
      And make him see how life can be,
      Experiencing the joys around.

      I have not Solomon's wisdom,
      Nor can I cure each ill.
      But to know I have touched one child,
      My destiny would be fulfilled."
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