Although he has lived in the Houston region for nearly three decades, Alex Gutierrez still has very strong ties and feelings toward his native homeland in the Philippines.
A physical therapist at U.S. HealthWorks in northwest Houston, Gutierrez has fond memories as a young boy growing up in the Philippines, where he was raised in a modest, tight-knit family.
So, naturally, Gutierrez was anguished last November when Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, which has the fifth largest coastline of any country in the world. Typhoon Yolanda wreaked havoc on the Philippines, devastating large portions of the country and killing more than 6,000 people.
After the initial shock subsided and he made sure family members and friends living in the Philippines were OK, Gutierrez took swift action, becoming one of the primary organizers in the Houston area for a Philippines relief effort.
He helped create a dinner/dance, recruiting co-workers at U.S. HealthWorks, his entire family, and many of his Houston friends for the charity effort on behalf of the Gawad Kalinga (GK) organization, a nonprofit group similar to the Habitat for Humanity in the U.S.
Gutierrez’s GK volunteer group, along with the Houston Royal Oaks Lions Club, decorated a large hall and cooked a spaghetti dinner for more than 200 people. It turned out to be a fun, festive evening for a great cause. The event raised $13,000 for GK and $5,000 for the Lions Club. The money was targeted entirely for the Philippines relief effort.
Gutierrez was thrilled at the outcome and what it meant for his entire family, which includes his wife (Josephine), two sons (Alexander Jr., Anthony) and Arielle, his daughter.
“To have my children get involved and to see them feel so great after giving back was very special to me,” he said. “I was so happy that it gave them a feeling of being connected to the Philippines. It really strengthened our bond as a family.”
Many of the same people were mobilized again in early May, preparing food and selling it again for a festival in Houston. The proceeds again went to GK, which has been at the forefront for several decades in providing support for families in the Philippines.
Gutierrez initially became involved with Gawad Kalinga three years ago when his daughter Arielle was invited by the organization to join its GK Heroes of Poverty Eradication (HOPE) Ambassador Scholarship Program to be the organization’s voice in the U.S. and help raise funds for GK projects.
One of Arielle’s successful fundraising initiatives was organizing a two-day Physical and Occupational Therapy Continuing Education Seminar. With U.S. HealthWorks’ sponsorship and assistance from Agnes Masiglat, the Regional Vice President of Therapy Services, the seminar was a great success. It was well attended by therapists from U.S. HealthWorks and other PTs and occupational therapists from the Houston area.
A goal of the GK scholarship program is also to develop in the Filipino-American youth the love and care for the poor and to reconnect them to their parents’ homeland through a GK immersion program in the Philippines.
For her hard work and dedication to the GK cause, Arielle was chosen for the two-week immersion program in several of GK’s communities, schools, building sites and projects in the Philippines.
She also helped in some home-building efforts in depressed areas. As a University of Houston elementary education student, Arielle enjoyed teaching underprivileged children in the GK schools the most. What made the journey even more gratifying was doing the volunteer work in Nueva Ecija, where her father grew up.
“It was a wonderful experience for Arielle – a time for her to get to know her Filipino roots and give back,” Alex said.
One year later, Alex was beaming with pride as his once “shy” daughter was speaking passionately, discussing her Philippine experience at a GK HOPE Ball Gala attended by approximately 300 people.
“It was a very moving speech by Arielle, who was the event’s main speaker,” Alex said. “Going to the Philippines with Gawad Kalinga was a tremendous experience and really helped her develop as a person.”
For the Gutierrez family, giving back is definitely a labor of love.