La Verne students
Taking part in Sowing Seeds for Life project were University of La Verne students, from left, Matt Sustayta, Armando Capia, Lane Jackson, Albert “Pablo” Acosta, Jayden Earlywine, Ted Brestow, Cassandra Egan and Adriana Navarro. Far right is academic advisor Michelle Kechichian. Credit Marilee Goodwin

By Larry Stewart


Volunteerism was alive and well in Glendora on Martin Luther King Day. Probably the best example of that took place at the Glendora Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 770 N. Glendora Ave.

Eight students from the University of La Verne spent most of the day planting 20 orange trees on the church property and five more in a nearby backyard at the home of longtime Glendora resident Marian Reich.

The project was arranged through Sowing Seeds for Life, an East San Gabriel charity founded and headed by Glendora resident Vicki Brown, who is also CEO and president of DPI Labs, an aerospace company in La Verne.

Sowing Seeds for Life, or SSFL, provides food directly to some 6,000 needy people per month and a variety of other services. Planting trees is just one facet of the multi-faceted charity, which also operates a community farm at Falcon Ranch, a 45-acre spread owned by John Defalco in the foothills of the San Dimas Canyon.

 Brown said not only will the orange trees provide fruit for her charity but the trees also improve the environment. “Trees produce oxygen and just two trees provide all you need to breathe,” Brown said.

The trees planted by the La Verne students were donated through the courtesy of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Brown said the Fruit Tree Foundation, another non-profit charity, contacted the food bank’s Andrea Ramirez, who in turn contacted her.

 In November, the L.A. food bank named Brown the 2011 winner of the Tony Collier Award because of her dedication to the fight against hunger. The Fruit Tree Foundation connected Brown with the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, which donated the trees.

Greg DeSmet, Paul Bown and Jorge Montero of DPI Labs transported the trees to DPI Labs at 1350 Arrow Highway, where the University of La Verne students gathered Monday morning.

 The La Verne group included six members of the La Verne track team plus graduate assistant coach Jose Linker, two female students from Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, academic advisor Michelle Kechichian and school chaplain Zandra Wagoner.

The members of the track team, all distance runners, were junior Matt Sustayta, sophomore Albert “Pablo” Acosta, freshmen Lane Jackson, Ted Brestow, Armando Capia, and Jayden Earlywine.

 The two sorority sisters were senior Adriana Navarro and sophomore Cassandra Egan. Linker said Pat Widolff, La Verne’s head track coach, encouraged members of the team to participate.

 It was strictly on a volunteer basis – there was no school credit involved. Mike Downard, the owner of Rainbow Gardens Nursery in Glendora, served as planting consultant, working closely with SSFL member Mary Moody.

Other SSFL members playing key roles in the project were sisters Marilee Goodwin and Carolu Every, whose mother is Marian Reich, the Glendora resident who agreed to have five orange trees planted in her backyard. Muriel and Dennis Foster, the grounds managers for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and Steve Leonard, who provided an auger to dig holes, were others helping put the project together.

Mary Moody recited a Martin Luther King Jr. quote that sort of summed up the day: “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve . . . You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”