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Local Couple Reaches Out To Somali Children
Charlottesville , Va. Dec. 25, 2005 (The Daily Progress) – Often quietly and without fanfare, residents in every community build a foundation that makes life better. Central Vir-ginia is no different.
The contributions may be through work. They may come through volunteer efforts. But the common thread is helping others.
Each year since 1995, The Daily Progress has profiled 12 such people. As always, our readers nominated many worthy candidates deserving of recognition.
The Distinguished Dozen profiled in these pages, sometimes including remarkable couples, are truly representative of those who make a difference across Central Virginia .
A hammock sits in the front yard of Sonny and Debra Beale's modest Broad Avenue home, but it looks like the thing hardly gets used.
Taking "me" time isn't exactly high on the Beales' priority list.
The couple's Charlottesville home has long been known as a neighborhood hangout, a de facto day care where kids could count on finding a warm and welcoming spot.
Some of the kids who gathered were friends of the Beales' own son and daughter, who are now adults. Others got to know the pair through Debra's teaching or Sonny's tenure as a Boy Scout leader and Little League baseball coach.
"For many years, they have helped children in their neighborhood," Evie Safran, a co-worker of Debra Beale's at Johnson Elementary School , said. "It's been a place where a lot of children have gone and felt safe. Now they are helping these refugees from Somalia ."
Indeed, on a recent cold and icy afternoon, Debra Beale's trip to answer the front door was accompanied by five rambunctious Somali boys, all out of school on a snow day.
Beale, herself off work for the day, said she thought about curling up with a book on the couch; but then the phone rang, one of the boys asked if he could come over, and as usual, Beale told him to head on down.
So, instead of solitude, the Beales' home was filled with the noise of happy kids, all of whom were busy playing a homemade board game in another room.
When Sonny Beale arrived home from his job as manager of the University of Virginia Recycling Center a short while later, the kids rushed up the steps to greet the man they've seen help their family and extended community in innumerable ways during the past couple of years.
When the Somali family down the street had a devastating house fire last year, for instance, the Beales moved the entire family into their home for more than a month.
Last week, the Beales drove a Somali family to Alexandria for an immigration meeting.
As Sonny Beale entered, he flipped one of the boys, Hussein, a piece of candy, instructing him to cut it into five pieces and split it with his friends.
"What is it," the boy asked?
"Chocolate fudge," Sonny Beale said. "It's good."
It's another first, along with trips to car races, outings to the mall, and countless types of new cuisine the Beales have been able to share.
The longtime Charlottesville residents are quick to note, however, that anything they've given to the families, whether it's lodging, money or goods, has been more than reciprocated in less tangible ways.
"Last year, I turned 45, and I kind of went through a mid-life crisis, to put it politely," Sonny Beale said.
After the night of the fire, when the Somalis came into their lives, the crisis faded, according to Beale.
"That pulled me out of my funk," said Beale, who delights in passing along skills to the kids and their families.
The Beales are also quick to praise the Somalis they've come to know, all of whom lived for years in refugee camps before coming to Charlottesville with the help of the International Rescue Committee.
"They're very resourceful and self-reliant," Debra Beale said.
"They all want to learn what they don't know," said Sonny Beale, who has taught some of the older Somalis basic auto repair, among other skills, and hired some to work with him at UVa.
There's no clear cut reason why the Beales have given so much of themselves over the years, although Debra said she received a great deal of help from others growing up and she knows the difference it made in her life.
Sonny Beale again claimed to be the winner in the arrangement, saying that the Somalis provide good companionship and an outlet for his urge to teach others.
Safran has her own theory on the pair.
"I think they're very altruistic, community minded people," Safran said. "They see a need that's not being met, and they rise to the occasion."
Contact David Hendrick at (434) 978-7277 or email@example.com