Domingo Israel Castro, 18, says that some people told him he’d never graduate. On some days, as he nodded off in class, shaking off exhaustion from working night shifts as a floor cleaner, he started to believe them.
“A lot of times I wanted to give up,” Castro said. “Skip school and just keep doing my job.”
But on May 12, Castro will prove them all wrong when he graduates as a member of Fremont High School’s class of 2018.
Since ninth grade, Castro has split his time between being a full-time student and retaining employment, including full-time employment as a floor cleaner for the past two years. Throughout high school, he’s worked as a welder, in a grocery store and now cleans floors for stores like Walgreens. The double-duty workload has led to hard times—these days, Castro rarely operates on more than three hours of sleep. But Castro has pushed forward, hoping to better himself through education while earning money to support himself—and his family back in Guatemala, who receives part of his pay every month.
“My great motivation is my family, my mom and my siblings who are in my country,” Castro said. “My siblings, they look at me like a father, so I can’t give up now, I have to keep going, keep doing what I’m doing and help them.”
Castro has spent most of his life working—as a 12 year old in Guatemala, he helped prepare and deliver chickens for a local chicken company.
Castro came to America at age 15, looking for more opportunities to help provide for his family. He attempted to enter the country alone, he says, but was picked up by immigration officials and held in custody for three days. He received help from an immigration organization, and now, lives in Fremont legally with a family friend and a work permit, he says.
Now, Castro gets to school at 7 a.m., and gets two or three hours of sleep after classes end before heading off to work anytime between 5 p.m and 7 p.m. He works through the night, often returning home at 5 or 6 a.m.
“It depends on the time, I will sleep a little bit,” he said. “If I don’t then I just take a shower and then I come to school.”
With Castro’s busy schedule, the biggest challenge to his academics has been keeping awake.
“I have no sleep,” he said. “Trying to keep awake in class could be very hard.”
Amy Gillispie, one of Castro’s English Language Learning (ELL) teachers, said that, despite Castro’s work commitments outside of school, he rarely missed a day, no matter how tired he was.
“He was just a really kind, hardworking, dedicated kiddo,” she said. “There would be times where about my time of day, he would get really tired and nod off because he had worked all night, and I would always go and buy him a pop or a Pop-Tart or something to wake him up a little bit. He’d get up and go get a drink and stand up for a few minutes and then he’d get right back to work.”
Language, however, has presented barriers. Castro came to the United States speaking K’iche’, a Guatemalan dialect, and a little Spanish. His ELL classes have proven vital to helping him succeed, he says, and he’s worked hard to expand his language skills on his own, Gillispie said.
“I think that’s why he was so successful, because he really pushed to learn English outside of class, he always spoke in English, he rarely spoke in Spanish, and he really didn’t want help unless he really couldn’t learn it on his own,” she said.
Still, some classes have posed difficulties—particularly history and science, where the more nuanced language was tough to keep up with. Castro says that, in those cases, he just focused on passing.
That wasn’t the case for every class, however. Castro became passionate about his art and tech classes, and has come to love drawing. He’s drawn self-portraits, sketches and likes to dabble in cartoons.
“He’s an amazing artist,” said Gillispie, who was also Castro’s art teacher. “I think it was something he was good at, it was something he enjoyed, and I think it was a way for him to kind of relax and think about something else, since he didn’t have much free time.”
Gillispie added that Castro would work on perfecting his craft with what little free time he had. When asked about his free time, Castro laughed, saying that he found occasional time for fun on Fridays and Saturdays.
“Nobody likes to work,” Castro said, laughing. “But when we need it, we have to do it. That’s why people say look for something that you really like and you will not work.”
For Castro, that could eventually be art—but it could also be working on cars or motorcycles, his other passions.
After graduating, he plans to spend the next two years working before eventually going to college, where he hopes to pursue a career as a mechanic or in computer science. He also hopes to continue drawing.
Castro’s family will be unable to attend his graduation, he said. It’s often been tough going through school without them here.
“It’s a little bit hard because they are not here and you are working and studying, so sometimes you need a hug from mom or dad,” he said.
But it’s comforting to know that his work is helping them in the long run.
“I’m supporting them not with a lot, but I know I’m helping them, so to make sure that they are happy and don’t feel real worried,” he said, adding that he was driven by a desire “to be an example for my siblings to not give up what I’m doing.”
Gillispie added that Castro “didn’t have a choice” in keeping up his busy lifestyle.
“He had to work because he had to support himself,” she said. “A lot of times, these students, as soon as they can, they’ll drop out to work full time. But for him, he wanted to make sure that he would have more opportunities than, maybe, some of his other classmates.”
According to Megan Bunn, another one of Castro’s ELL teachers, Castro’s secret has been his attitude.
“He was just one of those kids who, I always said, came in with a smile on his face,” she said. “He never complained about work, I always admired the fact that he came to school after working long nights and never would complain about the amount of work he had, and he’d have his homework done. He was an inspiration to other kids, too, that anything can be done.”
And while he says some of his peers have suggested that he give up school and focus on work, or give up work to focus on school, Castro is excited to have made it to graduation without losing either.
“Sometimes, I almost give up,” Castro said. “But I did it.”
Melissa Diers was a bit tired on Wednesday morning, but happy with results of the Fremont Area Big Give.
Preliminary figures indicate the online fundraiser netted $342,317 on Tuesday — topping last year’s total of $260,816.
The Fremont Area Community Foundation hosted the 24-hour event designed to raise funds and awareness for 56 nonprofit organizations in Fremont and the greater Dodge County area.
“We were so pleased with how the day ended,” said Diers, the foundation’s executive director. “Once again, we were just amazed at the generosity of our communities and the spirit of community itself that was demonstrated.”
Diers said she talked with people who wanted to be part of the day with gifts small and large.
“Every gift is vitally important,” Diers emphasized. “For us, it’s about having everybody participate at whatever level they can.”
She noted something else.
“I heard people say they were so excited to see the community coming together in this way,” she said.
Diers commended the nonprofit organizations’ involvement in the fundraiser.
“They really stepped up their promotion this year, making sure that the communities they serve were aware of their participation in the Big Give and aware of how important their role is in our communities so they really were a big part of making the day successful,” Diers said.
Diers added that the $342,317 figure on the Big Give website is a preliminary number.
“We still have to reconcile all the transactions,” Diers said. “We go through every transaction that comes through, because at the end of the day somebody might realize they made a mistake and entered a gift twice or entered a number incorrectly.”
For instance, someone might have intended to give $20, but accidentally put in $200 — or vice versa.
“We have the opportunity to come back and correct that,” Diers said. “So we always say these are preliminary numbers until we go through and check every transaction and make sure that it’s exactly as it was intended to be and going to the intended nonprofit.”
That process will happen over the next couple of weeks.
“It takes a little while go through 1,736 donations, but we do it to make sure everything is as it should be,” Diers said.
Preliminary figures on the Big Give website indicate the Scribner Area Foundation topped the list of contributions received with 31 unique donations totaling $79,493.
In second place was Lutheran Family Services with 11 unique donations that totaled $25,878 and in the third spot was the Fremont Family YMCA with 59 unique donations totaling $21,850.
Those who wanted to give, but weren’t able to can look ahead to 2019.
“It’s very likely that the community foundation will host a Big Give again next year so they should keep their ears and eyes open and there will be another chance to join in the Big Give-Together,” Diers said.
It’s a dollars and cents — or sense — issue.
Candidates seeking the District 1 seat on the Dodge County Board of Supervisors are zeroing in on the costs of housing inmates as the May 15 primary election approaches.
Incumbent Rob George is facing challenger Bob Bendig in the race.
During the campaign, both candidates are stressing the importance of having skilled elected officials who can find cost-effective ways to deal with prisoner incarceration and other issues.
“I think the biggest issue going forward is going to be the jail costs and housing prisoners in another county,” Bendig said. “The cost has continued to increase since the (Dodge County) jail was closed in 2011. It’s increased about $800,000 in three years.”
Bendig said supervisors will need to analyze and find the most cost-effective way to house the prisoners.
George also pointed to the increasing costs.
“The cost of the jail continues to escalate — the number (of inmates) and the costs are just skyrocketing,” George said. “When we started our contract with Saunders County, we had two prices for the number of inmates. We had one price for under 50 inmates a day and we had another price of over 50 inmates a day. That was six years ago I believe. We never went under 50.”
That number had increased.
“Two weeks ago on Wednesday, we had 88 inmates and we’ve hit a high of close to 100 at one time from Dodge County alone,” George said.
In examining an inmate list, George compiled statistics indicating which offenses led to the prisoners’ incarceration.
His research indicated that a large percentage of those in jail have drug- or alcohol-related issues.
“We need to figure out a better way than incarcerating people and one of those ways is to increase our ability to have people on probation and teaching them how to cope with issues that come about,” he said.
George said the probation office is starting to do that with different classes.
The candidates also cited other top issues.
Bendig talked about a joint law enforcement center.
“They’re looking at the county city law enforcement being under one roof,” Bendig said.
George talked about 911 communication systems.
“Our current system has holes throughout the county so the rural firemen and sheriff’s deputies who are out on patrol don’t have a good line of communication with the public service answering point,” George said. “So right now we’re in negotiations with Motorola and a consultant to get that taken care of and it’s a very significant cost.”
Both candidates highlighted their experience as a key factor in serving on the board.
“I’ve got 16 years on the board,” George said. “I serve as chairman of the finance committee. I’m on the roads committee and I’m on the jail committee.”
George also talked about the county’s board of equalization, which handles property tax protests.
“Probably the biggest thing I bring to the table on the board of equalization is — as a real estate agent — I understand what the current values of property in Dodge County are worth — whether it’s ag, commercial or residential,” George said.
George, a lifetime Dodge County resident, has more than 16 years of experience with Don Peterson & Associates Real Estate.
“The experience that I’ve got with my full-time job gives me a better understanding of real estate values than anyone else on board,” George said. “And the whole goal of the board of equalization is to have fair and equal property tax valuations, because that’s what the levy is based off of — for the schools and NRDs (Natural Resources District), Metro Community College and the city.”
George also pointed to his experience in reference to the jail costs.
“I’ve got that institutional knowledge to know where we’ve been and how to direct us going forward,” he said.
Bendig said he has more than 30 years of financial experience and 20-plus years of budget experience with multi-million dollar companies.
A lifelong Dodge County resident, Bendig is a 1985 Midland University graduate. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration. He worked in the accounting area for Paxton Verling Steel Company in Carter Lake, Iowa, for three years.
He then worked 18 years for Fremont National Bank. Starting in the compliance-audit area, Bendig worked his way up to chief financial officer, while being in charge of operations at the same time. During that time, FNB was purchased by First National Bank of Omaha.
Bendig worked as a staff accountant for a short time at Shaw, Hull and Navarette CPAs. He then worked 10 years as financial services manager at Fremont Area Medical Center (now Fremont Health), which reports its budgets to the county.
He now is the controller-chief financial officer at Nebraska Irrigated Seeds, where he’s worked 2 ½ years.
Bendig, who describes himself as a fast learner, noted that he’s worked in three types of businesses — banking, healthcare and seed production and manufacturing.
He believes his experiences in the gamut of industries would benefit the citizens of Dodge County.
Bendig also has volunteer involvement, which includes 10 years with the Fremont Chamber Diplomats. He is a life member of Optimist International and is a member of the Fremont Optimist Club. He served as treasurer for three years on the John C. Fremont Days board.
He noted something else.
“The citizens of Dodge County have expressed a need for change on the county board,” Bendig said. “I feel my financial experience and management skills would serve Dodge County well. As a licensed CPA (Certified Public Accountant) with an expansive business and budget sense, I feel I could help provide a more judicious use of citizens’ tax dollars.”
Bendig also said he’d seek better communication between the board and county departments.
“I think the line of communication needs to be opened up between various departments throughout the county and figuring out what their needs and concerns are,” he said.
A road construction project slated for the intersection of Morningside and Luther Road can move forward after the Fremont City Council approved a contract for the work at its meeting on Tuesday.
The council unanimously approved a resolution to award the contract to Pavers, Inc. which is based out of Valley.
According to Public Works Director Dave Goedeken, the project will include replacing concrete pavement at the intersection and widening to allow easier turning for semi-trucks.
“We’re making the intersection a little bigger for wider turns so that semi-trucks that are coming through there going to the power plant or going to that new industrial area that we have down there, or going to the water plant, can get around the corner a little easier,” he said. “Plus, the intersection is just bad, it’s just starting to break up, so we’re completely tearing that out and putting it up new.”
He also added that storm sewer work would be completed as part of the project as well as the replacement of a water main by the Department of Utilities that will be completed when the pavement is torn out before being replaced.
Pavers, Inc. was the only company to make a bid on the project, which came in at $127,747.40. The funds to complete the project will come out of the city’s street fund.
“They actually came in just a couple thousand dollars over the engineers estimate on this project,” Goedeken said.
The engineer’s estimate for the project was $125,000 and the budgeted cost through the capital improvement plan is the same amount.
In its only other item on the regular agenda, the council also approved the sale of a lot in the Morningside North Business Park.
The council unanimously approved an amended ordinance to sell Lot 1 of Block 2 in the Morningside North Business Park to Ted Maple, owner of Ted’s Covers and Tarps.
“Ted wants to purchase it and move his business that is currently out by Victory Marine out to this portion,” City Administrator Brian Newton said. “He has two or three employees out there and he just wants to expand his business and this is a perfect spot for that on that little piece of property out there.”
The lot in question is 3.40 acres and will be sold for a total of $65,620.
“This is the little sliver that exists after we move Johnson Road, which is why it is only 3.40 acres,” Newton said. “He wants to do it in about a year, so he is going to wait for us to move Johnson Road and get it put back in place.”
As part of the purchase agreement $1,312 will be paid as a down payment upon approval of the purchase agreement and $5,250 will be required in an escrow payment within 180 days, and both will be held until closing when $59,058 will be received.
“He wants to start paying on it right away, because he has bank approval,” Newton said. “I don’t blame him because that way he has a lot of it paid for by the time he gets ready to build.”
After unanimously voting to introduce the ordinance and hold a first reading, the council was then asked by staff to suspend the rules and place the amended resolution on final reading.
A motion followed and was approved by a vote of 7-1, with Councilmember Susan Jacobus casting the lone no vote.
The motion then went to final reading and the council made its final vote to approve the amended ordinance 8-0.
The original resolution was amended by the council to include a stipulation that all negotiations for all easements be included in the language and that the purchase agreement be amended accordingly.