Kindness starts with a smile or a friendly word, but the 20 people named as this year’s Kindest Kansas Citians went beyond that.
When 12-year-old Sameen Basha started thinking about who she’d like to nominate with her essay, she decided on Charles Smith of Overland Park. The reason? Smith is a longtime family friend who has been there for Sameen, her sister, Yasmeen; her mother, Liliana Mariaca, and most especially her stepfather, Daniel Mariaca.
Nine years ago, Daniel Mariaca was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Liliana was already a United States citizen, and Daniel decided to get a green card. It’s a long and complicated process, and one part of that is having a sponsor.
Liliana didn’t make enough money to be considered Daniel’s financial sponsor, even though they were married. They asked many people they knew, but no one was able or willing to take on that responsibility — until they asked Charles Smith.
Smith, a retired educator, had known Daniel casually for years as a regular patron of a restaurant in Shawnee where Daniel worked as a cook.
“He asked my advice about immigration,” Smith said. “He decided to go back to Mexico to wait and apply for the right papers, so he did and he came back, all of the sudden (he needed to) have a sponsor, and he said, ‘Would you be so good as to do this for me?’ ”
Smith agreed, and Daniel got his green card. Three years later, in 2012, he became an American citizen.
“There are many families that have the same problem, and they probably don’t have so many people like Mr. Smith,” said Liliana. “I’m happy my daughter is proud of him, and she can see the goodness.”
In addition to helping Daniel with his green card, Smith has been close with Sameen’s family in other ways. They’ve spent holidays together, and when Sameen needed someone to come with her to Pawnee Elementary’s Grandparents Day celebration, she called Smith.
“This little girl needed a grandparent to be there with her so she wouldn’t be so different from the other kids,” Smith said. “I know she’s a good kid, so I thought, ‘Why not me?’ Kids are important in my life.”
It’s the spirit of Smith and Sameen’s relationship that touches Liliana the most.
“He and his wife, I think they’re naturally — they’re just nice. I don’t think it’s something special about us. It’s just them,” Liliana said. “We go and visit and (he and Sameen) will just start talking about anything.”
Synergy Services, which sponsors the contest, held a ceremony to honor the winners May 6. All the students, including Sameen, read their essays aloud. Smith was there to receive his award and hear what Sameen had to say about him.
“ ‘Thank you very much for this honor,’ ” he told her after the ceremony.
The subject of each Kindest Kansas Citian essay has to be at least 18 years old, and the person cannot be related to the student writing the essay. The yearly contest takes entries from student from kindergarten through high school all over the metro area.
Other students in Johnson County who wrote finalist essays were Bo Sprague, Bella Sanchez, Jak Guimbellot, Madison Montgomery, Nate Swisher, Brandon Kirmer, Rachael Baron, Isha Bagga, Emma Grace McFerrin, Ayushi Kothari and Charlie Acosta. Their Kindest Kansas Citians were Jim Huber, Marcella Chestnut, Jodi Foster, Sally Ruemmler, Kay Johnston, Kathleen Shaffer, Jennifer Staab, Martie Meeks, Seema Shasma, Grace Church, Kalpana Lalgudi and Chuck Stanford.
Beth Lipoff: firstname.lastname@example.org