Martinez residents have turned out to help an Alhambra High School graduate who has turned his own misfortune as a way to do lasting good.
Since Oct. 25, 2016, when he was 21, Osiel Mendoza has known he is fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Three days before, he had proposed to his childhood sweetheart, Bella. Both are graduates of the University of Oregon.
ALS is the same disease that affected the famous ball player Lou Gehrig and for whom the disease sometimes is called. The disease kills off neurons that control voluntary muscles, and there is no cure. Half of those diagnosed with ALS die within 30 months. In Mendoza’s case, the disease struck early – most learn they have it when they are in their 40s.
Since the diagnosis, Mendoza has been raising money for the ALS Therapy Development Institute and promoting awareness. But on Saturday, July 21, Martinez residents and others took a hike of Mount Wanda and had a party for Mendoza.
Mendoza was presented with a check (final amount not known at press time), said Mark Hughes, who wanted to do something for the young man who has been among his son’s best friends. “I coached him in basketball and baseball.” In the two years since the diagnosis, Mendoza’s condition has declined, he said.
Mendoza married Bella in 2017, and using a cane to accompany his bride down the aisle. Now he is in a wheelchair. The couple now lives in Rohnert Park, where Bella trains service dogs, Hughes said.
Hughes saw the couple recently, when he delivered some meals to them. When he saw Mendoza’s condition, he decided to raise enough money to pay for the couple’s apartment for a year, about $25,000.
He didn’t want to do crowdfunding. Instead, he gathered some friends in what he called an “ad hoc” effort to get pledges.
“I went to friends and family with a connection to Osiel,” he said. And when he asked them to help, they stepped up, he said.
Some are owners of Martinez businesses. Roxx on Main sold breakfast burritos to support Hughes’s effort. Other contributors are Five Suns Brewery and Viano Vineyards, Oliver Bray, Lipary Collectible Galleries and Bridges Restaurant, the Danville eatery where scenes of “Mrs. Doubtfire” were filmed.
Some sent checks, which Hughes asked to be payable directly to Mendoza. And Hughes wasn’t shy about asking for those donations. He wanted $100, $250 and $500 contribution levels, “to make it happen,” he said. “It was an emotional appeal – eyeball to eyeball.”
Hughes said the goal has been passed, and Saturday’s event was expected to bring in even more. Hughes said he won’t know the final total until he hands the contributions to Mendoza.
When Hughes told Mendoza about his project, he discovered the young man was in Oregon, raising money to fight ALS. His family had driven him north, Hughes said.
“He’s all about service,” he said, praising Mendoza’s modesty and humility.
“We’re pretty excited,” he said, explaining he is pleased Martinez has come together to ease Mendoza’s burden.
“I’m tickled. I can’t say this has restored my faith in humanity. That faith has always been there. But the community rally is gratifying.”
Additional checks, made payable to “Osiel Mendoza,” may be sent to Hughes at 4530 Haag Road, Martinez, Calif., 94553.