December 20, 2013

A prize worth waiting for

Twelve years later, Dalton resident receives reading award

The Daily Citizen
rachelbrown@daltoncitizen.com

— Twelve years ago, Sergio Triana brought home from school an unopened letter he was told to give his parents.

The Park Creek School third-grader just knew he must be in trouble, but when his mother opened it, she said she couldn’t tell him what the letter was about, but that it was something good. The next day, along with an award for having perfect attendance for the year, Triana’s name was called at the school’s awards day. He was recognized for reading the most books of anyone in his school or in any of the Whitfield County or Dalton Public Schools that participated in a reading program through BEEP — the Beaulieu Excellence in Education Program, sponsored by floorcovering company Beaulieu of America.

Triana was surprised and excited, but that excitement soon faded to disappointment. Because he was not a United States citizen, he didn’t have a Social Security number. Because he lacked that number, he wasn’t allowed to collect the $1,000 Savings Bond that was his prize. Contest organizers took his picture and wrote him a letter promising him his prize would still be around when he became a citizen.

In October 2012, Triana, a Dalton State College nursing student who aspires to one day become a surgeon, applied to become a citizen. In July 2013, he realized his goal.

On Friday, Triana went to Beaulieu headquarters in Dalton, presented his certificate from 12 years ago, and showed the letter promising he could collect when he fulfilled all the requirements. Officials with Beaulieu had set up the meeting in advance.

Triana, and former BEEP coordinator Betty Ware, said they couldn’t remember how many books the young student read to achieve his prize, but whatever the number, it was more than anyone else in his school or the rest of the county.

Then, in a planned ceremony in front of his parents, Jesus and Laura; younger siblings, Monica and Pedro; and dozens of Beaulieu employees, Triana accepted a check for $1,000 from Beaulieu executives.

“This is really about Sergio and Sergio’s persistence, achieving his educational goals,” said chief executive officer Del L. Land.

Triana was just 18 months old when he said his father, who came to the U.S. on a work visa to pursue better opportunities, moved him and his mother to Dalton. He hasn’t been back to Mexico since. He grew up attending Dalton Public Schools. He remembers having a hard time communicating at first because at home the family spoke little English, but he said he took English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes and learned quickly after starting school.

When he turned 14, several of his older friends began getting driver’s licenses. When he became of driving age, Triana still had to rely on others to drive him places. An uncle took time away from work to shuttle him to his college classes, he said. Triana said he saw the benefits of citizenship and knew he wanted to achieve it someday. He began working toward that goal when he turned 15.

In high school, he took a health class where he became interested in the inner workings of the human body and how he could repair problems that arose. Brain and heart surgery especially interested him. He graduated from Dalton High School in 2010 and began attending Dalton State College with the goal of one day becoming a doctor. He is considering attending Berry College or Emory University to continue his education.

Jesus Triana, who works at a local textile business, said that while he has a good job and a good boss, he wants his children to achieve even more. Monica is looking to enroll in a nursing program. Pedro wants to become an architect. Jesus Triana said his two younger children are already U.S. citizens because they were born here. He and his wife are working to obtain their citizenship.

Sergio Triana said that while he was too young when he first received the reading award to fully understand the concept of a Savings Bond, he remembers being excited at the award.

“It was a beautiful day for me because my teachers (and other students) kept congratulating me,” he said.

Sergio Triana said he was very sad when he learned he couldn’t collect. He got over it, he said, a few years later. As he went on to graduate from school and get a job at a local textile company, Sergio said his boss there influenced him to work hard and go to college.

“I’ve always tried to push myself to do the best I can,” he said.

Sergio Triana said he thanks Beaulieu, his third-grade teacher, Tara Marie, and his parents.

As part of BEEP, many employees during the 1990s and early 2000s visited local schools weekly to read to classes. The program was discontinued after schools stepped up security procedures following the Columbine shootings.