This article originally appeared on the front page of the Antelope Valley Press, March 1, 2015.
By Julie Drake
PALMDALE – John and Sue Porter attended Palmdale High School at the same time, and they have both lived a life of love, learning and service. It just took a while to get together.
They graduated in 1970, but the powerhouse community service couple did not reconnect until some 26 years later.
In 1996, John visited Sue at the Paper Rabbit shop in Santa Clarita, where she managed to say hello. They went to a local coffee shop to catch up on life since high school.
John ordered something he never ordered before but wanted to show he knew what he was doing.
“It was awful,” he said.
The couple were friends in high school but didn’t date. They went their separate ways after high school, got married and had children.
But they realized during their casual coffee break there was more to it. The Porters married in 1998 and have been working together for the community since.
The Porters were honored Friday with the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, Child Advocate award, at CASA Antelope Valley’s third annual “Helping Children Blossom” fundraising dinner at the John P. Eliopulous Hellenic Center.
John is assistant superintendent of Special Education and Student Services for the Palmdale School District. Sue is an account executive for United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Antelope Valley Region.
Lesley Bois, regional manager for CASA of Los Angeles-Antelope Valley, said they try to give the Child Advocate award to what they call the “unsung heroes of the community.”
“And the Porters definitely fall into that category,” Bois said. “They’re incredibly humble, yet they both work kind of under the radar but very much involved with the community.”
Bois added the Porters are very community-focused because they have lived in the area their whole lives. They are also child-focused.
“He’s very interested in our program because he deals with a lot of children in his district who are foster children, and many of our foster children are special-education students. So he’s had a lot of contact with that, and he values having a CASA involved with those cases,” Bois said.
The Porters were honored for their years of service to the community. True to their humble nature, when they found out they were to be honored, Sue said they were flabbergasted.
“We’re like, ‘Are you sure you have the right Porters?'” she joked. “We walked out of the room looking at each other like, ‘Wow, are they talking about us? Because you go along day-by-day and you know people that do sometimes bigger, greater things. For them to recognize us is really humbling.”
John’s reaction to the couple’s award was “somewhere between flabbergasted and embarrassed.”
“There are so many folks doing so many things,” he said.
John is also a longtime member of the Lancaster Performing Arts Center Foundation board of directors.
“You do those things, and you don’t do them really to get noticed, but the fact that somebody notices is gratifying,” John said. “But there’s a lot of people doing a lot more.”
“Really, I feel like their theme of unsung heroes is fitting because the community is just full of them,” he said. “If we can be the stand-in, or the surrogate, for volunteerism and community involvement in general, then we’ll have served another purpose to stimulate people to get involved in their community.”
“And with CASA,” Sue added.
The Porters are active with Kiwanis Club of Palmdale West, which has a big agenda to support children in the community.
“Pretty much with United Way and Kiwanis together, we get pulled into a lot of things that we enjoy doing, and it usually always centers around children,” Sue said.
They also supported the Antelope Valley Boys and Girls Club, the Painted Turtle camp for children with chronic illnesses, the Antelope Valley Family YMCA. They have worked with the Palmdale Sheriff’s boosters and are lifetime members of the Friends of the Palmdale City Library.
“As a couple we are very involved with our community, both with our efforts and our financial support that we do to various organizations,” John said.
John also donates annually through the United Way to the Lancaster Performing Arts Center’s Arts for Youth program, which promotes education through the arts.
“This is kind of standard operating procedure because of the household I came from,” John said, noting that his father, the late Dr. Carl Porter, was also very involved in the community, including some of the same groups John supports.
Sue noted her mother donated to the United Way.
“Even at a point in my life when I was a single mom, United Way helped me find, actually find, a babysitter. I just always knew that you go to the United Way because they give back to the community,” she said.
CASA is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of foster children through trained volunteer advocates.
“Until I really understood it, I knew they were there but I didn’t really know the whole side of it. I’m excited to get involved now,” said Sue, who will be trained as a CASA volunteer.
CASA provides continuity to foster youth and serve as mentors in addition to being advocates, John said.
“CASA gives the children a voice, and very often these foster children age out and become homeless out on the street, and United Way is very involved in the homeless work, getting people into homes,” Sue said.
The foster system can be impersonal.
John said Palmdale School District’s Special Education Department works closely with CASA volunteers when they have foster youth who are assigned one.
“They’re very valuable,” he said.
Palmdale School District has the Valley’s highest population of foster youth with roughly 700 children, second only to Los Angeles Unified School District.
“They’re not all being generated from the local community,” John said. “They’re coming from the L.A. area and the Valley and just all kinds of areas within Los Angeles County, and they end up in Palmdale.”
CASA volunteer Diane Grooms nominated the Porters for the honor.
Grooms said Porter “single-handedly, I think, knows every foster youth by name, and cares that their education is not impacted by their current issues with parents and housing.”
“As an organization, he embraces them in a very unique way. It’s wonderful to see that kind of support for our foster youth,” said Grooms, who is also president of Lancaster School District’s board of education.
Foster children move in and out of foster care depending on their family situations, and Grooms said Porter makes sure the Palmdale School District addresses foster youths’ educational needs so they are able to get a good education.
“If I could clone him, I would. He truly understands that they have unique needs,” Grooms said.
Grooms added that Sue Porter, through her role with the United Way, works to help the nonprofit organizations that provide additional services for foster youth.
“She’s taken a lot of very young people under her wing and given them confidence to try things they never would have before,” Grooms said.
As a couple, Grooms said the Porters are a “powerhouse.”
“There are so many couples out there like that, that don’t get the appreciation each one of them is great, but together they’re fantastic,” Grooms said. “And that’s why I nominated them, because they really exemplify the kind of people that CASA engages across the community, and they show that each person can do something. It can be something small, it can be something big, but it’s the caring that they truly demonstrate.”
The honor is especially nice because the Porters can share it.