“It isn’t often you are able to find folks in the community who are universally loved. For many years at Hoover High School, when you asked anyone who their favorite person was, from athletes to honors students and teachers to non-profit organizations, they would unanimously answer, Ali! Ali was more than just a bus driver. He faithfully supported students at Hoover in a variety of ways like cheering for athletes from the sidelines after getting them safely to their destinations and helping students understand math concepts in between driving assignments. Ali always remembered students by name and let them know he believed in them.” ~ Rudy Vargas, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Price Philanthropies
Share about your life journey. How did you find yourself living and working in City Heights?
Ali: Prior to coming to Hoover, I was a regular bus driver for 23 years. I had different routes every year. I was the most senior driver that applied for the job to service specifically Hoover. The funny thing was my wife was a bus monitor and she brought me the paperwork that had the Hoover job information on the last day to apply. I was so lucky! I applied and since I was a senior driver, I got the job.
You have served the City Heights community for many years, describe your current and past roles and what you have enjoyed the most.
A: I served the City Heights community for more than 17 years. I enjoyed helping students in math, helping teachers in the copy room and taking our students on educational field trips. I have enjoyed every role I have had at Hoover High School.
What accomplishments and impacts are you most proud of with your work in the City Heights community?
A: By tutoring in Math, particularly the difficult subject of calculus, I was able to make math understandable for students. I helped students who struggled with the subject improve their grades and grow to love math. I did the tutoring during school hours, when I did not have field trip assignments.
What changes have you experienced in City Heights over the years? What partners have been instrumental in this change?
A: I have experienced the growth of the community thanks to Price Philanthropies. These changes are evident in the many community organizations making the world a better place. Organizations like Ocean Discovery Institute and SDSU have made a big impact in this community. I also enjoyed being ODI’s driver for many years, taking youth on the science research trips each summer to Bajia, Mexico and many other adventures. (Photo: Beyond providing transportation, Ali would jump at the opportunity to build relationships with the community. This photo shows Ali (right) with parents at an ODI event.)
Is there anything that has surprised you the most over the years as a resident of and advocate for City Heights?
A: Yes, that there have been so many tremendous success stories with our students. There are students who have excelled in Science, Engineering, Biology, Law and have earned Doctoral degrees. The student stories are inspirational to me.
“Ali was always the kindest person and the best bus driver! His first question was always, ‘How is your family?’ He always made sure to remind me how valuable my time was with my kids. He brightened my day every time I had a chance to see him.” ~ Beatriz Valencia, Executive Director of the Cardinals Interact Program
In your opinion, what are the most important challenges facing the community of City Heights today?
A: I feel safety is the biggest challenge for our community. A potential solution is strengthening neighborhood watch, which I think is a great program. Knowing your neighbors is a good start. We must also have close relations between the police and the City Heights Community. Lastly, creating informative seminars at the City Heights Weingart Library involving students, parents and the police department to solve the issues that come up.
What lessons have you learned throughout your efforts that you would like to pass on to others?
A: I would encourage others to take on mentorship roles. Mentorship has the biggest impact in the lives of our youth.
Do you mind sharing with us a bit about your life outside of your work? What are your other passions, talents, and hobbies that you enjoy?
A: I retired more than five years ago. I spend a lot of time with my granddaughters. I like to read (mostly math), walk and do gardening.
What advice would you give youth in City Heights? Any encouraging words for our community families during this challenging time?
A: Family is first. Reading is very important. Be humble. Be honest. Be sincere. Hard work will take you to great success.
Mr. Price recognizes you as a City Heights Hero for all you do for our community, and it is clear you’ve become a hero to those you serve in City Heights. What are your thoughts about this recognition?
A: I would not consider myself as a person who has done anything worthy of this recognition. I have even wanted to give back now that I am retired, but do not have as much time because I love spending it with my family. I am humbled by this recognition, even though I think there are many other people who deserve this recognition more. God Bless.
“Ali, is the most amazing and big hearted individual you will ever encounter. I recall countless fond memories with him driving our Cardinals all over town. My best memories are when he would join us for our festivities where he would have the brightest smile in the room spreading love and joy to everyone. Not only was he our bus driver, he was our friend, mentor, and even a tutor to so many Cardinals. He helped in the classrooms at Hoover and anywhere else he could be of assistance. He has beyond a heart of gold. He is truly a City Heights super hero to generations of Hoover Cardinals and more! We love you Ali!” ~ Pamela Gutierrez, Cardinals Interact Director