Only a few individual Filipino immigrants in the country can probably equal the extent, magnitude, and socio-economic impact of the philanthropic work Rene Medina has started and sustains to this day in the United States and in the Philippines.
While Renes philanthropy has evolved from his success as a U.S.-based entrepreneur and businessman, his generosity legendary by most accounts- is rooted, however, in the life of meagerness he led as a poor farmers son in the Philippines. It was there, in his country of birth, that he first learned how to work hard as an office messenger for day-to-day survival and for paying his way to night school.
Yet Rene still considered himself very lucky then. Every time he visited his hometown of Arayat, Pampanga (50 miles north of Manila), he would be awed by the sight of human deprivation and abject poverty.
Many youths were kept out of school for sheer lack of transportation or lunch money. Although they had the means, few schools offered a good learning environment as most of these have inadequate facilities and were in a state of disrepair.
The problem of funding insufficiency was not confined to schools, however. While growing up in Pampanga province before venturing into the metropolis, Rene noted that the very institution to which townsfolk turn for solace in the face of hardships was likewise in need of revitalization. Crumbling and crowded churches, he thought, did not sit well with their assigned function of offering peace and comfort.
All these memories and images of Filipinos living in want would continue to haunt Rene while he pursued a life in the United States, characterized by hard and honest work, and by patience and perseverance.
Rene arrived in the United States in 1971 with only a few clothes and a crisp $100 bill in his pocket. Beyond these possessions, however, he owned a vision of living a far more comfortable life than what he was born to in the Philippines.
He landed his first job in America as an office printing clerk at the U.S. Attorneys Office in San Francisco. There, he soon became known as a bashful but extremely hard-working employee who met impossible deadlines on printing the lawyers appellate briefs.
One Saturday in 1973, he decided to give himself a break and took his wife Mila Reyes on a bus tour to Reno. It was a trip that would change his life forever.
Rene knew he could do just as well as a tour operator with $100 as seed capital: call and gather people, earn a decent profit from the fares collected, a modest commission from the casinos where the passengers will be dropped off for a gambling spree. In no time, those he called listed on the phone book with Filipino-sounding names were en route to Reno aboard his rented bus.
Lucky Tours, Inc.was thus born.
Lucky Tours Bus
Lucky Tours purchased its first bus in 1981. Behind the wheels of a reconditioned and repainted Greyhound unit, was Rene -- the first driver of Lucky Tours. By 1988, having built a creditable reputation in the business, Lucky Tours became known as Bay Areas biggest tour operator to Reno. Today, Lucky Tours operates a fleet of twenty five (25) deluxe buses and maintains nine (9) offices around the Bay Area. Lucky Tours further expanded its business operation to include overseas air travel to major cities in Asia.
Renes business acumen could only get sharper and his luck even better. In 1991, through the encouragement of a banker-friend visiting from the Philippines, he establishedLucky Money- a currency remittance company. Rene obtained the license to operate the company only after passing the exhaustive background investigation and rigorous tests of financial stability and integrity as required by Californias Department of Financial Institution.
Lucky Money, with over 200 employees of diverse ethnicity is considered today as one of the biggest remittance service companies in the United States catering to ethnic communities. It maintains around 100 offices and agents in America, Philippines and offshore branches in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, Cambodia, and Guam.
Lucky Money Head Office
With both Lucky Tours and Lucky Money firmly anchored on profitable ground, Rene was now ready to pursue an ambition he first conceived during his early days as a casino bus tour operator: to own and operate a casino. His plan of establishing a casino in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Colma was met with fierce resistance, mainly from Casino owners in Northern California. Rene hurdled all the challenges put in his way to prevent him from living his dream.
In 1998, his dream came true! Lucky Chances Casino began its operations in Colma, thus opening a new chapter in the success story of an immigrant who came to the United States with only $100.
As soon as Rene determined that Lucky Chances Casino was well on the path of profitability, he set himself upon the task of giving back to his community and to the motherland for teaching him the value of hard work.
The progressive little town of Colma has been a major Bay Area beneficiary of the operational existence of Lucky Chances Casino, enhancing the town's motto: "It's great to be alive in Colma!" -"It's great to be living in Colma!"
He lives up to his strong desire of sharing his hard-earned fortune to the deserving and the disadvantaged in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. As Rene would often quip:"It is the least I can do for a community that allowed me - a driven Filipino to chase the American dream."
The idea of "giving and sharing" led to the formation ofThe Rene & Mila Medina Foundation. The young couple, Rene and Mila formed this not-for-profit entity where many of Rene's projects, contributions, and donations, in the past years have been coursed through.
Rene's Philanthropic Work in America
One of the first things Rene Medina learned about the people of the United States when he arrived in 1971 is their great capacity for compassion and strong spirit of volunteerism. Americans, he noted, spring into action to aid humanitarian and charitable causes, and to respond to calls for sharing with the less fortunate their time, talent, and treasure.
Rene quickly embraced the American spirit of caring and sharing. He began his mission of giving to those in need upon determining that there would be enough resources within his reach to sustain a meaningful philanthropic work.
The Lucky Chances Casino in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Colma has been the springboard of Rene's philanthropic, and socio-civic programs that today count around 300 individual, organizational, and institutional beneficiaries. Everyday, Rene receives solicitation letters and thank you cards/notes from across California and beyond.
Among the recipients of Rene's resources-sharing programs in Northern California include:
Seton Health Services Foundation- The Foundation raises funds on behalf of Seton Medical Center and Seton Coastside to benefit residents of San Mateo County, so that the Daughters of Charity can continue their work of compassionate service to persons who are sick and poor.
Pacific Research Institute- Rene contributes to this Institute which produces and organizes publications, events, media commentary, legislative testimony, and community outreach in the quest to advance freemarket policy solutions.
Functionality, aesthetics and comfort are the three pillars that an ideal House of Worship would need. Old and rundown as they were, many of these parish churches and community chapels were even further damaged by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 and worse, by the avalanche of volcanic water and mud (lahar) which continued unabated for a number of years. Rene Medina felt that most of the churches in Pampanga can use his assistance. Through the Rene and Mila Medina Foundation, the building and rebuilding of these churches came to life.
In Renes hometown of Arayat in Pampanga, a town known for its classic architecture stands St. Catherine Parish Church, one of the oldest churches in Pampanga. Built in the late 1800s, the church was already giving way to age even as its structural integrity remained sound. The shell, however, practically housed eyesores and unserviceable fixtures including an altar in need of extensive restoration and repair.
Solely funded and spearheaded by the Rene and Mila Medina Foundation, Rene spent three years funding the complete renovation of St. Catherine Church. This by far stands out as his biggest and most ambitious church renovation project.
Rene funded the renovation of the center altar, installed eight (8) chandeliers in the Church interior, refurbished window panes and installed religious inspired stained glass. Furthermore, the Churchs faade was given a facelift and the churchyard with a fresh landscape architecture.
Today, the clean, spacious, and well appointed St. Catherine Church serves as a sacred monument. The Church symbolizes the spiritual strength of the parishioners. Renes generosity and determination to complete this gargantuan project on his own, inspired the people of Arayat. It rekindled in their hearts the spirit of volunteerism and public involvement across town.
It has been the same volunteerism Bayanihan or community commitment of moving and making things happen together that a dozen other parish churches and chapels were built from the ground up, renovated, or modernized.
Renovated Church Center Altar. Roomy and airy Interior. Chandelier-lined center aisle.
B. Poor Clare Monastery of the Sacred Heart
Betis, Guagua, Pampanga
Through the generous assistance of Rene and Mila Medina, a monastery located in one of the provinces of Pampanga was refurbished.
The renovation included brand new roofing of the building, total exterior cleaning and interior renovation including the main altar of the Monastery.
C. Saint Andrews Parish Church
A Church located in Candaba, Pampanga of which Rene initiated the renovation of the church parish office as well as the repair and repainting of the Church ceilings and walls.
Rene, through the Rene and Mila Medina Foundation, responded to the townsfolks need for a place of worship conducive to prayer and meditation, as well as for public religious services. In this church, a new sound system was installed along with new lighting fixtures.
San Ildefonso Parish Church facade
San Ildefonso Parish Church lighting
E. Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Parish Church
San Luis, Pampanga
Along with other churches in Pampanga, the Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Parish Church has been rated excellent in terms of preserving its original architecture and design. Rene Medina thus ensured that the team of engineers, architects, and workers took extra care and caution in giving the church a facelift inside out. Retouching work, especially on the ceiling mural right above the retablo of the main altar depicting the Holy Trinity, required the skill and expertise of artists who had a working knowledge of Renaissance art and architecture.
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Parish Church
F. Santa Ana Parish Church
Santa Ana, Pampanga
Rene provided funding assistance to the renovation of the Santa Ana Parish Church. With the new coat of red and white paint, it provided a contrast to the otherwise stone color of this centuries old church. The massive hexagonal four-story bellower has blind and open recesses, in keeping with the symmetry of the facade. It ends in a balustrade dome topped by a cross. Much of the refurbishing work was done inside the church. A fresh coat of varnish was applied to the ornate church pews.
G. Saint Jude Parish Church
San Agustin, San Fernando, Pampanga
As with the other churches and chapels that Rene Medina helped rebuild and renovate, The Saint Jude Parish Church was repainted inside and out, with a lot of intricate refurbishing work done on the altar.
The open patio with a centerpiece fountain, now boasts of colored bricks laid out in geometric patterns, replacing the grass and weeds that previously gave the churchyard an unkempt look.
Saint Jude Parish Church facade (top), Saint Jude Parish Church interior (middle), Saint Jude Parish Church patio (bottom)
H. Santa Lucia (Sasmuan)
The Santa Lucia Parish Church in the town of Sasmuan never fails to inspire awe among visitors of Pampanga. Rene assisted in funding its renovation. As such, one travel writer noted that the round and rectangular openings may have been meticulously aligned, lending further uniqueness to the church.
The church interior is spacious and airy, and can comfortably seat well over a thousand parishioners. The religious flocks to this church to seek the divine intercession of Sasmuans patron saint Sta. Lucia, who, townsfolk believe, is a miraculous saint.
Santa Lucia Church facade
Santa Lucia Church center altar
I. Santa Lucia Parish Church
Sta. Lucia, San Fernando, Pampanga
The Rene and Mila Medina Foundation today is giving birth to the brand new Santa Lucia Parish Church. The parish priest Rev. Fr. Homer, a friend of the Medina family, came personally to California and presented to Rene the townsfolks appeal for multi-sector assistance so they may have a new church. Rev. Fr. Homer returned home with a check from the Foundation to jumpstart the project. The Foundations funding of the church construction is still in progress.
Scholarship. Allowance. Food.
At Pampanga High School in the Philippines, some 300 academically performing but financially handicapped students avail of free nutritious lunch during the school week under the Rene and Mila Foundation Feeding Program. This same group of students also avails of a monthly transportation allowance from the Foundation. Most, if not all, of them live in the outskirts of the city of San Fernando and need to take public transportation to and from school.
The students are pre-qualified based on their familys financial circumstances and the childrens commitment to finish their high school studies. Additionally, the school administration periodically reviews their academic standing and performance to ensure the integrity of the program.
Volunteers prepare the scholars Lunchboxes. Before their lunch hour, the Food for the Brain: Scholars are assembled and together they are engaged to listen to a regular pep talk of some school officials.
Rene has dedicated the Rene Medina Priesthood Scholarship Fund in memory of his brother, Robert, who served the town of Arayat for many years. Robert was a lay minister in the Parish Church and was known to have extended his assistance in the name of the Lord.
The Funds primary purpose is to provide financial assistance to qualified seminarians in the course of their priesthood education. Elmer Salonga, in the photo is one of the seminarians with four (4) others who are at various theological levels at the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary in San Fernando, Pampanga and in the University of Santo Tomas, Manila Asias oldest university.
Rene is now contemplating on expanding the Fund to accommodate the growing number of qualified applicants.
Seminarian Elmer Salonga at the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary
All these Education Assistance Programs Secular and Theological keep Rene Medina proactively attuned and focused on the needs of his fellowmen especially the needs of the present-day YOUTH the equal learning opportunities made available to them.
Better Schools, Better Learning Experience
Education, Infrastructure, Technology.
Pampanga High School in San Fernando, the capital city of the province of Pampanga, counts among its outstanding alumni Diosdado Macapagal, former Philippine president and late father of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Here, the quality of secondary education has been the best that it can bebut could in fact be better, given the appropriate and adequate facilities that make for a motivated studentry.
Rene Medina is a graduate of Pampanga High. He stayed in touch with high school classmates through these years. Therefore he is made aware of the present condition of his Alma Mater. Several structures within the school compound, already in dire need of rehabilitation, simply had to be abandoned after the Mt. Pinatubo catastrophe. The post-eruption buildings that remained in use were soon begging for total repair and renovation. Classrooms either had no ceilings or had panels precariously hanging over students heads. Given the state of the buildings, the safety and health of the students were compromised and the learning experience is described as anything but wholesome.
Pampanga High School
At the close of the 90s, San Fernandos school officials and civic leaders were ready to embark on a fund-raising campaign to save Pampangas oldest secondary school. Unbeknownst to them, however, Rene had been burning the telephone and fax lines with a team of architects and engineers to finalize the blueprint for Pampanga Highs total facelift. The massive work was to be carried out in phases over a period of time to minimize disruption of classes and campus activities. To date, some minor work is still in progress as new needs emerge.
The major components of the project are completed, which include the following:
Rene Medina Hall
The new Rene Medina Hall is among the first structures in the Pampanga High School compound that underwent total rehabilitation. It used to be an eyesore, a dilapidated structure that was rendered unserviceable by the devastation wrought by Mt. Pinatubo.
Now, the Hall is a well-ventilated and lighted facility that boasts of audiovisual equipment and sound system. It has also become a source of additional income for the school, which rents it out to individuals and organizations for their special functions and gatherings.
Rene Medina Hall
Repair and rehabilitation of School Buildings
Jasmin, Sunflower, Sampaguita and Cadena de Amor these are not flowers in Pampanga Highs garden. These were among the structures that the Rene and Mila Medina Foundation repaired, renovated, and refurbished as part of the schools massive facelift program carried out over a number of years. Aside from classrooms, the Calixto Viray Library was among the structures repaired.
Rehabilitated School Building
Construction of Nipa Huts
Nipa huts were likewise built to serve as classrooms for hands-on Agricultural Arts courses.
Nipa Huts for hands-on Agricultural Arts courses
Conversion of a classroom building into a gym
The Camia Building was converted into a Virtual gymnasium and sports learning center where taekwondo, badminton, and table tennis classes are being held today. The center even offers dancing lessons to students.
Campus Beautification and landscaping
Construction of the Home Economics Laboratory
In July 2007, Pampanga High School inaugurated and opened the Home Economics laboratory, built under the auspices of the Rene and Mila Medina Foundation. The facility offers hands-on training in vocational fields that open up livelihood opportunities to high school students who may not be able to pursue college education.
The Home Economics laboratory is fully equipped to provide intensive training in cooking and baking, hair science, cosmetology, and spa and message therapy. Pampanga High School, in addition, has coordinated with the Technical Skills and Vocational Development Authority (TESDA) a government agency assigned to integrate, coordinate and monitor skills development programs of various schools nationwide to administer competency tests to graduates of the laboratory. TESDA will then issue the Certificate of Competency to those who passed the test, a virtual license for them to seek employment in established shops or to put up their own business.