It was July, 1963 and after spending his 12th birthday in juvenile hall for vandalism and malicious mischief, Roger Harrison soon found his way to Hanna. Realizing he was on a path towards a bleak future, Roger sought out a new direction in life by speaking to Father Regan at his church in Half Moon Bay. “I was a juvenile delinquent,” Roger says “but I was going to take it a step further. The people I was hanging out with and with the things I was doing.”
As it turned out, Father Regan was also involved at Hanna and arranged a tour for Roger. Thinking back to his first impressions of Hanna Roger recalls, “I fell in love with it.” Coming from a home with an abusive father and an alcoholic mother Roger felt “Hanna was like paradise compared to the life we had going on at home.” Thus began a connection to Hanna that has lasted through today.
When Roger agreed to join Hanna he took a bus to Sonoma from Half Moon Bay with little in his possession. When he arrived he says “I didn’t have any clothes so they took me to the canteen and got me some shirts and a coat. Then they moved me into Mt. Alverno,” one of the youth homes on campus. Roger excelled at Hanna with smaller class sizes, more attention to his well-being and a safe and healthy environment. In 1966 he became the very first Hanna Boy of the Year which is an award that honors a Hanna student that has gone above and beyond the normal requirements of the Center’s program and who has upheld the highest of standards.
Roger spent his middle school years at Hanna before then enrolling at Serra High School in San Francisco due to the fact that Hanna didn’t have a high school at that time. “Hanna Center paid my entire tuition to go to Serra,” Roger says. Upon graduating from high school, Roger decided to pursue an education in early computer programming in San Francisco.
“I came up to Hanna and met with Monsignor O’Connor. I told him that I wanted to go to a school for computer science but, it’s $1500.” Roger says Monsignor O’Connor loaned him the money with the stipulation that upon graduation, he would have a year to pay it back.” Roger agreed and explains, “I came back in less than a year after I graduated and handed him a check. Monsignor O’Connor looked at the check and handed it back to me and said, ‘Keep it, it’s on Hanna.’”
All of these experiences helped Roger to become a healthy, productive adult and as a result, he wanted to give back to Hanna. In 1974, he helped to start the Hanna Alumni Association alongside Hanna friends John Brown and Myron MacNeil. With the assistance of Hanna leaders at the time, the Hanna Alumni Association was started with 22 former students. Roger fondly recalls a yearly carnival and field day he and the Alumni Association would put on for the boys. “They loved it” says Roger, “and we did too. We would spend all year collecting toys and prizes for the carnival.”
It was at an alumni meeting Roger met George Gomes who had a successful career in construction. With George’s help, Roger successfully transitioned into a new career and 20 years later, he was promoted to supervisor where he worked up until his retirement in 2016.
According to Roger, the main reason for the Hanna Alumni Association was to “form a rapport with these kids who have come from difficult backgrounds. They come to Hanna which is this beautiful place but then, after they get this attention and support and when they leave, they have to go right back to a bad situation. Roger details that he and other alumni made themselves available for any sort of advice or just to talk. He personally has helped four Hanna boys earn construction jobs in the trades and served as president of the Alumni Association from 1982-1986.
Now, having been married 50 years, raised a family and continued with his alumni involvement, Roger reflects on how Hanna helped change his life for the better. “A lot of what I got from Hanna was from the people who worked here and their willingness to help you.” He continues, “Hanna also gives you a lot of opportunities and I feel blessed to have taken advantage of them. A lot of people don’t get those. And since I was given them, out of respect, I want to help pay that back.”
Thank you Roger Harrison for being a shining example of the changes Hanna Center can make in an individual’s life. Your positivity and support of our campus has been immeasurable.