Colorful Stories

  1. Çaykışla Diary

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    nick with kids A Colorful Story by Nick Porcaro

    Nearing retirement, I had for a number of years felt the need to give back for the opportunities I have had. In 2007 a Special-Needs High School in Massachusetts had been trying to expand their campus without success due to design and budget constraints. I offered to donate my services and after several months of rework the groundbreaking got underway. This experience pointed my thoughts of giving back toward education, then my questions became what to give, where and how?

    In 1965, I was awarded one year Fulbright Scholarship for senior study at METU (Middle Eastern Technical University)’s School of Architecture. That year I had many wonderful experiences and made many wonderful friends, least of which was Ayşe, my loving wife of 50 years. A few years later by invitation I returned to METU as an architectural design instructor. This allowed me to spend a lot more time with Ayşe’s family. During that year my father-in-law, Esat Egesoy, a professor of Mathematics at Ankara University, using no reference to English taught me not only the Turkish language but most importantly the nuances of its inseparable culture. A gift I still treasure today.

    Prof. Dr. Esat Egesoy was the first member in his family to receive a complete education. Born on the island of Cos, which was ruled by the Ottoman Empire until World War I and coming from a Turkish family, Esat’s parents didn’t see a viable future for him on the occupied island. So at the tender age of 11 they sent their son to a boarding school in Izmir. Education changed Esat’s life in every way. To be able to change the lives of others, he became an educator himself. His biggest dream of building a school for needy students was sadly curtailed as he died of heart failure at the age of 53. So the “what” became clear to me – I would give back in education in his honor – but where?

    With TPF’s guidance, especially Haldun Tashman’s, I met with the Governor of Adapazari. He pointed me to Caykisla, a small village outside of Adapazari, famous for its cuisine. At that time, in 2007, the population of Caykisla was around 1500. Most of them were Bosnian immigrants who settled there during the Turkish War of Independence and made their living by farming. Caykisla had only 72 houses, mostly dirt roads and no post office and it was one of those unfortunate villages seriously hit by the 1999 earthquake. During my visit, I learned that its only school was never rebuilt but temporarily and hurriedly replaced by using crude metal construction after it was demolished by the earthquake. The original school building was totally destroyed and its metal replacement was grossly inadequate and in poor condition both physically and environmentally. Over-crowded classrooms, one cabinet for a library, poor ventilation and a host of other health and safety hazards were the norm. Despite all these negative aspects, students were full of life, curious and eager to learn. After witnessing these heartbreaking conditions, it was easy for me to decided on the “where.”

    I received an amazing amount of enthusiasm and support from the Governor to the local Adapazari Ministry of Education to the village officials and families for our project. Since my savings were not sufficient to finance the engineering and construction of a new school, I opened the ”Porcaro Education Fund” at TPF and began soliciting more funds. I spent a year traveling and speaking about this project all over Turkey and U.S. I was fortunate to meet two twin sisters: Nesli and Asli Basgoz in 2008. Nesli is an infectious disease doctor who lives in Boston while Asli is a corporate lawyer in Istanbul. The Basgoz sisters lost their mother, Bedia Basgoz in 2007. Bedia Basgoz put a lot of emphasis to succeed through education so when they heard about the project, they joined me as equal funding partners. The Esat Egesoy Bedia Basgoz Ilkogretim Okulu was realized. Together, we met so many generous people while promoting our project. Some people donated funds while some donated their works. Our construction contractor donated many extras, the construction engineer donated their services, the Hendik Nursery donated 110 trees and in order to complete the final funding required to start the project, the local Ministry donated concrete.

    When I first decided to realize my father-in-law’s dream, I thought I was alone. But along the journey, many others who believed in the power of education joined me. Together, we created not only a school, but also a future for Caykisla children. The school we constructed ground-up stands as modern, safe and earthquake-proof structure not only for the children of Caykisla, but for the two nearby villages as well. So the “how” was realized by early 2010 with an unforgettable dedication ceremony provided by the local Ministry.

    But that’s not all. Sadly, no student from these villages ever attended college. We were determined to change this. Since the school’s completion in 2010, we have been funding a scholarship program for after-school college preparation study for 10 to 15 students each year. Last year several of these students entered college. This program is administered by TPF in the US and TEV in Turkey. In addition to Nesli, Asli, Ayse and I, we receive generous support from others for the continuation of the program.

    Today, the school is sited on one acre; is a two-story structure with an elevator; and has eight large classrooms, a library room, a science and teachers’ room and a kindergarten classroom. It serves three villages and is populated with 250 bright and eager students. What’s missing and needed is a lunchroom and a gymnasium. This is the “what’s next” in Esat’s and Bedia’s dream.

  2. A True “Abi”: Remembering Ziya G. Boyacıgiller

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    unnamedA Colorful Story by Nakiye A. Boyacıgiller, Ph.D.

    Two years ago I lost the love of my life, my husband of 39 years (sweetheart for 43), Ziya G. Boyacıgiller. When our friends at TPF asked me to write about Ziya, a founding partner and board member of the organization, I hesitated. How should I describe such an amazing man with so many wonderful attributes to those who might have never met him? Ziya did not like talking about himself; one of his main qualities, indeed was his humility. I believe this makes it even more important to tell his story.

    We met in our first year at Boğaziçi University (then still Robert College) and started dating that summer. I was immediately attracted to Ziya not just for his good looks and intelligence, but because he was a young renaissance man. An electrical engineering student, he played the violin, loved jazz, had a brown belt in judo and a great sense of humor. I fell in love almost instantly…and fortunately, so did he.

    While at Boğaziçi I fell in love not only with Ziya but with university life as well and decided to pursue an academic career. That meant moving to the US for graduate school. Ziya was not keen to move, but fortunately he was keen for us to stay together. We applied to several schools, among the schools that accepted both of us, UCLA, was our first choice—and thus began our life in the US.

    Ziya worked nonstop during our two years at UCLA. Being a top ranked engineering program, the classes were more challenging than he expected. In addition, as he didn’t want to be a financial burden on his parents, he sought work on campus. Initially, the only work he could find was as a busboy at the university cafeteria. I hated seeing him busing tables, to which he replied, ‘All work is honorable.” Throughout his life Ziya always treated everyone with respect; this made him loved by people from all walks of life. This is undoubtedly a lesson he learned from his father, Abdurrahman Boyacigiller, who was a member of Turkey’s parliament during the early 1950’s. Abdurrahman Baba was a hardworking, idealistic lawyer who worked tirelessly for the young republic. Though he was forced out of politics while still relatively young he always retained his hopes for Turkey and his desire to make a difference in people’s lives. Ziya was very much his father’s son.

    From the outside Ziya and I appeared very different, a classic rendition of opposites attract. Yet we shared many of the same values, and this is what I believe is what is most important in a good marriage. While love of family was always our number one priority, we both worked to achieve success in our professions. We also wanted to make a contribution in our community; this would be a leitmotif throughout our married life.

    For example, while at UCLA we were both active in the Turkish Students Association. Ziya’s talent for cooking first shone at a campus food fair where the Turkish booth was the most popular (thanks to his kadın budu köftesi, and irmik helvası). In later years, Ziya’s desire to introduce Turkish cuisine to a wider audience and willingness to contribute to his community found us often doing fundraisers in our home showcasing his culinary talents. Legendary amongst these are the time he baked 20 trays (!) of baklava for the Monterey Cultural Festival and the Turkish dinner parties that became a favorite of the annual fundraiser at Castilleja School which Belkıs and Esen attended.

    Upon graduation from UCLA Ziya joined Intersil as a design engineer and our Silicon Valley odyssey began. While his seniors were designing integrated circuits by hand, Ziya was of the new generation using computer aided design. A few years later, he joined Maxim as one of their first team members. After many years of working as an engineer at Maxim, he moved onto the managerial side. That was one of the best decisions he ever made. While his training and early success was in engineering, he really shone as a business manager and master strategist. As he shared his wisdom and kindness, his seminars on self-development and business strategies at Maxim soon became quite famous. In fact, Maxim’s current CEO, Tunç Doluca, wrote Ziya just before his passing that Maxim still uses many of the methodologies introduced by Ziya.

    In 2000, after working for 17 years at a pretty relentless pace at Maxim, Ziya decided to take early retirement. He began investing in start-ups as an angel investor, teaching entrepreneurship at my university, and taking cello lessons (starting cello at age 50 is a great example of Ziya’s growth mind-set). He vowed to play in public by age 60; which he did at his niece Ceylan’s wedding.

    Ziya’s “retirement” was to be short-lived. In 2003, I was recruited to join Sabancı University in Istanbul as dean of their business school. After having spent our entire careers in California, Ziya and I decided it was time to give back to our home country and also spend time with our ailing parents. I wondered what Ziya would do while I was working long hours at Sabancı; I need not have worried. Entrepreneurship was just taking off in Turkey and soon Ziya was in demand everywhere. He taught Entrepreneurship at Sabancı University, was a founding partner at Galata Business Angels, and an advisor at Endeavor. He was an angel investor and board member at Airties, Artesis and Vistek among others. He was invited to several advisory meetings for the Turkish government and this is just a partial list! My retired sweetheart was working at almost a full time pace.

    In time, Ziya began to be referred to as ‘Ziya Abi’ by Istanbul’s young entrepreneurs. In case you are not familiar with the word, “Abi” translates to older brother in Turkish. It is also used as an adjective to emphasize respect and sincerity for those people you are not related to. This was the case for Ziya. His kindness and generosity of spirit made him the Ziya Abi of Istanbul’s entrepreneurship eco-system.

    Indeed, I think Ziya’s most important role was as mentor to young entrepreneurs. What made him such a great mentor? His generosity and humility were important factors. But I think what made him such an appreciated mentor was that he was a great teacher. His way of teaching was not telling you what to do, but asking you questions, to get you to think. Even while at Maxim, younger colleagues remember the question he asked them during the interview process “If I gave you a roll of tape and told you only the diameter of the tape, how would you go about determining how much tape the roll had without actually unrolling it?” He was more interested in seeing how young engineers approached problems…not simply the answer itself.

    Ziya lives on, in so many ways. I see many examples of him in our daughters, Belkıs and Esen. Their senses of humor, love of cooking, and music come from their father. The companies he helped to grow, chiefly Maxim, but also Airties, Artesis, and several others are also part of his legacy. He did so much to help grow the entrepreneurship eco-system in Turkey. Yet for me, Ziya’s legacy is in how he touched people’s hearts:

    · “Ziya Abi was an exemplary person. Even in our everyday life, we will continue to handle difficult situations by asking ourselves, ‘How would Ziya Abi approach this?’ ” Alper Yegin, Head of Standards at Actility, Chairman of Technical Committee at LoRa Alliance

    · “Ziya Abi was a super mentor. When asked a question, instead of answering it directly, he would, in his usual calm manner, ask the right questions to lead the entrepreneur not only to find his/her own answers, but at the same time building his/her confidence.” Dr. Aytul Ercil, Partner and CEO at Vispera Information Technologies; President, International Women’s Forum

    His passion for development and moving forward wasn’t just dedicated to entrepreneurship. Ziya grew up in a family where women participated in the workforce. His mother was a true Cumhuriyet Kadını (woman of the Republic) working full time as a schoolteacher. It is thus not surprising that he ended up being extremely supportive of my career and wanting to see our daughters, Belkıs and Esen grow up as strong women. As a man surrounded by dynamic women all his life, Ziya was a big supporter of women’s empowerment as well as education. He always said that the only way for Turkey to move forward would be through fuller participation of women in the workforce.

    Ziya’s interest in philanthropy took a new turn when he heard about an idea of establishing a community foundation, which was designed to work as a bridge between Turkish American donors and Turkey – Turkish Philanthropy Funds. He wanted to get involved immediately. In addition to becoming one of TPF’s founding partners, he also served as a Board Member and nourished the organization with his insightful ideas and experience.

    Sadly, Ziya passed away almost three years ago at the age of 62, due to a rare form of cancer. As his family, we are devastated by our loss. Yet we find solace in how Ziya approached death and the outpouring of love shown by all the people whose lives he touched. Ziya met death in total peace; he felt that he had lived a good life and had no regrets. Friends and family in California surrounded us during his treatment and in Istanbul where he was laid to rest. Then, TPF’s Board of Directors established a memorial fund to support worthwhile projects in entrepreneurship, education and women empowerment in Ziya’s name- the Ziya Boyacıgiller Memorial Fund. Afterwards, they handed me the management of this significant gift for Ziya. We as a family are also contributing to this fund as have his friends.

    Since Ziya’s passing he has been honored posthumously by Galata Business Angels, by the 3G Platform and the Antalya Businesswomen’s Association. The young fellows at the Entrepreneurship Foundation put together a beautiful book of essays about Ziya. I have received heartfelt messages from Ziya’s many friends, colleagues and mentees. All of these remind me that what is important is not how long you live, but how many lives you influence during your time on earth. I find tremendous peace in knowing that Ziya lives on in the hearts and minds of his many friends, his family and countless mentees and through our work at TPF.

    For more on Ziya and his teachings on entrepreneurship and management go to http://www.ziyaboyacigiller.com/

  3. The 30ieth Time’s the Charm

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    tpf colorfulA Colorful Story by Amber Deniz Kale
    It was my 30th interview. After studying art in college and media in grad school, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in life. So instead of focusing on finding a job, any job, like most of my peers did, I decided to take some time off hoping to find what makes me happy the most. For almost two years, I did my best to work in various fields that I had interest in. I tried publishing, events management, art galleries… I even worked as a baker for a year just because I had sweet tooth and I liked to spend time in the kitchen. But none of these had me jumping out of bed with excitement. Right when I was about to give up on my ‘dream job’ and settle for a position in an art gallery, I came cross the Turkish Philanthropy Funds – a community foundation with a particular focus on Turkey.

    On the day of my interview, I showed up 45 minutes early. As I waited outside the building, I did my best to calm down and not get my hopes up. I was 19 years old when I left Turkey to study abroad. My first stop was Paris for college and then, New York for my masters. As the years passed by, I always found a reason to stay here but that didn’t change the fact that I deeply missed Turkey. Yes, I had made New York my home but Turkey was still a big part of my life.

    Turkey wasn’t the only draw to TPF. The organization did a lot of work on gender equality. As a woman born and raised in Turkey, I’ve experienced gender based discrimination and harassment. I was only 15 years old when my mother gave me a pepper spray so that I can protect myself as I went to my high school. No need to say that my little brother never needed any protection when he went out. Even though the fact that I had to carry a pepper spray with me bothered me, I considered myself lucky. There were thousands of women all over Turkey who didn’t have the same privileges and suffered from severe violence. As I had enough of reading such incidents in the newspapers every single day, I decided to do something. I dedicated my graduate thesis to women who experienced violence at one point in their lives, interviewed them and made a short documentary telling their stories hoping to raise an awareness on the issue.

    As I met with the small but efficient team of TPF, I realized that I had finally found where I belonged. TPF’s Program Associate whom I met on the phone, greeted me with a big smile when I entered their office. As I followed her to the meeting room, I was introduced to the other team members, TPF’s CEO and COO. As soon as we sat down, they started to talk about the organization and their work in Turkey, how they granted over $15m to their partner organizations on the ground only in 8 years. While I was waiting to be asked where I see myself in the next five years, I found myself asking about the details of their projects. When all team members excitedly started to talk at the same time to tell me about different projects, it dawned on me that at the end of the day nothing mattered more to them than the fact that they were able to make a difference in the lives of many in Turkey. As I listened how they empowered the victims of the mine explosion in Soma or provided scholarships to underprivileged children, I could tell that they were a part of TPF not just because they needed a job, but because they truly believed in its mission. And that was enough for me to cross my fingers to get a call back.

    When I was offered with the position, I was over the moon. I’ve been here for a year and a half and since my first day, I’ve been mesmerized by the amazing community that I found myself in. A 5-year old who donated her books to her peers in need, a couple who gave up on their birthdays to gift education, a son-in-law who established a scholarship fund to honor his mother-in-law, an architect who started a Giving Circle to provide relief to Syrian refugees, an IT professional who introduced TPF to his company’s matching gift program, a Board Member who ran to raise funds for his home county, a couple who sold their home to give back to Turkey…There is so much to tell about this generous community that I can turn this piece into a book. I’ve met hundreds of people from various backgrounds, with different motivations to make a change in Turkey since my first day. And what’s more amazing is that this community of change makers is growing every single day.

    As we celebrate TPF’s 10th anniversary this month, there are no words to describe my gratitude to everyone who is a part of this big family. You are the reason that I’m excited to go to work every single day. You are the core of TPF, our source of energy to take the next step. Whether you are a donor, a supporter or a partner organization, you enable us to make a change overseas and touch someone’s life. Thank you for being with us along this journey. To many more 10 years!

  4. The Amazing Family I Married Into.

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    IMG_5823A Colorful Story by Ozlem Solu

    Would you believe that my life changed on an airplane? It was just like in the movies. I was flying to the States for the first time in my life to visit my son, Deren who was studying at Washburn University in Kansas. It was a long flight and I was very excited to see my son for the first time in months. Movies and sleep kept me occupied to a point. To pass the time, I started talking to the person sitting next to me. It turned out that my companion for the flight, Turhan needed someone to talk to as well but for a different reason- he was returning from his father’s funeral in Istanbul.

    As we started to chat, I discovered that his family had a remarkable history. His paternal grandfather, Şerafettin Solu was one of countless heroes who fought side by side with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk for many years including the Turkish War of Independence. His tales of war and swords remaining from those days are pride of the Solu family and their joy. His maternal grandfather on the other side was one of the very first accomplished doctors of the Republic of Turkey who was committed to rebuilding the Turkish society right after the Independence War.

    With such ancestors, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Turhan’s father also made a mark on the world. Prof. Dr. Sami Solu, my father-in-law whom I never met but always admired since I first heard about him on that plane ride, was born and raised in Ankara. He became a doctor in Turkey and moved to the States after completing his studies. He specialized on urgent care and worked as an emergency doctor until his retirement. Even though he built his career abroad, he always kept Turkey as a part of his life and traveled there often. During his visits, he realized how the emergency care practice was a bit behind in his home country compared to the States. Determined to close the gap, he took the lead in establishing the concept of emergency room and the emergency call system, otherwise known as- 112, which saved millions of lives in Turkey. Along with his contributions in the medical field, Süleyman Sami established a trust with a mission to make his legacy live forever in a community foundation in the States. Sadly, he passed away before he could decide on which issues he’d like to support.

    The more Turhan talked about his family, the more I admired them. You won’t be surprised to hear that we got married a year after that plane ride and I moved to Michigan without hesitation. It was around the same time when Turhan and his siblings were discussing how to manage their late father’s trust. Since they moved to the States at a very early age and were raised there, they never had the connection their father had with Turkey and eventually, thought about giving back in the States. But after hearing about my father-in-law from them for years, I knew that I shared his attachment to Turkey. So I explained to them the social challenges that Turkey was facing and what we can do together to change these conditions. But most importantly, I introduced them to an organization that I’m grateful for beyond words: Çağdaş Yaşamı Destekleme Derneği. As a single mother, I’ve been through many obstacles raising my son and at times struggled to afford quality education for him. It was ÇYDD who gave us a hand during those hard times. Deren received a scholarship throughout his college education in Turkey from ÇYDD.  As an excellent student with top grades, he won a scholarship from Washburn University and completed college with triple majors. He is currently a graduate student as well as a teaching assistant at the Sabancı University. He also has been a volunteer member of ÇYDD for European Union Projects.

    As I can’t wait to see what Deren will accomplish next, I’ll always be grateful to ÇYDD for their support when we needed it the most. Inspired by our story, Turhan and his siblings decided to support ÇYDD with the Trust established by their father at a local community foundation. Since then, we’ve been providing scholarships to six medical students in the name of Prof. Dr. Süleyman Sami Solu. And it was TPF who turned this dream into a reality by working as a bridge between us, ÇYDD and SLO Community Foundation. I couldn’t be more happy that I took that plane ride five years ago, which introduced me to an amazing family that I married into.

  5. One in a Million.

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    A Colorful Story by NC Murthy

    As a very active businessman in his late fifties, I can easily say that I’ve been through a great deal in my life. But when I think of it, none of the things I have been through have challenged me as much as writing this story- the story of my beloved wife, Canan. Even though I know that I cannot fit our life together in a few paragraphs, and most probably I won’t be satisfied by the language as I try to find the perfect words to describe her, I will do my best to introduce you to an amazing woman who continues to inspire me every single day.

    I’ve met Canan in 1991 in Detroit at the company where we both worked. It took me only a few weeks to admire her independent, hardworking and honest nature. She came from a middle -income family, but never let limited financial means hold her back. As she believed education was the only way for her to move forward in life, she dedicated herself to her studies. She went to college at Middle Eastern Technical University, one of the best universities in Turkey, and came to the U.S. for the first time as an exchange student. She worked at three jobs to be able to afford her stay in the U.S. She completed her MBA at Butler University in Indiana. As a determined woman, she made her way up in the corporate world, where we met. As we worked together, we came to realize that we completed each other in many ways. We decided to become business partners, and started our own company together. In only five years, the IT staffing company we built together grew incredibly to $22 million in revenue at which point we sold it to a major public company. She was the source of our success.

    Our relationship, which started as colleagues, quickly turned into a lifelong companionship. We got married in 1993, and in 1994 we welcomed our only child, Arjun. We were so happy in our own little world that we did not see what was coming. Our life took a U-turn when Canan was diagnosed with ALS, a deadly disease you’ve probably heard of mentioned before through the famous ice bucket challenge or Stephan Hawking. We were lucky that we had the means to consult to the best doctors in the world. We traveled everywhere looking for a solution and tried everything from natural treatments to innovative therapies and stem cell transplants. I even took Canan to her home country of Turkey to get her blessed by the holy figures, but nothing we did was enough to beat ALS. We had to accept this disease as part of our lives, and had focused on doing our best to improve Canan’s quality of life.

    I’ve mentioned earlier how extraordinary my wife was. Well, here is another story to prove that. After the ALS diagnosis, Canan lost her ability to speak, walk, and move in a very short time, but she never lost her essence, her strength, and her will to live. We continued her treatment at home and got her a state-of-the-art computer, which enabled her to communicate with us by moving her eyes. That was all she needed to keep spreading love and joy around her. She continued to be a loving wife and a mother. She always helped Arjun with his classes, planned every meal for our family, and continued to work for our business regardless of her physical condition. She even hosted Turkish dinners for Arjun’s teachers at home because she couldn’t go to parent-teachers conferences at school. She held onto life and lived 16 years with ALS while our doctors expected her to live three years. Her dream was to be with Arjun at his high school graduation. I couldn’t be happier to tell you that she succeeded. She was very keen to see Arjun as a businessman, as Arjun himself wanted to be since he was seven years old. Arjun graduated from Babson College, the No. 1 school for Entrepreneurship in the world. I am sure she is happy and smiling down at us when we purchased a chemical company earlier this year so I can teach Arjun business.

    Canan was a fascinating woman in many ways. She was incredibly hardworking, unconditionally caring, strong, and kind. She was one in a million. And not just to me. Everyone around us deeply respected and loved her. After losing her in 2012, Arjun and I wanted to do something in her name, to make her legacy live forever. As she was a strong believer in women’s empowerment, we built a kilim-weaving workshop in Van, Turkey in her name through TPF. There are no words to describe how we felt at the opening of the workshop when we saw her name on that building, which enables young women to have a brighter future. Now, Canan’s legacy lives on in each kilim these young women make.

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