A New Silicon Valley Thanksgiving Tradition: The KidsSTRONG Amazing Race to Help Kids with Cancer


Because cancer doesn’t take a holiday, Christine Falsetti is determined to use the Thanksgiving holiday as a way to raise money and awareness for children with cancer and their families.

Falsetti is founder and CEO of KidsSTRONG, a non-profit that seeks to offer emotional and informational support to families that are facing the awful reality of a child with cancer. Her own 7-year-old son, Ben, died five years ago this year after a nine-month battle with the disease. A few years ago she and other families who had been through the same experience founded KidsSTRONG. You can read more about the organization and the race at http://losaltos.patch.com/articles/kidsstrong-race-to-help-kids-with-cancer-a-new-thanksgiving-tradition.

You don’t need to live in the Silicon Valley to participate; some racers are running or walking wherever they live in the country, so they can help raise money for this great organization. Go to http://www.kidsstrong.org/cms/take-action/kidsstrong-amazing-race to learn more.


Community Rallies Together to Bring Hope to the Homeless




EAST PALO ALTO, CA. – Hope for the homeless has a home in this San Francisco Bay Area city.

Last Thursday, Nov. 18, in a grassroots joint effort of non-profit, faith-based, and governmental agencies, more than 100 homeless men, women, and children found hope in the warehouse of an industrial park. A small army of volunteers was on hand to connect people to services, as well as provide free haircuts, resume help, bicycle repair, showers, flu shots and a hot meal.

The second annual event, called East Palo Alto (EPA) Connect, was born last year after a 2009 homeless census found that this San Mateo County city had a high percentage of homeless people. The survey also found that most were not aware of aid and benefits available to them. Instead of giving up or looking the other way, community leaders sought solutions.

One solution was the EPA Connect event, which organizers hoped would immediately connect homeless men, women and children directly with services to help them transition back to having a roof over their heads.

“The county came and asked us to do this a year ago, and we asked, ‘is that a trick question? Of course we do,’” said Pastor Paul Bains, president of Project WeHOPE, a non-profit that helps the community through various programs.

The event was so successful it was repeated again last Thursday, at Project WeHOPE’s headquarters, which also serves as a warming shelter when the weather turns cold. The warehouse space, which also acts as a gym for East Palo Alto youth, was lined with tables for a myriad of agencies.

“The community of East Palo Alto has really rallied around the issue of homelessness,” said Amanda Kim, a public information officer for the County of San Mateo Human Services Agency. “There’s a strong community will to address (the problem).”

One corner of the warehouse became the temporary location for The Beauty Wheel, a Redwood City salon. At the behest of Bonnie Miller of the Salvation Army, stylists Paige Register, Carmen Ayon and Janet Bordens closed the shop to offer their services in East Palo Alto. They busily cut hair, trimmed beards and mustaches, while chatting up their “customers”.

“It puts a smile on their face,” said Ayon. “You can always lift somebody up when they look good.”

The women participated in last year’s event, and enjoyed it so much they came back. The same went for Mark Korwald, a volunteer with Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, one of the agencies at the event. Mark donated his skills to repair bicycles in the parking lot outside the warehouse.

“I did this once before and it was one of the best days I ever had,” he said.

Assisting Korwald last week was his friend Kent Silverthorne, who spent 25 years on the streets of San Mateo County until finally being helped into transitional housing.

“I was homeless, and now that I have a place to stay I wanted to pay back the people who helped me,” Silverthorne said, explaining why he came out to help at the EPA Connect event.

Silverthorne grew up in a comfortable Peninsula middle class home with a stockbroker father and a mother who worked for a radio station. Tragically, both parents died before he was 18, which in part led to his homelessness.

Just a few feet away from the bike repair station was physicians’ assistant Margaret Allen, from the Ravenswood Family Health Center, who was gently washing feet and trimming toenails of some very grateful people. Speaking fluent Spanish with her British accent, Allen smiled and laughed with participants, all while massaging foot cream onto weary feet, or taking care of haggard nails.

Kim said that offering services like bike repair, haircuts and even foot care, often makes a significant difference for a homeless person trying to find, or even keep, a job. The EPA Connect event is a way to help stabilize people, and hopefully help them toward permanent solutions.

Inside the warehouse more than 15 organizations and governmental agencies had staff and volunteers eager to share information. It was one-stop shopping for anyone looking for help with finding shelter, transitional housing, or long-term housing. There was also help with finding agencies to secure food, mental health services, and legal aid. And because organizers said they have run into a number of homeless veterans, Veterans Administration officials were on hand, as well.

Bains said Project WeHOPE leaders were committed to hosting the event this year, even though this has been a difficult year for the non-profit, which is short $30,000 specifically for keeping the warming shelter open every night during the winter.

“A homeless person can’t tell the difference between 42 degrees and 38 degrees,” he said. Cold is cold, after all, said Bains.

Despite the challenges, Bains said he intends to help the EPA Connect event happen every year, as long as it’s needed.

“Homelessness is not going to be resolved by one entity, it’s going to take many people,” he said.

Update on Missing Young Man, Jackson Miller


In July, goodneighorstories.com reported on the search for 20-year-old Jackson Miller, who went missing in San Francisco back in May of this year. Friends and family hit the streets of The City searching for Miller, and later expanded their search by creating a Facebook group, “Jackson Miller – Missing, Help Us Find Him.”

Miller is still missing, and the family continues to work leads and mount organized searches. One such search is planned for tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 12. The search was organized after hearing from someone who thinks he hung out with Miller a week ago. With a new description of what clothes he was wearing and what he was carrying, the family is hoping to finally be successful in the quest to find Miller and get him help.

Miller is 5’10”, 155 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair. Anyone who thinks they may have seen him is asked to call the toll-free number, 888-818-4673.


Financial Planner Adds Value to Groups Aiding Africa by Leading Unique Collaboration



SANTA CLARA, CA. – Jeff Chow is a walking, talking social graph for philanthropy. You can almost see the lines and bubbles emanate from him as he thinks out loud about the volunteers and nonprofit organizations he connects.

Any meeting with Chow is chock full of ideas and stories about numerous non-profits and people doing good in the world. If you share your story Chow will immediately rattle off a list of people he can put you in touch with who might be able to help you or at least share a similar story.

Out of this virtual social graph of Chow’s was born a group called Collaborate for Africa, a gathering of Bay Area organizations and individuals working to help people in the far-off continent.

It started one year ago, in November, 2009, with 25 people who were involved in philanthropic work for Africa, and now a year later there are 230 people on Chow’s e-mail list. Chow said about 20 to 30 people attend meetings on the second Thursday of every month at Santa Clara University.

“It’s exploded beyond any of my wildest expectations,” he said.

Chow’s day job is as a financial planner for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; he specializes in helping nonprofits and their donors figure out investment strategies. Because of his unique position to know a lot of nonprofits and philanthropists, he is able to connect people with a similar focus.

It was out of a conversation with the leader of one local African-focused group that the idea was born. After realizing they knew lots of others working for Africa in the Bay Area, they asked themselves, “what if we put all these people in the same room?” After the first meeting, Chow knew they were on to something special.

Shannon Frediani plays the harp at a recent Collaborate for Africa meeting at Santa Clara University. Frediani is co-founder of Voices of Angels, which recently did work in Nigeria. Frediani shared a song she wrote about peace at the meeting.

“The enthusiasm and warmth was amazing,” Chow said of the gathering.

Collaborate for Africa not only helps groups work more efficiently by joining forces on projects, but it is also serving as a sort-of support group for volunteers who can sometimes feel isolated, Chow said. In addition, those who travel to Africa are often overwhelmed by what they experience there; being able to meet with others who share that experience is helpful.

At a recent meeting the group heard from two speakers who had been to Nigeria over the summer. One was a photographer who chronicled programs sponsored by a United States foundation. The second was the head of the Voices of Angels Foundation, a non-profit that provides something called an “eGranary” to schools. It is in essence a database of 15 million books and documents for educational institutions that have limited or no Internet access.

“We’re transformed by going to Africa,” Voices of Angels co-founder Shannon Frediani said after the meeting. But she said there is a “decompression aspect.” Collaborating for Africa helps group members know they are not alone, she said.

Frediani said she finds the monthly gatherings valuable, because group members learn from each other and “shorten the learning curve” by sharing experiences.

Another member, Bonita Banducci, of the Global Women’s Leadership Network, said Collaborate for Africa helps expand what each participating group can do on its own. One example includes groups traveling over to Africa being able to carry over supplies other groups here in the Bay Area.

“It’s about empowering each other,” Banducci said.

Chow said he tells members of the collaboration to “be selfish” when they come to meetings, and ask for what they need from the group.

“I’m very focused on trying to provide values to members,” he said.

At the same time that Chow was setting up Collaborate for Africa in the Silicon Valley, another group was forming in Santa Cruz, and the two work together, with some members visiting meetings of both groups. A group has also started in the Los Angeles area, and at the end of last month Chow and others met for the first time in San Francisco.

Despite all the time Chow spends helping others who regularly visit Africa, he has been to the continent only once a long time ago, he said. He gets regularly invited to go on trips, and said he suspects he will make the trip again one day.

This is not the first such collaborative group Chow has helped create. In January, 2009, Chow was instrumental in launching something called “Continuing the Conversation,” a gathering of local Peninsula business people that meets every Thursday morning in Palo Alto. The group focuses on how to help local businesses remain open in the face of competition from a growing number of chain stores and Internet sales.

Chow’s desire to help others succeed and excel, combined with his natural curiosity and brain that can’t seem to stop producing ideas and connections, drive both groups.

For Chow the financial consultant, in the end it’s all about providing value.

“I’m always asking myself, ‘can I provide value?’ If I can’t I’ll go find something else to do.”

To Collaborate for Africa members, the answer to that question is, “yes!”

For more information about Collaborate for Africa, or Continuing the Conversation, contact Chow at 510-891-5207.

Common Table Open for Business


The restaurant with a heart featured on goodneighborstories.com in August, Common Table, is officially open for business. The Bend, OR., eatery opened to customers last month, but yesterday was its official grand opening.

Common Table

Local Bend, OR., artists created each letter for Common Table's sign inside the restaurant.

The motto of Common Table is “Eat good. Do good. Make good happen.” The business model is to create and sell healthy, farm-to-table, sustainable food, and turn the profits back into the community by feeding homeless and hungry people. Customers can purchase wooden tokens that can then be distributed to anyone who needs a good, free meal. Common Table also has “pay what you want/can” days, when customers can pay any amount for what’s on that day’s menu. And organizers are mostly volunteers, to cut down on staffing costs.

I follow Common Table on Facebook, and I have to say I wish I lived close enough to Bend to savor some of the delicious-sounding soups and main dishes that have been on the menu recently. The evening programs have also sounded interesting. One of the goals of the restaurant is to provide a place for the community to meet, by hosting talks and gatherings on a regular basis.

If you live up in Central Oregon, or are ever passing through, make sure you drop into Common Table for some good eats.

Good Media Neighbor: Dr. Oz


One of my favorite current “Good Media Neighbors” is Dr. Mehmet Oz, of The Dr. Oz show. The show has been a major syndicated hit ever since it kicked off last year, and it shows no signs of losing popularity. People (mostly women, it seems) love Dr. Oz’s friendly, no-nonsense approach to health, and his seemingly genuine desire to see everyone in America lead healthier, happier lives.

Dr. Oz kicked off this season back in September with his own colonoscopy – nothing new these days with anchors like Katie Couric and Harry Smith having already aired their procedures. But for Oz, it went beyond a routine screening when his gastroenterologist found and removed a pre-cancerous polyp. Oz is a guy who practices what he preaches, eating right and exercising, and he has no family history of colon cancer, so it came somewhat as a shock to him. He admitted to viewers that he thought they would film the procedure, do a nice segment on why it’s important to get screened for what is often a silent killer, and move on. Dr. Oz’s experience appeared to have further strengthened his resolve to convince people of early screenings, as well as eating the right foods and being more active.

This season Dr. Oz is the nation’s cheerleader for weight loss, launching his “Just 10” challenge, and encouraging everyone to lose 10 pounds. Dr. Oz is always about what’s doable for people, so instead of haranguing viewers to get down to their goal weights – for some a herculean task – he’s letting them know that by losing just 10 pounds, they will reduce their risks for deadly diseases and improve their daily quality of life.

Occasionally the show features those yucky cadaver internal organs Dr. Oz so famously made Oprah handle on her show, and those now infamous purple surgical gloves squeamish audience members don to handle the organs as part of an object lesson about bad health habits. But the show’s producers have come up with lots of positive, creative props to help Dr. Oz demonstrate principles, like a recent segment with a mini-water wheel and pitchers of water to show how a lack of oxygen in the body results in a lack of energy.

The show gets cheesy at times, like when Dr. Oz plays game show host and quizzes participating audience members on health questions, but overall it does a good job of combining important health information with just the right amount of day time talk show entertainment.

In a sea of sometimes negative daytime programming – think endless array of bickering adversaries on court shows and Jerry Springeresque programs – Dr. Oz is an island of civility and positive news about how to live a healthy life. Here’s hoping The Dr. Oz show has a nice long TV lifespan.