Family, Friends Using Facebook to Find Missing Young Man



Jackson Miller is missing, and his family and friends want to find the 20-year-old fast. They’ve used every traditional tool they can think of to search for him, as well as one that is being increasingly used in this age of social media: Facebook.

“Jackson Miller, Missing – Help Us Find Him” was started on May 20, 2010, five days after the young man disappeared , one day after dozens of friends had canvassed San Francisco, the last place he had been seen. Jackson had been suffering from depression and anxiety in the weeks leading up to the disappearance.

Almost immediately after the page was created, posts came pouring in from family and friends, encouraging Jackson’s parents, Gina Funaro and Paul Miller. Funaro, Miller, and friends posted information on the site about how to distribute flyers and who to call if anyone sighted Jackson.  Soon, however, the messages were being posted directly to Jackson.

“We love you Jackson,” one woman wrote on May 22.

“Jackson – I love you. Let’s meet somewhere for a burrito. Please call me,” Funaro wrote on May 23.

“Jackson, you are so special and there are now over 1,000 caring people that are concerned about you,” his dad wrote on May 26, referring to the people who had become friends of the page in the first week the page was up. “I miss talking with you everyday. You are wonderful and have so much more to give to this world.”

Facebook and social media in general are being used more and more in cases like this, according to Anthony Gonzalez, director of programs and outreach for Child Quest International, a non-profit group that aids law enforcement in finding missing children and at-risk adults.

“You do see more postings. It’s definitely becoming a trend,” he said. Child Quest has taken on Jackson’ s case under what’s known as Suzanne’s Law, which covers missing young adults between the ages of 18 and 21.

The posts on the Jackson Miller page, like the paper flyers that family and friends have plastered all over San Francisco, are meant to do one thing: find Jackson. It has been a heartbreaking, frustrating, and sometimes chilling, process for Funaro and Miller.

There was the day they reviewed Coast Guard tapes of the waters below the Golden Gate, trying to determine if Jackson had jumped. The bridge was in the distance on the video, but they saw a splash. According to bridge officials, there were no videos from their cameras on the bridge showing anyone jumping. Since then witnesses have reported seeing Jackson in the city, including one man who said he was “100 percent sure” the man he conversed with was Jackson.

One woman reported seeing Jackson on Monday, July 26, in San Francisco, wearing the same brown leather boat shoes he was reportedly wearing when he disappeared.

Funaro said they knew almost immediately something was amiss when they realized Jackson was missing on Saturday, May 15.  He had been depressed, struggling with anxiety and other issues for a couple of months.

“He was especially despondent that day,” Funaro said. “He seemed like he had no energy and was really hopeless.”

In the afternoon Jackson borrowed a car telling his parents a story about meeting some people they trust. When he didn’t come back at the expected time, Funaro and Miller found out there had been no meeting. They tried calling his phone, his friends. He wasn’t answering and friends hadn’t seen him. They called the Santa Clara County Sheriff ‘s office that night.

On Monday, May 17, they found out the car had been abandoned in an employee parking lot at the Golden Gate Bridge.  They immediately drove the approximately 45 miles to the bridge and began their frustrating quest to review videos to find out whether Jackson was alive or not. National security rules prevented them from viewing bridge tapes, which is why they followed a suggestion to check Coast Guard tapes. But bridge officials assured them there was no video of a jump, and no eyewitness reports on a busy day at the bridge.

On Wednesday, May 19, 12 carloads of friends headed up to San Francisco to hand out fliers, Funaro said. The searchers included neighbors, Jackson’s friends, people from the Cupertino Hills Swim and Racquet Club where the family is active and Jackson coached swim teams, Miller’s work, and from the communities of the schools Jackson and their 17-year-old daughter have attended. Their search yielded at least two witnesses who said they talked to a young man who looked like Jackson.

The next day, Jackson’s friends Christine Whitehill and Jennifer Proudian set up the Facebook page, with hopes of getting the word out to as many friends of the family as possible. What started as a communication tool for that group soon started getting noticed by friends of friends on Facebook. There are now more than 1,400 friends of the page.

“The whole idea was to get the word out,” Whitehill said. “We didn’t really know what we were dealing with at the time.”

Funaro said she has debated with herself about whether using Facebook is a good idea, especially since she knows how guarded Jackson is about what people know about him, and can get particular about what he looks like in pictures.

“I was concerned more about how Jackson would feel. We knew that Jackson wouldn’t want a lot of people to know that he was even depressed,” she said.

“But I have to always say that we need to get him to safety and not worry about that. I just had to let go.”

Gonzalez said there are pros and cons to using social media.

“It’s a double-sided thing. The good part about it, we believe, is it’s good to get the picture out to as many people as possible,” he said. The down-side maybe that if a child does not want to be found, the site may give him or her clues as to where searches are being conducted, driving the child further into hiding.

Funaro hopes that the efforts of Jackson’s young friends through social media and other means will possibly be the most helpful in finding him.  She said she noticed that more and more of his friends are now directly addressing Jackson through the Facebook page.

“Hey buddy I hope you’re doing ok and in good health,” one friend wrote on July 25. “I really wish I could talk to you man we used to have such great conversations and laugh and crack jokes…it was awesome. You’re an amazing person who I greatly miss, please call me….Don’t forget about me.”

For a flier from Child Quest International about Jackson, go to Child Quest officials are encouraging anyone with information to contact the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office at 408-299-2311.

Summer Fun, Enrichment for Refugee Children and Youth


A Student at Refugee Summer Enrichment; Photo by Bill Coleman.

For many affluent kids in the Silicon Valley summer is one activity-packed day camp, sleep away camp and enrichment class after another. Yet for the children of refugee families, newly arrived in the United States and living below the poverty level, it can be a couple of months of nothing to do and nowhere to go. They need enrichment to adjust to life in their new country, but often get nothing.

Thanks to volunteers at Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church (SVPC), and a secular non-profit called Refugee Transitions, 25 refugee children and youth enjoyed two weeks of a free summer day camp recently. They received English instruction and experienced games, crafts, and other activities to help them prepare for school and life in their new community.

A unique aspect of the camp was the pairing of church children and youth with the refugee students, to give both sides windows into new worlds.

“I was really surprised when on the first day of the program so many of the kids came from so many countries,” 15-year-old volunteer Vicky Lee said.  “It’s good because not only are we helping them out with English, they can teach us so much about their countries and cultures, too.”

Adult volunteer Coleen Hausler watched the refugee students open up and feel at home over the two-week camp.

“Seeing their faces they’re so full of hope,” she said. “At the same time they’re trying to figure out their new country.”

The refugee children and youth who participated in the camp have all been in the country one year or less, and know varying levels of English. They came from 10 different countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Central America, representing 11 languages and dialects.

The vision for the camp came from church member Debbie Shaver, who volunteers helping local refugee families through SVPC’s refugee ministry. The church’s congregation began building the ministry several years ago. Last year church leaders provided space for the San Francisco-based Refugee Transitions to open its first office in the Bay Area’s South Bay.

“I was wondering what the (refugee children) were going to do during the summer,” Shaver said. A few of them qualified for summer enrichment with their school district, but the rest would have no services. From Shaver’s question an entire plan for a camp took shape. She took her idea to church leaders and Refugee Transitions staff, who were willing to proceed.

“Ours is a community of faith that believes hospitality is at the very heart of God,” said SVPC’s lead pastor, Rev. Dr. Steve Harrington.  “In this camp we are seeking to reflect that reality by helping refugee children and youth feel more at home here in the Bay Area.”

Another church member, Elsa Amboy, works part time for Refugee Transitions as its South Bay program manager. She and Shaver worked together to create the camp.

“There are no other camps currently available (in the South Bay) for refugee students that are free,” Amboy said. “Most of our families fall under the poverty line, and so we targeted refugees who were under that line and could possibly use such a camp.”

Many hurdles were overcome to make the camp a reality. Volunteers raised approximately $3,000 to pay English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers and purchase materials. Volunteers were found to transport students to the camp. Still more volunteers were recruited to tutor the students, and lead recreational activities, approximately 40 in all.

“I had several goals, and the interaction of our community members was a really important part of it,” Shaver said.  From the start she planned for church members of all ages to work side-by-side with the refugee children. She especially wanted the children of volunteers to be paired with refugee students to help them in their studies and activities.

“The response has been great,” Shaver said. “People were really excited to be participating.”

Another interesting aspect to the camp was its curriculum, which besides English instruction, included teaching the children concepts that will help them in their new communities and schools.

A major emphasis was put on health and safety guidelines. For example, knowing one’s address and phone number, in case of being lost. Eating healthy foods was another focus, as well as the importance of exercise.

Refugee Transitions staff members are encouraging refugees new to America to stick to the diet of their country of origin, Amboy said. She herself has seen refugees put on a significant amount of weight within the first six months of arriving. Not only are refugees tempted to try new American foods, they also will buy cheaper, less nutritious foods because of their low incomes.

Being able to interact with peers at school was also being emphasized at the camp. Recreation time included learning common schoolyard games like Four Square. Calling them “survival skills,” Amboy said children also learned basic things like how to ask to go to the bathroom, or how to share their feelings with teachers.

During ESL instruction one day, instructor Dorothy Dickson led students through an exercise to identify feelings using a magnet board showing a boy and a girl and their various expressions.

“What is the boy feeling?” Dickson asked the dozen children seated in a circle.

“He feels crying,” one young Iraqi girl said.

“That’s what he’s doing, but what does he feel?” Dickson asked. After a little thought the girl said the boy felt sad.

Dickson said it was a challenge to teach to such a wide variety of age and skill levels; she had students from kindergarteners to sixth grade in her class.

“You are teaching to kids who have very little school experience,” she said. “Some are illiterate and have illiterate parents, but some are very literate.”

Susan Miller taught the students from middle school through high school ages. She said she wanted both the refugee students and the student volunteers to be comfortable in class and learn from each other.

“I really wanted them (refugee students) to feel like there are other people in the community they can turn to,” she said.

The successful camp could spark plans for future camps, something Amboy said is needed for the estimated 500 to 600 refugees who settle each year in Santa Clara County alone.

Dickson, a retired English language development specialist for a local school district, thinks the camp could be “canned” and reproduced elsewhere around the United States. There are many challenges to pulling together such a camp, but she said they are challenges worth tackling.

“I think it’s great because the kids are happy, and they’re learning to be positive with one another,” Dickson said. “If they didn’t have this they’d be sitting at home.”

One-stop Shopping for Peace, Justice and Changing the World



SAN MATEO, CA. – Call it a social justice/education store/community center mashup. It’s not like any other store or non-profit center around, which makes categorizing this new enterprise a little challenging – in a good way.

The for-profit educational supplies company and publisher, Reach and Teach, is teaming up with non-profit Rebuilding Alliance to share a new kind of store/non-profit combo in San Mateo, CA., called The Dove and Olive Works. The new store carries books and games that promote peace and social justice ideals. It also features an olive tasting bar and fair trade from Palestine sold by The Rebuilding Alliance, which helps rebuild communities in war-torn communities. Tucked in the back are desks and offices for the company and the non-profit.

The space is a dream realized for Reach and Teach’s founders, Derrick Kikuchi and Craig Wiesner, who started their online, self-described “peace and social justice learning company” in 2004.

“It’s a place of learning and action,” Kikuchi said of the new center. “Learning inspires action, and action causes learning. It basically puts learning and action on a two-way street.”

In addition to places for sales and offices, the new location has an outdoor courtyard where Kikuchi and Wiesner envision gatherings, performances and movie-screenings. Ultimately they hope other organizations and people from the community will come in and use the space as a place to collaborate on ideas that will change the world.

For Donna Baranski-Walker, founder and executive director of Rebuilding Alliance, the combination of ideals and products of the two groups is very complimentary.

“Having the opportunity to be in a place with a peace and social justice learning company, what a wonderful match,” she said.

It also gave both the organization and the company a chance to expand out of cramped quarters. Baranski-Walker said her organization moved out of  a 250-square-foot space where staff and interns almost sat on each other’s laps. Kikuchi and Wiesner were tripping over boxes of educational materials in their Daly City home.

From the beginning of Reach and Teach, the goal was to eventually open a brick-and-mortar store. Kikuchi said it was always meant to be a shared space, where people could not only get their hands on peace and social justice products, but could also get involved with others in action to help the world.

It’s been an interesting journey for the two men to get to this new project. The two came out of the high tech world, where they were pioneers in the arena of computer-based, long-distance, interactive education. In 1994 the men founded WK Multimedia Network Training and created the first interactive CD-ROM for the 3Com company.

In 2000, their lives began to change with a trip to El Salvador with a group from their church, First Presbyterian of Palo Alto. They went to honor a friend from the church who had started a project building wells in villages, but then died before he could see the wells completed.

Wiesner said he grew up poor, but the people of El Salvador were “truly poor.” Despite lacking money, food, and many of the conveniences we take for granted here, “they were the happiest, kindest, most generous people I had ever met in my life.”

The experience with the Salvadoran villagers deeply impressed the two men. Wiesner called it “a timer that started to tick.” Each of the men became more involved in topics they were drawn to: for Wiesner it was Israel/Palestine, and for Kikuchi it was border justice between California and Mexico.

The next year was 9/11, and within months they found themselves on another adventure visiting Afghanistan. The San Francisco group Global Exchange put together a trip of interfaith leaders to see first-hand the effects of war, and to bring together families who had lost loved ones on 9/11 with Afghani families who had lost loved ones or homes in the ensuring war. Two rabbis had bowed out of the trip on short notice, and trip organizers wanted to replace them with other Jewish leaders. Through mutual contacts, someone suggested they contact Wiesner, who is Jewish. Kikuchi, a Christian, insisted on going with him.

“It was meaningful (to go on the trip) in a couple of ways. If he was going to die, I wanted to die alongside him,” Kikuchi said. In addition, the men knew that the trip had the possibility to be a life-changing experience; as a couple they felt it was important to have that experience together (the two were married in a church ceremony 20 years ago and were married in a civil ceremony during the time same sex marriage was legal in California).

The trip turned out to be as meaningful as they expected. But the trip was only the first part of the adventure. Global Exchange requires that trip participants speak about their experiences in public for up to a year after they return. Kikuchi and Wiesner began talking at schools, libraries and other locations locally, sharing photos and first-hand accounts of what they found there.

The day before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the men spoke at a special event at Palo Alto High School. After two presentations of standing-room only attendance by students, the men had the kind of divine experience that can only lead to a major life change.

“This young man appeared out of nowhere in the parking lot and said, “I don’t know what you two do for a living, but whatever it is you should stop. This is what you need to be doing. This is how kids like me need to learn about the world,” Kikuchi  recalled. The student disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.

“We looked at each other and said our lives are not going to be the same anymore,” Wiesner said.

Within a year Reach and Teach was born on the Internet. One of the products featured from the beginning was an educational card game about civil rights Kikuchi invented, called Civio. They found other educational products with a peace or social justice bent from around the world, and have even started publishing books by authors who can’t get published elsewhere.

Several years later, the two find themselves on yet another interesting leg of the journey in The Dove and Olive Works.

Kikuchi said that while organizing the store for the open house he had put together a display of books that summed up where they’ve been on the journey, and where it has brought them.

“I had put together books about traveling, seeing the world, realizing it was broken, and then discovering there were tools out there to make the repairs,” he said. The display mirrored  “our discovery, our journey, and the tools that we needed to make a difference, all in one bookcase.”

The Dove and Olive Works is located at 178 South Boulevard in San Mateo. Current hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, call 1-888-PEACE40 (732-2340), or 415-586-1713.

Man’s New Neighbors are Wild


My college friend Frank Mickadeit has some pretty wild new neighbors this week. Frank has spent the last few days in a cage – day and night – at the Santa Ana Zoo. It’s all a part of his job as a columnist for the Orange County Register, and it’s streaming live online for the whole world to see until this afternoon.

Frank Mickadeit at Santa Ana Zoo

Frank as an exhibit at the Santa Ana Zoo; Orange County Register photo

I started watching on Tuesday as soon as I saw Frank’s posts on Facebook announcing his captivity. It’s been fun, interesting and surreal to watch as Frank goes about this experiment. Viewers have watched him eat monkey chow (tastes like hash, he said), do media interviews with local TV and radio stations, interact with zoo visitors, smoke cigars, write his column, and even serenade the neighboring animals while playing his guitar. As I write this he’s being examined by zoo veterinarians.

This morning I interviewed Frank via telephone, and no, I did not ask him “why” he’s doing this. Yesterday I heard him comment he was tiring of the “why” question. The idea was born on an earlier visit to the zoo while he was watching a monkey just hanging out and relaxing in his cage. He basically asked himself, “How do I get that job?” And now here he is, getting some good columns out of the experience while giving the zoo, and the Register, a lot of great exposure.

When I first heard about the zoo stay, I wasn’t surprised. Even while working for our college paper, The Daily Aztec at San Diego State, Frank had a knack for inserting himself into interesting situations to chase unique stories. And speaking of unique, Frank has a unique – and fun -sense of humor, which is why he’s as great a columnist as he is. He’s both informative and entertaining to readers.

Since this is a blog about neighbors, I confined my questions to his current neighbors, other primates that include capuchin monkeys, gibbons and lemurs. What has living side-by-side with these animals taught him?

“I guess I feel a little smarter than I did when I came in. I’m definitely the smartest guy on the block; that’s a change for me,” Frank quipped.

And what has he taught his zoo neighbors?

“I think I’ve taught them to appreciate the aroma of a fine cigar,” he said. “And I think they are really going to miss it.”

He said he has contemplated leaving some cigars behind, but “they have to know how to make fire to do that, and that’s the great difference in our species. I’ve learned to make fire and therefore I can smoke a cigar.”

Finally, I asked him how his animal neighbors compare to human neighbors he’s had. He had to admit he likes his zoo neighbors better than his building neighbors who “play god awful techno music until all hours.” They also have illegal dogs that poop and pee in the elevators, not bothering to clean up after their pooches.

“I would rather live here, frankly.”