Five Ways to be a Good Neighbor in September


housing-one-housing-1000-silicon-valley-homelessness-five-ways-to-be-a-good-neighbor-september-2013Summer vacation is over and the rush into fall has officially begun. Before you rush ahead too far, consider carving out a little time to help others around you this month. Use one or more of our five suggestions below as a way to get started. Have more suggestions? Tell us in the comments section!

1. Help the Homeless: Cuts to Section 8 housing vouchers this month and sky high housing costs will most likely throw some Bay Area neighbors into homelessness, and will definitely keep those who are already homeless, and want to be housed, on the streets. Consider helping an organization in your community that is making significant progress in working to house people. Housing 1000 is a community campaign in the Silicon Valley that has been working the past two years to house 1,000 people by the end of 2013. As of July the campaign is still more than 50 percent away from that goal, but the efforts continue. You can help by visiting the Housing One website, where you can see stories of people Housing 1000 is helping and donate either toward specific clients, or more generally to the organization. For a sobering look at what we’re up against in the fight against homelessness in the Silicon Valley, see the Business Insider’s recent special report on the issue.

2. Volunteer in Honor of 9/11: Sept. 11 was declared a National Day of Service and Remembrance in 2009 to honor the fallen from the [Read more…]

Silicon Valley Rotating Shelter for Homeless Men Celebrates First Year With Benefit Concert


faith-in-action-silicon-valley-rotating-shelter-choral-project-benefit-concertVolunteer leaders of the Faith in Action Silicon Valley Rotating Shelter (“SV Rotating Shelter”) announced recently that as of their one year anniversary on March 3, they have provided shelter and other life-enhancing services to 68 homeless men throughout Santa Clara County; 33 have become employed and moved into permanent housing.

To mark the one year anniversary and encourage community involvement, SV Rotating Shelter is hosting a Celebration and Benefit Concert Saturday, May 4, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., at the Congregational Community Church, 1112 S. Bernardo Avenue (at Remington) in Sunnyvale, CA.

The featured choral group for the evening is The Choral Project, headquartered in San Jose. The concert is a ‘thank you gift’ to the community from the Choral Project, and proceeds will benefit the future operations of the Shelter.Tickets are $20 each and may be ordered through Eventbrite:

“We are excited to celebrate a successful first year,” said Cathey Edwards, who serves as the non-paid executive director. “Faith groups and [Read more…]

Faith In Action Celebrates Six Month Anniversary With Youth Dance


The Faith in Action Silicon Valley Rotating Shelter is marking its first six-month milestone with a special dance and mixer just for Bay Area high school students on Friday, Sept. 28, in Cupertino.

The shelter launched in March as a collaboration of more than 20 South Bay churches, individuals, and companies, to provide meals, shelter, and other supportive services for 15 homeless men at a time, for a period of up to 90 days.  Each month a different church or synagogue houses the shelter, with volunteers providing meals. According to shelter organizers, more than 45 men have been served so far, with 18 moving into permanent housing situations.

To celebrate its success and raise funds at the same time, the Faith in Action nonprofit is throwing the dance for up to 300 high school students from 8 to 10 p.m., at the Quinlan Community Center, 10185 N. Stelling Rd., Cupertino. In addition to music and dancing, the event will include refreshments and opportunities to learn more about how students can make a difference in the community.

Tickets are on sale now for $5 if students RSVP in advance, or $10 at the door. All proceeds benefit the rotating shelter. To RSVP, email program intern Kelsey Haynes at

“We want to see a lot of high school students at our benefit dance,” said Haynes, a senior at the Middle School program at De Anza Community College, and organizer of the dance. “It’s a great chance to invite your friends and meet new people while making a real difference in your local community.”

The convergence of youth and community to support the rotating shelter was an original vision of founder and unpaid executive director Cathey Edwards, she told Good Neighbor Stories in March. [Read more…]

Repairing Bikes and Lives


Jim Gardner

“What goes around, comes around,” is one western interpretation of Karma, and there’s probably no better illustration of the concept than Good Karma Bikes of San Jose, where those who once sought free help for their broken down bicycles are now helping others—while repairing their own lives in the process.

Under the motto, “Transportation for transformation,” the two-year-old nonprofit has grown from one laid off engineer fixing bikes for homeless people in St. James Park, to a team of volunteers that not only fix thousands of bikes each year for homeless and low-income clients, but also provide job training, as well as a friendly place to belong.

Every Saturday in a makeshift bicycle repair shop covered by bright red canopies near the Diridon Station (the clinic has since moved to a warehouse at 345 Sunol St., San Jose), loud cheers of welcome greet returning volunteers who come from all over the South Bay Area and Peninsula. As people line up with their bikes to be fixed between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.—between 30 and 40 every week—each person is greeted with friendly smiles and treated with great care and respect.

There is no charge for the repairs. The clients are considered the same as paying customers, and the volunteer mechanics strive to perform the same quality work as a professional bike shop.

While it may look like Good Karma Bikes is one more nonprofit providing free services to the community, founder and Executive Director Jim Gardner insists it’s something more. [Read more…]

Eighth Grader Making Birthday Wishes Come True For Less Fortunate Kids


Every child has a birthday wish. But some children from poor or homeless families don’t get those wishes fulfilled, which is why eighth grader Yasmine Davis decided to step in and make a difference.

Davis and her family are founders of the nonprofit  Make a Birthday Wish, which provides presents and birthday parties for more than 300 disadvantaged children and teens in the Silicon Valley.

Along with her mom, Nike McDonald, Davis shops for presents for children and teenagers, then throws a party complete with decorations and cake for all the birthday boys and girls of one month. The children and teens are matched to Make a Birthday Wish through West Valley Community Services (WVCS).

“The kids all have a wish list, so we try and get them what’s on the wish list so they’ll be happy with their presents,” Davis said. “And even if we can’t they’re still really happy with the birthday party.”

While not shopping, planning, and party hosting—a volunteer job that keeps her busy for up to eight hours every weekend and sometimes after school—Davis is a student at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino, where she keeps up good grades and plays sports. [Read more…]

Beautiful Day Dawning: Group Calls Out to Volunteers for April Service Week


Beautiful Day, San Jose’s largest annual volunteer service event, is back next month with ambitious plans to serve all 10 districts of the city, plus a nonprofit farm in Sunnyvale, and miles of the area’s freeways.

With the theme of “Serving Our Community is How We Roll”, the organization is putting out a call for thousands of volunteers to take action between April 21 and 29. Most of the projects are taking place the weekend of April 28-29. The Beautiful Day website includes information on each project and an easy online registration form for those interested.

From fixing houses, to rehabilitating school campuses, to cleaning creeks and putting on a carnival and dance for special needs students, there are numerous opportunities to serve. Many of the projects are family friendly.

The faith-based group collaborates with local governments, nonprofits, churches, and businesses to pull off the large number of projects concentrated in one week. Since 2004 the event has grown from smaller clean-up and fix-up projects to the massive operation it is today. Beautiful Day organizers estimate that approximately 2,400 volunteers participated in last spring’s one-week event—and they may double that this April. [Read more…]

Honoring Our Volunteers: EPA Homeless Connect


As we continue with celebrating National Volunteer Week, today we feature a story about how one community comes together to help give hope to homeless people. Although the Homeless Connect event in East Palo Alto is organized through a partnership of nonprofit and governmental agencies, the annual event could never happen without the hard work from dozens of volunteers. Thanks to them, homeless men and women during these events get showers, haircuts, foot care, bicycle repair, legal advice, housing leads, and a hot meal. MORE

Small Nonprofit With Big Impact Warms the Heart of Community


From left to right: Pastor Paul Bains, volunteer Jana Sullivan, board member Robert Sherrard, and community partner Thomas Madson. Madson serves as principal of East Palo Alto Phoenix Acadamy, a charter school that uses the gym for physical education during the day.

EAST PALO ALTO, CA – A small non-profit organization, Project WeHOPE, is warming the heart of this struggling community, both figuratively and literally.

Among its many initiatives, Project WeHOPE (“We Help Other People Excel”) founded East Palo Alto’s only warming shelter for homeless people in 2009. Every night from November to April, 27 people on average come in from the cold for a hot meal, medical attention, and a warm place to sleep. The shelter houses individuals, and increasingly in these economic times, entire families.

The shelter opened after it became apparent through the 2009 San Mateo County homeless census that East Palo Alto has the greatest percentage of homeless in the county.

“Very little was being done…no one was housing the homeless,” said Pastor Paul Bains, President of WeHOPE and co-founder with his wife Cheryl. They did what only made sense to them: opened the shelter in the organization’s gym, located in an industrial park warehouse.

But Bains wasn’t satisfied with just a place to come in from the cold. The shelter had to be, in his words, “not a hand out, but a hand up.” Everyone looking for help was evaluated for their medical and mental needs, and given help with connecting to longer-term transitional housing.

“We’re trying to help the people become members of society,” he said. “We help them to restore their dignity.”

Bains said one woman who had been living in a local field known as the “Field of Dreams” for more than five years is now in transitional housing because of the shelter.

“We initiated the help that got her into stable housing,” he said. “She has income now and when she feels she’s ready, she will get an apartment.”

The program was such a success during the winter of 2009 that Project WeHOPE’s leaders opened the shelter again in November 2010. Bains said the shelter housed on average 15 people per night last year.

“This year we’re relatively full, or close to full, every night,” Bains said.

But Bains said the shelter is $30,000 short of its fundraising goal to remain open through April of this year, when nights get a little warmer. It costs Project WeHOPE $145,000 to keep the shelter open for six months.

Bains said the organization is searching for more donations and grants not only for this season, but for next season, when San Mateo County officials have already told local non-profits they may not be able to fund programs like the Warming Shelter at the same level as in previous years.

The shelter’s meals are provided by community volunteers, but the shelter is mainly staffed with paid employees who are trained in how to evaluate and work with the homeless population. A well-trained paid staff is necessary, Bains said. “You can’t expect people to volunteer overnight seven days a week,” he added.

Ideally Bains would like the shelter to open its doors when the sun goes down around 5:30, instead of 8:00 p.m. But that would take another $13,000.

Other needs on the shelter’s wish list include men’s and women’s showers, which would serve both homeless clients, and people who use the gym when the shelter is not in operation.

In an effort to raise money for all the organizations programs, Project WeHOPE is hosting a fashion show charity banquet called “Enchanted Garden” on Feb. 26, 2011, in Redwood City. Bains said it will feature the designs of European-based designer RoiFord, who originally lived in East Palo Alto.

Besides the Warming Shelter, Project WeHOPE runs the Lord’s Gym Community Center, for East Palo Alto youth, the Chaplaincy Program, which offers support to the local law enforcement officers and crime victims, and the Technology Access Point (TAP) Center, which provides computer access for residents, as well as educational training for children and youth.

Volunteer Michael Holt (right) works with other volunteers inside the gym.

To donate to Project WeHOPE, go to the organization’s website and click on “Donate Now.”


This story is featured in the  Good Neighbor Stories 2013 Datebook! Start every day feeling good about the world!

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Christmas Party Spans Divide Between Rich, Poor, If Only For An Evening


SAN JOSE, CA. – On one recent evening in a downtown office, the great divide between Silicon Valley’s rich and poor melted away amidst some baked ham, gingerbread cookies and a few Christmas carols.

About 50 guests from a local homeless shelter and a low-income housing complex and their volunteer hosts enjoyed a little Christmas spirit around festive tables before shuttling back to a life of uncertainty.

There was no agenda that night, other than to give guests a chance to relax, enjoy a holiday meal, and share conversations away from the stress of a life on the streets.

The event was the third annual “Luke 14” Christmas Party at The River Church Community in downtown San Jose. Overseeing the festivities was Andy Singleterry and his wife Janet, church members who have both committed themselves to working with the poor. Volunteers from The River and at least two other local churches joined them.

As Singleterry explained to the hosts in a huddle before guests arrived, the title “Luke 14” comes from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 14, in which Jesus advises people to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,” instead of their rich friends and neighbors.

Among the volunteers that night were high tech employees, leaders in business, educators, and in some cases their children, for whom homelessness is usually more of an abstract idea than a reality. For this one evening the volunteers and the homeless and low income men and women interacted as if there was no divide between them, sharing stories about families, lives, and memories of Christmas’ past.