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PostHeaderIcon Adopt An Angel Hard at Work

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In March of 1994, Georgia Butterfield’s first born son died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

After the death, the holidays were a time of great sadness for her.

One day in late November while working at her real estate office, an announcement was made: people were needed to help wrap gifts for a program called "Adopt An Angel." Butterfield didn’t know about the group or what it did, but she went to the conference room and wrapped gifts.

"This was my introduction to a program that has become a very integral part of my life. It was not only therapeutic but made me aware of the plight of thousands of children here in Alameda County,’’ said the 75-year-old Fremont woman who has run the program for a decade.

By reaching out to the Realtor community, Butterfield finds volunteers to "adopt" a child and buy them a gift from their wish lists. Last year, the group helped about 900 children and teens.

Their wishes are often simple: underwear, shoes, blankets, backpacks, school supplies and pajamas. The gifts go to those who are under the auspices of Alameda County Protective Services and an organization called Terra Firma Diversion Educational Services, a Hayward agency that helps foster children and other people in need. It has become one of the largest charity drives in Alameda County.

Though out the year, Adopt An Angel collects clothes, stuffed animals, backpacks and school supplies for children and teens that need them.

Butterfield said many of the children who will receive the gifts have heart-breaking stories, such as being abandoned in a park in Oakland and removed from abusive homes after physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Each year, the group buys gifts for a teen that, as a baby, was dipped in hot oil by his mother and is now bedridden. "Each year, his wishes are the same – board games, music and sweatshirts,’’ Butterfield said.

"Their families are no more,’’ said Butterfield. "They live in group homes, or shelters, or foster homes or, sometimes, with relatives in low income housing. Or, on the streets."

While teens in group homes have long had a clothing allowance, budget cuts over the past years have eliminated that allowance. The group brings many necessities to these young people.

"They ask for underwear, jackets, school supplies, blankets," said Butterfield. Teenagers who know that they will soon have to fend for themselves, request pans, silverware, dishes, bedding, towels, toasters – no frills, just necessities," she said.

Butterfield said the group strives to give each child something that every child deserves to have ---gifts to open on Christmas morning.

With the wrapping of gifts done, Butterfield on Thursday went to Walters Junior High in Fremont to accept a $1,001 check for the Adopt An Angel program. 

The 7th and 8th graders there have jars in their homerooms and throughout the year contribute their lunch money or allowances to help the children in the program. 

The girl who presented the check said she was homeless 5 years ago so she knows the importance of giving during a time when most children are thinking of what they want for Christmas..

"I find it particularly heartwarming to see youngsters who know the significance of sacrifice and are so willing to help,'' she said adding that the $1,001 check is "a great many nickels and dimes."

Anyone who would like to make a donation to Adopt An Angel can mail it to Butterfield at Legacy Real Estate, 41111 Mission Blvd., Fremont, CA 94539.--KB

Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 21:29)


PostHeaderIcon Adopt a Family Bikes Brings Joy to Local Families

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Adopt-a-Family organizer Tania Hanson-De Young remembers a day a few years ago when she went to deliver a refurbished bicycle to a needy girl in a low-income area of Concord.

The neighborhood kids saw the fancy car coming down the street and chased alongside it, shouting as they tried to guess who was getting the new bike.

“Where is it going? Who gets it?” the youngsters yelled.

The car stopped at a house and the volunteers got out and prepared to unload the bike.

Standing alone was a little wide-eyed girl draped in shabby second-hand clothing.

The bike was to be hers.

It was just a second-hand bike, probably not worth much money at all, but on that day the girl was a princess and her new bike was her white horse.

“All of the sudden everyone wanted to talk to her and ride her bike,’’ said Hanson-De Young, a volunteer with the Adopt-Family bike drive program that was started by a handful of people from St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Danville six years ago.

Hanson-De Young tells another story of a homeless man who received a refurbished bike through a Walnut Creek homeless shelter. “He hugged me and said, ‘Now I don’t have to be on my feet all the time,’’’ she recalled.

Every year around this time a group of dads get together many weeknights and each weekend to clean, tune and refurbish bikes. They’ve been in a handful of locations since the program started. This year, they are in a donated storefront at the Rose Garden shopping center in Danville.

The storefront is filled with bikes in various states of disrepair. Some just need the chain lubed and the tires pumped up, while others need new brakes or a complete overhaul.

“It needs to be done,’’ said David Struck, who started working on bikes as a teenager and worked his way through college in a bike store. “You don’t want a bike going out that someone is not going to get any joy from.”

Most bikes can be fixed and then sent on their way but there are a few that the guys call “Frankenbikes.” Those bikes are salvaged for parts because they are too badly broken or rusted to go back on the road.

“We really try to throw away as little as possible. Spare parts go into the bone yard,’’ said Struck.

Struck, now 51 and his friends Rand Mahoney and Joe Hui, at ages 55 and 46, are the three Danville fathers who are doing the cleaning, tuning and fixing up on the more than 200 bikes that have been donated this year. Sometimes others come to help, but mostly it’s the three fathers, listening to rock and roll, tinkering on bikes, cracking jokes and working to make someone’s holiday a bit brighter.

“For me, it’s about giving back,’’ said Hui. “I grew up real poor in foster homes and this is a way for me to give back.’”

The first year of the bike drive, volunteers fixed up about 50 bikes. The program has grown from there. Stuck said that after this year the group will have refurbished at least 1,000 bikes.

Bikes go to children at the Monument Crisis Center and the Salvation Army, both in Concord; Options Recovery Services in Oakland; Grant Elementary and Richmond High School in Richmond; and Fresh Start in Walnut Creek, volunteers said.

The program is supported by Danville Bike, which sells the group bike parts at cost; 1st Lighting Source in Auburn, which donated all the lights to the men for the current shop; and Pat Abshire, who loans his truck out for deliveries.

Bikes are collected at 730 Camino Ramon, Suite 140 – 160 in Danville. The shop is generally open from 6 to 9 p.m. on weekday evenings and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. For more information, go www.adoptafamilybikes.org. - KB


Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 21:28)


PostHeaderIcon Meeting Needs in Haiti

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Annie Blackstone, the co-founder of Sionfonds for Haiti, doesn't offer any street names when she gives directions to her rural house in Canyon in Contra Costa County. She simply instructs visitors to drive past the Post Office, up the hill and follow the road until the pavement ends. Then keep to the right and when you hit the fork, veer left.

And sure enough, amid the trees are a handful of children bouncing on a trampoline, several lumbering old dogs, Tibetan prayer flags flying outside the house, a chicken coop and Blackstone.

She moves past the many boxes of medical supplies and packaged soccer balls sitting outside and into her modest house. Tucked in the corner of her bedroom is the headquarters for Sionfonds USA, the non-profit she founded that helps rural Haitian families stay together. The group supports two schools for 400 children ages 4 to 15, and covers tuition for 400 additional students who go to private schools.

At one Sionfonds funded school, there’s a feeding program which provides at least one meal a day for some 250 children.

And for a second year in a row, Blackstone has recently returned from a medical trip to Haiti where more than a dozen doctors, midwives, oral surgeons, nurse practitioners and lay people treated more than 700 people who otherwise would not had access to medical care. They also brought the adults – and children – toothbrushes, vitamins, soccer balls and even some tiny girls’ shoes with pink bows and purple glitter on them.

She named the organization Sionfonds because “Sion,” means Zion, "the place where you don't need anything (and) where your needs are met,’’ and “fonds” is for foundation, she said.

In 2005 Blackstone discovered the need in Haiti when she went there to adopt her two daughters, Samantha, now 8, and Fabienne, now 18. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere and the girls struggled with hunger and poverty in their early lives.

At the orphanage where she first met the girls, Blackstone also met Guesno Mardy, who told her that many children wound up there because their parents were too poor to care for them.

According to the World Food Program, 56 percent of Haitians live on less than a dollar a day and a third of newborn babies are born underweight. Eight of every 100 children die in Haiti before their fifth birthday, statistics show.

In addition to schooling and feeding children, Sionfonds runs a sewing program for woman and is working on funding to send ten nursing students to school. Blackstone is aided by people here in the Bay Area, who find out about her organization through word of mouth and her web site. Or when she talks to someone about it at the supermarket or the dentist office.

“It has really changed my life and allowed me to see all the good that happens in the world,’’ she said.

And she believes anyone can do what she does, “I am nobody special; I just saw there was this thing to do and I met the right people to do it with; I think anybody can do that."

To help, please contact Sionfonds for Haiti at http://www.sionfonds.org. Sionfonds is marketing Banana Leaf Christmas cards and plaques, made by Haitian artisans, for the holiday season. You can order the cards through the web site. You can also send donations to Sionfonds, P.O. Box 79 Canyon, CA 94516. –RB

Rachel Berger is a Bay Area writer and television producer. This is her first piece for Allnewsnoblues.

Last Updated (Tuesday, 22 March 2011 21:28)


PostHeaderIcon From Beach to Battleship - a Journey of 140.6 Miles

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This is my story of my first 140.6 – the Beach 2 Battleship which starts in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and ends in Wilmington, North Carolina. I went into this race completely convinced I could finish but even more completely naive about how hard that would be. It was an awakening.

I was not alone in this endeavor. Many of the New Mexico Outlaws of Albuquerque were there including the famous and amazing Dread Pirate Rackham and SW Tri Gal. They stayed at a fabulous house on the beach. I stayed in town and was joined Friday by my beautiful daughter Erin and her wonderful husband Marcus and also by their friends Anne (who was racing) and Wren (who was there to support Anne). The 5 of us stayed in an adorable little place that was way too close to the far turn around on the run course.

Race day dawned far too early as race day always does. I always have a moment where I wonder what is wrong with me that I would so fully embrace a pastime that has me up at that hour, needing to eat food. I get over that feeling as soon as I get to the start and find myself drenched in anticipation and adrenaline and loud music. I forget all about the insanity of 4 a.m awakenings and strapping on the food bag when I couldn’t care less about eating and the cycle of race goes on.

It was really cold – so cold that as I walked from the street where we had pulled on our wetsuits and dropped our bags, to the beach where the race started, the sidewalk  under my bare feet felt like the spongy stuff running tracks are made of. I was quite certain that the sidewalk was good old hard concrete so I knew my feet were frozen and the blood flow had pretty much shut down.

Once on the beach I decided to test the water which, at 69 degrees felt like a spa. Much better. I did the usual thing (and you KNOW we just about all do it!) and took a little swim and then got out and lined up behind the starting arch. Sadly, we followed the rules and our support people were not with us but they could have been. Others were there. I kept looking around for them to see if they had chosen to sneak down there because I wanted  to give my daughter one last hug and wanted to hear one last ‘good luck’ from her but alas, Anne and I had to take care of each other which was okay.  And then it was time for the national anthem (they had kind of a nice rendition) and then BOOM!  It was time to head for the sea and discover what traversing 140.6 miles felt like.

The Swim
This race is known for having a ‘downhill’ swim where you are aided by the current. In the athlete meeting the guy had said ‘if you can’t make the 2:20 cut off you have no business being out there because you could lie on your back and make it’ and he wasn’t kidding. I was moving so fast that when I put my face in the water and looked down I thought I could see the sand on the bottom. I knew that couldn’t be right because this is a deep water channel that provides open sea access to fairly large boats so I thought I was hallucinating and that was an uncomfortable thought. But I felt fine and I was swimming well and I was keeping the buoys in my sight (yay!) so I didn’t worry about it. I later figured out that it was the particulate matter in the water zooming past my glasses that looked like sand. The water was nice and for sea water reasonably clear. You could see your hand in front of you and see feet when drafting which I also did.
The swim ends at a yacht club where they have ladders going down into the water from the dock. As I headed for a ladder I realized the current was aggressively pushing me to a different ladder to the left so I aimed for that and pretty soon I had to fight to get to it. I climbed up onto the dock, looked at my watch and was beyond thrilled to see 1:00:something. 1 hour!!!  I had thought I might see 1:15 instead of 1:30 but an hour flat far exceeded my expectations and I was one very happy woman!

I got stripped and then rinsed a bit under the showers and headed off for transition which was almost 500 yards away, and down the street.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 31 October 2012 02:53)


PostHeaderIcon San Ramon Woman Starts Toy Library

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Swati Shah spends $1,800 to $2,400 a year on toys, books, puzzles, bicycles, and arts and crafts supplies for special needs children. 

Shah is the founder and owner of Ascend Rehab Services, an occupational therapy company she runs from her San Ramon home.

Within the last year she started a toy library for her 12 occupational therapists and any families who have hit on hard financial times and have children with special needs who need the toys.

She tried to get grants to buy the toys but in these hard economic times nothing came through. So she opened her own wallet.

“Multiple families have lost their jobs and so I have opened up my garage as a toy library for these families,’’ said the 35-year-old who is married and has a toddler daughter.

She has about 150 toys of all sizes, shapes and colors in cabinets in her two-car garage. Therapists and parents come in, check out toys, keep them for a few days or a few weeks, return them and then select others to take home to their children with special needs.

Last Updated (Wednesday, 23 December 2009 23:32)

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