<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Bay Area Proud]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcbayarea.com/feature/bay-area-proud http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.png NBC Bay Area http://www.nbcbayarea.comen-usMon, 27 Mar 2017 21:41:47 -0700Mon, 27 Mar 2017 21:41:47 -0700NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA['This Is It. I'm Going to Die Today': Young Samaritans Rescue Swimmer Carried Off By Current In San Francisco's Aquatic Park]]> Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:59:50 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/aquatic+park+water+rescue+4.jpg

Kevin Shanahan took all the necessary precautions.

Or, at least, he thought he did.

The San Francisco man has been a member of the city's legendary Dolphin Club for seven years. Hundreds of times he has headed out into the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay (without a wetsuit, as is Dolphin tradition) to swim laps in Aquatic Park.

On February 21st, Shanahan checked the tide charts and asked fellow swimmers about the currents. Convinced conditions were ok, Shanahan dove into the water.

He was surprised to find out they were not.

The heavy rains and wild weather this winter have played havoc with the tides and currents in San Francisco Bay. Swimmers say they are unpredictable and unlike they have seen in quite some time.

When Shanahan swam west, away from the club and toward the municipal pier, he noticed he was going faster than he normally would.

When he turned around to swim back, he went nowhere.

"And that's when I realized, boy, something's going on here," Shanahan said.

As the current pulled him toward the pier. Shanahan feared he would be pinned to a sea wall on the other side or, worse yet, dragged under it.

"My choices were limited and I knew I was in trouble," Shanahan said. "My only recourse was, I need to catch. I need to grab a piling because I'm going under the pier."

Shanahan did just that. He saw a few people fishing further down the pier and began yelling for help. He didn't know if anyone could hear him above the sound of the wind and the waves.

Aaron Olvera did.

The 9-year-old from Sonoma had the day off from school so he and his 20-year-old brother, Fermin, and Fermin's 19-year-old girlfriend, Jennifer Cervantes were fishing for crabs that day. The weather was poor, so the three were just about to give up even though they hadn't caught anything.

That's when the younger Olvera heard Shanahan yelling. He couldn't make out what he was saying, but Cervantes could.

"He's asking for a rope," Cervantes said.

The three young people sprang into action, lowering a rope down to Shanahan, calling 911, and getting in position to direct the rescuers.

From where they stood, directly above Shanahan, they couldn't see him clinging to the piling below. The also didn't know that hypothermia was setting in.

"This is it. This is it," Shanahan recalled thinking. "I'm kind of accepting the fact I'm going to die today."

A San Francisco Police rescue boat reached Shanahan in time, though, and hauled him out of the water.

The two things he wanted more than anything after that was to get warm and to thank the brave kids who saved him.

At a San Francisco Fire Council meeting in City Hall on Wednesday, that's just what he got to do.

"Are you Aaron?" Shanahan asked upon seeing Olvera. "You saved my life."

At the ceremony, all three young people were given commendations by Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

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<![CDATA[Oakland's Cat Cafe Is Cute, Sure. It's Also Saving Hundreds Of Cats' Lives.]]> Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:45:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cat+town+7.jpg

Ann Dunn will be the first to tell you she's the last one you'd expect to run a cat rescue organization.

Particularly, if you knew her in college.

"I went to school in San Diego and all my friends were going cat rescue and I couldn't have cared less. Couldn't have cared less," Dunn said laughing.

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It's funny now because Dunn is the founder of Cat Town, a wildly successful cat rescue non-profit in Oakland.

So, what changed between then and now? Dunn crossed paths with a single, stray kitten, that's what.

"It was this little orange tabby and I say my heart grew three sizes that day," Dunn said. "I was like, 'I'll keep him.'"

That one rescue lead to another and Dunn eventually began to volunteer at Oakland Animal Services. It was there, Dunn saw first hand, that the cats who could handle the caged and noisy shelter environment were easily adopted. But those who couldn't, those who withdrew or became aggressive because of it were considered "unadoptable."

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Dunn and a group of fellow volunteers were determined to help those cats.

"Let's focus on the cats that aren't going to make it," Dunn said.

"We see that these cats are adoptable. They just need to be in the right environment, get them out of small cages surrounded by barking dogs."

At first, Cat Town focused on fostering cats in homes but Dunn knew that exposure was a barrier to adoption as well. Getting prospective adopters to visit homes (or the shelter) was often enough of an inconvenience that they would never take that step.

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So, 2 years ago, Dunn opened the country's first cat cafe at the corner of 29th Street and Broadway in Oakland. It is a store-front, no-cage, adoption showcase. And Coffee.

The success has been staggering.

Thanks in great part to Cat Town and Dunn's more than two hundred volunteers, Oakland Animal Services' euthanasia rate has dropped from 42 percent in 2011 to 14 percent today.

"I feel so fortunate to have a partner like Ann Dunn and Cat Town," said Rebecca Katz, Director at OAS. "It's really resulted in plenty of lifesaving. It's a collaboration, not a conflict."

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Since it's founding, Cat Town has helped close to 1,500 cats.

And they are growing.

Construction is being done at the property next to the cafe, expanding the space available for cats and the people who might want to adopt them.

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<![CDATA[Apple Engineer Converts Used Van Into Mobile Laundromat, Offers Free Loads to Homeless]]> Sat, 18 Mar 2017 18:47:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/loads+of+love+4.jpg

Ron Powers spends a few days and nights every week doing strangers’ laundry.

For free.

And he couldn’t be happier about it.

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Driving the streets of Santa Cruz in a van he outfitted with two washers and dryers, the Scotts Valley, California resident visits homeless shelters and encampments, offering to help keep what few clothes they have clean. The service he offers, Powers said, is not only a chance to do some good but make a connection.

“It's one thing to wash someone's clothes, even to feed them and help them, but it's another to feed the soul,” he said.

Powers started the program, which he dubbed Loads of Love, last year after seeing a YouTube video about Orange Sky Laundry. According to its website, the Australian nonprofit was founded in 2014 as “the world's first free mobile laundry service for the homeless.”

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Inspired by the video, Powers saw a way to address a need in his community and share his faith in the process. A devout Christian, he wanted to shift from discussing the teachings of the church to living them out by helping others.

“Basically I was just in prayer going Lord, you know, I want to do more,” he said.

Powers found a previously owned van, washer and dryer on Craigslist and put his background as a mechanical engineer — he works at Apple — to good use. Initially, he said he was more worried about getting all of the hardware to work than he was about reaching the people he sought to serve.

Powers recalled walking around downtown Santa Cruz after his bible study, where he took the opportunity to talk and connect with the homeless. From these experiences, he realized that the service he now offers could decrease the number of clothing donations needed.

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Powers said that many homeless individuals will throw away socks and other clothing when they get dirty because they simply cannot afford to wash them. That, he said, presents an impossible choice: do laundry, or go hungry.

“What I wanted to do is I wanted to restore dignity to people,” he said.

In the process of restoring dignity and helping people avoid the health issues associated with wearing soiled clothing, Powers takes every opportunity to connect personally with whichever person whose clothes he's washing clothes on a given night. Unlike volunteering in a soup kitchen, he said, he gets much more than the standard 10 seconds with the individual he is helping.

“If there's only one person there and I spend all afternoon with that one person, that's okay,” he said. “There's no shortage of people that are hurting and really open.”

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Powers said another important aspect of Loads of Love is providing opportunities for volunteers to get involved. He has brought along junior high and high school students, as well as various church groups looking to do outreach ministry.

“Half of the ministry is getting people out of the pews and onto the streets,” he said. “It's not a church ministry, it's a ministry for any church that wants to use it.”

Reflecting on the early days of the program, Powers said that though the service surprised many, it was widely well-received. It took a while to get everything up and running, but taking the risk of trying out a slightly unorthodox idea was well worth the wait.

“Whenever … something new and creative comes up … it is a way that I think God can use it,” he said. “Like hey, I'm gonna (start) something fresh and new and it might turn a couple heads this time.”

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Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area
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<![CDATA["It's Like Stand-Up With Us": Stanford Professor, Oakland Teacher Bond While Teaching Cutting-Edge Curriculum To Middle Schoolers]]> Fri, 17 Mar 2017 20:50:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sam+and+kennan+6.jpg

Dr. Sam Savage is an expert in the field of uncertainty and risk. He is a Stanford Adjunct Professor who corporate managers and utility executives seek out to learn ways to make their operations smarter and safer.

It is a complex field, Dr. Savage says, but one he has discovered a new, remarkably simple, and revolutionary way to teach.

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"It's like the switch from Roman to Arabic numerals," Savage said.

He says his new system of thinking about and computing probability and averages is so simple, and eight-grader could learn it.

How does he know?

He's done it.

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Last fall, Savage made his first of many trips across the Bay to West Oakland Middle School and the classroom of Kennan Scott.

His goal was to prove his point. He ended up finding a partner-in-crime.

"The first time I walked into his classroom it was like we've been teaching together for years," Savage said.

Scott and Savage had an instant chemistry that made their collaboration not only successful but fun for them and Scott's students.

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"It's like stand-up with us," Scott said. "It's unwritten. It's unscripted. It's amazing to watch (Savage) capture the room with his energy."

Scott knew his students would benefit from a visit by such an academic heavyweight. What he didn't know, in addition to how well the two of them would hit it off, was the confidence his students they would gain in the process.

"They are walking out of class saying, 'I can go to Stanford. I know a guy," Scott said.

As for Savage, he not only proved his point about the simplicity of teaching uncertainty and risk, he is enjoying teaching perhaps more than he ever has in his 40-year career.

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"I don't ever want to stop doing this with Kennan," Savage said.

As for transferring what he has learned from teaching the eighth-graders, Savage is confident it will translate when talking to his professional peers.

"Corporate managers have an attention span on par with that of middle school students."

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<![CDATA[ A Dollar At A Time (And Sometimes Less) San Leandro Thrift Shop Helps Sick, Dying Children And Their Families]]> Fri, 10 Mar 2017 14:42:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/treasures+hospice+51.jpg

Dee Gonzales has been running the Treasures Hospice Thrift Shop in downtown San Leandro since it opened 12 years ago.

From clothing to knick-knacks to old record albums, Gonzales sells just about anything.

With prices rarely reaching much than one dollar, she charges practically nothing.

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It is a formula that has proven quite successful over the years, not just for Gonzales, but for hundreds of sick children and their families. Since it's founding in 2004, Treasures has donated close to $250,000 to the George Mark Children's House in San Leandro.

"In these little tiny increments what a difference they have made up here," Dr. Kathy Hull, George Mark's founder, said. "That's a lot of care for our families and children."

"They do amazing work there," Gonzales said.

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George Mark opened its doors in 2004 to give care to sick, and often dying, children and their families in a comfortable, residential setting.

When Gonzales heard about the facility years ago, she thought it was a place she would like to volunteer so she and a friend drove out to the property and took a tour.

"Coming home from George Mark Home I had to pull over to the side of the road because both of us were weeping, 'This is not for us,'" Gonzales said. It turns out seeing parents lose a child was more than Gonzales could handle. She had lost her own son to heart disease many years ago but the pain still remains close to the surface.

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That setback didn't derail Gonzales' plans to help George Mark. It just altered them. "I will help, but only in the capacity that I can," Gonzales said.

Having experience working in retail, the thrift shop idea appealed to Gonzales and a group of other women. They located a space, sought donations, and once even cornered the mayor in a city hall bathroom to make her pitch.

"When you find something you love to do, it no longer becomes a challenge," Gonzales said.

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Gonzales gives a lot of credit to a dedicated group of volunteers who make it possible for the thrift shop to stay in business, pay its bills, and have enough left over each month to donate to George Mark.

Quite a bit of money, in fact.

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<![CDATA[Los Gatos Caterer Sees Business Boom With Hiring Of Developmentally Disabled]]> Thu, 09 Mar 2017 13:42:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/culinary+courier2.jpg

Terri Piazza Shong had a big day recently.

Her 13-year-old catering company, Culinary Courier, opened its first-ever retail space in downtown Los Gatos.

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Shong spent the days leading up to the opening pouring over schedules, fine-tuning recipes, and placing food orders. All the paperwork covered an entire table in her commercial kitchen.

"Doesn't it seem in Silicon Valley we should have something more fancy to plan out our new market than this big piece of taped-together paper," Shong said.

It is not, she says, something other entrepreneurs should copy from her.

What they should hope to emulate, however, is her success. From the time she started a catering business out of her San Jose kitchen, to the opening of her first storefront last month, Culinary Courier has been growing.

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Other businesses, Shong believes, would also do well to take not of who has helped her get to this point: the developmentally disabled.

"This population, it just isn't given the chance often," Shong said. "They were exactly what I needed and they were incredible."

Shong says she hired her first non-traditional worker when her catering workload exceeded what she, her family, and friends could handle. It's not that Shong was trying to do a good deed, she says, it's just that she knew good workers when she saw them. Shong had previously worked with adults with disabilities years ago in San Luis Obispo.

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"Compared to the staff I was trying to hire before, people who didn't have disabilities, this is the most reliable, worth it, you train 'em, they stay, they're long term," Shong said.

Shong continued to hire people with disabilities and they now make up 40 percent of her workforce.

As happy as Shong is that her staff stick with her for a long time, she's even happier when they leave and go on to bigger things.

One of her first hires, Ben Butcher, gained enough work experience and skills that he has started his very own business: a dog walking service.

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"She was always encouraging me which is really nice because people often get on your case and aren't encouraging," Butcher said.

Shong, it seems, never lets herself dwell upon the good thing she is doing, the valuable service she is providing her employees. "I honestly never think about it, truly," Shong said.

When someone makes her think about it, though, all she can think about is what a valuable service they are providing her.

"I am the grateful one."

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<![CDATA[Milpitas Elementary School Students Construct Tiny Home]]> Fri, 24 Feb 2017 00:48:25 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/milpitas+school+tiny+home+4.jpg

When it comes to tiny people building tiny homes, John Sinnott Elementary School in Milpitas is leading the way.

As part of a “project-based learning” curriculum, six classrooms of third, fifth and sixth graders are building their very own miniature residence right on campus. Led by sixth grade teacher Rita Maultsby, they are the first elementary school in the nation to take on such an endeavour.

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“We’re waiting to see if we hear from HGTV,” Maultsby said. “I mean why not, right?”

The finished product will be a 200 square foot home with a wraparound deck and benches in front. It will be used as a project-based learning museum, open to students, teachers and visitors who want to learn more about the hands-on, task-oriented learning experiences.

Like many of the increasingly popular tiny homes, it will not be connected the main power grid. Instead, solar panels on the roof will provide the needed electricity. It is not designed to be fully functional, which would require water and sewage hookups, but rather will have a small loft and serve as an extension of the classroom.

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“(The students) are willing to believe that this is what we’re bringing to them,” Maultsby said. “These kids want to learn. They’ll do whatever it takes to learn.”

Wanting to catch the attention of Home and Garden Television isn’t much of a stretch for Maultsby, who came up with the idea while watching shows on the channel. She became interested in the tiny home trend and after seeing various programs document the building process, and the Milpitas teacher said she now wants to live in one after she retires.

But with more young minds to educate until then, she decided there was no time like the present to get started.

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“I thought, well why am I waiting until I retire?” Maultsby said. “Why can’t we build a tiny home here?”

So that’s exactly what she set out to do. After gaining district approval and enlisting the help of Joe Flately, Milpitas Unified’s director of facilities and modernization, she and her students hit the ground running. Blach Construction, a local commercial builder and construction manager, as well as San Jose construction firm Duran & Venables decided to pitch in too.

“Getting the kids to think outside themselves sometimes is difficult because they’re in their own little space,” Maultsby said. “I was ready to get the community and other people involved.”

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Last month, Duran & Venables helped by laying out the pad and walkway. Up next will be building the walls, a step that will include a student field trip to Blach Construction. Once the walls are constructed, the school will hold an old-fashioned barn raising after which the actual building will begin.

Maultsby said the students are learning how to collaborate, listen and understand one another throughout the process—all real life skills she thinks they will take with them long after the house is completed. She added that their willingness to believe in her and the other teachers involved is what makes the story, and the school, so great.

“I thought it was interesting and ambitious,” said sixth grader Sophie Tang. “I believed (Maultsby) would make it happen somehow.”

Reflecting on the early days of the project, Maultsby spoke of one student who raised his hand with a question she won’t soon forget.

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“‘Why is the sky the limit?’” she recalled him asking. “‘Why can’t we go higher than that?’”

That, Maultsby said, was how she knew she was chasing the right dream with this project.

“When a student says that, then you know that what you’re doing is really what’s best for your students,” she said. “And how does a teacher say no to that?”

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<![CDATA[52 Marathons In 52 Weeks? Ex-Smoker Sets Ambitious Running Goal]]> Fri, 17 Feb 2017 18:01:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/52+marathons+81.jpg

By the end of 2017, Greg McQuaid will have run a total of 1,362.4 miles.

That may sound like a lot, but McQuaid just thinks of it as running 26.2 miles every week for 52 weeks.

On second thought, that still sounds like a lot.

"Why don't I do a marathon every week?" McQuaid said. "Everybody thought I was crazy and Sam, my wife, thought I was crazy and perhaps I am crazy."

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It may be crazy, but it's crazy with a purpose.

Marking the 10th anniversary of when he quit smoking, the 47-year-old San Francisco man is running 52 marathons in 52 weeks to raise $100,000 for Breathe California Golden Gate.

“I always like to have a goal and a challenge,” McQuaid said. “I’m pretty confident that it can be done.”

Raised in Dublin, Ireland, McQuaid came to the U.S. in the 1990s to pursue a career as a drummer in a rock n’ roll band. Though that particular dream was short-lived, his love of music prevailed.

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McQuaid, better known to listeners as "Irish Greg," had been a fixture on Bay Area radio as a host and producer for the past three decades until his departure from KFOG in 2016.

It was while searching for a new way to fill his time, that he stumbled onto his 52 marathon idea.

McQuaid had recently been invited to join the board of directors of Breathe California Golden Gate, a nonprofit whose mission is focused on reducing lung disease.

McQuaid believed, as an ex-smoker and asthmatic, he was in a unique position to make a point about living a healthy post-smoking life.

McQuaid began smoking at the age of 15. For Irish teens in the 80s, he said this was not uncommon.

“It's almost like a rite of passage,” McQuaid said. “My lungs took a terrible beating in Ireland.”

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He smoked a pack-a-day for the next twenty years. But in 2007, after stewing on some advice his mom gave him a few years prior, he turned in his cigarettes and lighter for a pair of running shoes.

“I replaced smoking with another addiction, which was exercise,” McQuaid said. “I (needed) to make some changes. I (needed) to do positive things.”

Shortly before quitting, McQuaid had begun to incorporate walking and jogging into his regular routine. But after making the official decision to stop smoking, he really began to hit the ground running.

Just like the radio bug bit him all those years ago, now it was the exercise bug. He entered the Ride to End AIDS and shortly after, the San Francisco Half Marathon. After surprising himself by completing the 13.1 mile trek, he even took a trip back home to run the Dublin Marathon.

The hardest, though, were the treadmill marathons he ran while at KFOG to raise money for chairities.

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“Four hours on a treadmill in a hot radio studio,” McQuaid said. “I swear that that is more daunting to me than running 52 marathons in 52 weeks.”

In addition to hosting and producing a live audience music podcast, McQuaid is a music researcher at the music startup Louder. The typical 9-to-5 schedule is a change of pace for the former radio host who now has to carve out time to train during the week.

While the fundraising aspect of the endeavor is important to McQuaid, his overarching goal is to show other smokers that they too can put down the cigarettes for good.

“It's not as hard as they think,” McQuaid said. “You can lead a healthy lifestyle.”

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<![CDATA[One Dollar To Cure Cancer? Son Inspires CEO Dad To Start Ambitious Fundraiser For Cutting-Edge Treatments]]> Tue, 14 Feb 2017 19:09:02 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cancer+a+gogo+4.jpg

Cure cancer for a dollar?

Not likely.

Cure cancer one dollar at a time?

Now you're speaking Rider McDowell's language.

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"If you want to cure cancer, it can be done," McDowell said.

The CEO of cough drop maker Pine Brothers is hoping, through his Cancer A-Go-Go fundraiser, to raise $325 million, or one dollar from every man, woman, and child in the United States, to fund research into 26 cutting-edge cancer treatments.

"There is a screaming need for this," McDowell said.

McDowell's optimism and urgency are borne out of his own family's experience. His son, Errol, has twice been diagnosed with brain tumors. The second time McDowell and his wife, Victoria, traveled with their son to Florida so he could take advantage of a promising immunotherapy treatment.

It worked.

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McDowell, however, realized that few families were in a position to take advantage of such treatments. McDowell was also shocked at how little money, in his opinion, was being spent on cancer research in general and immunotherapy in particular.

"Immunotherapy is the game-changer we have been waiting for," McDowell said.

So McDowell decided to do something to help facilitate more research. Exactly how that would happen, was Errol's idea.

"We were talking about funding our own clinical trial and Errol said, 'Well, why don't we start a grassroots fundraiser?'" McDowell said. "And instead of asking for the world, why don't we just ask for a dollar?"

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With that idea, Cancer A-Go-Go was begun.

McDowell believes that asking for just a dollar makes the fundraiser much more approachable and inclusive.

"It's easy to ask for $1 and invariably people offer $2 or more you know and we're grateful for it," McDowell said.

The McDowells are picking up the overhead costs for their venture so that every penny raised makes it to researchers. They also are promising that all the data from the studies will be made available to anyone who would like to use it.

The goal is, ultimately, a giant leap in the treatment of cancer. One, small donation at a time.

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<![CDATA[San Jose Earthquakes Player Gives Las Vegas Taxi Driver Life-Changing Tip]]> Fri, 03 Feb 2017 17:24:04 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/earthquake+and+cabbie+5.jpg

Soccer is only one of many universal languages. For a San Jose Earthquakes player and a Las Vegas taxi driver, it was kindness rather than the international sport that united them.

After cabbie Pedro Hahamian told Quakes player Quincy Amarikwa that he was two months behind on his mortgage, the MLS forward wrote him a check for $2,200 right on the spot.

“If there's a way that you can help someone, you need to find a way to to do that,” Amarikwa said.

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Two weeks ago, Amarikwa landed in Hahamian’s cab after attending a marketing conference and needing a ride to the Las Vegas airport. After the two got to talking en route, Amarikwa quickly spotted an opportunity to help someone in need. He handed over a signed check as he exited the taxi.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Hahamian said. “I thought it was a joke.”

Hahamian struck up a conversation with Amarikwa during the ride, sharing the changes he’s seen in the taxicab industry over the 18 years he’s been in the profession. Originally from Argentina, the lifelong soccer fan didn’t even know Amarikwa was a professional athlete.

With the introduction and proliferation of ridesharing services in recent years, Hahamian has personally felt the strain on the industry that once helped him raise a family.

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“It’s tough. It’s tough,” Hahamian said. “Too many taxis now. It’s hard to make a living.”

But in taking the time to listen, Amarikwa realized that he was in a position to offer some help.

“He really started opening up with us,” Amarikwa said. “I could just tell he was a genuinely nice person ... he was kind hearted and he was a hard worker.”

Though the decision to help Hahamian was made on a whim, it is consistent with Amarikwa’s personal philosophy. He said he makes a conscious effort to put positivity out into the world and tries to be someone who’s of action, rather than just words.

“I'm a firm believer of what you project out in the world is what you'll receive back 10-fold,” he said. “Don’t just say it, do it.”

Amarikwa was in Las Vegas that week to attend a marketing convention. While soccer pays the bills for now, he has bigger plans that go beyond his athletic career. With entrepreneurial and marketing aspirations, he hopes to find success in the business world while also helping others make their dreams come true.

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“There's so many people with great ideas and such passion for what what they love,” he said. “I want to be able to have the resources to help facilitate that.”

The only evidence of their exchange was a photo posted to Amarikwa’s Snapchat, as he decided not to publicize the act by posting it on other social media channels. He later decided to share the details of the story with NBC Bay Area, hoping that in doing so, he could show others that they can help others too.

Hahamian said that thanks to Amarikwa, he was able to stay in his house.

“I appreciate his generosity,” he said.

Before disembarking the cab at the airport, Amarikwa had just a few parting words for Hahamian.

“I just said, ‘Pedro it was nice to meet you, I would love for you to pay it forward the next time you can help someone.’”

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<![CDATA[Silicon Valley Company Offering Free College Degree To Every Adult Living Or Working In Its City]]> Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:00:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/working+scholars+1.jpg

Adrian Ridner says when he and Ben Wilson met in college in the early 2000's and decided to start a business together, they were extremely idealistic about the positive change they would make in the world.

Perhaps, Ridner now believes, they were selling themselves short.

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"If you would have told those two kids coming out of Cal Poly that someday they would be helping everyone in their city get a college degree they would have told you, as idealistic as we were, that you were nuts," Ridner said.

That's right.

Through their decade-old company, Mountain View-based Study.com, Ridner and Wilson are offering every adult in their city the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree at no cost to the student. It is called the Working Scholars program.

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"Anyone who lives or works in Mountain View that doesn't have a bachelor's degree is allowed to enroll," Ridner said.

Ridner and Wilson started Study.com to "disrupt" the expensive, exclusive world of higher education. They offer more than one thousand video-based courses, 80 of them eligible for transferable college credit.

The whole idea of the business was to make higher education more accessible to the average individual. But when Ridner and Wilson saw companies using their product to offer cost-free college degrees to their employees, they saw an opportunity

"That's when we had our 'Ah-ha' moment," Ridner said. "If this works for a company, why not our own city?"

Mountain View has been good to them, Ridner says, so they decided to give something back.

Renukah Hunter is certainly happy they did.

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Hunter moved to Mountain View a year ago and was finding her career prospects stalled due to lack of a degree. She was not able to afford the thousands of dollars it would take to pay for courses herself, so she jumped at the chance when she learned about the Working Scholars program.

Once, that is, she made sure was no catch.

"I called them and they went into more detail and kept reassuring me because I kept asking, 'Really?'," Hunter said.

So far 80 students have signed up to take part in Working Scholars and a recent information session at Mountain View City Hall was standing room only. Those in attendance learned that through the program, courses at Study.com are free and any remaining credits towards a degree from Thomas Edison State University, would be covered by donations through the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce.

Ridner thinks the program could one day enroll as many as 10,000 students. They would be people, he believes, getting something more valuable than just the cost of tuition: they would be getting a brighter future.

"I'm the first one in my family to have a Bachelor's degree and I know what it's been able to do for me."

To learn more or apply for the program go to www.study.com/mv

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<![CDATA[Cop Breaks Into Song, Hoping to Break Barriers]]> Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:40:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/singing+san+mateo+cop+1.jpg

Walking the best in downtown San Mateo is unlike any other assignment in that city's police department. There are days when it is every bit as much public relations as police work.

It is why the job seems to suit 8-year-veteran Colby Darrah just fine. It's the type of police officer he's always wanted to be.

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"I want people to feel completely comfortable to ask me questions, spout off their problems and try to work with them to find a long-term solution to the problems they are having," Darrah said.

In his effort to be all those things to his community, Darrah isn't afraid to try out new techniques when he learns them. A couple of months ago, though, Darrah discovered that something old was just what he was looking for.

His love of music.

"It’s always been a part of my life," Darrah said. Growing up in Redding, his parents ran their own business and on weekends Darrah would accompany his father on work calls. "Sometimes we'd have a long drive, windows down, singing country music."

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Darrah continued singing as a teenager as a member of groups, even winning a few competitions. When his focus turned to a career in law enforcement and raising a family, however, music faded somewhat into the background. But not completely.

"Walking the beat I hum or whistle or sometimes I sing," Darrah said. "I can't help it."

What Darrah did one night in November, however, brought music back in a whole new way. He spotted a street musician, a regular in downtown San Mateo, and walked up to him.

"I asked if I could play his guitar. He said 'sure.' The rest is history," Darrah said.

That's because Darrah's partner snuck a video of the performance and placed it on social media. "It was posted. And shared. And shared. And shared," Darrah said. By now, he says, it seems as if everyone in town has seen it.

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It's become just the ice breaker Darrah says he been looking for. People smile when they see him play and Darrah feels it makes him much more approachable and less threatening.

He now plans to regularly break out into song and, perhaps, break down some barriers in the process.

"I never thought doing it that one time would have such an impact."

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<![CDATA[Vet Flies Shelter Dogs to New Homes]]> Wed, 18 Jan 2017 00:27:17 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/compassion+without+borders+1.jpg

"Location, location, location."

It's an age-old maxim in the world of real estate: where a property is can mean everything in terms of value.

That turns out to be the case in the world of dog rescue, as well. At least, that's what Christi Camblor has discovered.

"Where a dog is can dictate it's fate," Camblor said.

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With that in mind, Camblor has become an expert in saving dogs simply by changing their zip codes. Over the past three years Camblor's non-profit, Compassion Without Borders, has rescued more than 1,500 chihuahuas from California's Central Valley by flying them half-way across the country.

"A tan Chihuahua in Fresno doesn't have much of a chance, but a tan Chihuahua in Minnesota gets adopted right away," Camblor, a Santa Rosa veterinarian said.

It's all about supply and demand, really.

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Chihuahuas are a very popular breed in the Central Valley and shelters there are filled to overflowing with the breed. "Way too many Chihuahuas," Camblor lamented. The chance of finding a new home for a Chihuahua or Chihuahua mix there is slim.

But through one of her board members, Camblor learned that there was a dearth of the breed in the upper Midwest. "She knew firsthand there was a shortage of small dogs," Camblor said. Animals that CWOB sends to a shelter in Minneapolis are usually adopted withing days of arrival.

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It's a model that Camblor developed years ago while volunteering at an animal shelter in Mexico City. Camblor said she was saddened by the thousands of dogs there with little chance of adoption locally.

"That's your choice to be overwhelmed or do the one thing you can do. At that place the one thing I could do was to rescue animals out of there," Camblor said.

She arranged for one of the dogs to be transported to northern California. "It all started with a single dog," Camblor said. It was the beginning of CWOB. Camblor has maintained her ties to shelters in Mexico and has since arranged for the adoption of close to 2,000 dogs from there.

The Chihuahua airlift has proven to be just as successful.

Every six weeks or so, Camblor travels with members of her team to shelters in Fresno to find dogs in need of a family. They regularly come up with between 40 and 50 dogs.

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The dogs are sent in crates in cargo holds of non-stop, commercial flights from the Bay Area or Sacramento to the Midwest. The costs are covered by donations made to CWOB.

Camblor hopes that in the future the can figure out a way to send more Chihuahua's from the Central Valley but perhaps find other destinations and other breeds that would mean more lives saved.

"I think a lot about the ones I left behind," Camblor said. "Instead of being paralyzed it makes me work harder so that I’m not having to leave animals behind."

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<![CDATA[6-Year-Old 'Dog Whisperer' in Morgan Hill]]> Mon, 09 Jan 2017 10:14:57 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/meghan+saves+daisy+1.jpg

After two months on the run and countless attempts by adults to capture her, it took the charms of a 6-year-old dog whisperer named Meghan Topping to finally bring Daisy in from the cold.

"I used all my experience with dogs" said the Morgan Hill girl.

The tale of Daisy began in late October when the shepherd-mix, rescued from a Northern California animal shelter, was adopted by a "forever" family in Hollister.

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She escaped their back yard just two days later.

For close to two months, members of the Hollister Animal Lost and Found Facebook group chronicled Daisy sightings all over town. Repeated attempts to capture her, though, failed.

"She was in fight or flight mode," said Deanna Barth, and expert in animal rescue with decades of experience. Barth likened Daisy's skill at eluding capture with that of a coyote. But even coyotes can be captured eventually.

"All the typical things, like cage traps and baiting with smelly foods, was not working," Barth said. "Our only way to earn her trust was to get someone she might remember."

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Barth had heard that before being adopted, Daisy has spent time with a foster family and had become attached to a little girl there. They set out to find her.

That girl turned out to be Meghan.

Meghan and her mother, Karen Topping, are prolific at fostering and training rescued and even feral dogs. Seventy-five dogs have passed through their home in the past year along. Daisy, though, was special.

"Her bond with Meghan was uncanny," Karen Topping said.

This all explains why, in late December, Meghan and her mom drove from Morgan Hill to Hollister to see if they would have any luck at capturing the dog.

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They found her in one of her usual haunts, an empty field.

Karen Topping began taking pictures and video to document the sighting, but it was Meghan who decided on her own to take action. Well, not completely on her own. Meghan says Daisy told her what to do.

"She told me. Because you can talk to dogs in your brain," Meghan said. "She told me if Mom stayed in the truck she would come to me and I believed it."

So Meghan got out of the truck, walked to the middle of the field, sat down, and waited.

Daisy was cautious at first eventually crept closer and closer to the little girl, seeming to recognize her as an old friend.

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The last few moments were captured on video by Karen Topping.

Tail wagging, Daisy comes up to Meghan and allows the girl to pet her. Meghan eventually walks back to the truck, gets a leash, returns to the dog and puts it on her.

"I was just amazed," Karen Topping said.

"It's hard to watch that video and not cry," Barth said.

"I was just thinking whatever was meant to be was meant to be," Meghan said. "And that was meant to be."

Daisy and Meghan have spent plenty of time together since the rescue, but the dog won't be coming to live with the Toppings. They say there are focused on the thousands of other dogs out there in need of fostering and training. They have already found a great family to be her new "forever" one.

Though, if she ever goes on the lam again, they'll know just who to call.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Karen Topping
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<![CDATA[South Bay High School Students Surprise Custodian With Gifts To Show How Much He Means To Them]]> Fri, 23 Dec 2016 10:47:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/del+mar+custodian+wish+3.jpg

Traveling the halls of San Jose's Del Mar High School with custodian Jesse Ramirez feels less like hanging out with a member of the maintenance staff and more like riding shotgun with the most popular kid on campus.

Ramirez cannot make it from one end of campus to the other without multiple students shouting greetings to him, and he in return. "Everyone knows his name," said sophomore Jessica Duggano.

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It is, interestingly, about as far from Ramirez's actual high school experience as possible. The total opposite, in fact.

"Tough times," Ramirez said. "Growing up, it was difficult to learn. Eventually, I would just shy away from everyone because it was embarrassing."

His high school experience was so tough, Ramirez said, he worried about taking the custodian job at Del Mar 5 years ago. He thought the students would look down on him because had not achieved more in his life.

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But Ramirez needed the work so he took the position.

It has turned out to be, Ramirez now admits, the best decision he ever made.

"Working here has changed my life. Changed my life."

The change happened, Ramirez recalled, when he saw students by themselves on campus. He decided to be the type of adult to these kids he could have used when he was young.

"It reminds me of what I went through, so I just lent my ears and my voice to that person and it just grew," Ramirez said.


Students now regularly seek out Ramirez for impromptu counseling sessions on campus, some even lasting more than an hour.

"He does that for kids," said teacher Courtney Van Benthuysen. "It's insane."

Even with how much he has grown, though, Ramirez says he is still pretty shy. Which is why he was more than a little nervous when he was surprised in front the entire school at their recent Winter Wishes rally.

The rally is the culmination of a yearly program in which all students and staff write out wishes on paper stars, then the Leadership Class looks to fulfill as many of them as possible.

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This year, both students and staff singled out Ramirez for recognition.

The gift they settled on was four tickets to a recent San Francisco 49ers game. Ramirez, in addition to being a custodian, is coach of the school's JV football team.

Ramirez said he was moved by the gesture. "It made me feel cared about. Loved."

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<![CDATA[High School Freshman With Terminal Disease Has One Wish]]> Wed, 14 Dec 2016 00:08:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/branham+youtube+wish+1.jpg

There have been two constants in Robyn Gutierrez's life.

One is her dream of becoming a famous actress and director.

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The other is the congenital muscular dystrophy that casts a huge cloud over that dream.

But thanks to her classmates at San Jose's Branham High School, Gutierrez might soon gain a measure of fame and validation before it's too late.

The 14-year-old has been too ill to attend school for the past two months. She spends much of every day hooked up to a breathing mask in the family's living room. Gutierrez's mother, Aarica, worries that if she doesn't see improvement soon, her daughter might not live to see the end of the school year.

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One of Gutierrez's few escapes from her struggles with muscular dystrophy is the videos she writes, directs, and acts in with her friends. She has already completed the first of eight episodes of a series she created called "Something's Fishy."

"I like being able to be someone else and it's just fun getting to be someone else for the day," Gutierrez said.

She just wishes more people could see what she has done.

"I want people to see that people who are disabled can do anything they put their mind to," Gutierrez said.

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Which is where Branham's annual Winter Wishes program comes in.

Each year for the past six years, every student at Branham gets a paper star on which they are asked to write a wish. The wish can be big or small, for themselves or someone else. The leadership fulfills many of the small wishes throughout the fall but holds on to the big ones for a rally in early December.

This year, they held on to Gutierrez's wish. She asked for more subscribers for her YouTube channel.

At the rally, held earlier this week, Gutierrez got up on stage in front of the entire school and told them about her life, the good and the bad. She shared her dream of acting and directing . They responded with a standing ovation.

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The leadership club has pledged to lead a social media campaign to gain subscribers for Gutierrez's channel.

"That's something money can't buy is making that particular wish come true," Erica Gutierrez said. "I'm really grateful that they're gonna try and make that happen for her."

Before her wish, Gutierrez had fewer than one hundred subscribers. How many would she like?

"A thousand would be great," Gutierrez said.

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<![CDATA[Dancing Middle School Principal Gets Students Day Started On Right Foot. Then Left. Then Right ...]]> Thu, 10 Nov 2016 23:44:46 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dancing+principal+2.jpg

When Sue Goldman became principal at Gale Ranch Middle School in San Ramon four years ago, she felt like she had found her dream job.

"I landed in heaven," Goldman said. "Best school, best staff, best parents."

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Still, just because Goldman loves middle school doesn't mean everyone here does. "Let's face it, middle school is hard," Goldman said. "It can be an awful three years for kids."

And so, it was in her quest to make middle school a little less "awful" that last March Goldman decided to try something a little more creative. She connected her phone to a portable speaker, walked to the front of the school as students were being dropped off their parents began dancing.

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"They thought it was crazy. They thought I was crazy," Goldman said. "Then they started dancing with me."

They have been dancing every school day since.

It was a quirky idea, Goldman confesses, just a way to shake up the everyday routine. It has become much more, though. Ever since she started dancing, Goldman says she has noticed something happening that lasts even after the music stops and the school bell rings.

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"When kids get here in the morning and bad stuff has happened at home, in the media. And guess what? It's all OK, because we love you and we're waiting for you, and we're dancing. It's a party," Goldman said.

Goldman believes that positive start to the day carries over into the students behavior and academic performance. She is so convinced it is the best thing she has ever done as a principal, she has no plans to ever stop dancing.

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<![CDATA[Act of Kindness Puts Homeless Student's Life on Track]]> Fri, 21 Oct 2016 17:15:48 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/homeless+sjsu+student+6.jpg

Any first-year student at San Jose State University should expect to face some difficult classes along the way to a degree.

What Brandon Beebe didn't expect, though, was having to make such a difficult decision before the school year even started.

"I didn't have enough savings so it was 'Do I get a room or pay tuition?'" the 21-year-old Beebe said.

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It all goes back, Beebe said, to the death of his father earlier in the year. He had to shift his attention, and his finances, away from school and toward taking care of his family in Los Banos. Still, giving up on college was not an option.

He had made a vow to his father.

"In his last minutes, I promised him I am going to get my degree," Beebe said.

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Which explains why Beebe began the semester at San Jose State not sleeping in a dorm room, but rather in the front seat of his 1992 Honda Accord.

"It was over on San Fernando and 11th," Beebe said. "I pulled over to a curb, locked the doors, put the seat back, covered myself with a blanket and slept."

In spite of the difficulties caused by his living arrangements (trouble finding WiFi, a shower, and a parking spot where he wouldn't get ticketed) Beebe started off the school year strong.

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His journalism professor, Lisa Fernandez, remembers Beebe being a motivated student and turning in high-quality work. She noticed, however, as the term progressed Beebe was missing classes and failing to turn in assignments.

"I was wondering why someone like that hadn't turned in two or three assignments," Fernandez said.

She decided to pull Beebe aside the next time he was in class and ask him how he was doing. Beebe said the conversation didn't last long, and he didn't share his housing situation, but he was deeply touched that Fernandez cared enough to ask.

"At that point I realized I'm not invisible. Someone noticed my hard work and dedication," Beebe said.

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It's why when Beebe's Honda Accord broke down in early October and he had no choice but to drop out of school, he sent Fernandez a note filling her in on his situation and thanking her for her kindness.

Fernandez was saddened and bothered by the news. She wasn't sure what to do next, so she shared the letter with her Facebook friends to see if they had any ideas.

They sure did.

"In minutes my friends jumped in and asked what they could do to help," Fernandez said.

Many posted offers of financial help on Fernandez's page. Others offered to connect Beebe to sources of financial aid and housing assistance.

Altogether, it is enough to get Beebe back on track. He plans on re-enrolling next semester, but with enough money this time to afford a place to live.

Most importantly for Beebe, though, he'll be on track to keep his promise to his father.

"It means so much to me," Beebe said.

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: Beebe has a GoFundMe page to help pay for the materials to fix his car.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fernandez is a digital editor at NBC Bay Area.

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<![CDATA[Instead Of Writing Ticket, Code Enforcement Officer Chooses To Lend A Hand To World War II Vet, Whole Community Joins In To Help]]> Tue, 18 Oct 2016 22:58:38 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/alberts+home+makeover+7.jpg

As Petaluma's Code Enforcement Officer, Joe Garcia has the authority to write tickets when he sees a problem.

"Junk properties, trash and debris in the yard," Garcia said are examples of violations he commonly cites.

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But, it turns out, what Garcia also possesses is the compassion in certain cases not to write a ticket. It is the reason this story has such a happy ending.

"It's not in the job description, no," Garcia said, "but it's in the description of a human being."

It all started with a complaint two years ago about a yard overgrown with weeds. The home belonged to Albert Pericou, an 89-year-old World War II veteran. Garcia said Pericou was eager to correct the problem, but he found himself returning to the property because Pericou seemed unable to get a handle on the situation.

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What's more, the inside of Pericou's home was in just as much disrepair as the outside.

Instead of writing a ticket, though, Garcia decided to lend a hand. He had become fond of Pericou and wanted to help the Navy veteran.

"I'm supposed to be the bad guy. That's what everybody thinks," Garcia said. "But I don't go through life trying to make people upset."

Garcia then reached out to Jane Hamilton, Executive Director of Rebuilding Together, a non-profit helping low-income people with home repairs.

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"We work with Joe all the time and he has the biggest heart in the world," Hamilton said.

When Garcia told Hamilton about Pericou's story, she was in. There was one problem, though.

"As soon as we realized how serious the problem was (we wondered) how are we going to pay for this?" Hamilton said.

It took just one call to Home Depot, though, to get the ball rolling. The home improvement giant donated $10,000 and dispatched a team of volunteers to work on Pericou's home. They weren't alone. Dozens of other contractors, firefighters, police officers, and city employees responded to Rebuilding Together's plea for help.

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In a three-day period, they landscaped Pericou's backyard, repaired and improved both his bathrooms and fixed steps leading into his home.

As much as Pericou appreciated all the help on the house, though, he appeared to love the company even more. He once wanted to curse whichever neighbor complained about his home in the first place, but he now has a different message for that person.

"I'd go and shake his hand and congratulate him for having too many weeds because I wouldn't have had all this done."

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<![CDATA[Chevron, Richmond Neighborhood Work Together To Solve Mystery, Preserve Father's Memorial To His Son]]> Tue, 16 Aug 2016 23:36:51 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/rays+memorial+1.jpg

As president of his neighborhood council, Cesar Zepeda is something of a watchdog for Richmond's Hilltop District.

There is one spot in the neighborhood, however, that Zepeda has never had to watch. For the past 12 years, someone else had taken care of that.

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"Here are the stepping stones," Zepeda said, pointing to a photograph of a roadside memorial along San Pablo Avenue near the intersection of Richmond Avenue. Zepeda says for years someone has been maintaining the memorial, adding flowers, candles, and statues. None of his neighbors, though, ever remember seeing who that person was.

"Somebody kept coming back," Zepeda said. "It changed for the holidays. You know for Christmas, he would put a Christmas tree up. There would be lights at night. So it doesn't matter the time, day or night you drove, there was something, something different all the time."


The memorial might have remained just a neighborhood curiosity except Chevron, which had graciously allowed the memorial to exist on property it owned, announced plans to build on the site.

The memorial would have to go.

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After all those years, all that work, Zepeda couldn't bear to think of the memorial being destroyed.

"There was love that was oozing out of the decoration," Zepeda said. "You can tell this wasn't just any memorial."

But who did it belong to? Who had been sneaking in, in the middle of the night, night after night? Zepeda asked around, but no one knew. He went to Chevron who agreed to leave a note asking whoever the caretaker was, to come forward.

"I just ignored it," Raymond Olson said. It was he who had been keeping up the memorial for the past dozen years. "I knew what was coming. Or at least I think I did."

Olson's son, also named Raymond, was killed by a drunk driver on the spot in 2003 at the age of 22. "It's like a whole dimension of pain that you don't think can exist," Olson said.

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He poured his grief into the memorial. He would come in the middle of the night because he knew it was one someone else's property and he didn't want to draw attention to himself. Still, he knew that one day it would have to be taken down.

He was only partially right. When Olson's sister finally called Chevron she discovered that Zepeda had asked the company to build a permanent memorial in a nearby park to replace the makeshift one.

"It's more than I ever could have dreamed of," Olson said.

Olson said he had been carrying a heavy burden on his shoulders since his son died. He believed that one day, when both he and the memorial were gone, his son would be forgotten.

That burden had suddenly been lifted.

"I just don't have the words to thank you all," Olson said at a dedication ceremony last Saturday for the new memorial: an iron bench and plaque with the younger Raymond Olson's pictures.

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It just felt it was the right thing to do. I can't call it anything else. It was the right thing," Zepeda, who was also at the dedication said.

Olson says without the memorial to worry about, he feels he can start to live a life that was put on hold 12 years ago. He says he'll need a little time to think about what that life will be like.

He does know, however, where he will be sitting while figuring it out.

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<![CDATA[20 Years After Championship Ends In Tie, High School Quarterback Gets Teams Back Together To Seek Redemption, Settle Score]]> Tue, 02 Aug 2016 22:57:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/harbor+slv+rematch+6.jpg

Wali Razaqi is a movie producer and actor with dozens of films and documentary projects on his resume.

It means he knows a good story when he sees one.

He also knows a good story when he has lived one.

Razaqi is using his own experience as a quarterback for Santa Cruz's Harbor High School in 1996, and a championship game rematch he organized this year, as the basis for a pilot to a docu-series called "Almost Champions."

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The Harbor Pirates never had much of a tradition of football. "We had a reputation," Razaqi said. "I wouldn't say it was for good football."

It's why, Razaqi said, the city, the league, and the team's rivals were stunned in 1996 when the Pirates finished the season undefeated. In the championship game, they faced off against their bigger, stronger rival, the San Lorenzo Valley Cougars.

"David and Goliath," Razaqi said. "Physically it's David and Goliath, with the reputations David and Goliath."

The day of the championship game it rained, leaving the field a sloppy, muddy mess and making it difficult for either team to advance or hold on to the football.

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The clock ran out in the 4th quarter with the score tied 14-14.

There were, however, no provisions in the rules at the time in high school football for overtime. The game would go into the record books as a tie and the teams would be crowned co-champions. The referee's, though, offered to stay and officiate if the teams wanted to play until there was a winner. For bragging rights.

They turned to the Harbor coach to see if his team wanted to continue. He turned to Razaqi.

"I just looked at my coach and I, just really subtle, I said, coach, I'm done let's take the tie. I'm good, let's take it. You know we're champions and I just walked away," Razaqi said.

It was a decision Razaqi had 5 seconds to make and has had twenty years to live with.

San Lorenzo Valley players never miss a chance to call him out for quitting on his team. "We still razz him for it," said Johnny Agnone, who played in the championship game.

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Razaqi says it never really bugged him too much until a Facebook post two years ago brought up the game and it's controversial outcome once again. Razaqi looked back as a grown man and didn't really like what he saw his younger self do.

"It bothered me enough to where I wrote a letter to my teammates. I said that I'm not ashamed of quitting, I'm ashamed of not asking you guys or looking to you and saying I'm scared, I don't want to do this," Razaqi said.

So he decided to do something, if not to change history, but to have a second crack at it.

Razaqi began recruiting Harbor and SLV players to take part in a rematch. Bragging rights would be established and Razaqi could be relieved of his burden.

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"We certainly do things that aren't in our character sometimes," Razaqi said. "How often do we get to maybe correct it or maybe do it again?"

So, this past Saturday on the Cougars' home field in Scotts Valley 40 members of both teams gathered to play one, last game. It wasn't the prettiest of games, though not for lack of effort or intensity.

The outcome after four quarters? The same. A tie. 0-0.

This time, however, there was no doubt that overtime would be played.

San Lorenzo Valley scored a touchdown on their first set of downs and Harbor failed to match. The Cougars won the game 6-0.

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Even though the rematch ended in a loss, Razaqi had no regrets. Whatever demons there were are gone, replaced with warm memories of all the old friendships and rivalries that had been rekindled.

"I think we did something good out here."

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<![CDATA[San Mateo Woman Builds Tiny Home For Homeless Friend]]> Fri, 05 Aug 2016 17:04:44 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/a+home+for+steve+update+3.jpg

Lisa Kolvites was tired of crying during her drive home.

Ever since her friend, Steve Strackbein, became homeless a few years ago, Kolvites has been driving weekly from her home in San Mateo to San Francisco to check up on him and bring him some food.

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On the drive home, Kolvites cries.

"I go to visit him and all he has, everything he owns, is in a shopping cart and it's just a bunch of junk. I can't imagine living like that. I just can't," Kolvites said.

The 46-year-old Strackbein normally spends the night in a temporary shelter he constructs for himself out of cardboard, scraps of wood, and a tarp.

Kolvites says she wanted nothing more than to help Strackbein find a home.

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So she decided to give him one. Once she built it, that is.

In November, Kolvites began construction a tiny home on wheels in the driveway of her San Mateo home. Having very little experience in construction the work went slowly, Kolvites often learning how to do things through trial and error. As frustrated as she got, though, there was no thought of giving up. "I'm committed to seeing this through," said Kolvites.

This week, Kolvites did just that.

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After working on the home for ten months, Kolivtes wheeled the home onto a trailer and drove it to San Francisco to give to Strackbein.

The four walls and a locking door will, hopefully, give Strackbein a bit of security and privacy he has not had for years. The wheels mean he can move it, and all his belongings, from place to place if police or property owners say he has overstayed his welcome.

"I'm speechless," Strackbein said after sitting in his new home for the first time. "It's going to take a while to sink in."

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Kolvites says the home ended up meaning as much to her as she believes it will Strackbein.

"I just hope someone would do the same for me," Kolvites said.

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<![CDATA[San Francisco Attorney Spends Years Searching For Sea Captain Who Saved Her Family]]> Fri, 02 Sep 2016 17:47:56 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/saviors+at+sea+4.jpg

There have probably been guest lecturers in World History class at Pleasant Hill's Acalanes High School who have failed, in the past, to captivate their young audience.

But not this week.

Not with Lauren Vuong speaking.

"You can imagine, as a child, seeing someone bleed out to death is quite and impression," is how Vuong began her presentation in the school library on Wednesday. "It was the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me. Until I got on the boat to escape Vietnam."

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Vuong, a 43-year-old San Francisco attorney, was at the school to share the story of her family's experience following the Vietnam War.

Vuong's parents, wealthy landowners in the south, faced terrible persecution under communist rule. It was so bad they decided the best, though incredibly dangerous, choice for their family was to flee. It was a decision that, from the mid-1970's to the early 1980's, hundreds of thousands of others made as well. They were called "boat people." A large percentage of them died in the attempt.

Even knowing the odds, Vuong's family of five crowded onto a small boat with 57 other refugees and slipped out to sea. Vuong was seven-years-old.

"It was almost like a suicidal mission. We said we got to leave at a time when there's less coast guard. What time is that? That's the monsoon season," Vuong said.

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Ten days they were at sea, suffering storm after story, eventually finding themselves low on food, fuel, and water. Making landfall seemed unlikely. Although they were adrift in a major shipping lane, no ships stopped to help.

"It's recorded in news that 120 ships passed by that route that timeframe," Vuong said. "Let's say a third of them saw us. That would still be 40 ships and not one of them stopped.

But early one morning, one did. A liquefied natural gas tanker called Virgo did stop. The crew rescued Vuong and all 61 other refugees, eventually transferring them to a United States Naval vessel.

The captain of the Virgo, whose name Vuong's family never learned, had given her family the opportunity for a fresh start in America. Vuong's family eventually settled in San Jose. She graduated from UC Berkeley and got a law degree.

She never stopped thinking about what that captain had done for her.

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"I would not have this opportunity," Vuong said, "but for one man who said, 'Stop, save them.'"

"Vuong vowed to find that man. She spent more than a decade tracking down shipping reports, union rolls, and ships' logs. Eventually, she tracked down a name and a phone number of a man who had captained the Virgo around the time that Vuong's family was rescued.

She called him.

I just said the one thing that I had wanted to say all of those years: I think you were the man that saved my family and I don't want anything more than to say thank you," Vuong said.

She got to do more than that, though. That phone call lead to an emotional reunion at the captain's home in Florida. It also lead to Vuong's realization that his story, along with the other seamen who came to refugees aid during that time, needed to be shared.

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She has been recording her journey and is currently raising money so can complete a documentary. Vuong, however, doesn't want the film to be about her. She wants it to be about the ones she considers the real heroes.

"This little chapter, untold, is so beautiful and so healing in that it shows people coming together and helping each other with no political gains, no medal to be had, no treaty to sign. It's just the compassion of the human spirit."

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<![CDATA[Surprise! 80 South Bay Third-Graders Gifted with New Bikes]]> Tue, 20 Dec 2016 08:32:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/NewBikes1.JPG

Bill Pollakov says times were so tough growing up he didn't get his first bicycle until he was 16-years-old.

He says it changed his life.

Bill rode it to play tennis, which landed him a scholarship, which launched him into a successful business career.

He and his wife, Debbie, now spend all their time and energy giving that same gift of freedom and hope to thousands of children each year through their Southern California-based non-profit, Bikes For Kids Foundation. 

And they love doing it in dramatic fashion.

On Monday, they showed up at Washington Elementary School in San Jose telling the third graders they had three bicycles to award to the winners of an essay contest.

Once those bikes were given out, though, they surprised all 80 third-graders with bicycles of their own.

Bill and Debbie have been giving away bicycles for 14 years and this year gifted their 40,000th bike. All of the donations to their foundation are used to buy bikes and helmets. These bikes were paid for (and assembled) by employees of Pacific Advisors.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area/Garvin Thomas]]>
<![CDATA[Nonprofit Using Surplus Hair To Help Clean Up Oil Spills]]> Sun, 18 Dec 2016 18:24:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/matter+of+trust+1.jpg

Spend enough time in San Francisco and you begin to think there's nothing that could happen on the streets of this famously unconventional city that could surprise you.

Then a tractor-trailer pulls up on Howard Street and begins to unload box after box of, well, we will allow the woman who was waiting for the delivery to fill you in.

"It's hair," said Lisa Gautier, founder and president of the non-profit Matter of Trust. "And fur. And fleece."

20,000 pounds of hair, fur, and fleece, to be exact.

At this brand new facility, the hair will be felted into mats that are exceptionally good at soaking up oil, particularly when it has spilled into waterways. Gautier says it is a concept that, although new to most people, is one they quickly grasp.

"Every age gets it," Gautier said. "The fact your hair collects oil is a basic one everyone understands."

Matter Of Trust got into the hair mat game close to ten years ago, but the non-profit has been around twice as long as that.

They have long specialized in connecting people who have too much of one resource, with those who could make good use of it so it doesn't go to waste.

The ever-growing resource of hair was a perfect fit for the organization. The boxes of hair delivered on this day have been collected from salons, barber shops and pet groomers from all over the country.

The whole idea of hair mats began with a hairdresser in Alabama named Phil McCrory. He, however, was never able to bring the idea of using them for oil cleanup into the mainstream. This is where Gautier, and Matter Of Trust, came in.

"It was the first time I think I realized that not all good ideas are heard," Gautier said.

Matter of Trust began collecting the hair from salons across the country and assembling the mats in factories, most recently in New Mexico.

They have been able to deploy the mats to some of the worst oil spills in the country including the Cosco Busan spill in San Francisco Bay in 2007 and the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

With this new facility in San Francisco, however, Gautier is thinking small rather than big. She believes that turning hair into mats could be a great cottage industry with small, light-industrial facilities like this one will soon be in cities all over the country.

"We think this could be a model," Gautier said.

She envisions a modern day "paper route" where young people pick up hair from salons and groomers all over the city and bring it to a place to be felted. The city would then have a ready supply of mats to respond to spills of all kinds on short notice. The localities would not only benefit from cleaner water but from the good-paying, light-industrial jobs that would be provided.

<![CDATA[Out Of North Bay Parents' Grief, Help For Thousands Of "Socially Isolated" Teens]]> Wed, 30 Nov 2016 14:09:34 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/beyond+differences+4.jpg

It is out of the darkest day of Laura Talmus' life that a brighter future might be in store for tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands middle school students across the country.

That number is just how many have been touched through at least one of the programs organized by the North Bay-based non-profit, Beyond Differences.

"Each year we have grown and doubled and doubled and doubled in size," said Talmus, who founded the group six years ago with her husband, Ace Smith.

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The dark time for Talmus and Smith that was at the root of Beyond Differences was the sudden death at the age of 15 of their daughter, Lili.

Lili was born with a cranial facial disorder, Apert Syndrome, that left her looking different than her peers but otherwise was a completely typical young girl. Talmus believes, however, Lili's appearance may have played a role in her becoming socially isolated when she entered middle school.

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Talmus said she would regularly get calls from her daughter in the middle of the school day. "It used to break my heart," Talmus said. After finishing her lunch, Lili would call her mother from the girls' bathroom crying, wondering how she would spend the rest of the time without anyone to sit with.

Talmus and Smith eventually un-enrolled Lili from her school and began to home school her. Talmus said her daughter began to thrive and started to attend a private high school in the Midwest before her untimely death. At Lili's funeral, some of her writings from her difficult time in middle school were read. Upon hearing them, a group of Lili's peers from middle school approached Talmus.

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The told her had they known of Lili's struggles, they would have acted differently toward her. They told Talmus they wanted to do something to honor Lili's memory.

It was the beginning of Beyond Differences.

Talmus and the group of then-high school students began leading assemblies at middle schools spreading their message of kindness and inclusion. Another one of Beyond Differences' initiatives, "No One Eats Alone," has spread like wildfire across the country. Held every February, more than 1,000 schools participated across the country involving half a million students.

As the organization has grown, however, Talmus says the focus has shifted away from Lili. She's OK with that. Talmus says Beyond Differences was never intended to be solely a memorial to her daughter. It was meant to be a dynamic force for good in the world. Talmus thinks they are off to a good start.

"These children are going to grow up and be parents in the next fifteen years. My money is on them."

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<![CDATA[Couple Recounts Battling Valley Fire to Save Neighborhood]]> Thu, 15 Sep 2016 13:43:16 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/valley+fire+heroes+2.jpg

Rain -- just even a little of it.

What John and Teri Gormley wouldn't have given for a little rain on that day in September. A day they stood at Lake County's Cobb Mountain, convinced the Valley Fire was in the process of consuming their home not more than a mile away.

But the Gormleys were able to keep the fire at bay, saving their residence and 28 of their neighbors' homes in the process.

How the Gormleys were able to keep the fire from encroaching their neighborhood began earlier in the day when John, a current firefighter, and Teri, a retired firefighter, heard about (what was at the time) small blaze burning near a friend's ranch and headed over to help.

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"He said 'Do what you can to save my house. I've got a grass rig,'" John said.

The grass rig, a pickup truck with a water tank and pump, would eventually prove critical to the Gormleys.

What they were facing at their friend's house was no big deal for a couple with 44 years combined firefighting experience.


"Wasn't concerned about it at all," John said. "We were both in our T-shirts and shorts, and I wasn't worried."

That was until John looked back toward his house.

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"The whole hillside was on fire," John said.

John and Teri jumped in the grass rig and raced home. Once there, they scrambled to keep the fire from spreading to the trees behind their home.

But no matter how hard they worked, the Gormleys could not slow down the flames.

"At some point I am looking around and now I'm getting scared," John said. "If this fire comes around this house, there's no way out. You're going to burn to death."

Teri said John is rarely scared of anything.

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"Nothing scares him. I mean really, nothing scares him," Teri said. "He's really a very solid person -- very brave, very together. And to see him look scrambled and panicked just terrified me."

John eventually yelled to Teri that it was time to get out from fighting the massive blaze.

"Out of my 27 years as a firefighter and being on a lot of both wildland fires and structure fires, and lot of other calls where you get very nervous or fear for your life, or your crew's life," John said. "Hands down this was the scariest day, scariest time, scariest fire of my life."

They abandoned the fight and retreated to a safe space, a parking lot less than a mile from their home. After catching their breath, and shedding a few tears, John decided who couldn't give up on the home he built with his own hands twenty years earlier.

"He said I'm not a quitter," Teri said of John. "I'm going back. Are you with me?"

The couple returned to their home, finding the structure still there and just enough of their backyard burned to give them a safe space.

The Gormleys would spend the next 72 hours keeping the fire at bay.

Without any help, or any contact from the outside world, the Gormleys patrolled their neighborhood in the grass rig using water from their creek to put out spot fires where they found them.

If just one of their neighbors' house burned, they might lose all of them.

"It was very eerie, just dark. You felt like you were the last two people on Earth," John said. "You felt like the world ended and you were the last two people."

Today, their neighborhood still exists -- a stark contrast to so many around them.

"You know you work together. You work side-by-side and one's not going to give up just because you now the other one does," Teri said. "You just pull yourselves together and it was definitely teamwork. We could not have done this without each other. There was just no way."

Neighbors are back in their homes without a shred of doubt who is responsible.

"Unbelievable," neighbor Laura Patrick said of the Gormley's saving their neighborhood. "It's the most selfless thing ever. We can never thank them enough."

John and Teri said the whole experience has brought them closer together, each saying they could not have had a better partner during such a difficult time.

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<![CDATA[Act of Kindness by Willow Glen Man]]> Wed, 10 Aug 2016 00:05:42 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/willow+glen+artist+3.jpg

For someone who has been on this earth for 21 trips around the sun, Kayla Jimenez has had an awfully small orbit.

In her bedroom of her family's Willow Glen home, painting and drawing, is where she has spent a considerable amount of her life.

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Jimenez says there just aren't many other places where she feels comfortable.

"Well, having disabilities, I think I'm different," Jimenez said.

Jimenez's disabilities (learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Cerebral Palsy in her legs) can be traced to her premature birth with twin brother Chris Jimenez.

"Chris had a 50-50 chance of being born alive," Kayla's mother, Shelly Jimenez said. "Kayla had a zero percent chance."

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In spite of those odds, it is Chris Jimenez who is the more disabled of the two. Caring for him, Shelly says, is why the family spends most of their time at home. "24/7 pretty much," she said.

About the only time Kayla would venture away from home is to walk along Lincoln Avenue in Downtown Willow Glen. On her strolls, though, she would rarely talk or interact with anyone else.

"I’ve never really had friends," Kayla said.

Which explains all that time doing art in her room. Enough time, in fact, Kayla got really good at it, although no one outside her family knew it.

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Then, one day, during one of those walks downtown she stopped to sketch the iconic Garden Theater. A family member was so impressed with the piece she suggested Shelly email a picture of it to Pierluigi Oliverio, Councilmember for San Jose's 6th District which includes Willow Glen.

"I didn't think I'd hear anything about it," Shelly said.

But Oliverio forwarded the artwork on to Michael Mulcahy, the owner of the Garden Theater. Mulcahy loved the sketch and sent an email asking if he could hang it in the lobby of the building. He had no idea about Kayla's history and disabilities.

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"I just loved the art," Mulcahy said.

"I wanted to cry," Kalya said. "A stranger wanted my art. At the time, it was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me."

The biggest, that is, until others noticed the artwork and wanted to meet the artist.

Bob Paez, the owner of the Garden Theater Barber Shop, asked Kayla to paint a couple of pieces for his store.

Mulcahy came back and asked Kayla if she would paint a picture of The Table, a restaurant down the street in a building he also owned.

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When Kayla now walks down Lincoln avenue she can not only see her works displayed, she has friendly faces she can stop and talk with.

"I'm so glad I got to know Kayla," Mulcahy said.

Shelly says it is her family that is truly grateful to those who have taken an interest in their daughter's talents and, by consequence, have expanded her horizons.

"They will never know how much this means to my family," Shelly said.

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<![CDATA[Cranksgiving: Food Collection For Turkey Day in South Bay]]> Thu, 17 Nov 2016 12:25:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cranksgiving+3.jpg

Cranksgiving made its way to the South Bay this year.

Started in New York City in 1999, Cranksgiving is a pop-up event that is part bike race, part scavenger hunt, part help for the needy. It has been such a success, it has spread to dozens other cities since its debut but not to San Jose. Until this year thanks to a recent transplant to the Bay Area from New England.

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"I was at that point where I wanted to kind of get up and move and try something new," said Erin Docry who arrived in February.

Dorcy had participated in a Cranksgiving event in Boston and loved the randomness, the camaraderie, and the spirit of the day. When she discovered there wasn't one already organized in San Jose, Dorcy saw an opening to start it.

"I just kind of walked up and said 'Hey I have this idea I wanna do this,'" Dorcy said. "The number of people that were just like 'I wanna do it too or what can I do to help you?' That's what, that makes me just so happy."

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Dorcy spent months spreading word among the South Bay cycling community and making arrangements for the event which was held this past Sunday in San Jose.

65 riders gathered at Cahalan Park to begin their journey. Each was handed a "manifest," a list of stores they needed to visit and items The Second Harvest Food Bank (the event's beneficiary) needed.

Prizes were then given to the fastest riders, as well as those who gathered the most donations for the food bank, when they arrived at the finish line at Hub's Coffee.

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In all, enough food was gathered to provide more than 700 meals for those in need.

Dorcy has heard from organizers of Cranksgiving events in other cities that as words spreads about the event to expect participation to grow "exponentially" in future years. She says it would not surprise her.

"It's so cool to see in this area there's so much passion behind it."

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<![CDATA[San Mateo Woman Hopes Long-Hidden Trove Of Dorothea Lange Photos Will Help Put Small Peninsula Museum On The Map]]> Fri, 04 Nov 2016 06:49:29 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dorothea+lange+photos+7.jpg

There is more than one way to be put on the map.

Sure, though it's tucked away in a somewhat hidden spot off a busy El Camino Real, the Peninsula Museum of Art is on any street map of Burlingame. But how does a small, relatively new museum, specializing in Northern California artists put itself on the map of the art world?

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Ellen Chong, one of the museum's dedicated volunteers has a plan.

It's one she is pretty excited about.

"I am just busting out the seams with pride," Chong said.

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It all has to do with a few things that have been tucked away on the floor of Chong's closet for quite some time. "I have had them in my possession for three decades, probably, at least that, in my fire safe," Chong said.

Chong is talking about more than twenty prints by the legendary photographer Dorothea Lange.

Lange is most famous for her Depression-era photographs of farmers and migrant families. The pictures Chong has, however, are not images like those. They are pictures of Chong's family.

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"This is my mother," Chong says pointing to one of a young girl smiling and balancing on a barrel half-submerged in Soquel Creek in Santa Cruz County. "It's one of my favorites."

Chong's grandmother, Lousie Lovett, was lifelong friends with Lange and the photographs are snapshots from the time their families spent together. "Ever since the first time I saw the collection when I was a teenager, I was told how famous this photographer," Chong said.

It wasn't until Chong, an artist herself, started volunteering at the PMA that she started to think of ways she could help raise its attendance and stature.

That's when she remembered the prints.

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Chong took them to the museum and showed them to its founder, Ruth Waters. "I laid them out for her and she was astonished that right in front of her was this little treasure that had been hidden away for 30 years."

The decision was made to organize and exhibit of the prints in January.

Conservation of the photographs was recently completed by Heide Shoemaker in her Berkeley studio.

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Chong believes that an exhibit of never-before-displayed Lange photos would be something that some larger, more famous museums would be interested in hosting. But the benefits, she believes, that PMA will receive from the exhibit make it the right place to stage it.

"I have a vested interest in seeing this museum succeed. I've known this organization since its inception, I've seen it grow and see how far it's come with basically nothing."

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<![CDATA[ 8-Year-Old's Challenge To His Father Inspires Him To Donate Millions Of Meals To Hungry And Homeless]]> Thu, 03 Nov 2016 12:44:47 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hunger+at+home+3.jpg

Last week, Lynbrook High School senior Casidy Sterner played the last football game of his high school career.

As usual, his father, Ewell Sterner was in the stands to cheer his youngest son on.

It is the kind of moment when a dad will reflect on the past 17 years, hoping he has been a good influence on his son. Ewell Sterner will be the first to tell you, though, it is Casidy who inspired him to do something remarkable.

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It happened when Casidy was just 8-years-old and the pair were volunteering at a shelter in San Diego feeding the hungry and homeless.

"He literally said, 'Dad we have so much food at home. We have to help. We have to fix this,'" the older Sterner said. "That was the genesis of Hunger at Home."

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Hunger at Home is the non-profit Sterner started back then, one he revived a few years ago after his arrival in Silicon Valley to run the San Jose Convention Center for Team San Jose.

"I think that the re-spark for me was seeing the the abundance and the growth and seeing the the tent communities growing into massive communities," Sterner said. "This has to change."

With decades of experience in hotel food and beverage, Sterner has always been familiar with the amounts of surplus food that was available to help the hungry but was ending up in the trash as opposed to on trays feeding the needy.

Hunger at Home has changed that in a big way.

Contracting with the convention center, major hotels, and even Levi's Stadium they are responsible for more than 2 million meals in just a few years being donated to San Jose's Martha's Kitchen and the Salvation Army.

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"Finally we're all in a room, we're talking together with industry, nonprofit and city council members, all in a room speaking. We're now sharing resources. We're sharing supply, we're sharing an abundance of supply," Sterner said.

Sterner believes, as amazing at Hunger at Home's success has been, it is still not enough to meet all the needs out there.

If everyone gave something, Sterner is convinced, society could do amazing things, that the next generation would be proud of.

"If we're not being part of the solution, what are we teaching our children?"

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<![CDATA[ After Years Of Thrilling Neighbors For Free, San Jose Father, Son Take Their Haunting Passion "Pro"]]> Thu, 27 Oct 2016 22:47:43 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bernal+scream+1.jpg

Of all the ways that fathers and sons can bond, Abe and Mike Barrera's favorite is an unusual one: making other adults cry.

"It's really great," Abe, the father, said. "Fantastic," added the son, Mike. "We do it every day."

Abe and Mike are the creators of the Bernal Scream, a haunted house set up under a tent in the parking lot of San Jose's Westfield Oakridge shopping mall.

While it is the Scream's first year at Oakridge, it is far from its first year of existence. For the past twenty years, Abe and Mike have been creating elaborate Halloween displays in and around their families' homes.

The pair would spend upwards of $10,000 to create one of their haunted houses, yet not charge a single penny to visitors.

"It was our way of paying it forward to our neighborhood," Abe said. "It didn't matter if you had a family of twelve, it doesn't matter if you didn't have a job, you could come here and experience this."

The Berreras not only loved spending time creating their displays, they loved spending time with each other. It is why, this year, they decided to turn the Bernal Scream into a full-time occupation.

This time, in the mall parking lot, they have spent $100,000 creating a 4,000-square-foot, 6 room haunted house.

It is a great financial risk, but one they are willing to make.

"Whether we make not a penny on this, we still I feel like we've made it," Abe said. "We've succeeded and you know it's it's all about the bonding time."

On a typical night this October, Mike welcomes guests at the front door of the haunt. Abe spends his time wearing a scary clown mask in the back, menacing visitors with a chainsaw while the footbridge they are walking on drops six inches in an instant.

In between there are any number of frightful things from Abe and Mikes imagination that could make even the bravest of adults let out a scream.

Or, as the Berraras might call it, music to their ears.

"Somehow we figured out how to take those thoughts and make them real you know and it's just the best thing ever. There's nothing better than that."

<![CDATA[USF Baseball Player Reflects On Effort To Save Mother's Life]]> Thu, 27 Oct 2016 12:09:23 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/usf+pitcher.jpg Joey Carney was willing to risk not only his athletic career, but his life, to save the life of his biggest fan.]]> <![CDATA[Classmates Rally To Support Teen After Heartbreaking Loss]]> Tue, 11 Oct 2016 23:26:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/alzheimers+walk+4.jpg Leah Robbie didn't share the details of her father's illness with many others at her school. When she needed them, though, they responded.]]> <![CDATA[Teen Pianist Shares Her Gift With Low Income Children]]> Fri, 07 Oct 2016 11:21:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/music+for+all+1.jpg 15-year-old Megan Auyeung remembers how she felt when music classes were cut in her elementary school. She now wants to make sure as many children are exposed to music as possible regardless of their financial situation.]]> <![CDATA[South Bay Children's Author Overcomes Dyslexia To Start Literary Career]]> Thu, 29 Sep 2016 21:41:18 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/dsylexic+author+4.jpg Julie Dart always dreamed of becoming a well-known author. She's well on her way. With a few changes.]]> <![CDATA[San Jose Woman, Friends Host "Pad Party," Collect 30,000 Pads And Tampons To Help Homeless Women]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 12:19:14 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pad+party+2.jpg

It's about this time of year, for the past three years, that Amy Pizarro wonders what her mail carrier must think.

"I just don't know what he thinks bringing huge boxes of pads and tampons to my house every day," Pizarro said.

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The brief answer is that all the feminine hygiene products piling up on Pizarro's dining room table are not for her.

For the longer explanation, Pizarro must go back three years when she read an article on-line about who how difficult it was for homeless women to get feminine hygiene products during their periods.

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The dateline of the article was somewhere on the East Coast, but Pizarro had a hunch it wasn't just a regional problem. She emailed a contact at HomeFirst, a network of homeless shelters in the South Bay, asking if it were an issue for homeless women in the Bay Area.

The answer came back an emphatic, "Yes."

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Pizarro learned that while people are quick to donate food, clothing, and blankets to homeless services organizations, they often don't think about the need for feminine hygiene products. Compounding the matter is how expensive the products are, so even when the shelters pay for them, there aren't always enough for all the women who need them.

Pizarro was inspired to act.

"I thought about the women I know, and I know some good women, and I bet they didn't know about it either," Pizarro said.

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She came up with a plan to help.

In 2014, Pizarro hosted the first "Pad Party" in her home. She emailed her female friends and colleagues explaining the issue and asking them to bring boxes of pads and tampons with them. That first year, the gathering resulted in a donation of 10,000 items.

It has only grown since then.

This year's party, at San Jose's Cafe Stritch, attracted dozens of women and resulted in donations of 30,000 items; enough to sustain 200 women for an entire year.

"What I think about is that they have so many other things to worry about," Pizarro said. "Could we not let them worry about this?"

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<![CDATA[East Bay Mother Turns Single Act Of Kindness Into More Than 200,000 Of Them]]> Fri, 23 Sep 2016 11:43:59 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/network+of+care+5.jpg

Janet Frazier is not a magician.

She's actually a marketing coordinator at Chevron. Still, Frazier is a woman with a few tricks up her sleeve. Like the time she turned a single act of kindness into more than 200,000 of them.

"It's a wonderful tribute to Stephanie," Frazier said.

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Stephanie is Frazier's daughter. In December 2000 Stephanie and her younger sister, Lindsay, were in a car crash on Highway 50 on their way to Lake Tahoe. Stephanie died. Lindsay was seriously hurt.

Frazier rushed to the hospital to be by Linday's bedside. She wouldn't leave it for days, not even to eat. On the second day, Frazier stood up and fell to the floor, almost fainting.

"A nurse had me sit in a chair outside of the room left and came back with her sandwich in her hands and said, take a few bites," Frazier said. "I will never forget that feeling of somebody doing something so nice in the face of just a horrific time."

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Frazier was so inspired by that nurse's gesture, she began filling snack bags for patients' families and delivering them to a local hospital. "I absolutely thought that it would just be one hospital. I thought, I never thought it would grow like it did," Frazier said.

As word spread among the medical community of what she was doing, though, other hospitals asked if they could receive the bags as well. It has blossomed into The Network Of Care, a non profit now working with 60 Bay Area hospitals and recently delivered their 200,000th snack bag.

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Teams of volunteers made up mostly of Frazier's Chevron coworkers help keep the pipeline full of purple bags (Stephanie's favorite color) filled with snacks and decorated with a butterfly (also a Stephanie favorite).

Felicie Standly, a social worker at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland, has delivered more than a few of the bags to some very grateful parents.

"They are just like, 'Great, this is such a lifesaver,'" Standly said.

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Frazier says she is incredibly proud of what she and her team of volunteers have accomplished over the years. She also feels it's an example for the rest of us: that good can come even from life's darkest moments if we allow it to.

"There's so much love in this world and there's so many things you can do for other people that are really basic."

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<![CDATA["Godfather" Of Technology For Social Good Passes Impressive Milestone]]> Wed, 21 Sep 2016 13:00:55 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bay+area+proud+1.jpg Jim Fruchterman's "one good idea" has turned into 10 million books for people with difficulty reading standard print.]]> <![CDATA[Year-Old San Francisco Non-Profit Hopes To Defuse Confrontations Between Police, Mentally Ill Before They Happen]]> Fri, 16 Sep 2016 08:38:19 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/concrn+1.jpg Concrn wants the public to call them, instead of 911, when they see a homeless or mentally ill person in crisis.]]> <![CDATA[San Jose Eye Surgeon Gives Away $50,000 Worth Of Procedures To Those Who Can't Afford Them]]> Wed, 14 Sep 2016 13:52:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/gift+of+sight+1.jpg Now in its 15th year, Dr. Michael Furlong's Gift Of Sight charity has improved the vision of 150 people for free.]]> <![CDATA[Oakland Graphic Designer Raises Thousands For Flood Relief In Hometown]]> Wed, 07 Sep 2016 14:41:21 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cajun+cool+41.jpg

The 23rd time was the charm for Beau Bergeron.

The Oakland graphic designer had taken a crack at selling t-shirts he had designed in the past. 22 times he tried without much success.

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But then came design number 23.

"It was incredible," Bergeron said. "I spent a lot of time at my computer hitting refresh, hitting refresh and watching those numbers go up, the sales go up."

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So what was different about this design? Well, it was designed not only to look good but to help people, too.

His line of Louisiana flooding-themed shirts has raised more than $50,000 to aid victims of last month's flooding in his hometown of Baton Rouge.

"It's a part of me spiritually and culturally being from Louisiana," Bergeron said.

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Bergeron was saddened by the images he saw coming from his home state last month. Heavy rains caused devastating flooding all over the state, but particularly in Baton Rouge. He was heartened, though, by the response he saw from his former neighbors: people rushing to help each other in their times of need.

"I felt really inspired," Bergeron said. "I saw these videos of guys in their fishing boats getting people out of cars before they submerged, getting them off the roofs."

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That flotilla of private boats soon came to be known as the "Cajun Navy." They were people simply using the tools and expertise to help in any way they could. Bergeron thought there was no reason he couldn't do the same. Or, at least strive to have the same result.

"I don't have any boat skills, but I sat down at my computer," Bergeron said.

He has since designed a whole line of t-shirts based on the "Cajun Navy" theme and sells them on the Teespring e-commerce site. A spokesperson for Teespring says Bergeron's fundraiser is one of the largest they have ever hosted on their platform.

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<![CDATA[Recovering From Valley Fire, Middletown Residents Receive Inspiration From Unlikely Source: 95-Year-Old Jazzerciser]]> Wed, 31 Aug 2016 20:03:52 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/95+year+old+jazzerciser+1.jpg Rex Bowers didn't start exercising until he retired in the early 1980's. He hasn't stopped since.]]> <![CDATA[San Jose Artist With Cerebral Palsy Gets First Solo Exhibition]]> Wed, 24 Aug 2016 16:17:11 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/don+ryker+art+4.jpg

Amazing often takes time.

Take, for example, the hours and hours Don Ryker spends creating a single one of his works of art.

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For just one of his animal portraits Ryker, who has Cerebral Palsy, will spend somewhere between 12-15 hours painting. Because his disability makes it difficult for him to control his hands and feet, Ryker paints with a brush that is attached to a construction helmet held to his head by a Velcro strap.

An assistant helps the 31-year-old Ryker by mixing paints, moving the canvas, and changing brushes but the art is all Ryker.

And it's amazing.

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But amazing, after all, is nothing new to Ryker. His mother, Andrea Bowers, says she and Ryker's father always did what they could to put their son in a position to succeed. Ryker, though, was the one who made it happen.

Using determination, and some creative engineering, as a young person Ryker was able to play baseball, mow the lawn, and even be a part of his high school's marching band.

"We were very proactive in making sure Don participated in everything," Bowers said. "We just had to figure out how."

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It wasn't until one of his teachers suggested painting, though, that Ryker struck upon his real passion. He recently graduated with a degree in art from San Jose City College and is having his first, solo exhibition. In the lobby of the Ameriprise Financial offices in downtown San Jose, more than thirty of Ryker's paintings adorn the walls.

"I'm excited for people to see my work," Ryker said. "And to buy it."

A typical Ryker painting will sell for more than $1,000 and he has sold a handful during the exhibition. He says it has inspired him to continue honing his craft and producing more.

Though he has accomplished so much, Ryker does not consider himself to be an advocate for the disabled. He would rather leave that to others. Ryker says he would simply like to be an example to those with (and without) disabilities of what a person in a wheelchair is capable of.

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<![CDATA[Not In Rio? Not A Problem. Olympic Swim Hopeful Gets Over His Disappointment By Helping Raise Spirits Of Others]]> Fri, 12 Aug 2016 12:31:26 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/olympic+magician+update+3.jpg

Chuck Katis jumps into the pool and immediately starts swimming laps.

He has the four-lane, 25-yard pool in a luxury San Francisco high-rise all to himself. It is a beautiful place to be.

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All things being equal, though, Katis would rather be in Rio.

"Of course, I'm disappointed," Katis said.

Katis is a breaststroke specialist who swims for the University of California, Berkeley. After months of dedicated training, Katis attempted to make the United States Olympic team this past summer at Olympic trials.

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He came up two seconds short.

"It wasn't there on that given day," Katis said. "But as an athlete, I think that's something you understand and it kind of comes with, with the game, with the sport."

If swimming were his entire life, Katis said, he would be crushed by not making the team.

Good thing, then, it's not.

"I'm kind of that crazy guy that's doing a million different things," Katis said.

One of those things is magic.

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Ever since he was a young boy, Katis has been a performing magician. His specialty these days is performing for free for people who could use a distraction from the troubles of their daily lives. He often puts on shows for children in the hospital.

This week, it was homeless men and women at San Francisco's Navigation Center.

"I realized there are people in a lot worse situations than myself and if this magic could take them out of that situation for even a second, it would have been totally worth it," Katis said.

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This week, however, it's not just his audience who could use a distraction. Performing magic is a way for Katis to not think too much about how much he'd love to be with his teammates in Rio.

His charitable work is also a reminder to him that no matter how much swimming means to you, there are more important things in life.

"It doesn't matter what situation you're in. It doesn't matter if you missed the team, made the team like, what is your impact on the world?"

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<![CDATA[South Bay Teen Gets Overwhelming Response To Offer Of Free Swim Lessons For Low-Income Children]]> Fri, 29 Jul 2016 11:47:33 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/free+swim+lessons+2.jpg

Diving into the deep end.

For a competitive swimmer, that is not a metaphor. It's simply how they get things started.

Carson Myers has been doing it since she was 9-years-old.

Which if fortunate because not soon after Myers founded her very own volunteer program the deep end is where she found herself.

"At first, I was a little overwhelmed," the 17-year-old from San Jose said.

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Myer's desire to help others was sparked during her freshman year at Presentation High School when she volunteered at a food drive for San Jose's Sacred Heart Community Service. Coming face-to-face with members of her community without enough money to feed their families was an eye-opener for Myers.

She felt guilty. At least, at first she did.

"Then I kind of realized I don't have to feel guilty. I can step up and do something about it," Myers said.

What Myers decided to do was combine her love of swimming with her newfound desire to help others by offering free swim lessons to children whose families couldn't afford them.

Thanks to the generosity of Swim South Bay, Myers was able to find a place to house her program. She then spread the word around South Bay human services organization and waited for the swimmers to sign up.

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And waited. And waited.

"We actually did not get a lot of signups. We learned very quickly that families didn't have swimsuits or goggles and they weren't able to signup because of that," Myers said.

Once she was able to arrange for donations of the equipment her slots started filling up, fast.

"We now have over 65 swimmers," Myers said.

Myers now works with children from ages 2 to 17. Many of her students have never had a swim lesson before in their lives. Some, have never even been in a pool before.

That was the case for a 15-year-old girl Myers taught.

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"On the third day we got her swimming across the shallow end on her own.then we moved her to the deep end. She swam across the deep end on her own. Once we finished our first lap she just started crying because she was so overwhelmed," Myers said.

Those are probably not the last tears of joy that will end up the pool this summer. Just like this will probably not be the last time Myers chooses to do good rather than feel guilty.

"The things that I can do can really make a difference and have an impact on these people's lives."

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<![CDATA[Half Moon Bay Non Profit Sees Wonderful Success Pairing Rescued Racehorses With Children With Special Needs]]> Tue, 26 Jul 2016 23:14:31 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/square+peg+3.jpg

If Joelle Dunlap ever tells you she was a typical, horse-obsessed little girl, don't believe her.

There was nothing "typical" about Dunlap's obsession.

"I was the kids that if you had a horse in your backyard if you looked out at the right time of day I was sitting on it," Dunlap said. "People called police. It was a problem."

Asked if that were a joke, Dunlap replied, "No, it's the truth. Ask my mother."

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Dunlap eventually learned to get permission to be around horses and hasn't left their side ever since. She competed in jumping competitions, played polo, and spent years working at racetracks exercising the Thoroughbreds. The racetrack work, though, proved too tough on her body and too difficult a schedule for a single mother so a friend convinced her to open her own riding school.

Dunlap says she gained a reputation for being good with children who were normally difficult to work with, and soon parents of children with autism began making their way to her Pacifica stables.

Dunlap believes her background as a teenage mother helped her relate to the families.

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"As a teenage mom, I felt really lonely and isolated and judged all the time," Dunlap said, "and I'm meeting these autism parents who are my age now who are feeling exactly the same way. I thought I can take my experience and I can make a difference for these families."

Dunlap soon learned that the combination of children with special needs and horses often created wonderful results. The children gained confidence taking command of a 1,000-plus pound animal. The horses, Dunlap said, seemed to instinctively know the right way to deal with the children.

Dunlap decided to dedicate all her time to working with such families and transformed her riding school into a non-profit called the Square Peg Foundation.

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Dunlap now has twenty, retired racehorses she works with helping dozens of children, primarily with autism, and their families. She says the secluded, 100 acre property in Half Moon Bay where Square Peg's stables are is the perfect place for families to be able to relax and have fun.

"We have a couple of kids that have sensory issues with clothes, if the clothes come off who cares. If a child needs to scream we're not at a public boarding facility so that's not gonna upset someone dealing with their horse."

Dunlap stresses that what they do at Square Peg is not therapy, and she is not a therapist.

What they offer is simply freedom for a few minutes, riding high above all of life's special challenges.

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"When you have a kid that feels marginalized all the time and told he's bad and told that he can't and you can put him in that position, you know you serve that family," Dunlap said.

Dunlap said the Square Peg success stories are too many to list and special moments are a daily occurrence. Neither, however, is what motivates Dunlap to keep going.

"I've got one word. Dignity. It's really what fuels me. We'll know that Square Peg is successful when it's not special. When it's normal."

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<![CDATA[A Birthday With No Cake? Non Profit Bakes Thousands Of Cakes For At-Risk Children Who Might Otherwise Not Have One]]> Thu, 21 Jul 2016 22:41:05 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cake4kids+4.jpg

The best birthday cakes are a magical combination of food, color, and fun.

The pink and purple, Minecraft-themed cake that Elaine Karpen and her daughter, Samantha, recently prepared using the kitchen of a Los Altos community center was all of those things.

It also had a whole lot of kindness baked into it as well

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That's because the girl Karpen was making the cake for, is one she doesn't know. A girl who would likely not have a cake on her birthday were it not for the one. Karpen said a stranger did the same thing for her when she was young and times were tough for her family.

"32 years later I still remember that cake," Karpen said.

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As great as all that is, though, perhaps the best thing about the cake she and her daughter baked is that it's not the only one like it. Far from it.

"I suspect we'll end up this year at about 2,200-2,300 cakes," said Julie Eades, Executive Director of Cake4Kids. "Our mission is to bake a custom birthday cake for a child. That's it."

Started in 2010 by Libby Gruender (who passed away in 2013), Cakes4Kids partners with social service agencies around the Bay Area to identify young clients who, for financial, social, or domestic reasons, might not have anyone who can bake or buy a cake for their birthday.

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"We had a youth last year who was 20. He'd never ever had a birthday cake," Eades said. "He couldn't believe the came was for him because he'd never had a cake for himself."

The non-profit now has a database of more than 600 volunteer bakers willing to make a needy child's birthday a memorable one. Because of privacy issues, though, the bakers never know more than the child's first name and are never around when the child sees and eats their cake.

Eades says, however, they do get many, touching thank you cards from children. Those are always forwarded on to the baker.

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With Karpen's cake, however, an exception was made.

She was able to deliver her cake to Jayla, the young Minecraft-loving 8-year-old who requested it.


"I was great to see Jayla's smile," Karpen says. "It makes all the work worthwhile."

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<![CDATA[Neighbors Rally To Help Redwood City Woman Struggling After Emergency Surgery]]> Wed, 20 Jul 2016 18:10:28 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/redwood+city+nextdoor+11.jpg

Redwood City has long been proud of its sunny weather. It says so right on the sign as you enter downtown: "Climate Best By Government Test."

Lately, though, it's the people who have been shining brightly. And Stasha Powell has been busy writing notes to thank them for it.

"I'm the queen of the thank you note," Powell said.

Powell's story begins with a major surgery last year on both of her knees. While still recovering at home earlier this year, Powell started feeling very, very ill. Doctors soon decided that emergency surgery was necessary to remove Powell's gall bladder.

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She was deemed healthy enough to leave the hospital in early June, but upon returning to her one-bedroom Redwood City apartment, Powell found it difficult to care for herself.

"I mean, I was a mess," Powell said.

Powell says her modest Midwestern upbringing made it difficult to ask for help. It wasn't until a friend threatened to post a plea for help on-line that she decided to do it herself.

"She said if you don't post for help I'm going to post myself and it will be embarrassing," Powell said.

So Powell posted her plea on the Nextdoor social network. She said she went to bed that night not knowing what to expect.

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She woke up to a long list of notifications on her phone letting her know people had replied to her post. At that moment, Powell said, she wondered "what the heck is going on?"

What was "going on" was dozens of offers of help from people all over Redwood City.

"I cried. I cried. Many of them were people I had never heard their names, never seen their names," Powell said.

Powell's local laundromat, Bubble and Fluff in neighboring San Carlos, picked up, washed, and delivered the laundry in a matter of three hours.

Redwood City resident Sue Pellizzer came over every day for a week to help clean and take care of Powell's cats. "Her message just touched me," Pellizzer said. "I wanted to help however I could."

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Kyle Perry sent Powell a private message offering his technical expertise if she needed it. Powell did. There was a DVD with video of exercises she was supposed to do to aid in her recovery, but her player wouldn't work. Perry not only fixed that but organized and labeled the tangled mass of cables behind Powell's tv. Perry said he wanted to prove, "there is still good out there."

Powell says that's only a small sampling of the people who reached out with offers of help, support, and encouragement. Powell says each one of them will get a personalized thank you note, for they not only helped her get back on her feet, they showed here that people can surprise you, in a good way, if you are brave enough to give them a chance.

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<![CDATA['Kid From Hayward' Leads Growing International Aid Nonprofit]]> Wed, 20 Jul 2016 01:10:03 -0700 http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/indorelief+2.jpg

No one every begins a journey to the next chapter in their life with a truly empty suitcase. There is always a lifetime worth of experiences already packed away.

As 26-year-old Sant Kumar of Hayward packs to head off to medical school in Washington, D.C., one life experience still looms larger for him than all the others: the sudden death of his father from leukemia when Kumar was just 17-months old.

"He didn't have any symptoms beforehand," Kumar said. "He was diagnosed. Three weeks later he was gone."

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Kumar's mother then made the difficult decision to send him to live with his grandparents in India for the next three years. To this day, Kumar says, he still remembers the lessons his grandmother, in particular, taught him.

"She was always involved in the community, especially in the under-served areas," Kumar said.

His grandmother was the reason why, Sant says, he decided to travel back to India to volunteer with a medical organization. While there, one child, suffering from Spina Bifida touched Kumar so much he started a fundraising campaign so the boy could get a life-changing spinal operation.

It turned out to be life-changing not just for the boy but for Kumar, too.

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"A kid from Hayward, California can have an impact in India on someone's life. I think that is what drove me to continue," Kumar said.

Kumar used money left over from that fundraiser to start IndoRelief, his own non-profit helping poor communities in India with whatever the locals say they most desperately need.

In just over a year IndoRelief has helped hundreds. The organization has provided medical supplies and run clinics and shelters for the homeless. Their biggest endeavor yet and one that Kumar is most proud of is an orphanage for former child laborers.

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Kumar says their success in such a short time is a result of hard work on the part of him and his all-volunteer team.

The inspiration for it, though, rests firmly with his grandmother.

"What she did for me with when I was barely two years old transformed my life," Kumar said.

The next chapter in Kumar's life will be a busy one, for sure. It is medical school, after all.

But he vows to keep on with IndoRelief. It is work too important no to.

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