<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Bay Area Proud]]>Copyright 2017https://www.nbcbayarea.com/feature/bay-area-proudhttp://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/nbc_bayarea_blue.pngNBC Bay Areahttps://www.nbcbayarea.comen-usThu, 23 Nov 2017 12:30:17 -0800Thu, 23 Nov 2017 12:30:17 -0800NBC Owned Television Stations<![CDATA[North Bay Nurse’s Plea for Help for Fire Victims Goes Viral]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 23:52:26 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/family+matching+51.jpg

Update: Payton Walton says more volunteers are needed to meet the demand from the number of "loss" families who have signed up. Those interested can sign up at: https://www.familymatching.org/

Let it be known that, what one day might very well be a key part of the relief effort in any natural disaster anywhere, began as a blizzard of papers on Payton Walton's living room floor.

"When my husband came in, he saw the entire place filled with paper," Walton said.

Now, the reason Walton's Mill Valley condo looked like that was because the homes of many of her friends and coworkers looked so much worse: they had been destroyed in the firestorm that swept through the North Bay in October.

Walton has been a nurse in Santa Rosa for more than 25 years. When that city started to burn, she went to work. Walton drove north and reported for duty at Memorial Hospital. She spent 40 hours over the next four days caring for patients at the only hospital in Santa Rosa that wasn't evacuated due to the fires.

Anyone would say that Walton had done enough to help. Anyone, that is, except Walton.

"I did my part and it was hard," Walton said, but "I had a home to come home to. I had a good nights sleep in my bed and I kept thinking about my own colleagues, my own nursing friends. They were doing what I was doing and then they slept in a Red Cross shelter at the fairgrounds."

Walton decided she needed to help them, so she posted to her neighbors on Nextdoor, the neighborhood social network. If there was a family out there who needed help, Walton wrote, she could introduce them to a family that desperately needed some.

"And within five minutes I started to get responses," Walton said. "Within the first hour, I had 50 families from Marin who said, 'Absolutely, who can we help? Tell us how.'"

Walton began matching those who needed help with those who were willing on those papers scattered about her home, but the volume of the responses soon overwhelmed that system. She started keeping track on a spreadsheet and ultimately created a webpage to help streamline the process.

A project which was at first intended to help a handful of doctors and nurses that Walton knew had grown well beyond that.

"My guesstimate is now I'm up to 5,000 individual volunteers and we have helped almost 600 individual people."

Volunteers like Tricia Kerriker helping families like the Brannons. Cody Brannon, a contractor, lost all his tools when their home burned down so Tricia, along with her husband, is helping Brannon replace them.

"It means a lot," Brannon said. "This is what I use to provide for my family."

Walton says both sides in these connections say what makes this relief effort special, and different from all the others is that it's not just about the money or the things. It's about the person who comes attached to them.

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<![CDATA[East Bay Veteran Credits Golf Program for Saving His Life]]>Wed, 15 Nov 2017 14:29:47 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pga+hope+3.jpg

Even though he's only been working on the staff of Blackhawk Country Club in Danville for a few months, Mike Myers is getting the hang of fixing that which needs fixing around the golf course.

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A fair trade, Myers would say, because the sport of golf fixed him.

"So, that's why when people are like, "What does golf do for you?" I say it saved my life," Myers said. "Because, I mean, I was in a dark place."

That "dark place" was Myer's life after serving his country as an Army sergeant in Iraq. It had been Myers' dream growing up to be a soldier. The reality of it lived up to all Myer's expectations. The East Bay native loved the purpose and structure military life gave him.

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"I knew what to expect every single day," Myers said. "I knew I'd get up and there's a 100% chance I was going to do some push-ups and 100% I was going to do some running, 50% chance there'd be some breakfast."

But after just two years, an ankle injury led to a medical discharge. Myers tried going back to school and worked a few different jobs but nothing filled the void the military had left in his life. Which is why he considered ending it.

"I'm thinking about going up to Travis and buying a pistol and shooting myself in the face because it's not working out and failure is unacceptable," Myers said.

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What Myers needed was a challenge. And, it turned out, trying to put a little white ball into a slightly larger cup was just the challenge he needed.

Myers discovered golf after hearing a program called PGA HOPE. Run by the Professional Golfers Association of America, PGA HOPE offered free, weekly golf instruction to veterans, particularly disabled ones like Myers. In the process, the veterans not only learn a sport they can play for the rest of their lives, they reap the benefits of exercise, fresh air, and, perhaps most importantly, the camaraderie of other veterans.

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Myers took to all of it so well he now not only works at a golf course, he wants to improve his game to the point he could be an instructor for PGA HOPE. He would love nothing more than to use gold to help other vets get their lives back on course. Just like it did his.

"Until I am no longer able to play, I'll be swinging a golf club."

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<![CDATA[The Performance Of A Lifetime: Facebook Engineer With Terminal Illness Takes To The Stage]]>Wed, 20 Sep 2017 14:59:38 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/sunnyvale+fiddler+2.jpg

In community theaters across the country, Fiddler On The Roof has been a staple for more than 50 years.

But the current 4-week run of Fiddler by the Sunnyvale Community Players is destinated to be one-of-a-kind.

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That's because while it is 33-year-old violinist Eric Sun's first performance with SCP, it will also be his last.

"I was diagnosed with glioblastoma which is the most lethal and incurable form of brain cancer," Sun said.

The diagnosis came just one year ago, with a prognosis to match. Sun, an engineering manager at Facebook, took a long, hard look at just how he wanted to the spend the time he had left.

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"My wife, Karen, and I started thinking what are the things that I want to leave behind? What are the things I want to be remembered for?" Sun said.

Bring people together and building community were their answers.

Music was to be their means.

Sun had played violin ever since was 4-years-old but life's responsibilities had pushed that pleasure down the list of priorities. So, Sun set about spending hours upon hours resurrecting that talent.

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When Karen Sun learned about the Fiddler performance, she had an idea. She suggested to Music Director Kevin Surace that her husband perform a particularly difficult solo: the violin cadenza written for the opening credits of the film version of Fiddler by John Williams and originally performed by Isaac Stern.

Surace didn't need to be asked twice.

"When I was told, I said, 'You're going to make it. I'm going to help you make it there, learn this part,'" Surace said.

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Others in Sun's shoes might have chosen more selfish pursuits. No one would have blamed them.

But Sun spent months perfecting what was to be a gift, not for him, but for others.

"My violin playing is how I build community, how I bring people together," Sun said. "How I show my appreciation for everything that people have done for me.

So for 8 minutes in the middle of each performance, Sun walks to center stage and begins to play. Sun, the audience, and his fellow cast members are then bonded by the beauty of music and fragility of life.

A shared experience that teaches all of us to do what brings you joy because no one knows when our song will end.

Performances of Fiddler On The Roof by the Sunnyvale Community Players continue until October 8th.

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<![CDATA[After Crash, Santa Cruz Woman Discovers What Saved Her]]>Wed, 25 Oct 2017 14:36:57 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/jaws+of+life+7.jpg

Sonja Brunner is back doing the things she loves and is loving every moment of it.

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With the help of friends, the Santa Cruz resident recently got on a paddleboard, in the roller rink, and out onto a dance floor. Brunner is beyond thrilled to be any of those places because of where she was just four months earlier: pinned behind the driver's seat of her car after a drunk driver crossed the center line and slammed into her.

"Oh, my Goodness, this is it," Brunner recalled thinking that night in June. "Is this the end of my life?"

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Brunner later learned her diaphragm had been ruptured, her lung collapsed, and her pelvis and spine had been fractured. She said she was stuck, in pain, and struggling to breathe for what seemed, to her, like an eternity until firefighters were able to free her from the crushed car using the jaws of life, a hydraulic tool used to pry apart wreckage.

Recovery has not been easy but Brunner's Santa Cruz community has her back. The paddleboarding, rollerskating, and dancing were all part of day-long fundraiser friends held to help Brunner pay for expenses she has incurred because of the crash.

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It is payback, it would seem, for all the good Brunner has done over the years in her community, like the time her son joined the Boy Scouts.

Brunner threw herself into the role as a Den Leader, chairing just about every committee and helping out with every event. Every year, Brunner and her son would volunteer for the local firefighters' pancake breakfast fundraiser.

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"You know, put on our uniforms and go out and bus tables and serve people pancakes," Brunner said.

Which explains why, a few days after the crash, when Brunner saw a Felton Fire Protection District Facebook post detailing her rescue she had trouble breathing again. This time, though, it was for a good reason.

"When I saw the blurb, I literally had goosebumps," Brunner said.

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It was in that post that Brunner learned the jaws of life used to save her life had been purchased with money raised from the very same pancake breakfasts where she and her son volunteered.

"Who knew back then when I was volunteering and helping and participating that it would come back in that way," Brunner said.

So, among the long list of people Brunner wants to thanks for where she is today, she has got to include herself.

"I fully believe that what you put in into your life, your community, the people around you it totally comes back 10 fold," Brunner said. She now considers herself living proof of it.

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<![CDATA[San Francisco Teacher Ready To Share Story, Struggles To Help Inspire Students]]>Wed, 27 Sep 2017 10:51:54 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/teacher+prosthetic+leg+51.jpg

A few years ago, when Ali Graham got a job as a 6th-grade teacher at Creative Arts Charter School in San Francisco, she was thrilled. Graham did, however, have one reservation about teaching middle school.

"What if it's like middle school all over again?" Graham said.

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What the 25-year-old science and math teacher means by that is the middle school years can be a tough time for kids who are different and Graham has been different almost all her life.

"I was really young. I was 18-months-old and I got a disease called Meningococcemia and it cut off the circulation to my feet," Graham said.

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Two below-the-knee amputations were needed to save her life. They didn't, however, slow her down.

In fact, Graham said she never felt all that different as a child until, you guessed it, middle school.

"I had a hard time because I was bullied a lot," Graham said.

But as she reached adulthood, Graham became ever more comfortable with her story and the two prosthetic feet she uses. Still, she never wants to call too much attention to them. Graham said she doesn't want to be known as the teacher with prosthetics. She wants to be simply known as a good teacher.

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Which is why a choice Graham made this summer was so out of character.

"Yea, it was a big deal for me to do that," Graham said.

As part of a science teacher camp at San Francisco's Exploratorium, there was a competition to build something out of nothing but packing materials.

What Graham built was a working, prosthetic leg which she then demonstrated on herself in front of a surprised and cheering audience.

She won the competition.

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"That was a big hurdle for me to get through emotionally," Graham said, "and have people respond in a positive way and not like, 'Oh, that's weird,' kind of way was reinforcing so I feel like I've grown even more."

Graham believes it was a transformative moment for her; no longer focusing on what's she's mission but rather what it can add.

"I can use it to educate kids and teach them about empathy and caring about another person who's different from you."

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<![CDATA[San Jose Artist With Cerebral Palsy Gets First Solo Exhibition]]>Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:17:11 -0800https://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[Palo Alto Nonprofit Helps Thousands Cope With Grief]]>Fri, 03 Nov 2017 19:48:45 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/kara+11.jpg

Grief can be a powerful and perplexing thing.

It is something we all share at some point in our lifetime, yet it is something we often have trouble sharing.

Which, when you are Jim Santucci, Executive Director of Kara, a grief counseling nonprofit, can present certain challenges.

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"Yeah, they run from it," Santucci said. "If you want to clear a room, you tell them what you do and say, 'We're the grief people."

It is just one reason why Kara's longevity and success are so noteworthy. For 40 years, Kara has provided a range of grief services; from peer-to-peer sessions with volunteers to a summer camp for children dealing with loss, to group trainings helping educators to work with their students.

The result is that in a field people don't like to talk about, people hear about Kara.

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"We've been serving over five thousand people per year for the last few years," Santucci said.

And it's not just the number of people who reach out for help, it's who they are. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, is one of the wealthiest and most influential women in the country. When her husband, Dave, died unexpectedly in 2015, Sandberg had the resources to seek out the best grief counseling help anywhere. She chose Kara, an organization that does not ask for a fee for its services.

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"When I lost my husband, Dave, I didn't know what to do and I certainly didn't know what to tell my children," Sandberg said. A friend let her know about Kara and she reached out to them. Sandberg has been a big supporter of Kara ever since.

"They are the best," Sandberg said. "What I realized working with Kara is I wasn't alone. So many other people have suffered these kinds of losses."

"Loss will happen to everyone," Santucci said. "It doesn't matter what social economic status.

While Kara does not require a fee, it does ask for donations. Santucci said that 90 percent of the people they work with give something to the organization.

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<![CDATA[CEO's Journey to Find Happiness Leads Him to Myanmar]]>Fri, 27 Oct 2017 11:52:50 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/glint+ceo+6.jpg

Over the past 20 years, Jim Barnett has run a variety of Silicon Valley ventures.

Still, no matter where Barnett has worked during that period, his day has started the exact same way.

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"Monday through Friday, I get up every morning and meditate from six to seven in the morning," Barnett said.

The practice, Barnett said, was one result of his years-long quest to find happiness; one that started years ago with Barnett learning where not to find it.

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"Early in my career, I worked for really successful people who were not happy at all," Barnett said. "I had this insight at a young age that happiness wasn't necessarily material success and promotions."

Barnett is now CEO of Glint, a platform that helps other organizations track and improve their employee engagement, with an eye toward helping their bottom line. The work, Barnett said, is among the most satisfying he has done in his entire career but he knew there was still more to his personal happiness mission.

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"I've realized over the years that people that live their lives in service of others are often just genuinely happier than other people," Barnett said.

Which is how Barnett and his wife, Anne, found themselves in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar.

Traveling that part of the world and looking for an opportunity to help others, the Barnetts found Partners Asia, an organization that works to improve the lives of vulnerable people in Myanmar. Together they founded a home for those living with HIV and AIDS.

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"AIDS, in particular, is a serious problem because not only is there not great health care but often those with HIV and AIDS are shunned by the community," Barnett said.

The facility they created houses 40 people with another building just added. The home helps pregnant women with HIV deliver healthy babies and works with others until they are healthy enough to re-enter society.

Barnett has witnessed numerous stories of lives saved and lives turned-around. It is further proof, Barnett believes, that thinking of others first can do wonders for oneself.

"To get to see the impact you can have on someone's life by being helpful is really satisfying."

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<![CDATA[Using Tech To Transform Lives Of Children With Disabilities]]>Fri, 06 Oct 2017 06:30:19 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/tech+resource+center+3.jpg

The Technology Resource Center of Marin opened its doors 17 years ago and while the tech landscape has changed a lot since then, the center's mission has not: unlocking the potential of children with disabilities. Garvin Thomas reports.

<![CDATA[Girl Scout's Speech Leads to $1.8M in Funding For Playground]]>Wed, 30 Aug 2017 15:57:40 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/girl+scout+playground+1.jpg

Like many other girl scouts, Esther Lucas has a lot of experience selling things to adults. She has ample evidence in the form of Girl Scout badges.

"These are for cookie sales," Esther said pulling out just two from a bag filled with dozens of badges.

Even with such an extensive track record, though, this Sunnyvale 18-year-old and Homestead High School graduate has even surprised herself with a sale she recently closed.

"I was like, 'That's a lot of money. Did I really do that?" Ester said.

The story all began when Esther was looking for a project to earn her Gold Award, the crowning achievement of a career in Girl Scouts.

"I want to do something where I can help people who don't have the same things as other people," Esther said.

The people Esther settled on helping were children living with disabilities. Esther had noticed that she never saw them playing at her local playgrounds, even ones supposedly accessible to those with disabilities.

Esther's research on the topic led her to Palo Alto's Magical Bridge Playground, a fully inclusive, wildly successful playspace.

Esther was convinced it was just what her city needed. All she had to do was convince city leaders of it.

So, one Tuesday evening last September, Esther put her name down to speak in front of the Sunnyvale City Council.

"Good evening Mr. Mayor and Honorable Council Members," Esther began. She then proceeded to use her two minutes of allotted time to make her case for transforming one of Sunnyvale's playgrounds into one that would be accessible to all its residents, regardless of disability.

"They said they liked my idea but they just can't go for it and they would have to think about," Esther said.

True to their word, the Council Members not only thought about it but proceeded to put Esther's idea into action. This past June they voted to allocate $1.8 to begin renovating the playground in Fair Oaks Park and turning it into Magical Bridge Sunnyvale.

"Esther was the spark," Jill Asher, co-Founder of the Magical Bridge Foundation said. "She's a remarkable young woman."

It is all, Esther admits, so much more than she had ever hoped for when she walked up to the microphone last September.

So much sweeter, we should add, than any box of cookies.

"It's been really cool and it's also been kind of eye opening what one small thing can do."

<![CDATA[Palo Alto 16-Year-Old Skater With Sights Set On Olympics Gets Help From Legendary Gold Medalist]]>Tue, 12 Sep 2017 21:35:29 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/vincent+zhou+4.jpg

Vincent Zhou says there has been a long line of people who have helped him pursue his "far-fetched" goal of an Olympic championship. The latest, though, is someone who really knows what it takes to get there. NBC Bay Area's Garvin Thomas sits down with Vincent Zhou to hear how Brian Boitano is helping him reach his dream. Garvin Thomas reports.

<![CDATA[South Bay Olympic Hopeful Leans On Legendary Gold Medalist For Advice, Support]]>Fri, 08 Sep 2017 11:58:38 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/karen+chen+7.jpg

As the reigning US Figure Skating Champion, expectations for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are sky high for Fremont's Karen Chen. If only there were someone she could turn to who knew just how to deal with that kind of pressure. Fortunately for Karen, there is.

<![CDATA[Pebble Beach Family Offers $10 Million Bounty For Rare Medicine To Save Son's Life]]>Thu, 24 Aug 2017 23:11:42 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cancer+a+gogo+update+2.jpg

Faced with the frightening news that their 17-year-old son's cancer has returned for a third time, a Pebble Beach family is making an eye-catching offer in order to try and save his life: a $10 million "bounty" for anyone who can make a rare cancer medicine available to them and others who may need it.

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"We are 100 percent serious," said Rider McDowell. As evidence of that point, McDowell and his wife, Victoria, said they have already placed the money in an escrow account.

The McDowell's son, Errol, had twice successfully beaten back diagnoses of Medulloblastoma. At the beginning of this year, his parents had felt they had left the nightmare behind them.

"I think we thought we were out of the woods," Victoria McDowell said. "We were just beginning to let go of the fear." Grateful for their good fortune, the McDowells even embarked on an ambitious fundraising effort, called Cancer-a-GoGo, that aimed to raise $350 million for cancer research.

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But then, in March, a routine MRI showed evidence of Errol's cancer returning, eventually being detected on his brain stem.

"I've been on the phone every minute since then," Rider McDowell said.

One of the things the McDowell's discovered is that there is a very promising treatment already in the pipeline. "Anti-CD47" is a compound identified by researchers at Stanford University which has been shown to be very effective against cancers similar to Errol's.

"I believe it could be of immense potential benefit in Errol's case," said Dr. Sam Cheshier, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford.

"Five grams of that and Errol can be cured," Rider McDowell added.

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The problem for the McDowell's is that anti-CD47 is not widely available. Approved for use in humans, four drug companies are in the process of conducting clinical trials on adults, but none for children like Errol.

The McDowells feel that waiting patiently for the drug to become available is not an option. "We'll go to the ends of the earth, whatever we can do to get this for our son," Rider McDowell said.

That is where the "bounty" comes in.

$10 million to anyone, domestically or internationally, who can legally provide anti-CD47.

The McDowells have been successful entrepreneurs over the years, most notably as the creators of the successful "Airborne" brand of immune supplements. They say they are simply parents doing anything they can to save their son's life. Their wealth is just another tool they have available to them in their quest.

If successful, the McDowells promise that Errol will not be the only child who will benefit. They plan to provide it to other families facing similar diagnoses.

"By being the first, we are paving the way for their kids to get the drug and we are prepared to subsidize the drug once we make it available," Rider McDowell said. He believes his $10 million could be enough to provide more than 1,000 doses of the medicine.

A medical ethicist, contacted by NBC Bay Area, said he sees no ethical issues with what the McDowells are proposing.

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<![CDATA['Mayor' Of The Tenderloin Helps Troubled Neighborhood]]>Wed, 02 Aug 2017 05:59:34 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mayor+of+tenderloin+6.jpg

In the middle of the intersection of Turk and Eddy Streets in the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. Right in the middle.

That is where 70-year-old Del Seymour hit rock bottom. It was 2009 and Seymour was in a fight over an unpaid drug debt.

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"I'm rolling around in the street with a guy 30 years younger than me and 150 pounds heavier," Seymour said. "I'm a granddaddy. I'm in my early sixties and I say, 'What the hell am I doing? What the hell am I doing?'"

It was, Seymour said, the last time he ever used drugs. It remained as vivid a memory to Seymour as the first time he ever used drugs close to 20 years earlier.

"I put a crack pipe in my mouth for 18 seconds and it took me 18 years to get it out," Seymour said.

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During those 18 years, Seymour was a fixture on the streets of the Tenderloin. In addition to his addiction, Seymour admits to selling drugs as well. His more than one dozen felony arrests during that time back up that claim.

But after the fight, Seymour began the long process of putting his life back together. His energy these days is spent helping others do the same. Seymour's dream is the improve life in the troubled Tenderloin but not by pushing current residents out. He wants to help them up.

It began with an offbeat idea: walking tours of the Tenderloin.

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Seymour began charging groups of outsiders to give them an insider's view of the neighborhood. It was during one of those tours that a young female drug dealer called out to Seymour.

"Del, what are you telling those white folks?" Seymour recalled her saying. "I hope you are telling them that we don't like doing this. What do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go?"

Seymour didn't have an answer then but he does now.

Seymour soon founded Code Tenderloin, a job training program for those who want to do what Seymour did. He says in the past few years they have placed dozens of Tenderloin residents in good-paying jobs.

In the process, Seymour, once infamous is now in demand in his neighborhood. The "Mayor" of the Tenderloin is what some call him.

It seems there is hardly an initiative to help the neighborhood's poor, homeless, a drug-addicted that doesn't seek out Seymour's support.

He says he still regrets all those years lost to drugs but what he's doing now isn't penance for that.

It's something better.

"When one of the deepest gang members walks through that door says, 'I got that job,' that’s not penance. That’s reward and I'll do that every day."

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<![CDATA[From Client To Coworker: CEO Hires Young Man With Autism He Treated 15 Years Ago]]>Thu, 08 Jun 2017 12:22:13 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/pete+and+jack+11.jpg

These are busy times at the Center for Social Dynamics.

Trainings for new staff, held in new offices, are signs of an ever-growing demand for the 5-year-old company's therapy and support services for children with autism and their families.

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For CEO Pete Pallares, it means a lot of time talking about and planning for his company's future. Not all that long ago, however, Pallares was reminded of his past.

"I recently moved and an old box came out of the basement," Pallares said.

Inside the box were pictures from 15 years ago, when Pallares was a therapist just beginning his career working with children with autism. Among the photos were a few of Pallares with one of his very first clients, a 3-year-old non-verbal boy named Jack Clark.

"Jack wasn't talking," Pallares said. "He had a lot of trouble interacting with other kids, adults."

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Pallares and Clark worked together successfully for a few years. Pallares even said that Clark spoke his first words when they were working together. Eventually, though, the pair parted ways. Pallares said as fond as he was of Clark, the ethics of his profession required him to make a clean break from the child and his family.

"It's one of the hardest parts of the job," Pallares said. "You work with someone two or three years then move on. It's a thick skin you have to build up."

As his career progressed, from therapist to supervisor to entrepreneur (and also head of the Pedro Pallares Autism Foundation), Pallares often thought about Clark and what had become of him. He wondered if the boy even remembered him and their time together.

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To his great surprise, and delight, Pallares recently got the chance to ask Clark.

His response?

"I thought about Pete in 2001 and 2002 and 2003," Clark said, proceeding to list every year up until the present one.

The reason for the reunion was that Clark's family had tracked down Pallares in order to reconnect and to thank him for the work he had done with Clark. They felt Pallares' therapy, along with work done by others in the following years, was the reason Clark had matured into a talkative, social, hard-working 18-year-old young man.

"15 years later he is a nice young adult with tremendous skills," Pallares said. "A charming guy."

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Pallares was so impressed with Clark that he offered him a job as his assistant at CSD. Clark now spends two days a week organizing, filing, and helping Pallares keep his personal calendar.

Pallares said it is wonderful to have his old friend around but it is also so much more. It's validation for his chosen line of work and evidence, not always seen by therapists, of the long-term benefits of their efforts.

"I did the best I could," Pallares said. "As a therapist, you always leave with that doubt, did I give everything? Could I have done something else?"

At least in Clark's case, Pallares no longer has to wonder. A journey from client to coworker seems proof enough.

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<![CDATA[Apple Engineer Converts Used Van Into Mobile Laundromat, Offers Free Loads to Homeless]]>Sat, 18 Mar 2017 17:47:25 -0800https://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[75 Years After His Death, a Fallen Officer is Honored]]>Fri, 02 Jun 2017 14:32:04 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/fallen+officer+honored+6.jpg

Most of the things 83-year-old June Amrhein of Half Moon Bay still has of her late father, Louis Phipps, fit neatly into a single bag.

His draft card. His police badge. A few old photographs.

Most, but not all.

There is one thing she wears proudly each and every day for all to see. "I inherited his smile," Amrhein said. "That's what everyone tells me that remembered him."

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Remembering her father, it turns out, has been something of an obsession for Amrhein for the past 30 years. Or, better said, making sure her father's memory is honored is what she has longed for decades.

Amrhein is the oldest of Phipps' five children. She was 9-years-old in 1942 when he died.

A year earlier, the start of the United States' involvement in World War II, many young men in Amrhein's hometown of Ashland, Massachusetts went off to fight. That left many vacancies in the town's police and fire departments. Phipps left his job at a local clockmaker to join the police force.

In June of 1942, he was assaulted by a drunk patron at a bar in town. He died a few days later of his injuries.

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"I just couldn't believe it," Amrhein said. "This was my hero. How could he be dead?"

For a number of reasons, not all of which Amrhein understands to this day, Phipps was never honored as a police officer who had died in the line of duty.

It was something that always bugged her, but didn't come completely to the surface until the 1980s when another fallen officer's picture when up on the wall at Ashland's police headquarters. "I said, 'Why isn't my father up there?' That's when the wheels started to work for me."

For years, Amrhein would talk to whomever she could contact in town government and the police department but was never able to convince anyone to take her cause seriously.

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"I didn't have any records. I didn't have any evidence," Amrhein said.

But then, while cleaning out her mother's belongings after her death, Amrhein uncovered an old document that, in great detail, described the circumstances of her father's death.

Not long after, she also found a sympathetic ear on the department: Sgt. Greg Fawkes.

Once Fawkes, a police union representative, heard Amrhein's story, he got to work. "He told me this shouldn't be a problem," Amrhein said. Turns out, he was right.

Within just a few months, Amrhein got the world that her father's name was being added to the Fallen Officers National Memorial in Washington, DC. "I just sat down and cried. I couldn't believe it," Amrhein said.

All she had to do then, was find a way to get to the airport, to fly to the dedication last month. That proved to be no problem as well.

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"It was a no-brainer," said Sgt. Leo Capovilla of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department. Knowing that Amrhein was having difficulty finding a ride to the airport, Fawkes had called his counterparts in the Bay Area. Capovilla quickly arranged rides to and from the airport as well as personal escorts through security, all the way to the gate.

"This was a fellow officer who gave his life," Capovilla said. "I didn't have to think twice."

Amrhein says the ceremony in Washington was everything she knew it would be. Though she never knew just how this honor would happen, and couldn't have guessed the unexpected turns her journey would take, she always knew it would happen. There just wasn't another option.

"I was never going to give up. No. It had to happen."

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<![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 21:59:50 -0800https://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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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[San Jose Earthquakes Player Gives Las Vegas Taxi Driver Life-Changing Tip]]>Fri, 03 Feb 2017 16:24:04 -0800https://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["It's Like Life-Saving Come Full Circle": Oakland Women Share Their Unique Dog Rescue Tale]]>Thu, 17 Aug 2017 22:25:19 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/clear+the+shelters+41.jpg

A year ago, Michelle Dunn and Susan Reale didn't even know each other. Now, they are bonded for life. In a couple of ways.

<![CDATA[North Bay Reporter Dedicated To Solving 22-Year-Old Case Of Missing News Anchor]]>Fri, 12 May 2017 11:34:43 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/find+jodi+4.jpg

There are many ways to measure time. For short periods, clocks work just fine. For longer stretches, there are calendars.

When it comes to measuring how long Jodi Huisentruit has been missing, Caroline Lowe uses thumb tack holes. There are dozens of them in the picture of Huisentruit that Lowe keeps on her desk.

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"Each hole represents a different time, different place, I have posted this," Lowe says. 

The picture was with her for much of her 34-year career as a television news reporter in Minnesota. It also accompanied her for the past six years working as a news manager at a station on California's Central Coast. Most recently, it sits beside her computer in her home office in Petaluma.

"Too many holes, too many," Lowe said.

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Jodi Huisentruit was the early morning news anchor at KIMT in Mason City, Iowa. On June 27, 1995, she left her apartment for work but never arrived and has never been seen since.

At the time of Huisentruit's disappearance, Lowe was working the police and crime beat for WCCO-TV, the CBS television station in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Lowe didn't start covering Huistentruit's story until two years after her disappearance when a serial rapist Lowe had been investigating turned out to have lived just a couple of blocks from Huisentruit.

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That lead did not prove to be a break in the case, but Lowe has not stopped investigating Huisentruit's disappearance in the more than two decades since. Lowe says after getting to know Huisentruit's relatives, it was something she felt she needed to do.

"Once I met her sister and met her family you feel a connection that you can't walk away from," Lowe said. "I just stayed with it over the years did follow up stories."

Even now, that Lowe is no longer working full-time as a reporter, she continues to investigate the case. Working with a team of other investigators, Lowe continues to make calls, follow leads, and revisit timelines of Huisentruit's activities before her disappearance.

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FindJodi.com is the website the group maintains to publicize their work and keep Huisentruit's name, face, and story in the news.

Asked why she still pursues this case with such passion, Lowe says it is something that stems from her years covering crime in the Twin Cities. Long after a story no longer made headlines, Lowe knew the victims and their families still dealt with the trauma. If she could do something that could ease their suffering, it needed to be done.

"You get attached to them and you identify with them and you hope somebody would do it for your family," Lowe said.

There is also another aspect of this story that speaks to Lowe: the possibility, had things turned out differently, she and Huisentruit might one day have crossed paths.

"Jodi was a Minnesota gal who had a dream of going to the Twin Cities someday where I worked. We very possibly would have worked together if things had taken a different turn."

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<![CDATA[Prepping For PyeongChang: With Winter Games Just 6 Months Away, Northern California Athletes Sharpen Focus]]>Wed, 09 Aug 2017 10:43:49 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/travis+bryce+5.jpg

At the entrance to the Squaw Valley ski resort, there is a flame that burns. It commemorates the year 1960 when the resort was host to the Winter Olympic Games.

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It is, however, not the only flame burning on these grounds.

The others reside in a handful of world class athletes with their sights set on competing in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

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Travis Ganong grew up skiing at Squaw and is a member of the US Alpine Ski Team. Downhill racing is his specialty. Ganong came in fifth place at the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, finishing less than half-a-second behind the gold medal winner.

The hundreds of hours spent training during the summer are all meant to shave hundredths-of-a-second come winter.

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"Putting in the hours in the gym and on the trails is so that when winter comes you can just focus on going fast," Ganong said.

It is a strategy that Ganong's teammate, Bryce Bennett, takes to heart. If he races his way onto the onto the team for PyeongChang, it will be his first Olympic experience.

Just the thought of it is enough to push him to run up another hill during his training on the mountain.

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"For any Olympic sports athlete, that's the dream," Bennett said.

Within a matter of days, both Ganong and Bennett will be leaving the comfort of their homes in Northern California to train in the mountains of Chile. Come November and the start of the World Cup season both will begin testing themselves against the world's best and will learn just how good their training has been.

Their final exam, coming in February.

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<![CDATA[Organizer Comes Up Big In San Jose's Time Of Need, Delivers Thousands Of Volunteers During Disaster]]>Tue, 25 Jul 2017 21:04:51 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/coyote+creek+volunteer+3.jpg

Deb Kramer believes in the power of the humble list.

Over the past 3 years, organizing cleanups for her non-profit, Keep Coyote Creek Beautiful, Kramer has relied heavily on lists: checklists to make sure she has the equipment she needs, email lists to make sure she has the volunteers to do the job.

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So, Kramer knows the power of lists to get her day job done. But she had no idea what they could mean in a disaster. Until that is, there was one.

"When I saw it, I knew it was really bad," Kramer said.

On February 21, Coyote Creek overflowed its banks, flooding homes, neighborhoods and parks. The following day, Kramer went down to the creek she knows so well to survey the damage. She was shocked by the extent of flooding and damage she saw.

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"That was when I called the mayor's office and said, 'Hey, Paul. I'm here, let me know if you need any help,'" Kramer said.

"Paul" is Paul Pereira, a member of San Jose Mayor Sam Licardo's staff. He had worked with Kramer in the past and knew she could be helpful. He was surprised, though, how helpful she could really be.

"We are beyond grateful," Pereira said. "I don't think I can thank her enough."

Within a matter of days, Kramer provided the city with a checklist of equipment she would need and then she tapped her email list of willing volunteers.

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"In terms of the volunteers, over the course of 4 days we got about 1,200 volunteers just to go to three neighborhoods," Kramer said. Over the next three days, another 800 turned out. 2,000 volunteers in just 7 days.

The volunteers were sent into homes to clean out debris and into the creek to clean out accumulated garbage. Grateful homeowners were not only grateful for the help, but some even pitched in to help others once their homes were cleaned.

Kramer is quick to deflect praise for her work and point instead to the cooperation of the volunteers. Her role, she says, is simply as an organizer and coordinator.

Others however are more generous, believing that, on a list of people the city has to thank, Kramer should be right near the top.

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<![CDATA[Peninsula Chef Celebrates Impressive Milestone In Mission To Transform Young Lives]]>Fri, 11 Aug 2017 10:23:13 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/el+cajon+1.jpg

In some ways, it was destined that Erickson Valentine would one day work in a restaurant. Just ask him about memories from his early childhood in Haiti and the first two things he mentions are food.

"Bananas. Lots of bananas. And hard boiled eggs," Valentine said.

But the, he adds a third.

"And the orphanage."

Valentine came to the United States at the age of 7 when he was adopted by a family in Palo Alto. While confused at first by what was happening, Valentine says he quickly realized that his life had changed for the better.

Still, trauma he had suffered during those early years means that now, at age 18, Valentine still lives with learning disabilities and developmental delays. They are the kinds of challenges that might make it hard to land a job at a high-end restaurant like The Sea in Palo Alto.

Fortunately, though, Valentine has someone special on this side. And he's not the only one she's helped.

"Hundreds," said Betty Ewing.

Ewing was once the owner of a string of successful Bay Area restaurants. Then, one day, she had an idea. Ewing asked a nearby high school to send over students who were struggling, either with poor grades or bad behavior, and she put them to work in her kitchen.

One by one, Ewing watched them transform.

"Getting from a very slumped-over, immature, uncooperative to someone who will walk right up and shake your hand," Ewing said.

It worked so well, Ewing turned the idea into her own nonprofit, the El Cajon Project, and has been seeing it do wonders for the 25 years now.

"If it hadn't had such success, I wouldn't still be doing it," Ewing said.

And it is not just a success for the students.

At restaurants like The Sea, the El Cajon-placed employees end up being some of the best employees.

"They are always following instructions," The Sea Executive Chef Yu Min Lin said. "To be honest with you they never come late, they always come early."

And that makes is a recipe worth sharing.

"If I didn't get in the program, I wouldn't be here learning these skills," Valentine said. "It's only going to get better from here."

<![CDATA[From High Tech To High Need: Berkeley Grad's Startup Diverts Close To One Million Pounds Of Excess Food From Companies To Shelters]]>Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:30:42 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/replate+4.jpg

Years from now, when Maen Mahfoud is asked exactly where his success as an entrepreneur began, he will likely point to his used silver Volkswagen Passat: his well-worn wagon with the distinctive odor.

"You don't even need to get in. You can smell it from here," Mahfoud said standing feet away from the open tailgate.

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"It smells so bad because every gourmet cuisine you want has spilled in that car," Mahfoud said.

To understand how that happened, one must first know a bit about Mahfoud's background.

Born in Syria and raised in Kuwait, Mahfoud came to the United States to study medicine at UC Berkeley. Expecting to find a rich country where all were doing well, Mahfoud was surprised by what he encountered on the streets.

"There are people in need. There are people in the streets very much similar to where I was in Syria and Kuwait," Mahfoud said.

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Seeing hungry people, sometimes mere feet from where good food was being thrown away, it seemed silly to Mahfoud not to do something. "It was like, this is fixable," Mahfoud said. "We need to start something."

What he started was Re-Plate.

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A technology company at its core, Re-Plate has developed an app through which companies (mostly tech ones so far) can alert Re-Plate when they have food leftover from meetings or company provided meals. A driver is dispatched to safely collect the often gourmet meals and deliver them to willing shelters or pantries, or sometimes even provides them directly to those living on the streets.

At first, it was just Mahfoud in that Volkswagen but in less than two years Re-Pate has distributed close to one million pounds of food and is continuing to grow.

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"We now have about 30 drivers in the SF Bay Area. We have about five drivers in New York and we have two in LA," Mahfoud said.

Mahfoud says one of the secrets of Re-Plate's success is that they are communicating with technology companies using technology. "We speak their language," Mahfoud says. Companies can not only communicate with Re-Plate through their app, they can monitor a "dashboard" to know exactly how much food waste they have recovered.

The other secret, Mahfoud says, is something more ephemeral. While food is what his drivers are carrying, Mafoud believes empathy is what they are delivering.

And no one ever wants to see that go to waste.

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<![CDATA[The Show Goes On: Cast, Crew At South Bay School Rally To Stage Production After Sudden Death Of Beloved Director]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 10:42:19 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/swift+justice+2.jpg

When Maren Lane calls the theater her home, she doesn't just mean it's a place she feels comfortable.

What Lane also means is the old theater at San Jose's Bellarmine College Prep is where she spent a good chunk of her childhood. It's where, Lane said, she needed to be if she wanted to spend time with her father, Tom Alessandri.

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"He was there all the time," Lane says. "He would include me and that felt great because I could be part of his world, which became my world."

Tom Alessandri, or "T.A" as his students called him, lead the theater program at Bellarmine for more than 30 years. He directed multiple shows a year on top of a full class schedule teaching English.

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To say he was beloved, would be to undersell his role in life at the school. "He was in a lot of ways the blood that passed through this school," Lane said.

Lane began helping her dad behind the scenes on productions before she was even in high school herself. As she got older, Lane was the technical director on many of Alessandri's shows. That included his latest: Swift Justice, the re-telling of a dark tale from San Jose's past, the lynching of two kidnapping and murder suspects in St. James Park in the 1930s.

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They worked on it together, that is, until Alessandri died just two weeks before rehearsals were set to start. He was 65-years-old.

"Definitely sudden," Lane said, "which was the hard part."

Lane knew she still wanted to continue with the production but couldn't replace her father's duties all by herself. So, she turned to the cast and crew and asked for their help.

"They all said yes," Lane said. "I needed this. It was the last thing I had with him and I kind of needed it to still happen."

Brendan McCall is a former student of Alessandri's who knew him for 30 years.

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Now a theater professional himself, McCall added the task of directing Swift Justice in addition to acting in it. He worked directly from notes on blocking and stage direction Alessandri had written into his copy of the script.

"When people we care about suddenly leave us, I wonder, did they do everything they wanted to do in this life? Is there unfinished business," McCall said. "In this case, there is a concrete thing T.A. wanted to do. He wanted to do this show."

And so, for four nights this month, that is just what they did. They put on not just a performance but a show.

A show of respect for a mentor and friend.

And a show of support for those he left behind.

"I can't thank them all enough," Lane said. "I literally could not have done it without them."

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<![CDATA[Berkeley Teens Get Creative, With Marshmallows, To Help Young Orphan Half A World Away]]>Fri, 07 Jul 2017 12:24:11 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/marshmallow+fundraiser+4.jpg

Perfection over punctuality.

That, it would appear, is Ollie Krause's motto.

How else to explain the reason the Berkeley 14-year-old's birthday party is coming six months after his fourteenth birthday.

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"6 months isn't very quick, but when you think about what we've done," Krause explained.

What Krause, his sister Mei Mei, and friend Andrew have "done" over that time is built twenty computer-designed, 3D-printed, compressed air-powered, semi- (of fully) automatic marshmallow launchers.

It was all so, a few weeks ago, Ollie and his friends could celebrate his very belated birthday with an elaborate game of capture the flag.

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"I mean, who doesn't want to shoot their friends with marshmallows? It's pretty great," Krause said.

What is truly great, however, is that the one young person who will get the most out of the event wasn't even there.

His name is Frank and he lives 9,000 miles away in Uganda. "We're going to focus a good amount of money to Frank."

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The Krause siblings learned about Frank from their 80-year-old neighbor, Judi Haven Gentry. 7 years ago Haven Gentry started her own small non-profit, The Help Uganda Kids Project, and ever since learning about it, Ollie and Mei Mei have been getting creative about ways to help raise money.

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Which is why, in lieu of presents, Ollie is asking guests at his marshmallow "war" to make a donation so he and his sister can pay Frank's way to a boarding school.

It is something that will mean a lot to a young man half-way around the world as well as a woman two doors down.

"Yes," Haven Gentry said," it does. It touches me."

"It's really nice to get his thank you notes to know that we actually made a difference in his life," Mei Mei said.

Which, Ollie believes, is way more important than a birthday party anywhere near his birthday.

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<![CDATA[Pleasanton 12-Year-Old Uses Heimlich To Save Little Brother's Life, Inspires Others To Learn Life-Saving Techniques]]>Sat, 24 Jun 2017 04:27:31 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/heimlich+save+1.jpg

((Editor's note: After this story aired, we heard from Peter Heimlich, son of Dr. Henry Heimlich (after whom the "Heimlich maneuver" is named). Peter Heimlich says, based on the position of Rylie Palfalvi's hands, she technically performed "chest thrusts" on Max and not the "Heimlich maneuver" which are abdominal thrusts.))

Of all the things a young person can learn in an advanced life-saving class, there is one part of the process they can never truly comprehend: just how scary it is if you have to do any of it for real.

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At a recent class in San Ramon, however, there was at least one person in attendance who knows exactly how scary it can be.

"Very," said 12-year-old Rylie Palfalvi. "Scariest thing I have witnessed in my life."

One day in May, Rylie was in charge of watching her younger brother, Max, for a few minutes until her mother, Kristy, returned from work. Max was eating popcorn at the time and began choking.

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"She starts hitting him on the back and it's still not helping," Kristy Palfalvi said. "I think it dawned on her, 'I am the help. There is nobody else who can help him but me.'"

Rylie put her arms around Max and performed the Heimlich Maneuver. It worked.

"She saved our whole family that day," Kristy said.

How did Rylie know what to do? He mother, a registered nurse taught her.

"We talk about that here. We talked about things like that, what could happen?" Kristy said.

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Kristy said the training sessions were never formal, just a few minutes of showing Rylie and her older brother what to do in case they encountered someone needing help.

If it worked so well with Rylie, Kristy thought, then why not with others?

She contacted Heart Start CPR in San Ramon and the company offered to do a training for free. More than a dozen of Rylie's peers signed up to take part.

Kristy hopes this class is just the first of many. She believes no one is too young to begin to learn how to save a life and has a daughter, and a son, to prove it.

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<![CDATA[After Trying Winter, Highway 17 Commuters Throw "Thank You" Party for Road Crews]]>Wed, 14 Jun 2017 10:52:50 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/gratitude+picnic+41.jpg

Erin Buchla is one of those people who's beeing doing the same commute for so long, her daily routine is one she measures not in miles, but years.

"18," Buchla said. "Long time."

That's 18 years commuting from Santa Cruz to the South Bay and back again. Each trip, braving the twists and turns of perhaps the Bay Area's most notorious highway: 17. It's a route up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains that, this past winter, managed to exceed even its outsized reputaion.

"This year has been the worst, by far," Buchla said.

Mudslides. Fallen trees. Hundreds of accidents. Some incidents forced the closure of portions of the highway for days, many others back up traffic for hours.

"I think I was pretty much stuck every time it was a long, long time," Buchla said. "A few hours just sitting in the car."

It would have been enough to frustrate even the most patient of drivers. But not Buchla. For, if there is such a thing as the opposite of road rage, that is what was growing in her.

Buchla said it began while sitting in traffic, watching emergency and road crews fighting against nature to keep the road open and safe.

"It's pouring rain and they are all there all night," Buchla said. "I thought, wow, I wish I could say thank you to those guys but it's certainly not safe to get out of your car and actually do that."

So, Buchla wondered, what could she do?

Throw them a party is the answer she came up with.

This past Sunday at Sky Park in Scotts Valley, Buchla and a team of fellow commuters welcomed anyone who had a role in keeping traffic moving on Highway 17 to take off their reflective vests and pick up a plate. Or a beer. Or get a massage. All for free.

Dozens took her up on her gracious offer.

"It's magnificent," Gordon Saunders of Granite Construction said. He and his wife drove an hour and a half from Hollister to take part in the event. "If they are going to go to all the effort to put this on, I wanted to be a part of it."

"I want them to feel this community appreciates what they do," Buchla said.

If that was ultimately the message Buchla wanted to send, it, like so many of her fellow drivers this past winter, safely reached its destination.

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<![CDATA[Antioch Officer Does More Than Return Disabled Girl's Stolen Tricycle, He Restores Her Faith In Police]]>Fri, 26 May 2017 11:31:05 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/stolen+trike+11.jpg

Riding along the sidewalk outside her Antioch home, 12-year-old Charlotte Luther wears a smile familiar to anyone who has ever watched a kid enjoy the freedom that comes from riding on two wheels.

The only thing different about Luther's smile, though, is that she requires three wheels to make it happen.

Earlier this year, Luther's family raised $4,000 to buy her a specially equipped, adult-sized tricycle for her to ride. Luther has dealt with many physical and emotional challenges in her short life: she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, determined to be on the autism spectrum, and even had to battle a brain tumor just last year.

It has all left Charlotte with issues and balance and strength that make riding a traditional, two-wheeled bicycle difficult. So, getting the tricycle was a huge treat for her.

"This is great because now she can be independent," her father, Adam Luther, said. "She can ride with her neighborhood friends and go on bike rides with them."

It was all great, until it was gone.

One morning early in May, the Luther family was alerted to trouble by the barking of their dog. Adam Luther got to the window in time to see his wife's bicycle being wheeled away from their enclosed front patio. Charlotte's tricycle was also gone.

"I was heartbroken," Charlotte said, "because that bike meant so much to me."

Fortunately for the Luther's, Antioch Police Officer Dan Fachner was determined to get the tricycle back to Charlotte. Upon responding to the Luthers' report of a burglary, Fachner understood, not just how much the tricycle meant to Charlotte, but that finding the money to replace it would difficult for the family.

"It kind of tears at your heart, a case like this," Fachner said.

Fachner began his very next shift cruising the streets of Antioch, focused on finding the tricycle. He began asking around at nearby strip malls and a woman told him she had seen a tricycle fitting the description roughly a mile from the Luthers' home.

Fachner drove to the spot, spotted a man on the tricycle, and ordered him to stop. The man was taken into custody, and the tricycle was returned to Charlotte, less than 24 hours after it had been stolen.

"I figured if we didn't find it in a day or so and somebody found out what it was worth, it was probably going to be gone," Fachner said.

"Pretty amazing," said Charlotte's mother, Cate Luther. "He really cared."

Returning the bike was a good deed, but what Fachner didn't know at the time is that it wasn't the only one he had done. Perhaps not even the most important.

Before getting aspects of her bipolar disorder under control, Charlotte had experienced episodes that had required police officers to come to the Luther home. "When she was about 8 or 9," Cate Luther said, "she had several encounters that weren't favorable and so she has this dislike of police officers and sees them in a negative light."

That, however, has now changed Charlotte said. Thanks to Fachner.

"It's pretty special to hear someone say that," Fachner said.

Earlier this week, Charlotte and Cate went to the Antioch Police headquarters to present a box of donuts as a gift to Fachner and say thanks to him in person.

Charlotte even felt comfortable enough to put her arm around him for a picture. "She's now seeing police officers can be good people as well," Cate Luther said.

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<![CDATA[6-Year-Old 'Dog Whisperer' in Morgan Hill]]>Mon, 09 Jan 2017 09:14:57 -0800https://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[Long-Time Member Of Giants' Broadcast Crew Turns Life-Threatening Diagnosis Into Help For Thousands Of Cancer Patients]]>Thu, 18 May 2017 22:08:11 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/strike+out+fear+5.jpg

How good has David Benzer's view of the past 39 years of San Francisco Giants baseball been?

So good, the folks with front row seats sit one row behind Benzer.

Benzer is a long-time member of the crew that broadcasts Giants games on TV. You will regularly find him operating the large, field-level television camera just to the home plate side of the visitors' dugout.

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"One step over that white line and I'd be in the game," Benzer said.

Such close proximity not only allowed Benzer an unobstructed view of baseball history but afforded him the chance to get to know the ballplayers personally. Member of the Giants, as well as a rotating cast of visiting players, became his friends.

The combination proved intoxicating, Benzer admitted, and his identity became so wrapped up in what he did for a living the two became inexorably intertwined.

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"It was my art and my passion," Benzer said.

The pinnacle of all of it had to be the fall of 2010: the Giant's first World Series championship in more than 40 years.

Which was quickly followed by the nadir.

Just 24 hours after the Giants victory parade that year, Benzer feeling ill, visited his doctor. With just a single look down Benzer's throat, a diagnosis was made.

"You got State IV cancer: throat, tongue, and lymph nodes," Benzer recalled the doctor telling him. Benzer asked if any tests were needed. The doctor said no. "I see it everywhere," Benzer said the doctor told him.

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What followed were months of chemotherapy and radiation. It was absolutely brutal, Benzer said. "Because they take you right down to death and bring you back."

Benzer said, at his lowest point, he made a promise to God: "If you gave me a second chance I'd make a difference."

He did and Benzer lived up to his end of the bargain.

In 2011, Benzer started the Strike Out Fear Foundation. The main thrust of the non-profit is to remodel hospital waiting areas, adding large screen tv's, DVD players, and music systems. Benzer's goal is to create comfortable spaces where patients can relax and let go of some of the fear they carry with them.

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Benzer says his experience taught him that the fear that came with a cancer diagnosis was almost as bad as the disease itself. "The fear really effects the cancer. She works together with that. She's almost fuel to it," Benzer said.

The foundation's work has since touched the lives of close to 50,000 cancer patients and more than 400,000 patient visits.

Benzer is happy to be visiting those places now, not as someone looking for help, but someone giving it.

"I'm really good at this. This is my mission in life," Benzer said.

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<![CDATA[San Mateo Author On 6 Year Journey Sharing Untold Story Of Heroism During The Holocaust]]>Thu, 04 May 2017 22:21:30 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/two+among+the+righteous+few+2.jpg

When you take a look at Marty Brounstein's body of work as an author, something immediately stands out: one of his books is not like the others.

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The long-time San Mateo management consultant has authored many books in that field, most notably a number in the "For Dummies" series.

Brounstein's latest book, however, is a world away from that, and very close to his heart.

"It's the most difficult thing I have ever done," Brounstein said "It's also the most important."

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"Two Among The Righteous Few, A Story Of Courage In The Holocaust," tells the tale of Frans and Mien Wijnakker, a Dutch couple who saved the lives of more than two dozen Jews during the Second World War by sheltering them and hiding them from the Nazis.

One of those who was saved as a baby was Leah Baars, Brounstein's wife.

Brounstein says the idea to write the book began with a trip in 2009 to the Netherlands with Baars.

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"This is a story I stumbled into by accident, not by design," Brounstein said.

Brounstein and Baars visit the Wijnakkers home and met their children still living in the area. It was then that one of them showed Brounstein a picture of a plaque honoring the Wijnakkers at Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Israel.

"I knew what that meant," Brounstein said. "You don't get that for just showing up. Something heroic happened here."

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Using an account written years before and doing more research, Brounstein spent the next two years researching and writing the book.

Since then, Brounstein and Baars have held more than 500 events at schools, houses of worship, civic organizations, and even private companies sharing the story.

Brounstein says the overwhelming and emotional response they get from audiences is what keeps them going.

"My journey in sharing this story is six years complete. The seventh year already booked. Who'd expect that?"

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<![CDATA[Berkeley Architect Fights Religious Oppression]]>Thu, 27 Apr 2017 22:00:27 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bahai+institute+4.jpg

It is late on a Wednesday evening and in Niknaz Aftahi's second-floor Richmond apartment an underground class is just about to start.

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"Has anyone new joined?" asked Aftahi, looking at the video conferencing site where her students are gathering.

Aftahi is preparing to teach English for Architecture to a handful of students logged in from her native Iran. It is, for Aftahi, a chance to give something back to people who had given her so much.

"I want to give back to this Institute that gave me the privilege of becoming educated," Aftahi said.

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Aftahi is referring to the Baha'i Institute For Higher Education or BIHE. Formed 30 years ago, the BIHE is an underground university in Iran educating members of the Baha'i faith. The Baha'i, Aftahi says, are being systematically oppressed by the religious government of Iran. One way in which that happens is making it difficult, if not impossible, for young Baha'i to pursue higher education.

Which is where BIHE comes in.

The BIHE has no campus or buildings. Professors meet their students in the kitchens, living rooms, and basements of sympathetic homeowners. It is not without risk, though. The government has, at times, raided homes and jailed professors.

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Aftahi graduated from BIHE in 2010.

"Teaching at BIHE in Iran means any day you can go to prison, so they put their lives (one the) line," Aftahi said. "I always see that as a big sacrifice and the did that for me."

After graduating BIHE, Aftahi moved to the United States and was accepted to study for a Master's Degree in Architecture from U.C. Berkeley.

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Now established as a working architect for a firm in Berkeley, Aftahi dedicates her early mornings and late evenings to her students in Iran. It is risky for them even to take her class.

Aftahzi also realizes that, until government attitude toward the Baha'i changes, she will not feel safe traveling back to Iran to see her family. A nephew of hers died last year but she didn't return for the funeral.

"That was hard," Aftahi said. "Very difficult but it was my choice. And I made that choice."

Aftahi hopes that by shedding light on a school that operates in the shadows pressure will build on the government of Iran to change its position.

Until then, she will keep teaching long distance, hoping for big change.

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<![CDATA[San Jose Elementary School Students Raise Thousands To Support Classmates, Community Hit By Flooding]]>Tue, 04 Apr 2017 22:13:32 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/hacienda+flood+fundraiser+2.jpg

Estimating. It's one of the math skills Jessica Friedman expects her fourth-grade students at San Jose's Hacienda Elementary to master by the time they leave her classroom.

This past month, however, it's seems Friedman is the one who needed brushing up on the topic because she clearly under-estimated her students.

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"The surprised me," Friedman said, "in the best possible way."

The whole episode began with two students in particular: Roma Smith and Jenna Kang. Both girls live near Coyote Creek and both their homes were damaged by the flooding that occurred there in February.

"Right now, I'm living at my Grandma and Grandpa's house," Smith explained.

At Frieman's suggestion, both of the girls made a presentation about the flood to the school's student council. They share stories and pictures of their experience and suggested a flood fundraiser to help their community.

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"We did it for our neighbors," Kang said, "because they needed a lot of help."

The council agreed and a school-wide goal was set: $5,000.

"I remember when they said 5,000, I wanted them to pick something much more achievable," Friedman said.

Still, when spread out among all the school's grades and classes, Friedman's students would only have to raise a little more than $200 to do their part.

"We thought, oh my God, if we raise that much we're going to be awesome," Smith recalled. "Now, I don't know what happened."

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What happened is Smith and Kang's classmates continued to raise more and more money. The single sheet of paper on which they had drawn a thermometer to measure their success has been added on to six more times.

Some students raided their savings accounts, others gave their Tooth Fairy money, and many gave more than one time, By the end of March, Friedman's class had raised more than $2,000, close to half of the entire schools' goal.

Smith and Kang's classmates admit, they started the fundraiser looking to help their friends but the more and more they learned about the scope of the disaster, the more they wanted to help everyone affected.

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"They see neighbors in need, they see classmates in need, they just want to be a part of the solution," Friedman said.

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<![CDATA[East Bay Man Shows Dedication To Rescue Non Profit By Walking Around Lake Merritt For 24 Hours Straight. In A Catsuit.]]>Tue, 30 May 2017 21:37:58 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/cat+town+lake+merritt+walk+2.jpg

No matter how you may have spent your Memorial Day weekend, it's a sure bet it was nothing like what Jay Ruiz did to support Cat Town, the Oakland-based cat rescue organization. https://www.crowdrise.com/cat-town-savingpets

<![CDATA[ US, Chinese Olympic Hopefuls Train At Squaw, Eyes On 2018 Games]]>Tue, 27 Jun 2017 09:56:46 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/usa+oly+training+31.jpg

If you ever find yourself sharing a chairlift with K.C. Oakley and you happen to ask her where she's from, she will likely give you the following answer: "Piedmont. I grew up in Piedmont.

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If you ask, however, where home is, you might get a different answer: the slopes of Squaw Valley. "I grew up skiing here with my dad, so all my memories are here," Oakley said.

It is why, Oakley said, these two weeks in May are so special to her. She has been invited, along with the other best American mogul skiers, to train alongside the Chinese national team on three specially designed runs at the top of Squaw.

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"It's so fun to be here because I'm running into all these people who've been a part of my ski career, this long path, it's like they are all family at this point," Oakley said.

Oakley, like many of the other top skiers here, has her sights set on competing for the US Olympic team for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Oakley came close to making the squad in 2014 but, at 29-years-old, said this will be her last attempt.

That is why the next few months will be so critical for Oakley.

Jonny Moseley agrees.

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Moseley, an Olympic gold medalist, television commentator, and Squaw Valley ambassador helped organize the joint training session with the Chinese. He said he has been happy to share his number one piece of advice with the Olympic hopefuls skiing the mountain this month. 

"When you look back you want to know that you left it all on the table, you know that you spent every hour you could training to try to win so that was my main piece of advice to them," Moseley said.

While China has not been considered a traditional winter sports juggernaut, that image may soon change. The country won the bid to host the 2022 Winter Games and wants to make sure it has a good showing on its home snow.

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<![CDATA[ Fashion Students Work With Disabled To Create Garments Designed To Better Their Lives]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 11:38:43 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/designs+for+disabled+1.jpg

Connie Ulasewicz's life has been fashioned around fashion for quite some time.

There was a first a career in garment manufacturing followed by more than 20 years teaching at San Francisco State University. Ulasewicz is currently the Chair of the Consumer & Family Studies/Dietetics Department which includes Apparel Design and Merchandising students.

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What it all means is that Ulasewicz has been a part of many, many runway shows. Still, Ulaseqicz says, she had never been a part of one like the show she hosted this past weekend.

"I'm surprised it hasn't happened before," Ulasewicz said, "but we're going to do it!"

For the past few months, fashion design students at SFSU have been creating specialized garments, not just with form in mind, but with a function: help make one disabled person's life a little bit better.

"It has reinforced what garments and fashion are to me because to me the purpose of clothing is to enhance our well being on the earth," Ulasewicz said.

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Ulasewicz said the idea for the project originally came from Phyllis Wong, wife of SFSU President Leslie Wong. The department reached out for volunteers from among SFSU's students and staff with disabilities, then paired the willing models with two design students. The students' task was to work with their model to create a garment that, in some way, improved their life.

School administrator Gene Chelberg was paired with students Erin Fuller and Kinsey Thomas.

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Chelberg is known around SFSU, not just for his seeing-eye dog who helps him navigate around campus, but for his sense of style. He is rarely seeing without a suit, tie, and suspenders. The appropriate outerwear for such an outfit would be an overcoat, but therein lies his problem.

Overcoats don't normally come with hoods and, as a blind man with a service dog, Chelberg is unable to use an umbrella when it rains. "When you work with a seeing eye dog, they are trained to avoid overhangs and overhead obstacles," Chelberg said. "So, if you walk around with an umbrella you are going to defeat that training."

So Fuller and Thomas designed a practical, waterproof, stylish hood to match Chelberg's favorite overcoat.

"They did an amazing job," Chelberg said.

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Chelberg then showed off the finished product at the universities annual fashion show.

His was just one of ten collaborations that were featured on the runway that evening.

There was a skirt created from a material designed not to ride up for a woman in a wheelchair, a pair of shots tailored specifically for a young man with one leg, and a snug-fitting, stretchable jacket for a veteran with PTSD. Being able to put his hands into the pockets and rub and press his hands again the material, he said, helps him relax during times of stress.

Ulasewicz says the collaboration has been a wonderful experience for not just the models with disabilities, but her students as well. The future fashion designers agree. They say the project has infused in them a desire to always weave a little good in all the work they do.

"We're trying to make sure that people with disabilities know that fashion hasn't forgotten about them they are a part of our community," said design student Stephanie Schmidt.

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<![CDATA[San Jose Jazz Legend Donates Dozens Of New Trumpets To Get Next Generation Playing]]>Wed, 10 May 2017 09:34:27 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/jazz+trumpet+2.jpg

An older musician once gave a much younger Eddie Gale a piece of advice, something the legendary jazz trumpet player still follows to this very day

"He said, 'Man, just trust me, any time you ever see your name in print ... hold onto it,'" Gale said.

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That was more than 50 years and five volumes of clippings ago. Such things happen when you've been as good as long as Gale has been.

Still, he doesn't need to read a story to remember how it all started: as a young boy in Brooklyn with his very first horn.

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"When I got a trumpet I worked in the day and played and learned music at night. I would go to the jam sessions and ask, 'Can I sit in?'" Gale said.

Gale has traveled the world since then playing his distinctive style of trumpet. He has recorded albums on the Blue Note label, headlined shows, and backed up some of the biggest names in jazz.

In the process, Gale has owned many trumpets, but never forgets the thrill of the first one.

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Which is why, with the help of United Peace Relief, Gale recently gave away 100 brand new trumpets at San Jose's First A.M.E. Zion Church recently. "They don't have to pay a dime," Gale said.

The giveaway is just the latest example of Gale working with young people throughout his career. It's the reason in 1974 then San Jose mayor Norm Mineta gave Gale the title of "Ambassador Of Jazz."

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Music, Gale said, has been very good to him in his life. He can't wait to get others started on the same path.

"I think music is a wonderful gift from the heavens from God almighty," Gale said.

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<![CDATA[East Palo Alto Youth Notices Hometown Lacking One Very Important Resource, Returns From College To Help Fix It]]>Wed, 03 May 2017 12:46:20 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/branching+out+31.jpg

The problem, as Uriel Hernandez saw it, wasn't quite as clear as night and day.

It was more like sun and shade.

East Palo Alto, where Hernandez grew up, had a lot of the former. Atherton, where he went to high school, had plenty of the latter. On his way to and from school each day the transition was dramatic.

"(In Atherton) you have these big trees and these big houses," Hernandez said. "Then you'd take the pedestrian overcrossing, no trees, rundown apartment buildings. The sun beating down on you the asphalt all around."

It was a difference, Hernandez said, one could "feel." But he didn't fully understand what was happening until traveling 3,000 miles and spending four years at college in leafy Vermont.

"Growing up, the family didn't often go out into nature and I didn't have that deeper appreciation for nature until I was really living in it, seeing it up close all the time," Hernandez said.

Feeling so at home surrounded by nature, one would understand Hernandez wishing to stay in the area after graduation. Instead, though, Hernandez returned to his hometown, determined to bring that nature back with him, one tree at a time.

Hernandez began by volunteering for Canopy, a non-profit focused on creating a healthy, urban forest in Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. His enthusiasm soon landed him a staff position and then in charge of an ambitious goal: working with young people to plant 500 trees in his hometown by 2020. It's called Branching Out and so far more than 220 trees have been planted, including 7 planted this past weekend.

Study after study has shown that communities with healthy urban forests score well in quality of life measurements such safety, health, and property values.

Hernandez understands this project is not a quick fix for East Palo Alto, but that's part of the beauty.

The trees will take years, and lots of care from the community, to reach shade-producing maturity. All that work, Hernandez says, will give people in East Palo Alto a pride of ownership in the trees and their surroundings.

When the trees are eventually big enough for someone to rest under, they will have earned their moment in the shade.

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<![CDATA[South Bay Non Profit, Volunteers Help 79-Year-Old, Blind, Deaf Man Stay In His Home]]>Tue, 25 Apr 2017 16:55:39 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/gerrys+home+makeover+3.jpg

It has been 43 years, but Gerry Tipton can still remember the very day he moved into his home in the Willow Glen Mobile Estates. The very day.

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"Friday. April 14. 1974," Tipton said recently, sitting in a chair held together by rope, in a living room crisscrossed by electrical wires and extension cords.

There is now, though, another day in April that Tipton will hopefully remember a long time as well: this past Saturday. That was when a team from Rebuilding Together Silicon Valley descended on the legally blind and deaf 79-year's old trailer home to make it a nicer and more importantly safer place to live.

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"He was definitely one of those cases that needed help immediately, a critical case we wanted to take care of right away," said Terry Gallo, Development and Outreach Manager for Rebuilding Together Silicon Valley. As part of celebrating its 25th anniversary, the non-profit chose to provide needed repairs to more than thirty homes and other non-profits in the South Bay including Tipton's.

Case Design and Remodeling sponsored Tipton's job and their entire staff turned out to volunteer on Saturday. Eric Copus, Director of Production for Case, says the company normally deals with much higher-end homes but this job feels like it has a higher purpose.

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"You deal with a lot of people's wants. We're dealing with a need and to be able to fill a need and know that it makes a difference in his day-to-day basis is a big difference," Copus said.

Debbie and Jim Kabel co-own the design firm. They says this kind of project does as much for their employees morale and it will for Tipton's quality of life.

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That's saying quite a bit when you consider all the improvements to Tipton's home: new wiring, new flooring, a new refridgerator, new skirting around the bottom of his home, and a new paint job just to name a few.

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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 09:47:19 -0800https://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["This Is What I Need To Do The Rest Of My LIfe": San Francisco Science Educator Celebrates 25 Years Of Hands-On Instruction]]>Fri, 21 Apr 2017 09:59:58 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/mission+science+workshop+5.jpg

There is treasure hidden under San Francisco's Mission High School.

Not the traditional type of gold and silver but a treasure trove of bones, crystals, and hands-on science experiments. It's the home of Mission Science Workshop, celebrating its 25th year of teaching the city's school children about science.

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It all began with a revelation in Dan Sudran's garage in the early 1990's.

"There was just no question this is what I need to do the rest of my life," Sudran said.

Sudran, who never formally studied science, was tinkering on electronic equipment in his garage and leaving the door open at the time. Neighborhood kids began stopping by.

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"I started finding out how much fun it was explaining this stuff I was excited about to them," Sudran said. "They were like, this was the hottest place on the block."

Sudran realized there was a need for hands-on science instruction that they young people clearly weren't getting in traditional schools. He decided to formalize what he was doing, moved into a bigger space and started the Mission Science Workshop.

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Now housed underneath Mission High School, the Workshop is the rare place where students are encouraged to touch the artifacts and experiments; to both build things, and break them. The Workshop works with more than 30 San Francisco schools, hosting science classes. It is also regularly open for the public to explore for free.

"It was something completely different," Marisol Roman said. She first visited the Workshop as an elementary school student and now still comes back to volunteer as a 24-year-old.

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Roman says the experience influenced her ultimate course of study (osteology) and got her classmates excited about science like never before.

Sudran's latest project is assembling a portable horse skeleton, one that can be taken apart and put together just like a puzzle. He has already done the same thing with a whale.

Sudran says that, while the Workshop's focus is young people who don't have much, this is the kind of education every child could benefit from no matter where they come from.

"All kids are underserved in science," Sudran said.

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<![CDATA[Peace, Joy, Soccer: Burlingame Woman Delivers Hundreds Of Soccer Balls To Refugees In Greece]]>Wed, 19 Apr 2017 09:23:18 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/peace+joy+soccer+3.jpg

For pretty much her entire life, Alexandra Christ has been serious about playing soccer. Still, she's never kicked a soccer ball with as much purpose as she does these days.

"I want something that is tough and durable," Christ said, squeezing one of the dozens of balls that are strewn about her Burlingame apartment.

Christ is testing the soccer balls to see which one is the best fit for her ultimate goal: donating them to refugees, mainly from Syria, living in camps in Greece.

"I'm one person with an idea and I took action and the action has snowballed into a beautiful project," Christ said.

Christ's project began, of all places, at the Thanksgiving dinner table with her family a few years ago. The plight of Syrian refugees, risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea in often overcrowded boats, had been in the news a lot at the time.

What seemed like a crisis half-a-world away, though, was quickly put into perspective by Christ's mother. She reminded Christ that her grandfather had emigrated to the United States from a portion of the Middle East that then belonged to Syria.

"Mom said, 'If your grandfather didn't come to this country as a small child we could all be Syrian refugees,'" Christ said.

Suddenly, those refugees on tv weren't from a distant land. And they needed help. Christ was determined to do something but struggled to decide just what was the best fit for her talents and passions.

"What is the thing I could do? Then soccer hit my consciousness. I'm going to bring soccer balls!" Christ said.

Christ has been playing soccer ever since she was a little girl, growing up in San Franciso. When she traveled around the world a few years ago, she always tried to have a soccer ball with her. Christ found it a great way to break down barriers with strangers and spark joy in those around her.

Christ started her own non-profit, Peace Joy Soccer, and began collecting donations. She eventually raised enough to have 750 soccer balls manufactured in Pakistan, then shipped to Greece. She then traveled there, collected the balls, and headed out to the camps.

When Christ handed out the first balls, she knew she had done the right thing.

"We just started playing together for the next hour, playing and laughing and it was great," Christ said.

Christ doesn't kid herself that soccer balls are necessary for a refugees survival but feels strongly that they are essential to a better life. "It's important you have fun," Christ said. "It feeds the soul."

Christ is already planning her next visit and her next donation. Just as soon as the finds the perfect balls to do the greatest good.

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<![CDATA[Life-Changing Experience Nudges Peninsula Flutist to Action]]>Fri, 14 Apr 2017 08:52:36 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/thumbnail_flutist.jpg

From the Juilliard School to Carnegie Hall, Grammy-nominated musician Viviana Guzman was no stranger to a large audience - but this was different.

"Everyone thought I would be scared, but no," Guzman said. "They are such gentle creatures."

Last summer, Guzman had a once-in-a-lifetime encounter while paddle boarding off the coast of Half Moon Bay: a juvenile humpback whale bumped her board while shooting out of the water.

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The encounter, captured on GoPro cameras, was watched - and rewatched - more than one million times and nudged Guzman onto an unexpected path.

Guzman, who has traveled the world playing the flute, started doing research on whales and other cetaceans. It was then she learned about the plight of Vaquita porpoises, the world's most endangered marine mammal.

"Last month, I heard (the population) was down to 30," Guzman said.

Guzman decided she needed to do something to help. She is dedicating all the proceeds from her next album to saving the Vaquita.

"This is hugely important to me," Guzman said.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Greenway]]>
<![CDATA[Teacher, Inspired By Man's Repeated Attempts To Grow Huge Flower Display, Creates "Never Give Up" Lesson Plan For Students]]>Tue, 11 Apr 2017 22:47:29 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/bulb+guy+update+32.jpg

For the past 4 years, on a Milpitas hillside, nature has been teaching Rich Santoro a familiar lesson: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

What Santoro didn't realize until recently, though, is that the lesson wasn't ultimately meant for him at all.

"This didn't turn out at all how I expected," Santoro said.

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We first introduced you to Santoro 5 years ago sharing the story of how, for the past three decades, he had been planting upwards of 10,000 tulip bulbs in his San Jose backyard then inviting the public in for a free peek at the spectacular results the following spring.

It's how Santoro earned the nickname, "The Bulb Guy."

We then followed Santoro's story as he tried to bring the same gardening magic to a bigger audience: planting thousands of bulbs on the Milpitas hillside which, when in bloom, would spell out a secret message to passers-by. But they never did.

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One year it was too hot. Too wet, another.

This year looked promising, though.

The shoots of 6,700 flowers began to appear from the ground in early spring. Which is when the ground squirrels noticed them.

"They ate the bulbs right off the bottom," Santoro lamented. "Breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the Bulb Guy."

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From where Santoro stood it was yet another disaster.

But from someone else's vantage point, it was something else altogether.

From a home across the street from the hillside, Tapasi Roychoudhury had been watching Santoro's effort since the beginning.

"He was out there by himself," Roychoudhury said, "watering the flowers, pulling weeds." She would also see how, year after year of failure, Santoro would return.

"I thought he would change his mind and he'll leave this hill and he'll go away, Roychoudhury said, "but he did not."

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Roychoudhury says Santoro's determination inspired her to keep going when she suffered some setbacks in her life. She also thought there were others who could learn from his example: her students.

Roychoudhury is a teacher at Stratford School Santa Clara Pomeroy .

She designed a lesson plan based on the Bulb Guy's never-give-up story for her students. So now, in between learning about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, there is a little Rich Santoro thrown in.

"When she told me what she was doing it hit me on the way the home. The emotion welled up and I realized I was having an effect," Santor said.

Santoro says it will be a while before he wraps his mind around this latest twist in his story. What he's learned already, though, is the difference between success and failure is sometimes all about from which angle you look at it.

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<![CDATA[Bay Area Proud Updates: April 2017]]>Fri, 07 Apr 2017 11:47:45 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/240*120/april+2016+updates+collage.jpg

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<![CDATA[Fast-Growing Non Profit Making Strides Diversifying Tech Workforce]]>Fri, 31 Mar 2017 10:35:16 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/code+2040+5.jpg]]><![CDATA[Wheels For Chad: San Jose Community Delivers On Promise Of New Van So Formerly Homeless Man Can Continue To Help Get Others Off Street]]>Wed, 29 Mar 2017 08:08:07 -0800https://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/wheels+for+chad+21.jpg

For the first time in his life, 37-year-old Chad Bojorquez is licensed to drive a car on his own. And not just any car—the San Jose man was the recipient of a specialized van complete with a wheelchair lift and hand controls.

A group of San Jose civic leaders started a fundraising effort last year that raised $78,000 to make the dream a reality.

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“It’s very freeing to be able to drive,” he said. “Just the freedom go wherever.”

When the appropriately-named fundraising campaign, “Wheels for Chad,” was started a little over a year ago, Bojorquez was a project director at Downtown Streets Team. In his management role at the nonprofit, which works to secure jobs and housing for the homeless, Bojorquez spent hours daily on public transportation to fulfill his various responsibilities in the South Bay.

The result was a lot of valuable time lost.

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"The morning could be in Palo Alto, the middle of the day could be in San Jose and the end of the day could be in Sunnyvale," Bojorquez said in an interview with NBC Bay Area last June.

For the father of three young kids, with another on the way, the van will do much more than alleviate his daily commute time. Bojorquez now works for Destination: Home, a program of the Health Trust, 

Bojorquez also now thoroughly enjoys what many might call a mundane task: morning drop-off.

Earlier this month, he drove his son to school by himself for the first time ever.

“That’s a huge deal, a short little drive,” he said. “It’s the normal things.”

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The “Wheels for Chad” campaign was started by San Jose resident Julie Matsushima, a longtime advocate for the disabled. In May 2015, Matsushima’s efforts culminated in the grand opening of the Rotary Playgarden, an accessible playground inspired by her granddaughter Aimee.

After hearing about Bojorquez’s dilemma, she and a team of women started the “Wheels for Chad” campaign through her nonprofit, That’s Amore. The group held fundraisers and solicited donations online, ultimately raising the money and presenting Bojorquez with a check last June. 

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<![CDATA[Oakland's Cat Cafe Is Cute, Sure. It's Also Saving Hundreds Of Cats' Lives.]]>Wed, 22 Mar 2017 11:45:16 -0800https://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.

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."

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.

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."

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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