The fragrance of fresh flowers fills the air in the meditation center as nurses arrive to have their hands blessed by Rev. Arthur Lillicropp, an Episcopal priest. As manager of Spiritual Care Services at Kaiser Permanente in South Sacramento, he comforts the sick and dying, counsels grieving families, and reassures staff.
Lillicropp has also been on the other side of the hospital bed. In 1990, he had corneal transplant surgery after living in blindness for seven years. He said he lost hope when told his body was rejecting the transplant, but a woman he thought was a nurse came to him, held his hand and said God was with him.
"That was the conduit through which God's compassion came into my heart ... ," he said, "and I said, 'I want to do this.' I want to sit at someone's bedside and say, 'God has your heart, it's going to be OK.'
May 11, 2013
The fragrance of fresh flowers fills the air in the meditation center as nurses arrive to have their hands blessed by Rev. Arthur Lillicropp, an Episcopal priest. As manager of Spiritual Care Services at Kaiser Permanente in South Sacramento, he comforts the sick and dying, counsels grieving families, and reassures staff.
May 3, 2013
It's 7:00 am and a laughing group of fifth and sixth graders is boisterously learning how to fly handmade helicopters. Retired Navy helicopter pilot Lou Fifer is at the helm, teaching the children properties of flight in a before-school Aerospace Connections in Education class funded by the Civil Air Patrol. Fifer, who dedicates himself to service in many areas, leads an extensive program of 100 volunteer tutors at Thomas Edison Language Institute, a Title 1 school. Each day he gives his undivided attention to struggling students, and one by one they begin to grow, knowing that they are valued. He is both strict and kind, sometimes wearing his flight suit to class as inspiration.
"This is a passion with me," Fifer says. "I have five successful children and I demand excellence. I like seeing the kids mature and get the concepts."
April 27, 2013
Sitting at a booth outside the Capitol, Bill Spahn pleasantly fields questions from the public on behalf of the Crime Victims Assistance Network Foundation (iCan). Spahn, who retired from a career in various aspects of computers and networking, discovered the volunteer opportunity while searching Craigslist in 2011. After intensive training, Spahn was counseling crime victims and making presentations to law enforcement and parole boards. He noticed that iCan needed help generating reports for its financial backers. Using his programming skills he created spreadsheets that make compiling the mountains of data each quarter a breeze. iCan is run by three dedicated individuals, including Margie Cueva, at bottom left. "Helping them be successful is what I enjoy," Spahn says. "It's nice to be able to use my skills to help them use their skills."
April 22, 2013
Under a gray-blue sky streaked with pale yellow, Wilkie Liang lowers an American Flag in front of the Hall of Justice on Freeport Boulevard. He quietly walks through an empty parking lot before sunset. He reverently folds the flag into a triangle and places it securely in a drawer. Liang takes on many duties as a Volunteer in Police Service. His most sentimental contribution is making sure the flag flies on weekends and holidays, when the police and fire headquarters are closed.
Liang is a Vietnam veteran who served with the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He's known men who died in war. "You could say it's a personal thing," Liang says. "There's a purpose and a meaning behind raising and lowering the flag. It's because of respect and honor for the veterans. It's remembering them for their sacrifice."
April 13, 2013
Having worked tirelessly for weeks, Ericka Dennis is on stage for only a moment to welcome guests to a dance contest aimed at attracting young people to get tested for HIV at Center for Aids Research and Education in midtown. An emcee dressed in drag introduces dance teams that energize the audience. Meanwhile, the mission of testing 1,000 youths within a year is being carried out by a team of youth peer educators led by Dennis, the youth program coordinator.
Dennis began fundraising for CARES when she was a sophomore in high school, which inspired her to later pursue a career in public health. "The numbers are rising," Dennis said about the infection rate in youths. "There's a lack of information and a lack of access." She faces the problem boldly. "There's so many types of ways to stop it, and the youth is the key."
April 3, 2013
Jason Wada, 18, spends his spring break sweating in the sun to put up a basketball hoop and paint lines on the asphalt at the Salvation Army's transitional living center near I-80 and Watt Avenue. For hours, he and his father, Felix, toil over a 52-page manual as they assemble the hoop. Residents, who once were homeless, curiously watch from afar.
Wada has played basketball since age 5, using a hoop his father set up for him at home. He has coached youngsters in the Asian community and played ball for McClatchy High School's team. For his senior project, he organized a "shoot-a-thon," raising $350 to buy the hoop and paint.
He gets the hoop up, hangs the net and smiles. "I would like to envision a dad teaching his little kid to play and all kids of all ages enjoying it together," he says. A father going to his apartment with his child calls out: "Thank you."
March 30, 2013
Christina Preston chirps cheerful greetings to employees at Girl Scouts Heart of Central California as she navigates a large box of donated shoes to her car. She is the founder of the grassroots Shoes4Sacramento, which collects shoes for a growing number of local causes, including Homeless Connect and Kops N Kids.
Preston, a native Sacramentan who grew up in humble circumstances, was a shy child who thought the future would take her somewhere else. Now she's firmly rooted here. She finds rewards in providing the needy with something so simple yet so important, and inspiring others to do the same.
"I feel more connected," Preston says. "It's strengthening my identity as a person to be a part of a community."
To donate new or gently used shoes, visit shoes4sacramento.com.
March 22, 2013
Cheerful music plays softly in the background of the sunny playroom at Sutter Children's Center, Sacramento. "Do you have a good memory, Edgar?" Child Life Program volunteer Susan Rumberg asks. Edgar McKnight, 11, who is tired of being hospitalized, replies with a confident "Yes!" Rumberg laughs, and challenges him and his brother to a game of Memory Match. The feeling of confinement fades as they play a boisterous game.
The time Rumberg spends here is "a sacred commitment," she says. Her even temperament is soothing. Her sense of humor is invigorating. She heals through comfort and entertainment. "The goal of a Child Life Specialist is to make the environment as normal as possible," she says. "They are facing many challenges. A child needs to be a child, have the opportunity to play, interact with their peers and do what they do at home."
March 17, 2013
The tinkling of instruments softens. A clarinet sets the intonation. The audience hushes as the silver-haired conductor, Les Lehr, enters. He commands an elegant presence in the Crowne Plaza ballroom, where the Sacramento Symphonic Winds is about to perform. Soon the audience will be taken on a musical journey crafted by Lehr and played out by the volunteer winds and percussion band.
Lehr, who spent 40 years teaching music in schools, has been the musical director and conductor for this band for 15 years. Its purpose is to give people a place to play their instruments and to bring high-quality music to the community. They also support area high school music programs by playing with students and repairing instruments.
"Music is a passion for all of these people," Lehr says. "Music has enriched their lives beyond measure."
March 9, 2013
The sparkling silver tank of the Metro Fire water tender holds 2,800 gallons, and when it's sent to a fire Terry Barnes will almost always be sitting in the driver's seat. For 36 years, Barnes, 72, has dedicated himself to Elverta's all-volunteer Station 116. The retired heavy equipment mechanic lives half a mile away and keeps his pager on 24/7. He'll rush to drive the water tender to every fire that his pager alerts him to. Actions speak volumes for this man of few words. Each day he comes to the station to clean or work on the engines. He's stayed steadfast in his post as neighbors and other firefighters have come and gone. Still, he feels connected to those he serves. "I take pride in living in the community and working in the department and helping as much as I can," he says. "It keeps my mind going because you never know what's going to happen next."
March 2, 2013
Multiple hands of neighbors unite to spread soil around a newly planted valley oak in William Curtis Park. Jogging or biking passersby cheer and ask about the 16 new trees added lovingly to their park. Partnering with the Sacramento Tree Foundation, more than 20 volunteers from the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association spent Saturday morning planting, among them John Mathews, center. Since 1985 he has lived in Curtis Park, in the home his grandparents bought in 1945. Mathews joined the association board eight years ago; to represent neighborhood concerns about the Curtis Park Village development that will some day add hundreds of people to the area. "There's a great sense of community here," he said. "I feel like I'm a better person for volunteering all these years. There's a sense of satisfaction I get from giving back to the community."
February 22, 2013
The activity room is dim at Sky Park Gardens Assisted Living in South Sacramento until an orange-clad clown named Sammie sweeps in as sweet as the sunshine. Quietly, compassionately she seeks a connection with each senior or disabled person in the room. She is goofy, she laughs, she plays with them. She sings "Let Me Call you Sweetheart," looking deep into the teary eyes of a tired soul.
"Would you like to dance," she asks Andrew Robertson, right, who is hesitant at first but can't resist her coaxing. Suzanna Hoye is a professional clown with part of her business being "clown care" for seniors. As the economy faltered some facilities could no longer afford to hire her, but Hoye still comes. "How many people are lonely and need that connection?" she says. "It's feeding my soul to be so close to people and the extra attention is so important."
February 16, 2013
One by one women from many walks of life line up to receive a warm breakfast served with an even warmer smile at Wellspring Women's Center in Oak Park. "Do you want some eggs?" 14-year-old Isabella Powers asks. "How are you today?" she inquires with a sweet youthful eagerness that charms the guests.
Powers began volunteering here when she was 9. When she sees a problem she moves into action. She is starting a campaign at school to collect used forks, spoons and mugs for the center, which is running short. For her 10th birthday she asked for school supplies for the children at Wellspring. Seeing people's appreciation is her present, she says. "We're here to help others. You can't make this world a better place by just focusing on yourself. It's the ripple effect. You're making and impact, then other people do the same."
February 9, 2013
A match is struck and a hope candle is lit. A sacred space is created where those struggling with cancer can discover and develop their inner strength. Patti Brown, right, gently tends this space. She guides the women in a soothing meditation where the unconscious mind is free to flourish and the spirit is nourished.
Brown is the founder of Wellness Within, a Roseville center offering free mind-body healing classes for cancer patients and survivors. It provides classes in nutrition, yoga, meditation and individual counseling.
"For people to allow you into a very raw vulnerable time is and honor," says Brown. "I am completely awe-inspired by people's stories. I don't think I've ever witnessed so much bravery and courage in my life since I started this work."
February 2, 2013
Strong-willed Taya Wieler, 2, right, struggles and cries as she receives treatment to keep her lungs clear of a thick life-threatening mucus caused by cystic fibrosis. Her mother, Amy Rovai-Wieler, patiently administers the medicine while her healthy daughter, Teagan, 5, cuddles them. Teagan's twin, Taryn, also has cystic fibrosis. The pair must receive the 20-minute treatment up to six times daily.
Though the median age for survival for cystic fibrosis is 37, many die sooner. A simple winter cold can kill. To combat the disease, Ravai-Wieler has become an active fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which funds research for a cure. She has chaired the Great Strides walk for CFF in Sacramento for years and she founded Couture For A CF Cure, a website that sells handmade bows and other children's accessories. "It's added a purpose to everything we do," she says. "The girls have learned it's important to be advocates and give back."
January 28, 2013
Five years ago Emerald Barkley, below at center, was attacked and nearly raped. She escaped but afterward decided to learn how to defend herself. "One out of four women have to deal with it," she said. "It's not the end of the world and there's things you can do to overcome the experience and prevent it from happening again."
On a late Wednesday night, Barkley focuses intensely on learning pencak silat, an Indonesian martial art taught by Rocky Twichell, a firefighter who teaches out of his garage. His silat lessons are offered free to women. He does not know Barkley's story behind being there as he teaches her. Having been the victim of bullying himself as a child he hates injustice, especially against the elderly, women and children. "If I can teach a student, especially a woman, to stand her ground or fend off an attacker from being raped, beaten or manipulated, I feel I'm doing a great service to that person and the community," he says.
January 19, 2013
Carefully, calmly, confidently, Judy Gregory handles Steve, a red-tailed hawk, in front of a group of mesmerized visitors at the Sacramento Zoo. His talons sink into her leather glove. His sharp beak is just inches from her face. Once a wild hawk, his intense piercing eyes have become blind from cataracts, so now he serves to educate the public. Gregory supports him with grace and respect. The bird spreads his wings to soak in rays of sun on a chilly day.
Since 2008, Gregory has volunteered as a zoo docent. She has served as docent president, given tours, and introduced visitors to animals such as Steve the hawk, Pantanel the snake and Bing the alligator. "I just love animals," she said. "I love the bond you can have with them." Conservation is also important to her. "We need to make room and keep the animals we have."
January 12, 2013
Maria Olague places a firm, supportive hand on the shoulder of Warchell Green, below, after he finishes his lunch at Health for All Adult Day Health Care. Though he cannot see, he can tell that she cares for him and he prefers her company above others during lunch. He cannot speak, but when she feeds him, he smiles and turns in her direction.
Olague is a Senior Companion Volunteer for 25 hours a week at the center. She socializes with the participants and helps with activities and mealtime. "Treat them with love and respect and decency," she says about the participants, who are disabled and mostly elderly. "We treat them right and they are very appreciative."
She thinks about her own parents, who died when she was 7 years old. "I want to treat them the way I'd treat my parents if they were alive," she said.
In 1977, Steven Koenig, 18, who hadn't given any indication that he was suffering, shot himself. "He was the one I didn't worry about," says his mother, Marilyn Koenig. Through tears and prayers she struggled to keep her household with six other children going. In 1982, Koenig met another mother who lost her son to suicide. Realizing the need for support the pair founded Friends for Survival.
The group distributes 4,000 newsletters worldwide and holds numerous support meetings in the region. Koenig is developing state guidelines for providing support services to survivors of suicide. Giving them comfort, encouragement and education is "life saving suicide prevention," she says. "This is God's program, not mine. At first they look so beaten and so hopeless. And pretty soon they're going to start smiling and getting a life back."
December 23, 2012
Bundled up in red outside of Sam's Club in Arden Arcade, Carl Virgin (right) is a Salvation Army bell ringer. He bobs his head to jingle the six bells sewn atop his corkscrew mistletoe hat, enthusiastically luring donations from holiday shoppers. Virgin, 59, has spastic quadriplegia, a severe form of cerebral palsy. He communicates though head motions, eye movements and a large smile. His personal attendant gives out candy canes from his apron pocket to those who donate. It's his favorite thing.
Gail Johnson says her brother loves giving to others. "If he has money in his pocket he'll give it to someone." He and his roommate, Eugogio Lizarraga (below at left) agreed to ring the bell after learning The Salvation Army needed volunteers. "They are both happy, outgoing guys," Johnson says. "By doing this, they're giving back - and they really like that."
December 16, 2012
"Dig in girls!" Lisa Peat hollers as she fills drinks. She's made lasagna for the three residents of her non-profit called The Taylor House, a transitional home for newly emancipated foster youth and homeless young women. Every week she checks in personally to share bubbling conversation and a home-cooked meal. Tonight they talked about a new resident soon to arrive and debated the merits of the Twilight series. (Few, they decided.)
"I can relate to them because I was a teen girl once," Peat says. With tears budding, she adds, "I relied on my parents so much and it hurts me that they don't have parents to rely on. I just want to fill in the blanks."
Peat said just showing up consistently is important to the young women, who are used to being let down by adults. "They're the blood of our future and they're more than their past."
December 9, 2012
Bob Jensen plays with three children as he makes candid photographs of them at the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services Clothing Program. "You've got such an amazing face. Do you know that?" he says in a gentle voice to Yhamani Jordon, 7. He looks into her eyes. She grins at him between bites of a donut. The shutter clicks as they commune in mutual respect and friendship. Jensen, a volunteer at the Clothing Program, began creating portraits of the clients in May, after realizing that many could not afford pictures of themselves or their families. His photographs grace the walls of the Clothing Program, and he gives prints to those whose glowing faces he has captured. He believes this work serves an important purpose. "These are members of our community who are unacknowledged - ignored," he says. "The first step is to make them visible."
December 2, 2012
Jess Chairez volunteers to promote organ donation. As a Red Cross volunteer, he travels near and far to help disaster victims. He also makes quilts covered with police patches that people send from around the country.
For 30 years, Chairez, 62, was a West Sacramento roofer. His life path changed dramatically after the death of his son in 2000. "I didn't go that extra mile until my son died. He planted the seed. He's my hero," he says.
Joe Chairez, a Sacramento Police Officer, died at age 24 of a brain aneurism after handcuffing a suspect.
Afterwards, Chairez found himself bitter. Then, he said God spoke to him in a dream: "He didn't want me in man's shadows. He wanted me in His light." He obeyed. Now he shares his son's legacy by helping others.
He's currently working on a quilt for the widow of a Richmond Police officer, who died in the line of duty. "They're healing my heart," he says, "and I'm healing theirs."
November 24, 2012
With feet as sure as a mountain goat, Bobby Campbell shimmies up a 15-foot Christmas tree built out of canned food and plywood to place a star on top. For about a decade he has built Christmas CanTrees with the Sacramento Association of Realtors. After being on display at Secret Garden in Elk Grove through the holidays, the canned goods will be donated to the Salvation Army.
Campbell, a mortgage banker who works from home, takes part in fundraising year round with SAR. Campbell grew up in humble circumstances, raised by a single mother who was blind. He was her "human guide dog," he said, and their family sometimes needed to accept food donations. "It comes from gratitude," he says of his charity work.
"My motto is if I can leave this world a little better than I found it, I've done a good job."
November 18, 2012
AmeriCorps volunteer Tevin Woods, 19, is clearing brush and hauling logs at Comp Del Oro in Nevada City. It's tough physical labor but he sees the big picture: Urban low income kids come to camp, get a taste of the great outdoors and tell ghost stories while being warmed the fire wood he gathers. Next week he'll tutor school children. He plans to go to college, become a music artist and give back half of what he makes to the community.
AmeriCorps is expanding his worldview day by day. Woods, whose parents divorced when he was 5, says he spent his childhood moving from place to place. The experience taught him empathy for others. "The world is so cruel and so cold and many people go through their lives without homes. Thinking about that makes me have an open mind on how people live and get through a day."
November 9, 2012
Red Cross Chaplain, Cynthia Olson, packs her bags, Nov. 6, before catching a flight to New Jersey, a small angel pin on her shoulder. She wears one every day. For the next two weeks she will provide emotional and spiritual support to the loved ones of those killed in hurricane Sandy. More than 110 deaths have been confirmed. She doesn't know where she will be sleeping but knows she will see tears and that she will softly speak the words "Angels be with me," as she faces the disaster.
Olson is a full-time hospice worker who "can manage well in the face of death," she says. Most people just need to talk through their loss and have someone to listen. "It's a work of the heart," she says. "It's actually standing in awe of the other and how they cope, how they journey, how they live their life in community with one another."
November 4, 2012
The door of Harm Reduction Services in Oak Park opens and in walks a soft-spoken man of 27. He's an IV drug user and he's homeless. He's grateful as he exchanges used syringes for clean ones from volunteer Erin "Presh" Grieshop. Chad Fallis, has been a client for 6 years. He says he doesn't know where he'd be without HRS. "It would probably be a bad place."
Presh, short for LIttle Precious, is calm and supportive. Afterwards, she says the clients are "so stigmatized, but they're human like anyone else." She works with drug users to make "small behavioral shifts" such as exchanging needles to prevent spreading infectious diseases.
"I really do love taking care of people," Presh says. "Sympathy is very different that empathy. Sympathy is talking. Empathy is doing. Sympathy is 'those people.' Empathy is 'us.'"
October 28, 2012
It's a chilly Tuesday morning in south Sacramento and wispy clouds suggest that rain may come. Fresh air rustles through the trees as a dozen people gather for a Quigong class at Reichmuth Park. Gene Yee, 84, leads the group with rhythmic sets of 24 exercises, each having a name such as White Crane Spreads wings or Grasp Bird's Tail. "Woooon, twoooo, threeeee..." he sings out until he reaches 10, then leads them to the next movement. "It circulates the blood," says Charlotte Holder. "every part of the body is represented."
Anyone can join the group, which meets at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday, weather permitting. Membership, which includes two communal meals, is $20 a year.
"All the time, get stronger," Yee says. "Makes you younger too." He laughs heartily. "Keeps the doctor away. Happy all the time."
October 20, 2012
The office of Tim Baumbach, below, the Central Downtown Food Basket's executive director, is a broom closet, but he doesn't spend much time there anyway. He unloads food trucks, coordinates volunteers putting out food for those who are struggling, and gives them emotional support. With patience and respect, he listens, councils and stops to bear someone else's burden for a while. He shoulders that weight, carries it home to his family, then lets it melt away. "I want to remain strong for them," he said. "I can be weak with my family because I know they'll hold me up."
His wife, Mary, and two sons volunteer at the Food Basket, and the organization is his family's labor of love. (Mary and son, Nick, shown at right) Seeing people get back on their feet after receiving help has kept him rooted here for 24 years. "It comes from the heart," Baumbach said. "I'm serving a purpose."
October 14, 2012
Lorrie Wilson is bubbly and self-assured as she tries on a barrage of clothing for a fashion show featuring foster kids and their supporters. She chatters about which outfit is the most flattering, but her reasons for participating go deeper than the animal print dress and chocolate pleather blazer she selects.
As a Women in Philanthropy volunteer, Wilson is determined to help teens soon to emancipate out of the foster care system choose a productive path into adulthood. Simply dressing them in nice clothing and cheering them on the runway can be enough to light a spark of self-worth, she says. These kids have to "work harder and fight harder" because they don't have supportive parents or consistency in their lives. "We can't do anything unless we have that self confidence," she says. "You can learn that job, but self-esteem has to come from within you."
October 6, 2012
Dick Hansen leads a horse slowly around a dusty arena. With silver hair and a gentle smile, he strokes its ear to calm it so that its rider, Emma Ashcraft, 7, who has cerebral palsy, can toss a ball into a target.
Emma smiles ear-to-ear, but just as importantly, the gentle rocking as she rides the horse widens her hips and strengthens her core and leg muscles. The exercise helps her walk better.
For a decade, Hansen has been volunteering with Ride To Walk, which provides horse therapy for young people with disabilities. He knows the stress a child's disability can bring and wants to make it easier for families to stay together. "I think of the parents 24-7 with these children," he said. "I can dedicate a few hours a week. They are so appreciative. We're helping them as well as the child."
September 25, 2012
Barbara Carr, left, and Diane Rogers are pricing a rare book donated to Friends of the Sacramento Public Library when one of them asks, "Is this a $50 book or a $2.50 book?" Within seconds, the women in matching blue shirts price the book in unison: "Twenty-five dollars." The duo are volunteer store managers for The Book Den. The friends can read each other's thoughts as well as they read books.
In 1999, Carr and Rogers secured a cheap warehouse space and opened the store where they sell used library and donated books, video and audio books and sheet music at a fraction of what they're worth. Proceeds benefit the Sacramento Public library.
"We want to make this a community resource," Rogers said. "Getting (books) in the hands of children and people who can't afford books is one of our primary goals."
September 23, 2012
The hardest part about raising a puppy for Canine Companions for Independence is not all the training you have to do. It's the day you let the dog go, says Monica Di Nocco, 17, a senior at Oak Ridge High School. She knows she'll be able say goodbye to her first puppy-in-training, 10-month-old, Halo, because she sees the good a companion dog does for her mother, Peggy, who has multiple sclerosis. Before her mom's dog, Felice, came into their life, Monica's spent her teen years helping her mother and worrying about leaving her alone. Felice performs simple yet crucial tasks such as picking things up for Peggy, helping her out of bed or fetching her cell phone. Felice gives Monica freedom and peace of mind.
So she's giving back. "You're raising a miracle for somebody else," she said. "She's kind of like a part of me. I have to put (everything) into her."
September 13, 2012
Sweet, sticky peach juice runs down chins of happy children. Small hands draw pictures of their favorite fruits and vegetables and then are raised high with questions on how to ripen peaches and plums in a bag. "Do you have to use special paper or is Dollar Tree paper ok?" one girl asked.
This is the heart of Amber Stott's new non-profit, the California Food Literacy Center. A self-proclaimed child on the inside she teaches kids about smart food choices in an after-school program at Capitol Heights Academy in Oak Park.
Healthy food is becoming more available to low-income families but there's a gap in educating them on how to use it. Stott wants to fix the problem. "There's a burning in my belly to do something more," she said. "I wanted to spread love and have them be inspired by food like I am."
So many of society's issues intersect in food, Stott says, hunger, health and the environment. "Every bite of food we take we are voting. We're voting for health. We're voting for community. We're voting for the planet." Tackling these issues are as simple as introducing a child to a peach.
During the after-school program, children from kindergarden to fifth grade are exposed to a different piece of produce each week. They learn carefully crafted lessons about food and nutrition. Returning students from last year's pilot program recalled lessons like "trans-fat is worse than fat" and organic versus conventional foods.
"They're like little sponges," Stott beamed. "It's awesome!" The younger the child is the easier it is to effect their attitude about food, she has noticed.
Stott coined the concept of food literacy, which she defines as "understanding the impact of your food choices on your health, the environment, and our community." She worked with Assemblymember Roger Dickinson to have September officially named "Food Literacy Month." To celebrate the month she is hosting a Food Literacy Fair on Sept. 22 at the Oak Park Farmers Market, holding a food literacy sandwich contest and more. For now the program resides at one school and is conducted by unpaid volunteers like herself but her vision is to create a program that goes state-wide. "We need an army of people to deliver food literacy," she said.
For more information visit www.californiafoodliteracy.org
Do you know someone who works hard to help others? Please send suggestions for the I Care column to Autumn Cruz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 25, 2012
Cindy Scott has tears in her eyes as she says goodbye to her visitor, Merle Wright, at Mission Carmichael Healthcare Center. One week, Scott was losing hope she would ever go home again. The next week was more encouraging. Wright gives her a kiss and tells her she loves her. "It's like I'm home again, Scott says. "She brings hope to me."
Wright was dying of Scarlett fever as a child when her mother said: "No. I know a Man and he has something for this little girl to do." She soaked her in a bath of chamomile infused water and Wright was healed. That powerful experience gave purpose to her life. At 84, Wright helps others with religious conviction, playing piano at church and visiting the sick. She wants to follow Jesus' path. "He went about doing good things. He went about helping the sick. I want to be more like Him."
August 25, 2012
Ryan Landers suffers severe pain caused by advanced stage AIDS and shingles of the brain. His prognosis is grim. "I'm looking at life through terminal eyes," he says. Landers was the public face of the campaign for Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996. He says with certainty that he would be dead today if it were not for smoking cannabis, which quells his nausea so that he can eat. He remains active for the cause. "I can't stop fighting until patients are safe," he says.
Landers pulls himself out of bed to attend a Crusaders For Patients Rights meeting, stopping to say goodbye to his ailing cat, Rascal, 16, who is his best friend.
He became an activist after his terminal diagnosis. "I know I had to lose everything. I accepted death and at that point I knew I was either going to go to jail and die sooner, or I'd make a hell of a lot of difference."
August 25, 2012
"A fighter like you. Someone could benefit from your heart," Kyla Aquino tells an African American man stopping by the organ registry booth at a heath fair in Oak Park. Her charm disarms him and he changes his "no" to a "maybe."
Aquino, 33, a volunteer with Donate Life California, is a two-time kidney transplant recipient who has raised awareness about organ donations since she was 17. Her enormous smile melts hearts and breaks down barriers. Death is a difficult subject to talk about with strangers, she says, but she does is with grace. She makes a special effort to reach out to minorities where the need for organ donors is greatest.
"I have the courage to speak," Aquino says. "If I have the talents to convey the message, I've got to do my darndest."
August 18, 2012
Wearing hot pink and a smile, Madison Zenker, 13, confidently walks into the pediatric infusion center at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center carrying bags of colorful pillowcases, each one as bright as she is. She helps cancer patient, Bryan Garcia, 11, choose one with dogs on it for his bedroom.
Madison made a carnival-themed pillowcase for her Great Aunt, Willie Garrett, who died from ovarian cancer in 2009. Garrett loved it and brought it to all her cancer treatments and hospital stays. This inspired Madison, at age 10, to found Cases for Cheer, a non-profit that gifts handmade pillowcases to cancer patients.
"I feel so accomplished," Madison says. "When I see their smiles, I feel so amazing. I know I can't cure cancer but I can make people with cancer happy."
August 11, 2012
A nickel. A feather. A pinwheel. Little red candies rest upon a white cross bearing the name of Janet Steinbach's son, Adam, stabbed to death on May 31, 2011 at age 29. Where his body was found now blooms a bed of colorful flowers tended by a grieving mother and watched over by the homeless, who have made it a place to grieve for their own losses, too.
As Janet attends to this oasis on Del Paso Boulevard by the bike trail, she feels her son's presence. Every hug and kind word from a passer-by soothes her. She says she is growing by leaps and bounds, becoming more like Adam, who was non-judgmental and had a smile for everyone. Grateful for the outpouring of support she receives at the memorial, she now volunteers at Sacramento Self-Help Housing at Loaves and Fishes. "I feel like he's teaching me to be a better person," she says.
August 4, 2012
Six-year-old, Patricia Bigge, is painfully shy and deeply sensitive. She worries about a homeless man and child she once saw and a schoolmate who was injured. She is scared of strangers but she will shout in alarm if you might step on a wasp on the sidewalk.
The blond-haired child is transformed around animals. Her eyes light up at the sight of birds, and she is giddy when she kisses the nose of her white guinea pig, Peep.
Patricia also loves to draw. A recent drawing of a farm scene will help her buy a cow, a goat and a garden basket to give to poor families, through Heifer International.
Holding up her drawing in church, Patricia softly asks the congregation to donate. Asked why she wants to give the poor a cow, she says she's afraid people might die of hunger and thirst. Her parents nurture her fundraising.
"She doesn't understand money," said her dad, Will Bigge, "but she understands animals."
July 28, 2012
By graveside, a family mourns for the loss of Joe Woltmon, a World War II veteran and purple heart recipient. Solemn leather-clad Patriot Guard Riders form a circle around them, each holding an American flag, creating a silent cocoon of protection and support. Their concern is felt in the deep rumble of their motorcycles and seen upon furrowed brows.
As a Patriot Guard Rider, Tom Jefferies, 69, has attended more than 500 events honoring military service members. He immigrated to the United States as a child, and says he loves this country even more because he had to work for his citizenship.
"We hope in some small way we've made it easier to deal with," he said about the Woltmon funeral. "Although we don't know them it feels like we're closer because it gives us a chance to show that we care."
"It's my way of saying thank you for what you do," he said. "I cherish the freedom those people have dedicated their lives to giving."
July 22, 2012
His brown eyes are earnest, pleading as he hands out fliers in search of a woman he's never met. "Missing girl. Linnea Lomax," he says to the throngs exiting the California State Fair, holding pictures of Lomax, 19, who disappeared from a mental health facility June 26.
Instead of having fun like most people his age, Avery Hughes, 18, volunteers full time during summer break before his senior year in high school. He joined the search on July 11, when the search effort slowed from having hundreds of volunteers to less than twenty. After two hours on the job he was crying. Later, he cleared his schedule to volunteer indefinitely.
Last year, Hughes spent two months on the streets in Germany, never knowing where he was going to sleep or get his next meal. "I'm a guy and Germany's not as dangerous. This scares the pants off me," he says. "She's young. She's beautiful. She's just really vulnerable." Hughes does whatever is needed to help find Linnea - including interviewing the homeless, mopping the floors, providing tech support or answering the tip-line. He barely sleeps at night always knowing there's something more he could be doing. "Emotionally it's the most taxing thing I've ever done," he said.
July 14, 2012
Working by feel, 101-year-old hands grasp a green crochet needle and guide rainbow colored yarn through a cluster, then out of it to catch the yarn and pull it through again. Jerry Dillon misses. She tries again, and misses once more, sometimes taking three times to successfully complete one stich.
Having lost most of her sight to macular degeneration in 1998, Dillon sees a grey hole where her beloved project is. "I guess I'm pretty stubborn," she said. "I'm not going to give up."
Dillon has been sewing, knitting and crocheting for charity since the 1940s. Using the one last crochet stitch that she can accomplish, she creates beautiful afghans, and gives them to Project Linus, which provides handmade blankets to children in need.
Although she never meets those who get her afghans, she knows they are appreciated. "I hope it'll keep them warm and they give something to someone else," she said. "That's how payback works."
July 7, 2012
The hypnotic sway of a rocking chair, the deep quiet voice of a familiar visitor. The tiny fingers of an infant grasp round the solid thumb of a man who cares deeply for her. Unaware of the tubes coming from her body and draped across the lap of her human cradle, Fatima Ortiz-Cervantes slips gracefully into a slumber highlighted with rhythmic pats on her back and tender strokes across her cheeks.
Jim Donoghue, 64, who never had children of his own, will stay for hours if she needs him to. Every baby needs to be held - especially the ones spending their first fragile days in the UC Davis Medical Center Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit, where he volunteers. "They need somebody to take care of them and watch out for them," he said.
His love will be felt after he's gone: He's willed all his earthly possessions to the care unit.