Archive for the 'Community' Category

On a mission to Petaluma Junior High

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Driving to Adobe Christian Center on Saturday morning with the windshield wipers going full speed, I couldn’t help but have the thought that it would be okay with me if I got there and they had decided to cancel the event. You see, I was on my way to join up with members of our church and other churches who are part of the City Ministries of Petaluma for a City-Wide Clean Up Day. What really sounded good was making a Starbucks stop and then heading home to get started on the long list of chores that I wanted to cross off the list.

But I and the couple hundred other people who showed up for the pre-clean up breakfast had committed to do work. In the spectrum of showing some perseverance in spite of unexpected challenges, doing some yard work in the rain is about as mild as it gets. We’re not talking Daniel and the lion’s den here.

Weeding the Polly Klaas Memorial Garden at PJHS

City Ministries of Petaluma is a coalition of 10 Christian churches throughout Petaluma that pray for one another, occasionally have a shared worship service and look for ways to serve the community as was the case with Saturday’s clean up.

The overall plan for the day was to take on some of the maintenance work at Petaluma schools that the thinly-spread custodial staff never has time or budget to take care of. School administrators had provided a list of tasks that they hoped could be done during the morning of work. Any exterior painting that had been planned wasn’t going to happen due to the rain but weed pulling, raking, trimming and general clean up could still happen.

The 50 or so members from our church, Petaluma Valley Baptist, were split into two groups; one group for Kenilworth and the group I was in was sent to Petaluma Junior High. It’s always a little confusing when to start a project with a group of volunteers until a plan of attack gets sorted out.

We were all grateful when someone who works at the school arrived to give us some direction. But hey, a weed is a weed, and given the plentiful supply of them on the grounds, it didn’t take long for us to jump in and start pulling.

I was a little hesitant about pruning the rose bushes between the upper wings of classrooms knowing that there it is an art to doing it (do you cut above or below the five leaves?) and I garden with the finesse of a lumberjack. “Is a school administrator going to arrive on Monday and any good work that we have done will be for naught because what will be noticed is that I butchered the roses?”

I decided to rely on what I’ve seen happen in front of the Petaluma Visitors Center. Once a year, a city parks & rec worker comes by with a piece of gas-powered equipment and in a matter of minutes, cuts all the rose bushes so they are about 18 inches tall. And every year, the roses seem to come back even more beautiful and fragrant than the year before.

Will the students, teachers, and administration arrive on Monday and have a reaction of “Jump back! These volunteers totally transformed the grounds – it’s never looked so good!” Probably not; it’s a big campus and there’s a lot more that needs to be done. But I know that we filled two dumpsters with branches, weeds and clippings. In the midst of the showers, we were able to shower some love on PJHS and that felt good.

Welcoming visitors for 25 years

Monday, August 19th, 2013

To retire after 25 years is on the job is certainly something to be celebrated; to have that retirement happen when you’re 95 years-old…that’s a category of accomplishment that is way beyond noteworthy. That’s downright amazing.  Last Friday, we had the opportunity to honor my friend and co-worker, Sybil Sullivan, for her 25 years of service to the Petaluma Visitors Program.

A mayoral declaration naming August 16 as Sybil Sullivan day in Petaluma? I think that just might be in order.

We would have loved it if Sybil had continued working at the Visitors Center until she was 100 because the knowledge, graciousness and wisdom that is packed into her small frame is a delight to everyone who comes in contact with her. And her physicality puts many of the rest of us who are decades younger to shame. An ice skater and dancer in her younger years in addition to having been a school teacher, Sybil remains determined not to let her age get in the way of any task that she sees needs to be done. Lifting heavy boxes of brochures, dragging in the Visitors Center sandwich board sign out to Lakeville Street, or crouching down to restock the lowest cabinets – she does it all without hesitation.

Planning last Friday’s party was a joy because Sybil is so beloved – people were eager to be able to show their affection and appreciation for her by contributing to a gift and bringing food for the party. If you’ve ever been to a potluck party where the food looks rather haphazard, like they just picked something up at Safeway on the way over, that wasn’t the case for Sybil’s party. The food that everyone brought was carefully and beautifully presented. I know they did this because Sybil never gives less than her best in anything she does and bringing a gorgeous cheesecake or magazine-worthy tomato tart was a way for Sybil’s friends to reflect the attitude they see in her.

The PVP staff had a lot of fun choosing her retirement gifts. Like many seniors who are faced with the likelihood of moving soon, she doesn’t need more stuff even though it was tempting to give her a book because she is truly the definition of a lifelong learner. What we gave her instead was a small sterling silver bookmark engraved by Palmgren’s with her initials. Because she is such a promoter of Petaluma, we put together a gift basket filled local treats including Sonoma Valley Portworks port,  Marin French Cheese wedges, petite fours from Devine Delights, truffles from Viva Chocolat, chocolate covered nuts from Petaluma Market and just for kicks, a bottle of Benedictine, a liqueur that she happened to mention that she liked. It was great to find it in stock at Willibee’s – Sybil will have to live another 95 years to drink the huge bottle of it.

There’s more…we had a clean up party for her yard, we will be giving her a rose bush from the Visitors Center so she always has some of us with her, and so we always have her with us, there is now a small engraved plaque dedicating one of the benches outside of the Visitors Center to Sybil’s 25 years of service.

We thought that if there was a Sybil Sullivan brand, it would be “Small but Mighty.” Mighty intelligence, mighty knowledge and mighty strength in her petite size.  Sybil, thank you for sharing it with all of us – and with visitors from throughout the world – for 25 years.

Volunteer Appreciation

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

You may be familiar with the phrase, “America runs on Dunkin.” After working as the volunteer coordinator for last Sunday’s Art & Garden Festival in downtown Petaluma, the phrase that keeps running through my mind is “events run on volunteers.”

If it wasn’t for the volunteers, Petaluma’s favorite events – and I’m sure our community isn’t unique in this – wouldn’t be held. Events that are produced by non-profit organizations such as Butter & Egg Days, Salute to American Graffiti, Art & Garden Festival, and Rivertown Revival to name just a few, would not happen if hundreds of volunteers didn’t consistently sign up and give of their time and energy.

A few of our awesome volunteers

I appreciate that volunteering for an event takes a lot of trust on the part of the volunteer. They are trusting that they are going to be given training to do their job, that their willingness to work won’t be taken advantage of, that they will be given the necessary tools to complete their job, and that they will be treated respectfully.

I know how important this is because I’ve showed up to volunteer and felt very unprepared for the task at hand – like a couple of years ago when Steve and I arrived Infineon Raceway to work a beer booth as a fundraiser for our daughter’s cheer team. We ended up being assigned to a cocktail booth and when we got there, we felt like we had arrived in a foreign county – we were totally out of our element.  The “booth” was actually a plywood structure that looked like it had been constructed in less time than it took us to drive there. In it, we found liquor, one lime, plastic cups, a couple of shot pourers, and that was it. No instructions about how to set up the booth or what to expect. We quickly discovered that the required skill set was well within our toolbox, but we had a very uncomfortable few minutes.

That’s something I think about a lot as I’m asking people to volunteer. I don’t want people to have a lot of surprises when they arrive to work their shift. And I also want to let them know what to expect out of the experience. Things like telling volunteers what parking will be like, what will be their specific task, will they be working at a fast or leisurely pace, can they take a break…everyone naturally has questions, and the better job we can do preparing them for what lies ahead in their volunteer job, the better experience they will have and the more likely they will be to return as volunteers.

Every time I work with volunteers, I see something I missed that could improve their volunteer experience and nurture the relationship. I think that is what really keeps people volunteering year-after-year – the bond they form with the organization and the people who represent it…not the free t-shirt.

Saluting the ‘Salute’

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

I admire people who don’t get overwhelmed by the size of the mountain in front of them but instead take it one step at a time. And through perseverance and passion, they get to the top.

I think that describes John and Joetta Furrer, the originators of Petaluma’s Salute to American Graffiti. You couldn’t meet two nicer people. But the really cool thing about them is that while they have created a hugely successful event, they are not event organizers.

They didn’t sit down with an event marketing team and strategize about what feature of Petaluma they could capitalize on in order to bring a lot of attention to Petaluma. Instead, they just followed their love of cars and the movie, and lo and behold, John, a retired PacBell fleet mechanic, and Joetta, a former instructional aid for Petaluma School district, have built an event that has taken on a life of its own.

But John and Joetta will be the first to say that they did it with the help and dedication of many other people. That’s another really great quality of theirs – their humility. They say they are constantly amazed by what the event has achieved – that it brings 30,000 people from all over the world into Petaluma.

Steve and I have gotten to know the Furrers over the eight years since the inception of the event. Steve has designed numerous posters and programs for the Salute and witnessed how they operate under the stress of putting on such a large and complicated event. Steve says he has learned a lot from John in how to work with people; he is honored to consider John a friend.

It’s great to hear John talk about how as a shy guy, he has really had to come out of his comfort zone – as someone who is involved in coordinating Butter & Egg Days, I know that John has had to come way out of his comfort zone. You don’t close downtown, work with vendors, the police, retailers, sponsors and volunteers, without knowing how to respectfully get your point across in a way that people can hear.

Because the reason for the event isn’t motivated by dollars and cents but is about celebrating Petaluma as a filming location and a love of the kind of the classic cars that play such a big role in the movie, the event has an authenticity about it that people really respond to. But that’s not to say that “Salute” isn’t good for Petaluma. It is – raising tens of thousands of dollars that are invested back into the community.

John and Joetta say this is their last year taking the lead on the event. I know there is a great group who has worked tirelessly with them who are ready to carry “Salute” forward. But to the two of them, a big thank you for your vision and hard work. You’re the best.

Good Times

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

No one wants to see it come to an end. At least that’s the feeling I got at Sunday’s celebration of the Petaluma’s third place finish in the Little League World Series. Graduations,  weddings, and a ticker-tape parade – those kind of events, regardless of what else is happening in the world or in your life, are an opportunity to share pure joy with a community of people who feel exactly the same way. That feeling doesn’t happen very often and when it does, it should be savored.

The Petaluma Downtown Association which worked closely with the Little League officials on organizing the event is to be congratulated. It could have turned into a commercial free-for-all because lots of people wanted to share in the reflected glory of the team. But to their credit, it was all about the kids. Only the team and the Petaluma Junior High and high school bands were in the parade. There weren’t any floats promoting businesses or organizations, just the somewhat stunned faces of the adorable kids and their bursting-at-the-seams proud parents and siblings waving at the enthusiastic crowd. It was short but sweet.

At Walnut Park where the introductions, speeches and awards were given, the same non-commercial, non-exploitive atmosphere continued. The hot dogs and ice cream were free, thanks to the Rotary and Clover-Stornetta and water was a very reasonable $1 with the proceeds going to the Ugandan team. It would have been such a shame if the park had been filled with vendors hawking merchandise in order to make a buck off the achievements of the Little League-rs. Instead, it stayed pure to what it was all about: honoring an amazing group of talented kids, wise and devoted coaches and sacrificing parents.

To Petaluma and the team; you made us all proud from beginning to end. 

Volunteer Appreciation

Monday, July 9th, 2012

The concept of volunteering is something that I have only recently begun to appreciate. I was never exposed to it growing up because my parents worked for themselves and their lives were almost entirely focused on creating commerce to the exclusion of doing anything to give back to the community.

The only job my mother rather reluctantly volunteered for was being a “room mother” when I was elementary school. This was the mom who brought treats on holidays. Forget cupcakes or brownies for a class party. For some reason, the typical party food when I was growing up was open-face tuna sandwiches on white bread cut into triangles. Or if it was Valentine’s Day, cut into heart shapes. No chance of sugar-induced hyperactivity in my third grade class…life was quite Spartan growing up in Salt Lake City in the 1960s.

But I digress. As a parent, I’ve done my share of volunteering and so have most other parents. If your kids are involved in activities, it goes with the territory. We’ve worked bingo nights, gymnastics meets, beer booths at Infineon and like you, a ton of other volunteer jobs. But this isn’t volunteerism in its purest form; it’s more like a trade. I’ll do this amount of work so my child can have this kind of experience.

So when people freely volunteer their time without any expectation of getting something in return, it always amazes me. I had this experience once again on Sunday, when a fantastic group of volunteers showed up to sell tickets and pour beer at the Art & Garden Festival. Their only tangible reward is a t-shirt and a few dollars off of a tasting package. Since the event is free, it’s not like they are even getting free admission for volunteering.

So why do people volunteer? I’m sure there are a lot of different reasons. I know some like the camaraderie, some see it as a way to give back to Petaluma, and some people get a sense of satisfaction from knowing that they’ve worked hard and contributed to the success of an event.

Whatever the benefit people get from volunteering, my hope is that volunteers feel appreciated. Whether a volunteer dependably shows up to work a three hour shift at a booth or gives up their entire day to schlep ice, as clichéd as this has become, it’s true; we couldn’t put on the event without them.

So to our volunteers, you are the best. Thank you for doing an awesome job!

There’s a lot to learn in 4-H

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to interview one of the outstanding teen 4-H members in our community for the Argus as part of a series on agriculture. The article was also going to be part of the issue that highlighted the Sonoma-Marin Fair because for 4-H members, the fair is the culmination of the year’s projects; it’s a chance for them to put their hard work on display and be recognized.

I was looking forward to doing this assignment because my son, who’s now 23, had participated in a 4-H dog training project when he was about 10. Although his involvement only lasted a year – controlling our alpha German shepherd who weighed almost as much as he did required more authority on the other end of the lease than he was able to muster – I came away very impressed by the philosophy and structure of the 4-H program.

Jessie’s red Holstein at the Sonoma-Marin Fair

After chatting with 17 year-old Jessie Peterson of Liberty 4-H, my respect for what the 4-H kids do is even greater; I learned about aspects of the program that I hadn’t been exposed to in the short time we participated and was reminded of what I really liked about the program.

I realize that Jessie is an exceptional 4-Her and not all members take their projects to the level that she did with her Holstein cow. But the opportunity exists through the program for kids to learn really valuable, life-long skills through their participation. Skills such as leadership, communication, science, project planning, time management and even money management. How cool is it that she learned about creating a business plan and budget, taking a loan and then fulfilling the commitment to pay it back.

Another really good thing about 4-H, is that members choose a project (although they can do more than one project) that they focus on for the full year. This seems like a different approach than in Girls Scouts. When my daughters were Girl Scouts, we did a different type of activity every week with the idea that girls could “Try-It” (that’s the name of the badge) just to get a brief exposure to a career, hobby, or experience.

That always left me feeling like Girl Scouts had ADD; every week the moms would serve up a new activity but the time spent in each activity was so short that it didn’t seem that the girls could possibly know if they had any real interest in wildlife, nutrition, theater or any of the other dozens of options.

But each 4-H project has depth so the young person finishes the year knowing if their project is something that they would like to pursue further. It was obvious that my son didn’t have any affinity for dog training but at least he had worked at it long enough to know that wasn’t going to be his calling.

But back to Jessie, 4-H, and the fair…when I went on opening day, I headed straight to the dairy barn to find Jessie’s red Holstein cow. I was especially interested in seeing the cow because Jessie had told me about the genetic study she did on red Holsteins as part of her 4-H entry in the fair.

Because I had learned a little about the effort that went into caring, studying about and paying for that cow, I saw it in a whole new light. That is indeed, a beautiful cow.

Closed Easter Sunday

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

I had an experience On Easter that reminded me how spoiled we are in to be able to get almost anything, almost any time we want it,

It was probably mid-week last week on the drive home from picking her up at school when Jennifer Lynn asked me if we could make a trip to Michael’s to buy face paint for a video project for her Spanish class. I was probably barely paying attention; I’m sure I was much more consumed with thinking about whether or not I could scrounge something out of the freezer – hmm, Costco potstickers and pizza, that will work – thereby avoiding going to the grocery store for one more night.

“Sure, we’ll go there sometime over the weekend,” I said and then didn’t give it another moment’s thought.

Even though we passed by Michael’s six more times before the week was over, I was always focused on the next item on my agenda and Jennifer Lynn’s request for face paint wasn’t on it.

I think she mentioned it again on Friday, and I brushed it off with “we’re all going into the city on Saturday so we’ll get it on Sunday.”

Somewhere between home and church on Easter I remembered that she needed it for first period Monday morning. No problem, we can get it this afternoon. Michael’s is open on Thanksgiving; they are certain to be open on Easter. And if not Michaels, there’s always Target which is open way past my bedtime on any given night.

Amazingly enough, Target, Trader Joes, Costco, and Michaels are closed on Easter. It was shocking to seeRohnert Park, which is after all – all shopping centers – looking like a ghost town. Easter and Christmas are the only days that those stores are closed.

You mean there are two days out of the year that I can’t have instant gratification? I can’t buy face paint at the exact moment that is convenient for me? I had to abide by someone else’s schedule? How dare they!

Yes, I was bummed that Michaels was closed but we found an alternative for face paint at CVS that worked just fine – non-toxic, washable Crayola paints.

Am I glad that there are some stores that find a day worthy of being closed? Yes. How would I feel if CVS and Safeway also chose to close on Christmas and Easter and so I wouldn’t have been able to buy the paint?

I would feel a little inconvenienced and I would have to plan ahead better but somehow the generation before us managed without stores being open 24/7.  I think I could too.

In a Rohnert Park state of mind

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

No doubt about it, Rohnert Park gets a bad rap from everyone. I’ve certainly been guilty of making my share of jokes about it. Comments such as “what is a “rohnert” and why would I want to have a park full of them?” “I don’t think I could live in a city that doesn’t have a downtown” and “What a bleak place; nothing but acres of big box stores and strip malls.”

While Rohnert Park certainly doesn’t have the charm of historic Petaluma, it does have a lot of what I need: lots of places to buy stuff and plenty of parking when I get there.

We lived in Petaluma for 17 years and I loved it. Steve and I spent countless Sundays strolling in downtown Petaluma. It was a cheap date and we always came home feeling refreshed. How nice it is that my daughter and her friends can walk from the high school to downtown and stop at Bovine Bakery or Fruit in Motion for a snack and then do some shopping at Caravan Imports or Ooh La Loft. Or that she can be dropped off to meet up with her friends for a movie and I don’t need to worry about her safety in the downtown area.

But do I miss the 30 minutes that it took to get from the west side of town to the east side? Or how about circling Petaluma Boulevard and Water Street looking for a parking place when I’m meeting someone at Starbucks? And how about buying the basics of life such as hair color and Olay Regenerist? Sure, I could go to CVS but I would pay about 50% more than at Target.

Now that we are living in Cotati, Costco has become our neighbor haunt. We’ve the traded picturesque iron-front buildings of Petalumafor rows of flat-panel TVs. The cappuccino and scone has been replaced with a hot dog and Diet Pepsi in the food court. And we saved about seven bucks in the process.

No more air of superiority from me about where I live; we are solidly in the middle of struggling middle America. And you know what…I like it.

Sonoma County’s Food Network

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

A few months back, our longtime friend and business associate, Pam Davis, called Steve and asked if he would be willing to design the poster for her 50th birthday party bash called “The Heart of Winter.”

A birthday party requires a poster? In Pam’s case, the answer is yes. It was important to publicize her birthday because turning 50 gave Pam the ideal opportunity to bring the community together to raise money for two of her favorite non-profits: the Sebastopol Community Centerand the Ceres Community Project.

Pam probably knows more about recycling than anyone else in Sonoma County– she previously worked in government relations for the County’s garbage company and is now general manager of Sonoma Compost – and she is all about making the world around her a better place.

So, in addition eating to some really, really good artisan cheese from local creameries (I’m still dreaming about the Roasted Chili Redwood Hill Farm Chevre) and wishing Pam a happy birthday, another great aspect of the event was learning about an organization that meets a need that I had never thought about before.

The Ceres Community Project provides nutritious meals to people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The program makes complete sense: someone going through chemotherapy certainly isn’t going to have energy to shop and cook yet consuming high-quality, whole foods is essential to helping them regain their health.

And the Ceres Project (named after the Roman goddess of agriculture) goes far beyond just delivering food. The healthy meals are prepared by teen chefs working under professional chef mentors. Not only are teens serving people in need, they are also learning culinary and life skills and spreading the word about the connection between food and health. The whole program works beautifully on so many levels.

At the event, we got to enjoy the type of meal that the teen chefs prepare for the Ceres Project clients. And it was fabulous: pork with red cabbage, roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed kale. Organic, delicious and nutritious.

Their goal in 2012 is to provide 45,000 free and nourishing meals – a 50% increase over 2011.

So thank you Pam for turning 50 and introducing me to yet another way that people in Sonoma County come together to support and serve one another.

For more information on the Ceres Community Project go to