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Chris Smith: Bohemian Club fund donates $110,000 to lower Russian River area

Every friendship has it ups and downs. So it is with the lower Russian River’s linkage with the high-brow, art-graced, frequently scorned, men-only, pee-on-the-trees annual encampment at the Bohemian Grove near Monte Rio.

The kinship goes back an extraordinarily long way, 120 years. A good deal of good came from it even before the arrival of cash gifts from Bohos totaling $110,000 that right now aid efforts to get vulnerable Russian River-area residents vaccinated against COVID-19 and that come as a shot in the arm to other critical missions in the region.

“It’s a great example of doing something tangible for one’s neighbor,” said Dr. Jason Cunningham, chief of West County Health Centers. The nonprofit recently received $50,000 for its vaccination efforts from the Dawn Redwood Trust, a charitable foundation that gets most of its dollars from members of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, host of the Bohemian Grove campout.

Leaders of the Dawn Redwood Trust also gave $20,000 to each of the three community organizations that benefit from the hugely popular Monte Rio Variety Show. In normal years, the show happens in July, during the Bohemian Grove encampment that often draws protesters worried about the prospect that some of the club’s rich and powerful members meet with politicians out of the public eye.

Each year, performers that have included the likes of Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop, Clint Black, Zac Brown and Roy Rogers venture from the Grove to entertain a great crowd at the open-air Monte Rio Amphitheater. Last summer, COVID regulations forced the show to go virtual.

The $20,000 checks that arrived from the Dawn Redwood Trust were godsends to the Monte Rio School Foundation, the food pantry and other services of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, as well as the Monte Rio Fire Services Foundation.

“Everybody’s working together,“ said Michele McDonell, the community dynamo who coordinates the charitable Monte Rio Variety Show. ”It’s just a blessing. That’s how we operate.“

McDonell said cash grants from the Dawn Redwood Trust come at a time when fallout from the pandemic deals hardship and misery throughout the river area.

“It’s pretty grim for so many people,” McDonell said. Neighborly help originating in the pockets of Bohemian Club members is helping.

At West County Health Centers, chief executive Cunningham said the $50,000 from Dawn Redwoodd Trust has allowed his organization to contract with a fellow community nonprofit, Corazón Healdsburg, for essential COVID outreach services. Corazón Healdsburg has taken on the challenge of locating low-income people in danger of being overlooked by vaccination programs and helping them arrange to receive the shots

Cunningham said the new dollars made it possible for West County Health Centers to pay for the services of five members of the Healdsburg organization’s bilingual, bicultural vaccination outreach team. Those team members connect people with the vaccination clinics operated by the health centers.

That assistance in attracting vulnerable individuals to the clinics has been invaluable. “I would not have been able to do that quickly without that funding,” Cunningham said.

The Bohemian Grove members who savor the redwood camp and the people who live near it have been neighbors for far longer than anyone can remember. So they might as well be friends.

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PEACE PEDALER: Kyle Gift of Camp Meeker is looking forward to his birthday. In fact, he’s training for it.

“I like to think outwardly on my birthday,” said Gift, who’s set to turn 38 on April 17. To him, thinking outwardly means pondering not what might be done for or given to him on his special day, but what he might do for the benefit of others.

“I want to do something to get people inspired,” he said.

On the 17th, Gift will take up an Earth flag on a pole and take Step 1 in a birthday run from Camp Meeker to San Francisco.

People who spot him along the way will no doubt draw their own interpretations of his motivation. He’d like to spark thought and action on ending the violence being directed against Asian Americans, and on treading more gently on the planet, on coming together.

A seamstress he knows will sew onto his flag, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”

Gift is a conservationist. He has done work with Land Paths and he’s all the time clearing weeds and brush to make greater Camp Meeker more fire safe.

“It is so overgrown,” he said.

While he’s running on his birthday and the day after that, mostly along Highway 1, he’ll carry a flag bearing an image of Earth because his goal boils down to encouraging people to improve the planet. “We need to make it a better place,” he said.

He asks that if anyone would like to make a donation in honor of his birthday run, they make it to the mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospitals.

As Gift runs, his dad, Colin Gift, will follow in a van. “He’s going to be schlepping all my stuff,” the runner said.

His birthday 70-miler will conclude at a cool and appropriate spot somewhere south of the Golden Gate Bridge. Gift just hasn’t picked it yet.

You can contact Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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