Golis: Celebrating hometowns, generous hearts

A year ago at Christmas, visitors were invited to imagine what an abandoned hospital could mean for local kids living in cars and under bridges.|

A year ago at Christmas, visitors were invited to imagine what an abandoned hospital could mean for local kids living in cars and under bridges.

This month, construction crews are expected to begin the renovation of the former Warrack Hospital. By Christmas 2015, the Dream Center will be providing low-cost and emergency housing and other services for young people between the ages of 18 and 24.

Which means fewer youngsters will be living outside during these cold, rainy December days. (If you want to recognize your good fortune during this holiday season, consider this: At this moment, more than 1,100 Sonoma County youngsters have no place to live, save perhaps a tent or a piece of cardboard wedged against the side of a building.)

For the organization called Social Advocates for Youth, a year of progress toward the Dream Center is what happens when people combine compassion, hard work and generosity.

In March, the City Council gave its unanimous approval. In August, a capital campaign seeking to raise up to $9 million was launched. In September, ownership of the abandoned hospital passed from Sutter Health to SAY. It was a gift valued at $9.5 million.

In only four months, a capital campaign co-chaired by Connie Codding and Bill Friedman raised $6.6 million, and now SAY is poised to begin construction, according to communications manager Caitlin Childs.

“The feelings are so big because the outpouring from the community has been so overwhelming,” said SAY Executive Director Matt Martin. “… It’s like an old-fashioned Sonoma County barn raising.”


In April of last year, the Redwood Empire Food Bank completed a $9 million fundraising campaign and moved into a new 60,000-square-foot facility.

Everyone understood the reason: More people needed help. When people who used to volunteer at the food bank were lining up for help, we knew things had changed.

In the past year, a larger and more modern food bank has already provided food assistance to an additional 4,000 people every month. In all, 82,000 people receive food assistance each month.

“We have prepared ourselves for the future,” Executive Director David Goodman told me. “… It’s everything we hoped it would be.”

Looking back, he was reminded of a book about the space program and the thousand of workers essential to its success: “The glory goes to everybody who makes possible what we do. … Without the support (of thousands of volunteers and donors), we couldn’t do anything.”


Last month, Kim Mazzuca’s cellphone rang. She didn’t recognize the incoming phone number, but she decided to answer it anyway. It was a call from the White House in Washington and a young man named Mario Lopez.

Mazzuca, the CEO of the scholarship program called 10,000 Degrees, remembered Lopez. A few years ago, she had pushed him to stop procrastinating and complete his college admissions applications. Now Lopez, having graduated from UC Davis, was in his final year of law school and working as a White House intern.

He was calling to say thank you.

Since the generosity of Herb and Jane Dwight kickstarted the arrival of 10,000 Degrees in Sonoma County in 2012, the total amount of annual college scholarship awards has more than tripled. In just the past year, total awards increased from $432,000 to $760,000.

And there is more: Eighty-five percent of the program’s recipients are the first in their families to attend college. (It’s an American story. Send the first kid to college and future generations will know the opportunity is available to them as well.)

And, thanks to the 10,000 Degrees college prep program, 84 percent of students who enroll in four-year colleges go on to graduate. The graduation rate among all students? Fifty-four percent.


Every town has its own story, of course. With the support of government grants and private donations, for example, the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center this year moved to a state-of-the-art clinic that is three times the size of the old one.

In Healdsburg, years of effort by public and private agencies finally produced the deal that will protect the city’s most prominent landmark, Fitch Mountain, and guarantee that the public will be able to use the mountain.

We can’t list here all the big and small ways that generosity and collaboration lift the lives of others. How do we value what we do for a kid when he doesn’t have to live under a bridge, or go to school with an empty stomach? How do we value what happens after a student discovers the rewards of a college education?

We live in a time when it’s easy to be pessimistic. A Congress awash in partisanship will begin to address issues of poverty and jobs some time after pigs learn to fly. The state Legislature has some good days - and some others. Even local government sometimes struggles to move beyond the baggage of old issues and old rivalries.

But good outcomes happen because people of compassion care about the welfare of others - and we shouldn’t shy away from opportunities to celebrate their generosity.

Fifty years from now, their good deeds will still be helping people in need. During this holiday season, that’s a legacy worth honoring.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: This column was updated to reflect the correct number of people aided each month by the Redwood Empire Food Bank.


Editor’s note: This story has been altered to reflect the following correction: Pete Golis’ column originally misstated the number of people served each month by the Redwood Empire Food Bank. The correct number is 82,000.

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