The San Francisco Foundation 2012 Community Leadership Awards Celebration
On October 2nd, The San Francisco Foundation gathered more than 800 our community partners, family, and friends to honor the 2012 Community Leadership Awardees and Koshland Young Leader Awards, and celebrate F. Warren Hellman. Below we share more about our inspiring awardees, and we also invite you to watch video tributes about their lives and work.
The 2012 Community Leadership Awardees
The San Francisco Foundation Award is made to an individual demonstrating exemplary commitment to improving human relations in the Bay Area.
A great leader is naturally realized in challenging times; her power is not demanded or claimed. Rita Semel, though her 60 years of compassionate service, has dedicated her life to creating healthy, just, and inclusive communities, with a humble and graceful leadership.
Rita’s deep respect and value of the contributions of all communities is a trademark of her contributions to the greater good of the Bay Area. Her work connecting people and dissolving barriers of race and faith embodies tikkun olam the Jewish value of “repairing the world.”
Her work has influenced the repeal of discriminatory policies, including passage of the Rumford Fair Housing Law that prohibited racial and other discrimination in housing, and built collaborations to respond to the great crises of our times. Following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, Rita was instrumental in organizing the San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC) to help people suffering from the damaging earthquake. As homelessness emerged as a central issue in the late 1980s, Rita was instrumental in bringing congregations together to house and feed the homeless, establishing the annual winter interfaith emergency shelter program. Today SFIC engages a network of 800 congregations in community dialogue and action on critical economic and social issues.
As Rita turns 91 this year, she remains dedicated to her mission of service and community building, inspired by the vision of a Bay Area and larger society that values the intrinsic worth of every person.
The Helen Crocker Russell Award is made to an under-recognized, mature artist who has made a significant and ongoing contribution in the Bay Area.
“In modern dance, the dancers are the intellectual and visual collaborators. As the choreographer, I’m the boss, but I expect these complicated, intelligent adults to bring their own experiences to life.”
This is the essence of Brenda Way as a choreographer, and the philosophy that has guided ODC (Oberlin Dance Collective). Forty-one years ago Brenda embedded a living and evolving dance company in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. Over the years the company has expanded to include a performance space and community dance school – and it’s now a groundbreaking international arts complex.
Brenda has received numerous awards as well as 35 years of support from the National Endowment for the Arts. As a choreographer, she has created over 80 pieces in the last 40 years. Her recent commissioned works include pieces for the Equal Justice Society, San Francisco Girls Chorus, Stanford Lively Arts, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Brenda’s belief is that through dance and the inherent cultural exchange that occurs through the arts, we can build community and enhance the lives of Bay area residents. ODC’s mission and diverse programs continue to serve as a solid foundation for its artistic success and impact on the community.
The John R. May Award is made for organizational initiatives in response to a significant contemporary problem.
In 1986, two San Francisco teachers faced classrooms full of students wiped out from a summer away from school. Like the other years, once again, the students were falling behind and failing to achieve what teachers knew they could. Summer months can have a devastating effect on students’ education; for students in neighborhoods without summer activities, the accumulated learning loss can stop them from graduating high school. This was the spark of frustration turned inspiration that launched Aim High.
As one Aim High student who returned to become an Aim High teacher explained, it is not about the grades and diploma, but about education as a right and for students to be excited about learning. The intensive summer session allows students to better engage in learning, and alleviates the achievement gap. For many students, Aim High is the first time they feel taken seriously in a school setting, where teachers provide a curriculum and environment that is uniquely designed for them.
Twenty-six years and 8,000 students later, the program has expanded to reach middle school students across five counties, inspiring confidence, motivation, and desire to achieve more. Where many of the students in Aim High were at risk of not completing high school, in their most recent long-term evaluation, 95 percent of Aim High students had not only graduated high school, but enrolled in college. That is the impact of the “Aim High magic” that has inspired teachers, parent, and students to expect more from their education and themselves.
CHINESE FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
The Robert C. Kirkwood Award is made to an individual in recognition of outstanding community service, commitment, and inspired leadership.
Bridging a divide between cultures and communities is a challenge that takes tenacity, passion, and bold leadership. For 40 years, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) has had the insight and collaborative spirit to face and overcome complex civil and political challenges. CAA was founded in 1969 to protect the rights of Chinese Americans, and today it is a progressive voice in and on behalf of the broader Asian and Pacific American community.
Whether organizing public school parents, garment factory workers, or opening up access to the construction and hospitality trades, CAA continues to plays a vital role in racial and economic justice work throughout San Francisco, advocating for systemic change that remedies racial injustice and ensures equal opportunities for communities of color.
CAA was instrumental in addressing and resolving tension between the Asian American and African American communities following high profile violence in Bayview Hunters Point. CAA did not take this challenge at face value, but instead addressed the complex root causes of the tension: under-resourced communities. CAA pulled together multiracial coalitions, coordinated rallies and vigils to unite a superficially divided community, and developed a clear, short term policy agenda to advocate for the real changes necessary for success. This is the principled and inclusive approach to organizing that is CAA’s hallmark. This rapid, thoughtful response not only united communities, but developed a public safety program that is now replicated by the San Francisco Police Department.
The 2012 Koshland Young Leader Awardees
LURI CHEN ZHENG, Mission High School
Luri Chen Zheng moved from Panama to San Francisco in the spring of 2010 with her family’s aspirations for her to have great academic opportunities. Despite the challenges of living without her mother and sister, she is committed to being the first person in her family to go to college. Since starting Mission High School, Luri has been a straight A student, quickly moving from an English as a second language class to a mainstream English Honors class. She serves as co-president of the United Nations, which helps mentor and tutor newcomer students, is a member of the AV club, which helps the school set up and repair computer and audiovisual equipment, and volunteers at 826 Valencia as a writing tutor. She is also a member of College Connect, an intensive, family-based college counseling program. Luri has also participated in Mission’s Chinese Club, Organization of Latino Students, and the dragonboat team. In addition, she sometimes works as a cashier at her cousin’s produce market and babysits her younger cousins. Luri would like to attend a UC or competitive private school with the goal of working in healthcare, inspired by the lack of medical services that were available to her family in Panama.
KYRON COVINGTON, City Arts and Technical High School
Kyron Covington is serious about his education and a lover of knowledge. As a young child, he suffered the loss of his father. After moving to Vallejo and going through a period of struggling at school, Kyron took it upon himself to make a change, moving to San Francisco to live with his grandmother to attend City Arts and Technical High School as a sophomore. From that moment on, his attitude, commitment to education, and academic achievement turned around. Not only did his grades soar, but after an internship, Kyron became fascinated with the work of the Youth Commission and his dedication led him to extend his internship through the school year. Kyron also holds an internship at Youth Leadership Institute, where he joined the Alcohol Policy Team, which focuses on the excessive alcohol ads present in low-income communities and communities of color. His dream is to attend Columbia University and pursue a degree in psychology. He also hopes to explore ethnic studies to support his goal to lead his own nonprofit that focuses on issues that affect African Americans.
DEANDRA CRAWFORD, Leadership High School
Deandra Crawford is a strong leader in her school and community who has had to overcome many obstacles in her life. Deandra splits her time living with her grandmother during the school week and with her mother on the weekends. Growing up without a father, Deandra learned early to take responsibility and helps raise her younger siblings. She strives for straight A’s and does additional work even for courses where she is already excelling. She applies herself in all that she does to ensure her academic success because she understands that attending college is the best way to change the trajectory of her family and their circumstances. Regardless of all that Deandra faces, she finds a way to overcome challenges and take care of those around her. She participates in BuildOn, a club that focuses on community service and volunteering, and First Graduate, which helps her set college goals and work hard to achieve them. Deandra also serves on the Youth Empowerment Fund Advisory Board and attended the UC Hastings Summer Law Institute. Deandra will be the first person in her immediate and extended family to go to college. She hopes to attend a competitive four-year college.
MOLLIE CUEVA-DABKOSKI , Ruth Asawa School of the Arts
Mollie Cueva-Dabkoski addresses life head on with her magnetic personality and a perfect GPA. She faces challenges everyday with her mother’s illness and her father living in Ecuador, yet she excels at school and serves as junior class president and president-elect of the senior class, president of the BuildOn club, and a student representative of the school’s site council. Mollie also volunteers at a preschool where she works with children and helps teachers with various activities. She is part of the Careers in Science Intern Program at the California Academy of Sciences all year round, where she teaches science lessons to guests. Mollie has witnessed firsthand people in Ecuador who require immediate medical attention who cannot afford healthcare. She aspired to become an evolutionary biologist or work in the medical or social justice fields.
MARLYN MARTINEZ, San Francisco International High School
In the two years since Marlyn Martinez came to the US from Guatemala to live with her estranged father, she has mastered the English language and is a top achiever in athletics, academics, and extra-curricular recognition. Marlyn helped to found Inspiring Multicultural Understanding, a nonprofit dedicated to developing a message of cross-cultural sharing and understanding in her school and throughout the community. She participates on the Student Leadership Committee, works as a peer tutor after school, and helped to found a mentoring program for Latina girls at her school. She also participates on the Student Leadership Committee, is a peer tutor, volunteers at her neighborhood Boys & Girls club, and is a Mission Graduates Outdoor Youth Leader. Marlyn plays on the varsity volleyball, soccer, and wrestling teams. She received all-state recognition as a wrestler, the first athlete at her high school to earn all-state recognition. She takes coursework at City College of San Francisco and aspires to be a civil engineer, hoping to obtain a doctorate. She also is interested in studying psychology so she may help others.
RODRIGO MENDEZ, San Francisco International High School
Since he arrived from El Salvador only two years ago, Rodrigo has distinguished himself as an outstanding student leader both in school and in the broader community. He has won various awards for citizenship, leadership, athletics, and academics. Rodrigo also takes evening classes in Criminal Forensics at City College of San Francisco. He is an active member of his church and helps to care for two younger siblings and keep the house in order while his mother works long hours. Rodrigo, a three-season varsity athlete, is the captain of both the soccer and wrestling teams, runs cross- country, works as a peer tutor after school, and serves as an Outdoor Youth Leader, leading camping and adventure trips for youth. He is also an active member of the Student Leadership Ambassadors Committee, which helps welcome new students and plan events for SFIHS. He works at the student peer tutoring center once a week. Rodrigo has his heart set on being an immigration lawyer, with his recent immigration history fresh in his mind.
EDITH MELENDEZ, San Francisco International High School
Edith Melendez is a humble, voracious learner, deeply caring and attentive to the world and the people around her. She immigrated to the United States four and a half years ago from El Salvador. A natural leader and a straight A student, Edith manages student orientations, school presentations to district-level employees, recruitment events at middle schools, community events, and more. Edith is a founding member of the SFIHS Ambassadors program, a peer tutor in the afterschool program, a Youth Outreach Worker, the president and founder of the Spirit Committee, the co-president and founder of the Student Leaders program, and a founding member of the Alliance of Bay Area Internationals. Edith also participates in the Inspiring Multicultural Understanding Peace Club and is on the girls’ soccer team. Informally, Edith plays an integral role in peer mediation and is leading an initiative to develop the first Prom Committee. She has been active with Outward Bound and completed UCSF’s medical shadow program. Edith tutors her younger brothers, translates for her family, and takes care of her youngest brother while her parents work. Edith’s dream is to attend Columbia University and become a psychologist or an educational consultant.
ERICA NGUYEN, Mission High School
Erica Nguyen thrives taking rigorous coursework, including many honors and advanced placement courses. As a member of the Japanese Youth Leadership program, Erica has taught senior citizens basic computer skills and realized her love of serving others. This experience led her to start a service club, Interact, to give her classmates the opportunity to experience the joys that come from community service. Erica is also part of Juma Ventures, a college access program that provides employment opportunities to build skills in saving money towards college. Through this program, Erica works at the Giants’ ballpark concession stands during baseball season. She is also a Youth Outreach Worker on her school’s campus, where she helps students stop smoking and supports students whose family members smoke. Erica’s grandfather’s wish for his grandchildren was that they graduate from college. She works hard to become one of the first in the family to go to college and not to allow negative habits to take over her life. Her dream is to attend New York University to major in business and minor in fashion.
NGA PHAM, Raoul Wallenberg High School
Nga Pham came to the United States a year and a half ago from Vietnam, leaving behind her parents. As a newcomer student, she has received straight A’s in her three semesters at Wallenberg, while taking the most challenging honors and Advanced Placement courses. Nga started an Ecology Club at Wallenberg, and members currently volunteer at the Golden Gate National Park and are planting Wallenberg’s first school garden. She is a member of the Blue and White Club, working as a campus tour guide and Vietnamese translator during parent events. She is also a member of the Student and Action Club, encouraging students to volunteer in their community, and is an intern at the Huckleberry Wellness Academy. She interned at the Youth Watershed Challenge Project and at the X-Prize Competition, where she created a documentary about oil spills, and volunteers at Kaiser Hospital. Nga lost her grandfather from liver disease, as he was waiting for a liver transplant, and this inspired her career interest in biomedical research, with an emphasis in stem cells.
STACY THOMAS, City Arts and Technical High School
Stacy Thomas leads with quiet grace. He has stellar academic performance while working to help supplement his mother’s income, helping extensively around the house, and helping take care of his younger brother. Stacy serves as a volunteer in a local bookstore, learning what it takes to manage and run a business, which he aspires to do. He also has a paid internship at the Academy of Sciences, where he serves as a general guide for groups, teaches visitors about various science concepts, attends weekly trainings and lectures, and works directly with scientists. After moving to Potrero Hill, Stacy became involved with a program that sought to get youth involved in the reconstruction of San Francisco’s public housing. Through this program, Stacy led successful efforts to make fresh, affordable foods available in his neighborhood. While Stacy is undecided about his career path, he is clear that he would like to study biology.
A Celebration of F. Warren Hellman
As part of the 2012 Community Leadership Awards we celebrate and remember our dear friend F. Warren Hellman.
Warren’s vision and generosity knew no bounds. His formula of personal passion coupled with innovative ideas, and multitudes of talented partners is what made his philanthropic leadership so effective and impactful. Be it park bonds, public school bonds, online journalism, modern dance, or bluegrass music, he invested where his heart was and has made San Francisco and the Bay Area more just, more fun, and more beautiful as a result.
Warren was an extraordinary civic leader and a passionate philanthropist. He was a singular force for the greater good in our community and his impact remains immeasurable. As a civic and business leader, Warren was a role model setting the highest standards for ethical practices and engaged citizenry.
Warren was deeply inspired to make San Francisco and the Bay Area a more thriving, just and beautiful place to live. Warren served as a Trustee of The San Francisco Foundation for eleven years, and was Chair for three. We were blessed to have had the privilege and pleasure of working closely with him on his intensely personal and broadly impactful philanthropy.