From Fillmore to Tanzania

FIRST PERSON | ERIN LEMOINE

I’ve lived in this neighborhood for eight years, so I tend to make a lot of decisions when hanging out on Fillmore Street. Dino’s or the Elite for dinner? Yoga at International Orange or Mindful Body? Recently, while having coffee and surfing the web at Jane, I made a bigger decision: to quit my job, leave the safe confines of the neighborhood and go to Africa on a humanitarian project.

I’ve enjoyed a successful career as an event planner in the entertainment, tech and sports marketing industries. It’s been fun and rewarding. But the last couple of years have left me wanting more. I’ve always wanted to make a more significant impact by doing work that helps people help themselves. I realized it was now or never.

Erin LeMoine on Fillmore Street

Erin LeMoine on Fillmore Street

I had been searching for a project for some time and that morning at Jane I discovered the website for Mama Hope, an organization working with African organizations to build schools, health clinics, children’s centers, clean water systems and food security projects. I was so excited about the opportunity that I hiked half a block up to Peet’s and completed the online application.

Mama Hope isn’t the usual volunteer opportunity; you must apply and interview for the fellowship program. Luckily, I made the cut. Now I must raise $20,000 to help build a student dining hall and community center in Tanzania. This new structure will provide a space for children to eat meals together, and will also serve as a gathering place for meetings, events and celebrations.  Most importantly, the community center will attract more paying students, which means more poor and vulnerable children can get a free education.

Soon I’ll board a flight for Moshi, Tanzania, and live there for three months, collaborating with community leaders to begin the project. When I come back to San Francisco, I’ll spend three months doing a mixture of monitoring and evaluation, reporting and public speaking.

Even though I’m leaping into the unknown, the move aligns with my passion for service. Maybe it’s innate; my father was a firefighter and my sister is a teacher. I intended to get a graduate degree in public health after college and I almost joined the Peace Corps. Instead, I ended up planning elaborate tech parties. However, I’ve reconnected to my passion over the years with some volunteer yoga teaching and a two-year tutoring stint at Rosa Parks Elementary School on Webster Street.

Now it’s time to really go for it.

Fundraising hasn’t been easy. The last time I asked for money, I pleaded with my parents for cash for Duran Duran concert tickets. Yet I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the generosity of people and businesses in the neighborhood and throughout the city. NARS Cosmetics, Yoga Works, Caryn Cohen at Secret Agent Salon, massage therapist Wendy Parker, International Orange, Soul Cycle, Equinox and Prana are just some of the local merchants that have stepped up to the plate. With their support, we’re connecting our community with the community in Tanzania.

I’ll miss my friends who sit on the bench at Peet’s every day. I’ll miss fall, my favorite San Francisco season. But the sacrifice will be worth it. And perhaps my work in Tanzania will open doors to a career in international development.

And to think, it all started on Fillmore.

Learn more about Erin LeMoine’s project and follow its progress.

A salon offers help and hope

Photographs by Susie Biehler

Josh McGill gives a young client his first haircut. Photograph by Susie Biehler

GOOD WORKS | Barbara Kate Repa

On a sunny afternoon in late March, Christine Coppola pulled up to the Compass Family Shelter on Polk Street and opened the trunk of her car to unload an unlikely stash: a collection of combs, brushes, blow dryers, towels and hair potions and products.

Coppola has worked at Renaissance Salon, a block off Fillmore at 2600 Sacramento Street, for 19 years — and owned it for the last 15. For several months now, she has been leading a group of hair stylists who deliver the gift of grooming to the families living temporarily at the shelter.

Within moments of arriving at the shelter, she and two other stylists at Renaissance — Sara Nowacky and Josh McGill — transformed a basement area just off a communal kitchen into a makeshift salon. “It’s a little difficult not having the right chairs and all, but we make do,” Coppola explained cheerfully.

Her first haircutting session at the shelter was last September and she has returned every eight weeks or so since then, enlisting a group of hairdresser friends from Renaissance and elsewhere. Shelter residents sign up for a styling session in advance; there are usually 10 to 20 clients.

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Making a joyful noise — and maybe a healthier life

Members of the Community of Voices choir sing at the Western Addition Senior Center.

Members of the Community of Voices choir sing at the Western Addition Senior Center.

By Judy Goddess

MANY AGREE THAT choir music can be a joyful noise. And choir members often find singing fulfilling and fun. But a new study recently launched locally aims to uncover whether singing in a choir can actually help older adults have longer and healthier lives.

As part of the study, the 15-member Community of Voices choir gave a lively gospel performance on March 20 at the Western Addition Senior Center at Fillmore and Turk led by Maestro Curtis and his wife, Nola Curtis. Maestro Curtis, a renowned San Francisco Bay Area music legend, producer and author, has a background in classical music as well as jazz, gospel, R&B, funk, folk and country. Haruwn Wesley on upright bass and Larry Douglas on trumpet accompanied the choir at the concert.

“I know singing in the choir makes people happier,” says the center’s director, Robin Bill. “People who were quiet when they first came to our center in September are now stepping up. You can see the improvement in the choir from when they first met to now.” The Western Addition choir previously performed at the City Hall celebration of Kwanzaa and at the Parc 55 hotel, and another performance is planned for the fall.

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Women’s clinic gets a new mission

CARLINA HANSEN — executive director of the Women’s Community Clinic at 1833 Fillmore — might seem an unlikely cheerleader for the onrushing changes in health care reform, which are ostensibly aimed at doing away with her clinic’s client base of uninsured and underinsured women.

But rather than close its doors and declare its mission accomplished, the clinic is expanding beyond its previous brief of providing free or low-cost reproductive and sexual health care services to offer primary care as well.

“It’s a big exciting change,” Hansen says of the Affordable Care Act. “I hear a lot of folks who are critical — mostly that it didn’t go far enough. But it sends a message to people who were overlooked that their health is valuable and that they deserve good medical care.”

To gear up, the clinic is adding a medical director and primary care nurse practitioner to its staff of 30, which is complemented by 150 volunteers. And beginning next month, the clinic will add an additional staff member to begin helping clients enroll in newly available insurance plans.

“It’s very exciting for our clients,” says Hansen. “People are so happy coming here. Now we’ll be able to meet their broader needs.”

In operation since 1999, the Women’s Community Clinic relocated from Hayes Street to new and expanded offices on Fillmore in March 2011.

“The thing is that change is hard,” says Hansen. “There will be bumps. But the base message is: It’s for the patients — and a step in the right direction.”

The old man and the cat

Longtime local resident John Gaul and (below) his new feline friend.

By Barbara Kate Repa

FOR MANY YEARS, John Gaul has been a fixture on Fillmore. Strolling and bussing through the neighborhood, he has been a dapper presence, doling out advice and good cheer along the way.

But just lately, his gait has slowed. He is getting about now with the help of a walker since he fell on the stairs a couple of months ago while giving one of his regular tours at the Haas-Lilienthal House on Franklin Street. And then he lost a dear and longtime live-in companion: a tabby cat named Felix. But his spirit remains strong, and he’s still up for a new challenge.

“I’m going through what people my age go through — a seismic shift, a breakdown of the body,” says Gaul, who will turn 87 in November. “But I have to go on. And I wanted something that needed someone to take care of it.”

But Gaul’s attempts to adopt a new feline friend were unsuccessful at Animal Care and Control, the San Francisco SPCA and Pets Unlimited — all of which rejected him because of his age, or his aloneness, or his limited funds.
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Creating a new public space

Photograph of the Fillmore Stoop by Daniel Bahmani

By Nick Kiniris

THREE YEARS AGO, the concept of the Fillmore Stoop was born, with the intention of making the northern stretch of California Street near Fillmore more pedestrian friendly and softening the harsh visual of the busy four-lane highway. The idea was to create a public space where neighbors could meet, relax, take a break from shopping or just hang out.

San Francisco has embraced these kinds of parklets — usually two parking spaces converted into mini urban parks. The parklet movement originated here, but was inspired by beautification efforts in New York that reclaimed dead urban spaces and transformed them into parks and plazas. The idea also takes its cues from European cities, where urban pedestrian zones have always been valued. The parklet concept has since expanded across the globe.

Each parklet in San Francisco has its own flavor. The Fillmore Stoop was designed by architects Jessica Weigley and Kevin Hackett of Siol Studios at Fillmore and Clay. Its multi-tiered sculptural form provides several levels for pedestrians to sit. It both creates more space for people and also acts as a barricade against the busy California Street traffic. The $25,000 project was funded by Chase Bank, which recently opened a branch across the street from the parklet.

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Read more: “The next big tiny idea in urban planning

EARLIER: “Parklet sprouting on California Street

‘Our hearts to Japan’ one year after quake

A service under the pagoda in Japantown commemorated the anniversary of the earthquake.

On March 11 — the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan last year — a commemorative community event called “Our Hearts to Japan” will be held at the Peace Plaza at Post and Buchanan Streets in Japantown.

The event caps a year of local activities that have raised more than $4 million to aid the victims of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that followed. More than 20,000 people were killed and thousands more were left injured and homeless.

“The event is a way to memorialize those who have died and to honor the survivors, many of whom still need our help in rebuilding their lives,” said Dianne Fukami, president of the board of directors of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. “When I was in Tohoku last month, I witnessed the spirit and determination of the people, but I also realized how huge their losses are and how great the need continues to be.”

An extensive program of events will be held in Japantown on March 11. “Our Hearts to Japan” will begin at 2 p.m., and those attending will observe a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. — precisely the time the disaster struck Japan.

Earthquake relief fund a success

A relief fund established in Japantown to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year has raised more than $4 million from 12,000 donors, including many local individuals and businesses. Already the funds have been used to build two shelters and three day care centers in northern Japan and to help provide medical and mental health care.

“We are absolutely overwhelmed by the response to our fundraising campaign,” said Paul Osaki, executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in Japantown, which organized the effort. He said that 100 percent of all donations are going to help the recovery in Japan.

Osaki moved quickly to begin organizing a relief effort after the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11. “We really felt it was our responsibility as Japanese Americans to do this,” he said. He had experience to draw on from 1995, when his organization helped raise $600,000 to aid the victims of the Kobe earthquake, which killed more than 6,000 people.

“This disaster is even bigger,” Osaki said. The death toll could reach 20,000, and more than 12,000 others were evacuated after the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear meltdown that followed. The Japanese government estimates it will cost $300 billion to repair and rebuild the area.

Osaki plans to keep the Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund operating at least through the anniversary of the earthquake in March.

Helping with an uphill battle

Meritus scholar Olushade Unger (center) went to Honduras to participate in a public health project during her spring break this year.

GOOD WORKS | Carol McLaughlin

If anyone knows what it means to keep going in the face of adversity, it’s Olushade Unger. She grew up shuttling between her mother’s home in the Fillmore district and her father’s place in Hunters Point, where violence and gang activities were commonplace. Unger was in high school, planning on attending college, when her musician father became ill with cancer and couldn’t work. Life became an emotional and financial roller coaster.

Her high school grades suffered during the year of her father’s illness. But she worked hard to catch up, graduated with good grades and was accepted at UC San Diego, where the annual bill is nearly $28,000. She got Pell and Cal grants that covered some of the costs, but not nearly enough. And her B average grades weren’t high enough to qualify for the merit scholarships available to top students.

So she applied for a Meritus College Fund scholarship, awarded to students whose GPA is 3.0 to 3.7. Meritus College Fund, which began 15 years ago, is the brainchild of Dr. Henry Safrit, who retired a few years ago from his endocrinology practice at California Pacific Medical Center in the neighborhood.
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Teens are making a difference

Sarah Armstrong: People can help.

By Sarah Armstrong

Teenagers have a reputation for sleeping in, getting in trouble and spending a lot of money. But I know we have the potential to do much more.

Now 14 and an eighth grader at Convent of the Sacred Heart Elementary School on Broadway, I have gone to school in Pacific Heights and lived nearby in the Marina for most of my life. I know there is a perception that the youth here live in a bubble and are self-absorbed and unaware of important issues in the world.

I want to help break that stereotype and encourage young people to make a difference. My friends, who are also teenagers, started an organization in Santa Barbara called Hands4Others, and I have recently started a San Francisco chapter. I’ve had a passion for community service since I was very young and once I learned of the devastation that a simple thing like having dirty water could cause, I wanted to help.
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