Good Neighbors: Henry Khalil

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Henry as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for SF Connected computer tutoring.

Olga (left) and Henry (right) with Centro Latino participants advocating for seniors at City Hall

A dedicated volunteer, Henry (pictured right with Centro Latino participants) learns computer skills and then shares his new knowledge with other students.

Henry Khalil has seen the computer replace tools in his own industry. Now he volunteers at Centro Latino, helping others make the shift – answering questions and lending a hand as they try to understand the Internet and use social media.

It’s all somewhat new for him, too. Henry spent 30 years as a draftsman for Caltrans. For the last 10 years of his career, CADD (computer aided design and drafting) had replaced the pen and Henry, like other members of the department, had to become proficient. “New commands, new buttons, it wasn’t easy.

“I never used a computer (before he had to learn CADD). I still don’t have a cell. We drew everything by hand. At our age … it’s not easy.” Henry eventually bought a computer, but he rarely used it and “knew very little. My generation didn’t grow up using the computer.”

Peer Learning: Sharing New Skills One Step at a Time

These days he’s still learning, while helping others learn. Every Monday and Tuesday morning he volunteers in the computer lab at Centro Latino on 15th Street near Valencia.

Henry is careful to explain that he does not consider himself a teacher. “Keeping the mouse steady and learning when to right and left click, when to double click and single click. Opening windows and what to do once you get to windows. Finding files and transferring them.” The problems the students have are the same problems Henry’s had, and still has.

“Olgita (Olga Poveda, a computer trainer from the Community Living Campaign) teaches the program. I learn it and then I teach others. She teaches the more sophisticated stuff. How to use Facebook, YouTube, and email. When the students have questions I can’t answer, I tell them to ask Olga. I don’t fool myself and I don’t want to fool anyone else.” Community Living Campaign and Community Technology Network offer computer classes at Centro Latino as part of the SF Connected program funded by the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services. For computer classes in other locations, see the CLC Calendar and the SF Connected website

While Henry recognizes that today you can’t get a job without knowing computers, he fears that our reliance on computers has “made us impersonal, mechanical.”

Despite his growing computer expertise, Henry still thinks personal contact is preferable. He recalled inviting his cousin to his house to celebrate his (the cousin’s) birthday. The family all texted birthday greetings. “How much better it would have been if they called.”

In addition to volunteering in the computer room, Henry also assists Centro Latino with outreach, greeting people at community fairs. “I talk about the services we offer. I tell them I prepared for my citizenship exam here. I attended classes upstairs and answered practice questions on the computer. I tell them to come for a nice warm meal, and to socialize. I always tell them people shouldn’t come here just to eat. It’s not only a $2 meal. It’s important to socialize at our age. This is a friendly place.”

Olga nodded in agreement. “Henry wants to help in any way he can. He’s very compassionate, very open.” Some of the seniors Henry recruits visit the computer room, where they once again find him, available and ready to help them master the basics of computer literacy.

Good Neighbors: Janet Tom

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Janet as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for the St. Francis Square Neighborhood Network.

Janet Tom in her kitchen making soup

“If someone isn’t able to cook or just wants a hot meal, I whip up one of my favorite vegetarian soups and bring it over,” Janet says.

Janet Tom dreamt of moving into co-housing. She wanted to live in a community. But there is no co-housing in San Francisco, so she’s helping to create it.

Actually, she’s helping to re-create it at St. Francis Square, a 299-unit residential complex in the Western Addition built in 1963. The Square’s closed-off streets and grassy interior common space were designed to nurture community. Old-timers fondly recall days filled with the laughter of children, almost weekly community work parties followed by bounteous potlucks –a village in all but name.

But by 2011, when Janet moved to the Square, most of the early families had moved out. Today fewer than 10 children live in The Square, and yard work and other projects that once brought residents together are now the responsibility of paid staff. What had once been part of a cooperative plan now had to be created.

Building Community at St. Francis Square

Janet Tom with some of her St. Francis Square neighbors getting ready for a walk through the neighborhood

Janet Tom (pictured second from right) says, “The closest thing I found to a community was St. Francis Square …I feel like the co-op is part of my extended family.”

Fortunately, Janet was not alone in wanting community. A handful of residents – some longtime residents like Betty Traynor, Marcia Peterzell and Linda Silver of the Community Living Campaign, and others new to the community – invited the Community Living Campaign to help organize around the theme of aging in place.

Committees were formed. Janet is on the conservation committee and the Community Living Campaign committee. The latter organizes birthday parties, workshops and coffee & conversation events.

Janet is also on CLC’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor call list, Betty explained in nominating her as a Good Neighbor Honoree. “The closest thing I found to a community was St. Francis Square. I know someone in practically each building. I see them at committee meetings, the Laundromat, walking their dogs or working together on projects. I feel like the co-op is part of my extended family,” Janet said.

Breaking Bread Together

But the new community still lacked “the breaking of bread together” that Janet missed. Janet enjoys making soup. “If someone isn’t able to cook or just wants a hot meal, I whip up one of my favorite vegetarian soups and bring it over,” she said.

But Janet’s plan involved more people than just a neighbor or two, so at the next Community Living Campaign Committee’s neighborhood meeting she shared her idea with the group. They immediately took it on.  BYOB: Bring Your Own Bowl, has become a quarterly event celebrated in the Square’s social room.

 “The first time, I made two kinds of soup: lentil and minestrone, enough for 25,” Janet said, pulling out one of the large blue enamel soup pots she uses for cooking. “Another member brought bread, and a third made a salad. Three of the people who came were old-timers in wheelchairs. They came with their caregivers. Everybody was talking to one another, and seemed to really enjoy it.”

For the second BYOB, three months later, another woman also contributed soup and someone else brought bread. And so, like the fabled endless soup pot, the program has grown. 

In her life outside The Square, Janet is a reference librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, where she was instrumental in working with Betty Traynor to create the library’s exhibit celebrating The Square’s 50th birthday. Librarianship is Janet’s second career. In her earlier life, she worked with local Asian American performing arts groups.

 “I was so surprised I was nominated as a Good Neighbor Honoree,” Janet said. Slowly, event by event, with the help of residents like Janet Tom, The Square is rebuilding itself as the community it once was.

Good Neighbors: Saralyn Archie

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Saralyn as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for the Oceanview/Merced Heights/Ingleside (OMI) Food Network.

Saralyn Archie, 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree

It’s all about “human kindness,” Saralyn says, “being kind and giving to others. It’s a treat for me to be able to give something to people. I thank God every day. It’s a blessing to be alive and to be able to give.”

Saralyn’s parents moved to San Francisco’s Ingleside district when she was two. Despite her daughter’s frequent appeal to join her in Sacramento, Saralyn has never moved from the family home on Montana Street. Why should she move, she asks her daughter? “It’s a blessing to still be here. I’m rooted to the street. I’m very secure; I’m familiar with the surroundings. This is my comfort zone.”

She lives across the street from the Minnie & Lovie Ward Recreational Center. And that’s how she became rooted in volunteer work.

One day, after seeing the crowd at the center, Saralyn walked over to find out what was going on. “I was getting my pantry bag one day when I saw Debra (Glen) in a room packing groceries.” Saralyn knew Debra and they started talking. “Debra told me she was doing the pantry for ‘our seniors’ and asked would I like to volunteer.” Saralyn became a steady volunteer, joining the OMI crew packing and delivering groceries every Wednesday morning. The OMI Food Network serves almost 70 families, delivering groceries from the San Francisco Marin Food Bank as part of the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services’ Home Delivered Grocery program.

Caring for Neighbors, Wherever They Are

OMI neighbors pack groceries to deliver to their neighbors

Saralyn (pictured left) joins her neighbors every Wednesday to deliver groceries to seniors and people with disabilities in her community.

There are 19 families on Saralyn’s route, and she looks forward to seeing every one of them. She went to school with one of the women on her route, and they reminisce. But Saralyn connects even with those who are newer to the neighborhood. “I look forward to seeing their face, and they are looking for me. They’re my seniors. It’s a treat for me to be able to give something to people.” 

Saralyn had been a switchboard operator before she retired. Her last job was at San Francisco General Hospital. When someone called for a name she recognized from the neighborhood, she’d visit the patient before she left work. The patients, doctors, everyone at General looked forward to seeing her. “They loved me, and I returned that love,” she said.

In addition to volunteering for the pantry, Saralyn walks with the OMI Fog Walkers, takes Always Active classes at the IT Bookman Center, exercises at Minnie & Lovie Ward, is active in her church, and talks often with her daughters. She also enjoys going downtown, and seeing friends – although many have moved across the Bay. When she visits a distant friend, Saralyn brings a plant with stones and sticks from the neighborhood stuck in the pot to “remind them where they grew up.”

It’s all about “human kindness,” she said, “being kind and giving to others. It’s a treat for me to be able to give something to people. I thank God every day. It’s a blessing to be alive and to be able to give.”

Good Neighbors: Mark Campbell

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Mark as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for the Laguna Honda Computer Club.

Mark Campbell at Laguna Honda Hospital

“Mark treats residents as equals. He creates community by encouraging everyone to cultivate their own abilities to contribute back.”

Mark Campbell is a Good Neighbor Honoree from the Computer Club at Laguna Honda Hospital. But he’s not a member of the club. He’s an artist, a teacher and executive director of the Art With Elders, a program he teaches at the hospital.

Yet, it was through his effort and the energy of patients and volunteers that the Community Living Campaign was able to start a computer club at the hospital. Laguna Honda Hospital residents started the computer club together with the Community Living Campaign. It is part of the SF Connected program funded by the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services. For computer classes in other neighborhoods, see the CLC Calendar

“Mark treats residents as equals,” Jennifer Walsh, who nominated him on behalf of the club, wrote. “He creates community by encouraging everyone to cultivate their own abilities to contribute back. He shares his time enthusiastically with everyone. He uses art to befriend and help residents see past their current situation to perceive a new future.”

Mark is a practicing artist who has taught at Laguna Honda for 20 years. “It’s really satisfying, gratifying, extraordinarily rewarding. It’s challenging: You’re in the ring with them. They’re not crying; they’re trying.”

Bringing Art With Elders to Students Throughout the Bay Area

Art With Elders is now offered in 40 Bay Area communities from San Jose to North Bay. The program offers 2,000 classes a year, all taught by professional artists. Some of the 20 artists involved in the program are paid. Others volunteer. Art With Elders reached almost 500 students last year.

In “Look Again,” a 2012 book on Art With Elders, Mark writes in the introduction: “In my experience, it is the natural inclination of folks facing challenges, no matter how chronic or intransigent, to forge on and continue to live their lives to the fullest – whatever shape that may take. Elders are empowered if they are given a chance to define, describe and create themselves, shaking off the fetters of society’s relatively limited vision of their wholeness.”  

Before rebuilding Laguna Honda, the hospital’s executive director asked Mark what he wanted. He got what he asked for: a light-filled art studio – a 1,500 square-foot space with large windows in a well-traveled area easily visited by patients and staff, a central location on the hospital’s main street, the esplanade that links the residential buildings. And also, a kiln and an office.

Many of his students have been attending classes since Mark first began teaching 20 years ago. Even with new students, Mark said, the goal is to engage them and create relationships. When one of the long-timers stopped attending, Mark found her in her room, crying. She was rapidly losing her sight and ready to give up. Mark spoke with the occupational therapist, who arranged for special glasses. Today she’s back in class and much happier.

“There’s good energy here,” Mark said. “I love my time here. It’s a blast.”

These days, he divides his time between teaching at Laguna Honda and growing the organization. “When seniors in long-term environments are offered safe, supported and frequent opportunities to just explore their greater “selves” through art, something special happens. Friendships evolve, trust is built, barriers are reduced, meaningful and heartfelt relationships are established between and among teachers, volunteers and students alike.”

The next art show at Laguna Honda will be held in the auditorium on Oct. 22. The show is open to the public.

Good Neighbors: Cathy Russo

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Cathy as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for the Park Merced/University Park Food Network.

There’s not much Cathy Russo won’t do to help people. She’s involved with a number of service organizations, including Parkmerced/University Park Food Network (PUP).

“It’s nice to be doing something. It’s so wonderful to be doing this for people, to know you can help people,” Cathy said.

Delivering Groceries and Community Connections

Cathy Russo, 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree

Cathy is not only recreating the small town of her youth but is also making connections between her vast experience and her commitment to “making it good” for others.

PUP delivers grocery boxes to seniors living in the Park Merced and University Park North complexes on the southwest side of the city. But like all food delivery programs, PUP is more than simply a grocery program, explained Cathy, a Community Living Campaign Good Neighbor Honoree.

“We visit. We’re not in a rush to deliver. Sometimes, when they want to talk, we stay 20 or 30 minutes. They’re our neighbors. We’re making a community connection.”

PUP delivered its first groceries to three families in 2011, and Cathy was there from the beginning: sorting, packing, loading, driving and her favorite, delivering the groceries. Today, the program serves 28 families, delivering groceries from the San Francisco Marin Food Bank as part of the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services’ Home Delivered Grocery program on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

Lifelong Commitment to Educating and Connecting Neighbors

Cathy and other volunteers help organize bags for the 2016 turkey delivery

Cathy has been part of the Park Merced Food Network since the beginning. “We visit. We’re not in a rush to deliver…They’re our neighbors. We’re making a community connection,” she says.

Cathy grew up on the family farm in a small community near Castroville. After graduating from a two-room school where she “knew everything about everyone,” Cathy went on to earn an elementary teaching certificate at San Jose State University, returning home every weekend to help on the farm. After some years teaching, she went back to school for a degree in social work.

When Cathy realized that what she really wanted to do was to help seniors, she enrolled in the gerontology department at San Francisco State University, where she received her master’s degree in 1977.

Now retired, Cathy remains active. In addition to her involvement with the Community Living Campaign and PUP, she also volunteers with the Coalition of Concerned Legal Professionals, and is a member of the Advisory Council to the San Francisco Commission on Aging. “It’s a continuation of Cathy’s lifetime of service, of trying to take care of everybody,” said Karen Holt, CLC’s Park Merced Community Connector.

Up next, Cathy is planning to connect one of the families in the PUP program with a coalition attorney and help another neighbor who is worried about being evicted. “It’s wonderful. We only have to help connect them to services. We don’t have to solve their problems,” she said

It seems that in volunteering with PUP, Cathy is not only recreating the small town of her youth but is also making connections between her vast experience and her commitment to “making it good” for others.