tv NBC Bay Area News Special Bay Area Proud NBC May 28, 2016 6:30pm-7:01pm PDT
natthan mesfin: and i just said, "we need to do something." announcer: an 11-year-old boy puts his words into action, helping the homeless and inspiring adults. and-- moksh jawa: yeah, i was very, very excited to take the course. announcer: excitement turned to disappointment. moksh: when i found out the course isn't there. announcer: which, in turn, resulted in a teachable moment for himself and thousands of other students looking to learn computer science. but first-- xander schultz: it's incredible. announcer: after a life-changing trip to help syrian refugees, a couple bands together to bring the refugee relief effort full circle. here's nbc bay area's garvin thomas. garvin thomas: good evening and thank you so much for joining us. the "bay area proud" series is all about featuring people who are at their best when things are often at their worst. and this first story is no exception, although it didn't start out that way. it started with a san francisco couple recently going on a european vacation.
but then their itinerary changed. instead of seeing the sights, they witnessed tragedy firsthand and have returned home determined to make a difference. garvin: this is the only type of picture xander schultz and zoe papis probably thought they'd be bringing back from their italian vacation last fall. the one they took to recharge and de-stress after xander's latest start-up went belly-up. xander: oh, eegh, i had my soul ripped out of my chest, i think, out of the last experience. garvin: the bright italian sun, though, couldn't blind the san francisco couple to something happening at that time just across the mediterranean. syrian refugees by the thousands, risking their lives to come to europe. xander and zoe couldn't take their eyes off it. zoe papis: we spent our days, instead of laying on the beach, we would be in our hotel rooms doing research, looking at more and learning more about the war and what's happening. before we realized it, we were, like, spending all of our days
doing this and we're, like, "let's just get out there. what are we doing?" garvin: so the pair flew to the greek island of lesbos to volunteer, welcoming and warming those who had survived the dangerous sea journey. still, they wanted to do even more. but just how? well, the answer to that was just laying at their feet, literally. xander: it's incredible, it's-- garvin: the thousands upon thousands of discarded life vests the refugees had used but no longer needed were everywhere. zoe: upon flying into the island, you could see the entire island just--all the shores just filled with bright orange. garvin: it was zoe who came up with the idea to upcycle the vests, using local seamstresses who are now sewing the material into wristbands. thousands have been made already to raise money for the ongoing humanitarian effort. xander: i want this to be a stance of humanity above borders, above religion, above all else.
so this is a zoe band. garvin: their hope is that these bands will help buyers make an emotional connection to those who once wore this material. and what refugees once relied on to save their lives, perhaps will come full circle and help them once again. garvin: a san jose man is also using his skills to raise money for a good cause. it's one that's close to his heart. rich santoro's passion for flowers and gardening is legendary in the south bay. we've featured the fruits of his labors before. but his gift now takes on new meaning, now that he's figured out what is motivating his mission. rich santoro: be careful, it's kind of slippery. garvin: the third time, rich santoro is discovering, isn't always a charm. in fact, on this milpitas hillside, it's just about the opposite. rich: ah, it's a disaster.
garvin: for the third year in a row, you see, rich has planted thousands of bulbs up here, which, when in bloom, were supposed to spell out a secret message for passersby, except they didn't bloom, again. rich: look at that, that's completely--look it, completely mildewed. rich: what you see here is 6700 failures. garvin: it's all a bit of a surprise, considering rich is something of a maestro when it comes to bulb gardening. just not up here. rich: in my backyard, i'm a near expert. female: are those calendula back in the-- rich: yeah, calendula. yes, yes. garvin: rich is well known in gardening circles as the bulb guy of san jose. each year, he plants more than 10,000 in his back yard, then opens it up for the public to enjoy the colorful results. rich did it, he always said, to simply share his love of flowers with the world. not this year, though. rich: but now it's taken on a different purpose. garvin: so what changed? well, a door closed, literally.
and when it did, a picture that had been hanging on rich's walls for more than 30 years, crashed to the floor. rich: when the picture fell off the wall, it was a epiphany, and it was a snap of a finger. i knew exactly what we had to do. garvin: the picture, a rainbow, had been drawn by richard's son, nicknamed boom. he died of cancer at the age of 6. suddenly, rich says he realized the garden was never supposed to just look good. it should do good. the rainbow on his garage door this year, meant to match boom's drawing, is being built with petals, each representing a $5 donation to fight childhood cancer. rich: no parent should have to bury their child. just--it's pretty horrendous. so that's what this garden is all about now. garvin: rich says losing a child taught him a lot about perspective in life, that, for example, 6000 flowers that don't bloom isn't a tragedy, but 10,000 that
do might just one day prevent one. garvin: from one man listening to his heart to others listening to anyone. a san francisco therapist thinks our addiction to technology these days is robbing us of something very important and she wants to give it back to us, for free. garvin: amid the never-ending bustle that is a big city like san francisco, it can be hard for a voice to be heard. traci ruble: hey there, how's it going? garvin: not because of too much noise, mind you. traci: do you wanna sit down and talk and tell your story? garvin: because of too little listening. traci: you wanna talk about it? garvin: at least, that's how traci ruble sees it. traci: you have to not talk. you have to stop talking. i have to stop talking and i have to listen and ask questions. traci: where would you wanna stop? garvin: it was 2 years ago that traci and another licensed therapist decided their listening skills could do
good for more than just their patients. they could do a little something to help all of us, one non-spoken word at a time. traci: what i wanna give everybody else is a personal sense of belonging, you know. that moment in time when somebody walks down the street and they wonder, "does anyone even care that i'm alive? does anyone even care what i'm thinking?" male: with me, i'm all about human interaction. garvin: "sidewalk talk" is what the idea has become. traci and her volunteers set up chairs on the street every month around san francisco. any passerby is then welcome to take a load off their feet. male: how do you know when someone thinks it over-- garvin: as well as their mind. female: i started film school and realized i wasn't a filmmaker-- garvin: all topics welcome. female: i wish therapy was more accessible to people. garvin: no judgments passed. lily sloane: when people see us on the street, they will not expect, like, any sort of interaction. garvin: traci believes the more we connect with each other
through technology, the less of a need we feel to connect personally. and that's not healthy. traci: if there is anything that i feel deep in my bones, that i am, you know, really advocating for it's that we actually need each other as people. traci: and we're out here listening to people. garvin: even those who don't stop, traci thinks-- traci: think that's weird? garvin: get a little something out of the deal. traci: that's all right. garvin: their story must be worth something, they must think, if someone's willing to hear it for nothing. announcer: coming up, a veteran helping other vets. catherine martinelli-banks: i won't feel complete if i don't reach out and see if there's anything i can do. announcer: how a fellow marine she served with in the 1980s gave her a new purpose. moksh: and just go out there and do it. announcer: plus, changing course. a high school junior teaches himself and others the power of problem-solving when an ap class wasn't offered at his school. tom: it was a really struggle. announcer: but first, he lost most of his sight, but a guide
tom kowalski, lost the fingers on his left hand years ago in an industrial accident. he honestly says that wasn't too much of a burden to overcome. losing his eyesight years later, though, that was. he only overcame it, he says, with the help from others, both human and animal. and wants now to help them in return.
tom: good boy, okay. forward. garvin: in a world where people talk all the time about counting steps, tom kowalski still speaks in miles. tom: we're averaging about 50 miles a week. garvin: in fact, tom and his guide dog dynamo have been up and down the san ramon section of the iron horse trail so many times-- tom: he knows we're heading toward the barn, see? garvin: it's an open question as to who is leading whom these days. tom: good boy. garvin: no question, tom says though, where he'd be without his companion. tom: um-- garvin: tom, you should know, has always been the active type. running and golf were given but tom was even an expert barefoot water skier. but in 2007, almost overnight, a medical condition took much of his eyesight and almost all of his hope. tom: and it was a really struggle. initially i had given my wife a date that i was gonna commit
suicide about 2 months after this happened. garvin: with the help of doctors and others, tom says, he made steps toward an emotional recovery, but it wasn't until dynamo showed up that he put real distance between himself and depression. tom: there was always something missing and, after about a year, that something wasn't missing anymore. you know, there was just a piece of my soul that was filled in now. garvin: it was san rafael-based guide dogs for the blind who gave dynamo to tom and taught the two how to work together. so grateful is he for what they did, tom now wants to help them. tom and dynamo recently completed a half-marathon together and used their training as a way to raise money for the group. they raised enough to cover three years' rent for one of the club's meeting spaces. the pair are also becoming regular speakers at guide dog
for the blind events. tom: i can't thank you enough. garvin: tom wants everyone to know just what a guide dog can mean. and while the path they now travel every day is well worn, it's part of a journey tom thought he would never be on. garvin: the subject of our next story describes her younger self as a woman, quote, "living in orange county, driving an escalade, and shopping at nordstrom's every day." catherine martinelli-banks is now in the east bay and helping us veterans. so what changed? well, it all started with a phone call from a friend and fellow marine. garvin: the veterans memorial building of san ramon valley is a place catherine martinelli-banks feels very much at home. perhaps, catherine says, it's because she is a much better veteran than she ever was a marine.
catherine: that's exactly true. yeah, i kept my company gunnery and first sergeant busy. garvin: if catherine's superiors could see her now, though, they'd see someone doing an exemplary job helping other vets, organizing events to help them financially, lobbying for their interests in washington and, most recently, working to raise $150,000 so a quadruple amputee marine she has never met can make his home more accessible. catherine: why? it's, like, i don't know but i just have to, like, i just have to, i have to, like, i won't feel complete if i don't reach out and see if there's anything i can do. garvin: it is a calling, catherine says, that began with a single call more than a decade ago. catherine: and i got a phone call one sunday when i was at the grocery store. soledad jackson: i hadn't seen her in years and years. garvin: soledad jackson was on the phone. soledad had served with catherine back in the early '80s and was still serving in 2004 when the marines deployed
her to iraq for a year. though the two had spoken only sporadically over the decades, soledad, living in north carolina, had a big favor to ask of catherine, living in san diego. come and raise my two kids while i'm gone. it was a mission this marine couldn't turn down. catherine: put some stuff into storage and i had two cats at the time so i packed them up, and we all three drove. soledad: it was so amazing that she said, "sure, i'll go do that." garvin: soledad still can't thank catherine enough for what she did. during a time of war, she gave a mother and a marine peace of mind. catherine: and then, of course, they're having a sleepover. garvin: but catherine says it was she who really got something out of it. catherine: she always says--sole says that i helped her. and it's like, i think you really saved my life, and it was. and just from doing that, it gave me just
a whole new purpose. garvin: a gift you could say that just keeps giving. announcer: coming up, plenty of kids dream big. but this young boy is already bringing his ideas on helping the homeless to the table. natthan: i was hungry for more. announcer: and she's a one-woman force of nature who's using her skills in arranging flowers to blossom relationships between troubled kids and their moms.
children are often trapped by its troubles. so why not let children work on its solution? there's a young man from the east bay who thinks he can and some adults who believe it too. garvin: for such a young man, 11-year-old natthan mesfin sure has some big dream. the one about playing in the nba one day will likely not surprise anyone, that's typical kids' stuff,
but his other goal just might. the one he has about ending homelessness in his lifetime. it all began two christmases ago while watching tv. natthan: i saw people on the news that are dying because of being too cold so then i just came down here, sat right where i'm sitting right now. and i just said, "we need to do something." garvin: what natthan came up with was raising money to buy sleeping bags and handing them out to the homeless, which is exactly what he did. the first year, 50 bags; the next year, even more; with no plans to slow down. natthan: i was hungry for more. like, i wanted to get more money, buy more sleeping bags, do more things. garvin: one of the things natthan did was contact the downtown streets team, a non-profit with a great track record, helping the homeless find
employment, and eventually housing. eileen richardson: i started listening to his pitch and how passionate he was and-- garvin: when natthan met executive director eileen richardson though, she explained they didn't need the sleeping bags, but perhaps they could use natthan. she nominated him for the non-profit's board of directors. natthan: i was stoked. i was really happy. garvin: eileen says electing an 11-year-old to a seat on the board could be seen as a marketing ploy, that is, if the 11-year-old were not like natthan. eileen: so he's already a proven fundraiser and then secondly, just talking to him, the ideas he had. there were so many. garvin: he is a young man whose big dreams have already earned him a seat at the big table with nothing but room to grow. garvin: moksh jawa got his first taste of computer science and coding in the seventh grade and he says he was hooked. he knew it had to be part of whatever he did with his life.
he just didn't know how many others he'd be bringing along with him. garvin: washington high school in fremont has a lot to offer its students: loads of activities. and lots of caring teachers. it had everything, in fact, junior moksh jawa wanted in a school when he enrolled as a freshman. well, everything, it turned out except one thing. moksh: yeah, i was very, very excited to take the course. i was, like, "yes, this is the course i need to take." and i'd come to--i get to washington high school and i find out the course isn't there. garvin: the course moksh really wanted to take was advanced placement computer science. he had started getting interested in the subject as a middle schooler and really wanted to tackle it in high school. not one, though, to let the lack of a formal course stop him, moksh bought a book and taught himself the course. moksh: i figured my way out through it and i took the test in may and i got a five on it which is the highest score. so that was really exciting for me. moksh: and notice how the file name and the,
you know, the program name have to match. garvin: it is what moksh did next, though, that is exciting for so many others. he thought his friends could benefit from his work so he started teaching the material after school to about 30 of them. but when scheduling conflicts made it hard to find a time they could all get together, well, moksh didn't let that stop him either. moksh: so i saw an opportunity there and i started to try to build out the--build out an online course myself. garvin: decoding ap computer science, hosted on the udemy website is the free course he created. and it turns out, it wasn't just his friends who were interested. in a little over a year, more than 4000 others from around the world have taken his course, more than half giving it a 5-star rating. moksh: to think that, you know, someone in south korea is studying ap computer science and using my course is, you know, crazy. garvin: it has been such a hit, moksh followed up with his very own textbook for the course. in a few short years, moksh has become an expert at teaching
high schoolers about computer science. and the rest of us, about not letting obstacles stand in your way. moksh: do whatever interests you, whatever problem, you know, makes you think, "oh, i can do something about it, just go out there and do it." announcer: coming up, it's probably one of the last places mothers wanna go. but see how one woman's beautiful tradition makes a difficult visit a little brighter.
every day is probably tough in a way. but mother's day? that's got to be the worst. but one woman is helping to make the day a little easier. megan williams says her personal roots are what make it all the more important for giving back on mother's day. garvin: of all the places a mom wants to spend time with her kids on mother's day, juvenile hall cannot be anywhere near the top of that list. megan williams: you know, it's not the end of your life. garvin: though, thanks to one mom, megan williams, that dim scenario has turned out a bit brighter for thousands of other moms. you see, on the saturday before mother's day, for the past 20 years, megan has been coming here, bringing with her a handful of volunteers she's corralled and hundreds of flowers she's paid for herself. megan: so you have to break it like this and you cover yourself. garvin: they spend the next few hours helping the inmates, both boys and girls, create floral arrangements.
so that even though they live behind bars, they have at least a little something to give their moms on mother's day. megan: i want to give these kids the opportunity to say, "mom, i love you." garvin: it's something, megan says, she's never done. one of 15 children growing up in war-torn vietnam, megan says she never had a close relationship with her mother. megan: i never ever gave my mom a hug. even i want to so much. garvin: it's what motivates her, she says, to do what she can so that these kids don't find themselves saying the same thing later in their lives. megan: i wish one of these day, somebody could do that to me, so i could bring me closer to my mom. garvin: just like the bouquets she helped them create, megan's approach is a mixed arrangement. in her case, of compassion-- megan: so you are a tough girl, huh? garvin: and comedy. female: hell, yeah. megan: hell yeah? what do you mean by "hell, yeah, boy or girl?" garvin: yet for all the time and effort megan spends on this,
she's not really concerned with what the arrangements look like when they're done. the flowers, she knows, won't last. she just hopes the bonds they strengthen will. garvin: thank you again for joining us for this "bay area proud" special. you can see new "bay area proud" stories every tuesday and thursday evenings in our 5 p.m. newscast and all the reports are on our website. just go to nbcbayarea.com and scroll down to the "bay area proud" segment. if you know of someone who should be featured, i'd love to hear from you. go to our website where you'll find links to mytwit. have a good night. [music] [music] [music] cc by aberdeen captioning 1-800-688-6621 abercap.com
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