Tri-Valley nonprofit volunteers to be honored
By Lou Fancher
A reception and hourlong Threads of Hope 2016 awards event presented by Diablo Magazine on Dec. 6 will honor Joseph Hui, of Danville; Bryan Ware, of Danville; and Oakland A’s catcher Steve Vogt, who along with his wife, Alyssa Vogt, devotes time and resources to Dublin’s School of Imagination. Here are the Tri-Valley honorees’ stories..
Joseph Hui: Adopt-a-Family Bikes
Hui and his family help to collect and repair old or broken bikes for a nonprofit that began in 2001 in the basement of Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Danville. Adopt a Family Bikes distributes refurbished bikes throughout the Bay Area to children and adults living in disadvantaged circumstances: many recipients cannot afford bus fare to reach school or workplaces. By the end of 2016, they will have distributed about 300 bikes. Each year, the group must find a new location for the November-December bike repair shop operations. The current space is in the Alamo Plaza Shopping Center, where Hui, his wife, Mimi, their daughter, Sandra, 22, and son, Theo, 14 — and a core group of volunteers who have participated since the program’s inception — work to restore the bikes.
During his childhood in Stockton, Hui and his two brothers moved in and out of the foster care system. A shared bicycle he rode in an enclosed area at Mary Graham Hall, a foster care facility, provided rare moments of fun and freedom. Other bikes, hand-me-downs from his brothers, were a means of escape, Hui says. “It was a way to leave my troubles behind,” he says. The experience instilled in him a desire for other people to have access to transportation, but he says he really repairs bikes because he knows how to do it.
A software engineer at Oracle, Hui last year expanded his winter bike-sharing practices beyond the Family Bike program. Bikes that he restored during summer months have gone — with helmets and locks — to kids who have aged out of the foster system and are now students at San Francisco State University. Hui met his wife at San Francisco State and says the connection to the university is a way to give back and show his gratitude.
Bryan Ware: The Crayon Initiative
Crayon Initiative founder and “top chef” Ware turned casual curiosity about the end game for crayons abandoned by his kids at a family-friendly restaurant into a win-win situation. As a packaging and product designer and creator of WareWorks, a consulting firm offering insights into greater product efficiency to Google, Uncle Ben’s and other companies, Ware was dismayed to learn that the used — and even untouched crayons — would wind up in landfills. With an estimated 500,000 pounds of broken crayons thrown away per year, Ware realized that discarded, waxy, nonbiodegradable crayons that potentially carry germs created an enormous environmental problem. Plus, the sheer waste rankled his user sensibilities.
He came up with an idea to repurpose the abandoned crayons: a process involving cheese graters and hot plates and “cooking” any bacteria out of the melted-down crayons before pouring the wax into custom molds. The results are thicker crayons, perfect for kids of all ages, but designed especially for children participating in occupational art therapy at hospitals and clinics.
Ware partnered first with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and John Muir Health. Since its origins in 2011, the operation has grown to include crayon distribution partnerships with 35 hospitals, collection programs at schools and by community groups and special event fundraisers. Ware recently designed a Crayon Initiative mobile trailer that takes the melting act on the road. A giveaway coloring book is in development. Ware’s next big stride is to step out of his home kitchen and find a manufacturing facility large enough to handle the ever-expanding operation.
Steve Vogt: The School of Imagination
If there’s a mutual adoption story in this year’s Threads award recipients, it’s Vogt and the children at the School of Imagination. The inclusionary kindergarten and preschool provides support services for children with developmental disabilities and typically includes developing children in its programs. The school is the brainchild of Mitch and Charlene Sigman, who in 2001 opened the school in their home in Pleasanton. In 2011, they moved to the current location in Dublin: a state-of-the-art building with 10 classrooms and multiple, well-equipped therapy rooms.
It’s impossible to say who is more fond of whom during the frequent visits that Vogt and his wife, Alyssa, make to the school. It’s a mutual home run: the school’s approximately 300 kids clamor to elbow up with the major league ballplayer for tee ball or finger painting, and Vogt is equally enamored.
The only thing he and Alyssa hesitate to pump is their involvement. But underneath their desire to stay out of the limelight, the enthusiasm is obvious: they bring their two young children to help at the school each month; offer special, insider Oakland A’s perks like dugout visits for families at the school; and sponsor special events, like last year’s All Star Benefit that had A’s players participate in poker tournaments and raised $90,000 in one night. Vogt said in an interview with this newspaper that he worked hard to overcome disadvantages he had as a ballplayer and that the School of Imagination students who also strive to achieve great things are his heroes.
From bikes to crayons to baseball, the connection that runs through the volunteer community is people with big hearts. Come celebrate Tri-Valley generosity — it’s free — at Orinda Theatre on Dec. 6.