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The 11th Annual Theads of Hope Awards

Diablo honors five outstanding East Bay volunteers


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You know how it is. You’re watching the news, and some story moves you to think, “I should help.” The story could be about hurricane survivors needing assistance or a local food bank seeking volunteers to distribute groceries to the poor and hungry.

What distinguishes the five East Bay residents on the following pages is that they didn’t just think about doing something—they did it. And not just once, but consistently, passionately, for years.

These outstanding volunteers are our Threads of Hope. They strengthen the fabric of our community, connecting us in our common humanity. This year, our honorees share a focus, one that isn’t surprising in our family-oriented East Bay community: All five help children. In fact, most of the 30 people who were nominated for our 11th annual awards volunteer for nonprofits that benefit children. These organizations work in a variety of ways—from providing physical therapy to developmentally delayed children to steering at-risk teens away from gangs or drugs. So meet our winners, the people who are doing this important work and inspiring the rest of us to do our part.

FRANCESCA TENCONI
Children’s Skin Disease Foundation

Francesca Tenconi was 11 when she awoke one morning to find her body covered with blisters. For months, she didn’t know what was happening to her, only that it hurt to play or even sit at her desk. She slept on a bed covered in plastic wrap.

Doctors finally determined that the Walnut Creek girl had pemphigus foliaceous, a rare and incurable disorder that caused her immune system to attack her own skin. For the next several years, she endured numerous biopsies, steroid treatments, chemotherapy, and endless applications of ointments and antibiotic creams. While the treatments helped keep the disease at bay, Tenconi faced a lifetime of painful flare-ups and vulnerability to deadly infections.

One thing that bolstered her spirits was attending a summer camp run by the American Dermatological Foundation. It was one of the few times in that period of her life when she could simply enjoy herself. For her 16th birthday, in 2000, she decided to forego presents and instead asked for donations to start a weeklong camp for children with skin diseases—kids whose bodies were swathed in bandages and who were often withdrawn after enduring stares and ridicule from strangers.

She received money from family and friends, and held a fundraiser that brought in more than $100,000. The Children’s Skin Disease Foundation was born. Tenconi held her first Camp Wonder that same year; it attracted 42 kids. The foundation has since raised more than $500,000, and has hosted several hundred campers.

Meanwhile, Tenconi’s condition slowly improved. She graduated from high school with honors, and is now a 21-year-old senior at Duke University studying psychology. Her disease is in remission, and she’s happy that her scars are barely visible.

Last summer, her foundation hosted camps in Livermore, Southern California, and North Carolina, near Duke. Tenconi is working to raise money to start an endowment to help camp families pay their medical bills.

“It costs $1,500 to $3,000 a month to buy bandages and medical supplies. This leaves many of our camp families barely able to make ends meet,” says Tenconi, who was recently honored in Glamour magazine as one of America’s 10 College Women to Watch.

Her main mission continues to be raising money for the camps. “When your whole world is centered around medical treatments,” she says, “it’s nice to go somewhere to just have fun.”

Children’s Skin Disease Foundation
(925) 947-3825
www.csdf.org

JOYCE E. FERRANTE
We Care Services for Children

For the past 38 years, Joyce E. Ferrante has enjoyed weekly play dates with children at We Care Services for Children in Concord. Although many septuagenarians might prefer outings with lady friends, Ferrante says volunteering with toddlers and preschoolers keeps her young. Not to mention busy. We Care offers therapeutic services to children six and under who are having trouble reaching basic developmental milestones because they have physical, mental, or emotional disabilities.

For nearly four decades, Ferrante has been We Care’s star volunteer, helping more than 500 special-needs children learn to sit up, crawl, and take their first steps.
“Joyce has a special gift for reaching children,” says Paula Tippery, a teacher in the therapeutic preschool classroom where Ferrante volunteers.

As the mother of two and grandmother of four, Ferrante has mastered patience and empathy. When she first began volunteering, she helped with physical therapy and feeding. These days, she works with delayed three-year-olds, helping them master fine motor skills by stringing beads, painting, and doing puzzles.

“I love working with children because they are so innocent and honest,” Ferrante says. “It feels wonderful to help them progress to the point where they can transfer to a regular preschool.”
In addition to working with We Care, Ferrante volunteers one day a week in the Mt. Diablo High School library, and she was a Sunday school teacher at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Concord for 40 years.

Ferrante isn’t planning to give up volunteering anytime soon—not that her friends at We Care would let her leave. “Joyce has barely missed a day in the past 38 years,” says Tippery. “She’s extremely knowledgeable, and our staff know they can count on her.”

We Care Services for Children
(925) 671-0777
www.wecarebmcc.org

JIM ALCORN
Contra Costa Police Athletic Association, Kops for Kids

Jim Alcorn remembers how when he was growing up in San Francisco, the local beat cop would stop by his school to chat with the students. He carried the memory of that officer with him when, years later, he chose to become a police officer himself.

Alcorn served 31 years with the Concord Police Department, rising to the rank of lieutenant before retiring in 1998. This father of three worked as a juvenile detective for about 10 years, and saw firsthand a heartbreaking but well-documented pattern: Children who are abused or neglected, or who grow up in poverty, are at increased risk of getting involved in drugs, gangs, and crime.

Alcorn, now 59, also knew that kids in those situations usually had a negative view of police. “Often, their first encounter with us is when a crime is committed or a tragedy occurs,” he says. Recalling the officer from his old neighborhood school, Alcorn realized he could do something to help at-risk kids break the cycle leading to crime and self-destruction.

Not only did he regularly stop by to chat with kids at Concord schools, he joined the board of directors of the Contra Costa Police Athletic Association, an all-volunteer group that organizes sports, educational, and recreational activities for local children and teens. In 1998, he founded an offshoot of the league, Kops for Kids, which offers small grants to individual officers to spend one-on-one time with young people, mentoring them in a variety of activities. The program now helps more than 500 children and teens each year.

“We [at Kops for Kids] have active and retired officers who teach judo, baseball, and soccer,” Alcorn says. “We even have a retired FBI agent who teaches violin lessons.”

The athletic association runs seminars and sports clinics, during which Alcorn visits high schools to discuss how a positive attitude can translate into success. To keep the association and Kops for Kids solvent, Alcorn has become a master fundraiser. He helps plan the annual Bethel Island triathlon and the Kops for Kids Golf Tournament at Concord’s Diablo Creek Golf Course, both of which benefit Kops for Kids. He also makes personal donations to the cause, and isn’t shy about asking friends and relatives for contributions. “You can see where you can make a difference,” Alcorn says. “It’s very rewarding to see a young person turn his life around.”

Contra Costa Police Athletic Association and Kops for Kids
(925) 827-1998
www.cocopaa.org

CARLA KOREN
Junior League of Oakland-East Bay

You would think that Carla Koren has enough on her plate. The 42-year-old is senior vice president of investments at Citigroup Smith Barney in Berkeley. Her workday starts at 5 a.m., and her responsibilities include overseeing $350 million in assets. She’s also the mother of a six-year-old boy.

But Koren has always been passionate about community service, and has long managed to fit volunteering for the Junior League of Oakland-East Bay into her busy work and family life. She also loves to read—everything from contemporary fiction to financial reports.

These passions dovetailed five years ago. That’s when she became part of the Junior League’s effort to establish the Super Stars Literacy Program for students at Hoover Elementary, a public school in a disadvantaged Oakland neighborhood. Fueled by statistics showing that children who don’t read by the third grade generally don’t graduate from high school, Super Stars offers after-school tutoring and enrichment programs to the lowest-performing students.

As a high-powered business executive, Koren immediately saw that Super Stars made bottom-line sense, and worked hard to raise the $630,000 needed to hire a project coordinator and four group leaders. “If we invest in our children’s education, the returns are phenomenal,” she says. “These kids are the future.”

Koren’s investment in Hoover students has paid off. Test scores show that Super Stars graduates, children who had been at the bottom of their class, perform as well as or better than their peers.

Her dedication to volunteering dazzles other Junior League members. “Carla is one of those women who leaves me awestruck,” says Diane Stevenson. “She believes that community service is an intrinsic part of our lives, not an option; not something nice to do, but rather a regular component like sleeping or eating.”

Koren surrounds herself with others who share her altruism. Her husband, Neal Parish, is “the kind of person who will always stop on the freeway to help someone whose car has broken down,” she says. Even her son, Ross, shows signs of following in his mom’s philanthropic footsteps. “After Hurricane Katrina hit, he asked me if he could donate stuffed animals and money from his piggybank to help the kids in New Orleans,” Koren says.

The Junior League of Oakland-East Bay
(925) 284-3740
www.jloeb.org

 

MARJORIE ALLENDORPH
Walnut Creek Auxiliary, Children’s Home Society

Marjorie “Midge” Allendorph has never been one to sit still. More than 50 years ago, when her two sons were still in diapers, the multitasking mom started volunteering with the local volunteer auxiliary of the Children’s Home Society. “A friend encouraged me to join,” Allendorph says. “She thought it would be a nice way for me to meet other mothers while also using my skills to help in the community.”

That was back when the society functioned as an adoption agency, placing orphans into loving homes. Allendorph’s duties were hands-on: “We would often pick newborns up at the hospital, or accompany foster moms on medical visits with the babies,” she says.

Over the next five decades, Allendorph’s duties evolved, as did the ways in which the society helped children and families. Allendorph took on leadership roles, serving as president of the Walnut Creek Auxiliary and as treasurer for the East Bay Council, a group of local auxiliaries. Never shy, she used her engaging personality to recruit other mothers to the cause, and to attract donations from business owners.

These days, the society’s mission is to improve child-care and child-development programs in Contra Costa County, especially for low-income working parents. “Things have changed since I was a young mom,” says Allendorph. “Now both parents often have to work full-time, and juggling work with parenting can be a challenge.”

The 84-year-old grandmother of four is still going strong. She is the Walnut Creek Auxiliary’s secretary, and she edits the East Bay Council’s quarterly newsletter. Her commitment to helping children in the county has made her a superhero among her peers.

“Some volunteers have one area where they can contribute, but Midge helps out wherever we need her,” says Sharon Lyons, who has volunteered with Allendorph for more than 40 years. “She’s a born leader who makes it easier for others to follow.”

Children’s Home Society
(510) 267-1860
www.chs-ca.org

THE SELECTION PROCESS

This year’s judging was not easy. All 30 people nominated for the 2005 Threads of Hope Awards are outstanding volunteers who have done amazing work to strengthen the fabric of our community. To select this year’s winners, a committee of Diablo staff reviewed the nominations and chose 10 finalists. A panel of distinguished judges representing East Bay business, government, and philanthropic organizations then picked the winners. Panel members considered each nominee’s length of service, hands-on involvement, and impact on the community before selecting the five to be celebrated at a private ceremony on November 29 at the Blackhawk Museum.

Many thanks to our judges: Angie Coffee, senior vice president–managing director, Greater Bay Bank, Kathleen Odne, executive director, Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation
Gloria Omania, chief of staff, state senator Tom Torlakson
Grace Schmidt, field representative, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher
Peter Tavernise, senior manager, Cisco Systems Corporate Philanthropy

DISTINGUISHED NOMINEES

Kay Aaker, Orinda; Caren Furrer, Concord, Hospice and Palliative Care of Contra Costa
Jann Blackstone-Ford, Discovery Bay, Bonus Families
Cori Davis, Danville, Recipes for Research
Tracy Ferguson, Berkeley, A Brighter Today
Mike Fernandes, Newark, The Joseph Matteucci Foundation for Youth Non-Violence
Belinda George, Danville, Children’s Hospital Ronlan Branch
Sam Hammonds, Benicia, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Roger and Judy Haughton, Walnut Creek, The Danny Foundation
Karen Henrich, Alamo, Moment by Moment
Tom Hogan, Concord, multiple organizations
Angela Holden, San Ramon, Concert for a Cure
Bruno Jahn, Concord, On Track Program/Mt. Diablo Adult Education
Tim Jochner, Walnut Creek, Northgate Community Pride Foundation
Marie Mahlman, Clayton, Child Abuse Prevention Council, Newborn Connections
Kathy Malone, Martinez; Mary Mix, Danville; Nancy Quintel, Alamo; Becky Wittmer, Danville, Stephanie Marie Frazier Memorial Fund
Nancy Riley, Alamo, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Dan Scarola, Oakland, Alameda County Food Bank
Flora Schultz, Berkeley, Oakland Elizabeth House
Joan Siltanen, Lafayette, Assistance League of Diablo Valley
Wendy Tokuda, East Bay, Students Rising Above
Miyo Uratsu, Richmond, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

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