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Castro Valley Long-Distance Hitchhiker Arrives in Congo
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 17:40
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Tyrel Bernardini arrives at the Equator, where half a dozen inquisitive Congolese children gathered to see what was so interesting.


On a sunny morning in April, a 25-year-old Castro Valley man with backpack in tow, stepped onto an on-ramp to I-580 to thumb a ride. Not to San Francisco or Oakland. No, Tyrel Bernardini’s destination was 7,000 miles away on the other side of the world.

A member of the Class of 2006 at Castro Valley High School, Bernardini was heading for the politically-unstable Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa.

He had graduated last fall from Humboldt State University with a major in zoology and a minor in wildlife management and wanted to share his knowledge with Africans in exchange for learning more about their culture.

It was a daunting plan to be sure. Just the first leg of his trip – from Castro Valley to the East Coast – would mean weeks of catching rides across the country.

No stranger to using his legs, Bernardini had begun running around Lake Chabot and jogging through the trails of the East Bay Regional Park system at age 14. The outdoors became as much of a home to him as the Castro Valley home he shares with his grandmother.

His thirst for knowledge about nature and the environment led him to become a volunteer at Sulphur Creek Nature Center in Hayward and the Oakland Zoo where he first had the opportunity to meet Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.

Before this year, he has already hitchhiked more than 12,000 miles to such destinations as Peru and Alaska.

While acknowledging it isn’t the safest means of travel, hitching rides is a way of meeting people from all walks of life, he says, and a way to travel to distant places without leaving his own carbon footprint on the environment.

In a unique way of financing his venture to Africa, Bernardini has received backing from both friends’ and strangers’ donations through the non-governmental on-line organization Beacon. In return, he provides regular Internet postings of his progress.

He arrived in Miami in June, but most of the sailing boats he’d hope to catch had left  because of the hurricane season. So he joined the crew of a catamaran to New York where prospects of a trans-Atlantic ship ride were more favorable.

After three months of travel by hitchhiking and boat, Bernardini made it to Morocco on the north coast of Africa. From there he took his only plane flight to Rwanda.

Then, last week, he made his way to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center, “GRACE,” in the eastern part of Congo.

“I am their first ever volunteer and will be aiding with photography, film, educational programs, enclosure design, and much more,” Bernardini told the Forum in an email. “I am very excited to be here. So far, the only item I have had stolen (on the ferry from Algeciras, Spain to Tangier, Morocco) was my toothbrush and thermos. Ha. Life goes on.”

Beyond this trip to Africa, Bernardini says he doesn’t know where his road of life will lead. Stay tuned.

Making Old Furniture Look Like New
Thursday, 07 August 2014 07:28
Instructor John Stallknecht uses golf tees to hold caning in place as he works to restore an old chair. Watching in the background is Larry Bendowski, who is restoring an old picture frame.

By Linda Sandsmark



If you have a piece of wood furniture that’s seen better days, check out the most economical class in town. For just $1 per drop-in session, you just may be able to restore that item to its original state.

“Don’t throw it away, restore it instead. That’s our motto up here,” says instructor John Stallknecht.

Stallknecht has been teaching “Refinish, Restore and Recane Antique Furniture” techniques for 12 years at the Kenneth C. Aitken Community Center.  He is a true artist who can show you how to revive a piece of furniture for very little money, if you’re willing to put in the time.

As an example, Stallknecht is working on a child’s chair that he found  in  “a scrap heap somewhere.”  If the chair were taken in for professional re-caning (creating new woven seats) the charge could be $250.

However, the materials to replace the caning only cost about $10. The cane itself is attached in seven steps, and is held in place with golf tees as the work progresses. It may take six to eight weeks in Stallknecht’s class (once a week, Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon)  to completely replace the seat.

Caning is something of a lost art, and locally only one store in Berkeley does it. Both caning and refinishing are time-consuming processes, but well-worth it if one is willing to expend the effort.

“If you find furniture at the curb, or have stains on tables, and don’t want to throw it away, yes, we can work on that here. I like to call it re-purposing furniture,” says  Stallknecht. “We’ve even put veneer that’s missing or loose back on furniture. We can patch holes with wood patch and then sand it smooth. It’s not difficult. It’s just time consuming.”

Though the participants arrive with pieces they are working on – hoping to beautify and eventually use them – they stay for the fun.

“I enjoy it. It’s something different and it’s a good social outlet,” says Mike Brodie, who is stripping white paint off a desk that his wife got at Bolt’s End Fabrics when the store went out of business. “And who would have known there was all this beautiful wood underneath this paint if I hadn’t worked on it?”

Class members can work indoors, or outdoors during nice weather. A variety of items in various stages of restoration can be seen in progress, including picture frames, a headboard and footboard, chairs and tables. One student completely re-caned a Civil War-era wheelchair.

“If you have stuff that you don’t know how to fix or what to do with it, come on out,” says Stallknecht. “You will walk out of here with something beautiful.  The class is open to anyone – you don’t have to be a senior.”

“Refinish, Restore and Recane Antique Furniture” classes are held Mondays from 9 to noon at Kenneth C. Aitken Community Center, 17800 Redwood Rd. Cost is $1 per session. Call 881-6738 or see

A Night to Get to Know The Neighbors
Wednesday, 30 July 2014 16:41
National Night Out neighborhood organizer Alison Schmidt (right) shares a flyer about the August 5 event with her neighbor Dagmar Bedard.

By Linda Sandsmark



All across the U.S.A., Tuesday, Aug. 5 will  mark a “National Night Out” (NNO) where people are encouraged to turn on their porch lights and step outside to meet their neighbors.

In one neighborhood near Creekside Middle School, a movement is growing to create that “small-town” feel on an ongoing basis. Starting with this year’s NNO, residents are hoping to stay linked for the long term.

New resident Alison Schmidt, who participated in NNO events at her past residences in Oakland and Southern California, is spearheading the effort with her boyfriend Brian Weber.

“We really just want to get everyone in the neighborhood together to get to know each other and hopefully have a good time, and maybe have some lasting results in terms of a more connected and safer neighborhood,” says Schmidt.

The plan is for residents in the vicinity of Gliddon Street and  Edwards Lane to hold a potluck barbecue starting at 6 p.m. at the intersection of those two streets.

Tables, chairs and two grills will be set up. Although bringing re-usable plates is encouraged, disposable place settings will be available as well.

Residents of the east side of Center Street from Paradise Knolls to Heyer are invited to drop by (including Larimer, Parkview, Noree, Rollinghills, Newhaven, and the streets mentioned above).

Longtime Edwards Lane residents Lu and Dagmar Bedard say they are excited about the event.

“We’d really like to get a small-town feel to our neighborhood, more than just a wave as you drive by,” says Dagmar.

She and her husband are especially hoping to “map” the neighborhood, to help find out who might need assistance in case of emergency (such as the elderly, or those living alone or with young children) as well as which neighbors might have medical skills or Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

Schmidt adds that in her former neighborhood in Oakland it wasn’t easy to get to know her neighbors, but one community-minded resident set up a neighborhood social network using the free “” website. She encourages others to explore the site.

“We found it to be a great way to get news about the neighborhood, so when we bought our house in Castro Valley, we looked up the group for this area on, and found that one existed,” she says.

It was started by the Bedards, and included 30 homes in the neighborhood. Those members have been contacted about NNO, and flyers are going out to all neighbors. Schmidt hopes more residents who live nearby will come and introduce themselves.

“It can be difficult to meet your neighbors,” says Schmidt, “but we really do so much better when know our neighbors and can look out for each other.”

Future of Willow Park Remains in Limbo
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 10:42
Only a handful of golfers were on the links at Willow Park on Saturday, a problem common to a number of courses in the East Bay.

By Amy Sylvestri



Willow Park, Castro Valley’s public golf course, may close before the end of the year. The current 50-year lease is set to expire on Nov. 30.

The current owners have announced that they do not intend to renew their lease, according to Steve Falzone, president of the Willow Park Golf Club.

So the East Bay Regional Park District, which oversees the course, must look for new owners.

However, the district has yet to put out a Request for Proposal to get bids from potential owners, and even once the request is issued, approving the owner is a lengthy process.

“We are really in limbo right now,” said Falzone. “It’s frustrating.”

A buyer could continue running the 18-hole course as it is, or turn it private. Or, if no bids come in, the golf course’s future could be even more mysterious.

“What if no one comes forward? That’s the one hundred thousand dollar question,” said Falzone.

The park district says that they will work to insure that the course remains open, even if it means finding a temporary owner as a stop-gap.

Willow Park, which originally opened in 1966 is set on the east side of the Chabot Regional Park at 17007 Redwood Road. In addition to the gold course, the property also has a restaurant and events facility.

Willow Park, like many other area golf courses, suffered during the economic downturn, though numbers have improved. But this past Saturday, only a handful of players were on the Willow Park links and one golfer expressed his concern over the low turnout.

The park also needs an expensive irrigation update.

Falzone said that he’d like to seethe Hayward Area Recreation District take over ownership, but HARD already runs two gold courses and they are running at deficits.

Falzone’s club normally recruits members this time of the year, but cannot because of the uncertain future of the course.

“There is a lack of concrete information,” said Falzone. “It’s just incredibly difficult to deal with the uncertainty.”

Castro Valley Pride Draws a Crowd For Saturday’s Annual Celebration
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 06:09
All of the faith leaders just after they led the opening prayer from the stage at Saturday’s CV Pride Event.

Castro Valley Pride was back for its 4th year celebration Saturday, still at Castro Valley High School but this time in the Redwood Road parking lot just North of the Heyer entrance.

The new location gave event attendees more room and much more shade, which worked out very well for the hundreds of area residents who came to spend a beautiful day with their LGBT friends and neighbors.

There were food trucks and face painting, games for the kids, dancing and singing, and plenty of audience seating for the main stage and performers. Dozens of vendor and group booths were there to browse.

More than half a dozen faith groups were represented. In fact, the single most represented group was churches. This was not surprising to Pride team member Billy Bradford.

“We asked our local faith leaders and welcoming congregations to join us for a reason,” said Bradford. “It’s important to note that the voices raised against our relationships and families are not the only voices in the faith community. There are many who stand with us in love.”

A light breeze kept the giant rainbow flag behind the stage fluttering and kept the performers and audience cool.

Castro Valley School Superintendent Jim Negri provided the opening remarks. He was joined on stage by County Supervisor Nate Miley, Congressman Eric Swalwell, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, and representatives from the offices of Senator Ellen Corbett and Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who offered their support.

The day ended with a group performance of ‘Imagine’ with all the CV Pride team members and volunteers taking the stage to sing “you may say we are dreamers, but we’re not the only ones.”

CVHS Student Launches Singer-Songwriter Career
Wednesday, 09 July 2014 06:26
15-year-old singer/songwriter Anjali Asha.

By Linda Sandsmark



Ever since she was a tiny child, Castro Valley resident Anjali Asha has been singing – and writing songs. Now entering her sophomore year at Castro Valley High School, Anjali is taking her talents public.

“From the moment she learned to write, she started writing lyrics,” recalls her dad, Raj Prasad. “She was about five years old when she wrote her first song.”

Fast-forward 10 years. If you “Google” 15-year-old Anjali Asha’s name now, you can see and hear her professional-level songs and videos for yourself. Anjali has written hundreds of songs, drawing from all genres of music.

Her song “The Bay” (written when she was 12) pays tribute to San Francisco, referencing Otis Redding, Tony Bennett, and Union Square.

Yet Anjali (or AJ) is a refreshingly sweet, normal teenager – with a great voice. She’s an officer in Castro Valley High’s Teens Reaching Out (TRO) community service club, which holds toy and coat drives for the Salvation Army and Goodwill. Not only did she play Powder Puff football this year in May, she sang the national anthem beforehand as well.

“I had to run down to the field right afterward, because I was in the starting line-up. I was all out of breath already, and still shaking from a little bit of stage fright,” she says. “But my favorite part is performing. You get to see the happiness and hope that you’re giving people through music, reflected in their faces.”

In fact, Anjali Asha’s name means “offering hope” in Hindi. And though she’s of Indian and Mexican descent, she writes and sings her songs in English.

During just the past few months Anjali Asha has sung at both Omino Day World Music Festival and Carnaval  2014 in San Francisco, in addition to being interviewed on Fiji Indian TV. Her videos play on the California Music Channel (CMC, digital TV channel 26) which comes on after school and takes requests.

“I have literally notebooks and notebooks full of my songs,” she says.  “People don’t believe it until they see them. My dad is a record producer and he’s taught me how to structure the background music. If he has a beat, I’ll write to it. I think of melodies and mold lyrics to them.”

She also recently made her “first dollar” through her music, although it was accidental.

“I was sitting outside Bonfare Market near the high school waiting for one of my friends, and I was singing to myself.  A man just came up to me and said, ‘You have a beautiful voice,’ and he gave me five dollars. I took it home and we framed it,” she says.

In fact, it’s probably always been Anjali’s destiny to be a singer. Her father recalls a family trip to Disneyland when Anjali was barely a year old. She sat happily in her stroller singing her own melodies – not the Disney tunes that were piped in all around her.

When she was nine years old she asked her dad if she could record a song for a class project about careers. She had chosen the topic, “How to Make a Song for the Radio,” and had already written a song to use as a demo. She didn’t yet know that “lyrics” meant words or that “melody” meant music, although she had intuitively created both.

Even though she received an “A” on her project, her parents told her to wait until she was a teenager to see if she really wanted to do the work to become a singer-songwriter.

“I got started singing as an artist about a year ago,” recalls Anjali, whose family moved to Castro Valley from Stockton when she was 10.

“My cousin does my video work. She shot ‘The Bay’ in San Francisco for me. My dad is teaching me song structure, and helps by bringing in musicians. I like every genre and I’m blessed to have a lot of  musical influences in my family. My mom would even play CDs and we’d dance and sing as we cleaned the house.”

Anjali Asha says she likes the fact that her music makes people feel good.

“In a way I think of it as God’s work, helping people have hope in their day,” she says. “It’s the best feeling, and if I can do that for a living, that’s what I want to do.”

You can see her work by typing “Anjali Asha – The Bay” into any internet search engine. Anjali’s You Tube videos, Facebook page, and iTunes connection may all be viewed there.



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