Interactive Art – Designed by kids, made for all.

play

By Matt Larson

If you’ve yet to visit the Richmond Art Center (RAC), why haven’t you? Their galleries are free to visit! And they’re local. And they do great things that deserve communal support. Since 1936 they’ve been devoted to providing art-making experiences to young people and families throughout Richmond and West County. Their classes are fee based, but very affordable, and for people of all ages. Kids and adults can take classes in painting, drawing, fibers and weaving, ceramics and printmaking.

Still can’t find the time to pay them a visit? Well, if you happen to live near the Mathieu Court Alley in Richmond, you may have already seen some of their communal impact! Last Fall, in a special partnership with RAC, a group of 5th and 6th graders got to be instrumental in designing a public play space, officially deemed the Mathieu Court Alley Play Street, and unofficially deemed the Environmental Protection Alley.

The City of Richmond and The Trust for Public Land together approached RAC to take on this project. The Mathieu Court Alley is located very close to Peres Elementary School, a place where RAC was already conducting after-school programs, so they decided to make this alley project the focus of their 8-week after-school class.

“The first day of class it was very clear that we were working with the right group of kids,” said Rachel Schaffran, Art in the Community Director for RAC. “They totally understood the concept, and they were very much environmentalists!” To everyone’s pleasant surprise the kids wanted to focus on environmental themes for the alley—hence the Environmental Protection Alley alias. The official theme is water, as well as protection of water and protection of animals, and they wanted to illustrate the interconnectedness of life and nature. “It was their visions and themes that came out of the class that turned into the final design,” she adds. “So they’re the designers of the play space!”

At this writing, the first stage of the play space is complete. You’ll see a mural on the ground, a series of games including an adapted version of Twister, a painted pond with stepping stones you can hop through, and much more! With more to come! Many of the games here are designed to leave the rules of play open to interpretation. Lead teaching artists, Vreni Michelini Castillo and Sofie Siegmann wanted there to be plenty of different sites in the alley to play games, but not necessarily a game you would know, allowing for more creativity to flourish when kids enjoy the space.

This all came about with a grant from KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing active play into children’s daily lives. Out of 200 finalists in KaBOOM!’s Play Everywhere Challenge last year, the City of Richmond was among 50 winners across the county. The challenge called for communities to reimagine what and where a play space is and can be; they had to think outside the box. $1 million in prizes were awarded to the 50 winners, a fraction of which went to the Mathieu Court Alley Play Street.

This project has been a very communal effort. RAC held a community input session where local residents could also have a voice to help the kids consider how the alley was designed, families who live in the neighborhood came out and helped paint, and local residents are full of innovative ideas to keep adding to this amazingly transformed alleyway. There is still more work to be done, and Schaffran tells us they look forward to a ribbon cutting soon. We’ll try and keep you posted, but be sure to keep in touch with RAC in regards to this, and everything else they’re up to, at richmondartcenter.org or call (510) 620-6772. “We’re kind of having a boom in terms of our education programming,” said Schaffran. “We’re open to the public, we’re free! Our classes are fee-based but we have scholarships for all ages, so we keep encouraging people to come and check us out.”

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Fix our Ferals

fof logo cat

By Jeannie Howard

Starting with a desire to lessen the suffering of kittens in her community, Linda McCormick founded Fix Our Ferals, a community-based, non-profit organization with the goal to humanely reduce the cat population in the East Bay region.

“Linda got into working with cats accidentally, like most of us do,” said Dairne Ryan, long-time volunteer and board member with Fix Our Ferals. “She was taking walks in one of our East Bay regional parks and saw some kittens eating out of dumpsters. She felt really bad about it and started feeding them.”

Ryan described how this simple action led to McCormick connecting with a few local organizations in the East Bay who were working with feral cats, and began learning about their efforts to help the cat population. McCormick began trapping cats to take them to her veterinarian to be spayed and neutered, a practice known as trap-neuter-return (TNR), and would then adopt out any kittens she could socialize.

TNR is a practice that simply involves trapping cats from a colony and bringing them in to be spayed or neutered and then, once they have recovered, they are released back to their colony. When done in mass volume, Ryan said that this is how to reduce the feral cat population humanely.

“Linda paid for a lot of spays and neuters out of her own pocket, but she wanted to find a way to help the rescue community who were doing this and paying for all of it with their own money,” Ryan described.

After connecting with the Feral Cat Coalition, an organization in San Diego doing high volume clinics to spay and neuter cats, McCormick started Fix Our Ferals in Berkeley in 1998 with a dedicated group of volunteers and a $10,000 grant from the city of Berkeley.

“The mayor and a couple of city council members in Berkeley were really in favor of finding humane and effective approaches to the feral cat population.” Ryan described how, with that initial grant from the city, McCormick was able to establish clinics run entirely by volunteers, including the veterinarians. While the city of Berkeley had put a restriction on the start-up grant that she could only service the feral cats from within Berkeley during the first year, McCormick was not only able to get the residences of Berkeley active in the cause but word of what she was doing quickly spread to surrounding areas.

“For about eleven years we ran bi-monthly high volume clinics. We had to hold the clinics on Sundays because that’s the day the vet offices we would borrow were closed,” Ryan recalled.

McCormick also set up an externship program with the vet school students at the University of California, Davis.  For several years the bi-monthly clinics had veterinarian school students helping as surgery assistants and doing anesthesia. “They loved it because they were getting hands-on experience they weren’t getting on campus in those days and we loved it because we were exposing the young students to the issues of community cats,” Ryan said. “They came and saw that these cats were like any other cat. Today], many of the vets who are in practice in our community developed sensibilities about compassion for these feral cats by volunteering at our clinic.”

The clinics grew from fixing 32 cats at their first clinic to more than 200 per clinic.  And demand for Fix Our Ferals went beyond what the roaming clinics could sustain. After moving from location to location, the organization found their permanent home in 2012 with the help of generous donations from community members who believed in their work and a $75,000 PetSmart Charities grant, Ryan said.

“The cats are getting wonderful high-quality care. We want that for our pets, but for those of us who work with free roaming cats and know that  after surgery they are going back out on the streets to their colonies we believe it is essential they receive the best care possible,” Ryan said.

The free roaming cats are not only fixed, but they are also vaccinated, micro chipped and treated for fleas. “We do everything that we can in that one sitting to make sure they get the best treatment possible,” said Ryan.

The clinic also provides veterinary services to pet cats at a slightly higher fee than for the free-roaming cats.

Fix Our Ferals has since become a model for other organizations looking to provide similar services throughout the Bay Area. With a website full of useful information, they serve as a resource to citizens wanting to help the cause.

“We lend out traps to people and provide detailed instructions how to trap the cats,” Ryan said. “I think we really are a unique community resource in West Contra Costa that just wasn’t available before.”

Increasing the number of spays and neuters to reduce effectively reduce the free roaming cat population, and continuing to educate residents throughout the the East Bay  is a main focus for those at Fix Our Ferals, according to Ryan.

“We want to change the community standard so that our community understands that a fixed animal, whether you care about animals or not, is the best thing for animals and for reducing the population, to reduce suffering and end euthanasia at our shelters” she said. “Feeding a stray cat isn’t enough. If you really care, fixing the cat is critically important because that is how to prevent more little kittens from living out on the streets and suffering.”

De Anza High School “Fix It Day”

deanza

By Jade Shojaee | Photo Credit:  Ben Gill

Four times a year, community members take their broken, slow, and old computers to De Anza High School in Richmond to be fixed for free by students of the Information Technology Academy (ITA) on what the school refers to as “Fix It Day”. The West Contra Costa Unified School District has developed a series of comprehensive high school pathway programs in which students modify their educations based on their preferred career pathway. Too good to be true? The stats prove otherwise with some 98% of enrolled seniors receiving diplomas in the 2016/2017 school year.

“Every one of our students is involved in a pathway,” said Information Technology Academy’s Pathway Lead Teacher Ben Gill. 10th grade students choose a pathway, which is essentially a series of work-based learning opportunities that inform the entirety of each student’s education, and they stay together as one class throughout the high school experience. “It allows us to create a small learning community where students can get to know teachers on a deeper level and work together on bigger collaborative projects. It’s a school within a school.”

Students form what Gill refers to as “student cohorts,” or high school communities in which students are able to grow their preferred skill with the support and camaraderie of a close group of peers. According to Gill, this creates a mentor/friend type relationship between teachers and their students. “Teachers are able to meet collaboratively on a weekly basis, and since we all have that same students we can troubleshoot and provide support in a way that would be harder in a traditional school system.”

De Anza’s Information Technology Academy started in 2009 after the California Partnership Academy (CPA) received a grant enabling them to implement the program. The program is funded under an SB70 state program that, according to Gill, is taking the place of vocational education.” We’re looking to bridge that gap between academic education and career vocational training,” said Gill. “When I was in high school classes weren’t aligned in any matter, so kids could take woodshop and other classes as they see fit. The program now merges academic and technical classes.”

The district works with several community partners in order to provide an optimal and cohesive preview into a life in each potential career “pathway,” one of which is Linked Learning, an approach to education based on the idea that students work harder and dream bigger if their education is relevant to them. The Linked Learning approach integrates rigorous academics that meet college-ready standards with sequenced, high-quality career-technical education, work-based learning, and supports to help students stay on track.

“The West Contra Costa County Unified School District has been working for a number of years to establish high quality Linked Learning pathways and to systematically advance Linked Learning opportunities for students in the East Bay,” said Hilary McLean, Executive Vice President of Linked Learning. For Linked Learning students, education is organized around industry-sector themes that are woven curricula. Teachers collaborate with working professionals to ensure the classes are current and relevant.

“The IT Academy is a great exemplar of a Linked Learning pathway,” said McLean. “The data shows that this approach to education is making a real difference in the lives of students who are participating, by helping the students gain real-world experience through internships, as well as career and college knowledge and preparation. We hope to see pathways like the IT Academy flourish and improve the futures of students throughout the state.”

This past school year, the department spearheaded an effort to secure free Wi-Fi for the school. “English students helped write up the grant proposal and did case studies on where stuff like that had been implemented throughout the community,” said Gill. Just one example of how the program manages to keep common core curricula relevant to each chosen career pathway.

As it stands, the ITA at De Anza is about 35% female and 65% male. “Not as good as I’d like it to be,” said Gill who is making efforts to see female enrollment increases including partnering with an organization called Girls Who Code which actively recruits girls to enter into the STEM Worldwide Organization. The program also provides training materials and hackathons at which students can come together to work on a coding problem over the weekend. “It provides networking opportunities for girls to network with other girls.”

“My experience in the ITA academy was one to remember,” said Antonette Robinson, former ITA student. “I never knew girls could be so fluent in the industry. I always had this image of men in the tech field. That’s something I no longer picture. I got to go on trips that opened my eyes to new opportunities. Now that I am out of the academy I am trying to figure out how to further my education.” Robinson currently studies at Dev Bootcamp for coding.

“I’ve definitely seen our female enrollment increase steadily since I’ve been here,” said Gill. “You hear girls talking about opportunities studying computer science and electrical engineering. When I was in high school, it definitely wasn’t that way.”

Born and raised in raised in Richmond, Gill currently lives in Stockton and commutes to his hometown to teach. “I’ve turned down teaching jobs in Central Valley and do this commute every day because of the connection I have with these kids in this community.”

“Fix It Days” concluded for this year on Saturday May 28th but come October, there will be more opportunities to receive the complimentary IT help at De Anza High School’s cafeteria. Visit http://wccusdpathways.org/information-technology-de-anza-high-school/

You can also Contact Ben at dahsitlead@wccusd.net

Anh’s Kitchen – Modern Viet Eats

Sampler Platter 1-Pork Chops, Five Spice Chicken, Short Ribs

By Vickie Lewis

What better way to honor your mother’s passion for cooking than to open a restaurant named after her, and for her family to work alongside her at the business? That’s exactly what Shelly Nguyen Ha and Cindy Ha did for their mother, Anh, when they opened Anh’s Kitchen on July 23, 2016 in the plaza located just off of the Willow Avenue freeway exit off of Highway 80 in Hercules. Anh’s Kitchen occupies the former Quizno’s Sandwich Shop location in the plaza, just behind Starbucks Coffee.

Shelly and Cindy each have full time jobs in Investment Banking and Accounting, respectively. However, the sisters also share their mother’s love of cooking and overall fascination with food. They’d long contemplated opening a family business, and seized the opportunity to do so when space in this plaza in Hercules became available. As they prepare to celebrate their first business anniversary in July, head chef, Anh, and her family, have garnered quite a following of repeat customers who enjoy the phenomenal tastes of native Vietnamese dishes that Anh has perfected over the years.

Anh is the mother of five children—Shelly being the oldest, and Cindy, the youngest.  In between the two girls are three brothers who are not directly affiliated with Anh’s Kitchen. The family is Chinese, and Anh and her husband emigrated from Vietnam in 1980 when Shelly was a young girl, moving around a bit before finally settling in the US.  Here, Shelly’s father worked in construction, and Anh initially worked in a sewing factory, having learned that trade from her father. Eventually, Anh opened a sandwich shop/deli in the Tenderloin in San Francisco, and worked there for 15 years until a real estate boom, during which her landlord wouldn’t renew her lease. Thereafter, she fulfilled her love of cooking by working in Vietnamese restaurants in SF for the next nine years, prior to the opening of the restaurant in Hercules.

Anh’s Kitchen is a small, casual dine-in and take out restaurant. The inside décor is light and simple, featuring Vietnamese baskets on one wall, and subtle pictures of bamboo on the other. There is table and chair seating for approximately 32 guests, which includes a couple of outdoor tables. The small kitchen sits adjacent to the dining area, so the aromas of the food being prepared waft throughout the restaurant, to the enjoyment of the patrons. The atmosphere is pleasant and friendly, and guests are greeted promptly upon arrival.

My guest and I visited on a Sunday afternoon as the after-church crowd was waning. Anh, Shelly and Cindy were all busy cooking when we arrived, but we were greeted promptly by Bill, Cindy’s fiancé, who works full time at Anh’s kitchen. We were seated across from the kitchen area and soon were sipping on wonderfully cool Thai Iced Tea, which is made with Black Tea and Cream. As we waited for the opportunity to interview the family, we noticed a large plate of food on the table behind us, and hoped we hadn’t interrupted the workers’ lunch break. Bill informed us that the dish was one of Shelly’s creations that is not currently on the menu. When Shelly emerged from the kitchen area, she referred to the dish as Turmeric Fish, and explained that it is one of many new dishes that she, Anh, and Cindy discovered when they traveled for three weeks to Asia before opening the restaurant. Shelly explained that there is variation in the cuisines of North, Central, and South Vietnam.  During their journey, they traveled from north to south Vietnam, and to some of the surrounding Asian countries, to gain additional exposure to the dishes served in each region.  The Turmeric Fish was a dish they experienced in Hanoi, which is located in North Vietnam. Shelly’s version of the dish was prepared with Rockfish and Catfish topped with fresh dill and onion, accompanied by homemade fish sauce. Shelly gave me and my guest samples of the Turmeric Fish and we both found it to be delicious! Though it is not currently on the menu, it may be added at some point in the future as the young business continues to hone its menu.

The menu at Anh’s Kitchen is somewhat smaller than is typical of similar restaurants. It includes ten appetizers, four to six choices of salads, Banh Mi Sandwiches, and several Noodle Soups, Vermicelli Bowls, and Entrees. The menu has changed only slightly since the restaurant was opened, and although the menu selections may seem a bit limited, there is a great variety of traditional selections for customers to enjoy. Rather than selecting a single item from the menu, my guest and I were treated to smaller samples of many different items so that we could gain a broader exposure to the culinary delights offered at Anh’s Kitchen.

I’ll mention at this point that my guest for this review had never before eaten Vietnamese food, so this was a totally new experience for her. Shelly kindly explained details about all of the items we were served so that we were totally aware of what we were eating, and even shared information about how each of the items was prepared. For starters, we were treated to the Spring Roll appetizer—shrimp, grilled pork, lettuce, and herbs wrapped in rice paper and served with a house-made peanut dipping sauce. As soon as I bit into a Spring Roll, I immediately knew it was the best I’d ever eaten!  The fresh, crunchiness of the lettuce and the wonderful flavor of the pork and spices was excellent! And not surprisingly, my guest loved the spring rolls as well—especially the peanut sauce!   

Our next sample was a steaming plate of Garlic Noodles. Although these did not appear as a separate appetizer or entrée on the menu, there is an option to substitute Garlic Noodles for rice with entrees for a $2 upcharge. Shelly explained that they use Chow Mein noodles in the preparation of this dish, although for other dishes, such as the Vermicelli Bowls and Pho Noodle Soups, Anh’s uses the thinner, rice noodles.  The Garlic Noodles were topped with fresh Parmesan Cheese, which was surprising to me, since I usually associate this with Italian food and restaurants. The garlic flavor of the noodles was pronounced and very delicious, and had similar consistency to thicker spaghetti noodles. Very yummy!

While we were still enjoying the Garlic Noodles, Cindy brought out a beautifully arranged sampler plate of three of their popular entrées–three different meats served with a side of salad, and of course, fish sauce.  Shelly told us that fish sauce is “the mother of all sauces” for Vietnamese cuisine and is it served with many different items to enhance the flavors.  The fish sauce, and all sauces served at Anh’s Kitchen, are made in-house with fresh ingredients, herbs and spices. Our entrée sampler included Bone-in Pork Chops, Five Spice Chicken, and BBQ Short Ribs. All three of the entrees were delicious and are all items I would absolutely consider ordering when I return to Anh’s Kitchen. I believe my favorite of the three, however, was the pork chops. The flavor of these and the short ribs were rather similar, but I found the pork chops to be a bit meatier and more flavorful and appealing. I really enjoy the combination of spices used in Vietnamese cooking and these really were highlighted in all of the entrees we sampled.  Although the fish sauce was good, I chose not to use much of it on the items I sampled, simply because I liked the flavors of the meats without it. The Five Spice Chicken, which is first baked and then fried before serving, had a distinctly different flavor from the pork chops and short ribs.  The “five spice” seasoning is a combination of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. The chicken was very tender and delicious, and although the “five spice” flavor is one that I don’t believe I’ve experienced before, I did enjoy it.  My guest, who was delighting in all the many wonderful flavors of the new foods she was experiencing, couldn’t offer a favorite entrée selection, as she said that she “loved them all!”  Informationally, when ordering entrees from the menu, they are served over rice, accompanied by a fried egg and a side salad—a very hearty meal for a nominal cost ranging between $9 and $13.

The last two menu items to which we were treated were the fresh Mango Salad, and Bo Luc Lac, which is also known as Shaking or Shaken Beef. The Mango Salad was beautifully presented, consisting of thin slivers of pickled carrots, red onions, celery, herbs and crispy shallots, topped with crushed peanuts, and served with three large shrimp chips. I cannot say enough about how fresh and wonderful this salad tasted! The ingredients were crunchy and we enjoyed eating the salad together with the shrimp chips.  The blend of flavors was perfect, and this was one of the only plates that was totally clean when we completed our samplings! The Shaken Beef is made with Filet Mignon, and is served on a bed of lettuce with stir fried bell peppers and red onions. I asked Shelly why the dish is called Shaken Beef, and she explained that it is because when the meat is being cooked, it is literally shaken vigorously back and forth in the pan. The Shaken Beef is served with a dipping “sauce”, which is simply a mixture of lime juice and salt and pepper. The beef chunks in this dish were extremely tender and cooked to perfection. The flavor of the meat was exceptional with or without the lime sauce.  Shelly explained that all of the meats used for their dishes are marinated for at least 24 hours to intensify the flavors, so it was no wonder that the beef—and all of the other samples—were so delicious!  My guest and I also tried samples of the beef and chicken broths used in the Pho Noodle Soups. The broths are made from scratch using beef and chicken bones, which are simmered up to 10 hours and are cooked with onion and cilantro. I preferred the beef broth over the chicken, as it had a heartier flavor, and I look forward to trying a hot bowl of Beef Pho from Anh’s Kitchen sometime in the near future.

Anh’s Kitchen is a caring family’s endeavor to honor their mother, share their combined passion for food and cooking, and expand the culinary options available in the small town of Hercules and the surrounding area.  None of the family members involved in the business has been formally trained in cooking, nor have they ever owned or managed a restaurant business.  Yet Anh’s Kitchen has had a successful first year, and the family is looking forward to continuing to build on that success in the future.  Although their kitchen is small, they are continuing to look at opportunities to add new entrees, and perhaps even offer dessert in the future. Anh’s does not currently offer catering options, but welcomes larger parties in their dining area. They do a robust take-out business, and tend to get very busy during lunch hours when local workers venture out to seek alternatives to fast food. If you’re looking for a great new Vietnamese restaurant with friendly, personalized service, add Anh’s Kitchen to your list of places to try for an upcoming lunch or dinner.  The prices are reasonable and the food is authentic and delicious! And although she is a bit shy, say hello to Anh while you’re there, and give your compliments to the chef!

844 Willow Avenue, Suite A3, Hercules  |   (510) 948-8189   |   anhskitchen.com

Sunday through Monday 11:00AM – 9:00PM   |   Closed Tuesdays