The Father of our National Parks

Muir Woods National Monument

A look into the life of John Muir, who made Contra Costa County his home.

By Matt Larson

Living in California we either see or hear the name John Muir quite a bit. Be it the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, John Muir Health, one of many John Muir elementary or high schools, not to mention the Muir Woods National Monument in Marin, or the fact that John Muir is immortalized on the back of the official California State Quarter.

John Muir lived from 1838-1914, and is a prime example of how one individual can have a lasting impact on the world. A naturalist, conservationist, and a self-proclaimed “poetico-trampo-geologist-botanist and ornithologist-naturalist etc., etc.” He’s most renowned for his adventures in California’s Sierra Nevada. He was a prolific writer who taught people about the importance of experiencing the natural beauty of our earthly heritage. His writings helped contribute to the creation of the Yosemite, Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon national parks.

Born in Dunbar, Scotland, Muir first came to the United States when he was 11 years old. In 1849 his family emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to New York; it was a six-week trip via sailing ship. They then went straight to Wisconsin where Muir spent most of his 20s. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and it was here that he first learned about geology and developed his love for botany—this is where he also met his future mentor, Jeanne Carr. At 30 years old in 1868, Muir sailed to California. He arrived in San Francisco and soon made his first visit to Yosemite, where he’d spend much of his time in the coming years.

He would always find his way back to the Bay Area though, where he did much of his writings over the years. His first published writing was in the Boston Recorder in 1866 when he was 28-years old. It was called The Calypso Borealis, written about a rare orchid he discovered while botanizing in Ontario. Then in 1871 the New York Tribune published Muir’s first article from California titled Yosemite Glaciers. San Francisco’s The Overland Monthly publishes several of his writings in 1872, and by 1874 began publishing Muir’s series, Studies in the Sierra. Ultimately he wrote more than 300 magazine articles and 10 major books.

The same year his series was being published in the The Overland Monthly, Muir’s Wisconsin mentor Jeanne Carr introduces him to his future wife, Louisa “Louie” Wanda Strentzel, the daughter of a prosperous Polish immigrant who owned a large fruit farm in Alhambra Valley near Martinez, whom he married in 1880. By then, Martinez was his home. He began construction of a mansion in Martinez for his father and mother-in-law in 1882. His brother David and his family moved to Martinez 10 years later in 1892, and Muir had even gone into partnership with his father-in-law Dr. John Strentzel and helped managed the family’s large fruit ranch for 10 years.

John Muir made friends wherever he went. Ralph Waldo Emerson paid a 33-year-old Muir a visit in Yosemite in 1871, he became lifelong friends with John and Annie Bidwell of Chico in 1877, and even spent 3 days and nights camping alone with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite in 1903.

It is widely accepted that Yosemite National Park, amongst with many others, wouldn’t exist without the influence of John Muir. And of all the places in the world he could have landed, he wound up right here in Contra Costa County. Today, Muir’s remains lie beside those of his wife in a small family cemetery one mile south of the Muir House in Martinez. Together they had two daughters and 10 grandchildren.

If you’d like to dive deeper, as there’s an encyclopedia’s worth of information on John Muir and his adventures, head to, or visit the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez by calling (925) 228-8860 or visit


Clean Streets – The gloves are out, and they’re here to help


By Matt Larson

For his 2009 New Year’s resolution, Allen Cain decided that he and his daughter would take a walk up and down Solano Avenue in Albany every day before school. Most New Year’s resolutions don’t even last a month, if that. Cain’s daughter, who was in 5th grade attending Cornell Elementary at the time, lasted a few weeks. But Cain stuck to the plan. 9 years later, he’s still walking! And he’s not alone…

Walking the same route every day, Cain developed a habit of picking trash up off the street. He even went as far as contacting the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to find appropriate gloves, that happened to be blue, and were strong enough to not break against the cement while picking up trash on his walk. But it wasn’t just his selfless community service or shiny blue gloves that drew attention from his friends to inspire them to join his efforts—it was his weight loss! “I started at 185, and I’m at 155 now,” he said. “People started to notice my weight loss and that sparked their interest to walk with me in the morning!”

Today, Cain’s trash pick-up walk has become a group effort. They meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning—rain or shine or holiday—and walk 5 miles picking up trash on the street. “It just became a thing!” said Cain, looking back on this unexpected journey. “We all wear the gloves, of course, so we’re known as the Blue Glove Crew.” Three mornings per week the Blue Glove Crew averages 8 walkers per day, and have gone as high as 15, so far.

From banana peels to roadkill, even hypodermic needles, the Blue Glove Crew will carefully clean the streets as they walk. “Anything larger than a matchbook cover is kind of our litmus,” said Cain. They do find some pretty interesting things though and have come through in a pinch on several occasions. “We find credit cards, we find phones at bus stops, and lots of cash!” Once they found a whole envelope of money, on a street heavily traveled by students, with “pizza” written on the side. “Sure enough it was a classroom’s pizza money and we saved the day by turning it in to that school’s office.” Just one of many Blue Glove Crew success stories.

Cain works as the Executive Director of the Solano Avenue Association and Stroll. Other crew members include councilpersons, chamber members, even the local health and safety commissioner joins them quite frequently. “They all get a different view of the street,” said Cain. They learn where every merchant vacancy is, every pothole, and every opportunity for community growth as they walk and help clean up.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Cain explains. “It’s physically good for the environment, it’s physically good for you, it’s emotionally good for you, and to top it all off—it’s free!” Plus, once you’re finished, you can look back to see a cleaner street; a job well done.

Blue Glove Crew is absolutely, 100% open to the public. If you’d like to join the crew, or even if you’d like to go just once to check it out, Cain invites you to come with. If you could, give them a heads up that you’ll be coming via their facebook page at They meet up to prep at around 7:30 a.m. at the BART tracks on Solano Ave. in Albany and start walking at 8 a.m. They walk from there into Berkeley, into El Cerrito, then back up and down Solano Ave. to Albany. 5 miles total, about 1.5 hours of your life (1.75 on Mondays).

If you don’t live close enough and want to start up your own crew, Cain has the following advice: “Be careful what you pick up, how you pick it up, and make sure you walk in the direction that traffic’s facing you,” he said. “Just do it. Who cares what people think? I believe life gives you back what you put into it.” So, put in! Hope to see you out there, blue gloves and all.

Artisan Chicken Phylly Sandwich



by Liane Ingham

What you’ll need:

1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 large red onion, halved and sliced

1 medium sweet red pepper, julienned

1 medium sweet orange or yellow pepper, julienned

1 sliced jalapeño-seeds taken out

1 cut shredded chedded & pepperjack cheese

4 whole wheat hoagie buns, split and warmed


In a large skillet, saute chicken in oil until no longer pink; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside. In the same skillet, saute onion, sweet peppers and jalapeño until crisp-tender.

Return chicken to the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Add cheese. Cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve on buns. Yield: 4 servings.

This is one of my favorite recipes, one that I developed over many years.  I wanted to create an explosive flavor and a twist on an old favorite –  I wanted to keep the same great taste as the beef phylly but wanted to create a fresh and lighter sandwich with a different robust flavor.

Serve it with a nice dark beer or a pinot grigio. You will love this sandwich.

Recipe provided by The Artisan Kitchen and Cafe. 865 Marina Bay Parkway, Suite 33, Richmond, CA 94804.

Riggers Loft Wine Company – R&B Cellars Hitting the High Notes in Point Richmond


By Linda Bausch | Derek Everhart Photography

Bay Area locals, if you’re looking for a unique, winery and tasting excursion, close to home, look no further than the end of the pier on Canal Street, in the Port of Richmond, home to Riggers Loft Wine Company and R&B Cellars. A wine bar and tasting room that is both industrial and chic, cozy and expansive, in other words, it is the wine bar and tasting room you have always searched for but never found. Now you have! The location boasts a rich history, and is part of the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

Three years ago local, winemaking musicians, Kevin, and Barbara Brown, a dynamic husband and wife team, were in search of a new location for the R&B Cellars winery and tasting room, a venue to showcase their Gold-medal winning wines. When Kevin and Barbara saw the worn, bayside space for the first time, to say they ‘had a vision’, would have been an understatement. As they looked out the windows to the West, all they could see was a huge, grey hulk of a WWII era ship, the USS Red Oak Victory. This is the last existing Victory cargo ship built at this very location, known at the time as the Kaiser Shipyard. The Browns knew a stunning view of the bay, and the iconic San Francisco skyline was on the other side of the historic, not-so-attractive ship.

Their ‘vision’ came into play here they asked if the ship could be moved, and their wish was granted. The spectacular view, opened up by the vacancy of the ship, which didn’t have to move very far, made the decision easy.  There was no looking back. Kevin and Barbara, took a hands-on approach, and lovingly reconstructed the site to suit their winemaking needs. They restored each item to its original condition, as required, due to the historical status of the building. The fruits of their labor harmonized, and they fulfilled their dream, right in your backyard!

Riggers Loft Wine Company is an urban winemaking collective––nurtured by visionary people––who enjoy what they do, and want to share their experience. R&B Cellars have made wine at this location since 2014. This was not their first vintage. In 1997, the inaugural vintage of their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon won the Vinales D’Argent in 2000. This big win set the wheels of R&B Cellars’ success in motion. The limited production totaled only 230 cases. The Brown’s list of accolades earned since that first vintage is an impressive confirmation of the quality wine consistently produced by R&B Cellars.

Other varietals on the R&B’s wine list include: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux style blend, among others. The elegant, hand-crafted wines are served in the casual, and comfortable warehouse. While you sip your wine, or cider, the winemakers are busy at work, as the next vintages ferment in gleaming stainless steel tanks, or age in French oak barrels, stacked neatly in the same room.

R&B Cellars’ annual case production is approximately 20,000, with the collective included, the number climbs to 30,000 cases per year. All production happens on-site, with a portable bottling line being brought in when needed. Everyone works together, and the process is not only efficient, but cost effective, helping to keep overhead down.

Wines created by Kevin, and Barbara Brown, reflect the depth of their 30 years experience in the wine business. The wines are made from grapes sourced from some of the finest grape growers in Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Mendocino. French oak is predominantly used for their barrel aging. Each varietal and blend are hand-crafted. Barrel aging allows the fruit’s full potential to shine.The well-balanced profile assures the wines will pair well with your favorite foods. R&B Cellars is widely distributed throughout the United States, and are exported extensively in China and Africa.

They share the eclectic winemaking venue, and pour their critically acclaimed wines and cider at the tasting bars include––Carica Wines, Irish Monkey Cellars, Barrel + Ink, and Far West Cider Company––each with a unique approach to craft their wines, and cider. Charlie Dollbaum, owner and winemaker, of Carica Wines, brings a scientific approach to his winemaking, using his research, and microbiology experience in his winemaking. He creates the highest quality wine possible with sustainable, organically farmed fruit, never compromising on balance. The entire list of talented winemakers participating in this unique endeavour an be found on the Riggers Loft Wine Company website.

The tasting room staff are well versed, and knowledgeable in the of wines they pour, comfortably engaging each guest, as they navigate the tasting menus. The options are abundant, and there is no question, there will be something rich, and flavorful, such as a full-bodied Merlot, or a crisp, and light, Sauvignon Blanc, or buttery Chardonnay, something delicious to suit everyone’s taste, at a price that is affordable. Be sure to ask about the Wine Clubs, you don’t want to miss the special deals offered to members.

Aside from being the ‘winemaker’s, Kevin and Barbara’s love of music is at the forefront of everything they do. Music is more than their inspiration, for them, it is a way of life. Kevin is a jazz pianist, and Barbara, a jazz singer. Both are professional musicians. It is not unusual to find them playing, and singing with a local trio on Open Mic night. Their approach to playing music and making wine are one in the same. Wine and music are meant to be enjoyed together. The jazzy names of their wines include references related to music, minuet, serenade, swingsville, improvisor, etc. In addition to the musical themed names, every memorable wine label was painted by Mimi Stuart, an accomplished Bay Area artist. Her renditions of brilliant, crisp, colors adorned with shimmering music notes, boldly draw attention to the crescendo of flavor inside each bottle.

In case you were wondering about food, yes, they hit that note, too. Paul’s Street Eats is on-site, preparing wonderful bites during tasting room hours. The air is scented with delicious aromas of fresh made sliders, tacos, and sweet corn fritters, beckoning the guests to pair their wine with tasty treats from the food truck, stationed right outside the door. The diverse menu changes frequently. Be sure to try the fresh, hot beignets.

Riggers Loft Wine Company is available for private parties, indoors, and out. Celebrate your loved one’s birthdays, anniversaries, graduation, wedding, or everyone’s favorite, the office holiday party. Guest counts vary, depending on specifics. Fleet Week and the 4th of July fireworks display (check for actual date of celebration) afford even more opportunities to show the locals what a special place they have in Riggers Loft Wine Company.

Join the band on Open Mic Nights, with a professional trio backing the musicians throughout the evening. Instrumentalists and vocalists are welcome, the 2nd Wednesday of the month, 7 pm to 10 pm. Trivia Nights are hosted the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month. Be sure to check their website as details may be subject to change. Paint night and Oyster Sundays are on the agenda too. There’s an informative calendar of events on the website.

Did I mention family friendly? No worries, bring everyone! That’s the best part. You know the old saying, “The family that plays together, stays together.” Well, there’s plenty of ‘play’ at Riggers Loft Wine Company. Two widescreen TV’s show sports games. This venue is plenty large enough to accommodate everyone’s desires. Multiple tasting bars assure room for everyone to have a seat. Comfortable, overstuffed, living room couches and chairs are spread out for multiple groups to enjoy their space. During the day music plays throughout the room, keeping the spirit lively. Ping pong tables hold the attention of father and son, each trying their best to out play the other. A zydeco band sets up near the front, preparing for what promises to be a fun evening for guests. Every Friday and Saturday evening at Riggers Loft Wine Company bands play live music, there’s plenty of room for dancing. Add delicious food, and fine wine, who could ask for anything more? During the daytime, how about a visit to the USS Red Oak Victory? Enjoy a no-cost excursion, on your own, or with a guide, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm. The ship is just a quick stroll across the parking lot. Take your turn at the helm for a history lesson in the making. The collective spirit of this group does not go unnoticed. From the first contact with the genuine, hospitable tasting-bar staff, to the winemakers introducing themselves to the guests, one-by-one, everyone is made to feel welcome.

Improving Neighborhoods One Business, One Block, One Street at a Time


By Jeannie Howard

With projects such as the Dia de Los Muertos Festival, which has been inducted into the Congress Hall of Fame and has become a fixture event for the Fruitvale community since its inception more than twenty years ago, and the Temescal District in Oakland, urban revitalization has been an endless career passion for Darlene Rios Drapkin, founder of Urban Transformations and an Ambassador for the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. “I am very intrigued by economic redevelopment strategies,” she said, “and I love the flare and the creativity that is present in commercial districts. It is fun to be a part of a community and to have a nearby shopping area to walk.”

Starting her consulting business, Urban Transformations, more than a decade ago, Drapkin has searched for opportunities to not simply consult on ways to improve urban business districts throughout the Bay Area, but has also been a hands-on advocate for merchants. “All I really do is help neighborhoods live up to their full potential,” Drapkin expressed.

Even though Drapkin has been a Richmond resident for more than twenty years, her redevelopment projects had consistently kept her focus outside of her own community—up until the last few years that is. “I had been working the last twenty years in Oakland and other neighborhoods and then I thought, ‘wait, Richmond needs my help,’” she said. With the assistance of some small grants, Drapkin has been able to shift her focus to helping revitalize Richmond. Because of the city’s immense potential, Drapkin admits that she is always very positive about Richmond and strongly believes that through community and city cooperation there can be greater representation for small businesses, which will “create more walkable and liveable neighborhoods in Richmond.”

Garnering more attention and representation does not just happen, as Drapkin states, but that it takes a consorted effort from the business owners themselves. “The city is an important element, but you can’t just rely on the city,” she explains. “Merchants have to become an extension of the city in helping resolve issues and becoming part of the solution.” This involvement, she strongly believes, is what creates community stakeholders that have vested interests in the success of neighborhoods. “Part of my role is to get those merchants involved,” she said, “which is why I am so active with the chamber.”

Through Drapkin’s efforts, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce has experienced an uptick in new membership. “I have brought in like nine new members within the last month,” she said. In addition to her work with the chamber, Drapkin is also a counselor with the Contra Costa Small Business Development Center, SBDC. “This is an underutilized resource,” she stated. “I work with merchants to help them access information on lending options, marketing, and even help with bookkeeping.”

The Richmond end of 23rd Street is Drapkin’s current project, Calle 23. “As a Latina, I take a special interest in Latin neighborhoods,” she expressed. “23rd Street is predominately a Latino neighborhood and I have been doing work to steer the available resources the city has to 23rd Street to create vitality for this commercial corridor.” Through a comprehensive, multipronged approach of bringing business owners, police, and the city together, Drapkin has been able to make strides in improving 23rd Street.

“Through our efforts, the city has installed what are called treasure box trash cans and we’re now going to be getting an update on the streetscape plan,” she explained. “The corridor will start looking a lot nicer, which means we are closer.” While the beautification of 23rd Street through the future additions of new street lights, pedestrian-friendly lighting, and new greenery will be appealing to potential shoppers and residence, Drapkin wants to be clear that there is still a ways to go. “I wish I could tell you things happen overnight, but it is very small incremental steps,” she admitted. “You celebrate every incremental step though and I am in it for the long haul.” Drapkin has extended an open invitation to residents and other community members who would like to become a part of this ongoing neighborhood project,

She continues to work with the approximately 160 merchants on 23rd Street in the improvement of their individual storefronts and to increase their involvement not just with the Richmond Chamber of Commerce but also with the police department through merchant watch meetings that address safety issues. “We have had a tremendous response this year at the merchant watch meetings,” she said. “So the merchants are listening to how we make our community better.”

Through her decades of experience in urban revitalization, Drapkin stated that this type of work becomes a chain reaction. “Once you start improving one building—one block—other merchants start doing it too. It is a domino effect.”

Through urban redevelopment not only do shoppers and business owners benefit, according to Drapkin, but so too do cities. “This is what I love about the work I am doing,” she said. “Once it takes off, it generates revenue for the city of Richmond. When small businesses succeed they generate sales tax revenue.” This tax revenue, as Drapkin sees it, helps the city to fulfill the service needs of communities. “I will know I am successful when small businesses want to come to this area.”

CASA Volunteer Advocate for Foster Youth One Child at a Time


By Jeannie Howard

With the various actors involved in the foster care system all tirelessly working to ensure foster children are being cared for, often times the voice of the child can become muted. However, Court Appointed Special Advocates, CASA, across the nation have the unique duty of being the personal advocate for foster youth. “That is first and foremost the role of a CASA volunteer; being an advocate for the youth,” said Allison Tabor, CASA of Contra Costa volunteer. “Managing all of the different opinions you hear, all wanting different things, you have to make the youth’s voice louder and those other voices softer.”

After seeing a neighbor post about being a CASA volunteer, Tabor said she was intrigued and asked for more information. “The idea of helping foster youth without taking on the responsibility of actually being a foster parent just sounded very appealing,” she said. “I have a young man who is twenty now, he’ll be in the system until he is 21, and I have been with him since he was 15.” During her five years as a CASA volunteer, Tabor has been an advocate for the same youth. CASA of Contra Costa prefers volunteers to work with one youth at a time which allows them to be focused on the needs of that one child.

During their years together, Tabor has been able to offer her youth experiences he may have never had if not for CASA. “I have been able to introduce him to a lot of things, such as cultural events and even just going to the Warf in San Francisco—so many things that we take for granted,” she described. She has also played a key role in advising him on his higher education choice after he graduated from high school. For Tabor though, her reward is just seeing him succeed in his progress into adulthood. “I know he’s going to get this leg up with his life with my involvement,” she said.

According to Tabor, a typical CASA volunteer will spend time with their youth at least once a week and stay in touch as often as they like. Volunteers do need to be flexible though because “you sign up to help the kid in whatever way that means,” she said. “If the youth needs something special that is what you are there for.” For Tabor, she saw her role as not just an advocate but also a mentor—in many ways like an aunt. “I consider my CASA youth to be like my nephew,” she described. “So, what would I do with my nephew? How would I treat him?” To be an effective advocate, according to Tabor, a CASA volunteer cannot just see their youth once a month or once a year. “It is all about consistency,” she said. “If there is one thing I provide for him it is consistently showing up for him. He knows that he can count on me.” This consistency is critically important for foster youth who often have never had such dependable consistency in their lives.

The inception of CASA has had a tremendously positive effect on the lives of so many foster youths, according to Tabor. “The success rates for these kids are seen on so many levels.” Tabor points to the testimonies of many judges involved in these cases talking about how foster youth who have had the advocacy of a CASA volunteer not only have higher rates of high school graduation but also are far less likely to become juvenile delinquents. “There is a huge impact that CASA makes on so many levels and foster kids that don’t have a CASA volunteer really are not afforded the same opportunities as the ones that do,” she described.

With nearly 1,000 kids coming through the Contra Cost foster system annually and only 133 CASA volunteers, the program is in need of community members to step up to help be advocates for the foster kids not currently being served. “CASA’s mission is that every foster youth in the system has a CASA volunteer,” said Tabor. The program is actively working to increase the number of volunteers to 400 volunteers by 2021. Through increased outreach on social media and in-person through community organization such as religious groups, CASA of Contra Costa believes they will be able to achieve their goals.

“It’s not about waiting until all the stars align and for everything to be perfect. I have a very busy career but I think we can all do something at whatever stage we are in,” Tabor said to anyone thinking about becoming a CASA volunteer.

Even if someone is not ready for the minimum two-year commitment, Tabor said that there are so many other ways people can help foster youth. “For example, some of the youth don’t even have anyone to celebrate their birthday with them; they have never had that level of stability in their lives,” explained Tabor. “So, there are bakers who volunteer to make birthday cakes for the CASA youth.” The door at CASA of Contra Costa is open to the support from community members, in whatever capacity they can offer, so, “don’t shy away from reaching out,” urged Tabor. “Just do it!”

Visit for more information.

Once upon a time Pinole had a band

Pinole Municipal Band 1926

By George R. Vincent

John “Johnny” Catrino passed away on August 15, 2015. He was 90. John was the last known surviving member of the old “Pinole Municipal Band.” John and his twin brother, Orland, were both long-time band members. John played the clarinet and Orland played the saxophone.

The “Pinole Band” was the pride of the city, leading town parades for the Fourth of July, the Portuguese Holy Ghost celebrations as well as many other social events.

The origin of the Pinole Band goes back to the early 1900s. Young eighth-grader Willie “Bill” Lewis, of Portuguese descent, was a notable figure in early Pinole because he had founded the “Pinole Boys’ Original Brass Band.”

In 1909, the town newspaper reported Willie Lewis had “bought a new horn and was blowing it down town.”

Lewis had been an honor student of the old Plaza School in downtown Pinole, where the post office is today. In 1906, his band held its practices at the one-room Plaza School.

By 1914, the band was playing at the local Rink’s movie theatre as well as at Sunday baseball games. Pinole was an avid baseball town. Lewis, on trombone, was the talented bandleader and teacher of brass instruments to other band members.

His brother, Frank Lewis, played solo cornet. Other early members were Victor Pedro and Elmer Christian. George Vincent, my father, was on baritone and Manuel Santos played snare drums.

By 1938, the band had grown to 20 pieces. It was still led by bandmaster Willie Lewis, who was now a local grocery store merchant on San Pablo Avenue and Pinole Valley Road.

In 1937, the band held its practices in the quiet Pinole Valley at the Adobe Ranch, where there was a wooden dance floor. In 1938, the band held a community picnic there with Harold Silvas playing accordion and “providing excellent dance music,” according to the newspaper. The Pinole Boys’ Band entertained Pinoleans in town social affairs as well.

In 1914, there was a “Candidates’ Ball,” a big dance given by the Boys’ Band in the Pinole Opera House on Tennent Avenue. Willie Lewis was the bandleader. In 1917, Willie was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War I.

In May 1925, Willie and his brother, Joseph Lewis, and their band played for a social night of dancing for the “Imperial order of Red Men, Shenandoah Tribe #121,” and its Pocahontas ladies’ auxiliary.

By the 1920s and 1930s, the band was leading the annual summer Holy Ghost parade and celebration. All the communities in the Bay Area and Central Valley with large Portuguese populations held this Pentecost Sunday festival.

The 20-member Pinole Band had become popular and became mobile, attending parades in surrounding towns and in Central Valley towns such as Newman.

The bands’ first uniforms were dark blue. But by the 1930s, they had changed to cooler, white cotton outfits with snappy black booties. At that time, the band identified with the city of its origin, calling itself the “Pinole Municipal Band.”

The band was largely made up of local talent. Many of the members were Pinole men from the Oleum Oil Refinery in Rodeo. They played all over, even going to Yountville to entertain the vets. The members were Frank Lewis, Joe Villa, Harold Foster, John Catrino, Orland Catrino, George Vincent, Beno Marcos, and Bob Beach.

At one time, the Pinole Band played an active part in the social life of the town and was respected by and popular with townsfolk and adoring young ladies. Some band wives complained about their husbands being away so much playing in out-of-town celebrations. But the band had a well-deserved and far-flung reputation for good music and marching.

The Pinole Band gave the city of Pinole recognition and status before disbanding and slipping sadly into the town’s history. In 1959, the last Holy Ghost “Festa” was held in Pinole. Diane DeSilva reigned as the last queen. It was about this time that the band marched down Tennent Avenue for the last time.

Today, John Catrino’s well-worn clarinet, Frank Lewis’ tarnished coronet, and George Vincent’s blue band cap are vintage artifacts reminding us of Pinole’s musical past, as well as the current need for a local museum to house these treasures.

It’s Alive! This Richmond-based probiotic kefir water tea company is on the rise

The Living Apothecary_Cold Pressed Almond Milk67880.jpg

By Matt Larson

When you go to a health food store and pick up a beverage, chances are that you’re not used to reading “crafted and bottled in Richmond, California” right there on the front of the label. Well, get used to it! As that’s what happened to us after purchasing a bottle of The Living Apothecary’s Hibiscus Apricot probiotic kefir water tea, on a whim. After taking it home to enjoy, that’s when we noticed the label, and we contacted them immediately!

In September of 2012, The Living Apothecary began at Kitchener Oakland, a fully operational commercial kitchen for startup food businesses to get off their feet. They moved to their current Richmond facility in 2015, and it seems they’re here to stay.

“Looking for space we quickly realized that Richmond was the best place,” said Co-Founder Shari Stein Curry. “My business partner [Co-Founder Traci Hunt] said it’s a really cool community, it’s up and coming, and a lot of cool businesses are going to move there. And she was right!” Curry adds, “I couldn’t be more grateful. The community that we have around us has embraced us. It was the best move for our business, for sure.”

Curry is a Bay Area transplant, like many of us, and originally hails from just outside of Philadelphia. She grew up with a lot of city pride, and now feels that same pride here in the East Bay. They want to be loud and proud about where they’re producing this wonderful product, and putting Richmond in big bold letters on the front of the label is a great way to do that. “We’re all about community; shopping local, supporting local,” she said. “The support that we’ve had from the local community from the Bay Area, with the customers that have stuck by our side through thick and thin for years—it’s the only reason we are where we are.”

For the first few years The Living Apothecary only existed here in the Bay Area. You can find their products in a variety of health food stores all around the Bay, including Whole Foods. The closest location to us would probably be the El Cerrito Natural Grocery, as their facility in Richmond is only used for production. They opted against going the brick-and-mortar route from the beginning, but you can still find them at the Urban Village Temescal Farmers’ Market on Sundays in Oakland.

After years of dedicated work, The Living Apothecary has finally expanding into Southern California as of March this year. They’re also pushing into Arizona, Las Vegas, Oregon and Washington, with potential to move into New York City’s five borough marketplace, as well as Colorado, Texas, you know … the world! And it’s all based right here in West County.

For those unfamiliar with kefir water, it’s one of the world’s oldest naturally fermented beverages. The Living Apothecary blends it with loose leaf artisan teas resulting in a drink that is naturally dairy and gluten free, low in sugar and calories, non- or gently carbonated, delicious, and great for your immune system. Plus, it is a living liquid! Containing probiotic strains that are constantly evolving and “keeping your gut guessing” as each batch they make may have a different beneficial probiotic strain taking a more dominant role than the others. “In general, with kefir water, there’s usually around 45 beneficial bacteria strains in the bottle,” Curry explained. “It changes all the time, and that’s what’s amazing about it.”

Probiotics have certainly been on the rise with the cultural takeover of kombucha these past few years, but kombucha has a very distinct taste that can be difficult for some to get used to. The Living Apothecary’s kefir water tea has very similar health benefits, yet it’s much more mellow to drink and they’re mostly caffeine free. With flavors like Hibiscus Apricot, Passionflower Lemongrass, and Red Raspberry Leaf Ginger, you’re sure to find something you like.

To learn more, read their blog, and find local retailers to purchase a bottle, head to And take Curry’s advice: “A healthy gut, is a happy body.” Bottom’s up.

Striving to Build Lifelong Health Through Community Partnerships


carson_resizedBy Jeannie Howard

Through a series of partnerships and mergers with other smaller healthcare centers and private practice providers, LifeLong Medical Care has grown from its original location, Over 60 in Berkeley, to fourteen locations throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Expanding from the original goal of offering elderly and aging care to individuals over 55 years old to provide care for all ages, patients are now able to receive healthcare for everything from prenatal, pediatrics, and primary care, to senior care and day services, metal and behavioral health as well as dental and urgent care.

Throughout the consistent expansion over the past 41 years, LifeLong Medical Care has never faltered in their mission of helping to ensure everyone in need of healthcare, regardless of their ability to pay, is able to receive the care and services they seek. “The services are available to everyone regardless of their immigrant status or ability to pay,” says Lucinda Bazile, deputy director, who has been with the organization for more than twenty years.

A growing perspective in healthcare is that of whole patient care, meaning the healthcare of an individual is addressed along with other social factors at play in their lives; this is a perspective that LifeLong Medical Care has been practicing for more than two decades. A core element of whole patient care, especially when treating individuals who are a part of underserved or low-income communities, is housing and how that relates to successful medical care. The housing first idea “means that in order to begin to have someone feel safe and healthy they need to be housed,” says Bazile. Through its Supportive Housing Program (SHP), LifeLong Medical Care is able to partner with subsidized affordable housing facilities and programs to help individuals with histories of homelessness receive medical care. “We are taking healthcare services into supportive housing programs where those individuals are probably recovering addicts, or have some addictions, and who are probably not getting the healthcare that they need,” she explains.

According to Bazile, the goal of the SHP is to have their patients be able to transition into permanent housing and, since housing and health go hand-in-hand, LifeLong Medical works not only in a medical capacity but also through outreach efforts to create the most effect outcomes. “With our healthcare providers in the housing units, we work to build a bridge and connect with the patients to meet them where they are,” she says. “We are providing case management and other service for them as well as helping them with clinical needs.” Servicing nearly 600 individuals throughout Oakland and Berkeley, the SHP has been a rather successful program with close to 95% of participants retaining housing and most of them are receiving medical care as well.

In an effort to keep an ongoing pipeline of individuals passionate about working in public health, LifeLong Medical Care has been a long-time participant in AmeriCorps. Through the 10-month-long AmeriCorps Health Fellows Program, “participants help with a lot of our innovative program outreach supporting our mission,” explains Bazile. “So it’s an opportunity for individuals interested in healthcare to serve and to learn about primary care.” Because the competitive grant funding provided by the program does not allow LifeLong Medical Care to replace an employee with an AmeriCorps member, program participants have become an integral component in the organization’s creative new programs for improved patient care. “It was an AmeriCorps member that started our pharmacy program which has become an interregnal part of our drug assistance program,” says Bazile. “This year we are working with program members on focusing on how to help patients with transportation.”

LifeLong Medical Care strives to foster the same environment of partnership and collaboration with their patients as they do with the counties and other medical facilities. Through the Patient Voice Collaborative, championed by Bazile nearly 10 years ago, patients and executive level staff are able to come together through feedback and the exchange of ideas. “It’s a group of patients, usually on from each of our locations, who meet every month to talk about their experience with the organization as a patient,” Bazile details. “The patients love doing this; they feel that they are a part of advising and guiding the organization.” This monthly meeting is in addition to the quarterly patient survey the organization sends to all patients.

Often times when working with underserved communities the perception may be that those receiving the services should just be thankful for whatever help they receive, but this is not so with LifeLong Medical Carae. “People are proud, they don’t want to take handouts and they just want to be respected. They may not feel that they can or want to give a negative opinion because it’s already free or that they may be treated poorly,” she admits. “But we work to break down those perceptions and really ask for true feedback.” Bazile explains how the Patient Voice Collaborative is a give and take, allowing for patients and the organizational staff to better understand eachother’s goals and challenges, which leads to more effective healthcare.

Through continued outreach at a variety of community events people who may have never heard about the organization are able to learn about how it can help in their lives. “We also have community members come to tell us how much they love their doctor and how they are so glad they found us,” she says. “I am in the unique position of being an administrator but also able to be out in the community and hear about the impact our organization and services have made on members of the community.”

Girls Inc.®

imagegilrs inc

By Samantha Larrick

Girls Inc. supports girls from kindergarten through 12th grade, teaching them to be “strong, smart, and bold,” and allowing them to explore subjects that interest them. Operation Smart is one program that allows girls to express themselves. Operation Smart allows the girls in the program to explore interests in science, technology, and math, three fields where women are underrepresented, and teaches girls they can go on to whatever profession they desire.

Girls Inc. is a network of non-profit organizations that serves girls ages 6 to 18 across the United States. The nationally affiliate program was founded in 1864 to help girls through the aftermath of the Civil War. Since then, programs have changed to accommodate the changing needs of girls and the needs of girls in specific communities. In 1975, three women saw a need for Girls Inc. in Contra Costa County. Stefana Huran donated her beauty salon as a center, which is still in use today as the Girls Inc. headquarters. National provides the Girls Inc. name, training opportunities, and eight programs for each affiliated chapter to use. Besides the eight programs provided by National, Girls Inc. also creates programs based on the needs of their community.

College Bound Girls is one program the Contra Costa chapter created because they saw a need. The program shows girls in grades 8th through 12th the college options available to them. Representatives from Girls Inc. take the girls on college tours, give them volunteer opportunities in the community, mentor them through the college application process, and help them find scholarship opportunities. Girls Inc., with Richmond Young Scholars, takes up to 20 kids on college tours across the United States. They’ve gone to southern California, Washington D.C., and are looking at doing a southern U.S. tour. This program allows girls to see their options after high school and gives them resources to work towards their goals.

Another program Girls Inc. offers, Media Literacy. It focuses on teaching girls how to objectively look at the media and how it portrays women. This is a program for all girls kindergarten through 12th grade, but programs are broken up into age groups to focus on subjects appropriate for their age range. At De Anza high school, about 20 students signed up at a table for a Media Literacy class with a Girls Inc. representative. The class started with introductions, which included how each student’s day was going and any exciting plans the student may have had. Then they jumped into how media portrays women, how they want the media to portray women, how they can advocate for that change, and how students can use media to portray themselves. They spent time deconstructing magazine and TV advertisements based on message, audience, stereotypes, images, and more. The Girls Inc. representative created a space where the students were free to discuss any topic, no matter how sensitive, and gave them a fresh perspective on how to look at the media.

Right now, the representatives from Girls Inc. run their programs out of local schools during the school year and in the center during the summer. Tiffany, the executive director, says they’re trying to hold more programs at the center throughout the school year to create a pipeline where girls finish one program and move up to the next, rather than taking sporadic programs through their school.

Girls Inc. is focusing on making sure the programs are catered to the girls in this area, like College Bound Girls and their new pilot program Body Positive, which focuses on teaching middle school girls to love and appreciate themselves no matter what their size or how they look. Many of the women who work at Girls Inc. have lived in Richmond their whole lives and some, like Tiffany, have even gone through the program. Their focus is on empowerment, sisterhood, and making sure girls have the tools they need when they leave high school.