Posted by: amymoellering | November 12, 2015

Around Pleasanton: A City that Supports its Veterans

As the child of a Vietnam veteran, a military spouse for more than a decade and now the mom of an Army officer, I can’t get through a Veterans Day parade without shedding a few proud, emotional tears.

Pleasanton’s parade Nov. 1 was full of stirring moments — a trolley car of World War II Veterans, Las Positas College student veterans, Pleasanton police veterans and many more — all traveling down Main Street to an appreciative crowd. Regardless of what these veterans are doing now — and some are still in the military — for that moment they were recognized for their shared history of serving their country.

“We think our parade is one of the largest veterans’ celebrations in Northern California,” said Paul Siedschlag, the finance officer of the Pleasanton chapter (Post 237) of the American Legion. World War I veterans established this group in 1920 and also supported the building of the beautiful Memorial Hall. Today there are 164 registered members, and they are busy, especially at this time of year.

Besides the parade, which they co-sponsor with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, they hand out red poppies outside stores, team up with Girl Scout troops to put on a holiday party for local foster kids and present programs with flag folding demonstrations at elementary schools. Their current project is to build a Vietnam memorial in the Pioneer Cemetery. The City Council recently gave its approval, and fundraising efforts are underway.

“Our town is so patriotic; it’s incredible,” said Siedschlag.

Pat Frizzell, chair of Pleasanton Military Families, agrees that the town is supportive. This organization began in 2003 when troops started leaving for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Chris Miller, who served in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, was determined that returning soldiers would receive a warmer homecoming than he experienced and began the group to support the families left behind. Mothers, fathers, girlfriends and anyone connected to the military could find a place in this group to express worry, frustration and joy.

“At that first meeting,” recalls Frizzell, “the house was completely packed with people.”

Over time, as the troops came home, the group expanded to service projects — holiday packages for soldiers serving overseas, yellow ribbons on the lamp posts on Main Street, homecomings for soldiers and aid to returning veterans. Their annual pancake breakfast in June raises funds to pay postage for the holiday packages. This year they are preparing packages for 14 local soldiers who are serving overseas.

“When we started, we weren’t sure how long we’d last or what our direction would be,” said Frizzell. “But people stay, and new families are constantly joining because they see the good work in it and the close friendships that form. We’ve evolved to what we call ‘support through service.’ ”

To donate to this year’s holiday packages for the troops, visit the suggested donation list Bring items to the Veterans Memorial Hall from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 20. To learn more about the American Legion and support the proposed veterans memorial, visit

Posted by: amymoellering | October 29, 2015

Around Pleasanton: The Things that Cemeteries can Tell us!

When I sat down with Dolores Bengtson over a cup of coffee to talk to her about her upcoming tour of the cemetery on Halloween, I was amazed by her energy, enthusiasm and knowledge of local history. She told me how she loves the outdoors and that she used to lead hikes through our regional parks. Just today, learned that she is 83 years old– Wow, I never would I have guessed that! 

A row of unmarked graves covers a swath of land in the back corner of Pioneer Cemetery. “No man’s land” is what Dolores Bengtson calls it, and for her, it’s just another mystery to discover about Pleasanton’s past.

A resident since 1968 and well-known for her service to the community (the eponymous aquatic center), Bengtson has researched not only our town’s cemetery, but also ones in Arizona, Utah and Colorado. For her, cemeteries are “windows into history.” Combining her extensive knowledge of local lore with vivid storytelling skills, she creates a captivating experience. This Halloween she will lead a walk through Pioneer Cemetery, giving participants a peek into Pleasanton’s sometimes lurid past.

“When you walk through our cemetery, it gives you a feeling of the evolution of Pleasanton as well as other American cities,” says Bengtson. “It’s a history of immigrants who brought their talents here and made progress possible.” She explains how tombstones over a hundred years old can reveal a lot of information about a person: the country of origin, age, and cause of death. The cemetery dates back to 1850, with the most immigrants buried there from Germany, followed by Denmark, the Azores, and then 69 other places. There’s even a separate Swedish Corner.

Old gravestones also may include the cause of death, revealing the struggles and hardships of the past. Over 40% of the 23 recorded deaths in Pioneer Cemetery were of children who died from diseases that are treatable today—cholera, diphtheria, typhoid and consumption.

Diseases weren’t the only malady afflicting Pleasanton’s early residents. Like any town, it also had its share of criminals. Bengtson, relays the tale of Albert McDonald, a trainer for trotting horses, who in 1906, stormed out to the pub after a quarrel with Lillie, his young bride of five months. She ended up in the arms of the 24 year old plumber Joseph Mello—whether by choice or coercion we’ll never know. Mr. McDonald discovered them, shot Mello, and was eventually acquitted of the crime.

A few years later, in 1909, an unsolved murder took place in Sunol when hoodlums, hoping to steal the fortune of vineyard owner William Winslow ransacked his house and murdered him with an ax. Unfortunately for the hoodlums, they could only find a single $20 gold piece as the wise Mr. Winslow had safely secured his $3,000 in the bank.

One of my favorite stories that Bengtson recounts is of the admirable Mrs. Garthwaite who lived in Happy Valley in the 1870’s. When bandits Juan Soto and two companions barged into her home and demanded she cook breakfast for them, she took advantage of the fact that they had laid their guns on the table, grabbed them and sent them running– without guns or breakfast. Way to demand good manners, Mrs. Garthwaite!

Happy Halloween…

Michelle Suski Dolores Bengston will guide a tour Halloween morning of Pleasanton's Pioneer Cemetery. The cemetery, seen here, dates back to 1850, with most immigrants buried there from Germany, followed by Denmark, the Azores and then 69 other places, mainly from Europe.

Photo Credits:Michelle Suski

Sometimes, in spite of my best efforts, an article doesn’t come together right away and that’s what happened with this one. To make my deadline I submitted a version but I was unhappy with the intro and the conclusion. I woke up early, rewrote it, and resubmitted it, but unfortunately the earlier one ended up getting printed. Bummer! Thanks to this blog, I can print the one I wanted (plus the awesome photo which also didn’t make it.)  Just in case you’re interested, I submitted the link to the printed version at the end. These middle school runners and their coach are truly amazing and deserve the extra attention. Thanks for reading! 

Around Pleasanton

Fall, for me, has meant cross-country season ever since the seventh grade when I got my first pair of Pegasus Nikes and joined my school team in upstate New York. A good dirt trail combined with the autumnal nip in the air and a kaleidoscope of colors makes for running bliss. Although my racing days are long behind me, I still get nostalgic when I see the teams running through the streets of town, long limbs flying and ponytails swinging.

As Hart Middle School’s coach for the past three years, Erika Schmitz has seen her team balloon from 29 to 57 students. A former UC Davis runner, Schmitz is the only middle school parent head coach, and she has found her calling working with this age group.

“Middle School can be awkward. Cross-country is a safe place for kids to build friendships,” said Schmitz. Whereas most sports have separate teams for boys and girls, swimming and running are two sports where they’re together. In those years of rapid growth, when girls typically grow faster than boys, it’s not uncommon for the girls to pull in faster times. “This can be a humbling experience for some boys when the girls beat them, but they also learn admiration and respect,” explained Schmitz. “By the same token, the girls gain confidence, so when they go through the slings and arrows of high school, they’re up to the challenge.”

The team practices four days a week, beginning with a mile, working up to three and participating in four meets. It’s a lot of running for kids who never thought of running as a sport. This past season a seventh grader approached Schmitz and said, “Coach, I’m going to have to quit. This is not what I thought it was.”

“I’m sorry,” responded Schmitz. “What did you expect?”

“I thought it was going to be Cross-Country Skiing, but now I realize it’s just running.”

“That’s true. It’s all running.”

“Yea, I wondered how you were going to get the snow!”

Fun is a large part of the sport as Schmitz builds camaraderie with games, runs to Jamba Juice, and nicknames for every runner. Shelley Casey, parent of Allie, aka “Energizer Bunny,” said Coach Schmitz “finds a way to connect with the kids and motivate them to reach their potential.”

“My goal is that they come out of cross-country feeling good about themselves with a love for running,” said Schmitz. “All they need is a trail and a pair of shoes to enjoy this lifetime sport.”

Across town, Foothill’s Art teacher and grandmother of two, Trish Fenton, couldn’t agree more. At 53, she started running this past March to cope with life’s changes and found there’s nothing like running outside to provide a new perspective. As her mileage increased, her older brother noticed and suggested they train for the New York City Marathon, but with a purpose, to support the Pat Tillman Foundation. This organization grants educational scholarships to veterans and their spouses. “Their focus on education and leadership inspires me,” said Fenton, who will also get inspiration from her students. They are writing her encouraging notes to read during the race— I bet many of them are runners, too.

Contra Costa Times Around Pleasanton



Contact Amy

Posted by: amymoellering | October 6, 2015

Around Pleasanton: Heritage Homes

I’ve been fortunate to live in two old homes in my life, both in West Point, New York, a place laden with history and tradition. The first was a regal brick duplex built for officers in the 1830’s — stone chimneys, wood paneling, and squeaky stairs (I knew exactly which ones to step over when  sneaking in past curfew!) The second was a colonial farmhouse–a bit crooked in spots but nothing was as peaceful as sitting in the front room with its wooden beams and watching snow fall. I always had the sense that those homes were rich with stories and deserved respect. This article allowed me to get a glimpse into two Pleasanton homes that also have that sort of history.

This is the tale of two homes whose origins in Pleasanton are as old as some of our town’s massive oak trees. Thanks to their owners’ care, they still exude the charms of the past and recently received awards from the Pleasanton Heritage Association (PHA). This organization was formed in 2008 to protect heritage homes from destruction or remodeling beyond recognition.

“A heritage home is one built between 1870 and 1940 in an American vernacular style, such as Queen Anne Victorian, California Bungalow and Midwest Prairie style,” said PHA Board Member John Ribovich.

The Queen Anne home of former Mayor Tom Pico and his wife, Karen, fits that bill. Originally built in 1903 amid a row of palm trees on Main Street, the home was owned by the town’s wagon makers at a time when Pleasanton was a burgeoning community with one bank, three hotels and dairy farms. Later, the structure became a World War II boardinghouse before ending up in Birdie Bianchi’s possession in the 1950s. By then, the house had been relocated to Railroad Avenue, where it sits on a busy corner today.

Pico recalls how Bianchi called him when her health was failing, insisting he save the house, which had fallen into severe disrepair. When the Picos bought it in 1999, they knew the home’s former glory existed under layers of dry rot, pigeon guano and dilapidated roofing.

“One of the first things we did was spray primer on the house to make it look like there was pride of ownership,” said Pico.

Pico’s brother, Rod, a skilled contractor, postponed his plan to sail around the world to take on the project. For the next four years they worked, revamping the upstairs apartments, fortifying the roof and reconfiguring rooms.

“We didn’t try to bring it back to its original (state), but we preserved as much as we could,” said Pico. The PHA recognized their success with the Heritage Preservation Award.

Across Main Street from the Picos live Erin and Steve Iversen, lovers of architecture and old homes. For 15 years the Iversens had admired the Elsnab home, which housed the town midwife at the turn of the 20th century, so when it came on the market in 2005, they bought it “as is.”

“Our contractor told us paint was the only thing holding the house together,” said Steve Iversen.

They accepted bids from six architects before settling on the perfect plan from Dublin architect Mark Molinar.

“Our premise was to construct something for our family, but build something that would last for another 100 years,” said Iversen. By choosing trim work, moldings, a cast iron sink and other details from colonial farmhouses, they recreated its character.

Three years later, after 20 months of construction, including three months living in a hotel with their three kids, the Iversens moved into their “new” heritage home. They, too, won an award from the PHA, the New Construction Award.

“It was great to get this award”, said Iversen, “because at one point I told the PHA and the city, ‘You’re going to have to trust us regarding the details.’ We are glad it paid off,” said Iverson.

For all of us who appreciate Pleasanton’s beautiful historic homes, so are we.

IversonPHA Award Winners for 2015 Pico PHA Award for 2015

Posted by: amymoellering | September 17, 2015

Around Pleasanton: AAUW has come a long way, keeps going

This column was a fun one to write. I met with six long-time members of the AAUW at our local Sweet & Savory Coffee Shop. They all had so much to share about what it was like to be young mothers in our valley in the 1960’s and ’70’s…the sense of isolation, the hunger for intellectual stimulation, and the need to connect with other women. Then came the ’70’s with women and mothers entering the workforce and the concerns about the effects upon the family. They lived through it all, supporting women’s education and rights every step of the way. And they are still doing it, even though all of them are now retired; it just means that now they can fit in rounds of bridge and read more books! 

By Amy Moellering Columnist

POSTED:   09/15/2015 01:46:17 PM PDT
Although there are many organizations in our valley, there is one that has directly impacted the lives of women and offered opportunities to make a difference for more than 60 years.
“When I moved to this area 50 years ago, I thought there was nothing for women,” said Dawn Gordner, “and then I discovered AAUW (the American Association of University Women). “If I hadn’t joined, I wouldn’t have done half the things I’ve done in my life.” For Gordner, that list includes researching the effects of working mothers on the family in the ’70s, hosting a weekly community TV show and presiding over the local chapter.
The AAUW, a nationwide organization with 1,000 branches, was founded in 1881. Although the issues have changed from when women were just getting the right to vote and entering the work force, the mission is the same: to advance equity of women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research.

Our local AAUW branch, covering Livermore, Dublin and Pleasanton, began in 1952 and remains just as relevant and active as it was when it began. “Our main thrust is education,” said current President Chris Alesso. She means this literally, as the group annually awards thousands of scholarship dollars.

Middle school students can apply for scholarships to attend Stanford University ‘s Tech Trek Camp, a weeklong program that exposes girls to technology and science.

“There’s nothing more inspirational than hearing these girls say that they’ve found their people,” said past President Dorothy Bishop. “We want to assure them it’s great to be smart scientists.”

At the college level, the AAUW recently initiated a mentorship program with Las Positas College that will connect students with professionals. In addition, college juniors and seniors can apply for scholarships designed to help women complete their degrees. Graduate students can apply for research funds from a national program that once funded Marie Curie.

In addition to education, AAUW is concerned with legislation. Roz Wright, director of the public policy interest group, explained that members research current bills in Sacramento. The group then votes on a focus issue, and each member follows and advocates for a specific bill. This year’s focus is legislation that will affect women economically.”I’m following a scheduling equity bill which will provide fairness and consistency to people with shift work,” said Wright.

This group also likes to have fun. For its 117 members, they offer three book clubs, two bridge groups, dining and travel clubs; the newest group is “Money Talks.” The AAUW regularly offers presentations to the community, from talks on Rosie the Riveter to guests like Ellen Tauscher and Eric Swalwell.

“This is an organization that’s well respected and makes a difference,” said Wright. Much has been done, but with issues like pay equity, sex trafficking and gender bias in the workplace, there’s much more to do. New members can help steer the direction of the AAUW into the future. To learn more, attend the informational tea this Saturday.

Contact Amy Moellering at

Our local TV station used to have a show called “In a Word,” a book club discussion group that aired monthly. My good friend, Kathy Cordova, was a host and invited me several times to be on the show. My favorite memory was when I was on the show with my mom for the book Lizzie’s War,which was about Vietnam and military families. We shared our perspectives of being military wives in different decades and my appreciation for my mom expanded as a result of that experience. This article was my chance to learn more about our local station. 

If you’re old enough to have watched television in 1976, then you likely remember the three original networks featuring classic shows like “Charlie’s Angels” and “Happy Days.” If you were living in the Tri-Valley, you may also remember community television.

That’s right, TV30, as it’s known today, began broadcasting before the advent of cable television, and a lot has changed since those early days when the crew transported cameras, cable and sound equipment in a donated red wagon with a white poster board advertisement affixed to the side.

For nearly 40 years, TV30 has provided local residents a window into city government and school board decisions. In addition, shows like “Valley Gardener,” “Slice of Life” and “Let’s Talk Sports” (with local legend “Dr. B”), inform, entertain and unite the Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore communities.

The idea for a local station originated with Marshall Kamena and three other community leaders, Lee Horner, Charlotte Severin and Darla Stevens. After studying a successful station in the San Fernando Valley, the foursome raised operating funds, found space to rent from the school district, and appointed Stevens as the first executive director.

“We were passionate about what community television could bring,” said Kamena, who served as Livermore’s mayor from 2001-2011 and has been active in every step of TV30’s history. “Community television provides transparency to local government, and the programs have enduring messages.”

Today, the red wagon has been replaced by two vans, three channels and a viewership that extends to 304,000 residents through Comcast Cable, AT&T U-Verse and website streaming. Under the leadership of Executive Director Melissa Tench-Stevens, the station produces 30 new monthly programs with three full-time staff members and a team of freelancers. No aspect of the production is outsourced; it’s all done on location. In addition, they provide video production services for local companies.

On top of its many broadcasting commitments, the station holds the only summer camp in a working station for middle and high school students. It also holds an annual award ceremony for the high school athletes who earn “Athlete of the Week” recognitions during the school year.

“When we first began, students would show up in flip flops and shorts, but now it’s a big deal that attracts government officials like Catherine Baker and professional athletes like former Raider Tony Stewart,” said Tench-Stevens.

What broadcast receives the highest ratings? The Amador-Foothill Varsity football and basketball games. This production requires six cameras, a 23-person crew, miles of cable and two fully equipped video vans. The editors work until 4:30 a.m. and broadcast the game the following evening. Last year’s game won TV30 a well-deserved California/Nevada NATOA award.

Funding is a challenge for this nonprofit; hence, the TV30 Foundation was formed specifically to support the future of this valuable community asset.

“Without the foundation it would be much more challenging,” said Tench-Stevens. “It’s gratifying to see how much we’ve grown in the past few years, connecting people and promoting the valley’s quality events.” Watch Tri-Valley Television on channels 28, 29 and 30 or online at

Contact Amy Moellering at

Posted by: amymoellering | August 21, 2015

Around Pleasanton: Beyond our Fence

In a previous blog several years ago, I mourned the fact that the field behind our house was being developed, causing the owls that would roost in the trees to relocate. Ever since Stoneridge Creek, the senior living community, was completed last year, I’ve been trying to find a way to see the end result and meet some of the neighbors beyond our fence. I had the chance when I heard about Ty Kaufman…

By day, Ty Kaufman is the Plant Operations Director at Stoneridge Creek Continuing Life Retirement Community; by night he’s a heavy metal lead guitarist for the Bay Area band Ratchet. These two passions are not as disparate as one might think.

Kaufman developed his love for working with senior citizens gradually, when his first high school job was dishwashing in a Spokane, Washington, retirement home. “I didn’t like washing dishes,” he said, “but it was a steppingstone to groundskeeper to maintenance technician and then into management.” He soon learned about the relationships that form when working with the elderly. “We eventually become family,” he said.

His love for music began much earlier, at age 5, when his mom gave him an old guitar she’d purchased for $14 from the Salvation Army. A Native American who spent his early years on a reservation, Kaufman grew up without electricity and spent hours each day composing music and practicing.


Stoneridge Creek officially opened in September 2013, and Kaufman was there weeks beforehand, managing the logistics of moving 100 people into their new homes. “It was like the Old West,” he said. “All the new residents hauling their stuff were the pioneers.”


In its innovative and comprehensive approach to retirement, Stoneridge Creek offers a planned neighborhood with lovely homes and recreation, plus continued care in the adjacent Creekview. Operation issues are Kaufman’s domain, amounting to about 225 work orders a week and the management of technicians, landscapers, mechanics and drivers. 


Residents Lynn Hall and Ludlow Miller, who work with Kaufman on the Maintenance Advisory Committee, praised the positive relationship between residents and employees. The committee worked to reduce electrical bills and continues to improve conservation efforts.


“Stoneridge Creek was very forward-thinking in its construction,” said Miller, who relocated with his wife last year from Philadelphia to be closer to their grandchildren.


“Our goal is to improve the quality of life by fine-tuning things,” said Hall who also moved in last year. In her short time at Stoneridge Creek, she’s discovered that she has a talent for drawing. “It began with an art class; now people are hiring me to do drawings of their grandchildren,” she said.“It may be considered senior living, but no one here is old,” said Kaufman, and that certainly seemed to be true when I visited. Activity surrounded us, with buses waiting out front for the day’s excursion, families dining on the patio, a lecture in one conference room and a yoga class in another.

As for the merging of Kaufman’s two worlds, it looks like he’ll get the chance in the fall Talent Show. He’s committed to perform with fellow band member and Stoneridge chef Jonnie Walker. When I asked if they’d play heavy metal and imagined the inevitable clash with the easy listening music that accompanies the dancing fountains, Ty smiled.

“Probably something more bluesy.” he said.

“I’ll like it as long as I can dance to it,” said Hall.

Amy MoelleringStoneridge Creek Continuing Life Retirement Community residents Lynn Hall, left, and Ludlow Miller, right, appear recently with Plant

Stoneridge Creek Continuing Life Retirement Community residents Lynn Hall, left, and Ludlow Miller, right, appear recently with Plant Operations Director Ty Kaufman, center. I love my new neighbors!
Posted by: amymoellering | August 5, 2015

AROUND PLEASANTON: Group Helps Disabled REACH their Dreams

The best thing about writing these columns is talking to people who give selflessly to the community. Kay King is one of these people—she coaches Special Olympics and chairs REACH because she cares and wants to give back. No other reason than that! 

Ken Hwang is hearing-impaired and has cerebral palsy, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking online courses from Capital Bible Deaf College. For eight years he has lived independently in a REACH home off First Street in Pleasanton, a convenient location that has allowed him to take public transportation and participate in Special Olympics.

When Hwang suffered from back problems that made it difficult for him to study, a group of REACH (Resources, Education, Activities, Community and Housing) volunteers made ergonomic adjustments to his work space, allowing him to continue to pursue his goals toward a degree.

So, who are these REACH volunteers? A group of caring individuals who help developmentally disabled adults like Ken live up to their full potential. “We are unique in what we do,” says Kay King, their current co-chair.

The idea for this organization started 25 years ago when Norm and Barbara Guest were searching for an alternative living arrangement for their daughter, Darlene, who was unhappily living in a Stockton group home. At the time, supported living services were not an option; the only Tri-Valley residence was a group home for men.

The Guests teamed up with Lloyd Hansen and other concerned families to form House Inc. and provide affordable, supported housing for developmentally disabled adults in the Tri-Valley — not an easy task.

Their two major challenges were to convince the Regional Center of the East Bay to fund supported living and work with the cities of Livermore and Pleasanton to acquire affordable homes through grants and partnerships. It was an endeavor worthy of pioneers, and, with persistence, the group was successful.

In 1991, they purchased two two-bedroom duplexes, and soon after, the Regional Center of the East Bay approved Darlene’s requirement for 24-hour support. Today, more than 300 people receive supported living services from the Regional Center, and REACH supports 26 adults in nine homes.

“It’s a distinctive landlord-tenant situation,” says King. “One we maintain with sensitivity and compassion.” In 2008, the group changed their name to REACH to reflect the expansion of their mission. “We are searching for how we can make a greater impact on the lives of the adults we serve,” says King. They support other organizations such as RADD (Recreation for Adults with Developmental Disabilities) by funding scholarships, team equipment and their annual Winter Ball.

“We’d like to grow our board and set our mission so we can adopt a matching fundraising strategy,” says King. In addition to an annual golf tournament, they receive funding from many organizations, including Fremont Bank and the Pleasanton Weekly’s Holiday Giving Program.

As the adult autistic population grows in number, the demand for services grows as well. Currently, the REACH board consists of nine active members — half have family members with disabilities; others, like King, who also coaches Special Olympics, do not.

“I see kids like Ken as individuals, not as people with disabilities,” she says. “They are capable of so much and should be able to live independently to that potential.” For more information, visit

Pleasanton high school students Elena Angst, Sarah Crawford, Hannah Yozzo and Mariah Nibert marched into the San Francisco airport earlier this summer bearing signs of welcome for Mexican students they’d never met. They welcomed them into their homes for three weeks of language immersion, cultural experiences and just plain fun.

Currently, these students are in Tulancingo, where they are sharpening their Spanish skills and learning about a city that resembles Pleasanton in demographics, cultural opportunities and soccer enthusiasm. In all the testimonies that I’ve heard about this program, it’s apparent that, without fail, these teenagers go from being strangers to lifelong friends in six short weeks.

courtesy of Ann AngstHannah Yozzo, left to right, Sarah Crawford, Elena Angst, Mariah Nibert, Andrea Islas, Enrique Gayosso,Braulio Riosand Daniela Orozco.

courtesy of Ann Angst Hannah Yozzo, left to right, Sarah Crawford, Elena Angst, Mariah Nibert, Andrea Islas, Enrique Gayosso,Braulio Rios and Daniela Orozco. ( courtesy of Ann Angst )
 Celebrating its 30th year, the youth exchange is one part of the Pleasanton-Tulancingo Sister City program. The club hosts many activities throughout the year, including adult trips every April and September. Jorge Victoria, the current president, explained that families participating in the youth exchange only have to cover airfare; the club finances group activities such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a Giants game, a Sacramento tour and social events. In Tulancingo, activities include visiting the Teotihuacan pyramids, Pachuca and attending the local high school. This year, the girls packed white dresses for a quinceañera celebration.

Ann Angst co-directs the program and says the benefits include increased self-esteem, stronger social and second language skills and college preparation. The challenge, she says, is reaching Pleasanton parents. More students apply in Tulancingo than Pleasanton, a trend she attributes to overpacked schedules and unnecessary trepidation.

“Parents are afraid that Mexico isn’t safe or that their children’s Spanish skills aren’t strong enough,” said Angst.

After two thousand successful trips and so many years of fellowship, these two communities are tightly knitted together.

“Participating households undergo a rigorous interview process,” said Victoria.

As for Spanish skills, a student only needs to have taken Spanish 2, often accomplished by the end of one’s freshman year.”Typically, the Tulancingo parents don’t speak English, but the students are fluent,” said Angst.

Angst’s daughter, Sophia, participated in 2012 and is now an International Studies major at Elon University in North Carolina attending classes at the University of Buenos Aires. She said the program helped foster her interest in the culture and motivated her to improve her Spanish.

“It was definitely a good first step to an abroad experience and made adjusting to Argentine culture a little easier,” said Angst.

Hannah Yozzo, one of this year’s ambassadors, said, “My favorite experience so far has been seeing the pyramids because they are so old and beautiful and unlike anything you would ever see in the U.S. Also, it’s really odd because everything is so green and I can take showers for as long as I like!”

The value of connections with people from a different culture and country is immeasurable.

Sarah Crawford summed it up: “I’ve made seven new friends that I feel I’ve known my whole life. I heard people say that you make lifelong friends in this program, but I didn’t believe I could feel this close to people I met only a few weeks ago.”

For more information, visit and contact Ann Angst at 925-600-7941.

Contact Amy Moellering at

Dear Sunny Spells Readers: Although it’s been ages since I’ve blogged, I have been busy writing columns for our local newspaper, The Tri-Valley Times. Some of you have asked to read these pieces and since they are piling up and I’m losing track of them, I thought I’d start posting them here. I will clearly label them so they are clearly distinguishable from my other musings. Thanks for reading and for your incredible support!  
Best, Amy

AROUND PLEASANTON, AMADOR GRAD HEADED TO WORLD CHAMPS Amy Moellering, Columnist, Contra Costa Times, July 9, 2015

A look of sheer admiration graced the faces of the middle school students who stopped at our Santa Rita Road Starbucks table. I was talking to Jackie Gilbert, a 2015 Amador Valley High graduate who, as the first female Californian to be picked for the U.S. National Lacrosse team, is creating quite a name for herself. These girls wanted some of her time, too.

Like many kids in Pleasanton, Gilbert first turned to lacrosse as a way to cross-train for soccer. By the time she reached high school she was fully committed to playing year-round, making the varsity team as a freshman and playing in tournaments across the country with Bear Lax. She’s now headed to Edinburgh, Scotland, with the U19 National Lacrosse team to compete in the world championships. Considering that the farthest west any of her teammates live is Pennsylvania, Gilbert is finally bringing attention to what has traditionally been an East Coast-dominated sport.

Amador Valley High School Jackie Gilbert plays for Amador Valley versus Carondelet High.

Gilbert’s competitive journey started in May 2014 when she was playing in a tournament with the NorCal team. Out of 800 players, Gilbert was invited to attend a tryout two months later in Baltimore with 110 other players. This tryout pruned the number to 25. She then flew back east for training sessions in October and found out in January that she made the final cut, a team of 18. Selected to play defense, she’s a versatile player who is also dynamite as a midfielder and on the draw. Gilbert gives a lot of credit to Bear Lax coach Theresa Sherry. “She made it possible to get into top tournaments and get huge exposure,” said Gilbert.

Support from family and friends, who have helped fund her travel expenses, has been invaluable. “This process has shown me how incredible our town is,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert will fly to New York for final training with the team before she joins them on what will be her first international flight. The world championships will run from July 23 through Aug. 1, and the team is hoping to win its fifth consecutive gold medal. After the World Cup, Gilbert will return for a few weeks to prepare for her new adventure: freshman lacrosse player at USC.

“It will be nice to have that pinnacle moment in Scotland because then it’s back to low man on the totem pole,” said Gilbert.I soon discovered that the middle school girls who stopped at our table were lacrosse protégés. In her limited free time, Gilbert gives private lessons to girls. In the “Be You” videos highlighting the U.S. national team, Gilbert talks about how difficult middle school was and how she overcame bullying. Now she helps that age group gain self-confidence through lacrosse. It was apparent from the kind way she spoke to them and the look on their faces that Gilbert has learned to use her talents to give back and is a hero — our very own hometown lacrosse hero.

For more information about the U.S. national team and to see the “Be You” videos, visit

Contact Amy Moellering at

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