Noe Valley Voice October 2009

School Report

By Heather World

Parents of students at Alvarado Elementary on Douglass Street sure know how to make connections. Over the past year, they have partnered with half a dozen companies, which have donated not only cash and equipment but also the sweat equity of their employees.

Some of the businesses are small. Last December, Joanne Kapsack approached the newly opened Just Awesome! board game store on Diamond Street. Awesome co-owner Erik Mantsch set up a hugely successful after-school game club on campus, and this year he's adding a second club. He also donated 7 percent of one week's sales and will do so again this year, starting Dec. 6.

Other companies are big. Steve May's employer, software systems, donated a database for the school's auction, worth about $15,000 a year. Then, over the summer, May suggested an edible garden for Alvarado. Nine employees spent a sunny Tuesday clearing out flowerbeds, spreading soil and bark, and erecting an entry gate under the direction of garden stewards Mara Sieling a nd Victor Lubet.

"I think everybody felt satisfied in being able to contribute to a local public elementary school," May said, though the work was physically demanding. "One woman said she isn't going to quit her day job anytime soon!"

Similarly, last year, Zorana Bosnic's proposal to replace playground asphalt with a sustainable garden caught the attention of HOK, the eco-minded architecture firm where she works. Employees helped students and school staff build the "secret garden," rolling in a 1,300-gallon rainwater storage cistern, planting containers, and setting up seats to make the space an outdoor classroom. The company paid $10,000 for the project.

Cynthia Wainwright and Ramona Harvey both work for Levi Strauss & Co. and knew the company asks employees to do community work around May 1 (think 501 jeans). Through HandsOn Bay Area, a volunteer partnering organization, 30 Levi volunteers painted walls, hallways, benches, and the teachers' lounge. They also organized books in Alvarado's library .

In addition, the company generously donated $5,000 for school improvements. Some of the money paid for new stage curtains, and Alvarado's Sampedro family , which runs an upholstery business, sewed up the donated dark denim material provided by Levi's.

Up in the computer lab, Donna Boyer figured she could upgrade the school's outdated monitors by hitting up successful Silicon Valley companies. No such luck. So Boyer picked up the phone and called Green Citizen, a local company that recycles electronics.

Green Citizen takes pains to protect communities affected by recycling waste, and Boyer found it equally interested in helping locally. Sometimes the company receives computers and other equipment that can still be used. After Boyer's call, Green Citizen took 28 cast-off flat-screen monitors, refurbished them, and delivered them to Alvarado.

"The monitors are in top shape, and are 100 percent better than what they replaced," says Tim Smith, chairman of Alvarado's Technology Committee. He said Gree n Citizen even hauled away the old monitors for safe recycling.

Smith and the other parents know these kinds of partnerships are invaluable, especially in the face of declining state funds. They hope more people--either individuals or businesses--will see volunteering as a great way to connect with their local public school.

To volunteer time, money, or ideas to the city's schools, visit San Francisco School Volunteers at, or contact the school of your choice.


Alvarado Elementary School

Robert Broecker, Principal

625 Douglass Street at Alvarado


James Lick Middle School

Bita Nazarian, Principal

1220 Noe Street at 25th Street


Fairmount Elementary School

Mary Lou Cranna, Principal

65 Chenery Street at Randall