El Cerrito Journal: Young Volunteers Shine, Their Achievements Would Make Anyone Wonder, “What Have I Been Doing Lately?”

January 4, 2002 | By Martin Snapp

America has a secret weapon, more powerful than all our guns, bombs, tanks, planes, computers, satellites, factories, stores, banks and farms combined.

It’s our children. Sociologists and demographers are already detecting unmistakable signs of greatness in them.

“They are beginning to manifest a wide array of positive social habits that older Americans no longer associate with youth, including a new focus on teamwork, achievement, modesty and good conduct,” write Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of “Millennials Rising.”

“They have a solid chance to become America’s next great generation, as celebrated for their collective deeds a hundred years from now as the generation of John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Joe DiMaggio and Jimmy Stewart is celebrated today.” This isn’t mere theory; the evidence is all around us. Here are profiles of six young people in our own community who are already making things better. They come from different races and backgrounds, but they have one thing in common: What they do, they do for love—not because it will look good on their college application.

And here’s the best news: They’re just the tip of the iceberg.

Charley Walton, 13, Berkeley

It’s a Friday afternoon at the Berkeley Marina. The sun is beginning to set, and all the feral cats hiding in the bushes know what that means: It’s almost time for Charley Walton to arrive.

As soon as they hear his approaching footsteps, they pop out of their hiding places and run up to greet him. There’s a skinny tabby named Tommy, two Siamese sisters named Hildy and Tricia, and a pair of otherwise reclusive grays named Susan and Rocky. Happiest of all is a black-and-white named Amanda, who nuzzles contentedly against Charley’s leg.

“Nice kitty, nice kitty,” he murmurs, reaching down to stroke the little cat as she gazes up at him in adoration.

Charley is the youngest member of Fix Our Ferals, a non-profit volunteer group that cares for these hapless creatures in Berkeley, Oakland, El Cerrito, Albany, and other cities in the East Bay. They feed them and monitor their health. Whenever possible, they humanely trap them and take them to cooperating local vets for spay/neuter surgery, teeth cleaning and whatever other medical attention is needed.

If the cats are tame enough to be adopted, they’re placed in loving new homes. If not, they’re returned to their colonies, where they live out their natural lives under the watchful eyes of Charley and his colleagues. As a result, the local feral cat population is gradually going down, not up.

Charley has been doing this for almost half his life, since he was 7. It all started the day his own cat, Poofus, accidentally got outside and went missing. In their frantic search, Charley and his parents met Linda McCormick, a longtime cat caregiver who was just in the beginning stages of founding Fix Our Ferals.

She was a great help and comfort to them in their search; but alas, Poofus’ body was found a few days later. He had been hit by a car.

Charley was crushed, but he decided to turn his sorrow into something constructive. “If I can’t help Poofus, at least I can help other cats,” he told his parents. So he became a charter member of Fix Our Ferals. He was assigned the Friday slot at the Berkeley Marina. (A different person is responsible for each day.)

And for the last six years, rain or shine, week in and week out, he’s never missed his turn. Ever. “He’s so protective of them,” marvels McCormick. “He’s absolutely dependable because he cares about them so much.”

Charley also has spoken up for them at the Berkeley City Council, whom he tried to convince last year to pass a spay-neuter ordinance. (It failed, but he’ll be back again this year.)

He did have one misgiving about being interviewed for this story; namely, please don’t get the idea that just because he and his cohorts are looking after some feral cats, it’s safe to dump your own cat out in the wild. Even if it somehow survives—a long shot at best—the whole idea is to reduce the feral cat population, remember?

“It’s the cruelest thing you could do,” says Charley. “Your cat has learned to depend completely on you for food and protection. It would be like having a baby and leaving it in the road.”

But what will happen to the cats five years from now, when Charley heads off to college? Not to worry: He’s training his younger brother, Henry, to take over.

“He was only 3 when we started, which was too young to take with us,” says Charley. “At that age, he made too much noise and frightened the cats. But now that he’s 9, he’s as good at it as I am.”

Christopher Haugh, 12, Kensington, and Ben Stolurow, 12, Berkeley

Move over, Damon and Affleck; make way for Haugh and Stolurow.

That’s Chris Haugh of Kensington and Ben Stolurow of Berkeley, 12-year-old classmates at Prospect Sierra School in El Cerrito, who are not only artists but producers who enjoy collaborating on projects.

Ben does sketches, watercolors and bronze castings; Chris does pencil drawings, watercolors and clay modelings. On Sept. 22 they got together to produce an art show of their own and other young artists’ work that netted big bucks for UNICEF.

It all started last summer, when they were at summer camp at Slide Ranch. They were sitting around, trying to think of something fun to do, when one of them—they can’t remember which—said, in the best Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland fashion, “I know! Why don’t we put on an art show?”

“At first, we were going to split the proceeds three ways,” says Chris. “A third for us, a third for the artist, and a third for some charity. But they more we thought about it, we decided, ‘Why not just give the whole thing to charity?’”

Which they did. After researching several worthy causes, they settled on UNICEF. “We made all the arrangements before Sept. 11, and it was too late to change our minds,” says Ben. “But I’m still happy with the choice we made. It’s kids helping kids.”

Then they took care of business. They rented Nexus Gallery on Solano Ave. for three days (one day for setup, one day for the show, and one day for clean-up). They put in a phone line, purchased office supplies, and printed up fliers soliciting donations from other artists.

Thus was born ArtStart, billed as “an art show run by, drawn, sculpted, and sculpted by kids.” Artists between the ages of 9 and 15 were invited to submit their work, which would be sold at blind auction.

“Really, this was much too big a project for two 12-year-olds,” says Ben’s mom, “but they never gave up, despite all the obstacles they had to overcome.” Obstacle No. 1: When they crunched the numbers, they discovered that their overhead was going to be hundreds of dollars over budget.

Unfazed, they did more household chores, washed neighbors’ cars, and set up a lemonade stand on the corner until they’d raised the money to cover it.

Obstacle No. 2: Young artists are no different from old ones; a large number of them simply can’t bear to part with their own creations. Among them was Chris himself.

Solution: Donation jars were placed in front of their art work, so people could contribute money to the cause instead of buying.

The boys also got Half Price Books to contribute gift certificates of $25, $15 and $10 to the artists whose works fetched the highest prices. Ironically, first place was won by Ben, but he declined to accept his prize and let all the runners-up move up a step, instead.

The show drew more than 150 people. Sixty-four pieces of art were sold, at prices ranging from $5 to $50. (One of the customers was Chris, who bought one of Ben’s bronze sculptures that he’d admired for some time.) The net take for UNICEF: $627.20.

So why was it such a success?

“Well,” says Chris, “a lot of the art was awfully good!”

Christina Jung, 17, El Cerrito

“Bad leaders lead through fear. Better leaders lead through love. But the best leaders of all are those who, after they have finished, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’”—Sun Tzu

Tina Jung is a catalyst. Not content with doing good herself—and she does plenty of that—her real talent is making it easier for others to do good, too.

“She’s really blossomed into a leader,” says her counselor at El Cerrito High School, Barbara Quein. “She’s not a loud person. But she has a quiet way of making good things happen.”

It started in sophomore year, when she joined her Leadership Class’ Community Service Committee. No problem finding worthy causes in the community; the question was how to mobilize the school’s greatest resource—its 700-plus students.

Their very numbers presented a problem: How to get the word out to 700 people on a consistent basis?

Solution: Try a little bit of everything. She and her friends made posters. They wrote daily announcements for broadcast over the school P.A. system. They went from homeroom to homeroom, buttonholing each teacher individually and enlisting him or her in the get-the-word-out effort.

Somehow, it worked. Participation in school charity drives skyrocketed. Last Christmas, for example, El Cerrito students collected more than 2,000 cans of food for the Richmond Rescue Mission. They’ve also “adopted” two middle schools in Richmond, and hold fund-raising drives to buy them school supplies.

They also hold an annual Christmas event at Children’s Hospital called “Deck the Halls,” which pretty much describes what they do - with lots of bunting, paper chains and teddy bears. They run clothing drives for the homeless, fund-raising drives for leukemia research, disaster relief drives, a campus cleanup campaign, staff KQED Pledge Nights and attempt to breach the town/gown divide between students and the sometimes wary local community with the El Cerrito City Walk.

“If I can help one person, that’s great,” she says. “But if I can use my skills to help 10 people it’s so much better. The best part is bringing other people with you.”

Tina also teaches Sunday School at her church and is co-captain of the El Cerrito High volleyball team.

“Why are you writing about me?” she asks. “There are so many good people here. Why aren’t you writing about my friend Nancy Tsai, who started a social service club called Interact? Or Mary Goss, who works with the Special Olympics? This job requires a lot of people, not one person.”

That’s the way the best leaders always talk.

Sam Bozek, 11, Albany

He isn’t Batman, but Sam Bozek is a bat’s best friend. He builds houses for the unfairly maligned little critters, complete with a bar underneath for them to hang from upside down. Then he and his friends, East Bay Regional Park rangers, hang the little houses high up in trees in Tilden Park and wait for the bats to move in.

“We always try to place them near water,” says Sam. “That’s where bats like to be—over water.”

That’s only one of Sam’s duties as a member of the Junior Rangers, a program of the East Bay Regional Park District. He also helps the rangers clear out dead trees and logs from Lake Anza. The big guys cut the logs into pieces, then Sam and the other Junior Rangers haul them to shore with ropes and pulleys. “It’s like a tug-of-war,” he says. “Us against Mother Nature.”

In the process, they get covered with mud from head to toe. “That’s how you can tell a First Year-er,” he says, with a Second Year-er’s thinly veiled contempt. “They look at the mud and say, ‘Ew-w-w!’ They’re reluctant to get dirty. But we look at the mud and say, ‘Oooh! Mud! Let’s go play in it!’”

Sam is a sixth-grader at Albany Middle School. He loves math, science and history, and he’s taking a class in Japanese. He likes playing games on his computer, and he’s a big hockey fan. His favorite team: the Montreal Canadiens.

And he has three requests for all of us, on behalf of the all the creatures in the East Bay Regional Parks, whom he’s come to know and love:

1. Stop tossing beer and soda cans out the window when you drive through the park. It’s Sam and his friends who have to pick them up.

2. Stop taking small critters out of the park. “Kids and parents catch rare species and don’t even know it,” says Sam. “The California newt, for example, is almost extinct as a result.”

3. Stop going off the trails. “You can’t see it, but smaller trees are growing in the underbrush,” he says. “When you walk on it, you’ll crush them. Also, small animals make their homes in the underbrush. They’ll collapse under your weight.”

Indar Smith, 12, Oakland

Mark your political calendars for 2024. That’s the year Indar Smith will be old enough to run for President. He’s a campaign manager’s dream: brains, charm, and an infectious grin that hasn’t been seen since the days of Ike.

Right now, he has to settle for being president of the eighth Grade at Montera Junior High in Oakland. But he doesn’t give a hoot for the trappings of office. What interests him is what he can do with it.

“It was pretty much a pro forma job before Indar,” says Assistant Principal Joe Salamack. “He changed all that. He made student government into a positive force for good.”

Most notably, he revitalized a moribund student government to mobilize an apathetic student body into raising more than 5,000 pounds of food for the Alameda County Blood Bank.

“His most difficult task was to convince people that they really could make a difference,” says Salamack. “He sat down with each member of the student council and showed them that the goal could be accomplished if each one took responsibility for getting their own homerooms involved.”

Almost as difficult was firing up the faculty’s enthusiasm, so they’d give the project more than lip service. “He went around and talked with each one of them, too,” says Salamack. “If you’ve ever seen that smile of his, you’d realize that it’s awfully hard to say no to him.”

Indar also wrote fliers and announcements to be read over the school’s P.A. system. “He’d stay up late at night, thinking up new ways to get people interested,” says his mom. “We made him do his homework first, of course.”

“I didn’t really do much,” Indar says modestly. “The student council did all the work.”

“That attitude,” says Salamack, “is exactly what makes him so successful.”

In addition to pulling down an A-minus average, Indar is a star midfielder/defenseman for the Bay Oaks soccer team, which represents Oakland, Piedmont and Alameda. He’s so good, he was invited to try out for the state 14-and-under Olympic Team.

He’s also run two half-marathons, studies classical piano, and plays the tuba in the school band. (When he first started, it was bigger than he was.) He tutors other students in academics, and his dad—gerontologist Dr. Rick Smith—whenever dad is having trouble figuring out how to make his computer work. He’s a real cyber wiz, equally adept in both Mac and PC platforms.

In fact, the only thing standing between him and the White House is his consuming interest in science. Right now he’s torn between being a doctor or an engineer, but a scientific career is definitely in the offing. “That’s not going to leave much time for politics,” says his dad.

But whatever path he chooses, one thing is sure: Before he’s done, Indar Smith will, as the saying goes, “leave the land a little better than he found it.”

Connections