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Honoring 2018 Tri-Valley Heroes

Community standouts recognized for contributions at annual award ceremony

Our 2018 Tri-Valley Heroes are (standing, from left) Bryan Ware of The Crayon Initiative (Environmental Stewardship), Dr. Marshall Kamena (Lifetime Achievement), Ramesh Immadi of Cricket for Cubs (Community Spirit), Sarah Banholzer (Courage), Samuel Lum (representing Meachelle Lum, Rising Star) and (sitting, from left) Dan McGovern of Eugene O'Neill Foundation (Arts & Culture), Doug Miller (Role Model) and Ruchir Baronia (Innovation). Photo by Mike Sedlak.

Environmental stewards, innovators, artists and philanthropists alike were honored Monday during the seventh annual Tri-Valley Heroes awards ceremony, presented by Embarcadero Media's East Bay Division, which includes the Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon.com.

Awards are given to local heroes who stood out in one of eight designated categories, all of whom work to create a better Tri-Valley, be it through fundraising, creating awareness or fostering community togetherness.

Since Embarcadero Media staff launched the program in 2012, more than 50 community members and groups have been recognized for their contributions to improve life in the Tri-Valley.

"Our staff decided to create the Tri-Valley Heroes program to recognize those individuals, groups and organizations that stand out because of their actions, integrity and honor," Gina Channell, the Weekly's president and publisher, told the audience Monday evening at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Pleasanton.

"Whether that hero is someone who gives his life to save another, a young man with a debilitating condition who talks to young people about self image and loving life, or the mother-daughter team that plants a garden to give fresh produce to the local food pantry," Channell added, referring to previous Heroes.

This year's recipients were the Eugene O'Neill Foundation (Arts & Culture), Cricket for Cubs (Community Spirit), Sarah Banholzer (Courage), Bryan Ware of The Crayon Initiative (Environmental Stewardship), Ruchir Baronia (Innovation), Meachelle Lum (Rising Star), Doug Miller (Role Model) and Dr. Marshall Kamena (Lifetime Achievement).

The honorees received a crystal award from Embarcadero Media and certificates of recognition from U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, State Senator Steve Glazer, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace Andersen and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty.

"We look around us every day and see heroes who deserve recognition, and we are honored to be able to present these awards again this year," Channell added.

The 2018 Heroes met in the DoubleTree ballroom, which was filled with local public officials and supporters alike. Overall the recipients said they were humbled by the honor, and in turn were quick to recognize the accomplishments of their fellow heroes.

"This is really quite an honor. I'm very much in awe of the awardees who have just come before me," Kamena said upon receiving his Lifetime Achievement award. "Service is a rent one pays for the space one occupies on this Earth. It has been my honor to serve the Tri-Valley community to the best of my ability."

During their speeches, Heroes were of one mind that, while the recognition is appreciated, service to one's community is a reward in itself.

"I am so happy and grateful that I am able to make (other kids') days a little bit better, a little bit brighter, through the swimathon and fundraising," said Banholzer, who raises money to support doctors, nurses and young cancer patients -- all while battling cancer herself. "It is so awesome to deliver presents and see that they go to kids that will really, really enjoy them and appreciate them. That's an amazing feeling."

The evening had a special meaning for recipient Lum and her father, as Nov. 13 will mark two years since the death of Meachelle's mother Megan, whose passing inspired her philanthropic efforts.

"Our idea is taking something negative and providing something positive to others and we will continue to do that," said Samuel Lum, who accepted the award on behalf of his daughter who is away at college. "We are here to give back to society. Time is our enemy, life is short, enjoy and take advantage of it, because there are a lot of obstacles, a lot of challenges that we cannot predict. But we can do our best to keep positive. That is all we can do because that is within our control."

In a continuation of the giving, during his acceptance of the award Samuel Lum pledged $1,000 toward Banholzer and her fundraising efforts, telling her to "keep the courage."

The 2018 Tri-Valley Heroes were selected for their outstanding contributions to the community that exemplify the following award categories:

Arts & Culture

Formed in 1974 to save Tao House in Danville -- the former residence and workspace of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill -- the Eugene O'Neill Foundation has a long history of preserving and promoting the arts.

After holding a festival celebrating O'Neill for 19 years in Danville, the foundation partnered with the O'Neill Ancestral Trust of Ireland this year, to connect with the international community over the vision and legacy of the celebrated playwright, with the production of "One Festival, Two Countries."

Two festivals were held by the organizations, one in Danville and the other in O'Neill's ancestral home in New Ross, Ireland, with delegations from each city visiting the other. Danville's festival featured two plays, an Irish music concert, a guided hike to Tao House, a historic guided walk of "O'Neill's Danville" and an O'Neill exhibit at the Danville Library.

Foundation president Dan McGovern accepted the award, which was sponsored by the Harrington Art Partnership.

Jeb Bing Community Spirit Award

While cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world, until recently the sport had been a relative unknown in the Tri-Valley.

That unfamiliarity has begun to disappear thanks to the efforts of Dublin's Cricket for Cubs. As demographics change and the population of Indian or Asian residents increases in the Tri-Valley, so does the popularity of this bat-and-ball sport.

Cricket for Cubs organizes local, regional, national and international youth cricket tournaments, as well as partners with local community groups and municipalities to develop cricket infrastructure and conducts coaching sessions in the community and schools.

Through the efforts of a dedicated community and the leadership of club president Ramesh Immadi, Cricket for Cubs now reaches 18 schools in Dublin, Pleasanton and San Ramon, and cricket has been established as part of the physical education curriculum at three middle schools, with plans to continue its expansion.

Their 2018 International Youth Cricket Tournament runs Nov. 17-24 in the Tri-Valley.

Courage

Banholzer -- now 16 -- was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 4 years old and underwent 2-1/2 years of chemotherapy and several surgical procedures at the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.

After receiving a clear cancer diagnosis, Banholzer dedicated a large portion of her time to philanthropic efforts, including her annual Be Strong and Give Back Happiness Swimathon, which have raised more than $50,000 to benefit the hospital that treated her. She has also started a chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation at Amador Valley High School, where the group holds fundraisers for the $10,000 needed to grant a wish.

Last year, Banholzer was diagnosed with lymphoma, but this hasn't dampened her giving spirit. On her website, she wrote that after receiving so much support her desire to give back has only grown deeper.

Environmental Stewardship

Founded by Ware, Danville-based nonprofit The Crayon Initiative has only been operating for four years, but during that time has seen exponential growth and hit a major milestone this year.

Born from a conversation during a family dinner out, the initiative takes donated crayons that would otherwise pollute the planet in a landfill -- crayons turn into a toxic wavy sludge that never fully biodegrades -- and re-manufactures them before donating them to children's hospitals that can often have issues funding non-essential items such as art supplies.

As of September, The Crayon Initiative is officially donating crayons to over 240 Children's Hospital Association locations in all 50 states. In addition to that, Ware expects that before the year ends the initiative will have made its 200,000th crayon shipment, saving hundreds of thousands of pounds of crayons from the landfill.

Innovation

A Dougherty Valley High School junior, Baronia created a potentially revolutionary smartphone app that will assist people in dangerous situations who need help but for whatever reason, cannot speak.

"The Rescuer" app can be activated by voice or by hitting the sound button in a predetermined pattern in order to alert police, family or a trusted friend that the user is hurt or in an unsafe situation. The app will not only alert an emergency contact that the user is in danger, but it will be able to notify the contact of the user's location through remote location tracking technology, if the contact knows the passcode.

Currently available on Android phones, Baronia said he is working on designing an Apple version. A self-taught coder, Baronia has created several other apps, games and was the 2017 recipient of the Congressional App Challenge award for the 15th Congressional District.

Rising Star

Lum, 17, was recognized for establishing the Lum AVM Organization, an initiative with the goal of raising awareness of arteriovenous malformation -- more commonly known as AVM -- as well as money for charitable causes. The teen was inspired to create the organization after her mother's death, believed to be caused by AVM, in November 2016.

Since starting the organization, she has raised over $115,000 to support causes ranging from brain aneurysm research, to scholarships for women's and children's charities.

A recent graduate of Dougherty Valley High, Lum currently attends the University of California at Los Angeles where she is pre-med, currently studying neuroscience. She was unable to attend the Heroes ceremony due to exams, so her father Samuel accepted the award on her behalf.

Role Model

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Miller has created a reputation for dedicating himself to improving the lives of veterans, active duty military members and their families throughout the Tri-Valley.

Miller has taken the leadership experience he gained as a military officer and helicopter pilot, and used it to lead the charge on various community organizations and events.

Not only does Miller support organizations such as the Army's Wounded Warrior program and East Bay Stand Down, but he spearheaded the efforts to complete the Veterans Memorial that in 2016 was dedicated in Pleasanton's Pioneer Cemetery.

The Role Model trophy was presented to Miller by Gary Alt of Monterey Private Wealth, which sponsored the award.

Lifetime Achievement

Kamena has dedicated his life to serving the public in Livermore and the Tri-Valley, which in his words is "the crown jewel of Northern California."

A longtime public servant of Livermore, Kamena served on the Livermore City Council from 1976 to 1985 and as a six-term mayor of Livermore, leaving office in 2011 as the only mayor emeritus of the city.

Not content with just being a longtime city leader and well-regarded optometrist, in the late 1970s he put together a plan to start a public access television channel, which is known today as Tri-Valley Community Television -- or TV30, to locals.

Sponsors of the 2018 Tri-Valley Heroes awards program are Monterey Private Wealth, Robert Half, Harrington Art Partnership, ChiroSports USA, Crown Trophy, and DoubleTree by Hilton Pleasanton at the Club.

Profiles on each award recipient will run as a series in the Pleasanton Weekly and online at PleasantonWeekly.com and DanvilleSanRamon.com beginning next week. TV30 also recorded Monday's ceremony, with air dates to be announced soon.

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