From a photographer to a generous couple to a 14-year-old battling a rare disease, this year's Community of Character Juanita Haugen Award winners exemplify the program's values of "Responsibility, Compassion, Self-Discipline, Honesty, Respect and Integrity."
Christina Gray, Jee-Yeon and Wallace Wong, and Andrew Holmes will be honored at the annual Awards Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday (May 21) at the Veterans Memorial Building. The Community Organization Award is going to Museum on Main.
The lunch is open to the public at a cost of $40. Make reservations at the Chamber of Commerce website, www.pleasanton.org.
Gray lives in Pleasanton with her husband, Lonnie, and their children, Ethan and Lauren. She started her photography business, Bella Luna Studios, in 2005.
As her family and business grew, she began to volunteer her photography skills to nonprofit organizations including CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation, First Tee, Tri-Valley Turkey Burn, Chamber of Commerce, AXIS Community Health, Ed Kinney Foundation and Make a Difference for Pleasanton. She has also volunteered for six years as a Reflections Program judge in the photography category.
In 2015, Gray published an original cookbook, "Be Free Cooking The Allergen Aware Cook." This was a new way to engage with the community, and especially the school her children attended, Mohr Elementary School.
During the last two years, she has taught a writing and food workshop at Mohr she developed for second-graders. In April, she launched the Rising Star program, inspiring young students to write and "publish" their own books for the school library and coordinated an Author Day.
When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, Gray worked with the local chapter of Kids Against Hunger to organize a meal-packing event with 240 volunteers who packed 60,000 meals.
She is also a Harvest Park sixth-grade volleyball coach, Phantom League U13 softball coach, and a member of the Pleasanton Unified Public Safety Committee.
Jee-Yeon and Wallace Wong
The Wongs are incredible friends to many in Pleasanton, where they have lived for 15 years, and serve as great examples to their children Kaitlyn (15), Zachary (12), Ryan (10) and their friends.
The Wongs have volunteered in many organizations and have participated in service projects. Their children have worked to raise money to help homeless people.
Wallace is a Farmers Insurance agent with an office in the historic Pleasanton Hotel. He has served in Rotary, YMCA and other organizations. He is known for having high ethical standards, which are what he expects of himself, his family and his community, according to awards organizers, and is a living example of good character.
Jee-Yeon is a friend to all who come into contact with her. She opens her home to newcomers in the community, inviting them to join her in cooking and sharing a meal.
Wallace and Jee-Yeon live the character values every day. They are kind and courteous; they are compassionate and caring; and they live responsible, respectful lives and inspire others to do the same.
Holmes, 14 and an eighth-grader at Harvest Park Middle School, says his experience battling a rare disease has inspired him to find ways to give back to his community.
When he was 8, Holmes had an excruciating headache and fell semi-unconscious. At Children's Hospital Oakland, he had surgery to stop a massive brain bleed, which turned out to be a rupture of a brain arteriovenous malformation, or AVM.
Holmes was treated with targeted radiation, which works slowly, and caused him to have brain swelling and hemiplegia, or extreme weakness on his right side, so he was unable to walk or use his right hand or arm. He started fourth grade in a wheelchair, but with ongoing therapy, he has been able to walk again, using a leg brace, and to get some right arm movement back.
He loves playing baseball and must catch and throw with the same hand, just like the former major league player Jim Abbott. Holmes' favorite place to be is watching his Oakland A's.
Holmes is committed to raising awareness about AVMs and rare diseases. He wrote a letter to Supervisor Nate Miley to have Rare Disease Day commemorated in Alameda County, has testified before the California State Legislature and has participated in rare disease awareness efforts in the U.S. Congress.
"My life is challenging, but my mom always told me when I start to feel sorry for myself, do something for others," he said.
Holmes said he appreciated the Child Life Department at Children's Hospital bringing him toys and games every day during his long stay, and he also enjoyed its Bingo Nights with great prizes. So in 2016, he started an annual holiday toy drive, plus he has held two spring toy drives with Pleasanton Little League. He has collected more than one thousand toys for the hospital.
Museum on Main
The Museum on Main began in the historic house at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, and it moved into the old city hall building on Main Street in 1985. It is a wonderful cultural resource downtown, welcoming newcomers, longtime residents and visitors.
The museum features permanent and temporary exhibits, guest lecturers, tours for schools and other community groups, and educational programs. It is responsible for collecting and caring for historic documents, photographs and artifacts that tell the stories of Pleasanton and surrounding areas.
The museum has many volunteers who assist with greeting the public, helping in the office, facilitating public programs, serving as docents and guides for the popular annual Ghost Walk tours, and helping manage the archives and collections as well as holding fundraisers.
The award is in tribute to its many volunteers as well as its dedicated staff and board.