Monday, December 6, 2010

Rolling Readers raises money to battle illiteracy and give children a passion for books

By Meiko Patton
SDUN Reporter

Rolling Readers hosted its 2nd Annual Artists & Authors fundraising event last month at The New Children’s Museum downtown.

The charity event brings together gifted artists, such as Janell Cannon, and renowned children’s book authors, such as Gerald McDermott, to celebrate their work and raise money for Rolling Readers’ Read-Aloud and Book Giveaway programs.

Located in the heart of North Park, Rolling Readers’ mission is to inspire disadvantaged children to love reading through read-aloud volunteers and new book ownership.

“By age four, children who live in poor families will have heard 32 million fewer words than children living in professional families,” said Allison Bechill, Rolling Readers’ executive director. “Since 1991, Rolling Readers has striven to inspire children with less opportunity to love reading, and events like ‘Artists & Authors’ help us support local children and schools in need.”

Rolling Readers’ goal is to prevent the consequences of illiteracy among children. By instilling excitement about books and a love of reading, the organization creates a foundation for early literacy.

Studies have shown that children who love reading are more likely to become lifelong learners. In addition, reading stories to children provides the best opportunities for true “teaching moments” because it builds listening skills, increases the child’s attention span and develops the child’s ability to concentrate and focus.

How did Rolling Readers get its name?

The late Robert Condon, a literacy advocate and businessman, founded Rolling Readers USA in 1991. When reading aloud to his young children, Condon became aware of the significant improvement in their vocabulary and their increased interest in books. Eager to see if his discovery would hold true for other children, Condon began reading to kids at a local homeless shelter.

Within a short time, the reading sessions proved to have the same positive effects on the children’s interest in books as well as a marked increase on their early literacy development.

Condon recruited a handful of volunteers who began “rolling” into low-income schools and community sites to read to children each week.

The Read-Aloud program motivates children to develop a passion for reading and literature. Hundreds of volunteers devote about 30 minutes in a classroom each week, reading to the same classroom of children during the school year.

This year, more than 300 Read-Aloud volunteers in San Diego visited about 450 high-need elementary school classrooms, reaching more than 9,000 children each week.

In conjunction with the Read-Aloud program, more than 18,000 books are distributed, ensuring that reading goes beyond the classroom.

Rolling Readers is not only rewarding for the growing readers, but also those bringing in the books.
“I believe there is a human need to hear stories,” said author Shelley Moore Thomas. “Storytelling is one of the coolest things a person can do and it feeds the hunger of our young ones.”

To find out more about Rolling Readers, click here.

For more information, please click this link:

Authors (l-r) Meiko Patton, Gerald McDermott and Shelley Moore Thomas were on hand for Artists & Authors, a fundraiser for Rolling Readers at The New Children’s Museum. (Courtesy Meiko Patton)

Italian events offer films, cuisine and culture with a Sicilian kick

By Meiko Patton
SDUN Reporter

All things Italian come to San Diego this month with three events: the San Diego Italian Film Festival, the Sicilian Festival and the Taste of Little Italy.

The film festival, themed CineCucina (“kitchen cinema” in Italian), begins Thursday, May 20, at 7 p.m., at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park, where food documentaries and short stories from an Italian perspective will be screened.

“We believe that every culture brings something different to life, which makes it more interesting,” said Victor Laruccia, the film festival’s executive director. “We want people to be joyful, have fun and experience the passion with which Italians live their lives.”

On Saturday, May 22, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the lot on the corner of 29th Street and North Park Way will transform into an Italian-style market with vendors offering certified produce from San Diego farms, demonstrations and cook-offs.

At 6 p.m., the event will move to the Birch North Park Theatre. First, award-winning writer/photographer Douglas Gayeton, whose visit is sponsored by Slow Food Urban San Diego, will discuss his work in food and sustainability. Following his presentation will be a screening of “Foccacia Blues,” a true story about two Italian bakers who ran the local McDonald’s out of business by creating their own version of “fast food.”

For more information on the film festival, go to

The Sicilian Festival is a free family event featuring Sicilian music, dance, culture and cuisine. The celebration will take place on Sunday, May 23, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Little Italy.

Four stages will play host to Sicilian and Italian entertainment, with dancers and musicians in full costume.

And, of course, there will be plenty of food.

“Tarantino’s Sausages will be serving one-of-a-kind gourmet sausage sandwiches in addition to many other authentic eateries,” said Giovanna DiBona, the Sicilian Festival’s director of entertainment.

“We are very proud this year to have the Puma Soccer Fan Zone join our festival,” she said. “Soccer in Italy is something more than just a passion – soccer for Italians means tradition. It’s one of the most significant symbols our country has to offer.”

A big-screen re-broadcast of Italy’s win at the 2006 World Cup will be played during the festival. Soccer fans can prepare for the June 11 start of the 2010 World Cup by getting T-shirts at the Fan Zone that are custom-printed with a selection of “Love = Soccer” themes. Kids can enjoy the interactive ball-shooting zone, have their picture taken with cutouts of the world’s finest players and participate in face painting, contests and giveaways.

The Screamin’ Primas band will be on hand to orchestrate a lively salute to the music of Louis Prima in the centennial year of his birth.

“This is going to be great because if Louis was alive to today, he would be 100 years old and be so proud. Born in New Orleans, but of Sicilian descent, his music had a jazz feel to it. It had such a lively, high energy, swing beat that it just made you want to start jumping,” DiBona said.

And to top it all off, an authentic Sicilian-style wedding will take place, followed by a Sicilian-style reception with music provided by the Roman Holiday Band.

Free parking and shuttle service for the Sicilian Festival will be available from the north lot of the County Administration Building. For more information, go to

On Wednesday, May 26, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Taste of Little Italy will celebrate the neighborhood’s cuisine. A new restaurant, Bencotto Italian Kitchen, will mark its debut in the event while several other restaurants will repeat their participation.

One of those returnees is Indigo Grill, on the corner of Cedar and India streets, where tasters will sample Mezcal smoked salmon bruschetta prepared by Chef Deborah Scott.

“This is our ninth year as part of Taste of Little Italy and we’re excited for everyone to come and taste our dish,” said Michelle Kveen, Indigo Grill’s operations manager Enoteca Style on India Street will offer a taste of prosecco, a dry sparkling wine.

“As long as they have this festival,” said Scott Thomas, Enoteca Style’s executive chef and owner. “I plan to keep doing it because it’s a terrific community event, and besides being fun, it’s a great way to let the public know about the great businesses down here.”

Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 the day of the event. For more information, go to

For more information, please click on this link:

Adams Avenue Farmers’ Market moves to Rite-Aid parking lot

By Meiko Patton
SDUN Reporter

The Adams Avenue Business Association (AABA) will launch the Adams Avenue Farmers’ Market today in the parking lot of the Rite-Aid on Adams Avenue (note last-minute location change), from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., rain or shine.

“Farmers’ markets are important to neighborhoods because they are a great way for people to get out of their houses and eat healthy,” said Jim Schneider, the AABA’s executive director. “They have also become social meeting places, a way to stay connected with your neighbors on a weekly basis.”

This farmers’ market in Normal Heights was delayed numerous times, overcoming several hurdles and setbacks. In 2008, the AABA began evaluating, researching and testing whether a farmers’ market would be sustainable in the business district. Members spent the bulk of that year scouting out possible locations, contacting farmers and soliciting community feedback.

Once the AABA secured a location, they looked to hire a farmers’ market manager, and they soon found one. However, before the AABA could get the market up and running, the market’s location fell through and the manager departed as well.

Meanwhile the AABA had to obtain the necessary permits from the county, state, police department, fire department, health department and others to operate the market. All agencies had to sign off on the project before any further steps could be taken to open the market.

By spring of 2009 the AABA had found a new farmers’ market manager, Catt Fields White, the founder of Little Italy’s farmers’ market, and a new location. They set an opening date for the fall.

One week before the market was to open, AABA members were at the new location at 40th Street and Adams Avenue doing some last minute measuring for the grand opening when a Caltrans worker approached them. He inquired about their business and then told them Caltrans owned the right-of-way to the street and, according to Caltrans guidelines, no commercial vending could take place there. The market’s opening was postponed yet again.

“As it turned out, Caltrans got behind AABA and within a matter of six months was able to relinquish its right-of-way back to the city. Thereafter AABA had to reapply with the city to get this much needed permit,” White said. “This was actually a benediction because if the market had opened without this knowledge, it would have subsequently been shut down.”

In the meantime, White was busy lining up the 70-plus vendors to sell at the market each week, including fruits and vegetables, bread, pastries, fish, meat, cheese, flowers, sea salts, spices, olives and sauces. Local artists and craftspeople will also offer their work for sale, and there will be live music and prepared food for purchase.

Parking is expected to be limited. The AABA is working with the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, which also provides onsite bike repairs, to operate a bicycle valet service.

Founded in 1982, the AABA’s mission is to promote the 600 businesses along the two-mile stretch of Adams Avenue from Hamilton Street to Vista Street. In addition to the farmers’ market, the AABA hosts several annual special events, such as the recent Roots Fest on Adams, the Taste of Adams Avenue and the Adams Avenue Street Fair. For more information, go to

For more information, please click this link:

City’s bike plan gets long overdue update

By Meiko Patton
SDUN Reporter

On May 20, the City of San Diego held a public open house for the Bicycle Master Plan Update. Cyclists from all over San Diego attended not only to see the proposed changes to the city’s bike plan initiative but to provide input before the plan is finalized.

The San Diego Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) is an update to the city’s 2002 plan. This plan presents a renewed vision for bicycle transportation, recreation and a better quality of life for San Diegans.

Updating the plan satisfies the requirements of Caltrans’ California Bicycle Transportation Account. For the city of San Diego to be eligible to receive federal, state and regional funding, a BMP has to be in effect and updated every five years.

This new plan provides a working tool that enables the city to apply for various grants to implement its recommendations. It also identifies future bicycle facility needs that would guide the city’s future development.

According to the 2000 Census, there are more than one million residents living in the city of San Diego. With an influx of people moving to San Diego every year, traffic congestion will continue to increase, thereby leaving a higher carbon footprint. If there is a better and safer alternative to driving, many people could choose bicycling to arrive at their destination, said city staff who were at the open house.

“Most trips that people take in a car are less than five miles from their homes,” said Sam Corbett, consultant project manager at Alta Planning + Design. “So we are targeting these trips as potential bicycle trips.”
“Another advantage to riding a bike is that it’s great for your health,” Corbett added. “It cuts down on obesity in adults and children because it gets people moving.”

One hour of bicycle riding is equivalent to burning 500 calories. Bicycles are also quiet, non-polluting and energy-efficient.

The plan’s intent is to develop a safe bicycle system that is inviting to the public. A major component of the plan is a bicycle education program for both cyclists and motorists that explains roadway rights and responsibilities. Other programs will focus on persuading people to shift from driving to bicycling.

“I’ve been bicycling for 50 years now and I do like the plan, but I feel the city needs to have a full-time dedicated person on staff to oversee that everything in the plan will be implemented,” said retired librarian and bicycle enthusiast Kathy Askin.

Not only were Uptown neighborhood residents at the open house – residents from nearby cities came to look at the plan and get an idea of how their own plans will be structured.

“I think this is a wonderful way to encourage more cycling in the city and to make it more accessible,” said Michael Woiwode, a Coronado council member. “I’ve been a cyclist for 57 years and I regularly bike to work, downtown and Mission Valley so increasing access would be great. The City of Coronado will be putting together a Bicycle Master Plan soon so we came here to get some ideas.”

City Project Manager Shahriar Ammi said the open house served its purpose.

“I believe the event was successful. There were 96 individuals who signed-in. They were well informed about the plan and what is recommended for the future of bicycling facilities in San Diego,” Ammi said. “It was also informative for us, as there were many written comments and suggestions that were submitted, in addition to the comments made at each station.”

For more information, please click on this link:

Trees create ‘urban forest’ and jobs for local youth

By Meiko S. Patton
SDUN Reporter

According to the Genesis account, humankind’s foreparents were banned from eating the fruit of the “tree of life” because they allegedly would have lived forever. Can a tree truly possess such life-sustaining properties?

That’s debatable, but what isn’t is the environmental and social benefits trees bring. That’s why for 20 years the Urban Corps of San Diego County has been dedicated to providing environmental job training and educational opportunities in the fields of conservation, recycling and urban forestry, among others.

The Urban Corps of San Diego County, a “green” job-training program for youth, will plant more than 2,000 trees in public spaces throughout the City of San Diego in 2010 under their Urban Forestry Program, according to CEO Sam Duran. To date, more than 10,000 trees have been planted in San Diego thanks to Urban Corps.

“In fact, 5 percent of all public trees in San Diego County have been planted by Corps members,” said Klara Arter, Urban Corps communications manager.

Urban Corps is promoting the idea of an “urban forest” – trees and vegetation in and around a town or city environment. Like a natural forest, an urban forest is an entire ecosystem that includes trees on both public and private property. Just like a natural forest, each year San Diego loses thousands of urban trees to damage, neglect and new development. However, unlike a natural forest, an urban forest usually needs help from people to survive.

That’s why an invitation is being extended to all San Diego residents to request a free tree to be planted in a public-right-of-way, or to organize a community-wide planting day, in exchange for signing a watering agreement as a promise of volunteer maintenance.

Funding from Community Development Block Grants provides free street trees. Urban Corps will plant your free trees in your public right-of-way approximately 8 to 16 weeks after the tree watering agreement has been signed. Before planting, Urban Corps will do a site analysis of your property, notify dig alert to mark underground utilities and apply for a street tree permit. The tree watering agreement is available at

There is a variety of trees to choose from depending on parkway size. These include Crape Myrtle, Hong Kong Orchid, African Sumac, Bradford Pear, Gold Medallion, Chinese Flame Tree, Chinese Pistache and the Jacaranda tree.

“I was familiar with Urban Corps, having seen all the great work they do throughout San Diego, so when that big empty hole kept staring at me in front of my business, I thought, why not give them a call,” said Alison Whitelaw of Platt/Whitelaw Architects in North Park. “I chose the African Sumac, which is a rounded umbrella-like evergreen tree that attracts many birds.”

Whitelaw was so impressed with Urban Corps’ work that she recently agreed to match donations up to $1000 for the Urban Forestry Program. Platt/Whitelaw Architects publicized the pledge in their annual holiday client mailing.

“We created a holiday card with a graphic of a tree and its roots on it. Everyone loved it,” Whitelaw said.

Trees have many environmental benefits, such as reducing the heat-island effect of urban areas. Leafy shade lowers temperatures and diminishes hot vapors that rise from streets and parking lots. Trees clean the air by combating pollution in exchange for returning oxygen to the atmosphere.

In addition, neighborhoods full of majestic trees improve our aesthetic environment, absorb noise, are traffic calming, reduce stress and crime and create a peaceful place to relax and socialize. Research in a particularly deprived area of inner city Chicago concluded that areas with higher vegetation cover saw a reduction in crime rates compared to areas with little or no green vegetation.

While planting trees to improve San Diego’s neighborhoods, Urban Corps is helping those ages 18-25 attain job training and education. Corps members go to school to earn a high school diploma one day per week and work in the community on environmental projects, such as planting free trees, four days per week. In its two decades, Urban Corps has helped more than 6,500 young adults.

Urban Corps’ effort to provide jobs while at the same time helping the environment has not gone unnoticed. The non-profit organization has garnered several prestigious awards, among them the 2009 Best Urban Forestry Program of the Year Award. This award was bestowed on them for their leadership, innovation, growth and community involvement in creating a consistent and well-managed urban forest.

For more information on free trees or to schedule a community-planting event, consult the Web site or call Urban Forestry Coordinator Ty Sterns at 235-6884, ext. 3312.

For more information, please check out this link:

Local artist bags recognition for lunch-bag artwork blog

By Meiko S. Patton
SDUN Reporter

Mission Hills resident Derek Benson has been chosen as one of 20 members of the 2010 Sharpie Squad.

The squad’s artists and bloggers are a group of passionate Sharpie marker users who serve as vocal brand ambassadors, sharing their enthusiasm, creativity and unbridled passion for Sharpie products.

A Namco Games employee by day, Benson creates art for video games. But away from gaming he is known for his lunch bag art, consisting of intricate drawings of cartoons and super heroes, which he showcases on his blog,

Benson has been using Sharpie markers all his life, he said. The father of three children ages 9, 5 and 3, Benson began drawing art on their lunch bags every day as they went to school, eventually adding 370 entries to

“I do this mostly as a hobby for my kids,” Benson said. “They really have the final say in what goes up on the blog, I definitely take constructive criticism from them.

“I like to draw things that are weird and what I feel is cool. Right now, if you check out my blog, you’ll see I’m drawing things from this cool comic line called Dreamland Chronicles.”

Benson is formally trained as an artist but insists that daily practice is a better teacher.

“Only draw what you are passionate about,” he said he advises prospective young artists. His art is displayed on the walls of his son’s preschool and has been published on the front page of the San Diego Union-Tribune and on the cover of “Parents” magazine.

“It’s an honor to have been chosen to be on the Sharpie Squad, but actually I was very proactive about it and I actually contacted them myself to see if I could become part of the squad,” he said.

As a Sharpie Squad member, Benson will be tweeting, blogging and sharing his out-of-the-box creations and ideas on what is possible with a Sharpie marker throughout 2010.

In return, Sharpie will provide Benson new product news and shipments, virtual meetings with the Sharpie brand team, and publicity through blog posts, Twitter and Facebook.

To meet the rest of the Sharpie Squad and to check out their latest endeavors, go to

For more information, click this link: