Highs and Lows

September 2, 1996 was the end to another McGowan family weekend at Lake Almanor, CA. The weekend was spent on the water and in their cabin, soaking up the final drops of summer. Holly and Tim McGowan, along with their two sons Jack and Nick, were returning to their Truckee home that evening. Splitting into two cars, Holly and five-year-old Jack began the drive back to their every-day lives.

Hope at the 3rd Far West Freestyle competition of the season at Squaw Valley.

Hope at the 3rd Far West Freestyle competition of the season at Squaw Valley.

Humble Roots and Ski Boots

Hope McGowan sits down in her tye-dye shirt and athletic shorts, still red-faced from practice. Ski season might be over, but lacrosse is in full-swing.

“I’m the only goalie on the team, so it’s been really long days and intense practices lately,” McGowan said.

Her green eyes and mile-wide smile make it seem like you’ve known Hope for years. She laughs about how ridiculous she looks in her lacrosse uniform, tightening her long blonde ponytail. Lacrosse is the third school sport Hope has played this year.

“It’s days like this that I miss skiing the most,” Hope said. “Too bad there’s no summer ski team at school.”

Hope’s hometown of Truckee, California has the reputation of a top spot for skiers and snowboarders. Hope’s childhood consisted of keeping up with her brothers and spending time in skis.

“I was always gone in middle school because I was travelling for skiing,” Hope said. “Sometimes I feel more comfortable in skis than I do on foot.”

Hope and her family travelled to places like Colorado, Idaho, New Hampshire and Minnesota for her ski meets. At 13 years old, Hope was the 35th-best freestyle skier in the world.

“Competing in the Junior Olympics are some of my favorite memories,” Hope said. “I worked really hard competitively to keep up with my brothers.”

Hope gestures at a scar on her left eye from a time her brother Nick dropped a piece of wood on her face.

“We were trying to build a treehouse,” Hope said. “Clearly it didn’t go very well.”

Tim McGowan, Hope’s father and Tahoe business owner, was a big ski influence during her childhood. Tim fell in love with skiing during his time at Colorado State University. He attended graduate school at Santa Clara University and frequented Squaw Valley resort during his time there. After marrying his wife Holly, they moved to the Incline Village/Truckee area.

“My dad has always been a successful snow chaser,” Hope said.

Tim now owns a landscaping company based out of Tahoe.

“He’s the dude I love the most in this world,” Hope said. “He’s always been driven despite all the ailments in my family.”

That drive home from Lake Almanor was one that changed the path of their lives forever. Hitting a tree head-on, Holly was sent through the front windshield, never to walk again. She broke 80 percent of the bones on the right side of her body. She spent the next six months of her life in a hospital. During those six months, she gave birth to her youngest daughter, Hope.

            “I don’t know how we did it,” Holly said, remembering raising three young children while in a wheelchair. “Somehow, by the grace of God we did it.”

Wheeling herself through the rooms of their home, Holly remembers the months she spent in the hospital after her accident.

“Our family just cycled through, there was usually always someone visiting,” Holly said. “When Hope was born, there were probably 20 people in the room cheering for her.”

After finally returning from the hospital, Holly was nervous about having to raise a newborn without being able to use her legs.

“I was scared to death to come home, especially because I was having to basically re-learn everything I’ve ever known,” Holly said. “How do you explain to your newborn daughter that mommy can’t pick you up because she doesn’t have the strength to?”

As if it was a natural instinct, Hope learned how to pull herself up at a young age so her mom could hold her on her lap.

“We would just wheel around the house with her on my lap,” Holly said. “It was hilarious.”

“I guess I just never really knew anything other than that kind of life,” Hope said. “It’s pretty cool having the most extraordinary mom in the world.”

Holly and her family learned how to adapt to their new lifestyle thanks to the support of family and community.

“So many people made it easy for us to keep going with our lives,” Holly said.

Hope and her brothers continued to pursue their athletics throughout childhood and into their young adult lives. Holly laughs as she remembers Hope as a young athlete.

“She was already outshining her brothers at a young age, you can imagine how thrilled they were about that,” Holly said.

“I guess it’s just something about the drive of competition that keeps me going,” Hope said. “Diabetes doesn’t really fit my agenda.

Hope was 10 years old when her life changed forever. Coming down with a common cold, Hope expected to recover from it just like any other cold. She started drinking excessive amounts of water and even began to wet the bed. Holly instinctively knew something was very wrong, so they went to the hospital. The doctor looked at her that day and told her that she had Type 1 Brittle Diabetes.

“I remember looking at the doctor and thinking, ‘this can’t be real,'” Holly said.

Hope spent the next three days in the hospital. During those three days, she had to come to terms with her new disease.

“When people hear I have diabetes, they kind of brush it off and don’t think much of it,” Hope said. “It’s not just some little thing. It’s a chronic disease that will literally keep me up at night.”

When initially diagnosed, Hope was told to limit herself to about 30 or 45 minutes of activity a day. This didn’t fit into her athletic agenda.

“Hope had too many things going on in her life to let diabetes stop her,” Holly said.

Hope had to learn methods of controlling her blood sugar and making sure it didn’t get too low.

“When your blood sugar is low, it’s like your blood turns into syrup,” Holly said.

“I’ve passed out a few times at school and sometimes I have to sit out a few runs at ski practice,” Hope said. “It sucks.”

Despite her new illness, Hope still went on to aggressively compete throughout middle school and into high school. Attending Bishop Manogue Catholic High School, she maintained the position as the top female skier on her team. She attended state all four years.

Hunter Pitts, a fellow high school senior and Bishop Manogue ski team member, also suffers from type 1 diabetes. Together, Hope and Hunter were the co-captains of their team.

“I’ve known Hope for a long time and she never ceases to amaze me,” Hunter said. “She was always so much fun to have on the team.”

“Before I was diagnosed, I would start a race telling myself I wanted to be the best and the fastest,” Hope said. “Now, I’m just thinking ‘please don’t fall and just make it to the bottom.'”

Hope’s team placed third in the state, while placing first all-state academic team. Hope will be attending her father’s alma mater Santa Clara after graduation.

“It’s going to be weird being away from the snow, but I’ll still be there.

In the classroom, Hope serves as a student leader and role model for many of her peers.

“Hope has been in my leadership class for four years, and is a truly irreplaceable member of my team,” said Jimmy Gleich, leadership teacher at Bishop Manogue. “You would never know she has anything wrong with her.”

Ski On

Aside from the ski team, Hope was also a member of the cross country and lacrosse team. Hope’s experience with cross country was one of the hardest experiences of her life.

“I was just waiting for her to come to me and say, ‘mom, I’m quitting cross country,'” Holly said.

“I don’t know why I did cross country, but it was really tough,” Hope said.

Hope would struggle through practices and races. A diabetic isn’t typically a strong candidate for long-distance running.

“She could go out there and run five miles without breaking a sweat,” Holly said. “But as soon as she was put in a race her blood sugar would just plummet.”

The adrenaline of the races combined with her blood sugar issues caused Hope to only finish one race during her entire season.

“When she finished that one race, her entire team came together and celebrated that victory,” Holly said. “It was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen.”

“I always hated having to stop in the middle of a race, but it was worth it for that one time I crossed the finish line,” Hope said.

Whether it be on the mountain or in a classroom, Hope continues to show excellence in every aspect of her life.

“Sometimes, I look and her and think I truly have the most amazing daughter on the planet,” Holly said.

“I owe a lot of who I am to my mother,” Hope said. “She really changed my life for the better. I don’t know how she can have a smile on her face every day but she does.”

Hope won’t be letting the distance stop her from skiing. She is already looking forward to coming home on breaks from college and skiing with her family.

“I can’t help but worry about her going to college,” Holly said. “Her condition is so unpredictable that it’s scary for us as a family.”

Hope plans on studying a form of science in hopes of one day being a doctor.

“After having a disease like diabetes, I feel like it’s my job to give back to people who also suffer from illnesses,” Hope said. “I just wish it didn’t take so much studying.”

Wherever life takes this young athlete, she will certainly succeed and excel. It’s what she does best.

“That girl had every odd in the world against her,” Holly said. “It’s pretty astounding that she still came out an exceptional human being.”

Novel program to help Fresno County’s chronically ill seniors

At 65, Linda Corbin struggles with so many ailments — diabetes, heart disease, eye and lung problems, the list goes on — she easily could find herself in a nursing home. And getting to her many medical appointments around Fresno isn’t easy since Corbin relies on a wheelchair and buses to get around.

Now Corbin and other medically frail seniors in the area can find the help and resources they need thanks to a novel health care program in Fresno County.

Called PACE — Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly — the program provides a coordinated, one-stop shop for qualified Fresno County residents to get their medical and social needs addressed.

PACE will provide chronically ill seniors with comprehensive, coordinated medical care to help them manage their health needs and keep them in their homes and communities.

“We want to keep these seniors out of nursing homes and in their own communities,” said Abe Marouf, chief financial officer for nonprofit PACE Fresno County. “No one wants to be put into a nursing home.”

Fresno County’s program is one of nine in California, and the only one operating in the San Joaquin Valley. About 3,500 seniors in Fresno County fit the profile of a PACE patient, and the program hopes to serve up to 400 of them. Twenty are now enrolled.

To qualify for PACE, participants must be over 55, currently on Medicare (federal health insurance for the aged and disabled) or Medi-Cal (the state-federal health insurance for the poor) and must be living safely on their own. They also must live within one of the 51 designated zip codes. Most are in Fresno County, with a few spilling into Madera and Tulare counties.

The Fresno County PACE program was spearheaded by the Marouf family, who operate an adult day health-care facility in Orange County. They got some encouragement from Joanie Ballantyne, who owned her own adult day care facility in Fresno until 2009, and is friends with the Maroufs. Ballantyne now sits on PACE’s board.

“The Maroufs reached out to me because I had mentioned we needed a PACE program in the area,” Ballantyne said.

Ballantyne worked as a nurse for 40 years and heard about PACE through that work. She reviewed other PACE programs throughout California as well, researching them online and speaking with representatives on the phone.

“It was after I learned about the program through research that I realized how valuable it would be here in Fresno,” Ballantyne said. “We have so many eligible seniors here.”

Coming to the Valley was not easy. PACE Fresno County took out $3.5 million in loans to cover start-up costs, then sought out sponsors and donors who were interested in the organization.

“Our primary sponsors and donors are individuals. It was a very hard process,” Marouf said.

Many of these sponsors and individuals are from Orange County, home to the Maroufs.

PACE has agreements with Medicare and Medi-Cal in which PACE receives a flat monthly payment from the two entities for each patient who enrolls.

“It’s our job to manage that money for our patients,” Marouf said.

The concept began about 40 years ago in San Francisco as an alternative to building a nursing home in Chinatown. The model has gradually spread to 104 programs in 31 states.

The services and techniques behind PACE are what make it unique, said Peter Hansel, executive director of CalPace, an association that advocates for expansion of these types of programs.

“PACE programs have proven that they can significantly enhance the quality of life of frail elderly,” Hansel said. “No California PACE program has ever failed.”

Recent growth of the PACE programs has to do with the awareness of these programs growing all over the country, he said.

“People recognize these types of programs now, and areas that don’t already have them recognize their community could benefit from one,” Hansel said.

Fresno’s PACE facility, near Kern Street and Van Ness Avenue in downtown, includes both a recreational and daytime center, as well as a fully licensed medical clinic where patients can see doctors and specialists. Each patient meets with the staff and doctors to communicate any changes in their health status.

Seniors who sign on must give up their existing network of doctors. Instead, they use the physicians, hospitals and specialists that PACE contracts with through the clinic. PACE Fresno is currently contracted with roughly 100 medical personnel in the area. A head medical director, home care coordinator, activity director and many others check on patients daily, making sure they are receiving the care they need.

“This method of having lots of different people watching the patients works well because we get to observe them from all angles,” Marouf said.

Dr. Ara Soghomonian, an internal medicine doctor who is on staff at the Fresno PACE clinic, believes this system of health care is beneficial to chronically ill seniors.

“We as a staff can carefully oversee the medical aspect of a patient and there are others observing the social and emotional aspects,” Dr. Soghomonian said. “It keeps everyone on the same page and avoids long-term problems.”

Other benefits include unlimited access to the facilities, free transportation and nurses on-call at all times.

“If the patient is at home and believes they need medical attention, they can call us and we can send a nurse out to see them,” Marouf said. “The point is to keep them out of the ER if they don’t actually need to be there.”

That constant attention is what appealed to Corbin, who lives in downtown Fresno. She said she struggled with coordinating her own medical life before PACE, resulting in more problems than she started with.

“Sometimes, the buses I take to appointments wouldn’t have room for my wheelchair and I would miss my appointment,” Corbin said, who is currently enrolled in PACE.”It was extremely stressful.”

Corbin is excited about the benefits she will receive through PACE.

“They have everything here,” Corbin said. “It’s amazing how much stress is off my shoulders now that I have this program.”

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For more information

For more information about PACE or to schedule a tour of the facility, call (855) 630-7223.

Pressure chambers help Valley farmers save water during drought

SELMA — Tom Chandler, a fourth-generation farmer, is using a sophisticated suitcase-sized tool to do what farmers used to do largely by guesswork: Size up how much water to give his almond trees.

The device is a pressure chamber, and it squeezes water from leaves to measure how thirsty his trees are.

“Using the pressure chambers is like having a fuel gauge for your plants,” Chandler said.

With the Valley in the third year of a severe drought, farmers are turning more to such devices to help them more carefully calibrate their watering schedules — giving orchards more water some days, less on others.

“Before we started using these, we had no idea when the plants really needed water,” Chandler said. “Now we can figure out exactly when we’re running out.”

Chandler and his family have farmed for more than 100 years and are excited to see the improvements pressure chambers make in their orchards.

“They have helped us save water and we are more confident about what we’re doing,” Chandler said. “We irrigate more frequently but use much less water each time.”

Allan Fulton, an irrigation and water farm adviser, has worked with pressure chambers since 2000. Fulton has conducted research on calibrating what the chamber readings mean.

“Understanding what the chamber is trying to tell you helps farmers concentrate water in the areas that need it the most,” Fulton said. “This means more production while using the same amount of water.”

Fulton said he believes pressure chambers teach farmers one of two things — your crop needs more water, or you could be getting by using less water.

“These are unquestionably helpful in a time like this,” said professor Ken Shackel of the University of California at Davis. “You can save tons of water thanks to the chambers.”

Shackel has heavily influenced pressure chambers through his research. These were invented in the 1960s, but Shackel began studying them in the early 1980s.

“It wasn’t that pressure chambers were my new idea, but no one had ever tested them in the field,” Shackel said. “It was through researching with the plants that we realized dry soil doesn’t mean the plant is suffering.”

Thanks to his research, Shackel was able to create a smaller, simpler model that used less pressure and was portable. This model increased pressure chamber use among farmers.

“I developed a bicycle-pump model that didn’t require a big pressure gauge,” Shackel said. “A lot of farmers are using that model now as opposed to the other one.”

Pressure chambers are manufactured by Plant Moisture Status Instrument Co. in Oregon. The company says they’re used by 25% of California farmers.

“The chamber gives us a way to see our watering patterns from the tree’s point of view,” Chandler said.

Chandler has worked mostly as the financial manager for his parents’ farm. However, he has his own orchards and does much of the work on his farm by himself. This includes going out once or twice a week to check on the almond orchards using pressure chambers.

Typically between 1 and 3 p.m., Chandler will take samples from the trees and test them. He does this by taking a leaf from a tree and placing the stem into a hole in the chamber. Then, pressure is applied to the leaf and water will seep out of the stem.

“It’s important to do the readings around the same time every day,” Chandler said. “The readings are calibrated for that specific time frame.”

Chandler loads his pressure chamber into the back of his ATV and can complete his tasks in about an hour.

“We haven’t been using this technology for long at all,” Chandler said. “But it’s really great to see a difference already being made. Hopefully that progress will just keep getting better and better.”

Reedley residents organize to save historic building

REEDLEY — In a small apartment complex, Georgia Linscheid and Pat Bergthold have called a meeting of seniors. They have one mission: prevent one of the city’s most historic buildings from being demolished.

“Never underestimate an old lady in tennis shoes,” said Linscheid, Reedley senior and a preservationist.

Without their intervention, they say, the abandoned Granger warehouse in downtown could be knocked down and replaced by new school district offices.

The building — 62 feet by 351 feet — sits on a dirt lot across from Reedley’s historic water towers and opera house. From the outside, it doesn’t look like something worth saving. The ground is decorated with weeds and brush. What’s left of old paint clings to dusty 12-inch-thick brick walls. The simple, boxy building doesn’t have visual appeal.

But the Granger building represents Reedley’s deep agricultural roots, the women say. And they add that history within the building’s walls makes this pile of bricks significant.

“If that building goes, so does 100 years of history,” said Bergthold, a 77-year-old former Reedley High School teacher and preservation activist.

Bergthold makes her way around the property in her pastel cardigan and tightly laced tennis shoes, sharing stories of the building’s past. She points out different aspects of the building that make it wonderful, eyes fixated on this seemingly ordinary structure.

Built in 1892, the building was commissioned by the Granger’s Bank in San Francisco, which was a group serving farmers. It was reputed to be the largest grain warehouse west of the Mississippi River.

When vineyards and orchards replaced wheat fields, the building transformed into a raisin packinghouse. This was the birthplace of Sun-Maid Raisins and became well-known throughout the West Coast.

Bergthold and Linscheid, 87, her longtime friend, have fought for many years to save Reedley’s history. During a walk around the property, Linscheid straightens out a sign she made that hangs on the front steps.

The sign reads “Granger Building. Built in 1892.”

She put it there so residents would recognize the building’s significance. Linscheid laughs as she wipes dirt off, and says she doubts the city would have given her permission to hang the sign had she asked. But in this case, the senior activists are taking on City Hall and the Kings Canyon Unified School District.

The city has condemned the building, which has been empty for nine years. The school district wants the site for new administrative offices, and the city supports the district.

Schools Superintendent Juan Garza sees the demolition as a positive thing. The district’s current offices are small and outdated. “We outgrew our current facility years ago,” Garza said.

Having the office in downtown would increase foot traffic and business. If the district can get its hands on the property, its new office could be opened in a year and a half.

“We would pay respect to the building and try to model ours off of the current structure,” Garza said. “It’s a win-win from our perspective.”

Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba believes the Granger building has passed the point of saving. “We would have to take that building apart brick by brick in order to restore it,” she said.

But Zieba appreciates the seniors’ efforts to preserve the city’s history. “People like them make Reedley the unique city that it is. We really appreciate their work, but we wish they’d look at the facts.”

Bergthold and Linscheid say facts back them up.

They contacted Scott Vincent, a Fresno architect specializing in historic buildings. He and his team of engineers inspected the Granger warehouse about five years ago.

During his inspection, Vincent found the roof trusses needed reinforcement and the length-to-width ratio exceeded safety limits. However, he found it safe to be renovated.

He drew up a plan to have the building turned into a public library on one half, and a multipurpose meeting space on the other half. He estimated the cost at $7 million.

“Just because a building is condemned doesn’t mean it can’t be restored,” he said.

Bergthold has been down this path before. She’s had a hand in preserving old and historic Reedley buildings for decades. She and her late husband worked together in 1983 to save the historic Reedley Opera House.

“There were dead rats and stray cats in that building,” Bergthold said. “But now it’s beautiful and everyone loves it.”

Bergthold and her husband were able to buy the property with the help of two partners. When the opera house was renovated, the couple gave the building to the city. It is now used for local theater productions.

Bergthold remembers the process of saving the opera house from a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant that was pegged to fill the property.

“I didn’t want a bucket of chicken,” Bergthold said. “The whole experience was just very politically challenging.”

Bergthold was a schoolteacher in Reedley for many years, and her husband worked for the YMCA. Bergthold and her partners, Ruth Hase and David Matsurra, still own four of the older downtown buildings along Main Street, which are occupied by businesses. Due to her husband’s recent death, Bergthold hasn’t been able to acquire the Granger property.

“We need to work together with the city to make that building what it should be,” Bergthold said. “It would be a team effort — I couldn’t do it alone.”

The preservationists convinced LaVerne Youngberg, a former Reedley mayor, to join their movement. She said she always has been a fan of older buildings, but never had been an activist — until now.

“When I heard that building was going to come down, I had to say something,” Youngberg said.

She said it’s important for the city to see where the preservationists are coming from.

“We aren’t trying to stop progress, but rather integrate the present and past,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with new things; I just don’t want people to lose sight of where we came from.”

Many of the preservationists have been around Reedley for decades. Linscheid has seen the Granger building go through many stages.

“Every generation has found a new use for that building,” Linscheid said. “Saving the building might not be the path of least resistance, but we have to step up and take action.”

Whichever side wins the argument, hurdles remain. The school district still needs to acquire the property from the state of California, which obtained control when Reedley’s redevelopment agency was dissolved.

The preservationists readily acknowledge they don’t have the money to finance the building’s rehabilitation. They’re hoping the city or school district will dig deep to save the building.

“We’ve never been the ones with the deep pockets. We’re the visionaries,” Bergthold said. “This town has tons of visionaries. We just need to keep their visions alive.”

Milestones to Miracles

A volunteer helps a rider get up on two wheels for the first time. Once a participant can ride on their own, they can bring in their own bike to use at the program.

A volunteer helps a rider get up on two wheels for the first time. Once a participant can ride on their own, they can bring in their own bike to use at the program.

Sounds of cheering and clapping resonate from the New Harvest Church warehouse. Karen Ray watches as a young woman does laps around the floor on a two-wheel bicycle. The tears in Ray’s eye catch the light coming in from the open warehouse door. She watches with awe and admiration as this girl achieves something that was seemingly impossible just days before.

“This is the first time she’s done that this week,” Ray said. “She doesn’t even need help anymore.”

Learning to ride a bike is an accomplishment most children experience early on in life. When the participants of iCan Bike summer camp learn to ride a bike, it’s more of a miracle than a milestone.

“Without this program, there’s little to no possibility these people would ever learn to do something like this,” Ray said. “It’s a huge deal to them and to us.”

Karen Ray, director of iCan Bike Fresno-Clovis and mother of a disabled child, helped bring this program to the Valley three years ago. The mission of the iCan Bike program is to teach a disabled person how to ride a bike on their own after five days. 15-year-old Aaron Ray, was born with down syndrome and attended the Pasadena iCan Bike program four years ago.

“We just thought it was the most perfect thing for our son,” Ray said. “Not only Aaron, but for all kids with any kind of disability.”

After receiving the necessary funds, iCan Bike partnered with Central Valley Cycling Charitable Association. This organization raises money for charity by training cyclers for a 100-mile bike ride.

An iCan Bike participant successfully laps the warehouse on his bike. These bikes are provided with special training equipment that help disabled chidlren learn easier.

An iCan Bike participant successfully laps the warehouse on his bike. These bikes are provided with special training equipment that help disabled chidlren learn easier.

“Aaron and his dad Dan did 100 miles on a tandem bike together,” Ray said. “He was the only disabled person in that race and he finished. Some people without disabilities couldn’t even finish.”

Aaron Ray stands on the outside of the biking arena, cheering on those riding and high-fiving volunteers.

“When they finished that race I just broke down in tears,” Ray said. “He used to not even be able to get on a bike, let alone bike 100 miles.”

Dan Ray also joins Karen, remembering the training that went into biking 100 miles together.

“There were some days where we would spend four to five hours together just riding together,” Dan Ray said. “It was really hard but we got to spend so much quality time together.”

iCan Bike welcomes adults, which led them to also partner with The Arc of Fresno. The Arc of Fresno runs 12 different programs in the area specifically for disabled adults.

“This isn’t two separate communities, we are all in this together,” said Jamie Marrash, director of programs at The Arc of Fresno and coordinator at iCan Bike.

The Arc helps adults continue biking long after the program ends.

“We get to see some people ride their bike now instead of take the handicapped bus,” Marrash said.

19-year-old Savanna Emanuel, an adult iCan Bike participant, was able to ride a two-wheel bike on her own Wednesday.

“It’s important for me to learn how to be independent,” Emanuel said. “I want to be able to do stuff on my own too.”

“Savanna is autistic,” Ray said. “She went online and enrolled herself in camp. No one else made her be here, she chose to be here.”

iCan Bike has roughly 140 volunteers this summer. Tom Knott, 22, finds volunteer work rewarding.

“This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this,” Knott said. “It’s so incredibly rewarding, not just for the people learning to bike but for me. My rider Matthew has been so much fun to work with.”

Matthew rides by and smiles at those around him. People cheer him on and encourage him to keep riding.

“He is so much more confident,” Knott said.

Thanks to many local partnerships and donations, iCan Bike is able to run for two weeks. The program will finish this week at New Harvest Church and continue next week at Fresno City College.

“Having Aaron changed our life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Dan Ray said, as Aaron high-fived a rider getting off their bike. “We are different and better people because of him. iCan Bike helps families like us everywhere.”

Savanna Emanuel, 19, gets ready to ride her two-wheeler outside on her own. Her volunteer, Callan, offers some tips before she rides.

Savanna Emanuel, 19, gets ready to ride her two-wheeler outside on her own. Her volunteer, Callan, offers some tips before she rides.

 

 

The Seniors of Fresno

 

 

Sophia Brown and her sister Pam both attend Senior Hot Meals. In a heated game of dominoes, Sophia laughs at a joke made by her opponent.

Sophia Brown and her sister Pam both attend Senior Hot Meals. In a heated game of dominoes, Sophia laughs at a joke made by her opponent.

Coming in from water aerobics, Gladys Avakian and a group of other towel-wrapped seniors find an open seat at one of the rectangular folding tables. The tables and chairs decorating the gym floor create a social grid in which each person has a place. People at the surrounding tables create a soft ambiance with their voices, chatting with their neighbors. As the tables fill up with people returning from the pool, everyone waits excitedly for lunch to be served. Not a single person sits alone, as tables pull up extra chairs for friends who are just getting back. Those who participated in aerobics are asked how class went, and those who didn’t are asked how their mornings are going so far. As the metal kitchen window opens up to reveal the day’s meals, Avakian lights up, hair still slightly damp from aerobics.

“The fettuccini alfredo is the best in the world,” Avakian said. “I could eat everyone’s plate.”

Weekday mornings from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the Mosqueda gymansium becomes much more than a recreational center and somewhere to get a good meal. It becomes a community for a group of seniors. It is a place where the elderly find a new outlet to grow socially while maintaining physical and mental well-being.

“Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we don’t need our friends,” said Pam Brown, volunteer water aerobics instructor and fellow senior.

The Senior Hot Meals program started in the early ‘80s and has served roughly 38,000 meals to seniors since, according to community recreation supervisor Levi Winebrenner.

“For a lot of these seniors it’s the only nutritious and warm meal they get all day,” Winebrenner said. “On any given day, we’ll serve between 200 and 250 seniors a hot meal.”

Partnered with the Equal Opportunity Commission, Senior Hot Meals recieves a certain number of prepared meals every day, which are distributed to the program’s six sites around town.

“All the volunteers are seniors themselves,” Winebrenner said. “The people who help in the kitchen and teach exercise classes are seniors who decided to step up and offer their assistance.”

The meals, however, are just a small role in why this program is so special.

“Today, we had around 20 people in the pool which is a lot,” Brown said of the morning exercise. “They never want to get out.”

The program offers water aerobics twice a week.

Brown sees the value in this type of program, as well as the exercise and socialization participants experience while attending.

“Not only is the exercise good for our bodies, but we need it for our mental health too,” Brown said. “It gives so many people here a social circle and a place to call home outside their house.”
Louise Graham, another volunteer exercise instructor, remembers her first days at Senior Hot Meals.

“I remember coming here and I didn’t know a soul,” Graham said. “But there were always people who would come up and talk to me, and make me feel comfortable. That’s why I grew to love everyone so much.”

Graham came to Senior Hot Meals after working in the district for 30 years.

“When my husband passed, I needed to find something to do,” Graham said. “I never thought I’d find something like this.”

When they're not exercising, the seniors can be found playing games with each other. Louise Graham, Manuel Balbez and Sophia Brown continue a game of dominoes, in which Louise comes out the winner.

When they’re not exercising, the seniors can be found playing games with each other. Louise Graham, Manuel Balbez and Sophia Brown continue a game of dominoes, in which Louise comes out the winner.

At each of the tables, seniors are engaged in activites as well as each other. Brown offers her leftover salad to her neighbor, who in exchange offers back something off her plate.

“It’s just one big fellowship,” said Tamara Baker, regular attendant of the senior program at Mosqueda community center. “We all bring something to share and we learn so much from each other.”

Throughout the morning, seniors can choose to participate in the daily exercise or stay in and socialize. Frank and Selma Guerra, married 64 years, have been attending the program for 11 years.

“We come to gossip,” Frank said.

Selma hits his arm and rolls her eyes.

“Our friends are a nice perk too,” Selma said.

The number of activities available has fluctuated throughout the years. Now, every day has one primary physical activity. There is a yoga class monday, water aerobics Tuesdays and Thursdays, line dancing on Wednesdays and bingo is played on Fridays.

“I love doing the water aerobics,” said Avakian, regular aerobics participant.

For many of these people, leaving the community center once the program is over means returning to an empty house.

“There’s nothing quite like having to eat a meal alone at home,” Brown said. “I’m really grateful something like this exists. The bond we all have with each other is unlike anything else.”

Senior Hot Meals is also partnered with the Fresno Madera Agency on Aging, which helps inform coordinators what the best strategies are for these types of programs.

“It’s so important to get these people up and moving out of their house,” Winebrenner said. “At their age, their social circles are shrinking and it can lead them to sit at home all the time.”

With the funding help of Agency on Aging and the City of Fresno, the Senior Hot Meals program is one benefitting hundreds of people daily. Manuel Balbez attended his very first day of the program this Thursday.

“He fits right in,” Brown said.

“I walked in and immediately thought, ‘hey, I like this place’,” Balbez said.

Balbez is taught by the members of his table how to play dominoes, a game that Graham happily wins that day.

“Manuel, I always win this game,” Graham said. “You just better get used to it.”

As the program comes to an end that day, people make their way to the door. No one leaves without a resounding farewell from the entire group.

“Are you trying to leave without saying goodbye?” Brown said to a woman leaving the gymansium.

The tables and chairs are left empty, with just a few left over helping clean up.

“Being a part of this program is the greatest thing in the world,” Brown said. “There’s some really, really great people who live here.”

Gladys Avakian happily munches on her meal that day. Throughout the summer, the seniors can opt out of the hot meal and have a salad instead.

Gladys Avakian happily munches on her meal that day. Throughout the summer, the seniors can opt out of the hot meal and have a salad instead.

Reno Area Beekeepers Sweeten the Local Food Movement

Chris Foster holds up part of a hive. The Fosters currently have 16 hives in the backyard of their Hidden Valley home.

Chris Foster holds up part of a hive. The Fosters currently have 16 hives in the backyard of their Hidden Valley home.

Walking across the yard, a deep and hypnotic buzzing sound becomes louder with every step. The white boxes ahead are habitats for some of nature’s most fascinating insects. Chris Foster, dressed head to toe in a white protective suit, begins to remove lids off of the hives. As the bees fly out of the top, it becomes clear how many bees are in one hive. They move rapidly. Counting them would be impossible.

“Yeah, they are pretty cool.”

 

Working Bees

Local honey has increased in demand throughout the northern Nevada area over the last decade. Because of the growth in the field, it has become easier to buy honey from local retailers.

“When you think local food, you usually think vegetables and eggs and things like that,” said Chris Foster, co-founder of Hidden Valley Honey. “Honey is definitely an overlooked product that comes out of this area.”

Nevada is home to a variety of beekeepers. They usually fall into one of three categories: Full-time, sideliner (part-time) or hobbyist.

Chris and Karen Foster, founders of Hidden Valley Honey, started their company after a swarm of bees landed in a pine tree by their California home.

“It was solely an edcational opportunity at first,” Karen said. “We cut down the branch it was in and started studying them and learning about how the whole honey process works.”

This graph shows the growth in Nevada Honey farms between 2002-2007. Source: Nevada USDA National Cencus.

This graph shows the growth in Nevada Honey farms between 2002-2007. Source: Nevada USDA National Cencus.

In 2002, Chris took a job opportunity in Reno. The family moved their 8-10 hives to their new home.

“The whole area up here really helps promote the local farming and agriculture movement,” Chris said.

After getting involved with farmers’ markets shortly after coming to Reno, the Fosters began to see their business grow.

“Nevada is really great for local farmers because of the farmer’s markets,” Karen said. “There aren’t as many restrictions like there are in California.”

Local stores started selling the Foster’s brand once the name became more recognized. Hidden Valley Honey is now sold in Whole Foods, the Great Basin Food Co-Op, Raley’s and Scolari’s.

These local brands are available year-round.

“I take the stings and she takes the cash,” Chris said.

Many people get into beekeeping solely for the enjoyment of the insects and the educational aspect of agriculture. Tamara Wood, a local painter, has made beekeeping her new favorite hobby.

“Once you start to learn about bees, you love them,” Wood said.

Click to see local beekeepers in action:

Even as a hobbyist, Wood has seen the growth of beekeepers in the community.

“Ever since I joined the bee club, there have been all kinds of new people getting into it,” Wood said. “It’s crazy how many people are getting into beekeeping these days.”

Wood began beekeeping six years ago and now sells her honey to Moana Nursery. She also gives it to her clients as gifts.

“It’s very labor intensive, especially during the spring,” Wood said. “But it’s so unique and different. I love being a part of it.”

During the warmer months of the year, there can be up to 60,000 bees in one hive.

During the warmer months of the year, there can be up to 60,000 bees in one hive.

 

Home Means Nevada

“A really great thing about bees is that they are very tolerant of climate,” Chris said. “They are all over the place, from Alaska to Mexico. The harsh heat and intense cold we get here doesn’t bother the bees.”

The alfalfa in the area is good for beekeeping but is not in season throughout the winter months. During this time, the Fosters move their hives to the central valley in California, where almond trees help them pollinate.

“In Reno, spring time is when the hives swarm, so we will bring them back here,” Chris said. “We set up the hives in pastures with lots of alfalfa.”

Leonard Joy, current Vice President of the Northern Nevada Beekeeper’s Association, worked as a hive inspector from 1972-1999. Joy travelled from farm to farm checking for diseased hives.

“Eventually the legislature ruled out the need for an inspector,” Joy said. “This built up the number of bee keepers in the area since they didn’t have to pay for this service anymore.”

Joy became a sideliner shortly after that. He currently has 40 plus colonies throughout northern Nevada and participates in farmer’s markets. Retailers also sell his honey during the winter. As vice president of the Beekeeper’s Association, Joy also advises new and returning beekeepers on how to better their hives and bees.

“There are more and more people getting involved in this every year,” Joy said. “I help people keep their bees and advise them on how to maximize honey production.”

Joy has been a part of the beekeeping community for decades and is passionate about what he does.

“These are such fascinating insects,” Joy said. “I love being a part of this community and this line of agriculture.”

Local honey may have more benefits than people think. Studies have shown that consuming locally-produced honey is likely correlated with combatting seasonal allergies.

“When you eat local honey that has the pollen and natural ingredients in it, your immunity is built up against the pollen in the air,” Joy said.

Chris Foster, before making beekeeping his full-time job, worked as a director for molecular biology. He and his daughter Alyssa wrote a paper called “Evidence for the Use of Local Honey for the Relief of Pollen Allergies.” In this article he talked about what evidence there actually is to back this theory.

“Indirect evidence suggests that local honey, containing hyper-allergenic pollens, has therapeutic value for those suffering from local pollen allergies,” Chris said.

 

A Sweet New Business

As one of the larger full-time beekeepers in the area, Chris Foster has seen a shift in the way of the beekeeper.

“Personally, we went from hobby to sideline and finally to full-time,” Chris said. “Within the US there has been a shift and more people are becoming hobbyists. Anyone can do it.”

“Nevada is so great about local farmers and locally grown food,” Karen said. “Everyone who lives here should really take pride in the environment we live in and the things that we produce.”

 

At the Great Basin Food Co-Op, you can find many different brands of local honey. Honey has become an alternative sweetener for many people looking to eat healthier.

At the Great Basin Food Co-Op, you can find many different brands of local honey. Honey has become an alternative sweetener for many people looking to eat healthier.