2011 Interview series (Outstanding women and their contributions) Diane Mintz

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Who are the women who have found in their 2nd or 3rd act a calling to respond to a need they perceived and quietly made a significant contribution that probably did not get recognition or the limelight?  The frontrunners who brought these contributions are featured here.

Diane Mintz:  Youth Enrichment Strategies

Diane brought into the world by tutoring a first grade classroom in the Coronado School in Richmond.  It began with one step, one child and a woman who trusted her vision powerfully enough to inspire many.  Enthusiasm lights up Diane’s face as she describes how that one step turned into a nonprofit serving a community.  Diane describes herself as embedded in many communities, “as a communitarian.”  .  Relaxed and pleased with the journey, Diane feels that now she has achieved  a synthesis  of her investments in the places and the people with whom she has worked.  From her base as a real estate agent in Berkeley, Diane has extended her reach and dream for a larger community to the kids and the families of Richmond.  Only vaguely aware of the tensions and problems of Richmond, she was not prepared for 6 year old first graders  who knew nothing of the richness of the natural environment of the San Francisco Bay Area.  In fact, all  that the children knew was the grim and stressful life on the streets for themselves and their families.  It seemed to Diane that without a more expansive view of the world, the children  would have difficulty in their imagining or conceiving of a world beyond their limited experience, a world of possibilities and potentials.
                                              WEEKLY OUTINGS
Many might have been overwhelmed by this realization and turned away in resignation, feeling powerless at the magnitude of the issues at hand.  But not Diane.  Through the school and with the parents’ consent, Diane drove to the kids’ homes to pick the children  up, provided breakfast and snacks and together with three other adults, they visited different places every week.  Children’s Fairyland, the Oakland Zoo, the paddle boats on Lake Merritt were among the places they went.

As the number grew to 10 children from the Coronado and other local schools in Richmond, Diane rented  a van to accommodate the outings.  The teachers and staff helped identify the neediest of the students at their schools supporting the outings because they had seen a shift in attitude and behavior with the students who went on the outings.    Diane learned there were specific experiences that brought the children to a new place in their lives, both at school and in their  homes:
Being in nature at first was unfamiliar and therefore intimidating initially to the children on these trips.  Nevertheless over time, trust grew and the experiences did in fact have the children feel a connection to nature and a bigger world that  they experienced on the trips.

FAMILY CAMP

Diane  raised $15,000-mostly from her friends who she says have supported this work for years with her, and  the result was Summer Camp in Camp Loma Mar, near Pescadero.  Since the first summer, summer camp has become a tradition for 81 kids from Richmond, ages  6 to 16. YES has sent 400 kids to six different camps.  In visiting the homes of the children, Diane became aware of obstacles to kids going to camp in as much as the parents of the kids were unfamiliar with the concept of summer camp, and a little distrustful in their response.  In addressing this, the invitation to parents so they could experience the Summer Camps first hand resulted in the first Family Camp.  At Family Camp,  parents and their children share communal meals, art projects and physical activities, like archery, climbing walls and zip lines, and do everything together Friday and Saturday.  Then on Sunday morning, the adults at Family Camp join together for a facilitated workshop that addresses the issues raised by the parents:  racial stereotyping, violence,  among other topics. Many of the families have lost a family member on the streets of Richmond, and so the opportunity presented in the Family Camp to address the impossible issues in their lives in the safety of the camp structure was a great benefit.

                                                     PEACE TALKS

One such Sunday workshop was based on the work of Sharon Ellison, whose book “Powerful Non-Defensive Communication” became the basis for the third YES program,  PEACE TALKS, led by YES Outreach Coordinator, Demetria Saunders and Blanca Hernandez.  By 2007, YESfamilies.org had reached a readiness to hire a paid Executive Director, Eric Aaholm holds that position now.  Family Camp happens twice a year and has had a positive impact on the parents in the Richmond community,  resulted in neighbors talking to neighbors, and parents taking a  more active role in the schools.

“We are all connected,” Diane says. “There are no walls separating us.  There is no us/them dichotomy.  We cannot isolate ourselves from the deprivations and hopelessness of kids whose future is also OUR future.  We are inextricably connected.  These are our problems.”

Fund raising, through Grants, has been the source of keeping the Summer Camps and Peace Talks continuing in the schools in Richmond.  Diane is a great inspiration to all of us to take a step in the direction of taking the world on one by one, one child, one school, one family, one community either through our own actions or supporting the actions of those making the contributions for us.  For more information about yesfamilies, and how to support their work:
www.yesfamilies.org/viewpage.php

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