Good Neighbors: Delfina Pelayo

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Delfina as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for the Cayuga Community Connectors Neighborhood Network.

Delphina brings in one of her cakes to celebrate a neighbor's birthday.

“Defina’s joie de vivre overflows into enthusiasm for the work and events of Cayuga Community Connectors, warm hugs and fabulous baked goods…She infuses our growing community with excitement about being alive, learning new things and caring about each other.”

Delfina Pelayo’s cakes are often the centerpiece of conversations and coffee after Monday morning exercise classes at Bethel Church. A photo album shows the various cakes she’s made for family birthday parties or on-the-job special events.

But it wasn’t only her cakes that earned Del the Good Neighbor award, an honor bestowed by the Community Living Campaign. The CLC sponsors programs to improve the lives of senior and disabled neighbors. One of them is Community Connectors, which brings neighborhood people together to determine what kind of services and activities they want and tries to make them happen.

Del keeps the key to the community hall at Bethel Church where the Cayuga Community Connectors meet. She opens the building before class so people can mingle and socialize, while she sweeps and helps set up chairs. Del drives members to doctor’s appointments, visits the sick, and delivers groceries to shut-ins. Celebrants proudly wear crowns and necklaces she forms from origami-folded dollar bills.

And she doesn’t just make cakes to share; her Filipino dishes are a favorite at community events.

“It makes me happy to see people happy,” Del said.

Del’s involvement extends beyond appreciating the happiness of others. She’s always there, ready to help” – even the neediest of people, said Patti Spaniak, CLC’s Neighborhood Network Development Manager. 

Finding Community

The Connectors added a lot to her life, too. Del has lived in Cayuga for almost 50 years, raising four children and caring for her ‘miracle baby’ grandson, now a strapping 14-year-old who visits often. But when she first moved in, it didn’t feel much like a neighborhood.

Delfina and Joe dancing at a Cayuga Connectors potluck

“Before, when I’d walk down the street, I would see people and never say hello. Now we’re all happy to see each other.”

“Before, when I’d walk down the street, I would see people and never say hello. Now we’re all happy to see each other.”

The Connectors has also filled a life once taken up with work and raising family.

She’s excited about a new class on memoir writing. That’s on top of classes on health and disaster preparedness as well as special events, intergenerational program and field trips. Then there are the visits to homebound neighbors and escort service when needed. Still, she’s not so busy that she didn’t find time to start another program – a prayer group at her house with her new friends from the program.

 “Defina’s joie de vivre overflows into enthusiasm for the work and events of Cayuga Community Connectors, warm hugs and fabulous baked good,” said Glenda Hope, whose desire to know her neighbors led her to found Cayuga Community Connectors. “She is one of those people I am always happy to see and I know everyone else feels the same way. She infuses our growing community with excitement about being alive, learning new things and caring about each other.”

Del was one of Hope’s first recruits, joining the Connector’s first program, an exercise class.

“Glenda welcomed me. Maybe 10 people were attending the Always Active exercise class when I started,” she said. “Now all my friends are here.”

Good Neighbors: Dignity Dog

My friends “started calling me Dignity Dog. I’m happy to answer to that.”

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Dignity Dog (and the many people who helped Dignity Dog make so many appearances) as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for organizing and advocacy!

One of the unsung heroes of a campaign to guarantee services for seniors and people with disabilities in San Francisco was a fluffy brown and white dog with bright black eyes.  In the dog’s own words, here’s how it came about:

“One day I was lying around with nothing to do and no one to play with. I kept hearing my person talking about some fun. Finally! My mental commands were having an effect. So when she headed out the door, I tagged along.

“Dogs know we all need to look out for one another. We’re part of the caring communities that make San Francisco a great place to live.”

Boy was I fooled. It turns out they were talking about a fund – The Dignity Fund. Hundreds of volunteers and more than 60 community agencies worked to get this charter amendment passed. It locks in funding every year for services for that population, and was supported by almost 67 percent of San Francisco voters in the November 2016 election.

So, where was the fun? Well, everybody seemed happy to see me, so I just kept coming back. We visited community centers, senior programs, lunch programs, rallies – wherever seniors and people with disabilities hung out

All these people – old people, young people, famous and not so famous people – thought I was cute. They all wanted to have their picture taken with me, and then they sent these photos around on social media. While I don’t like to brag, I might have been the most photographed member of the campaign team. That was pretty fun.

“While I don’t like to brag, I might have been the most photographed member of the campaign team. That was pretty fun.”

In fact, they started calling me Dignity Dog. I’m happy to answer to that. I made a lot of new friends. Young children loved my inner puppy, and I gave older adults – some of whom seemed pretty glum when I walked in the room – something to smile about. 

And then, of course, we brought in new money, so now everyone is smiling. My new friends at the Department of Aging and Adult Services are planning a big outreach effort to determine how to spend the new Dignity Fund dollars. They’re keeping many of my other new friends busy answering their questions.

Seniors and people with disabilities really care about us dogs. Sometimes, we’re the only friends and family they have. Dogs know we all need to look out for one another. We’re part of the caring communities that make San Francisco a great place to live.

Just a reminder to all my friends out there: I’m still here and I’m ready to play.”

Good Neighbors: Henry Khalil

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Henry as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for SF Connected computer tutoring.

Olga (left) and Henry (right) with Centro Latino participants advocating for seniors at City Hall

A dedicated volunteer, Henry (pictured right with Centro Latino participants) learns computer skills and then shares his new knowledge with other students.

Henry Khalil has seen the computer replace tools in his own industry. Now he volunteers at Centro Latino, helping others make the shift – answering questions and lending a hand as they try to understand the Internet and use social media.

It’s all somewhat new for him, too. Henry spent 30 years as a draftsman for Caltrans. For the last 10 years of his career, CADD (computer aided design and drafting) had replaced the pen and Henry, like other members of the department, had to become proficient. “New commands, new buttons, it wasn’t easy.

“I never used a computer (before he had to learn CADD). I still don’t have a cell. We drew everything by hand. At our age … it’s not easy.” Henry eventually bought a computer, but he rarely used it and “knew very little. My generation didn’t grow up using the computer.”

Peer Learning: Sharing New Skills One Step at a Time

These days he’s still learning, while helping others learn. Every Monday and Tuesday morning he volunteers in the computer lab at Centro Latino on 15th Street near Valencia.

Henry is careful to explain that he does not consider himself a teacher. “Keeping the mouse steady and learning when to right and left click, when to double click and single click. Opening windows and what to do once you get to windows. Finding files and transferring them.” The problems the students have are the same problems Henry’s had, and still has.

“Olgita (Olga Poveda, a computer trainer from the Community Living Campaign) teaches the program. I learn it and then I teach others. She teaches the more sophisticated stuff. How to use Facebook, YouTube, and email. When the students have questions I can’t answer, I tell them to ask Olga. I don’t fool myself and I don’t want to fool anyone else.” Community Living Campaign and Community Technology Network offer computer classes at Centro Latino as part of the SF Connected program funded by the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services. For computer classes in other locations, see the CLC Calendar and the SF Connected website

While Henry recognizes that today you can’t get a job without knowing computers, he fears that our reliance on computers has “made us impersonal, mechanical.”

Despite his growing computer expertise, Henry still thinks personal contact is preferable. He recalled inviting his cousin to his house to celebrate his (the cousin’s) birthday. The family all texted birthday greetings. “How much better it would have been if they called.”

In addition to volunteering in the computer room, Henry also assists Centro Latino with outreach, greeting people at community fairs. “I talk about the services we offer. I tell them I prepared for my citizenship exam here. I attended classes upstairs and answered practice questions on the computer. I tell them to come for a nice warm meal, and to socialize. I always tell them people shouldn’t come here just to eat. It’s not only a $2 meal. It’s important to socialize at our age. This is a friendly place.”

Olga nodded in agreement. “Henry wants to help in any way he can. He’s very compassionate, very open.” Some of the seniors Henry recruits visit the computer room, where they once again find him, available and ready to help them master the basics of computer literacy.

Good Neighbors: Janet Tom

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Janet as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for the St. Francis Square Neighborhood Network.

Janet Tom in her kitchen making soup

“If someone isn’t able to cook or just wants a hot meal, I whip up one of my favorite vegetarian soups and bring it over,” Janet says.

Janet Tom dreamt of moving into co-housing. She wanted to live in a community. But there is no co-housing in San Francisco, so she’s helping to create it.

Actually, she’s helping to re-create it at St. Francis Square, a 299-unit residential complex in the Western Addition built in 1963. The Square’s closed-off streets and grassy interior common space were designed to nurture community. Old-timers fondly recall days filled with the laughter of children, almost weekly community work parties followed by bounteous potlucks –a village in all but name.

But by 2011, when Janet moved to the Square, most of the early families had moved out. Today fewer than 10 children live in The Square, and yard work and other projects that once brought residents together are now the responsibility of paid staff. What had once been part of a cooperative plan now had to be created.

Building Community at St. Francis Square

Janet Tom with some of her St. Francis Square neighbors getting ready for a walk through the neighborhood

Janet Tom (pictured second from right) says, “The closest thing I found to a community was St. Francis Square …I feel like the co-op is part of my extended family.”

Fortunately, Janet was not alone in wanting community. A handful of residents – some longtime residents like Betty Traynor, Marcia Peterzell and Linda Silver of the Community Living Campaign, and others new to the community – invited the Community Living Campaign to help organize around the theme of aging in place.

Committees were formed. Janet is on the conservation committee and the Community Living Campaign committee. The latter organizes birthday parties, workshops and coffee & conversation events.

Janet is also on CLC’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor call list, Betty explained in nominating her as a Good Neighbor Honoree. “The closest thing I found to a community was St. Francis Square. I know someone in practically each building. I see them at committee meetings, the Laundromat, walking their dogs or working together on projects. I feel like the co-op is part of my extended family,” Janet said.

Breaking Bread Together

But the new community still lacked “the breaking of bread together” that Janet missed. Janet enjoys making soup. “If someone isn’t able to cook or just wants a hot meal, I whip up one of my favorite vegetarian soups and bring it over,” she said.

But Janet’s plan involved more people than just a neighbor or two, so at the next Community Living Campaign Committee’s neighborhood meeting she shared her idea with the group. They immediately took it on.  BYOB: Bring Your Own Bowl, has become a quarterly event celebrated in the Square’s social room.

 “The first time, I made two kinds of soup: lentil and minestrone, enough for 25,” Janet said, pulling out one of the large blue enamel soup pots she uses for cooking. “Another member brought bread, and a third made a salad. Three of the people who came were old-timers in wheelchairs. They came with their caregivers. Everybody was talking to one another, and seemed to really enjoy it.”

For the second BYOB, three months later, another woman also contributed soup and someone else brought bread. And so, like the fabled endless soup pot, the program has grown. 

In her life outside The Square, Janet is a reference librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, where she was instrumental in working with Betty Traynor to create the library’s exhibit celebrating The Square’s 50th birthday. Librarianship is Janet’s second career. In her earlier life, she worked with local Asian American performing arts groups.

 “I was so surprised I was nominated as a Good Neighbor Honoree,” Janet said. Slowly, event by event, with the help of residents like Janet Tom, The Square is rebuilding itself as the community it once was.

Good Neighbors: Saralyn Archie

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Saralyn as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for the Oceanview/Merced Heights/Ingleside (OMI) Food Network.

Saralyn Archie, 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree

It’s all about “human kindness,” Saralyn says, “being kind and giving to others. It’s a treat for me to be able to give something to people. I thank God every day. It’s a blessing to be alive and to be able to give.”

Saralyn’s parents moved to San Francisco’s Ingleside district when she was two. Despite her daughter’s frequent appeal to join her in Sacramento, Saralyn has never moved from the family home on Montana Street. Why should she move, she asks her daughter? “It’s a blessing to still be here. I’m rooted to the street. I’m very secure; I’m familiar with the surroundings. This is my comfort zone.”

She lives across the street from the Minnie & Lovie Ward Recreational Center. And that’s how she became rooted in volunteer work.

One day, after seeing the crowd at the center, Saralyn walked over to find out what was going on. “I was getting my pantry bag one day when I saw Debra (Glen) in a room packing groceries.” Saralyn knew Debra and they started talking. “Debra told me she was doing the pantry for ‘our seniors’ and asked would I like to volunteer.” Saralyn became a steady volunteer, joining the OMI crew packing and delivering groceries every Wednesday morning. The OMI Food Network serves almost 70 families, delivering groceries from the San Francisco Marin Food Bank as part of the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services’ Home Delivered Grocery program.

Caring for Neighbors, Wherever They Are

OMI neighbors pack groceries to deliver to their neighbors

Saralyn (pictured left) joins her neighbors every Wednesday to deliver groceries to seniors and people with disabilities in her community.

There are 19 families on Saralyn’s route, and she looks forward to seeing every one of them. She went to school with one of the women on her route, and they reminisce. But Saralyn connects even with those who are newer to the neighborhood. “I look forward to seeing their face, and they are looking for me. They’re my seniors. It’s a treat for me to be able to give something to people.” 

Saralyn had been a switchboard operator before she retired. Her last job was at San Francisco General Hospital. When someone called for a name she recognized from the neighborhood, she’d visit the patient before she left work. The patients, doctors, everyone at General looked forward to seeing her. “They loved me, and I returned that love,” she said.

In addition to volunteering for the pantry, Saralyn walks with the OMI Fog Walkers, takes Always Active classes at the IT Bookman Center, exercises at Minnie & Lovie Ward, is active in her church, and talks often with her daughters. She also enjoys going downtown, and seeing friends – although many have moved across the Bay. When she visits a distant friend, Saralyn brings a plant with stones and sticks from the neighborhood stuck in the pot to “remind them where they grew up.”

It’s all about “human kindness,” she said, “being kind and giving to others. It’s a treat for me to be able to give something to people. I thank God every day. It’s a blessing to be alive and to be able to give.”