Monday, January 29, 2007

Meet the Founders and Leaders

Karl Paige and Annette Young Smith have been widely recognized as community heroes for starting what has become the award-winning urban garden that sparked a grassroots movement to strengthen the Bayview Hunters Point community. Both won Jefferson Awards for their efforts.

Mr. Karl passed away in his sleep in 2007 after a long day of work on his beloved garden. Before living in the Bayview, Mr. Karl served in the Nation’s military. He enjoyed giving tours of the QGI main garden, and could describe the medicinal uses of many plants you will find there.

Ms. Annette has lived in the Bayview over thirty years not far from her mother who passed recently, a brother and several sisters. She traces her love and knowledge of plants to her upbringing in Alabama where hard work in the cotton and peanut fields was expected. She is still tending the Quesada Garden nearly every day, and is the block's most respected figure. Her traditional greeting is a hug and 3 "God bless you's," and many neighbors will go out of their way to pass by and collect theirs!

The Quesada Gardens Initiative would not be what it is without the quiet and consistent leadership of these two community heroes. All of us who live in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood have been blessed by their generosity and spirit.

Mike Aisenfeld, QGI Board Treasurer, is a respected financial professional working with emerging growth companies in San Francisco. In addition to co-leading QGIs public art programming, he volunteers his finance skills to ensure the organization is fiscally sound. Mike is also a part-time artist who has worked on several funded installations at the Burning Man Arts Festival. The latest piece on which he collaborated is to be installed along the San Francisco Embarcadero this summer. Mike has lived on the block since 2004 and is an active member of the community.

David Antunovich is a trade carpenter who has been restoring a charming Victorian on the 1700 block of Quesada. As a QGI member, David has been advising on design and leading construction of components of the group's work that require professional expertise. He is credited with the quality of the wall preparation for the Quesada Gardens' mural, and is team-leading the building of an elaborate fence around the new Bridgeview Garden.

Jeffrey Betcher is a Bayview Hunters Point resident and community organizer with public and institutional policy experience at the national level. He advocates for strengthening local systems and for prioritizing community-building as a primary social change strategy. He co-founded and leads the award-winning Quesada Gardens Initiative ( He is also the organizer for Bayview Footprints, an innovative network of community-building projects working together to build social cohesion and amplify a positive story about the neighborhood.

Jeffrey expresses the same commitment to local systems and community values in the private sector. As President of peopleWear SF (, an apparel industry trade association, he is helping lead model work to reinvigorate the industry by renewing the focus on local production and applied technology.

Jeffrey was Program/Operations Director at the Family Violence Prevention Fund where, for 12 years, he collaboratively developed violence prevention programming. He currently serves on the National Advisory Committee for the violence prevention program Transforming Communities, on the board of the Combined Federal Campaign’s Child Protection, Abduction and Abuse Prevention Charities of America, on the Mayor’s Shape Up SF Coalition and Southeast Sector Food Access Working Group, and on the steering committee for Literacy for Environmental Justice’s Living Classroom.

Sharon Bliss has lived on the block since January 2003 in a home she shares with her partner, Jon, and son, Chester. Sharon has twenty years experience as an arts administrator and is currently Associate Curator and Gallery Manager of the Fine Arts Gallery at San Francisco State University. She also works as a curator of independent projects, and is an active gardener (and weeder!) on QGI’s garden project.

David "Davon" Frasca has lived on the block since 1999. He recently led QGI's Halloween Safe Block event which created the area's most memorable Halloween in years. David teaches at Berkeley, and provide professional massage services.

Tom Galante has lived on the block since 1973. He is a Co-Founder and Board Tour Chair. Tom is admired for his impressive record of community service, and for his charm and knowledge of neighborhood history.

When Tom landed a job back in 1970 as a teller at Bay View Federal Bank (now US Bank) on the corner of Third and Quesada, he didn’t realize how it would shape his life. Three years later he was living in his new home on Quesada just half a block from the bank, and he had become immersed in the neighborhood’s community-building work. When he retired from the bank in 1995 as Vice President and Community Banking Center Manager he was familiar to just about everyone.

“So many people knew me by the time I retired that I grew a beard for awhile just so I could walk down the street without having a hundred conversations,” he joked recently.

Tom joined the Bayview Merchants Association in 1972, and served as the organization’s president for five years. During his tenure, the scope of the BMA’s activity expanded from a four block radius to most of the 94124. He was solely responsible for “temporarily” blocking off what is now known as Mendell Plaza, a contribution that lives on to this day.

Tom also served on Mayor Feinstein’s Third Street Task Force, was a founder of the Network for Elders, joined the board of the South Bayshore Community Development Corporation, and was a commissioner of the Southeast Community Facility for four years.

Even before Bayview became the epicenter of his busy universe, “service” was an important value to Tom. In fact, he served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War, and was involved in the recovery of three Apollo space capsules.

Now on the Board of Directors of the Quesada Gardens Initiative, Galante is known as the “Ambassador of Quesada.” It’s a fitting title, and reminds newer Quesada and other Bayview residents how broad the shoulders are on which we all stand.

Giovanni Gray was one of QGI's youth organizers for the outdoor film festival series. He is a friendly and familiar face on the block where he lives with his mother, grandparents and brother Roman. Giovanni's grandparents are well-known community members Na'im and Marie Harrison who, in addition to their support of QGI, work professionally on issues of violence and environmental justice in the lives of BVHP residents.

Peter Haas and Rhonda Winter are the project leaders for the Latona Community Garden, a wonderful example of community-defined open space use as a resident-led strategy to address environmental concerns and quality of life issues. They are partners in life, as well as in their community work. They are "urban hybrids" with expertise around urban planning and sustainable systems, fine art, and organizing. They are involved with the SF Bicycle Coalition, and share an interest in the development of the new Bayview branch library. Peter came to the United States from his native Germany.

Dennis and Jeanette Hill are founding members of QGI who actively participated in the initial garden development and creation of the QGI organization. Jeanette is partially responsible for the landmarking of the blocks 13 Canary Island Date Palms through her work with Friends of the Urban Forest. Daughter Deja was pictured on the front page of the SF Chronicle in 2002, a picture that is closely associated with QGI's birth, when the organization received it's first wave of media attention.

Steve Jordan grew up on the 1700 block of Quesada in the house where he now is raising his own children. He has been a driving force behind the construction of the Bridgeview Garden fence and the Founders' Memorial at the top of the Quesada Garden.

Shane King, QGI Board Co-Vice Chair, is a documentary filmmaker whose current feature-length documentary - "Girls Rock" - focuses on four girls and their transformational experience at a Rock n' Roll camp for girls. He recently created a unique bike project on the block to ensure that every kid who lives here has use of a bicycle. Young people here - like Arrin, Nathan, Sabrina and Shanika -know they can use a refurbished bike for a month in exchange for a little work in the community garden, and enjoy working on the bikes with Shane. The formative meeting of the organization in 2001 was held at Shane's house, and he has been an active founding member ever since. He is especially noted for leading the build of retaining walls, and for making QGI's outdoor film festival a success.

Denise King, is an emerging artists whose credits include the "Dark Matters" exhibit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She has worked at the Exploratorium for many years, and has been one of Quesada Gardens' more avid gardeners. The formative meeting of the organization in 2001 was held at her house.

Joel and Mary McClure are QGI's newest Board Members. For many years they took care of a lot just above the main Quesada Garden, which under their leadership has been transformed into the Bridgeview Garden. Bridgeview Garden is part of QGI's food production and community organizing work, and is a stunning example of what neighbors can do to create social change. The new garden was designed by USF partners as a teaching and learning garden for children and youth, and features a small amphatheater and retaining walls made of environmentally sound "urbanite."

The Pettus Family has been on the block since the late 1960's. Linda Pettus, QGI Board Secretary, grew up here. Her mother, Corrine Pettus, and son, Ryan Watts are among the most familiar residents in the area. Linda retired from the phone company, and is very active in her church. Corine has been the most active member of the Quesada Gardens Initiative in terms of pushing to eradicate problems on the east end of the block, and continues to represent the group at community meetings at the police station. Ryan was one of QGI's youth organizers for the outdoor film festival series.

Michael Powers is the architect of the QGI blog. He is currently the Media Solutions Manager for YouTube/Google. He was the lead Product Manager for YouTube when the company was staffed by just 18 people. Prior to that, he was the first Engineer and later, the Product Manager at, a photo slide show sharing site. Earlier in his career, he founded an internet startup called, raising $2m in venture capital funding and an additional $5m in strategic financing. He started his career as an engineer at Apple Computer and Xerox.

James Ross has emerged as QGI's most skilled community organizer, and is one of the organization’s most valued co-founders. He is QGI’s Board of Directors Co-Vice Chair and volunteer coordinator. He is also the Chair of the Blue Dolphin Youth Swim Team. He came to the Bayview in 1983 when he lived with his uncle (who came to San Francisco pursuing work in the shipyards of Hunters Point), and his aunt (a 25-year veteran of the post office). Mr. Ross has raised five children in his home on Quesada Avenue, with his wife Lisa, and has home-schooled his youngest children. Mr. Ross is committed to the concept of gardening as personally, socially, and environmentally transformative. His sons, Apollos and Isaiah, were both youth organizers for QGI's outdoor film festival series.

Raiana Silva is an energetic young person who lives with her family on Quesada. She has taken a lead with changing the way people think about Bayview by working to produce television features for public access cable that showcase what is wonderful about her neighborhood. Raiana is also a busy student, and takes an active role in raising her little brother, Trey.

Darian Smith is a 23 year-old dynamo and, until recent career opportunities have swept him into the larger world, was QGI Board Youth Outreach Chair. He is preparing to enter college, and is a committed Goal Ball player (a competitive team sport for blind athletes).

Michael Smith had just moved to the block when QGI held its first meeting. He was among the first to arrive at that meeting, and has been a steady contibutor to the project since. He has represented QGI on public access cable, puts his back into the group's frequent volunteer days, and always supports Board meetings and various QGI and Bayview Footprints events.

Tony Tarket is a Bayview resident and QGI’s Horticulture Chair. He is studying with the San Mateo College of Horticulture to update a long resume of landscaping and gardening work. He is one of Quesada Gardens' most committed volunteers, and most trusted advisor on gardening issues. Mr. Tarket has been critical to QGI's success with its local food-production work.

Claire Thiebault is the project manager for the emerging Palou Garden just west of Phelps. She and her neighbor, Elizabeth Lopez, did outreach in their area, and have already transformed a strip of neglected land into a useful and attractive asset. Along with Claire's husband, Drew Howard, and many other residents in their immediate area, they are working hard to transform Palou.

Rhonda Winter and Peter Haas are the project leaders for the Latona Community Garden, a wonderful example of community-defined open space use as a resident-led strategy to address environmental concerns and quality of life issues. They are partners in life, as well as in their community work. They are "urban hybrids" with expertise around urban planning and sustainable systems, fine art, and organizing. They are involved with the SF Bicycle Coalition, and share an interest in the development of the new Bayview branch library.

Scott Ying is QGI's newest Outreach Chair. Mr. Ying, his wife Crystal, and their two children have lived on the block for several years, and are familiar fixtures at all Quesada Gardens' events. Scott leads an active family life, works and studies hard, and somehow manages to participate in life on the block in a leadership capacity.

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