Gratitude from the Ground Up: Meet the LightHawk Pilot Saving the Bay

Mike delivering flood relief supplies in Bangladesh

“I don’t like to climb mountains or go up walls. I just like to fly. It’s a neat feeling – controlling a plane in three dimensions. You get a neat view of the world.”

Mike Venturino has enjoyed this “neat feeling” for more than fifty years, and he recently won the highest honor in his industry: the Wright Brothers FAA Master Pilot Award.

Save The Bay couldn’t be prouder to have Mike at the helm of our LightHawk flights, ecological tours that highlight San Francisco Bay’s pressing threats from an aerial perspective.

Modest to the core, this Berkeley native would never boast that he pulled off his first solo flight at age 16 – before he got his driver’s license. Mike wouldn’t show off about holding two degrees from M.I.T. He’d be the last to mention his volunteer work with Angel Flight: regularly flying people hundreds of miles, free of charge, so they can receive much-needed medical treatment.

Mike with his stepdad, John Sparks

Mike caught the flight bug back in the 1960’s. It started when a man named John Sparks was pulling out every stop to woo Mike’s mom, a stewardess. John was so intent on marrying her, that he actually bought a small plane and took flight lessons. But once the couple said: “I do,” John no longer had an eye for his Cessna-175.

A teenager at the time, Mike felt differently from his stepdad. He couldn’t wait to take the small plane for a spin. “It just seemed like a cool thing you do – thought I’d give it a try. You ride bicycles, you drive things – obviously people fly planes.”

Mike started taking lessons, and he rapidly made his way from eager rookie to Air Force pilot to flight engineer, instructor, and consultant. Looking back on his 50 years of flying, Mike is glad the industry values collaboration more and more.

He says pilots are now “expected to put a lot more thought into acquiring data to solve problems. Your job isn’t to turn info off, but to solicit information [from the crew.]”

Mike has flown his wife across the U.S. four times!

Mike really enjoys learning from his LightHawk passengers. “Over King Tides, you can tell when you talk to people you’re flying with – this is important. I’m certainly now more aware [of environmental threats to the Bay] than I was ten years ago.”

Mike and his wife Michelle, a retired journalist, often walk Redwood City trails and express gratitude for their rewarding careers. “We both had jobs that made us happy to get up in the morning.”

But when Mike’s not “flying a massive machine through the sky for fun,” he still finds plenty of contentment at ground level. Indeed, it’s the simple moments that make Mike feel most grateful: “singing in church choir, playing ‘amateur’ music, going to Disneyland with my grandson, and, right now, I have a cat on my lap, and she’s been with us for 16 years, so… that’s pretty satisfying.”

 

Celebrating Bay Heroes: Meet The Family Behind “Drain Robot”

Ocean Beach cleanup, photo: Aaron Hazlewood

“I’m not sure how Will came up with ‘Drain Robot.’ We have fish named Sharky and Stripey? I think 5-year-olds just have a really good knack for names.”

Eva Holman’s voice lifts when she describes her son’s passion for sweeping up trash in their neighborhood, his decision to “adopt” a nearby storm drain and name it: “Drain Robot.” But she deserves at least a little credit for these accomplishments.

Eva, after all, has two undeniable talents: naming campaigns and preventing pollution. A recent example blending both? “Plastic Straws Suck.”

A San Francisco native, Eva has “always been a beach person.” But she didn’t catch the “beach cleanup bug” until her 30th birthday. Eva was celebrating with friends in Indonesia when she spotted something she’s never been able to shake: “cows living on piles of plastic water bottles.”

“Message in a Bottle” artwork made by Bay Area students

Eva headed back to the states intent on sparking change. For two hours every morning, Eva walked Baker Beach with her dog Guinness and picked up every piece of garbage she could find. “Soon, I’d be carrying a huge black plastic bag full of trash, like Santa Claus.”

From the get-go, she and her husband, John, taught Will about the consequences of littering. At a very young age he grew fond of sweeping debris away from the storm drains along their block. Eva recently learned Will could adopt a drain through Adopt-a-Drain San Francisco. “They gave him some training, a vest, and tools. I was delighted to see Will empowered, almost like having a policeman or fireman outfit on. He feels like a pro when he’s out there.”

Eva also gives presentations in Bay Area schools to ensure many more children feel capable of making a difference. During a visit to a largely Spanish-speaking school, a teacher translated as Eva discussed the dangers plastic straws pose to local wildlife. Afterward, Eva chatted with a student whose dad was a restaurant worker, and “you could see a light bulb go off: ‘oh, I could talk to my dad and maybe… they won’t use those at his restaurant!”

William sweeps San Francisco City Hall!

A few weeks ago, as part of her work with Surfrider San Francisco, Eva joined colleagues and volunteers to host Message in a Bottle, a 3-day event featuring 1,000 pieces of art (made partly or wholly from trash!) created by Bay Area students. The works were displayed in the Venue at the Palace of Fine Arts, where, Eva admits: “my favorite part was actually seeing tourists” wander in. “I watched them go: ‘I think this show’s about the ocean. Oh, no, it’s about plastic pollution.’ Tourists use plastic to-go cups, lots of plastic, not thinking about it. So, to hear that narrative change – we really met our mission.”

Needless to say, Eva and William have a little trouble relaxing with so much trash pollution to tackle. When Will received a commendation from a San Francisco Supervisor for his work around “Drain Robot,” he saw his prize — a broom — as a tool. Eva says it was “pretty hilarious” to watch her 5-year-old suddenly take his broom, “and, this is a real symbol of what Will does, he went around city hall sweeping up the floors.

But mother and son have much in common. Describing her walks down Baker Beach, Eva confesses: “I would love to say my brain quiets down, but actually it’s when sparks go off – the need for revolution and change occurs.”

Help Cadence Protect the Heart of our Home

Why does San Francisco Bay need your support before the clock strikes midnight on the last day of the year?

We can’t put it better than Cadence: “The Bay needs our help because it’s getting polluted and creatures are endangered.”

Time is running out to protect our Bay, the heart of our home.

But if you make a generous donation before 2018, Save The Bay can keep working to reduce pollution, create habitat, and inspire thousands of students (like six-year-old Cadence!) to dig into science right by the shoreline.

We wish you a safe and a happy new year, and we’re grateful that you’re part of our caring community.

Dedicated Teacher Takes Flight with Save The Bay: Introducing Jeff Sandler

Jeff Sandler: local teacher and Alaska Airlines tickets prize-winner!

“Is this legit? Really? Is this all… kosher?”

Like any gifted scientist, Jeff Sandler views great results with even greater skepticism.

He’d won our Alaska Airlines prize after making his first-ever $250 donation to Save The Bay? A local teacher who regularly brings students to our SEED programs?

Jeff worried it was all a fix – too good a story to be true. Two round-trip airline tickets to anywhere they fly with no restrictions – a dream prize!

Students gathering mulch to protect new transplants

My team stressed: he’d won it fair and square.

A computer pulled Jeff’s name at random, but we at Save The Bay must admit: we’re happy for him.

Jeff, after all, has taken students from The Berkeley School to our restoration sites for the last five years.

Through generous gifts, Save The Bay makes outdoor education a reality for thousands of young people every year.

Jeff loves the sense of purpose Save The Bay programs provides his classes as they connect with local wetlands. “There’s always a goal for each day – mulch this section, remove this invasive plant.” Jeff says the hands-on activities truly stick. “I’m always thrilled at how much they remember trip to trip – details about estuaries and watersheds.”

Save The Bay programs help connect students to local wetlands

Trash is just one topic his students mull over long after they’ve helped clean up the shoreline. “When they see that a lot of that is food wrappers from sewers – it stays with them. Plus, I can take that and go off on a tangent about harmful plastic!”

By donating today, you can help Save The Bay address San Francisco Bay’s most pressing environmental issues in memorable ways for students.

Jeff, meanwhile, is planning a trip somewhere tropical. “My wife just got her scuba diving certification, so I want to take her somewhere warm for her first dive!”

We’re wishing Jeff, his wife, and our caring community a safe and happy New Year.

P.S. Save The Bay and Alaska Airlines have teamed up to make your vacation dreams a reality this holiday season. When you donate at least $250*, you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing to win four round-trip airline tickets to anywhere they fly! Your generous support will help us meet our $100,000 goal and protect the Bay we love. Thank you.

(*Terms and conditions apply, see details.)

 

Solstice on the Shoreline

From the ancient Egyptians to the Ohlone living here in the Bay Area, many cultures experience winter as a powerful time of ritual, reflection, and renewal. The season officially begins Thursday, December 21st – with a solstice! The term translates to “sun stands still,” as the sun appears to pause in its incremental journey across the sky.
All smiles for Solstice on the Shoreline!
Our dedicated volunteer group was all smiles for Solstice on the Shoreline!
Save The Bay decided to mark this changing of the seasons by planting seedlings with some of our most dedicated volunteers and donors. Through their labor and their generosity, this diverse community had already given richly to support our programs. But on last Saturday’s Solstice on the Shoreline event, they dug right into soil to help out even more. Former board members joined avid gardeners and corporate partners to put on gloves, pick up trowels, and protect our Bay.

 

Along the way, Donna Ball and Kenneth Rangel of our Restoration team explained how our staff cleans seeds and sanitizes soil using somewhat simple tools. They made clear these tasks can be both intricate and time-consuming without advanced technology. However, as we build the support necessary to cover this equipment, Save The Bay staffers remain plenty resourceful in their push to create habitat. 
 
Meanwhile, high winds and incredibly hard ground never phased our passionate participants last weekend. Our restoration staff used an auger – a drill bit that can create holes in the ground – to start each of our planting spots. Then, our lively group got to work (sometimes wielding pickaxes!). In the end, we carved a warm bed to lay the young seedlings.
 
Building community to share Save The Bay’s story is a key part of my role as Events & Outreach Manager. I’m thrilled that the events I design and host can genuinely boost the health of San Francisco Bay. Witnessing that “A-ha” moment on a volunteer’s face as they begin to understand their own role in protecting our Bay is incredibly rewarding. After all, my own positive experiences as a student and educator are a major source of inspiration as I work to connect – and expand – Save The Bay’s community.
 
Save The Bay is a resource for learning, scientific exploration, rejuvenation, and above all, making memories.  With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I encourage you to take a moment to breathe in the Bay air, take a calming walk along its shores and rejuvenate your soul.  We are ready to start building a year’s worth of amazing events and gatherings for 2018. I look forward to seeing you at Blue, our Bay Brunch Cruise on Earth Day (April 22, 2018), and Bay Day, our region-wide celebration for San Francisco Bay, on October 6, 2018.

 

You and your family can also join one of our public programs for free throughout the year. Save The Bay relies on thousands of volunteers annually to make progress on our many wetland restoration projects. Check our calendar often as spaces fill quickly. We can also create dedicated private restoration events for your group or company. Contact Jack Wolfink at jwolflink@savesfbay.org to learn more.