Monday, October 29, 2012

49ers help low income kids through academy

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The San Francisco 49ers are also making an impact both on and off the field. ABC7 News takes a look at the 49ers Academy and how it's making a difference for Bay Area kids.

The kids put on the news -- 49ers style. Sixth graders put on a show in a media center paid for by Jerry Rice and Steve Young. The high-tech studio is just one part of the 49ers Academy - a public middle school supported by a non-profit partnership with the 49ers football team. The idea is to make sure students in low income East Palo Alto get the same opportunities as kids in wealthier areas.

"Most of our students do fall below the poverty levels. Sometimes we serve students that are homeless, that are in foster care," said Avani Patel, the 49ers Academy dean.

The 49er Academy fills in the gaps with an extended school day, extra-curricular activities, counseling, free after school programs, and caring adults who don't give up. Test scores have gone up each of the last six years. Student after student told us the academy is like a family.

"It has a lot of people that are here to help you," said Maya.

"It just makes me feel at home," said Paola Williams.

All these extra services cost about a$1 million a year, generated through the partnership with the 49ers.

"We are a small organization, but we get a lot of notoriety, so when we get involved we can get other people involved," said 49ers Co-Owner John York, M.D.

A gala at the home of Warriors owner Joe Lacob is the school's biggest fundraiser. Guests mingle with former players and bid on memorabilia to the tune of $400,000 in donations. Quarterback Alex Smith is a supporter.

"We are all student athletes at one time and it starts in school. School comes first," said Smith.

A few lucky students get to attend the party, but their real prize is the 49ers support for their school.

"Having them continue to support us and provide this kind of wrap around services to our children is just incredible," said Ravenswood School District superintendent Maria De La Vega.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

View the original article here

River otters making comeback in Bay Area

  MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- River otters had almost completely vanished from the Bay Area but now, they're making a comeback.

Otters are turning up all the way from Sutro Baths in San Francisco to beyond Antioch in the delta. Still, there's a lot we don't know about them and citizen scientists are looking for answers.

Some volunteers recently went looking for otters at Rodeo Lagoon. 7 a.m. in the Marin Headlands is the perfect time for a family swim. "I've seen an otter every time I have been out here," Peter Barto of San Anselmo said. The river otters there need fresh water to survive. They do go in salt water, but don't confuse them with their cousins, sea otters who spend most of their lives in the ocean.

River otters used to live in just about every creek in the Bay Area but they disappeared. "Partially because of hunting and trapping, but also because a lot of our watersheds were in terrible disrepair and there was so much pollution," explained Megan Isadore. State Fish and Game maps of the known otter territory in 1995 show almost no otters in the Bay Area, but years of work to clean our waterways appear to be paying off. The otters are back.

"All the otters we see look really healthy and well-fed," Isadore said. She's a naturalist who helped launch the River Otter Ecology Project. "It turns out there is almost nothing known about their populations or their ranges." Isadore and other volunteers known as "otter spotters" are combing the Bay Area looking for evidence to add to local otter science. They take photos and videos which they post on their website. An interactive map on the site shows the locations of more than 150 otters spotted around the Bay Area in the last year. The Otter Ecology Project also set up motion-activated cameras to catch otters in action when people are not around during the day and at night.

River otters actually spend quite a bit of time on land. They are very social and they like to play a lot, but they are not always good at sharing. One volunteer caught video of an otter stealing a fish from his buddy. A word of caution: As cute as they are, these animals are fierce and have a strong bite so you should not get close to them. Even so, the people who do this kind of otter stalking get hooked.

"I can't help it. They are really cool," UC Berkeley biology researcher Collin Bode said laughingly. Hilary Magg is an otter-keeper at the San Francisco Zoo and Andrea Dougall works with otters at the Oakland Zoo. Even though they get paid to take care of otters in captivity, they still choose to spend their free time searching for wild otters. "This is exactly what I have been wanting to do and exactly what I am interested in, but I did not have the means or ability to do it on my own," Dougall said.

With a small amount of training, anyone can join the team. In addition to looking for actual otters, you search for clues indicating how the animals use their habitat. Otters have big webbed feet that leave distinctive tracks. "If you come closer and look, you can see a perfect little animal trail going up there," Isadore explained. "If you were able to be animal and scoot through this little hole and up the hill, you would find a whole warren of trails like this."

There are probably several different types of animals using that hillside, but the team can figure out whether otters are among them by looking for otter poop. "We found scat!" Magg exclaimed. "Ta-da, you get to pick it up," Isadore told her. The team collects otter poop for genetic analysis. They document where they found it and take photos. They've even got a name for this activity. "Pooparazzi," Bode said.

It's not always glamorous, but it's fun. Volunteers hope their research and the sight of healthy river otters living the good life will encourage people to protect them and their fragile habitat. The River Otter Ecology Project is looking for more otter spotters. Click here to learn more.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

View the original article here

E-readers kindle enthusiasm for learning among children in Kenya | Laila Ali

MDG : Kilgris Project in Kenya (?): Student with a tablet Teaching tablet … Using e-readers, children at Intimigom nursery and primary school in south-west Kenya are learning to enjoy reading. Photograph: Jon McCormack

Half of schools in sub-Saharan Africa have few or no textbooks, according to Sacmeq, a body that monitors educational quality in southern and eastern Africa. The cost of buying and transporting books means they often have to be shared between students in a classroom, hindering learning and slowing development. Yet e-readers have the potential to change this.

Intimigom nursery and primary school in the rural Maasai province of Kilgoris, south-west Kenya, is attempting to overcome textbook shortages by using donated e-readers. The e-readers come loaded with hundreds of Kenyan textbooks in English and Kiswahili, as well as stories for primary school children. When electricity shortages occur, they can be charged using small solar power packs and generators.

"I had never seen a Kindle before; I really like using it as it helps me with reading and writing," says Intimigom student Obuto Kukutia, aged 12.

"We have a seen a lot of positive changes since we started using Kindles. The children are very excited to learn and are often reading through their break. It helps them with their spelling and [English] language skills. Compared to other schools I have taught at, the children here appear to be ahead. The parents' reaction to the Kindles has also been very positive; they wonder how such a small device can hold several books," says the headteacher, Shadrack Lemiso.

The school has 150 e-readers for the 200 students. It is supported by the Kilgoris project, a not-for-profit organisation that – partnered with Worldreader – provides e-books to schools in sub-Saharan Africa. Worldreader works with publishers including Penguin, Random House, and Amazon, as well as African authors and publishers, to ensure local and international books are available and affordable, if not donated for free. It has distributed more than 220,000 digital books to children and teachers across four projects in sub-Saharan Africa.

"We saw the technology as the most effective and efficient way to give our students all the known benefits of access to books. Instead of building a library, the technology lets us put a library in a child's hand. And we can keep that library up-to-date electronically. E-books don't get tattered or torn, like their paper cousins," says Caren McCormack, president and co-founder of the Kilgoris project. "At the launch ceremony at Intimigom, I joked that the Kindles were much like a herd of cows, a source of long-term security and prosperity for a family. And who could better protect a precious herd than a group of Maasai?"

Sporadic internet connectivity in the area means only a small number of books can be downloaded at a time; for downloads to all the devices, the e-readers are taken to Nairobi, where high-speed internet is more readily available.

The Kilgoris project helps seven schools in the province, serving more than 600 students. Each has an active local board and leadership team consisting of parents, elders and teachers. "We rely on these boards for constant feedback, decision-making, direction and support," says McCormack. "We firmly believe that to do the most good and have the most impact, we need to align ourselves to the community's needs through communication with local families."

By expanding the schools it works with and adding pre-school and secondary levels, Kilgoris aims to help 1,000 students by 2017.

View the original article here

Steve Young hopes to bring music therapy to Lucile Packard

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco 49er great Steve Young may be retired from football, but he is not sitting around. He's deeply involved in sports, business and the community. ABC7 News sat down with Young and his wife to talk about a big project they're developing to bring music therapy to sick children.

Anybody who loves the 49ers remembers how well Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young played the game. He retired in 2000 after more than 15 years in the NFL.

Steve and his wife Barb are tackling the big job of raising four young children. They also have an active role in children's health issues. The Youngs want to bring music therapy to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto.

Steve's foundation already created the playroom there called The Forever Young Zone years ago. However, there is no room in this crowded space for their next program called Sophie's Place. So they are in talks with Lucile Packard about finding a permanent location inside the new children's hospital expansion.

"Once you see it and get a vision for Sophie and Sophie's Place, and what music therapy actually does, it's like great ideas sell themselves," said Young.

"You've got children who can't even speak, yet in music therapy, they can sing. Children that can't move, then in music therapy, they're able to dance, or bang on a drum," said Barb.

Sophie's Place will honor their dear family friend, 17-year-old singer, songwriter Sophie Barton.

Sophie died suddenly, while on a hike, with her mother in Salt Lake City. The Youngs are very close with the Barton family. Sophie was one of five children, who are all talented musicians. Sophie dedicated much of her time to charity.

"People need to know who she was, she was a phenomenal person," said Steve.

"She herself was volunteering so much time," said Barb.

Barb visited The Forever Young Zone, the day before Steve came by to talk about her vision for Sophie's Place.

"It's going to be this wonderful music therapy room, that the music therapists can bring in children and work with them, but it's also going to have a sound studio so children can make their own music," said Barb.

The first Sophie's Place is being built in the Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Youngs are hoping Lucile Packard Children's Hospital will be next.

"We've committed to a plan to where we could fund a music therapist in the future," said Steve.

The Packard hospital expansion won't be complete, though, until 2015.

Barb and Steve Young believe their next charity project, Sophie's Place, is going to make a world of difference for sick kids, and one way or another, they plan to bring the program here to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

"We're going to go mobile. And we're going to create a Sophie's Place inside this truck," said Barb.

Volunteers can take that truck on the road to camps for sick children like the Taylor Family Foundation's Camp Arroyo in Livermore.

Sophie's family says she would be so pleased to know her work is being carried on.

"Sports are important and useful and teach great lessons, but it doesn't work everywhere. Music works everywhere. It changes everything," said Young.

You can learn more about the Sophie's Place project, it's on the front page of the Forever Young Foundation website and you can learn how to get involved.

So, Steve and Barb are asking for your help to start with the mobile Sophie's Place. They need a brand new empty van so they can fill it with music equipment. By the way, Steve says he will not be singing, he doesn't have that talent. Although, Barb says he's a great shower singer.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Fossil fuels making world's oceans more acidic

  ALAMEDA, Calif. (KGO) -- A growing number of top marine scientists say the world's oceans are in crisis. You may have already heard about the extreme threat from over-fishing, but another equally severe problem is just beginning to get attention. The oceans are turning more acidic and it's happening fast. That's bad for animals that live in the water but it could also impact our ability to breathe.

Only 5 percent of the ocean has been explored, but that's enough for scientists to know there's trouble under water. The same fossil fuels polluting the air are also making the ocean more acidic.

"It has incalculable risks associated with it; it may overshadow global warming," marine biologist Sylvia Earle said.

Earle is one of the most respected marine biologists in the world. She's logged more than 6,000 hours underwater and was named by the Library of Congress as a living legend.

Earle founded an Alameda Company that builds submersibles to explore the ocean. She's also a fellow at the California Academy of Sciences.

When it comes to ocean research, Earle is the gold standard, and she says it's time the rest of us start paying attention

"We are messing around with the chemistry of the planet," she said.

At the moment, Earle is focusing on tiny organisms called prochlorococcus. Prochlorocuccus are greenish single cell creatures discovered by MIT professor Penny Chisholm. They're so tiny that a glass of ocean water could hold billions.

"Proclorococcus contributes 20 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere," Earle said.

An incredible one-fifth of all our oxygen comes from the minute species critical to life as we know it.

"It does two important things, it generates oxygen and it takes up carbon, carbon dioxide, transforms that through photosynthesis to carbohydrates, that means food, food for life in the sea," Earle said.

But that fragile ecosystem is being damaged by excess carbon from cars, power plants and factories. The carbon turns the ocean more acidic, making it corrosive to shellfish and coral.

Scientists are not sure of the effect on prochorlorcoccus, but Earle says we can't wait to find out.

"The trend is clear, we are losing elements that keep us alive," she said.

Earle believes the key to saving the ocean is knowing what's happening. That takes exploration and education.

Earle is in her 70s, but she's not slowing down. She's launched an alliance called Mission Blue to ignite public interest and save critical ocean habitats.

"Now that we know, we can do better; we can take actions that will protect procholorococcus, that will protect the kelp forest, that will protect the ocean, that will actually protect human beings," Earle said.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

View the original article here

Saturday, October 27, 2012

3 Genuine Ways to Get Result Oriented Education from eLearning Courses

E-learning courses are in huge demand recently. But lots of these courses are not result-oriented. Hence; in this article; we look at some ways to get result-oriented education from e-learning courses.
Lots of e-learning courses have come up recently in the market. However, these courses are designed differently as per the needs and requirements of the target audience. There are two kinds of e-learning courses available in the market:
  • E-learning driven by budgets
  • E-learning driven by results
E-learning driven by budgets is concerned with creating courses according to the budgets set by the company. It cannot be result-oriented because the focus has shifted from providing quality education to target-based education. Knowledge cannot be delivered with constrained limitations. Education is all about creating awareness amongst students about various courses and imparting quality education to them. A result-oriented e-learning pattern can be very useful as it utilizes quality content to impart knowledge to students.
Let us now look at different ways through which you can get result-oriented education from e-learning courses:
  • E-learning should symbolize the characteristics of your brand:  It is often said that “A product is as good as the brand name of the company”. Hence, it is very important to have a sync between the brand name of the company and the product i.e., in this case it is e-learning course. If the brand name and the e-learning course are not in sync then it will be very difficult for the company to market the e-learning course effectively.
  • E-learning is all about creating managers and leaders instead of followers:  E-learning courses create right beliefs, decisions and behaviors in employees. It also about changing the behavior of the employees and making them self-reliant in decision-making process. In corporate world, it is very important to take quick and efficient decisions as time is prime importance. Hence; by solving real-life case studies students can learn about practical problems that they will face in the near future.
  • Aligning the e-learning outcome with your learner’s outcome:  Education can be imparted in two ways:
  • You make them learn the subjects
  • You engage them by making them interested in the subjects
Until and unless you create interest in the minds of the students for the subjects it will not serve the purpose. Hence; you need to make them emotionally involved in the course and create genuine interest that will help them solve the problem. It is all about aligning e-learning outcome with your learner’s outcome.
About emPower
emPower  is a leading provider of comprehensive Healthcare Compliance Solutions through Learning Management System (LMS). Its mission is to provide innovative security solutions to enable compliance with applicable laws and regulations and maximize business performance. empower provides range of courses to manage compliance required by regulatory bodies such as OSHA, HIPAA, Joint commission and Red Flag Rule etc. Apart from this emPower also offers custom demos and tutorials for your website, business process management and software implementation.

Its Learning Management system (LMS) allows students to retrieve all the courses 24/7/365 by accessing the portal. emPower e-learning training program is an interactive mode of learning that guides students to progress at their own pace.
For additional information, please visit

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unique approach to new earthquake exhibit

  SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The California Academy of Sciences launches a big earthquake exhibit next weekend that will include an earthquake simulator, a walk-through model of the earth and some unexpected over-the-top cuteness. ABC7 News got a behind the scenes look at how the staff is prepping the animal part of the show.

When you think earthquake, you might not immediately think ostrich. But these little guys are living examples of how the movement of the earth's surface affects evolution.

"The surface of the earth is made up of a number of pieces that all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle," says Peter Roopnarine of the California Academy of Sciences.

Millions of years ago, ostrich ancestors lived on what's known as a supercontinent. Over time, that giant land mass split apart and eventually became the continents we know now.

Ostrich ancestors ended up in different places and evolved differently. So while the ostrich is from Africa, it's closest relative, the rhea, is from South America. The same thing happened to other animals and plants, but the California Academy of Sciences chose ostriches to make that point in their new earthquake exhibit.

"We're basically hand-raising ostriches in the middle of a museum and I can guarantee that that has never happened before," says biologist Tim Steinmetz.

Ostrich eggs were collected from farms, including one in San Ramon. A nine-foot tall daddy ostrich is named Goliath. When ABC7 News went out to see his nest, he launched into a dramatic display, meant to distract us. Down in the academy basement, the eggs are put in an incubator for six weeks. Steinmetz carefully monitors their progress and with a light. He pointed out where the bird's beak was inside the egg. After 42 days, the chicks begin to hatch.

"We can do this to them to fluff them up and then they'll be able to keep their heat better," says Steinmetz. "If you have ostriches in the wild, by the time they are a day old, they are already running with their parents."

But at the academy, human foster parents place the chicks gently in their new home. The exhibit floor is heated to keep things cozy and they get a variety of tasty treats.

The staff is still racing to finish the whole exhibit so the chicks have a few days to get used to the area before the public arrives.

Ostrich chicks grow fast.

"When they are six weeks old, they will be about this tall [about 2 feet]," says Steinmetz.

That's too big for their pen, so after six weeks, the chicks will go back to the farms where their eggs were laid and a new group of babies will be hatched for the exhibit.

When they are a little older, the chicks will go outside in Golden Gate Park to exercise.

The exhibit opens Saturday, May 26, 2012.
>> LINK: Exhibit details

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

View the original article here

TeenForce program puts foster teens to work

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Over the summer, we asked you to click the "like" button on our Facebook page to raise money for Bay Area foster children. The ABC7/Sleep Train Dream Campaign raised $30,000 -- $1 for every new "like." Although the campaign is over, we are still trying to raise awareness about the needs of foster children. ABC7 News looks at a program that's putting foster teens to work.

For Rachel Neel, her job is more than a paycheck -- it's the promise of a better life. She grew up in foster care and aged out of the system when she became an adult. She's now 20 and trying to make it on her own.

"Right now I am living in a youth shelter. It is not specifically for emancipated foster youth, it's just from 18 to 22, I believe," said Neel.

Neel and other young adults with foster backgrounds don't have the traditional family support which often helps land that first job. That's where TeenForce comes in. It's a non-profit in Santa Clara County that started two years ago to help teenagers find work. Last year it also started focusing on the needs of foster kids. The non-profit has helped prepare nearly 200 young people to enter the work force and match them with jobs. Michael Nino, 19, is among two dozen who grew up in foster care.

"Now that there are people out there that can help you and stuff like that, it gets better, you can get on your feet, learn to do what you have to do to make it out there in the real world," said Nino.

Founder John Hogan launched TeenForce with help from private sector grant money. It's follows a business model where employers pay going rate, generally minimum wage for the workers and kick in a little extra to help sustain the non-profit.

"We're putting all of these youth to work without relying on any government subsidy. We make it very easy for employers to hire qualified youth and motivated youth," said Hogan.

Goodwill CEO Michael Fox is one of nine employers in Santa Clara County putting foster teens and young adults to work. Neel is a human resource assistant at Goodwill and Nino is in the recycling warehouse.

"It gets them some stability into their life and give them job skills so they can get much better jobs down the road," said Fox.

In Los Gatos, Waleena Griffin, 19, is one of those with a foster background and is an example of why the company says the program makes good business sense.

"We work here with them. That's what I like a lot about this place actually. They trust my skills. They give a word for my skills so I'm grateful for that," said Griffin.

Neel is also grateful. Her job will help her move beyond the youth shelter. She said, "It is a confidence booster to be able to say, 'I am a working woman.'"

TeenForce says there are hundreds of young adults from foster care eager to work. They're not looking for a hand out, they're just hoping for help up.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

View the original article here

Jack's Camp helps kids with life-threatening illnesses

LIVERMORE, Calif. (KGO) -- A child who's diagnosed with a life-threatening illness really means the entire family is affected for a very long time and they need a lot of support. There is a place where families can get that support for free in a fun and relaxing environment in the East Bay thanks to the Taylor Family Foundation.

Every birthday is important to children, especially if they have a life-threatening illness. At Camp Arroyo in Livermore, they get to celebrate with their families and new friends. The Taylor Family Foundation provides "Jack's Camp" for free, for children diagnosed with brain tumors.

One camper, asked who in his family had brain cancer said, "It was my sister and we tried different things for it. It just shrunk and then it grew and shrunk and grew," one boy told ABC7 News.

"It was my brother," one girl said. "Now he has a little bit of a problem with hearing and his brain doesn't work as well, but we're happy he survived."

"The first time I think I came to camp, I met somebody that had the same brain tumor as me. And my brain tumor is pretty rare. So, that was really cool," another young woman said.

The retreats offered by the Taylor Family Foundation provide such a crucial level of support for the families who are stressed out by their child's illness. "We first came to camp right before Ashley's second surgery and we didn't really know anybody who was going through what we were going through," recalled Ashley Avery's father Bryan.

Camp Director Mike Kornbluth runs the support group for the adults where they talk about the child's illness having a ripple effect on the whole family. "It's the sibling maybe being left with family members while parents are spending time at the hospital. It's the financial stress because parents want to be with their child and not be able to be at their jobs, and they lose their jobs because of it," he said.

Jack's Camp is deeply personal. Melissa Phillip's son Riktor wasn't even three when he was diagnosed with multiple brain tumors. Plus, she had a new baby. Melissa is Cheryl Jennings' niece. "I feel like it's healing when you get to tell your story to somebody who really understands, who doesn't just want the short one-minute version where it has a happy ending. They want to know the details," Melissa said.

Mitch Turner's son Aiden, was diagnosed when he was 4-years-old. His baby brother celebrated his first birthday while Aiden was recovering from brain surgery. "It was really difficult for me, the first camp, listening to all the stories and I think, 'I can't do this anymore. I can't come back.' But just seeing how much fun and the joy that Aiden has when he comes here and the friends that he has, I can't deny him that," Mitch said. Mitch and Cheryl Jennings work together at ABC7 News.

The Taylor Family Foundation was created by Barry and Elaine Taylor. She is related to Jack, of Jack's Camp. Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 24 and sadly, he did not survive. But he won't be forgotten, thanks to the camp that's named after him. "I always say there, for the love of Jack, these families are together and have the support they never had," Eliane told ABC7 News. And, the children who survive their tumors honor Jack's memory every time they come and enjoy camp.

"I think it's really great to have your family right here and it's just great to get away from your house and your TV," Riktor said.

"This place is a wonderful place for everyone with brain tumors and families just to come here and play and have fun," camper Tony Cattolica said.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

View the original article here

Historic hardware store closing up shop

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It has been said "change is the only constant." That applies to people, and also to cities. Sometimes it's good, other times it's telling. An example in Noe Valley is a little of both.

The "Retirement Sale" sign outside Tuggy's Hardware on 24th Street appears to tell the whole story and owner Denny Giovannoli does a convincing job of backing it up.

"I just decided it was time to retire and enjoy life," Giovannoli said.

Tuggy's Hardware has been a Noe Valley institution for more than a century. Giovannoli has spent half of it there. He began at 12 years old, helping his dad, who used to describe Tuggy's as "the warehouse for the neighborhood."

When Tuggy's was still in its prime, advice came free with every purchase, they could grind a key for any lock and sell a solution for any small problem. They even stocked antique plumbing fixtures indigenous to the homes in the area.

Ever since the sign went up, it's been one long goodbye. When a business has been in a neighborhood for 114 years, there is no such thing as a clean break.

But as Giovannoli explains, it was inevitable.

"You question if you're doing a good job, you try to change things up, you put money back in to boost it up again and in the end, I realized it had changed," Giovannoli said.

It's a case of Giovannoli versus goliath big box stores and the goliaths winning.

Denny has made arrangements to lease the building, but cannot say to whom, yet. But he says it won't be a hardware store.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

View the original article here

Scientists map local underwater Grand Canyon

SAN FRANCISCO BAY (KGO) -- Government scientists have released an animated fly-through of the ocean floor off the coast of San Francisco. It's a first-of-its-kind look at the dramatic mountains and ravines that make up what some call an underwater Grand Canyon. We took a look at the latest high tech tool to help preserve critical ocean eco-systems.

When you head out beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, you are heading into the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which is 1,300 square miles of underwater habitat protected by law. And we are only just beginning to learn what natural wonders may be here.

"We mapped the sea floor and we found some new geologic structures that we didn't know were out there before," said Maria Brown, a sanctuary superintendent.

Brown is part of a coalition of government agencies that created a 3D animation. They are the most detailed images of the sanctuary geography ever made. They were turned into a video with narration to help the public understand what is here.

Some of the narration said, "The Farallon Islands emerge from the sea 27 miles offshore. They are a bed and breakfast for over a quarter million seabirds."

Just beyond the islands, on the edge of the continental shelf, there is a steep wall of ravines and canyons that plunge more than 6,000 feet deep. This mapping was done with a technique called "multi-beaming".

"You send beams of sound down and it bounces off the sea floor and brings back an image. This allows us to see the relief of the sea floor, to see it go up and down," said Brown.

North and west of the Farallon Islands, the mapping project revealed details of even more canyons and huge shallow banks that create underwater islands. Scientists believe much of this may be critical habitat for a wide variety of different creatures.

One area scientists looked at is few miles south of Cordell Bank. They visited and took video of the area two years ago. Cordell Bank is full of spectacular life and the newly-discovered areas hold the promise of similar diversity, huge schools of fish, sea urchins, sponges and deep sea corals.

"Coral reefs provide habitat for commercially valuable fish so it's really important we protect these areas. If we have a strong, healthy ocean environment, that's going to support ocean industries such as commercial fishing," said Maria.

Exploring the ocean is challenging -- conditions can be harsh and many of the of habitats are too deep for divers. Now that scientists have a detailed map to show them where to look, the next step will be an expedition this fall with a remotely operated vehicle to take pictures.

"In order for us to adequately protect the sanctuary and marine environment, we need to know what's out there," said Brown.

If you would like to see the full animated fly-through, click on this link: Fly-Through Animation of the Gulf of the Farallones

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

View the original article here

Report: Oyster farm review lacks scientific support

National Park Service sign Questions are being raised about whether the National Park Service did enough research before trying to shut down an oyster farm. (KGO Photo)

  POINT REYES, Calif. (KGO) -- A new scientific review is raising questions about whether the National Park Service did enough research before trying to shut down an oyster farm.

The battle is over the Drake's Bay Oyster Company in the Point Reyes national seashore. The park service has claimed the farm is harming the environment and wants it closed.

But the National Academy of Sciences has found that the park service's environmental review "lacks strong scientific support" because there wasn't enough data available. The academy also said the park service research was so deficient that it was "similar to estimating rainfall for an entire year when the rainfall records are only available for March."

When contacted by ABC7 News for a response, National Park Service Assistant Regional Director Stephanie Burkhart issued a statement saying, "We welcome the input and will consider the academy's recommendations in its final environmental review." (Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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SF drug users form advocacy group

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There is an unusual union that has formed in San Francisco. It's not really a labor group, but an advocacy organization to support drug users.

The bi-monthly union meeting is probably unlike any you've ever attended -- it's the San Francisco Drug Users' Union.

"People think it's a joke or that we just get together and get high or something like that, quite the opposite," member Isaac Jackson said.

Jackson says he is an active meth user and an MIT graduate who co-founded the union three years ago. The members are other drug users, former users and their supporters. They believe the war on drugs has failed miserably.

According to its mission statement, the union's goals are "to decriminalize drugs and drug use, to create a safe environment where people can use and enjoy drugs...and to promote a positive image of drug users."

"When we stigmatize drug users, we make it more difficult for them access to health care, we make it more difficult for them to exercise their human rights," Laura Thomas said.

Thomas is the state director of the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance, the major funder of the Drug Users' Union, which is located in the Tenderloin.

"Our goal is to shift the response to drugs from a criminal justice response, to a public health response," Thomas said.

Tony Ribera is director of the International Institute of Criminal Justice Leadership at the University of San Francisco and a former San Francisco police chief. He believes law enforcement is a necessary tool to crackdown on drugs.

"Otherwise for many, not all, but for many of the drug users, there's no incentive to get into treatment, to get into rehabilitation," Ribera said.

But that is not the focus of the Drug Users' Union.

"If they want to quit, we'll help them to quit, but if they are still going to use, were not here to say 'hey, no, you can't do that,'" peer counselor Gary West said.

West says members are not allowed to use at the union meetings, but it's OK if they come in loaded. But, West says, drugs don't keep the members from serious business.

One of their slogans is "Nothing about us, without us," meaning they are demanding a voice in drug policy decisions. One of their main missions is to get a supervised safe injection site for heroin users like one in Vancouver. And they are working with San Francisco General Hospital to develop a how-to manual to handle drug users who come in for medical care.

"I wonder how many of my fellow losers are dead because they didn't get the medical treatment they needed because they were shoved off in a corner, 'oh, we'll get to him later,'"

Jeannie Little shares the union's goals; she's with the Harm Reduction Therapy Center, a state-certified treatment program.

"We're unusual in that we do not ask people to get clean and sober as a condition of coming into treatment or as a goal of treatment," Little said. "We partner with drug users to figure out what their goals and help them achieve their goals at their own pace."

"If their perspective is that want to continue to use drugs and hurt themselves, which is what they're doing, I can't support that," Ribera said.

But Jackson says the movement is growing. He recently spoke before San Francisco's Human Rights Commission about the discrimination in housing, employment and education drug users face.

"Well, I don't think they are waiting on the word from me on whether they should use drugs or not," Jackson said.

Though there is a lot of buzz about San Francisco's union, it's not the first in the nation. There's one in New York and now Seattle may follow suit.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Life after dark in a Bay Area forest

  PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Stanford researchers are using a secluded piece of land and some high-tech gadgetry to peek into the secret lives of wild animals. It's happening at a preserve called Jasper Ridge, three miles west of the Stanford campus.

Jasper Ridge is a peaceful place; 1,200 acres owned by Stanford University and protected from development for more than a hundred years. When you stroll around during the day, you might not realize this place is packed with night life.

Videos and photos taken by a network of cameras with infrared motion sensors triggered by anything that walks by catch some animals in action during the day and night vision technology captures life after dark.

"We can study animals that we might never see... and this is especially important for animals that are too dangerous for a human to be trying to go out and photograph," says Eric Abelson, a graduate student working on the project.

Animals like mountain lions. Researchers knew they were at Jasper Ridge occasionally, but humans almost never see them. Now the cameras reveal mountain lions are here a lot.

"When we started seeing basically mountain lions here on a weekly basis we were a little bit surprised," says Jasper Ridge data manager Trevor Hebert who's in charge of the camera network.

Researchers say the presence of mountain lions is good news because it shows this is a healthy intact ecosystem including the top predator nature intended to be here.

"I got a whole series with different poses and expressions," explains Hebert. "It's really quite wonderful."

The ecosystem also includes bobcats -- who sometimes play with their food -- and lots of coyotes constantly patrolling. The cameras also trigger when smaller animals are present, including foxes, a great-horned owl, and the rarely seen dusky-footed wood rat.

The cameras are linked to a wireless network paid for with a National Science Foundation grant.

"This is one of the wireless access point stations. It's powered by solar power and it has a wireless or WiFi access point on top of a 30-foot pole," explains Hebert.

In the old days, researchers had to spend many hours traveling from camera to camera to collect their photos and video. Now the wireless network allows them to watch what's happening from their desks.

"We are looking at a live feed coming in from a camera out a couple miles away," says Hebert.

This project is examining the interaction between hummingbirds, flowers and microbes in the nectar. The cameras make it much easier to gather a lot of data quickly.

A key benefit of all the research on Jasper Ridge will be to find how and when animals use various types of habitat so scientists know what areas are most critical to their survival.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Bridge builders remembered on Golden Gate anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Surviving men who helped build the bridge are few and far between, but many of their voices were recorded for posterity years ago.

Golden Gate Bridge District video shows the great human energy that went into building the bridge in the Depression era.

The district interviewed original bridge worker Charlie Heinbockel in 2007. He remembered earning $5.50 a day.

"You were very fortunate if you had a steady job in those days," Heinbockel said.

Legendary bridge ironworker Al Zampa left the Bay Bridge project to work on the Golden Gate. ABC7 News talked to him for the 50th anniversary in 1987.

"Had magic, some kind of magic to it," he said. "We wanted to go out there, probably would have worked for half the money, I got just to be there."

Today, the bridge stands as a monument to the men who built it.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Silicon Valley start-up offers students homework help

  SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- More than 250,000 university students around the world are getting help with their homework thanks to a young woman who defied tradition and launched her own high tech company.

Pooja Sankar is expecting a baby in July -- at the same time she's giving birth to a new company, a Silicon Valley start-up called Piazza.

Sankar's path to CEO is unusual. She was raised in a very traditional Indian family. They lived in Canada, but when Sankar was eleven, they moved back home to rural northern India.

"A place where my dad had strictly told me 'You never speak to boys, boys never speak to girls,'" Sankar said.

Sankar's father believed in education and she got a good one. She ended up at Indian Institutes of Technology, an elite university. Sankar was one of only three girls in computer science and she struggled.

"I was too shy to ask the boys in my class for help," she said.

She eventually came to the United States and earned a masters degree. She ended up as a software developer at Oracle and later at Facebook.

But her personal life was dictated by her father -- that meant an arranged marriage.

"Three and a half years I stuck through it, trying everything I could, whether it meant changing myself, trying different ways of communicating with my partner, with his parents," Sankar said.

After three years Sankar finally got the courage to get divorced. She was also accepted at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. During a class she came up with the idea for Piazza, which means "a gathering place" in Italian.

Sankar remembered long nights full of homework in college, stuck on a tough problem with no help.

"I started with a very specific problem three years ago of how can a student who is stuck get unstuck at 4 a.m. and we've solved that," she said.

Piazza is a website that links students online. Professors at any university can register their class and then students post questions.

Engineering graduate student Jacob Beatty uses it at Stanford.

"It's like pretty much a big study group; you know, people helping you out all at once," he said.

Students, professors and teaching assistants, whoever happens to be online, can all post answers. The information remains up for the whole class to see.

"It's more helpful to be able to see what previous students have asked, because a lot of your questions are questions that other students have asked," Beatty said.

The idea took off. Piazza is already used by more than 250,000 students at more than 1,000 colleges.

"Students who are logging onto Piazza every night are spending four hours," Sankar said. "So if they are doing their homework on a particular evening, Piazza is open as a third tab alongside Gmail and Facebook."

Sankar now has a team of 10 employees, funded by $6 million from blue chip venture capital companies.

It's still not clear how they will make money.

"Monetization will be a focus of ours a year or so out, but not today," Sankar said.

For now they're just working to make the product better.

And as for Sankar's personal life? She's happily remarried and planning for a new phase of life as a working mother.

Sankar says her family did finally accept her decision to divorce. Her father is delighted by her success, new husband and the grandchild on the way.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Nonprofit helps foster kids with extracurricular, emergency expenses

  MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- ABC7 News is teaming up with Sleep Train to help raise awareness and support for foster children in the Bay Area. For every new "like" on the ABC7 News Facebook page, $1 will go to the Sleep Train Dream Campaign, which buys things like clothes and school supplies for foster children.

A group of teens at Foster A Dream in Martinez have been through tough times that no child should ever have to experience and all of them ended up in foster care. But the have hopes for a better future. The group focuses on foster youth 12-24 years old.

"Things that are probably going to spark that idea, 'I can do better, things could be better, life will be better,'" Foster A Dream Executive Director Kim Castaneda said.

Foster A Dream helps foster kids pay for extracurricular activities like proms, senior portraits and sudden emergency expenses.

One young man needed to make a deposit on his college dorm room, but the money from his student loan had not arrived yet.

"He called us and we sent him the money so he wouldn't lose his dorm," Castaneda said.

Only about half of foster children even graduate from high school and many don't have consistent adult support, so foster a dream tries to match them with trained mentors.

"Sometimes they just need to get certain situations and issues off their chest to someone who can listen, maybe give good advice," volunteer Cassandra Flagg said.

Foster A Dream also runs a two-week summer program called Get Set to help teenage foster kids prepare for adult life. The program is put on by two staff members and an army of volunteers. Teens work on resumes, practice for job interviews, visit different work places and learn about careers.

"They get interview outfits; we go shopping and they get clothes, brand new clothes for them to wear," Castaneda said.

There's also fun -- swimming, restaurants, even a trip to a zip line course. Through every activity the focus is on all the good these young people have to offer.

The Get Set program is paid for by John Muir Medical Center. Volunteers seem to benefit almost as much as the teens.

"I had a little questionnaire I did with them the other day and I couldn't even get through it because I stopped in the middle of it and said, 'You are my heroes, you people are my heroes, you have overcome things and have taught me so much about life,'" volunteer Teri Andreoli said.

Foster A Dream also distributes clothes and other donations all year long. And every December, they create a winter wonderland for foster children of all ages with activities and gifts to help every child feel special.

"When you find such a need, I just feel like it's a privilege to do it and it's I just think we all need to do whatever we can," volunteer Maureen Little said.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

Foster children rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers. Programs like Sleep Train's try to make it easier for those strangers to help.

Here's how you can help foster kids in the Bay Area achieve their dreams. ABC7 News and Sleep Train have teamed up for the Dream Campaign. All you need is your Facebook account! Just go to and click on the Dream Campaign tab. For every new 'like' on our page this summer, $1 gets donated to Bay Area kids. Once you 'like' our page, or if you're already a fan, you can still spread the word to your friends. Just choose your favorite badge and share it on your wall.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Vallejo man receives Congressional Gold Medal

VALLEJO, Calif. (KGO) -- A Vallejo man is just back from receiving the nation's highest civilian honor. Ironically, it's for something he and thousands of other brave pioneers did in a military that didn't want them.

"I'm still a Marine," said Luther Hendricks.

Hendricks, 87, hasn't worn the uniform since 1946, but he's still part of a special brotherhood -- an elite within the elite.

He's a Montford Point Marine -- one of the first blacks allowed to join the corps wear the uniform, but it wasn't easy.

Hendricks' first attempt to join took place soon after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

"I went down the next day to join and I was told they didn't take coloreds in the Marine Corps," said Hendricks.

It took an order from President Franklin Roosevelt to force the Marine Corps to accept blacks. By 1942 the first troops were in training, but not at Camp Lejeune or Parris Island with white marines. The corps built a special camp at a place called Montford Point North Carolina -- hence the name. Hendricks was accepted in 1943.

"The conditions were terrible. We had barracks for maybe 42-50 people with a stove in the middle. That's the only heat you had," said Hendricks.

The training was tough, the drill instructors were tougher, but they were black. The officers were all white and in the beginning they called the young trainees "you people," but not at the end.

"Commanding officers said 'You're not 'you people' anymore, you're Marines' and we knew we had it made," said Hendricks.

If having it made meant combat duty in some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific -- Guam, Iwo Jima, Okinawa. And when the war was over, Hendricks mustered out and worked as an electrician among other jobs until he retired, never expecting to hear about the Montford Point Marines again.

That is until he found out that they would be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal -- the nation's highest civilian honor for blazing a trail that others would follow, made even sweeter by the medal being placed around his neck by a black lieutenant general.

"To see, where I came from as a lowly corporal, to see a general or major wearing the uniform -- it's beautiful," said Hendricks.

Between 1942 and 1949, 20,000 Marines went through Montford Point, most of them in segregated units until President Truman signed the order integrating the military.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Proposals aim to protect whales from ship collisions

  SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The shipping industry has tentatively agreed to some groundbreaking proposals to protect whales outside the Golden Gate.

The number of huge cargo ships hitting whales has been rising, which isn't good for the whales or the ships. But a cooperative effort is helping to turn things around.

The Bay Area coastline is perfect whale habitat. "We actually have one of the highest concentrations of blue whales and humpback whales in the world, right here in our backyard," said Maria Brown of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

The whales come to the Bay Area for food. The water is full of spectacular life. The area is considered so critical there are three marine sanctuaries with special environmental protection.

But San Francisco is also one of the busiest ports in the country, and the shipping lanes run right through the sanctuaries.

It's a deadly combination.

"In recent years we have had more incidents of whales getting struck by ships and have had dead whales unfortunately wash up on the beach," Brown said.

Now after more than a year of discussion, a working group has agreed on recommendations to keep boats and whales apart. The group includes the shipping industry, scientists and government and environmental organizations.

Greenpeace's Jackie Dragon is co-chair of the working group. "We've come up with recommendations that are safest for whales at the least cost to the industry," Dragon said.

Up until now, ship owners have been reluctant to slow down or change routes in order to avoid whales. An industry spokesperson said that's because there's been a lack of solid information about where the whales really are.

John Berge of the Pacific Marine Shipping Association said, "A lot of the efforts that have been done in the past were based on where whales might be historically at a certain point in time."

The new recommendations call for observers on the ships themselves. There have to be trained spotters on board or crew members have to train themselves to spot whales and report where those locations are, Berge said.

That information would be combined with other reports from airplanes, whale watching tours and local researchers, and then warnings would go out.

"When a significant number of whales are present in the shipping lanes, it would be considered whale sensitive and at that point, ships would have the option of routing to a different lane or of slowing down to 10 knots to proceed at a safer speed," Dragon said.

That could make a big difference because whales don't seem to understand the danger created by ships.

One member of the working group is John Calambokidis, a top whale researcher at Cascadia Research. "Even when we have documented blue whales very, very close to being struck by a ship, we have not seen them take an avoidance response," he said.

Part of the problem may be underwater noise from ships, which can be dramatic. "There are some indications that that is affecting whales and their ability to communicate," said Calambokidis.

The working group is also proposing that underwater noise in the sanctuaries be recorded and studied for possible future action. They've also suggested some changes in the location of the shipping lanes themselves. The Coast Guard has already sent some of those ideas to an international panel for review.

The recommendations will be considered Thursday at a meeting of sanctuary advisors. Final action is up to the sanctuary superintendents.The proposal is for the new plan to be voluntary, but if it doesn't work, mandatory rules may come later.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Butterflies teach researcher about climate change

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- It's been a strange year, weather-wise. We had spring in winter and then winter in spring. And if it was difficult for you to adapt, it was tougher, elsewhere. However, it's making some very interesting science.

The solitary figure making his way up this road and into the Sacramento wetlands is part interloper and all observer.

"The male red winged blackbirds are ticked off for our being in the slew," Arthur Shapiro, Ph.D., said.

But Shapiro's real expertise has to do with smaller flying creatures. Shapiro has studied butterflies most of his life.

Maybe you've passed him along Northern California trails. He's spent 40 years making the same walks every two weeks, counting butterflies. It's the method to see how changes in climate affect their life histories.

Don't even ask him to estimate how many miles he has covered.

"I don't know," Shapiro said. "If I were a Toyota I would be ready for a trade-in and Toyotas are tough."

Shapiro has taught biology at UC Davis so long that he's part of the department's framework -- a beloved faculty member with an office as funky as his beard and records as meticulous as those of Charles Darwin, if not better.

He's authored a bible of butterfly spotting.

ABC7 News last walked with Shapiro two years ago. Then, he acknowledged the effects from our changing climate, but held back from commenting on mankind's role in it.

Now, with more data, he goes little further.

"My opinion is that probably, there is a significant human component to this," Shapiro said.

And in this strange, wet spring following a drought-like winter, it's been all the more interesting.

"I'm one of the folks, and there are a lot of us, who think that the predictability of the weather is going down, and in tandem with so-called global warming, and the frequency of extreme events is going up," Shapiro said.

And that's a problem because nature is all about timing. Some species take cues from the weather. Others, from the length of a day. But, they're all inter-related. They rely on each other. If they get out of synch it can lead to larger problems like reproductive failure and even extinction.

Hence this keen interest in the hearty, but delicate, 60-million-year old creatures. And the drive that keeps a 68-year-old professor on the trails.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Researchers help curb invasive clam at Lake Tahoe

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KGO) -- Boating season is now in full swing at Lake Tahoe. Extra safeguards are in place to make sure invasive species don't get in the lake, but some unwanted creatures are already there. The good news: experiments on getting rid of at least one harmful species appear to be paying off.

Researchers rolled out the "un-welcome" mat. A UC Davis video shows how researchers spread sheets of rubber on the bottom of Lake Tahoe. The rubber is intended to smother an invasive species called the Asian clam. It blocks the oxygen and the clams are underneath it.

Asian clams are tiny, but have potential to cause big problems. So a multi-agency task force is trying to control the clams before it's too late. They took an ABC7 News crew out on the lake to show us how it's going. In some areas, the clams are easily visible through a scope.

"Every white dot that we are looking at right now is a dead clam shell and there are a lot more live ones underneath them," said Ted Thayer with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The clams bury themselves in the sand. They were first discovered in Tahoe 10 years ago and they spread fast.

"These guys can grow faster and just more efficiently than the native clams," said Alyson Gamble, a UC Davis researcher.

The clams encourage algae which clouds Tahoe's famous clear water. Their shells are sharp and make beaches dangerous for bare feet. But scientists say the most serious threat may be that the clams change the water chemistry, so it's easier for other even more harmful species to survive.

"The combined effects of invasive species on Lake Tahoe could be as much as $22 million a year in lost property values, recreation, increased maintenance of boats and boat engines, water intakes," said Thayer.

One picture showed how thick the Asian clam infestation is in some spots now. So far, the clams are mostly in the southeastern part of the lake, but a small colony is beginning to grow at the mouth of Emerald Bay.

Emerald Bay is one of the most popular and beautiful parts of Lake Tahoe and it is the site of a pilot project that started a year ago. Divers put down 2,000 square feet of those rubber mats.

"It's a lot of work down there. These rubber mats are heavy and they have a lot of rebar on them to keep them in place because there are a lot of currents that flow back and forth under across the bottom of Tahoe," said diver Brent Allen.

We were there as researchers pulled the entire experiment out of the water piece by piece. The divers also took clam samples to send to a lab for analysis and after a few weeks the news is good.

"It was very effective," said Thayer.

The mats killed about 80 percent of the clams by cutting off their oxygen. That result combined with earlier research is leading the team to recommend a much larger project -- putting temporary rubber mats on five acres of Emerald Bay. It would cost about $800,000.

The invasive species team is reminding anyone who plans to bring a boat to Lake Tahoe that it must be inspected before it goes into the water. The best way to stop invasive species from getting into the lake is to make sure your boat is clean, drained, and dry when you arrive.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Organization encourages people to become foster parents

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- ABC7 News and Sleep Train have teamed up for the Dream Campaign. For every new like ABC7 News gets on Facebook, $1 will go to help foster kids. ABC7 News reporter Karina Rusk introduces us to an organization helping foster children and some of the kids benefiting from the nonprofit.

Jani Wild is proof you don't have to give birth to be a mom. She and her partner Deb have five children. Joshua is the oldest. He was just three when he came to them as a foster child with autism. He's now nine and thriving.

"He's incredible; he just got student-of-the-month at school and everyone was beaming from the principal on down," Jani said.

The couple not only adopted Josh, they also adopted four other foster children because they were siblings and didn't want to break up the family.

"I think it helps that both Jani and I come from large families because it's chaos, it's chaos sometimes," Deb Wild said.

The Wilds first became foster parents through a nonprofit called Aspiranet. The organization is dedicated to encouraging more people to become foster parents and helping kids who rely on the foster system.

There are nearly 60,000 children living in foster care in California.

Richard Lazaro Alonso and Steven Weatherbee know firsthand what it's like to need a place to call home.

"My parents weren't able to be there for me when I was younger while growing up in foster care system I was in 12 different homes," Lazaro Alonso said.

The quality of foster care can often have a lifelong impact; Weatherbee now sits on Aspiranet's board of directors.

"I'd like to think that the good foster families I had are going to affect me and in turn and in turn everyone I meet for the rest of my life," he said. "So it's very appreciated."

The Wilds have housed numerous foster children over the years, ranging from days at a time to months. The commitment to five of those children is now forever.

"They have filled our lives and I'm not saying there was something missing we didn't really know what life could bring and now we see what life can bring," Jani said.

It turns out being a foster parent doesn't just change a child's life.

Foster children rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers. Programs like Sleep Train's try to make it easier for those strangers to help.

Here's how you can help foster kids in the Bay Area achieve their dreams. ABC7 News and Sleep Train have teamed up for the Dream Campaign. All you need is your Facebook account! Just go to and click on the Dream Campaign tab. For every new 'like' on our page this summer, $1 gets donated to Bay Area kids. Once you 'like' our page, or if you're already a fan, you can still spread the word to your friends. Just choose your favorite badge and share it on your wall.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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ScienceWiz makes learning fun for kids

RICHMOND, Calif. (KGO) -- Many scientists will tell you we are learning so much so fast that we have entered a "golden age of knowledge." But, many among us are scientifically illiterate, and even basic science is stuff we've either forgotten or never learned. One woman, however, is hoping to change all that.

Dr. Penny Norman is the mastermind behind ScienceWiz, a company that teaches science through kits and games. While she always planned on being a scientist, and earned a PhD in biophysics, it actually led her down a different path.

It's a full time job split between designing and manufacturing. Right now her husband is in China, working out the kinks on a new project called "cool circuits." Penny says it's basically a puzzle triggering a positive reinforcement.

Penny published her first kit back in 1995. And though it sold millions of copies, she says making money was never her primary goal. She just wants to make science fun and user-friendly. Each of her kits comes with a book and links to a website that anyone can use, whether they buy or not.

This approachability to science does not come about by accident. It begins in her living room with a friend, Ann Einstein, who is a distant relative to famous scientist Albert Einstein. The women met years ago when Ann ran a preschool where Penny had enrolled her daughter, "And she said, are you doing enough science?" Ann said. "And I said, well I'd love to do more science, but when you get science things, they never work."

Well, they work now in Penny's hands-on kits that show kids how to use batteries to power electric motors, or drop pumice into water to see one kind of rock that can float, or they drop alka seltzer tablets into oil and water to simulate the forces that move Earth's tectonic plates.

When it comes to science, mankind has learned quite a lot. Well, some of mankind, anyway. As for the rest of us, don't blame Dr. Penny Norman.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Voyager lifted off 35 years ago

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Space geeks will recognize this day as being one of those obscure, but fascinating anniversaries. Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. launched the first of the Voyager spacecraft, so ABC7 News revisited its significance in this decade.

There may be few experiences more mysterious and alluring than walking along a shoreline and stumbling upon an ancient message in a bottle -- something cast intentionally, that traveled a long way for a long time, delivered by fate.

Now imagine it on a cosmic scale, because 35 years ago mankind sent two such identical messages aboard the Voyager spacecraft. Their missions are to explore the outer planets and moons of our solar system. Both sent back images and data that we still study, today. By 1990, Voyager I had traveled four billion miles -- so far that it could fit all of our entire solar system into one photograph.

As astronomer Carl Sagan showed us back then, a photo of Jupiter, Saturn, and a speck almost invisible in a lens flare. He said the speck was, "This is where we live... on a blue dot. That's where everyone you know and everyone you ever heard of, and every human being ever lived, lived out their lives."

The Voyagers will likely to be the farthest flung, longest existing objects ever made by man. Their destiny is to travel for all eternity between the stars, which leads to a question: what if someone found them? The answer is the Voyager golden records.

"The idea behind the Voyager record was to put an artifact on the spacecraft that would tell more about us than could be deduced by looking at the spacecraft itself," said science writer Timothy Ferris of San Francisco.

Ferris has written a dozen books and countless articles, but back in the 1970's he worked with Sagan in producing the records for those spacecraft.

"The only record I ever produced was the Voyager interstellar record. Only two copies of it were made and they were both flung entirely out of the solar system," said Ferris.

The Golden Records look like any other LP, except that they're etched in copper and plated in gold. The packages contain a stylus and basic instructions that a space-faring civilization ought be able to decode. Then they get really interesting.

"If you came upon an artifact that included photographs, voices, music, sent by beings, who perhaps lived a long time ago on another planet, about whom you had no prior knowledge, wouldn't you be fascinated by that?" said Ferris.

The records includes greeting in every language and music ranging from Chuck Berry to the classics. They have images of our planet, our biology, our everyday life. They are time capsules of humanity through the 1970s. As simple as messages in a bottles.

"When I was a boy in Florida, I actually once came upon a bottle with a note in it and this is the same thing, except that instead of being in the ocean, it is thrown out into the depths interstellar space," said Ferris.

There are two spacecraft on an anniversary drifting. The odds that they'll be discovered... infinitesimally small... but there's always a chance.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Exploratorium strives to produce as much power as it uses

  SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's Exploratorium has announced an ambitious goal for its new museum -- to produce as much power as it uses. That will be especially tough because of the sheer size of the 230,000 square foot building. But project engineers think they can make it happen.

Ever since the Exploratorium opened in 1969 the hands-on science museum has been known for innovation. That tradition is on full display in the design of the Exploratorium's new home -- a historic pier now undergoing a complete overhaul.

Pier 15 sticks out more than 800 feet over the water -- a giant warehouse-type building that could eat up a lot of power. So engineers are trying something different: net-zero energy.

Engineer Peter Rumsey is a true believer.

"It was part research, part evangelical, you know, getting people to get excited about it and then just sheer determination," he said.

Net-zero means the building will create at least as much energy as it uses. The power comes from a huge field of high efficiency solar panels on the roof. They're made by a Silicon Valley company called SunPower and they're expected to generate 1.3 megawatts -- about what it takes to run 1,000 American homes for a year.

"What you will notice differently on this panel is no glare, all black, no metal on the front, so all the sunshine that hits the panel goes into the cell," SunPower CEO Tom Werner said.

But that's just the start. To reach net-zero, the new Exploratorium will also have to use less power.

The main reason that net-zero approach is even possible for the new Exploratorium is because the new building sits right next to the cool waters of San Francisco Bay. And in order to heat and cool the building they are able to use this water in a very clever way.

Bay water comes into the building through a giant filter.

"We bring the water in at a very slow speed so no fish get sucked up into it," Rumsey said. "This is the same technology used in an aquarium. There's a set of other filters inside there that get all the small micro-organisms out."

The water is pumped to a big blue tank called a heat exchanger. Inside, state-of-the-art technology pulls heat out of the water in winter and cools it in the summer. Pipes carry it all over the building like a giant radiator.

During the process huge filters are raised and lowered for cleaning and visitors will be able to see it all through a window.

"This room is now going to be part of the exhibit to explain how the building works," Rumsey said.

There will be one brand new building -- a glass observatory with spectacular views. But all the windows make controlling the temperature a challenge.

"So we compensated for that by using a super energy efficient glass," architect Marc L'Italien said.

The tiny ceramic lines at the top and bottom reduce heat and make the glass visible to birds so they don't fly into it.

Work on the redesigned pier is almost 90 percent finished now, but reaching net-zero energy will take more time.

"We actually have 2,000 monitoring points in the new building that will help us determine what's working and what's not," L'Italien said.

That information will be used to fine tune the energy systems over time with the final goal of becoming the largest museum in the country that creates as much power as it uses.

Now is your chance to get in a last visit to the old Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts. It will be open through Jan. 2. The new building is expected to open sometime next spring.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Court cuts could burden Contra Costa County's poorest

RICHMOND, Calif. (KGO) -- Contra Costa County courts are gearing up for a round of drastic painful cuts. ABC7 News has learned that those who will suffer the most are those who can least afford it.

Contra Costa County Superior Court announced last month it will close six courtrooms. They have to do that because they have lost millions of dollars in recent years in state funding due to California's budget crisis. The court shutdowns are mostly in the east and west of the county and that is where Contra Costa's minorities and the poorest of its residents live.

In Richmond, the juvenile law courtroom will close. Its cases will be moved all the way to the main courthouse in Martinez which is in central part of the county. The same thing will happen in Pittsburg, when its juvenile and family courtrooms go dark.

Lawyer Rhonda Wilson-Rice heads the juvenile law section of the county bar association. She said, "These are folks that tend to have the least amount of income, least access to public transportation and just the least amount of resources than anyone else in the county. And yet, they're being made to take the brunt of these budget cuts."

Lawyer Darren Kessler's office is in Richmond. He believes the cuts violate the law.

"When the changes to the court are done in a manner where people are fundamentally deprived of their ability to have justice in that court, it is taking away their Constitutional right to access," said Kessler.

Shawn Hamilton is an unemployed college student who has a child custody case in Richmond's juvenile court. Like many residents affected by the court cuts, he has no car. Hamilton now lives in Oakland which is a fairly quick 30 minute trip by BART. But when the court closes, Hamilton will have to take BART from Oakland to Del Norte, then a WestCAT bus to Martinez -- a trip that would cost more and could take an hour and a half or two.

"So if I have a 9 o'clock court appointment, then that means I have to leave at 7 or 6:30, or at least get up around 6-6:30," said Shawn Hamilton, a college student.

"Many people walk to court or have to take local transportation, public transportation which is relatively easy in the general area, but to go to Martinez, it is fundamentally impossible for many," said Kessler.

Even police are worried about the court closures and whether the much longer trip to Martinez will affect cases involving troubled teens.

"There might be more missed court dates whereas if the court was still here, they may be more inclined to go to their court dates," said Richmond Police Lt. Bisa French.

The court closures go into effect at the end of the year, except for the family courtroom in Pittsburg, which is scheduled to close its doors at the end of the month. Court officials in Martinez never responded to our request for an interview.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Website reunites African Americans with outdoors

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- If you took your family camping this summer, you may have noticed a lack of diversity at your campground. More than 90 percent of campers are white and African Americans are less likely to go camping than any other race. One group is helping to close the racial divide of the great outdoors.

It is where many childhood memories are made, a family camping trip. But look closely and you might realize there is something missing: African Americans. Rue Mapp of Oakland is trying to change that. She started "Outdoor Afro" three years ago hoping to reunite African Americans with nature. "Outdoor Afro is a social media and in-person community that inspires and celebrates African American connections to nature," she says.

Now, Mapp has a national following. She created an online community for African Americans to share their stories. "There are thousands and thousands of members across various social media platforms. We get about 80,000 eyeballs to our Facebook page and we have about 10,000 people engaging on our website," she says.

Despite those numbers, the National Park Service says just one percent of park visitors across the country is African American. Mapp says that doesn't mean they aren't enjoying nature. Outdoor Afro organizes outings and camping trips like a recent one in Coloma. The idea is to get more African Americans out into nature. "Yes, we do camp, most definitely," Linda McDonald of Berkeley says. McDonald says Outdoor Afro is also helping diminish the stereotype that African Americans just don't camp. "Historically, black people have been a part of nature. From the time they were brought over from the continent, they've been a part of nature, cultivating the ground," she says.

"The stereotype is true and then not true because my wife, she loves it. I don't love it, but I'll do it and I'm sure I will have a great time at the end of it," Larry Austin of San Pablo says.

Many of the campers blame urbanization and segregation for disconnecting their community from the outdoors in the past. But today, they are trying to bridge that gap by reconnecting themselves and introducing a new generation to nature. "I think that it's good to bond with people that look like me and to experience new things and my God, this is great. It's beautiful out here," says David Robinson of San Francisco.

"To be able to have an organization like this, it allows more people to do it because sometimes it can be pricey and outside of peoples' means," Michelle Robinson says.

Outdoor Afro isn't just for families or African Americans for that matter. It's about creating a relationship with nature. "I think a lot of people of color are just not used to it, maybe from their childhood, they never really did a lot of outdoor activities. But I think it's great to connect with other people, to get out there, really connect back with Mother Nature, and I think that's really important not just for people of color, but for everyone," Amara Aidbedion says.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Sleep Train and ABC7 team up for Dream Campaign

ABC7 News is teaming up with Sleep Train to help raise awareness and support for foster children. Sleep Train runs a year-round campaign for foster kids, and now we're joining in the effort.

Eighteen-year-old Andre Taylor was 5 years old when he entered the foster care system. He suffered through four foster homes and two group homes before finding what he calls the perfect family when he was 10. "In certain homes I was physically, mentally and emotionally abused," he says.

Andre tried to hope for a better life, but it was hard. "I remember when I entered foster care I was like, nobody loves me, nobody believes that I can do anything. So why should I be able to do anything?"

Now, with the support of the same stable, loving foster family for the last eight years, his ambition and achievement have soared. He's headed to UC Santa Barbara as an English major this fall, with hopes of a career in music. "If my music thing does not happen, I will go to graduate school, hopefully at Harvard for either law or English, and either to try become president or become an English professor," he says.

Like all foster children, Andre's greatest need was for someone to love him. "I had a child that asked me, 'How many hugs can I have per day?'" says Lisa Harris, a foster parent who has provided that love to 12 foster children over the last eight years. It takes more than love. There are other basic needs.

"Often times we'll get children who, they have no clothes, they have nothing. They come to your home with nothing," Harris says. "I've had children who were taken from their home at midnight and they have nothing."

That's where Rocklin-based mattress company Sleep Train comes in, asking people to donate basics like school supplies and clothing. Collection bins are set up at stores. Their TV and radio ads play year-round.

Sleep Train CEO Dale Carlsen says he got the idea after a toy drive for foster kids. "We noticed that when we delivered the toys, the kids didn't have the basic needs. They didn't have shoes, they didn't have mattresses, they didn't have jackets. They needed the basics," he says. "So at that point we said this is what we're going to do."

Foster children rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers. Programs like Sleep Train's try to make it easier for those strangers to help.

Here's how you can help foster kids in the Bay Area achieve their dreams. ABC7 News and Sleep Train have teamed up for the Dream Campaign. All you need is your Facebook account! Just go to and click on the Dream Campaign tab. For every new 'like' on our page this summer, $1 gets donated to Bay Area kids. Once you 'like' our page, or if you're already a fan, you can still spread the word to your friends. Just choose your favorite badge and share it on your wall.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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San Francisco churches finding new life as housing

  SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In the last 20 years, some of San Francisco's biggest and oldest churches have closed their doors. Dwindling congregations and aging buildings have left these buildings empty until now. There has been a spate renovations in the last couple years, but don't expect the places of worship to open back to churchgoers.

People once filled the pews at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood.

"I know people who grew up here and got married in this church; I know people who were buried in this church," developer Brian Speirs said.

Today St. Joseph's is empty, stripped of its sacred shrines, now just another big, empty San Francisco church in need of a new life.

"I thought it was so amazing, but sad that it had not been touched in 25 years," Chris Foley said.

Foley bought the nearly 100-year-old building three years ago. He is working with Speirs to remake the historic landmark. St. Joseph's was closed after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake because it didn't meet seismic standards.

"What we realized was, with technology companies in mid market being so hot, they are very interested in creative space, so what we decided to do is we got it approved as an office building," Foley said.

The plans call for 22,000 square feet of office space and a restaurant. The exterior will be restored and the building will be brought up to modern codes.

Cost is most often what keeps churches from being restored.

"To rehabilitate a building like this is about $17-$19 million dollars," Foley said.

St. Joseph's is just one of a number of church buildings around the city preservationists hope can be saved.

"The adaption of a building like that, that removes it from the vacant list, that creates activity around and within a community, a neighborhood is far more valuable than seeing a building vacant," San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission spokesperson Charles Chase said.

The Second Church of Christ Scientist on Dolores Street was built in 1915. It is an important architectural landmark in San Francisco.

"This is one of two wood framed truss system domes in San Francisco," owner Siamak Akhavan said.

Akhavan is planning to turn the ornate church into four residential units.

"There's going to be three multilevel units on the ground floor and one loft unit up here in this dome," he said.

Neighbors fought to keep the building from being torn down.

"We'd prefer that the building stayed as a church, but unfortunately the congregation got smaller and smaller and they couldn't afford to maintain the building, so they had no choice but to sell the building," Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association spokesperson Peter Lewis said.

Neighbors support the plan to convert the church into homes. They already knew Akhavan could do it. Less than a block away, he restored another church, turning it into a multi-million dollar home.

"He put in a beautiful kitchen and when we turn this into classrooms, we'll keep the kitchen," Children's Day School spokesperson Molly Huffman said.

When the property didn't sell as a home the private Children's Day School bought it to convert into a middle school for 180 students.

The castle like architecture will remain untouched.

"The Tudor Gothic Hogwarts ambiance of the building is wonderful for middle school students," Huffman said.

Some neighbors protested elements of the school's plan, but finally reached an agreement. Others are happy to see the school move into the empty corner.

"In San Francisco, I'd say that the majority of the churches are probably worth saving; there is a tremendous amount of outstanding church architecture in San Francisco," Lewis said.

But should every old church be saved?

That's the question being asked at St. John's United Methodist Church on Larkin Street. It is falling apart. What hasn't rotted has been vandalized.

"Three, four, five structural engineers who have said it's unsafe," developer John McInerney said.

The church closed nine years when the congregation shrank to about a dozen people. They could not afford the $6 million in repairs, so the church turned to McInerney. Together they want to tear it down and build 27 units of housing. But the city is making it tough -- last month, officials rejected the plan saying it would "result in the demolition of an historic resource."

"Churches, religious institutions have a right to use and dispose of their property under both state and federal law," McInerney said.

The church is appealing the decision.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Travel industry learns to spot human trafficking victims

  SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As many as 300,000 American children are victims of human trafficking every year. Worldwide, the numbers are even higher and many are transported on commercial airlines. The travel industry may become a critical link in rescuing victims.

Petra Hensely was just 16 years old when she was kidnapped off a public street in the Czech Republic.

"I was drugged, beaten and raped by more men than I could count," Hensely said.

The kidnappers were human traffickers selling their victims for sex. After three days of unspeakable torture, Hensely jumped out a window and escaped.

Now, almost 20 years later, human trafficking is worse than ever and Hensely is telling her story, this time at San Francisco International Airport.

"I have a deep desire to help others escape from the monsters who are dealing with buying and selling human beings," Hensely said.

SFO was the first airport in the country to start training employees to recognize human trafficking -- adults and children sold for sex, slave labor, even forced organ donations. It's happening everywhere, including the Bay Area.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, says human trafficking is now one of the largest and fastest growing criminal industries in the world.

"As drug cartels, they are realizing, 'Hey we can make more money or as much money selling young girls or young boys as we can selling dope,' and you can sell these youngsters over and over again, you can only sell drugs once," Speier said.

Incredibly, many victims are moved from place to place in plain sight on commercial airlines. They are often drugged or too terrified to ask for help.

So now there is a growing call to get airlines involved.

Air France was the first to step up with short in flight videos, graphic reminders that human trafficking is illegal in every country and sex with minors can lead to prison.

Starting this fall, Delta will become the first U.S. airline to train employees how to spot and report human trafficking. A non-profit called Airline Ambassadors is pushing other airlines to do the same.

"If airlines would train their crews, we could have hundreds of thousands of eyes and ears in the air, stopping what we see as the biggest human rights issue facing mankind," spokesperson Nancy Rivard said.

Airline Ambassadors is running a training class at the International Tour Management Institute in San Francisco. Future tour directors are learning to look for warning signs such as bruising, wounds, and maybe no or little eye contact. Some victims are even tattooed with bar codes. The students are told to gather information to report to authorities.

"Your location, what exactly is going on, what the victim and trafficker look like," Rivard said.

"Do not try to rescue, we are not in the business of rescuing and we are not professionals," Airline Ambassadors spokesperson Deborah Quigley said.

But professionals are available anytime. The Department of Homeland Security has a 24-hour tip line with highly trained specialists.

Airline Ambassadors know it works. In just one day a couple of years ago, members reported suspected human trafficking on four different commercial flights and they were correct in every case.

"And in one of those cases it led to the bust of a trafficking ring in Boston and we saved 82 children," Rivard said.

That kind of result, and just an hour of training made a big impact on one group travel professionals.

"This has opened my eyes; I know that I have witnessed so many of these things before, but I didn't know how to handle it or what to do," tour management student Linda Blitstein said.

Others are learning too. Next month, Mineta San Jose International Airport will be training its employees to recognize and report human trafficking.

Speier is calling on all airlines to voluntarily start training employees on human trafficking and if they don't, she may consider legislation to encourage them.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

Homeland Security Tip Line
866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) (from United States, Mexico, and Canada)
802-872-6199 (from other locations around the globe)
To report tips online:

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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