Four ways to serve society

Here are examples of the kinds of groups helped by the Annie B’s drive

Maria Trenda and some of her charges outside Mi Escuelita Maya Preschool.

Maria Trenda and some of her charges outside Mi Escuelita Maya Preschool.

It would be wonderful if we could tell you about all of the dozens of nonprofits that are participating in the Annie B’s drive this year. Each has a story to tell and something valuable to offer the community. In lieu of that, we’ve chosen four to profile in depth that we believe represent the range and quality of services the rest of the groups provide. For a full list of participating groups, go to

Beyond the sandbox

Mi Escuelita Maya preschool is in only its fifth year in operation, but it’s at capacity and many children are on a waiting list because of its focus on preschool education, multiculturalism and performing arts.

Mi Escuelita Maya is located at 1455 Chestnut St., in what was formerly the Korner Market. The building has been completely transformed and is now a fully modern but very warm environment that includes a large wood-floored performance space.

The preschool is an integrated program that uses ideas from standard preschool teachings as well as Waldorf, Montessori and other alternatives. It strives to create a strong foundation so its students can successfully go on to kindergarten and higher grades.

“This is a school, not a day care,” says founder, program director and head teacher Maria Trenda. “We believe that the preschool years are extremely vital for the development of the child.”

Funds from the Annie B’s drive will help acquire scholarships for the children whose parents cannot afford to pay or trade services for tuition.

Trenda runs Mi Escuelita Maya using her extensive instructional and organizational skills, which began in Mexico while witnessing her mother’s 27 years of teaching at their family-owned kindergarten. Most of the children at Mi Escuelita Maya (which translates to “Maya’s Little School,” Maya being Trenda’s daughter) speak English as their primary language and are gradually taught Spanish.

Each month Mi Escuelita Maya’s children are immersed in the rich culture of a nation or region such as Mexico, Spain, India or the Middle East. Likewise there is a monthly theme on a particular learning subject such as animals or nature.

Trenda has considerable teaching experience, including at Chico’s Waldorf-inspired Blue Oak Charter School, and has been a performing-arts teacher as well as a lifelong dancer.

“We enrich the children’s artistic qualities by engaging them in music listening, playing, theater and dance,” she said. The school also embraces the local community by inviting performing-arts groups such as Latin folklorico dancers to put on shows.

Mi Escuelita Maya also places a strong emphasis on environmental responsibility. It is a green school and teaches the children to tend the organic garden out back. It also offers organic snacks and lunches, both meat and vegetarian, with food bought from local farmers’ markets.

Constructive community work is encouraged through hands-on field trips to nearby businesses, such as a Mexican panadería, where the children bake bread.

Word about this innovative and unique preschool is spreading quickly. Several parents with kindergarteners have them attend Mi Escuelita Maya simultaneously to expand their learning. Trenda has plans to expand the school to accommodate the overwhelming demand and may someday extend it to teach higher grades.

“There’s nothing like this in the community, and the parents are very thirsty for it,” Trenda said.

—Vic Cantu

Brooke Banks and some of her girls in Girls on the Run of Butte County doing what they love to do.

Girls on the run

Girls on the Run of Butte County is gaining momentum right off the starting blocks.

When it began last fall, only 28 girls representing two elementary schools were members; by spring there were 98 girls from six schools.

The program relies on a nationwide curriculum first created in 1996 by four-time Hawaii Ironman triathlete Molly Barker designed to help young girls in grades three through eight build self-esteem and healthful lifestyles through the creative implementation of organized running routines.

Girls on the Run consists of a 12-week program of positive life habits and exercising, before culminating in one final 5-kilometer event called New Balance Girls on the Run 5K at the Cedar Grove Picnic Area in Lower Bidwell Park.

The event will take place Nov. 12 at 9 a.m., and those participating will run or walk the course through Bidwell Park with a running buddy—a volunteer, friend or parent. The 5-kilometer event will also be open to the public, if anyone wants to take on the well-trained youngsters.

Some of the other events Girls on the Run will offer this year include the 2011 Frost or Fog 1/4 Marathon & 5K Run, which will take place Jan. 15 in Upper Bidwell Park, and the Diva Dash 5K on May 7.

The group estimates that from 75 to 90 girls will participate in the program this fall, said Brooke Banks, its executive director.

Perhaps indicative of its success so far, Girls on the Run was able to purchase running shoes for its participants both last spring and this fall, putting the grant money it received from Proctor & Gamble (makers of Secret deodorant, one of the national sponsors for GOTR) to good use.

The program also offers scholarships through donations from local sponsors and private citizens, so no girl is ever turned away for lack of ability to pay the $115 program fee.

For a new, unique local program, Girls on the Run of Butte County is definitely on the rise, Banks said.

“I really hope to continue to grow the program, getting more schools outside of Chico, more community members to be involved, volunteers,” Banks said. “We’d definitely like to grow at a speed we can handle, but our results have been fantastic so far.”

—Dane Stivers

Cynthia Gerrie runs PAWS out of her home, but that hasn’t stopped her from helping get nearly 3,000 dogs and cats spayed or neutered.

Paws’ helping hand

Cynthia Gerrie sat at her kitchen table, flipping through a binder with pages and pages of stories of animal lovers who have been helped by the Chico program she leads.

Director of Paws of Chico, an unsung hero locally in the ongoing efforts to get a handle on the community’s pet overpopulation problem, Gerrie pointed to the pictures of the organization’s clients, both two- and four-legged.

She recounted the story of a man named Dennis and his rescue of a skinny and sickly pit bull that had spent its entire life to that point tied in a back yard with a male dog, having litter after litter of puppies. Dennis spent money to get 2-year-old Mammaz healthy, but spaying her was out of the question financially.

That’s where Paws of Chico came into the picture. The nonprofit helps low-income residents pay for spay-and-neuter services they could not afford on their own.

Dennis paid for a portion of the dog’s operation, and Paws, which has partnered with the Butte Humane Society and Mangrove Veterinary Hospital for low-cost services, picked up the rest of the tab. The surgery ensured Mammaz would never be bred again, thus cutting down on the number of unwanted animals in the community.

Gerrie’s clients include a cross-section of the community—disabled, homeless, college students. The common denominators, of course, are financial need and a desire to do the right thing by their pets.

“And they are so thankful to have help,” said Gerrie.

Paws has been serving Chico since 2005, and in that time has helped pay for the spaying and neutering of approximately 2,800 dogs and cats. In recent years, as the economy has tanked, Gerrie’s seen more and more struggling families, and the organization’s services are increasingly in demand.

Last year alone, the program led to the altering of more than 900 animals, thereby reducing the number of animals that end up at the Butte Humane Society, which cannot find homes for all of them. The sad reality is that many animals are destroyed.

“Really, the only way to stop euthanasia is through spaying and neutering,” noted Gerrie, an animal lover with three cats of her own, including a feral kitty she caught and fixed, and a sweet young golden retriever named Sammy.

Gerrie, who runs Paws out of her home aided by a handful of volunteers, hopes someday to open a small outside office. Having a presence elsewhere would raise the visibility of the nonprofit in the community, making it easier to raise funds and grow its much-needed services. Financially, she acknowledged that’s likely a long way off, pointing out how so many nonprofits, such as Chico’s Big Brothers, Big Sisters, have closed up shop entirely.

For now, Paws needs the help of the community to keep offering its services. Gerrie has been successful writing grants, but as a nonprofit the organization (which is not affiliated with PAWS of Butte County or Pawprints Thrift Store) is mandated to raise community support. Annie B’s Community Drive has been an excellent partner in Paws’ efforts to raise funds, which Gerrie says are needed now more than ever.

“As long as we have funding, we’ll be here,” she said.

—Melissa Daugherty

Shalom Free Clinic Director Nancy Morgans-Ferguson stands outside the East First Avenue thrift store that helps provide the clinic with operating funds.

Free care in hard times

In these times of recession and chronic unemployment, medical and health services are becoming harder and harder to afford. Luckily for this community, the Shalom Free Clinic, located at 1190 E. First Ave., gives free medical, mental and spiritual care to anyone who is uninsured or just underinsured, regardless of age.

“We will accept anyone who comes into our clinic on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.,” says Shalom’s director and founder, Nancy Morgans-Ferguson. “We don’t even ask for an ID or address.”

Shalom, online at, sees an average of 100 patients per week, and since its start in early 2007 has seen or treated a whopping 25,000 patients.

Some of the many services offered include primary medical care, dentistry, mental and behavioral health, acupuncture, massage, and energy balancing. A priest, rabbi or pastor is often on hand for spiritual counseling. Many of the medical treatments are for common ailments that a family practitioner would treat, such as a cold, the flu and earaches.

Along with volunteer medical professionals, Shalom is staffed by dozens of student volunteers from Chico State in programs such as pre-med, nursing and social work.

As if the free care wasn’t enough, a free lunch buffet is also served to everyone and soothing live music is played in the waiting room.

“Some people come in just to socialize,” Morgans-Ferguson said.

A sad fact about the clinic’s clientele is that the fastest-growing group is 45- to 65-year-olds who have at least some college education. Many of them have lost their health insurance from a previous job or are only employed part-time and can’t afford health insurance. There is also a large contingent of recent Chico State graduates who seek out Shalom’s services.

“Our patients are not so much the homeless and indigent as many would expect, but the working poor,” affirmed Morgans-Ferguson.

This is the third year that Shalom has been involved in the Annie B’s drive. Funds raised are needed for patients’ prescription gift cards, maintenance services, computer access and medical and office supplies.

“I’m always surprised at the generosity of our donors—especially ones who are completely unknown to me,” said Morgans-Ferguson.

Shalom is dependent on contributions from the public and holds semi-monthly fundraisers such as an upcoming fashion show Sept. 23 at the Down Lo at 319 Main St. It also raises funds through its Shalom Free Clinic Thrift Store at 250 E. First St.

—Vic Cantu

Here’s how to find your cause(s) and donate

You can find two lists of the agencies participating in the Annie B’s Community Drive on the North Valley Community Foundation website ( One list arranges them by category (education, arts, environment, etc.); the other lists them alphabetically.

Choosing which agency or agencies you wish to support is easy. Each listing comes with a link for further information about the agency and contact information. To donate, just click on the small box in front of the agency’s name. A donation box will drop down. Just enter the amount you wish to donate.

The payment system is completely secure, and all donations are tax deductible. Each donation is augmented by a partial matching donation from the NVCF.