A.L.L. Student Stewards Participate In SF Mayor’s Budget Town Hall Meeting


On Saturday morning, May 4, 2013,  A.L.L. Teacher, Tessa Kappe, and Founder/Director, Bonnie Ora Sherk, with a group of Student Stewards from the OMI/Excelsior Branch Living Library & Think Park,  attended the SF Budget Town Hall Meeting at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, where Mayor Ed Lee, Members of the Board of Supervisors, and SF City Department Heads were holding a meeting to hear the needs of San Francisco’s residents.

As the Branch Living Library & Think Park After-school, School Day, and Summer Programs (PreK-8) at six SFUSD Schools were facing 100% cuts from funding from DCYF  (Department of Children, Youth, and their Families) and SFPUC (Public Utilities Commission),  A Living Library (A.L.L.) was in attendance to show how, and why, it has been, and is, a thriving and vital force in the positive transformation of our City, and its youth, and must be continued.

Tessa Kappe says: 

“As an educator with A.L.L., I was moved by the response from nearly a dozen of our Student Stewards, the Afterschool Club comprised of James Denman Middle School Students with whom we do hands-on, multi-arts, gardening, ecology lessons, cooking, and nutrition, among many other related subjects. The Stewards wanted to show their support for A Living Library by attending the meeting early Saturday morning. 

What 12 year old wants to convince their parents to let them go sit around at a meeting on a Saturday morning? What about hanging around eating cereal or doing whatever 12 year olds normally do? Well, not these guys and gals. What they did, is what we try to engender in our teaching: growing not only urban green spaces, but healthy and engaged young people who in their own actions and selves represent the values of community, environmental stewardship, and being empowered participants in their world.

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At eight am, I arrived at the Living Library Lower Garden to see all of the Steward’s bright, eager faces, ready to jump in the car, and tell the Mayor and Supervisors how important A Living Library is to them. We swooped up our bounty of bouquets, picked from our teeming gardens by the students and me, and strolled into the meeting with armfuls of mason jars, overflowing with artichokes, roses, wheat, rosemary, mint, native flowers, sage, wild oats, rainbow chard, and everything in between!

We nestled ourselves in the front of the room, and the presence of these young people and their colorful offerings could not be missed.  The flowers served as talking pieces for the Stewards to convey their knowledge and enthusiasm to our elected officials and Department Heads, including: Mayor Ed Lee, Kate Howard, the Mayor’s Budget Director, Supervisor David Campos, and Director of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru, as well  other city leaders and community members.

One student, Karen Chen, wore a crown of Fremontodendron, or California Flannel Bush, a native with a lively, yellow, hibiscus-like flower, which she wore when she bravely stepped to the podium to address the crowd in the room, as to why she believed in A Living Library, and its continued existence. As she, A.L.L.  Founder and Director, Bonnie Ora Sherk, and Junipero Serra Child Development Center Principal, Jane Mancina spoke, the rest of us stood alongside them, holding our beautiful bouquets –  gifts from A Living Library Gardens.

Whether we spoke or not, each of us stood holding our own convictions about the deep importance of the knowledge, beauty, community, healing, and empowerment we cultivate within these Gardens.



At the close of the meeting, students gave their bouquets to the Supervisors, and the various Department Heads, including DCYF Director, Maria Su, who pledged her continued support of the program.  I handed one of the most expressive arrangements to  Mayor Lee himself, wishing him a Happy Birthday (which happened to be the following day), from A.L.L. He, too, expressed his support for A.L.L

On Monday morning, through a phone call with the Budget Director’s office, we learned that our bouquet was still on her desk this week!


After the meeting, students shared their thoughts about how it was to attend a civic meeting that reflected the concerns of the community, and in which, they themselves participated, and made an impact.”

The following are some of those reflections from the fabulous young people with whom we have the pleasure of sharing our stewardship of A Living Library:

“Hi! My name is Aaliyan Wright:

On May 4th, 2013, which was a Saturday, at 8 o’clock am, I went to a meeting for our Living Library Garden to get our funding back. It was important to me because I LOVE the Garden so much, and this Garden is beautiful too. We all work hard to make the Garden look like this. We come here 3 days a week, and everyday I come, I work hard. We took our time to work here. This Garden is very important to all of us.

At the meeting there were a lot of important things that were talked about and it was kind of boring at first, but it was interesting. There were funny things said too, so some of us were laughing. We saw Mayor Lee, but I called him Mr. Mayor. It was our turn to go up, and we took our flowers. It was a long wait when we were standing, and Karen (new Student Steward) talked about how she didn’t want to see the Garden go to waste. Then we gave the people in the the front that were listening to us, flowers.

I really thought it was the best Saturday I ever had. I had fun hanging with my friends. It was the most fun day ever, and now we have our funding back. We can come back next year.  I didn’t know what to say in front of everyone and I am sorry I didn’t go up. I was very shy and unsure of what to say. I will be back next year too. Why? Because the Garden is awesome. We love you, A Living Library !”

Karen Chen says: 

“I woke up early that Saturday morning because the Living Library Garden is a place where I can relax and have fun with my friends. It’s my happy place. If I were to see the Garden abandoned I would be really sad because I have met so many new friends and learned so much. The Living Library has been a place to escape the outside world and be happy with people who care about you. I have had so many new experiences, and without the Garden I wouldn’t be doing what I am.

At the meeting we saw how much money they could spend and it wasn’t a lot. I got to tell the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors how important the Living Library is to me and my friends at the Garden. We brought flowers and plants from the garden and gave them to Ed Lee, the Mayor, and the Board of Supervisors. I know we made a big impact by coming and showing how important the Living Library is to us.

“Hi, my name is Don Bautista:

On May 4th we went to Cesar Chavez Elementary and listened to other people who needed support, and I just want to give them a hug, because they were convincing. When it was our turn I was nervous at first. I really want to keep A Living Library because I have met lots of people, and I want incoming 6th graders to have the same experience.”


“Hi. My name is Denisse:

I am 12 years old and I went to the meeting because I believe the Garden should continue. At the Garden I have met a lot of new people. Also, the Garden is really fun because we get to learn a lot of new things, and we get to eat food from the Garden that is really yummy !!!  The Garden is a place where I really get to learn a lot about plants. Before I used to not really care about the earth, but now I do. That’s why I went to the meeting, and I loved to get the news that we get to keep the Garden program.”

Nathan Zhao:

“I went to the meeting because I believe that the Living Library Garden should continue. At the Garden I have met a lot of new people since the first time I came, which was last semester. I want to meet even more people in 7th and 8th grade.” 

Stephany Rodriguez:

“I came to the Town Hall meeting on Saturday because the Garden has done more than just teach me about nature. It has helped me make really awesome friends that I care about. At the meeting we heard people from different groups talking about their groups, and why they should get their funding back. It was interesting to see the problems of the city and find out about other problems in the city.”

“Hi. My name is Natalie Liang:

I wanted to go to the town hall meeting because I wanted to save the Garden because I like to come and it’s a safe place. I also like it here because I have lots of friends here. I have fun coming here. We went to the community meeting to talk to the Mayor. We picked flowers to make bouquets to give to the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. They felt happy that they received flowers. I am happy because we went to the meeting and we got our funds back (partly). YAY!!”


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