Becoming Independent Opens Office in San Rafael

Becoming Independent, a nonprofit serving adults with disabilities for more than 50 years in Sonoma County, is expanding its services to Marin.

The organization is set to unveil its San Rafael campus on Dec. 5.

“This has been a multiyear effort in the making,” said the organization’s chief executive, Luana Vaetoe. “We’re ready to go.”

Becoming Independent works with adults who have a range of developmental and intellectual disabilities, including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. The organization offers job training classes, helps its clients find employment and provides support for adults with disabilities living independent lives, Vaetoe said.

“When it comes to services for people with disabilities, there’s a lot of resources put into the early years, which is absolutely necessary,” Vaetoe said. “But those kids grow up, and they deserve to have a robust offering of services.”

The Marin County Office of Education provides “transitional” programs for students with disabilities after high school. Those programs include life-skills classes, job training and community college courses, according to Mary Jane Burke, the county’s superintendent of schools. But transitional programs, which are offered at no cost, are only available to students who are between the ages of 18 and 22.

Nonprofits help fill the gap for people who need additional support after they age out of those programs, Burke said.

“Our community is stronger whenever we provide more opportunities to those that, with support, can flourish,” she said.

In an effort to generate revenue and provide job opportunities for its clients, Becoming Independent runs several businesses that are staffed in part with people who have disabilities. The organization operates a cafe and a document shredding service, and it has run the concession booths on the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit trains since 2017, providing dozens of jobs for adults with disabilities.

“They do a wonderful job,” said SMART’s general manager, Farhad Mansourian.

The organization runs on a $14 million annual budget, which comes from grants, state funding and private donations, according to Vaetoe. Roughly 250 staff members work for Becoming Independent in Sonoma County, and about 20 will work in Marin when the San Rafael campus opens at 777 Grand Ave.

“There’s always a need for helping people find jobs,” said Nancy Dow Moody, chief executive for Lifehouse, a San Rafael organization that provides housing and support for people with disabilities. “It’s helpful to have new resources and perspectives.”

In addition to job training, Becoming Independent offers life-skills classes, including pedestrian safety, budgeting, health and wellness, nutrition, cooking, art and self-advocacy.

“Becoming Independent believes in the innate value of every human being,” Vaetoe said. “When every one of us can exercise our right to live a life of dignity, integrity and independence to the best of our abilities, the whole community is elevated and benefits.”

Sonoma Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities Distributes $378,000 to Sonoma County Youth Groups

Fifty-four Sonoma County non-profit organizations will benefit from nearly $380,000 in grants recently awarded by the Sonoma chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities (SCC), the charitable arm of Sonoma Raceway.

In total, $378,000 was distributed to youth-serving organizations in Sonoma County, bringing the chapter’s total distribution of funds to nearly $6.8 million since 2001. The amount raised this fiscal year includes $30,000 donated to the Fire Resilience Fund by Comcast after Sonoma Raceway President and General Manager Steve Page was named as a finalist for the 2018 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award. The Fire Resilience fund supports youth-serving non-profit organizations that continue to work on recovery and rebuilding after the 2017 Northern California fires. The chapter’s Board of Trustees recently approved the distribution of 2019 funds at its annual meeting.

“The Sonoma Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities grant for the Family Support Center is a key source of funding enabling us to provide preschool and educational support to the most vulnerable families in our community,” said Toni Horde Abraham, Children’s Resource Manager, Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa.

“Additionally, the Fire Resilience Grant will help fund the development of Catholic Charities’ Disaster Preparedness Plan for the Family Support Center, the largest family emergency shelter serving homeless families with children north of the Golden Gate to the Oregon border,” said Len Marabella, Executive Director, Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa. “Clearly, such a plan is needed now more than ever, especially for this highly-vulnerable population that lacks a safety net.”

SCC’s success was due to several fundraising events and partnerships in 2019, the majority of which are held during the raceway’s major-event weekends, including NASCAR and NHRA race weekends. The highlight of the year included the Speedway Children’s Charities NASCAR Banquet and its Fund-a-Need fundraiser at Viansa Sonoma, which combined to raise $145,000 during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend in June. SCC’s NASCAR live auction at the banquet combined with its online charity auction raised more than $28,000 in donations prior to race weekend.

The 13th annual Eric Medlen Nitro Night, which is held Thursday evening prior to the NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Viansa Sonoma, honored Funny Car driver Jack Beckman with the Eric Medlen Spirit Award and generated another $20,000 for the Sonoma chapter. Additionally, SCC launched its first SCC Red Bucket Brigade sponsored by First Republic Bank on Friday evening. Volunteers from First Republic Bank and Sonoma Raceway filled the grandstands to pass red donation buckets through the crowds, which raised more than $9,300 for Sonoma County children.

SCC is also the beneficiary of the Classic Sports Racing Group’s (CSRG) Charity Challenge, which netted $20,000 for Sonoma County non-profits from its 2018 race weekend. This brings CSRG’s donations to SCC to more than $960,000 since 2004.

SCC is also supported by 14 businesses that serve as Children’s Champions sponsors, including Ahlborn Fence & Steel, Inc., American Asphalt, Beck Communications, Bleyco Inc., Blue Star Gas, CSW/Stuber Stroeh Engineering Group, ESP & Alarm Inc., LifeWest, Inc., Kaiser Permanente, Ramekins, Pacific Highway Rentals, Pacific Satellite Inc., United Site Services and Verizon.

“Thanks to Speedway Children’s Charities, over 400 children, including those in our county’s child welfare system and children impacted by the 2017 wildfires, will manage their grief and trauma through our horticulture-assisted therapy program, called Project HOME: Healthy Organic Meals & Education,” said Carol Rathmann, executive director of Forget Me Not Children’s Services. “The generosity of Speedway Children’s Charities will also allow us to provide animal- and horticultural-assisted therapy for 120 child fire survivors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of these children lived in fire-affected areas or lost family members in the fire. By providing this therapy, we will be able to provide a unique and powerful form of healing and hope for these child fire survivors as they and their families and friends rebuild their lives.”

The Sonoma Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities is part of a national non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for qualified children’s organizations. Founded in 1984 by Bruton Smith, chairman of Speedway Motorsports, SCC originated at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina and the Sonoma chapter is one of eight chapters at Speedway Motorsports facilities throughout the country. Since its inception, SCC Chapters have cumulatively distributed more than $55.3 million nationally to youth-serving organizations.

The following Sonoma County youth groups will receive funding from Speedway Children’s Charities in 2019: 10,000 Degrees, Action Network, Art Escape; Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County; Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Santa Rosa, Inc.; California Parenting Institute; Inc.; Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa; Ceres Community Project; Committee On The Shelterless; Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County; Conservation Corps North Bay; Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Sonoma County; Food for Thought;  Forget Me Not Children’s Services; Friends in Sonoma Helping (F.I.S.H.); Girl Scouts of Northern California; Girls on the Run Sonoma County; Hanna Boys Center; Hope Counseling Services; Individuals NOW dba Social Advocates for Youth; Jewish Community Free Clinic; Kid Scoop News; Legal Aid of Sonoma County; LifeWorks of Sonoma County; LIME Foundation; Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation; Matrix, A Parent Network and Resource Center; Mentor Me; On The Move; Paws As Loving Support Assistance Dogs; Petaluma Health Center; Petaluma People Services Center; Petaluma Policing Foundation; Power to Soar Foundation; Presbyterian Church of the Roses; Redwood Empire Food Bank; River to Coast Children’s Services; Roseland Charter School; Santa Rosa Symphony Association; SEEDS (dba Seeds of Awareness); Sonoma County Public Library Foundation; Sonoma Ecology Center; Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance; Sonoma Valley Teen Services; Sunny Hills Services; Support Our Students; The Center for Social and Environmental Stewardship; The Living Room Center, Inc.; The Salvation Army; Transcendence Theater Company; Valley of the Moon Children’s Home Foundation; Verity – Compassion.Safety.Support; and the Young Women’s Christian Association.

For more information on the Sonoma chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities, visit or contact Cheri Plattner at or 707-933-3950.

Bank of America Celebrating Women Photographers at Napa Valley Museum

Napa Valley Museum’s latest exhibit, “Modern Vision, Modern Women: Selections from the Bank of America Collection” almost didn’t happen. Laura Rafaty, the museum’s executive director, said that the exhibit she had planned fell through at the last minute. So she reached out to Amy Loflin, senior vice president for local markets, at Bank of America to see if there was anything available from the bank’s extensive art collection.

“Typically the waiting list for an exhibit like this can be a couple years long,” Loflin said. “It just happened to be a lovely coincidence, that she reached out suddenly at a time when it unexpectedly became available.”

Loflin is a senior vice president for local markets at the bank. She wears many hats, but summarized her position with, “we make a big bank feel like a community bank.”

“We want to be a place that supports the community and that supports the arts. If this can bring tourism up here, if we can get people to come here from Sacramento and San Francisco, we’re going to help the economy and the community. The arts are so important. Everybody wins,” she said.

The exhibit is a fascinating study of the depth and breadth of American life, as presented solely by women photographers. It is a collection of photographs that is serious, insightful, imaginary, and at times, like the very life that we have lived in the past century, heartbreaking.

Perhaps the most significant coup in the exhibition is Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” taken in 1936 in Nipomo, California. You may have seen this photo before; it’s a veritable personification of the desperation people felt during the Great Depression. Her confoundedness, her hopelessness, the perplexity evident in her face, as her three boys snuggle around her, is one of the greatest, most arresting portraits ever taken. And you can see it in Yountville.

There are several photographs by Diane Arbus, the sometimes awkward, but provocative photographer who killed herself in 1971. She was famous for treating marginalized groups — LGBTQ people, dwarves, nudists, the elderly, and some middle-class working folks — as friends and capturing them in moments of unguarded intimacy.

Arbus’, most provocative work may be “Boy with Straw Hat.” It is a picture of a young man with an earnest look on his face, fedora on his head and bow tie at his chin who wears a pin that says, “Bomb Hanoi.” He is advocating for the Vietnam war, which today is an American equivalence with the Holocaust in its tragedy and inhumanity. Seeing someone so young want something so violent for people he has never even met only underscores the extent to which we brainwash our young with our own arrogance and misconceptions. Visitors at the show turned away at the image in horror.

Some photos, like “Migrant Mother” are candid, taken in a split second as a result of a photographer’s heightened instincts. But others are studied, calculated.

In “ID400” Tomoko Sawada, a Japanese artist, meditated on the identification cards endemic in modern society by taking hundreds of self portraits in a photo booth, changing her hair, make-up and facial expression in an impossible variety. The photos, like what you would submit for a government issued ID card, are presented in a huge rectangle, one after another, so that you get a sense of the multiplicity of humanity, as it is codified by the one inch square black and white image on our driver’s licenses and passports.

The fact that none of the photos look alike, yet they are all the same person, speaks to Sawada’s inventiveness and ingenuity, giving her a rightful place, even at 42 years old, among the works of these other artists.

Sandy Skoglund’s “Revenge of the Goldfish” is another calculated photograph. Skoglund often takes several months to construct what she is going to photograph, such that often in her exhibitions the rooms are recreated as art installations themselves. Close examination of this photograph shows the attention to detail—the aquatic blue of the entire room, juxtaposed with many, bright gold koi. The koi are ceramic, not rubber, adding an additional dimension of planning.

Perhaps the most arresting photo — one that Harmony Plenty, of Cope Family Services,and the mother of two young boys said broke her heart — was “Olivier” by the Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra. “Olivier” is a young man who enlists in the French Foreign Legion. On July 21, 2000, he is photographed in Marseille in a navy T-shirt. His young, innocent face is callow, but somehow knowing, anticipatory.

The next photograph is taken in Corsica on June 28, 2001. In uniform now, with a box hat and chin strap that frames his young jaw, seeming to constrict his ability to open his mouth in protest. His shirt is too big for him and the bright red tassels hanging from the epaulets on his shoulders are absurd, a holdover from the 19th century when fashion in war was more important than one’s ability to move. They are an ornament, contrasted with his, bitter determined face, personify the paradoxical painfulness and inevitability of war.

In the third photo, taken in Djibouti on July 13, 2003, he is a hardened warrior. Crows feet between his eyebrows that did not exist in the first picture, are now hardened creases. He has lost the tassels from his epaulets and he is more muscled — his shirt fits him this time. He stares at you directly in the face, defiant, but resigned. An air of sadness, but determination. Is he thinking of other things he could have done with his life? Has he seen things he would have rather not seen and will never be able to unsee?

The Foreign Legion is known for its psychologically intense training, and you can see it on his face. France was the first country in the world to mandate military service as a result of the Revolution. It was phased out in 2001, so it is possible he is there only as a condition of citizenship, which, given the expression on his face, was against his will. At any rate, he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, as most soldiers do, their fate determined by people far removed from the horror they experience every day.

This is the magic of the photographer. While painters create from their imagination, photographers use the real things, real people in the real world to do their work. These photographs are much more relatable than, say, the recent exhibition of surrealists at the Napa Valley Museum, because they are faces, hands, feet, torsos, bellies and legs all in situations we are familiar with, rather than just interesting designs sprouted from the imagination of one artist.

Or they are recognizable things in positions we never thought of, that are provocative. They are split seconds of time, in place, captured by the photographer’s eye, a particular point of view.

Some of the photographs, like Lange’s “Migrant Mother” are time capsules. Berenice Abbott’s 1934 photograph of the New York Stock Exchange, from an angle down Wall Street, may have been the first time that angle of the facade of that cathedral to the religion of capitalism was captured. The Corinthian columns and greco-roman frieze above are illuminated by the sun and 1930s- era cars with square windshields and big fenders are parked on the street.

There is a quiet majesty to the photograph. A reverence. The New York Stock Exchange is the soul of the American economy, the very progenitor of our affluence. But, when this photo was taken, six years after the 1929 crash and two years before 1936’s “Migrant Mother,” the building in this photograph is the seat of a great tragedy, a symbol of the market’s fickle vicissitudes, the mob mentality and unbridled greed that plunged the United States into the most traumatic time in its history since the Civil War.

In this case, the building is indifferent to the suffering it has caused. Its stately facade echoing the dignity of the Athenian enlightenment, or Roman civility, is now the opposite of those things. The facade is just a mask, insincerely, fraudulently cloaking the ruthlessness of capitalism with the architectural trappings of another time, millennia ago.

Remember, these photographs are taken by women. The sensitivity, ingenuity and sensibility are all feminine. Though, that really should not matter. The work should stand on its own, and be judged for its own sake, not based on the sex of its creator.

However, in a world dominated by men in most areas, we can’t help but celebrate, as the curators of this show have, the equality of women’s work with men’s — its sensitivity, ingenuity and sensibility are not sex-based; instead they are nothing but, universally human.

Marin Sanitary Looks to Turn Trash into Power as Business Changes Rapidly

The waste business isn’t what it used to be.

If you ask Marin Sanitary Service President and CEO Patty Garbarino however, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“It would seem as though it would be quite simple, the waste management business, but it’s no longer what it was,” Garbarino said.

Her grandfather started hauling burlap sacks of trash up the hills of San Francisco. Her family partnered with other Italian-American families to establish Marin Sanitary Service in 1948.

Today the company encompasses four divisions, which handle waste and recycling from the curb through almost its entire lifecycle. The company’s divisions now include Marin Sanitary Service, the Marin Recycling Center, the Marin Resource Recovery Center and the Marin Household Hazardous Waste Facility.

Garbarino said the changing business model of recycling in California and worldwide means the company has expanded how it generates revenue and serves customers, always with an eye on renewability.

Using technology like generating power from overlooked sources like processing food scraps and wood chips is an opportunity “for us not only to bring waste material back into the manufacturing stream, but also to be able to … reuse in the way of energy while at the same time teaching the public not to waste as much as we do as Americans,” Garbarino said.

Innovation has become key in an industry buffeted by falling prices for key recyclables like cardboard and paper, a trend largely attributable to China’s National Sword policy. In January of last year China declared it would no longer accept mixed paper recycling, which can be anything from newspaper to office paper, as well as certain plastics due to waste contamination.

Companies like Marin Sanitary have had to find ways to keep cash flowing in despite China refusing to take recycled material like office paper which Garbarino said, “Has absolutely no market right now.” She added the company now gets about a tenth of what they were once paid for the materials. “So it’s affected us not only in terms of having a stable market, but also in terms of the cost,” she added.

That has meant raising rates on residential customers for services like curbside pickups. “The ratepayer now supports within the rate an amount that fluctuates each year, depending on the commodity markets,” she said. Garbarino estimated that the most recent rate increase was under 10% for curbside hauling, noting the National Sword program accounted for roughly half of that.


In addition to losing power itself for five days, the recent PG&E outages put a huge strain on Marin Sanitary as residents tossed out thousands of pounds of spoiled food.

“And that was a concern of the health department because a lot of what we do is to protect health and safety via the sanitation issue,” Garbarino said.

She added that to avoid a buildup of gaseous materials in any one landfill, the company trucked waste north to its operation in Windsor in Sonoma County. The power outage also created problems for the company since they could not sort waste and recycling but can legally only have materials on their premises for 24 hours.

Despite these recent calamities, Garbarino said the company continues to invest in renewable sources of energy. “We’re mandated by the California Air Resources Board to reduce our energy footprint each year,” she said, noting the company already has a solar array and is looking into increasing their investment in sun power. Marin Sanitary also uses renewable diesel in its fleet of garbage trucks.

The company is also looking into permitting and building a small plant at its San Rafael facility that would allow it to go “off the grid” by digesting biomass and turning it into clean power. “That would then make us energy independent and not dependent upon these swings that we’ve seen in the paper market, the cardboard plastic markets, and so forth,” Garbarino said.


Looking to the future of the company does not just mean focusing on prices and energy, however. Garbarino said while the current board of the company includes her, her father, and her cousin, “like a lot of other companies we have been bringing in more independence into the board structure and people with other talents.”

She floated the idea of bringing in people with backgrounds in human resources or banking when those needs arise.

Those who know and work for Garbarino say she is particularly adept at building partnerships. She is welcoming but also direct.

But she focuses on constructive criticism according to Kathy Wall, household hazardous waste program manager at Marin Sanitary.

“She will be direct in terms of what she needs and what she wants,” Wall said, adding that Garbarino “will ask you directly what you can do for her.”

Garbarino is also fastidious about congratulating her employees on a job well done, and following up when something does not reach her standards, Wall said.

“If it’s something that she wasn’t happy about she will also tell you,” Wall said, adding those conversations always included guidance on how to improve a result next time or who to reach out to for guidance.”

Wall said the agreement hammered out years ago between Marin Sanitary and the City of San Rafael to operate the household hazardous waste facility is a good example of the kind of results-focused partnerships Garbarino is adept at forging.

In the late 1980s, many drivers were hauling dangerous waste like motor oil, paint and batteries, Wall said, noting some were sustaining injuries from the waste. Because private companies cannot have permits to handle hazardous waste, to have a program to handle the issue Garbarino needed to partner with the local government, Wall said.

After lobbying the Marin County Board of Supervisors and other officials, a local fire marshal offered to obtain the permit if Garbarino was willing to operate the facility. “That’s one of the things that I admire about her,” Wall said. “Those partnerships really make a difference within our community.”

Cynthia Murray is the president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council and has known Garbarino for years. She praised her for her efforts in everything from renewable energy to her work on the county school board as well as her other civic engagements.

“She’s a woman in a male-dominate industry,” Murray said. “Being the first woman to do any of those things is always a challenge.”

Redwood Credit Union Steps Up for Kincade Fire Support

Redwood Credit Union (RCU) has responded to the recent Kincade Fire in a multitude of ways to help its members, employees, and communities. With widespread power outages, mandatory evacuations, and the fire itself impacting much of the credit union’s field of membership over multiple days at the end of October, RCU jumped in to help.

The Kincade Fire started on October 23 about 40 miles north of RCU’s main offices in Santa Rosa, and swiftly began moving southwest, prompting a series of mandatory evacuations. As this was unfolding, RCU’s emergency response team quickly put its disaster response plan into motion.

Support for RCU’s employees included:

  • Opening its main offices as an evacuation shelter for employees, their families and pets, by providing them with showers, toiletries, sleeping bags, pillows, sleeping mats, and meals (prepared by the CEO and executive team).
  • Allowing them to bring their children to work due to school closures. Onsite day care was also provided.
  • Deployment of air scrubbers at all affected branch and office locations to combat poor air quality from the smoke.
  • A two-way telephone/text communication system so RCU could efficiently communicate with employees to share information and check in on their well-being.
  • Allowing employees to work remotely until mandatory evacuations were lifted.
  • Supplying free, hearty meals to employees.
  • Providing payment of lost wages to employees due to the events.

Support for members included:

  • Maintaining services at all ATMs and all branches except two (which were in mandatory evacuation zones).
    • At one point, nine branches were on generator power because of extensive power outages throughout the region.
    • In some areas, RCU was the only financial institution and/or ATM operating during the outages.
    • In affected areas, branches were equipped with air purifiers so people could visit RCU branches to breathe fresh air, have a cup of coffee, and use WiFi to connect with family and friends.
  • Availability of online and mobile banking.
  • Ongoing updates of information on website and social channels to keep members and the community informed of available services.
  • Financial assistance programs to support members impacted by the fire and evacuations, including:
    • 0% interest loans up to $5,000 for urgent needs.
    • Discounted loans for autos, trailers, and RVs for those who lost vehicles or housing in the fires.
    • Automatic increases of credit and debit card limits.
    • Reimbursement of out-of-network ATM fees so members who had evacuated out of the area could get cash.
    • Direct deposits were processed a day early to give members quicker access to their funds.
    • Loan and credit card payment relief.
    • Overdraft and late fee reversals.

Support for the community is ongoing, but has so far included:

  • Providing a generator to Sonoma County Office of Emergency Services to operate a water treatment plant.
  • The purchase and donation of goods including blankets, towels, space heaters, fans, and sundries to support up to 800 evacuees in local shelters.
  • Providing a free barbeque for local fire and police departments.
  • Partnership with a local pizza restaurant to supply free meals to nearly 300 evacuees and first responders.
  • Providing tri-tip dinner at a family-appreciation event for 150 first responders and their families.
  • Providing tri-tip dinner to 150 low-income housing residents who were evacuated.
  • Partnering with the city of Healdsburg as a presenting sponsor of its “Welcome Home” event for the community.
  • Volunteering at the local assistance center to help fire survivors connect with the resources they need.
  • Coordination of multiple volunteer efforts with local food banks.

Many additional community efforts are being planned to support housing security, food security, mental health and wellness programs, and community-building events that promote resilience, connection, and healing for those who need it.

“Our mission is serving the needs of our members, employees and communities. In times of disaster, our focus is to make sure our employees are safe, to ensure our members have access to their money, and to support our community’s needs during and after the event,” said Brett Martinez, president & CEO of RCU. “We have a strong disaster plan in place and an amazing dedicated team that allows us to make these things happen.”

About Redwood Credit Union
Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking to consumers and businesses in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU offers complete financial services including checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans, credit cards, online and mobile banking, business services, commercial and SBA lending, and more. Wealth management and investment services are available through CUSO Financial Services L.P., and through RCU Services Group (RCU’s wholly owned subsidiary), insurance and auto-purchasing services are also available. RCU has over $4.7 billion in assets and serves more than 344,000 members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah, plus more than 30,000 fee-free network ATMs nationwide. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit, or follow RCU on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for news and updates.

Comcast NBCUniversal’s Enduring Service to the Veteran & Military Community

This year’s Veterans Day marks 100 years of our Nation officially honoring those who served to defend our country. We’re also recognizing Veterans and Military Families Month because service extends beyond those who wore a uniform. From all of us at Comcast NBCUniversal, we want to thank and honor all of you for living a life of service.

As a leader in media and technology, Comcast NBCUniversal is looking to the future in how we engage with and serve the military community. In 2019, we focused on three core areas – connectivity, advocacy, and special offers.


Last year, we announced a major expansion of our Internet Essentials program to include more than one million low-income veterans who live in our service area. Internet Essentials is the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, and most successful effort to close the digital divide for low-income households.

To build on our efforts to help connect veterans to vital online resources, in 2019 we opened two more Internet Essentials “Digital Rally Points,” or computer labs, in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. This brings the total number of computer labs to more than a dozen with more scheduled to open next year. These Digital Rally Points have been strategically located at local, veteran-serving organizations. At each one, veterans can use computers and participate in free Internet training programs to learn skills like how to search and apply for jobs, take online classes that will make them more employable, and take full advantage of their well-deserved veteran benefits.


We continue to advocate for the military community in a variety of ways:

  • We remain committed to our goal to hire 21,000 veterans, military spouses, and National Guard and Reserve members between 2015 and 2021.
  • We continuously evaluate what we’re doing to support our employees. This video spotlights Tom Baker, from our Houston team. He’s a reminder of the talent, dedication, and passion our military community employees give to our company.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers, which is owned by Comcast, wanted a way for our local veterans to engage in the game they love. This year, the Flyers, in partnership with the NHL, funded the creation of the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors hockey team, which is made up exclusively of veterans. The team even went on to win the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic tournament!
  • We expanded our partnerships to empower employers to engage with the military community. In partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation, the Veterans at Work Certificate was released.
  • We assisted in expanding the PsychArmor Institute’s Courses for Employers Who Invest In Military Talent. These free, online courses deliver knowledge and tools to assist organizations in creating an inclusive and supportive environment for military and veteran employees.
  • Lastly, we deepened our relationship with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and participated in the Hidden Heroes mission of raising awareness and support for military caregivers, including employment initiatives.

Special Offers

2019 was the first full year that veterans and actively serving military customers could receive our special Military Appreciation offer. When these customers sign up for any Xfinity service including: Xfinity Internet, Xfinity TV, Xfinity Home, Xfinity Voice, or Xfinity Mobile, and verify their military status, they’ll receive a $25 Xfinity coupon and if on a term agreement may be eligible to receive a $100 Visa® prepaid card. The offer is also available for existing customers. In addition, our Universal Theme Parks continue to offer special packages to military community members. Their service matters, and this is one way for us to say thank you.

Our motivation is the belief that Service Matters – Service to Country, Service to Customers, Service to Communities. As Veterans Day approaches, we invite you to join Comcast NBCUniversal in paying tribute to those who committed themselves to a life of service.

Keysight Technologies Board Elects CEO Ron Nersesian Chairman

Keysight Technologies (NYSE: KEYS) on Friday announced today that President and Chief Executive Officer Ron Nersesian, has been appointed chairman of the company’s board of directors, effective immediately.

In the announcement from the Santa Rosa-based maker of electronic test and measurement equipment and software, former Chairman Paul Clark said the board unanimously elected Nersesian to the position.

“This expanded role recognizes Keysight’s strong performance over the last five years,” Clark said.

Nersesian has been president and CEO since 2014, when Keysight spun out of Agilent Technologies as an independent public company.

Clark will assume the role of lead independent director, the company said. His responsibilities will include “setting the agenda for board of directors meetings with Nersesian, liaising between the chairman and independent directors, presiding over meetings of independent directors, and advising on shareholder engagement and governance.”

The company has shown strong financial performance recently. Third-quarter revenue, reported in August, clocked in at $1.09 billion, up from $1.00 billion a year before. Quarterly net income was $159 million, or $0.83 per share, up from $121 million, or $0.63 per share, in the third quarter of 2018.

Cornerstone Properties Hosts World Central Kitchen Chefs to Feed Victims Effected by the Kincade Fire

Earlier this month, José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen reached over one million meals served in the Bahamas, where WCK team members and volunteers mobilized to provide food and water in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. Now, there’s another Chef Relief Team active in California as multiple wildfires burn—the Kincade, Tick, and Getty fires.

The first fire, the Kincade Fire, broke out in Sonoma County on October 23, and The Washington Post reports that as of Sunday night, over 66,200 acres had burned and the fire was only five percent contained.

Nearly 200,000 people have been forced to evacuate, the largest number on record for Sonoma County. But World Central Kitchen was prepared.

Andrés tweeted on October 24 that World Central Kitchen was already stationed in Sonoma County to provide relief for those affected by the fire, and they’ve been on the ground since serving meals to residents and first responders.

Team members had hot chili ready for firefighters who were battling the blaze in 24-hour shifts on October 25; chef Jason Collis of WCK logged on October 25 and 26 to give updates about the fire from Geyserville and Santa Rosa.

Chef and cookbook author Tyler Florence also joined the efforts—on October 27, he provided a video update from the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, where “just under 1,000 people” were at the shelter. He was cooking a pot of Thai green curry filled with vegetables and chicken, which was served over rice for lunch. (A vegetarian option was available as well.) Later that day, he tweeted from his own account that World Central Kitchen had served just under 6,000 meals at the fairgrounds.

n response to the Tick Fire in Santa Clarita, which started on October 24, World Central Kitchen tweeted on October 26 that they were providing fresh meals for residents at Red Cross shelters—The Los Angeles Times reported Monday morning that the fire was 78 percent contained, and over 4,600 acres had burned.

The Getty Fire is the latest to break out, starting as a brush fire in Los Angeles near the Getty Center around 1:30 am Monday morning. World Central Kitchen hasn’t provided any on-the-scenes coverage or updates from the fire yet, but the account retweeted a map of evacuation orders from Los Angeles County.

f you’d like to help with the relief efforts, there are a few different options. Florence tweeted that interested volunteers could DM him—kitchen experience is preferable, but “if you have a strong back and can handle a knife, we’ll take you,” he wrote.

You can also sign up to volunteer in Northern California, although World Central Kitchen noted that “the situation is rapidly changing” via Twitter, and donations can be given through World Central Kitchen’s site.

Congratulations to Kaiser Permanente’s Pat Kendall for Winning the Outstanding Corporate Involvement Award From Lifehouse

Lifehouse, a Marin County-based nonprofit organization supporting individuals with developmental disabilities, will hold its Annual Awards Banquet to honor our dedicated staff and community members who have been essential in the continued success of our programs over the past year. We will also celebrate the personal achievements of the people we serve. The evening will include a sit-down dinner, awards presentation, and dancing with DJ Terri DeLangis.

Lifehouse is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that has provided opportunity and independence to individuals with developmental disabilities through life-skills training, community integration, advocacy, referral and information.  Lifehouse began as a parent-led effort in 1954 and is now one of the Bay Area’s most respected agencies, improving the quality of life for the people they support by helping each person become live fulfilled lives. Services include supported living, independent living homes, intermediate care facilities, specialized autism services, individual day support services, Great Expectations Inclusive preschool, assessments, information and referrals, affordable housing advocacy, recreation and vacation travel for adult residents, teen recreation integration programs, autism specialists and in-home support for families.  More information about Lifehouse is available at

Arrow Benefits Group Launches Award-Winning Joint-Partnership Program for Clients

Benefits advising is typically a highly competitive industry. But now Arrow Benefits Group is breaking the mold, where Principal Andrew McNeil and Spanish Language Division (Alianza) lead Rosario Avila have teamed up to form The Power of Two, an unprecedented collaboration that has garnered them the prestigious award “2019 Benefits Advisers of the Year” by Employee Benefits Adviser (EBA), the first time this award has been granted jointly. This unique partnership of benefits advisers serves their clients by focusing on being proactive rather than reactive, and this unique perspective is generating results. Arrow customers are already seeing the benefits of this kind of joint-venture “Andrew and Rosario worked with me on a partnership to bring CPR classes to the Spanish-speaking community. They bring varying important perspectives to the table and then work collaboratively to find the best solution. Their differences complement each other and they bring thoughtful, comprehensive solutions to every situation. Working together, they truly demonstrate that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” said Lori Zaret SPHR, SVP Human Resources, Exchange Bank. To book time with this dynamic duo or for more information call: 707-992-3789 or email

After discussions about the broad and diverse range of needs of their clients, McNeil and Avila recognized that often just one high-level representative who may specialize in a particular area can’t always fulfill the client’s needs alone. They saw an opportunity among their wide breadth of skills and experience as a duo. Joining together with a partner in the industry who approaches a situation differently enables both to serve clients on a much broader scale. “The Power of Two is a way to make each other better, both client and agent,” notes Avila. “They can finish each other’s thoughts; they’re so in sync with one another. But they’re also really different and really complementary,” says Lori Zaret of Exchange Bank. “When we’re jiving on each other’s vibe, the chemistry is really hard to duplicate,” McNeil said. To read more about why McNeil and Avila were selected for the 2019 Benefits Adviser of the Year award, go to:

Continuing a tradition of industry innovation at Arrow, The Power of Two program has many objectives that buck the traditional approach to benefits advising. Benefits brokers typically meet with their clients once a year and do not necessarily have contact with their client’s employees. This has always been done differently at Arrow, and now The Power of Two project is a strategic plan to review each client throughout the year, as well as working directly with employees and their families to educate them on the benefits provided and to resolve benefits-related issues. This is not the industry norm. These dedicated relationships ensure that the benefits program is what the employer and employees want and need.

Employee benefits are often the second-highest line item in a company’s budget after payroll, and yet if employees do not understand their benefits package, they will not use them to their fullest potential. Underutilization of benefits results in an extreme waste of resources, and ultimately a less healthy workforce. McNeil and Avila’s dedication to benefits education also inspired them to create BenefitsTV, a series of videos posted to social media, after recognizing the lack of digital informational content accessible to lay people wanting to better understand their employee benefits.

About Arrow Benefits Group
Arrow Benefits Group, the third largest benefits firm in the North Bay, is a proud member of TRUE Network Advisors. Arrow Benefits Group is the single-source solution for managing the complexities of benefits with expert advice, customized programs, and personalized solutions. Arrow’s innovative programs control costs and give employees a greater sense of financial and emotional security. For straight answers to employee benefits call 707-992-3780 or visit