AERIAL EXPLORER: Cris Benton has spent the last 18 years photographing San Francisco Bay. His vantage point is unique and his equipment is unconventional. Using a kite to fly a radio-controlled camera, Cris's aerial images bring a dramatic view to the salt ponds at the southern end of the bay- from 300 feet in the air! His high-flying photography is now helping to document one of the greatest landscape transformations under way in America. What started out as a photographic interest in colors and textures has become a valuable study in the area's environmental history. ABC7 salutes this Bay Area star for taking his hobby to great heights!
THE FANS: How do you become a sports dynasty? Having the best fans in baseball doesn't hurt -- like San Francisco Giants fans who never, ever stop believing. Fans who hang in there, even when it doesn't look good. Fans who wait for up to 15 hours to celebrate with their team... in the pouring rain. Fans like the ones you see in this shot captured by ABC7's Wayne Freedman. They came from different parts of the Bay Area, but our guess is these fans have one GIANT thing in common -- they all bleed orange.
GOOD NEIGHBOR: Gail Goldyne is a good example of what community spirit can accomplish. After the Loma Prieta Earthquake, she and her neighbors were determined to be ready for the next disaster, so they turned to the fire department for help. That was the start of San Francisco's "Neighborhood Emergency Response Team," now known as NERT. NERT trains residents how to take care of themselves and their neighborhood before offical help can arrive. Gail still vividly remembers Loma Prieta and feels others should do the same. She is working to get a monument built in the Marina, "to remember this earthquake, to teach the public about earthquake preparedness and to honor the fire department and the NERT program."
COMFORT DOG: When you're scared or nervous, it helps to have a best friend. Good thing Faber is a trained professional! Faber is San Francisco's first courthouse dog, and it's his job to provide comfort to witnesses, victims and children in the criminal justice system. Faber came to the court through Canine Companions for Independence; a Bay Area non-profit, recognized worldwide for its exceptional service dogs. He quietly does his job in interview rooms and hallways, but hopefully Faber will soon be allowed in the courtroom when victims testify. Comforting those in need... now that's what we call a star!
BIRTHDAY GIRL: Kris Dufala thinks every kid in the world should have a happy birthday, and she's doing whatever she can to make that happen! Adopted at the age of 2, it was during a visit to an orphanage when she was 6, that Kris saw how happy the children were with her simple gifts of cake and ice cream. Since then, Kris has been sending birthday treats to children around the world, spreading happiness through her non-profit "Sweets for the Holidays." What does the 10-year old have planned next? "Kris Campus" a fully functioning orphanage in the Philippines. If she has her way, Kris will break ground and have it up and running by the time she's 16.
HORSE RESCUER: Monica Hardeman always dreamed of dedicating her life to caring for horses. She never imagined a personal tragedy would set her on a path to fulfilling that dream. After her sister was murdered in 1995, Monica turned to horses to help cope with her grief. That experience inspired Monica to start the Equine Rescue Center & Sanctuary, where she and a group of volunteers now care for horses in need of help, healing, or just time to find a new home. The focus is on rescuing horses headed to slaughter; giving them a second chance at life, health and bonding with humans. What does pure horse happiness look like? Just ask any of the volunteers at the center...thanks to Monica, they see it every day!
TRUE PROTECTOR: Ask a member of the congregation at Novato's Good Shepherd Lutheran church about Andy Blalock, and they'll probably tell you he has opened their eyes to a shocking truth. Andy has done more than that; in addition to raising awareness about child exploitation and sex trafficking around the world, Andy is bringing his community together to help! Volunteers in Novato raise funds for young girls victimized by child sex traffickers in Cambodia. And while Andy works full time with a humanitarian aid organization there, he knows even the smallest effort has an impact. "There's a place for everyone to make a tremendous difference," he says. "Everyone can give something important."
THE GREEN GUARDIAN: Dedication and a LOT of help! That's what it took to make the 4-H Million Trees Project a success. Laura Webber's idea to combat global climate change, by planting one million trees began with her Pacifica 4-H club and grew into a worldwide service-learning project. Together, more than 140,000 4-H club members have planted trees in their communities. Today, those trees are taking root around the world, thanks to the power of a single idea. What about the one millionth tree? Just like the first one planted, it's Laura's and it's right here in the Bay Area.
THE HELPING HAND: Julia Tognotti is on a mission, and she'll do anything she can to make sure you know about it! After watching a documentary in her 11th grade Spanish class, Julia was determined to do something to help kids who are caught in the middle of the growing immigration crisis on the border with Mexico. Instead of a summer job, Julia now spends her time sorting clothing, shoes and toiletries, donated by family and friends. She's already sent dozens of boxes to a border patrol facility in Nogales, Mexico, and she's not stopping there. Julia's plan for Senior year...a teaching trip to the border, for students and faculty at her school!
THE SUPER SWIMMER: Jack Zembsch has never won a race, but that doesn't stop him from swimming on one of the most competitive teams in the Bay Area! Metal rods in his back limit Jack's flexibility, but not his determination. He swims a grueling workout five times a week, training alongside his teammates and inspiring them to work just as hard as he does. For Jack, it's not about winning a medal; "I know I'm not as fast as the other kids," he says, "so I just put the focus on popping my time." Sounds like a great strategy Jack. Congratulations on setting a new fastest time in the backstroke!
THE TEAM BUILDER: One good deed can lead to another. Cheryl Anne Napier is a shining example of how that works. Her star story began with one small move to make a big difference; deciding to walk in AIDS Walk San Francisco. But Cheryl Anne went beyond just volunteering herself, she talked to her employer (Quest Diagnostics) and the company became the AIDS Walk SF Premier sponsor. She didn't stop there...she also helped recruit a team of over 140 co-workers to join her at the walk. Pretty impressive! Cheryl Anne and her team prove that another day at the office can be your inspiration to do something good.
THE ARTFUL SCHOLAR: For Pleasanton's Annie Wu, graduating with Foothill High School's class of 2014 was just the beginning. The 18 year-old is also part of the 50th class of U.S. Presidential scholars! Annie is one of just 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts Award recipients in the entire country. The award, presented on behalf of the President of the United States, is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon an artistically talented graduating high school senior. What's next for Annie? A dual five-year program at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory of Music. But, that's after she goes on tour with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States this summer!
AN AMERICAN HERO: The late General Henry Arnold is one of only nine American officers who have worn five stars on their shoulders, among the likes of Eisenhower & Macarthur. His friends called him Hap and his flying career spanned from the Wright Brothers to supersonic jets. We think Hap's story is one for the history books, and his adopted hometown of Sonoma is making sure he's not forgotten!
THE DECORATED VETERAN: From Pearl Harbor through the Korean War, this man lived the history many of us only study in books. At 93 years old, United States Marine Corps Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Stevens still goes to the office every day, dedicated to building a Korean War memorial in the Presidio. Watch his brave story of survival, and join us as we say thank you to all the men and women who serve this great country.
LIFE-SAVING HERO: It is said there are heroes among us, but we never know who they are until their instincts kick in during a crisis. There's no doubt in our mind that Iria Wolnick of San Jose is one of those heroes. She's being honored for her extraordinary courage after saving the life of an unborn baby on the side of a desolate highway in south Texas. Iria's story will move you, and hopefully give us all the same strength under pressure.
AND THE AWARD GOES TO: East Oakland teacher Laura Strait! Laura is one of only 4 teachers nationwide to win the 2014 Fishman award. She was singled out for the individual attention she gives her students at the Aspire ERES Academy. Along with the prestige of being the first California teacher ever to win, Laura receives a $25,000 prize and summer residency to share her knowledge with educators across the country. Way to go, Miss Strait!
SUPER SNIFFERS: Highly trained, super dedicated, and obviously cute. He's a service dog for his human, Suzi, who is living with diabetes. Laser was trained right here in the Bay Area by a unique non-profit called Dogs 4 Diabetics. With just a sniff, he can sense changes in his human's blood sugar. Pretty amazing, right? We think so. ABC7 gives two paws up to all dogs that protect and serve.
THE DETERMINED VOICE: From a young age, Zina Jawadi had to learn to be heard. Since then, she's never stopped speaking out. To put it in her own words, "rather than shying away from my hearing loss, I have embraced my disability and made it the central focus of my life." She's not only an advocate for the hard of hearing but she's also started her own program that provides used hearing aids for those in need. To top it all off, Zina is a talented pianist who got nothing but A's in high school and now has been accepted to 11 of the country's top colleges. Her dedication and drive have definitely paid off. We see a bright future ahead for this ABC7 star.
THE SCHOLARLY ATHLETE: He has a 5.0 GPA and a 2100 out of 2400 on the SAT. He plays 3 instruments, played basketball for 3 years, and is an Oakland Athletic League baseball MVP. He also has acceptance letters from Yale, Brown, Columbia, Northwestern, the University of Southern California, UCLA, Howard, Chapman, Cal Poly and Cal State East Bay. With a track record like that, it should come as no surprise that we wanted to recognize Akintunde Ahmad. But it's not just numbers and offers that make this Oakland Tech student so impressive. He is modest, incredibly focused and defies stereotypes every day. 'Tunde (as he is called by family and friends) describes himself like "any other street dude on 98th Avenue." But we think that he is a truly a star!
WHIZ KID: We're not the only ones who think Natalie Ng of Cupertino, is a whiz kid. Intel Corporation thinks so, too! Natalie received a $30,000 award at the Intel Science Talent Search 2014 for developing a diagnostic tool to more accurately predict the spread of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body. By the way, she's a senior in high school! We can't wait to what else she'll do.
THE SHOOTING STARS: This is no ordinary cheerleading squad! Livermore High School's Shooting Stars are known to spark the biggest cheers of the night, regardless of the score. Part of the school's special education program, this group of cheerleaders and their coaches share a winning spirit for the entire community to rallying behind. They're a true inspiration and prove to us that when everyone is allowed to cheer, everybody wins!
THE ROCK STAR PHOTOGRAPHER: Jay Blakesberg is the biggest rock-n-roll legend you've never seen. He's made an art of blending into the background to photograph iconic musical moments. His pictures are pop culture history that prove in the rock world, nothing trumps access. He's your VIP pass into the real world of rock and roll.
THE AWARD-WINNING TEACHER: Suney Park is ready to "school" you on the real world. She teaches science with a lesson plan focused on practical solutions. Suney's students will tell you how passionate she is, but if you want a more authoritative source, just ask President Obama. He gave this teacher an award for her skills.
TEAM PLAYERS: Vivek is team captain and goalie of Mostly Old Guys United, an East Bay soccer club. Yep, you guessed it, they're mostly "old" guys, but they still play hard. Cheers to all you weekend warriors who stay at the top of your game while having a whole lot of fun!
THE DEDICATED VOLUNTEER: Nita Juelich has 95 years of life under her belt. She has spent the last 25 of those volunteering at Project Open Hand. The non-profit feeds 2,500 people in need every day. Nita is honored to be an ABC7 Star, but she only agreed to be on TV with one condition -- this has to help Project Open Hand or, "No dice!" Now that's dedication! You can get involved, too at www.openhand.org.
THE HUSTLERS: Meet Funkanometry, a non-profit hip-hop dance troupe that really hustles...for charity. The Funks recently raised thousands of dollars for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Their mission: to entertain, unite and educate all through the love of dance. See how they're helping the Bay Area and shaping the future of hip-hop at www.funkanometry.org.
THE GAME CHANGER: Phyllis Lyon is 89 years young and a self-proclaimed troublemaker. She and her late wife Del Martin have a long legacy of fighting for change. In 2004, they were the first same-sex couple to be legally married in San Francisco. Since Del is no longer with us, Phyllis brought along this photo to remember what she calls one of the happiest days of her life. We believe Phyllis and Del are true Game Changers.
THE SURVIVOR: Danny's smile says it all. He's overcome cancer twice in his 27 years, with some loving support from his friends at Camp Okizu. Now he's giving back to the community that helped him through his healing process. Watch Danny's story to see how you can spread the Camp Okizu hope.
THE EXPLORERS: Twins Nairobi and Jakobi (along with dad Kevin) love to explore...and what better place to satisfy curious minds than the Exploratorium?! ABC7 is a proud neighbor and partner of the Exploratorium. If you haven't seen their new space at Pier 15, check it out! P.S. Mom Sakai would usually be exploring, too, but she's on tour singing with the Bay Area band Train.
THE TECH LOVERS: People in the Bay Area love their technology...and their pets! Meet #yogiethedog from Oakland. He loves long hikes, lazy naps, and chasing his favorite ball Chucky. His mom Katie posts it all on Instagram. Share your pet pics with #abc7pets and maybe you'll see them on TV!
THE DEVOTED DAD: We fell in love with this Loving Family. Jeff Loving and his wife Brenda adopted 4 beautiful children from Ethiopia. Sadly, Brenda passed away shortly after their family was complete. Jeff may be a single dad now, but he's far from alone. "Mr. Loving," as he's known to his students, has the support of the whole Walnut Creek community...and beyond. We believe his story will inspire you. Help the Loving Family with their happy ending!
THE DREAM CHASERS: Andy Sills and Erin Hunter Sills chase their dreams right into the record books. In fact, together this couple holds more than 20 World, National and Guinness World Records. They live life full-throttle, even when they're not on their bikes. Keep up with Hunter Sills Racing on Facebook!
OUR LITTLE HERO: Where were you the day Batkid saved the City? Probably glued to your TV or Twitter -- we were, too! Who knew that Mile's one wish would make everyone in the Bay Area stop, enjoy the moment and spread the joy. Best day ever!
QUEEN OF COUTURE: Azadeh is Bay Area fashion royalty; in fact her designs are literally fit for a queen. She created garments for the Royal family of Saudi Arabia before styling her way to the Bay Area more than 20-years ago. Today, Azadeh's designs grace hi-fashion catwalks and Oscar's red carpet, but this "Queen of Couture" believes anyone can have great style! Find Azadeh on Facebook.