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Dublin High School Well Represented Through City-Wide Recognition Program

May 11, 2021

While some of the neighboring cities in the Tri-Valley were established nearly 150 years ago, it is remarkable to note that the city of Dublin was incorporated in 1982. However, one of the enduring traditions that exists is recognizing a Citizen, Young Citizen and Organization of the Year. Annually, the community is encouraged to nominate those that embody the Dublin Integrity in Action Program’s 10 Characteristics: Responsibility, Caring, Respectfulness, Giving, Positive Attitude, Trustworthiness, Cooperation, Doing One’s Best, Honesty, and Self-Discipline. To encourage transparency, the evaluation and judging of these nominations are performed outside of Dublin. Historically, the event has been celebrated at the Shannon Center during an early evening presentation. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the winners were announced on April 28th on Tri-Valley Community Television. Award recipients will be recognized at the Dublin City Council Meeting scheduled on May 18th.

While past awardees have crossed a wide spectrum across the city, the 2020 winners had a distinct Dublin High School flavor. We recently had the great fortune to interview both the Young Citizen and Citizen of the Year. While their accomplishments would be notable in any year, it is even more amazing that they stepped forward during one of the most consequential periods of time that our community has experienced in recent memory.

We begin with Young Citizen of the Year awardee Anya Sengupta. As a transplant from the peninsula, she has attended Kolb Elementary, Fallon Middle School and is currently a 10th grader at Dublin High School. Anya’s interest in gardening was always present. However, she probably did not know that the Pandemic would fuel her passion into a movement that would benefit her community. It is a fascinating tale and Ms. Sengupta was a willing partner in describing how the past year has changed her outlook on what is possible.

City of Dublin Young Citizen of the Year 2020, Anya Sengupta. Photo provided by Miss Sengupta.

OneDublin.org: You stated that you had taken up an interest in gardening very recently. When COVID-19 came to be, you decided to create a movement to assist others. Please explain your thought process and initial plans to expand.

Anya Sengupta: “Sustainable gardening and growing my own food has always been my passion and an outlet that brings me so much joy. My family and I grow most of our vegetables in our suburban garden beds. I have explored and learned a great deal from my gardening experiences that I share through my blog “Anya’s Eco Tips.” My blog provides information and advice for gardeners at all levels, whether you are unfamiliar or advanced. Roughly a year ago, the pandemic was approaching us. I was arranging a large meetup for the community on Earth Day, but instead I was forced to take my garden club online. Although we were all engrossed in the depressing news that swept the globe surrounding COVID-19, my garden beds started flourishing simultaneously. I procured plenty of produce more than my family could consume, followed by an abundance of vegetables throughout summer and fall.

When we entered lockdown last March, there was a severe shortage of food. Supermarket shelves were all empty as folks hoarded supplies, and online delivery was backed up. For the first time, our neighbors faced a food crisis, and I sprung into action by sharing my extra produce with them. Along with it, I also distributed some of my plants with them and instructed them on how to properly raise the plants. Now they understand how to farm their own food and reduce their carbon footprint to combat climate change.  I began to wonder if affluent communities like ours were facing an existential food crisis, how crucial was it for families facing unemployment or other hardships from COVID-19?  I came across a study conducted by Feeding America, and I was shocked to find that 54 million people faced food insecurity in 2020. 4 in 10 people had to rely on food banks in 2020, as COVID-19 continued to claim more jobs and lives.”

OneDublin.org: As the program gained traction, you found a viable partnership with Valley Bible Church in Pleasanton. Please share how that relationship took shape and what it meant to the wider community.

Sengupta: “There are countless approaches one can make an impact, so I decided to explore local food banks and pantries which accepted fresh produce. My garden beds supplied an excess of produce over the previous six months that we provided to the local food pantry at Valley Bible Church, Pleasanton. My family and I reached out to local Tri-Valley residents through neighborhood social networks, and the response was overwhelming. My weekly food drive appeared to prosper, with generous residents emailing me to arrange porch pickups, sometimes several times a week. These food drives were possible through social campaigns with charitable people supporting the community. Local food pantries are a significant way of connecting home-based food growers to food banks, soup kitchens, and service organizations that accept fresh produce. Pastor Wayne Johnson of the church informed me that my food drive and donations supplied 15-30 families or about 150 people a week.

September was Hunger Action Month, an initiative started by Feeding America, to spread awareness on hunger, urging the American public to take action. 2020’s theme was, “We can end hunger one helping at a time.” Hunger Action Day was September 10th, a day when every American should pause and make a commitment to do their part to end food insecurity in America. To encourage the community to stand against hunger, I wrote an article encouraging others to start similar initiatives. I received an email from someone on a remote island called Lakshadweep in the Indian Ocean, who notified me how other villagers and himself established community gardens when COVID disrupted the supply of vegetables from mainland India.”

OneDublin.org:  As we move forward as a society, albeit cautiously out of the Pandemic era, describe your hopes of building a “living” sustainability club at Dublin High School that will continue to benefit the community.

Sengupta: “I hope the local Dublin city officials can place the city on a more sustainable pathway through adopting several green initiatives, like community food gardens, to minimize the harmful effects to our environment.  The entire community can become involved to raise these garden beds, and the food can be donated to local food banks to combat hunger. As the lead of the gardening project of the Environmental Technology Club at Dublin High School, I plan to achieve something similar when in-person school resumes in the fall. One of my mentors at Dublin High School, Mr. Kaehms, has been actively pushing for a greenhouse with garden beds next year at DHS. This is an exciting project for Dublin High to become more sustainable. Recently, I found that Atlanta has created the largest Free Food Forest in the Country to end food insecurity. My hope that the Environmental Technology and Sustainability Club at DHS will create community high-tech, data-driven, year-round outdoor farms.  Producing food in our own homes can help save energy, conserve water, and reduce trips to the grocery stores. By replacing 20% of store-bought food, we can reduce the carbon footprint by about 68lbs of CO2 per year. I hope to start the conversation about growing our own food as a way to connect with our ecosystem. As the pandemic gradually concludes, we will rapidly approach the next urgent crisis – Climate Change.”

OneDublin.org: One of your many passions is basketball. Please share what you and your teammates endured in this challenging year, and your hopes for all athletes in 2021-22 at DHS.

Sengupta: “In this challenging year, I have primarily missed my relationships with my teammates and coaches. My teammates are some of my closest friends, and during basketball season we would spend every day after school together. We come from various backgrounds and different grades, but basketball allows us to work towards a common goal. I was not expecting to have a season this year, but I am so fortunate that the Girls Basketball Varsity program started. To ensure that we can safely participate in sports, our team and coaches emphasize the importance of following the safety protocols, like weekly testing and wearing a mask when off the court. It’s great to be back in the gym with inspiring leaders of Coach Mark Wainwright and Coach Colleen Tribby. They have always been supportive of their players, like myself, on and off the court. However, this year we have a reduced two-month season instead of our four- to five-month season. I encourage all of us to follow COVID-19 protocols, so we can fully return to regular schedules with more games in the 2021-22 school year.”

OneDublin.org: As a tribute to your educators in this past year, feel free to give a shout out to those that have made this year endurable and memorable.

Sengupta: “Mr. Kaehms has been one of my astonishing mentors this year. In seventh grade, he was the coach of my basketball team, and has continually supported me ever since with my gardening projects, CS projects, and basketball. As the advisor of the Environmental Technology club and another food grower, he has heavily advocated for Environmental Sustainability at Dublin High School. Ms. Chou, the coordinator of the Dublin Engineering & Design Academy, has encouraged me through expanding my knowledge and experience in computer science. Despite her busy schedule, she always sets aside space for meeting me online whenever I approach her. Additionally, my guidance counselor, Ms. Halket, has helped me with my course load and exploring courses outside of school. Principal Ms. Byrne has always had such kind and encouraging words towards my ideas and projects. Altogether, the educators at Dublin High School have always supported me with any opportunity I sought out for myself.”

We now move onto the 2020 Citizen of the Year recipient, Dublin High School instructor Michael D’Ambrosio. As an exercise, allow yourself to think back 14 months ago as you were reading accounts of a rapidly spreading virus and the potential impacts upon our daily lives. For most it was difficult to comprehend that this would become a global impact and one that would virtually shut down daily life. After the immediate shock and disruption to daily life, community heroes arose and made a decided commitment to ensuring that members of their cities would remain supported. He chose to create a Facebook group called “Tri-Valley Community During Shelter in Place.” In short order, the group gained over 2,100 members that were willing donate, deliver, and volunteer to a number of initiatives. It was a remarkable effort that yielded the collection of 40,000 diapers, multiple gift cards, tons of donated food and over 3,200 children’s books, among scores of other items. Keep in mind that there is a distinct difference between the establishment of a “Gofundme” page versus creating multiple platforms that produce tangible benefits to those severely in need. We visited with Michael to share his journey.

City of Dublin Citizen of the Year 2020, Michael D’Ambrosio. Photo provided by Mr. D’Ambrosio.

OneDublin.org:  The 2020 Shelter in Place order impacted you in at least two ways: One – As a local resident and Two: As an educator of high school students. Think back to last March – what were your initial expectations of how/when life would eventually return to “normal.”

Michael D’Ambrosio: “When things started to shut down in March of 2020 like most people, I believed it would last for a few weeks. As we know that was not the case, and we are still dealing with the effects of COVID-19 and the effect it’s had on our community, and our country. As an educator we had to pivot in matter of hours, on not only how we taught, but also how reached our students, and finding ways to make sure our students knew we were still there for them, though we were starting distanced learning.”

OneDublin.org: In forming the TV Community Help group, please share how you calculated a formal plan to support specific segments of people or was the movement really organic/fluid and rose to imminent needs?

D’Ambrosio: “I woke up on St. Patrick’s Day 2020 and at the time we all thought staying at home would be for a few weeks. I felt that I had to do something to help our community. At the time what was needed most was helping members in the Tri-Valley who were over the age of 65. That is because at the time they were told to stay indoors and not leave their homes unless it was necessary. I reached out to a few of my teacher friends at Dublin High, and members of the community who I had built relationships with to see if they would be interested in picking up prescriptions, groceries, household needs etc. As the shelter in place started to affect our whole community, we tried to find out ways to start to help out everyone that we could. This included hospital workers, families in need, non-profits, local businesses, to name a few. From there the group grew, and members started joining at a rapid rate. So many members in our community and all over the tri-valley were wanting to help any way they could.”

OneDublin.org: Because the online group gained such quick traction, explain why and how you felt that local members were so quick to engage and to commit their support.  

D’Ambrosio: “It was amazing to see. Members just wanted to help any way that was needed. I think they could see that there was a need, and it was fun to find fun ways to keep the members engaged. Announcements were made, and goals were set, and pictures and graphics were shared to the group to keep them informed about the next goal or task at hand. No matter what the goal was the group always reached it, and it became a challenge to the group of how quickly the group could reach it. Whether it was 16,000 diapers in a week which ended up being 40,000 or a goal of cereal boxes for children that they more than double their goal.”

OneDublin.org: While we are confident that you did not pursue this effort for accolades, try to articulate what this distinction of Citizen of the Year means to you and your family.

D’Ambrosio: “It was an honor just to be nominated. The city of Dublin is a very special place. It truly is the new American Backyard. It’s an amazing community that is so diverse and the community comes together when it is needed. The city of Dublin and members outside of Dublin played a huge part in helping out the many people who needed and continue to need help. For me personally the first thing I thought of was my students. It’s important for them to see how vital it is to be part of a community and to get involved and help others when needed. As they get older, I want them to see that helping others and being there for their fellow community members wherever that is, is essential.”

Unprecedented times require extraordinary efforts. We are pleased to highlight these two exceptional people that placed the needs of their community over their own concerns. 2020 will be remembered for obvious reasons. However, it is so encouraging that Anya and Michael led by example and illuminated the human and decent spirit in our community. Stay Fly Dublin High.

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