These days, it doesn't take too much effort to find something or someone who needs a little help, whether it's a bag of food from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, or a volunteer to help clean the grounds of a cemetery.

It's a matter of pride in where you live and service to the community, and Central County residents step up to help others.

One couple in Pleasant Hill decided in 2003 to celebrate high school students who stepped up and put their words into action. Pleasant Hill residents Dawn Block, a human resources consultant for startups, and her husband, Councilman Michael Harris, established an annual scholarship for graduating seniors from College Park High School.

The scholarship is called the Block-Harris Tikkun Olam Scholarship. Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world," and includes community service and helping to make the world a better place in which to live.

The two $1,000 scholarships "recognize two graduates who demonstrate the true spirit of Tikkun Olam," said Block.

This year's winners are June 2010 graduates Liana Choi and Allison Jones.

Block said that Choi will be attending UC Davis in the fall, where she will major in pre-med. "She has extensive volunteer experience throughout our community, including Outdoor Ed, Aegis Retirement, and Youth Action Council," Block said. "At College Park, Liana was a peer tutor and established the We Help Orphans Club to raise money for orphanages in Africa and India. Following medical school, Liana hopes to volunteer her efforts with Medecins sans Frontiers overseas."

Jones plans to major in communications and music at the University of the Pacific.

"Most notable among her accomplishments was launching the Music for Kids program at College Park, where she and her classmates provided private music lessons to elementary school kids," said Block, who added that Jones was responding to the Mt. Diablo school district's lack of funding for instrumental music.

After graduating, Jones plans to head back to the classroom, either as a teacher or as a high school counselor.

Hats off to Block and Harris for rewarding the efforts for the community, and to Choi and Jones on winning the scholarships.

Drive, she said

Aline Carroll is one determined bus driver for County Connection. Since 1997, she has been putting her driving and safety skills on the line at the annual International Bus Roadeo, a competition that tests the mettle of the men, and women, behind the wheels of those huge vehicles.

This year, the 35th annual International Bus Roadeo was held May 2, in Cleveland, Ohio, for the best bus operators and bus maintenance teams in North America. Area and regional bus roadeos were held earlier to determine the drivers and teams who would compete.

Carroll was determined to better her 11th-place finish in the 2009 competition. But it's significant that her mark last year earned the Concord resident the title of highest-ranking female in the competition's 40-foot bus category.

The national roadeo is sponsored by the American Public Transit Association (APTA), and bus operators from all over the country and Canada show up to hopefully dazzle the judges with their vehicular manipulations. There are 11 obstacles on the course that must be completed — and in only seven short minutes. Drivers must follow all the rules of the road and with the evaluators, who are riding along, looking over the driver's shoulder.

Remember that I said that Carroll was determined?

"This year, Aline earned the sixth-place slot and the title of highest marks for a female in the history of the national competition," said Mary Burdick of County Connection, in a news release.

The Central Contra Costa Transit Authority board of directors formally recognized Carroll's achievement with a special presentation in May.

"I'm so excited to have finished better than last year, but if it wasn't for one lousy tennis ball, I would have placed third," said Carroll after the competition.

That "lousy" tennis ball came into play during an obstacle where the operator must position the bus so that the dual rear tire passes through two rows of the tennis balls without touching any of them.

"You should have heard the crowd cheering," said Bill Churchill, County Connection's director of transportation, in a news release. "She has support from coast to coast. All the drivers stop to watch her.

"She's a mentor to other drivers who struggle to overcome obstacles "... This really speaks to the type of person Aline Carroll is."

At the competition, the drivers get to see the course only the night before and get just one practice run.

Carroll starts practicing two months before County Connection's roadeo, so if County Connection passengers start seeing lines of tennis balls in the roadway along their route, they will know it's just about time for the competition to begin for another year. Here's a standing ovation for Aline Carroll and her fantastic driving skills.

Community awards

The Pleasant Hill Community Foundation recently presented its annual Community Grant Awards to seven organizations throughout the Pleasant Hill community, said president Betty Geishirt Cantrell.

"The foundation is pleased to be able to provide these grant awards from donations given by friends of Pleasant Hill," said Jill Anderson, awards chairwoman.

The awards were:

  • An adult reading program was funded for Project Second Chance.

  • New software will enhance the capabilities of the Pleasant Hill Fourth of July Commission.

  • A grant to the Vagabond Players will allow them to entertain the community's seniors.

  • A sixth-grade classroom at Sequoia Middle School will have a pull-down map displaying an updated image of the world.

  • Robert Shearer Preschool will be able to update some of its equipment for the children it serves.

  • Pleasant Hill Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) will receive new software to allow its website to be updated in order to more effectively communicate information on emergencies.

  • A fourth-grade classroom at Strandwood Elementary School will receive an interactive whiteboard to assist the teacher in educating her students.

    A round of applause for the Pleasant Hill Community Foundation and for the recipients. For more information on the foundation, visit the website at www.PHCommunityFoundation.org.

    Veterans seminar

    The members of Walnut Creek Elks Lodge 1811 held their second annual Veterans Benefits Seminar in May to help veterans obtain their proper benefits.

    "Benefits available to all vets are pension, medical, prescription, eye care, knee replacement, hearing aids and much more information," said Larry Ribarich, public relations chairman.

    The lodge's exalted ruler, Gerry Gouveia, and Jerry Smith, event chairman and third-year trustee, were on hand with other lodge members to help with the applications. Ribarich said that more than 30 veterans from Concord, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek and Lafayette attended the event.

    "The first seminar (in 2009) achieved thousands of dollars in nonused but deserved benefits to those who applied," Ribarich said, "and it was the objective of the latest event to help those deserving of unused money that can be given to those who apply."

    Three cheers for the Walnut Creek Elks Lodge 1811.

    Flip flops for kids

    Here's to the senior community at Concord Royale Retirement Home on Clayton Road on an unusual collection to help others.

    "I work with Sleep Train's foster kids program, and we recently got a very generous donation of 100 new pairs of flip flops for foster kids from Concord Royal," said Aaron Hilst of Revolution Public Relations.

    The seniors collected more than 500 flip flops for various charities, and the Sleep Train program was one of the recipients.

    "We distribute the flip flops to local foster care organizations," said Hilst.

    Hats off to the seniors of Concord Royale and to Sleep Train, which started its annual school supply drive July 19. For more on Sleep Train's community programs, visit www.sleeptrain.com and click on "Community."

    Items for the column can be e-mailed to goodneighbor@bayareanewsgroup.com or mailed to Jacquie Oliverius/Good Neighbor, 2640 Shadelands Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94598. Submissions to the "Good Neighbor" column about upcoming events must be received by noon Wednesday, at least one week prior to the event date. Due to space restrictions, non-timely items may not be immediately published.