SAN RAMON -- More than 300 valley business and professional leaders continued a long-standing tradition on Good Friday, meeting for inspiration and fellowship at the 24th annual Valley Leadership Prayer Breakfast.
The event, held this year at the San Ramon Marriott Hotel, is modeled on prayer breakfast groups around the nation, including the National Prayer Breakfast, first hosted by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953.
"Twenty-four years ago, a gentleman named Jim Horsley, who was a real estate developer in the area ... got the notion to create one of these in the Tri-Valley," said Marsha Walker, an event organizer. "It's an outreach to the business and community leadership of the valley."
Each year organizers invite local political and community leaders to the event, who in turn invite friends and acquaintances. The breakfast, open to the public, includes prayers for those in the military and for leaders at all levels of government, as well as a focus on the need for spiritual connection.
"We do this in a culture and a time when everything is uncertain," said Kevin Ring, a real estate developer from Grass Valley and a former Walnut Creek resident who also helps organize the breakfast.
"As I got older I didn't see the relevance of God to business or to me. It was through other businessmen that I heard how faith was an integral part of their life and their business life. This is a place where people who probably don't attend church except for weddings or funerals can come and hear some good news -- that we have friendly skies above us and that this is very relevant to relationships, to work and to family."
Attendees this year heard speaker Patti Rose, an addiction specialist who works with inmates at various detention facilities, including San Quentin Prison in Marin County. She recounted the story of her years of struggle with abuse, drug addiction and emotional turmoil, as well as her journey caring for a father with Alzheimer's disease. At one point, feeling defeated with her addiction, she asked for help.
"I got on my knees and said 'God, can you take away the fear and give me peace?' I got up the next morning and felt a peace I'd never known ... It was like I was seeing life for the first time. I could see what I couldn't see before."
She initially resented having to care for a father she wasn't close to -- but grew to appreciate him as his condition deteriorated.
"It was the hardest of assignments but the best of assignments," she told a rapt audience. "Sometimes the hardest thing you have to do will be the most life-changing thing you do." Health consultant Dick Ponder, of Danville, said he enjoyed the morning's message.
"I've been to 22 of these, and it's a special occasion for business, community and political leaders to get together and start the day out just (enjoying) the love of God," he said. "There's a special spirit here, and it's a miracle how it all comes together."
Attendee Diane Brooks agreed.
"I think it's really important that we become aware as a community as to what's going on in the lives of people like Patti Rose," she said. "These are people trapped in a lifestyle they don't want ... a lot of people with a lot of needs and hurts.
"I'm a big believer in the ripple effect," she added. "It's really important to lift people up, to be an encourager -- and to ask 'How can I help you?' "