Giving Tree Photo3As the agency that manages both SamTrans and Caltrain, the San Mateo County Transit District knows the value of providing a helping hand for the community.  Serving people is part of the fabric of our organization. But for District employees, the concept of giving back means much more than providing transit service, and it’s not a value that is contained to the work place.  Whether in programs supported by the District, or on their own free time, workers here are involved in an array of charitable causes.

For years, the District has partnered with the American Heart Association (AHA) and the United Way on fundraising campaigns. District employees participate in a Heart Walk, basketball games, a golf tournament and other activities to raise funds for the AHA. Over the past decade, the District has raised more than $450,000 for the organization, which has a mission to reduce deaths and disabilities caused by cardiovascular disease.  In 2011 and 2012, no other organization in San Mateo County raised more money for the AHA than The District.

With the United Way, District employees donate their paid time off hours or allocate a percentage of their bi-weekly paychecks to the organization. Last year, District efforts helped raise $51,348 for the United Way, which provides resources and support for struggling Bay Area families. That fundraising total also topped the list of entities in San Mateo County.

Brent Tietjen, a public affairs specialist with the District, led the fundraising push for the United Way last year and is heavily-involved in the efforts this year, which started in earnest in December.

“It’s awesome to see our agency come together for a great cause,” said Tietjen. “We come to our employees for suggested donations and often they give back more than we ask. It’s pretty amazing.”

District employees  also manage a Giving Tree program, where employees and their families purchase presents for underprivileged local youths. For the past five holiday seasons, the District has worked with the San Mateo Parks and Recreation Department to identify families with financial constraints. Those families submit gift requests and District employees go out and buy the presents. The gifts range from Nintendo Wii video games to movie passes to bicycles. They also include essential items, like warm clothes and sleeping bags.

When the program started, about 15 District workers were involved in the Giving Tree. Now, it has grown to include 40 employees, who purchased a total of 60 gifts this year.

“I’m amazed by the generosity of our employees,” said Jean Conger, a senior mobility project coordinator who manages the Giving Tree initiative. “We’re buying coats and mittens for some of these kids—things that every family needs.”

And, of course, the District also runs the Caltrain Holiday Train, an annual event that collects toys and donates them to children who otherwise might be forgotten. Featuring an elaborately-decorated train car that travels through the Peninsula during the first weekend of December, the efforts of the Holiday Train have resulted in nearly 50,000 toys being amassed and handed out to children over the years.

Outside of the scope of the District, employees still find ways to donate their time and resources. Rachel Bravo, a customer service representative, and Kathleen Malkinson, a storekeeper at North Base, both sit on the board of directors of Juliana’s Journey, a non-profit organization aimed at raising awareness about childhood cancers.

Patricia Watson, a friend of Bravo and Malkinson, lost her 2 ½-year-old daughter to neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer in 2012. One month after, Watson’s formed the organization, named after her daughter, and invited to Bravo and Malkinson to sit on the board.

In just over a year, the organization has raised $10,000 for pediatric cancer research and has helped collect hundreds of toys for children in hospitals. The organization intends to raise $1 million over the next five years, with the intention of funding a clinical trial at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center.

“From the very beginning I knew I wanted to be part of Juliana’s Journey, a foundation in which Juliana’s parents are so passionate about,” said Bravo. “They both work tirelessly and continue to educate themselves on childhood cancer as well as spreading the word daily. I was truly blessed to have meet Juliana, she touched my life and through her memory I can use my voice to help spread her story .”

Malkinson, who overcame a form of neuroblastoma when she was younger, said she got involved with the program after seeing what young Juliana went through.

“It broke my heart to know how underfunded the study on this disease is,” said Malkinson, who has been with the District for 11 years. “I love crafting and this is a perfect way for me to use my time and effort to give back. I was brought onto the board for my creativity. I make their centerpieces and will soon start making jewelry for them to sell and start making more money.  The more people they have wearing our name and image the more awareness we’re spreading.”

Both Malkinson and Bravo are urging District employees to visit the foundation’s website at

Henry Silvas, an associate operations administrator for bus contracts, has been involved in the Golden Gate Chapter of a Harley Davidson Owners Group (called HOG) for the past seven years.  The group regularly goes on motorcycle rides to raise funds for various institutes, including the Good Samaritan House in San Mateo and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Menlo Park. During the holidays, the group collects toys and donates them to the San Francisco and San Mateo general hospitals. Silvas’ HOG group also organizes barbecue picnics and other events, with proceeds going to established charities.

Henry Silvas and the HOG Harley riders regularly ride for charity, including the Good Samaritan House in San Mateo and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Menlo Park.
Henry Silvas and the HOG Harley riders regularly ride for charity, including the Good Samaritan House in San Mateo and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Menlo Park.

“It’s a great thing to be a part of, especially since I’m familiar with a lot of these organizations,” said Silvas, who has been with the District for 14 years. “I’m an ex-military guy, so to see us helping out fellow veterans is a very meaningful thing for me.”

Silvas isn’t the only District employee with a connection to the military. Amy O’Campo, a data technician for bus operations at North Base, is the president of the San Mateo County Branch of the Blue Star Moms, an organization dedicated to helping troops in combat zones and recovering veterans. O’Campo’s son, Donald, served three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, before returning home to the Peninsula. As part of her role, O’Campo helps deliver care packages to deployed troops and organizes assistance for local Veteran Affair hospitals.

Like O’Campo, Leslie Fong, a senior budget analyst, has a personal connection to the charity that she supports. Fong recently lost her mother, 30-year SamTrans employee Donna Fong, to breast cancer. As a result, Fong now participates in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

“On September 28 and 29, I walked the 2-day Avon Walk in memory of my mom, who passed away November 30, 2012 from breast cancer,” said Fong, who has also heads the District’s fundraising efforts for the AHA.  “I walked 39.3 miles over the two days, in hopes of one day there will be a cure. I will continue to participate in the event, until that one day the words ‘you have breast cancer’ will not be spoken.”

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