Saffron Strand is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization with new solutions to help homeless persons in Contra Costa County and the San Francisco Bay Area find gainful employment and achieve economic independence.
Homeless adults can become members of Saffron Strand at no charge except for their time and effort working in our Saffron Strand Center in professional office space in Point Richmond. They form an intentional community dedicated to the individual and collective success of its members through their gainful employment in the local workforce. The scheduled work of members is vital to the day-to-day operation of the Center.
Through training and work opportunities at the Center, and in transitional employment in local Contra Costa and Bay Area communities, members progress toward independent employment, and safe, affordable housing. Members use our Center as their base during the workday, during normal business hours, addressing their multiple challenges through a wide range of programs.
Saffron Strand members and volunteers also participate in a wide range of community activities to benefit homeless persons, as at the annual Project Homeless Connect event in Richmond. See News
Board of Directors
Shamar Shanker is the Chair of the Board of Directors. She has long experience as a volunteer and Board Member of Saffron Strand, which has benefited from her career as a social services professional. She has a work background in public health, workforce development, and wrap-around services to support the wellness and self-sufficiency of individuals and families through outreach, education, and advocacy. A long-time resident of Richmond, Shamar currently is the Program Coordinator for EBW Senior Employment Program in San Pablo, which operates under Contra Costa County’s Employment and Human Services Department. She has experience in the local community surveying stakeholders and implementing employment-focused solutions, with significant success serving vulnerable populations. Her skills include public speaking, committee leadership, research and writing, managing daily operations to ensure compliance, and measuring program outcomes. Shamar remains very active as a volunteer with Saffron Strand and in many ways demonstrates her commitment to enhancing economic vitality of communities by creating linkages among businesses, non-profits, and government entities. She also brings a global perspective to Saffron Strand. Shamar is a native of Fiji and is bicultural (Indian American) and bilingual (Hindi and English).
Rachel Herrin is the Vice Chair of the Saffron Strand Board of Directors. She is passionate about helping others regain and maintain the fullest life possible. Currently, Rachel is a preschool teacher at the Golden Poppy Preschool and Infant Center and a water safety instructor at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, both in Marin, California. Her core career qualifications include early childhood education, interdisciplinary studies majoring in elementary education, and work as a special teaching assistant and co-teacher for ADHD students. Rachel has worked as a private tutor, teaching children with special needs in learning both in California and Texas, and teaching one-on-one at the elementary school to college levels in Texas. She is certified by the Red Cross as a Water Safety Instructor and by the American Heart Association for Infant, Child, and Adult CPR, as well as First Aid and AED. Rachel recognizes leadership in Saffron Strand as great opportunity to help others in the community and spread the world about our unique, all-volunteer non-profit. “Seeing the joy and satisfaction on the faces of those I’m helping keeps me going,” she says, “and keeps me wanting to do more.”
Vann Ferber is Saffron Strand’s Treasurer. A gifted and experienced media professional, teacher, community leader, and non-profit volunteer, Vann grew up during the Great Depression in a large, poor family in the southern California town of Beaumont. When she married, her husband attended university while Vann worked, took night classes, and raised two sons. Her husband received his PhD in Political Science, and, over the years, his career took the family back and forth between Berkeley, California and Washington, DC. Vann eventually entered George Washington University but before graduating became a producer on “Panorama,” a local live TV talk show. When the family returned to Berkeley, Vann worked for ABC’s “AM San Francisco,” also a live TV talk show. After her husband passed away, Vann joined the “Regis and Kathy Lee” TV talk show in New York. However, her son developed cancer, so she returned to Berkeley and spent the next year helping him regain his health. Following his cure, Vann worked as an English teacher in Japan and helped in fundraising for Japan American Women of Kansai, a community service group. Returning to Berkeley, she volunteered at Habitat for Humanity and became president of her housing co-op. Now Vann lives in Point Richmond and wants to apply her talents to the mission of Saffron Strand.
Chysandra Nair is our Program Manager and a founding Director of Saffron Strand. She who works full-time at the Richmond Police Department as a dispatcher. Prior to moving to California, Chi worked in Wisconsin as the statewide coordinator of the Minority Counselor Training Institute of the Wisconsin Association on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and as a laboratory technician in the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. In volunteer work, she has helped rebuild homes destroyed by a hurricane, cooked meals in a center for abused children, and helped the victims of vehicle collisions, heart attacks, and attempted suicides as a firefighter and emergency medical technician. Chi appreciates how Saffron Strand can help homeless persons use their time productively, improve their social and vocations skills, and interact in positive ways with their communities.
Margaret Browne, born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, received her education, grades 1-12, in Knoxville’s segregated school system. Since then, Margaret’s entire career and post-career volunteer service has focused on quality education for youth and adults. She has been a Richmond resident for more than 15 years and most recently was a full-time teacher in the West Contra Costa Unified School District and the Oakland Unified School District. Earlier in her career, Margaret was an assistant examiner for the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey and a teacher in the Manpower Adult Training Program in New York, New York. He career in education began as a teacher at the Wilcox County Training School in Miller’s Ferry, Alabama. Following her early education in Knoxville, Margaret earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Knoxville College and the Master of Arts and Master of Education from Teachers College Columbia University in New York City. She received the California State Single Subject Teaching Credential from National University in Oakland. Margaret is a Board Member of the West Contra Costa Retired Educators Scholarship Fund and a Coach in the Writer Coach Connection at Kennedy High School in Richmond. For Saffron Strand, Margaret helps inform and guide programming for the lifetime learning and critical thinking skills that are critical for our members’ success in the workplace and world at large.
Kim Russell is a Professional AKC (American Kennel Club) Dog Handler with her own business in El Sobrante. She boards, trains, conditions, and shows dogs as an agent for dog owners, which involves travel throughout the U.S. and many European countries. Previously, she owned and operated a licensed pet boarding kennel in Sacramento, caring for about 100 animals on a daily basis. Kim holds a BA in Legal Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Her career as an entrepreneur focuses on working with dogs and dog owners to compete at the highest levels. For many years, she has helped lead the Wine Country Kennel Club and organize its Napa Expo, one of California’s largest annual dog shows. She was Show Chairman for 2016, responsible for overall planning and execution of a four-day event that included about 1,300 dogs and 4,000 people. Kim brings entrepreneurial talent, business skills, and unique background and experience to Saffron Strand.
In addition to his role as a member of the Board of Directors, Byron Baptiste is a volunteer mentor and trainer with Saffron Strand. He brings more than 35 years of experience managing emergency situations, first as a public safety dispatcher, then dispatch shift supervisor, and finally communications center manager. Byron’s professional responsibilities included the administration of emergency communications for five police departments and two fire agencies in the East Bay Area, including Richmond. He also oversaw new and continuing education and developed and directed the hiring and interview processes for various job classifications in emergency communications. Byron also has been a Public Safety Dispatcher Instructor providing training in Interpersonal Skills & Career Survival, Communications Training Officer Certification, and Leadership and Ethics in the Communications Center. His certifications include Police Officer Standards and Training Public Safety Dispatcher Instructor, National Academies of Emergency Dispatch Advanced Emergency Medical Dispatch, Trunked Radio System Administration, and National Emergency Number Association Communications Center Manager.
Following a 40-year career in social services and software engineering, Bill Schwimmer and his partner, Barbara, now own an Internet business in Richmond. Along with his role as a a member of the Board of Directors, Bill is a Saffron Strand mentor and trainer. After graduating from the University of California-Berkeley, Bill worked at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, Alameda County Social Services Agency, and California State Disability Insurance. He then returned to college to study computer science and launched a career in information technology (IT), working as a programmer, database administrator, and software engineering manager for Apple (for 15 years), Hewlett-Packard, and other Silicon Valley companies. Bill has been involved in political and social justice campaigns, anti-war movements, and union organizing, serving as a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) shop steward, strike coordinator, and executive board member.
Judge Katherine Lucero is an Honorary Board Member of Saffron Strand. She is a Superior Court judge of Santa Clara County who currently sits as supervising judge in Juvenile Dependency Court, overseeing hundreds of cases involving abused and neglected children. Her judicial experience includes the Superior Court Appellate Division, Juvenile Delinquency Court, Adult Criminal Court, Family Court, and Dependency Court. In 2002, Judge Lucero started a Family Treatment Court to assist parents with substance abuse problems. Before her judicial appointment by the governor in 2001, she had spent her entire legal career in the area of child abuse and neglect, including work as a deputy district attorney specializing in crimes against children and the elderly and as a Juvenile Dependency Superior Court commissioner. Judge Lucero has trained other judges and child welfare professionals at local, state, and national conferences on issues such as the impact of domestic violence on children, family drug courts, immigration issues in dependency court, and the disproportionate impact of the child welfare system on children of color. Judge Lucero sees potential in the Saffron Strand approach to improve the lives of children and their parents who are homeless.
Yvonne Nair is the Founder, President, and CEO of Saffron Strand, Inc. As a non-profit executive director, Yvonne has led the successful growth and development of large and small organizations in public health and human services, including the Wisconsin Association on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, ARH Recovery Homes, and Contra Costa Clubhouses. Her expertise covers innovative workforce development programs and non-traditional vocational education and job training. She holds a B.S. in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as certifications in small business, office software applications, and social services training institutes. Born and raised in Malaysia, Yvonne is a naturalized U.S. citizen with two adult children. She founded Saffron Strand to meet the critical need for new solutions to the problem of homelessness.
Mentors & Trainers
Byron Baptiste is a volunteer mentor and trainer with Saffron Strand as well as a member of the Board of Directors. Byron brings more than 35 years of experience managing emergency situations, first as a public safety dispatcher, then dispatch shift supervisor, and finally communications center manager. Byron’s professional responsibilities included the administration of emergency communications for five police departments and two fire agencies in the East Bay Area, including Richmond. He also oversaw new and continuing education and developed and directed the hiring and interview processes for various job classifications in emergency communications. Byron also has been a Public Safety Dispatcher Instructor providing training in Interpersonal Skills & Career Survival, Communications Training Officer Certification, and Leadership and Ethics in the Communications Center. His certifications include Police Officer Standards and Training Public Safety Dispatcher Instructor, National Academies of Emergency Dispatch Advanced Emergency Medical Dispatch, Trunked Radio System Administration, and National Emergency Number Association Communications Center Manager.
Daniel Charles Damon is the Pastor of the First United Methodist church in Richmond and the Associate Editor of Hymnody for Hope Publishing Company in Carol Stream, Illinois. As a mentor for Saffron Strand members, “Pastor Dan” brings an open, welcoming spirit and artistic sensitivity and devotion to inform our work with some of the Bay Area’s most vulnerable. He is an internationally published writer of hymn texts and tunes as well as a jazz pianist who has played in many hotels and clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Listen to his music at Damon’s Tune Shop. Born in Rapid City, South Dakota, young Dan studied at Greenville College, Greenville, Illinois (BME, 1977) and Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California (MDiv, 1987), eventually becoming an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. Before his appointment in Richmond in 1995, Pastor Dan served the Sutter and Meridian United Methodist churches and Modesto First United Methodist church. Several collections of Pastor Dan’s hymns have been published and many have been included in major international hymnals and supplements. He also has written hymn translations from Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Shona languages, and co-edited Njalo: A Collection of 16 Hymns in the African Tradition (Nashville, 1996). Pastor Dan co-authored the article “A Cry for Justice in Hymnody” for the Autumn 2010 edition of The Hymn. In 2015, he led a jazz hymn festival with his quintet at the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada conference in New Orleans.
Margaret Jordan has been an elementary school teacher, a registered nurse, a practicing psychologist, and an educator of new medical doctors. As she worked in these areas, she consistently focused on empowering those with whom she worked so that each individual could meet their personal goals. In recent years she has been a political activist and campaigner. She also has become a dedicated and effective volunteer mentor and trainer with Saffron Strand. “In the last few years I have gotten so much joy from working with Saffron Strand members, helping them to learn to read and develop the skills and confidence they need to get rewarding jobs.”
Bob Lucas has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1991 and in Oakland since 2001. In 2016, he retired from a health care consulting firm and found a connection to Saffron Strand in an unusual way. A woman who purchased some kitchen knives at Bob’s garage sale said she was donating them to a homeless service organization where she volunteered. As “one of the fortunate ones,” Bob felt a need to give back, too, and made his way to Saffron Strand. He has many years of experience working with computer systems and understanding business operations. He brings this knowledge to mentoring Saffron Strand members as they negotiate their way through our rapidly changing economy. In volunteering at Saffron Strand, Bob often finds that he receives as much as he gives.
David Moore brings more than 40 years of professional experience and career wisdom to his work with our homeless members as a volunteer trainer and mentor. David is the owner and art director of Sincere Design, a full service design and production facility in Point Richmond. David specializes in desktop publishing projects including book design, photography, writing, illustration, print ads, trade show banners, and post cards. His skills include web-based and traditional marketing and he does extensive website and other design work for Richmond community-based organizations. He majored in painting, drawing, and printmaking at the San Francisco Academy of Art and has been doing illustration, photography, writing, book production and marketing since 1970 and designing websites since 1994. David has been collaborating with The Art Squad for over 40 years, with some of the results on display here. He donated his Park Series of lithographs — cartoon landscapes that are whimsical, allegorical, profound, but fun — for auction at Saffron Strand’s 2015 Winter Gala fundraiser.
Following a 40-year career in social services and software engineering, Bill Schwimmer and his partner, Barbara, now own an Internet business in Richmond. In addition to his role as a Saffron Strand mentor and trainer, Bill is a member of the Board of Directors. After graduating from the University of California-Berkeley, Bill worked at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, Alameda County Social Services Agency, and California State Disability Insurance. He then returned to college to study computer science and launched a career in information technology (IT), working as a programmer, database administrator, and software engineering manager for Apple (for 15 years), Hewlett-Packard, and other Silicon Valley companies. Bill has been involved in political and social justice campaigns, anti-war movements, and union organizing, serving as a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) shop steward, strike coordinator, and executive board member. Bill’s volunteer experience with Saffron Strand began in 2015.
Mojdeh Mehdizadeh is the President of Contra Costa College and Co-Chair of Saffron Strand’s 2016 Homeless Workforce Conference. As the former Executive Vice Chancellor of Education and Technology for the Contra Costa Community College District, Mojdeh has more than 25 years of experience in higher education. She began her career at Diablo Valley College in the area of student services and later institutional research. She received an MA in Organizational Communications from California State University East Bay and a BS in Computer Information Systems from San Francisco State University. Mojdeh completed her undergraduate general education requirements at Diablo Valley College and has remained proud of her roots in the community college system. Through community college education, Mojdeh believes, “high barrier” students, including those who are homeless or at risk, can achieve and sustain careers in today’s dynamic labor market where employers need workers with technical skills and educational achievement beyond high school or the GED.
Richard Van Horn is the President Emeritus of Mental Health America (MHA) of Los Angeles, one of California’s leading non-profit mental health organizations. After nearly three decades of mental health leadership, Richard remains an advocate at the forefront of improving conditions for adults and young adults with mental illness through service innovation, systems design, and public policy change. His development of recovery-focused and client-run programs reflects MHA’s belief in recovery as demonstrated in the MHA Village, which has earned recognition for its effectiveness and emerged as a national model for recovery-focused, integrated services. Many Saffron Strand members have mental health and substance abuse problems, so Richard’s knowledge of available resources and wisdom in the field of mental health services is a great help.
Partners & Collaborators
Many Contra Costa and other Bay Area community organizations and businesses support the innovative work of Saffron Strand in helping the homeless gain valuable job skills and getting them back to work in local communities. They join Saffron Strand’s effort as partners, offering volunteer and in-kind help, or as collaborators, cooperating with Saffron Strand in key programs, projects, and events. Please thank and support Saffron Strand’s Partners and Collaborators.
- City of Richmond
- East Bay Works
- Richmond Progressive Alliance
- Laura Kuhn Art & Design
- Dress for Success
- The Glam Box
Website and print designer Sara Glaser provides professional services to Saffron Strand through Sara Glaser Graphic Design, including the design of materials for Saffron Strand’s Annual Homeless Workforce Conference, including Save-the-Date flyers and Conference Programs. Sara’s also a volunteer trainer at Saffron Strand, helping homeless members build new job skills and improve work-related social skills so they can start and sustain successful careers.
Brent and Elisa of LogoBang.com helped design Saffron Strand’s logo, brochure, and website. They were wonderful to work with: Kind, caring, and creative. They listened to what we wanted and helped us get there in a cost-effective way. They added much to our image and helped in every way to make Saffron Strand look good. Thank you very much, Brent and Elisa, for your help, support, and extra effort. Thank you for making this vital work easier!
Attorney Elizabeth Riles of Bohbot & Riles, LLP gave excellent council and support throughout Saffron Strand’s start up phase. She understood, appreciated, and respected our unique approach to the problems of the homeless. Elizabeth made our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt application very easy. Thank you so very much, Elizabeth, for all your help and support which went far beyond your professional services. Thank you for believing in our mission!