Heroes’ journey: Role-players probe some of humanity’s greatest questions, in robes of fantasy

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Summer participants in FanWar’s high fantasy role-playing league, which operates year-round, alternate between epic combat and more nuanced world-building, covering mercantile, political and thaumaturgical subjects during game play.

Warriors picked up speed beneath the oak trees, coming in a rush of broadswords, maces and pikes, shields worked in arcane heraldry. The melee broke into individual combat as helmeted warriors clashed, foam blade to foam blade.

They were charging across a hill in Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park as part of the FanWar live-action role-playing game, or LARP. These games take the myth-making of table-top fantasy games and bring them to life, with players physically portraying the characters they create, often with self-made costumes and props.

College starts at kindergarten: School-readiness program brings families to Foothill College

Megan V. Winslow/town Crier
Stretch to Kindergarten campers use markers to color air-dry clay in July.

During the limbo of school’s-out summer, students must balance playtime with pressure to achieve, and working parents calculate time, expense and transportation. Multiple local programs address the summer achievement gap that occurs when some families have access to camp resources that others do not. A program at Foothill College uses the summer to target a more sweeping achievement gap with its "summer preschool intensive."

Stretch to Kindergarten (STK) completed a 10th year of serving low-income children and families last summer. The program is a cornerstone of Foothill College’s Family Engagement Institute (FEI). The institute focuses on aspects of college-readiness that start at birth, and considers entire families in its approach by partnering "with school districts and community-based organizations to make sure there’s access and pathways to college," according to Betsy Nikolchev, FEI executive director.

Nature immersion: Summer campers head to the Farm at Rancho San Antonio

Megan V. Winslow/town Crier
Deer Hollow Farm Wilderness Camp counselor Afsheen “Llama” Khosraviani, center, introduces campers to a fuzzy farm resident in August. Counselors, campers and interns of the camp often adopt nature-themed nicknames.

Milking cows, feeding sheep and sleeping under the stars sound like activities of a 19th-century agrarian paradise, worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley. But that’s everyday reality for the campers of Deer Hollow Farm’s Wilderness Camp, where youth ages 6-14 can spend a week of their summer immersed in nature.

The 10-acre Deer Hollow Farm is nestled approximately a mile into Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, a public recreation area bordered by Los Altos and Cupertino. It’s a native habitat for deer, bobcats, mountain lions and other animals.

Throwback world creation: Summer campers find high drama in rolls of the dice

Eliza Ridgeway/town Crier
Foothill College student Ryan Crowley, center, serves as Dungeon Master in a game co-led by Gaming Together founder Anna Doherty, right. They use spreadsheets, whiteboarding and a host of physical objects to guide the game.

Huddled in the sub-level conference room of a research lab building, a young cadre of summer campers bent over maps, paperwork and dice last summer - old-school three-ring binders were even in evidence - the youngest experimenters in the building, but also the most old-fashioned.

The cooperative players of Gaming Together use tabletop games, medieval-tinged fantasies that owe so much to J.R.R. Tolkien and his literary descendants. Collaborative game universes like Dungeons & Dragons add peer interaction to the world of imagination. Anna Doherty, who founded Gaming Together as an after-school program and expanded it into a series of camps during school holidays, said math and social and leadership skills spring naturally from playing extended campaigns in a small group.

The gift of warmth: Local residents knit and crochet for those in need

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Sandy Goldstein and her extensive crew of One Warm Scarf volunteers turn donated yarn into knitted and crocheted items. Her garage provides storage.

Los Altos resident Sandy Goldstein has long put her talents and energy to use to help those in need. Over the years, she has organized drives for books for a Louisiana library post-Hurricane Katrina and stuffed animals for children in Asia and South America, and trained dogs for Canine Companions for Independence (her own dog "flunked out" of the program, she said). But for the past seven years, she has devoted herself to a singular cause: keeping homeless people warm.

Operation: Care and Comfort: Volunteers package cheer for service members

Courtesy of Operation: Care and Comfort
Service members show off some of the items received in their care packages in 2014. Operation: Care and Comfort and Operation Gratitude are volunteer-run organizations that have shipped millions of boxes to deployed troops.

In the Foothills Congregational Church Parish Hall, volunteers meet to stuff plastic bags with food and hygiene items in makeshift assembly lines. The care packages, topped off with handwritten notes, will go to deployed U.S. military service members in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict regions.

"I hope (when they receive our packages) they’ll think people back home are thinking of them, and I hope it’ll make their days just a little more cheerful," said Kathryn Spitzer Kim, a volunteer at Foothills Congregational Church’s recent Operation: Care and Comfort (OCC) care package event.

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Our magazines include:

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  • Living in Los Altos (3/31 & 7/14)
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  • Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival Magazine (9/22)
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