Place Matters: Walking Tour in West Oakland

Place Matters: Walking Tour in West Oakland

Erin  Reynolds


On April 4, The San Francisco Foundation brought together a small group of donors, fellow funders, and staff members to visit four nonprofit organizations in West Oakland. We started the morning at West Side Missionary Baptist Church, where Reverend Ken Chambers described the dramatic changes he’s witnessed over three decades of being a resident and pastor in Oakland. He took our group to see the model of a tiny home that now sits in his church’s backyard. The tiny home is part of a new effort, in partnership with Laney College, to house students as rents continue to soar in the Bay Area.

From there, we walked to Overcomers With Hope (OWH) Studios, an organization which trains at-risk youth in digital media arts and helps students explore career options in media production while continuing to contribute to their communities. The tour group got a first-hand look at OWH’s state-of-the-art production studio and even test out their green screens! Much of their equipment was donated by companies including CBS and Entertainment Tonight, and all of the wiring in the studio was done pro bono by the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

After OWH, we stopped to refuel at Mandela Grocery, a worker-owned cooperative that brings local organic produce to West Oakland. We then headed to Civicorps, a local charter high school and conservation corps that lets young adults earn high school diplomas, gain job skills, and pursue a college education. Executive Director Alan Lessik highlighted the colorful mural of workers on the side of Civicorps’ building that was created by several students. Acknowledging many of the challenges that his students face in their personal lives, he also explained that in recent years, Civicorps has established a trauma-informed curriculum to account for the “whole child” that comes to their classrooms. A three-year study on foster youth showed them that one of the best ways of keeping students engaged and ensuring their graduation was to let them take a break when life became overwhelming and return when they were ready.

Finally, we visited Zoo Labs, a nonprofit artist community that offers immersive two-week residencies for musical entrepreneurs and artists. We heard from co-founder Vinitha Watson about the organization’s inception and progress and toured the lab’s sleek space, including the recording studio.

Our group had a fantastic time visiting these innovative organizations that serve critical members of our Bay Area community. To learn more about these organizations or find out which neighborhood we’ll be visiting next, please contact

Reverend Ken Chambers and Landon Williams, Senior Director of Anchoring Communities at The San Francisco Foundation, exit the model tiny house behind West Side Missionary Baptist Church.
Bob Lefcovich, V.P. Sales and Marketing Editware, and Faye Oliver, Executive Director of OWH, talk in front of the studio’s green screen.
Bob Lefcovich shows off their state-of-the-art recording equipment.
Painted mural on the front of the Civicorps building.
Civicorps students talk about their daily routines and the positive impact Civicorps has had on their lives.
Zoo Labs Founder Vinitha Watson talks to the group about the artist residency program.
Erin Reynolds
Erin Reynolds