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Nimari Burnett is shown for Prolific Prep Academy of Napa in a game earlier in the season. Burnett had 20 points, five rebounds and four assists in a game against Golden State Prep.

Helping veterans
After Pathway shooting, backers look to support veterans in Napa County and beyond

Editor’s note: This is the final part of a three-part series.

A year after a fatal shooting within its walls, The Pathway Home facility remains vacant. But supporters of the pioneering therapy program for war-tormented veterans are still working to keep its mission alive, and share it with other communities and other ex-soldiers in need.

Napa Valley volunteers continue to raise funds for programs that combat the effects of trauma from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A journalist is distilling Pathway’s treatment and counseling lessons into a guide for other communities to use.

And a former Marine who was treated at Pathway – then counseled other veterans there – has taken up the mission by assisting patients at a similar therapy center in Martinez, less than 40 miles to the south.

What they share is a commitment to give Pathway’s mission a second life beyond the original program, which came to a halt on March 9, 2018 when a recently expelled client shot and killed three staff members and himself.

“This has been our mission for 10 years, and it will go on,” board member Dorothy Salmon said 10 days later at a celebration of life in Yountville for Pathway director Christine Loeber and clinicians Jennifer Gray Golick and Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba. “Our mission will go on, because you all care so much. This is their gift and this is their legacy, that we keep this going.”

Preserving Pathway’s legacy

Pathway directors in August ended the home’s lease at the Yountville Veterans Home, but also developed a plan to share its therapy model beyond its walls.

An online guide based on lessons learned at Pathway aims to detail the program’s combination of months-long residential therapy for ex-soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries with building webs of community volunteers to help re-integrate patients into the civilian world.

Since Pathway’s inception in 2008, the home had garnered not only financial donations but the spare time of service group members and Napa Valley residents, who visited the men at the home and led bowling nights and other social outings that eased the men back into the home front.

Suzanne Gordon, a journalist who has written extensively on veterans’ health care issues, joined the effort to create the online guide, which will be offered as a free download for community members seeking to assist patients at existing therapy programs. In developing the handbook, Gordon seeks to emphasize the importance of ordinary volunteers as well as clinicians in helping traumatized veterans thrive away from the battlefield.

A program elsewhere in the Bay Area illustrates the benefits of engaging townsfolk with the recovery of veterans, Gordon said last week.

At a Martinez medical center run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, former troops receive inpatient care for PTSD through the Post-Deployment Assessment and Treatment (PDAT) program, which opened in the same year as Pathway. As in the Napa Valley, volunteers have rallied to the Martinez home’s aid not only by opening their checkbooks but also by lending their time to recovering soldiers, according to Gordon, who has detailed the VA facility’s work in her book “Wounds of War.”

“One of the (points) that’s really important in this guide is that some people may be better suited to give money and items, and some people are better suited to give their time and skills,” she said last week. “Doing one or all is just a different kind of helping.”

According to Gordon, the upcoming guide will describe the ways that volunteers and civic groups can bolster VA-operated treatment programs, with the Martinez community serving as an example – from hiking and fishing outings for recovering veterans to tutoring and educational support. Just as importantly, she added, would-be helpers will be advised how to connect with ex-soldiers left fragile by wartime traumas and often slow to accept help.

“You have to be very careful how you approach” veterans with PTSD, said Gordon. “You can’t just go in like gangbusters. The will and intention is not enough; you need the skill to understand how the person to be helped wants to be helped, whether they want to be helped and how they want to be helped. It’s complex.”

The Martinez Rotary club will use the online handbook to guide its volunteer efforts on behalf of VA clients in their city, and members of a sister club in Brentwood also may do the same, according to Napa Rotarians Gary Rose and Brian Gross.

“The need was there before March, 9, 2018,” said Gordon. “The Pathway Home was wonderful, but it was a very small program in a sea of need. Martinez is a very small program too. You need a lot of people, with a lot of patience and a lot of sensitivity, who are willing to exercise that patience and sensitivity in order to provide help.”

Local fundraising continues

In Napa County, Cycle for Sight & Rotary Ride for Veterans became one of the most visible fundraising efforts on The Pathway Home’s behalf. The program’s quarters at Madison Hall sit locked and empty, but on April 20, the bicycling event will go on – with its organizers steering proceeds to the VA’s Martinez program and other groups in California.

A month after the Pathway attack, the Rotary Club of Napa held its 2018 Cycle for Sight as scheduled, adding a donation drive to benefit the families of the three women who died. This spring, Rotarians will lend their support to Pathway’s surviving counterpart in Martinez as well as to the charity bike ride’s other main recipient, the Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind.

“We haven’t had any letdown in sponsorships,” Rose said of Cycle for Sight. In 2018, it garnered more than $50,000 in contributions – in addition to the $9,300 the Napa Rotary raised for the loved ones of Loeber, Shushereba and Golick by selling special signs paying tribute to the fallen Pathway staffers. “If anything, the shootings illuminated the need for this kind of program.”

Gross, a Napa Rotary board member, remained confident that fundraising will thrive even for a therapy center outside of Napa County, partly because of the support Pathway garnered from outside the valley during its decade of operation.

“Brentwood’s Rotary has rallied to the tune of $100,000, and they’ve never been anywhere near The Pathway Home,” he said. “They’re willing to go outside their community because they see the need. Programs like Pathway and PDAT aren’t programs that every community has access to.”

Pathway alumnus continues the mission

Since 2010, Zach Skiles had become intimately familiar with The Pathway Home – first as a former Marine struggling to leave behind his experiences in the first year of the Iraq war, and later as a peer counselor giving to other veterans the same hand up once offered to him.

When the news broke of the slayings in the Pathway building, Skiles found himself taking a pensive, rain-soaked hike through the Berkeley Hills, then calling board members to discuss the future of the program.

Three women had died at the hands of an Army veteran they had tried to help. Even so, Skiles decided to continue following in their paths, he would recall nearly a year later.

“It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction, but there are things we have to lean into that we have to do,” he said last week. “It’s obvious we need many more of these programs.”

Skiles has put his words into action by counseling patients at PDAT, the VA’s inpatient program in Martinez.

In a setting similar to what Skiles and about 450 other men experienced at Pathway, eight to 10 clients at a time stay for as long as four months for a daily regimen combining clinical therapy, one-on-one sessions and group talks where veterans can share their struggles stemming from combat and its aftermath.

In addition to treating the direct effects of warfare such as PTSD, brain injuries and insomnia, the Martinez VA’s residential program also guides clients through the difficulties many troops face on returning home – substance abuse, communication problems and trouble re-integrating into peacetime life, according to its director Jeffrey Kixmiller.

On and off campus, according to Skiles, much of the program in Martinez eases former troops into the routines and habits of postwar life.

A program called Soldiers in Shelters tasks veterans with training and caring for pets at Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation shelter in Walnut Creek, and Rotarians from Martinez and Brentwood organize recreational outings with patients. Within the VA center, visiting occupational therapists work with clients on cooking and other functional skills, and a “social dining” program puts each veteran in charge of preparing a meal for fellow patients.

The residential program in Martinez has expanded in directions beyond the scope of Pathway’s inpatient care model, with the VA acquiring eight local apartments where former service members can transition into education or part-time work for up to half a year while still remaining close to their treatment. Some clients also receive weekend passes to visit spouses and children in their hometowns – a practice Kixmiller said wins family support for treatment while allowing veterans to test their newfound life skills.

“As veterans change, this is often very new to family members and they have to understand what’s going on to support it so they’re a part of it,” he said. “What we don’t want is to create another sense of deployment to them.”

Five months away from earning a doctorate in clinical psychology, Skiles is planning a career as a therapist within the VA health care system. Meanwhile, he continues to put his own experiences to use – as both counseled and counselor.

“The environments are so similar, I find myself using just about every lesson I learned at Pathway in my work at PDAT, like mindfulness and stress tolerance,” he said. “What I use across the board with everyone is engagement with people, the kind of going out into your community that may frickin’ suck sometimes but is the road to recovery, the next chapter in life we look forward to that gets you out of bed in the morning.”

“… I have continually tried to tap into that humanist idea that each person in front of me has an aspect of them that is a strong survivor that nothing can muck up or touch. That’s what I try to bring out of people; that’s what I try to bring out of guys: that there is something inside of them that can take them further.”

Every town needs to step up

Amid the deaths in Yountville, through the celebration of life for the three Pathway staffers, Pathway’s board members discussed the home’s future – and decided it had none at Madison Hall. The board in July announced the permanent closure of the facility at the Veterans Home, allowing their lease to expire a month later.

“Many of us were personally impacted; many of us felt loss and grief,” said John Dunbar, a board member and the Yountville mayor since 2010. “We lost three amazing women, three brave women, and I personally think of them every day. And I know many others do as well.”

Directors pivoted to finding ways to support other groups continuing the tasks Pathway and its volunteer helpers once carried out. At the same time the home confirmed the end of its Yountville operations, it also announced work on an online guide to help get volunteers veteran-support efforts off the ground elsewhere.

Today, Pathway’s website points visitors to the VA’s rehabilitation programs in Martinez as well as the volunteers – including Rotarians and others who once worked with those being treated at Pathway – lending their time and support to its patients.

“We are advocating for other existing efforts, whether government or private,” said Dunbar, who added Pathway remains registered as a nonprofit despite ending its active fundraising work.

Dunbar did not speculate on whether another intensive therapy program modeled after Pathway would someday call Napa County home, instead pointing to the need for such care in all communities where people struggle with the lasting effects of war.

“My hope, and I’m confident it will happen, is that communities will continue to support our veterans, both privately and through governmental organizations,” he said Wednesday in Yountville. “The need is still there. The desire for communities to lend support is still there – not only in the Napa community but, we hope, throughout the country.”

Register file photo 

Diplomas and gifts await graduates of The Pathway Home in a January 2009 ceremony at Christian Brothers Retreat & Conference Center-Mont La Salle. This was the second graduating class for Pathway, which provided residential treatment for returning combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan on the grounds of the Veterans Home of California in Yountville.

John Shafer, 1924-2019
Napa Valley vintner and philanthropist John Shafer dead at 94, tributes pour in

Longtime Napa Valley vintner, philanthropist and winery founder John Shafer died Saturday at age 94, his family announced Monday.

Shafer was part of a groundbreaking generation that came to Napa Valley in the late 1960s and early 1970s and transformed the region into the world-class wine producing area it is today.

Tributes poured in from the wine industry.

“John Shafer fully embodied the Napa Valley spirit of cultivating land and community,” said Linda Reiff, president and CEO of the Napa Valley Vintners. “He worked tirelessly to make Shafer Vineyards and Napa Valley known for the top-quality wines, and he worked just as hard to take care of the workers and community who helped make it so.

“He traveled the globe to promote his winery and our wine region, and naturally, he made lots of friends along the way for both. He was like the Energizer Bunny. The man didn’t stop. When he was home he was all in, trying to make Napa Valley a healthier and better place, especially for farmworkers,” Reiff said.

Catherine Bugue, co-founder of the Napa Valley Wine Academy, said, “John Shafer had that magical combination of generosity, compassion, passion, and true grit — never hesitating to put in the hard work to get things accomplished. He inspired other great industry leaders to help create the Stags Leap District AVA, and created a timeless brand that is respected around the world.”

Bill Phelps, owner of St. Helena’s Joseph Phelps Vineyards, said he was thinking back to the friendship shared by Shafer and his father, Joe Phelps. “It was built on deep mutual respect. They understood each other as business people and pioneers in this valley, and shared a like-minded commitment to philanthropy and were always there for each other,” Phelps said.

Violet Grgich, president of Grgich Hills Estate of Rutherford, said, “John was a great pioneer in the wine industry, who helped transform Napa Valley into the world-famous region it is today. We are deeply grateful for his many contributions to the health and welfare of our community, and for the opportunity to have known such a wonderful man.”

Before moving his family to the Napa Valley in 1973 at the age of 48, Shafer had served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, piloting B-24 bombers over German, and achieved distinction in the publishing industry, rising to vice president of long range planning at Scott, Foresman & Co. of Chicago.

In the Napa Valley, he bought land at the base of the Stags Leap palisades that had last been planted with vines in 1922. He replanted the original 30 acres of vineyards, achieving distinction with Cabernet Sauvignon on the site’s hillsides.

In 1978, he produced the first Shafer Vineyards wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon. That debut wine was released in 1981 to high praise from critics and consumers alike and set a benchmark for future Shafer hillside Cabernets.

In 1983, Shafer’s son, Doug, joined the family enterprise as winemaker. A year later, Doug hired Elias Fernandez to become assistant winemaker. With the home team in place, Shafer was able to spearhead the administrative and marketing side of the business, expanding into key markets both domestically and internationally.

“The world of wine always inspired Dad and he loved nothing more than to work with the Shafer team to improve quality, enhance everything we do, and to discuss future projects,” Doug Shafer, president, Shafer Vineyards, said in a news release.

“He loved Napa Valley and worked to make it a better place for everyone, and we’re receiving amazing messages from a huge number of people whose lives he touched with his generous spirit,” the son said.

In 1985, Shafer organized his neighboring vintners and grapegrowers including Nathan Fay, Warren Winiarski, Dick Steltner, and Joseph Phelps to petition the government to designate their region as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA). Four years later, approval was granted, making Stags Leap District Napa Valley’s third AVA. Today it is considered one of the world’s top regions for cultivating Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 1994, he initiated a shift in the core team, naming Doug Shafer the winery president and Fernandez winemaker, while carving out a new role for himself as chairman. Stepping out of the president’s position allowed Shafer to become more involved in philanthropy.

Among Shafer’s chief concerns was ensuring that all Napa County residents have access to quality health care. In 1981, he was among the first vintners to support Auction Napa Valley, which has gone on to raise more than $185 million for health care, affordable housing and youth development. For more than 25 years, he was a member of the board of Clinic Olè, a local nonprofit community health clinic for low-income and uninsured patients.

In 1999, Shafer led an effort to create what became Napa Valley Vintners Community Health Center located on Pear Tree Lane in Napa. This unique facility was designed to house four nonprofit organizations that provide key medical and well-being services to Napa’s low-income residents. Each organization is guaranteed rent costs at well below market levels allowing them to use more of their budgets to provide critical services.

In more recent years, Shafer has helped raise funds in support of VOICES, a nonprofit that helps foster youth make the transition to successful adulthood. He also supported Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County and was instrumental in Shafer Vineyard’s donation of land that today houses a wildlife rehabilitation site.

Over the decades, Shafer received numerous awards for both wine quality and for his work in philanthropy. In 2010, both he and son Doug were invited to the James Beard Foundation Awards in New York, the “Oscars of the Food World,” where they were honored by being named “Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professionals.” Shafer was thrilled to join previous Napa Valley recipients: Robert Mondavi (‘91), André Tchelistcheff (‘92), and Jack and Jamie Davies (‘96).

Well into his 80s, Shafer continued to travel extensively and pursued new interests such as learning to tango in Argentina and taking up sculpture. Those who visit the winery will see a life-size bronze statue that he made of his beloved companion Tucker, a gentle (but very large) Yellow Lab. Throughout his life, Shafer remained a long-range planner, always more interested in what might be happening five years from now rather than reminiscing about the past, his family said.

John Shafer is predeceased by son Bill Shafer, who died in 2000, his first wife Betty Shafer Wells in 2007, and his second wife Barbara Shafer, who died in 2016. He is survived by daughter Libby Shafer of St. Helena, sons Doug Shafer (Annette) of St. Helena, and Brad Shafer (Carrie) of San Francisco, 13 grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

The family is planning a private memorial service. They have requested that anyone who wishes to celebrate John Shafer’s life please make a donation to Ole Health, VOICES, or Napa Valley Wildlife Rescue.

Napa council to discuss possible reboot of civic center project

A new path toward Napa’s future city headquarters may begin on Tuesday night.

The City Council will weigh rethinking the needs, budget and possibly location for a civic center that would gather together Napa services currently scattered across seven sites and an aging, undersized City Hall. Council members will decide whether to launch an evaluation that could overhaul a project approved two years ago, but that has since faced rising cost estimates and stiffening resistance from many of the city workers who would be based there.

Approval of a study would open up a change in direction that began in December, when the council assigned two members to consult with city workers on ideas for revamping the project. A decision on a new road map to the civic center could take place by the end of the summer.

The proposed reboot would include two phases – nailing down space needs, affordability and building sites, followed by developing alternatives to the all-in-one multistory complex currently envisioned for the Community Services Building site at 1600 First St.

Significantly, the new study will judge any new proposals on the cost of the civic center itself, and not on the possible resale and redevelopment value of Napa’s current City Hall and police station block on Second Street, according to Nancy Weiss, the executive project manager for the plan.

Officials with the city and its development partner the Plenary Group have released plans for rezoning the Second Street property into a “superblock” of tax-generating housing, hotels and shops, creating revenue that could help defray construction bonds on the new city hall. However, any future study “will not rely on the potential for future tax revenue that may be generated from a future private development of the surplus property” in a separate project, Weiss wrote in a memorandum last week.

The sharper emphasis on the civic center’s price tag follows a series of increases in the project’s cost estimate, which over the past year have crept up from $110 million to $143.6 million amid climbing construction expenses in the Bay Area. Those estimates include the expense of finding temporary office space for city workers during at least two years of construction.

While some opponents objected to the Napa civic center’s expense, others complained about its design and layout – in particular the combination of a police department with civilian quarters in a four-story, 130,000-square-foot structure.

During council discussions of the civic center in 2018, various city employees complained of being left out of the planning process, while members of Napa Police objected to a building whose police-related security requirements they said would drive up the total cost and become “a multimillion-dollar mistake.” The police union took its case to voters by spending more than $50,000 on election mailers supporting council candidates Mary Luros and Liz Alessio, who were both voted into office in November after opposing the city hall-police station combination.

Besides the civic center building itself, Napa’s plan includes replacing the downtown fire station and expanding the Clay Street garage to provide parking space for the expected increase in activity.