YOUNTVILLE — When the first Rock the Ride fundraiser to end gun violence was held last summer, the Napa Valley community was still reeling from the March 2018 shooting at the Veterans Home of California at Yountville.
Just months after the inaugural Rock the Ride benefit, in November the community was again left to grapple with the effects of gun violence after Napa County native Alaina Housley was declared one of 13 people shot and killed at a western bar in Southern California. The incident spurred her family and classmates to take a stand.
The Alaina’s Voice Foundation was started in her memory to “inspire hope and kindness in our communities through education, music and mental health initiatives,” according to the organization’s website. The foundation was one of three nonprofits that received funding from the Saturday’s rally — the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, which supports Moms Demand Action, were also chosen.
Members of Enough, a Vintage High club founded in Housley’s memory, were also present.
It’s important to spread kindness and awareness, said Jordan Simi of Enough, who walked in support of Rock the Ride. She also noted that Napa dealt with a school shooting threat after the Napa Police Department uncovered early stage plans for a Columbine High School-style attack.
“Nowhere feels safe,” Jordan said.
Her mother, Jennifer Simi of Moms Demand Action and Rise Up Napa, said it was time to stop “the onslaught of gun violence ... in our community and in our country.”
Leslie Lew of Rise Up Napa said she worries every day when her 17-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son go to school. She supported an automatic weapons ban.
Rock the Ride participants had the option to choose a 25-mile bike ride, a 10-mile bike ride, or three-mile walk or run. Afterward, guests sipped sparkling wine, ate burritos and got massages. Items up for silent auction included hotel and spa days, a dinner at the French Laundry, wine tastings, an electric bike, farm-to-table dinner, and jerseys autographed by Golden State Warriors players Stephen Curry and DeMarcus Cousins.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said in his remarks that the crowd was bigger than last year’s. He called on the audience to help flip the Republican-dominated Senate in order to pass gun control legislation.
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Thompson was soon joined onstage by U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu. Lieu noted that Congress last year reversed a ban on gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and spoke for a need to keep pushing for change.
“In politics, everything is impossible until it happens,” he said.
Monte Frank — who founded a bike ride from Sandy Hook, Connecticut to Washington, D.C. to lobby lawmakers on gun control — talked about his struggle to explain the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to his children. They lived across the street from the school, he said.
“We were the lucky ones,” he said. “We had our kids.”
Also on hand to speak was Elizabeth Russell, a former employee of The Pathway Home, which once acted as a residential post-traumatic stress disorder treatment program for veterans at the Yountville Veterans Home. After an armed, ex-client made his way into the facility during a goodbye party for Russell and a colleague, he took hostage three of her co-workers, who were eventually shot and killed.
Russell said she didn’t feel able to come to last year’s event, but was angry and ready to push for change in gun policies.
While many of the speakers struck a somber tone, the crowd still had some things to cheer for.
Laura Cutiletta of the Giffords Law Center said that for the first time, gun control groups outspent the National Rifle Association in lobbying efforts last year.
And aside from the money that Alaina’s Voice was to receive from the event, Housley’s parents, Arik and Hannah, accepted $10,000 for Alaina’s Voice from Shari and Garen Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard. Arik thanked the Staglin family for their donation and efforts to fund mental health research.
“There’s a lot of Americans who are hurting,” Arik said. “And they need us to reach out to one another.”