Oakland civic leaders Ken and Ann Katz live in a beautifully restored 1909 Arts and Crafts-style home in the lower Crocker Heights neighborhood near Lakeshore Drive. Both devote countless hours to projects that are making a difference.
Recently, I spent a few hours touring the couple's home and garden, and I gained an understanding of why so many people in the community appreciate their contributions.
Ann Katz is the founder and unpaid executive director of the East Bay Children's Book Project. The nonprofit group has been collecting donated books to redistribute to schools, libraries and community centers for families with little or no access to their own reading materials. Founded in 2005, the EBCBP is on target to receive 1 million donated books by the end of this year to redistribute to the community.
A retired kindergarten teacher, Ann Katz said she realized that too many children in the Bay Area live in homes without books and attend schools where books are in short supply. Encouraging reading is not enough when families and schools do not have books on hand for children to handle.
"Our books are used by teachers, social workers, health care professionals, housing authority employees, even police offers, who use them to engage the children they work with to discover a love of reading," she said.
The book project is housed in a donated space at the Mosswood Park Recreation Center. One of Oakland's oldest parks,
Ken Katz, an antique dealer and estate appraiser, has made his Lakeshore/Grand neighborhood his special project.
A decade ago he was credited with being one of the primary movers to renovate an underused, neglected segment of Lake Merritt parkland that had been sliced off from the rest of the park by construction of the 580 Freeway back in the 1960s. "Folks called it the Splash Pad, because it was essentially a sunken bowl-shaped space no one seemed to want or need."
He saw the potential and worked with his neighbors to raise the funds to bring in noted landscape architect Walter Hood to create a pedestrian-friendly space that could support a variety of uses, including the popular Saturday farmers market.
Today the new and improved Splash Pad Park has become the anchor of the neighborhood. Ken Katz writes a monthly online newsletter with updates on new commercial businesses in the nearby Grand-Lakeshore district as well as announcements of upcoming volunteer cleanups and gardening work parties.
Of course, he is right there with spade and hoe at the appointed day and time.
The Katz home was designed by noted Oakland architect A.W. Smith (1864-1933). They tell me they were able to collect the history on their home's architect by consulting the city's Cultural Heritage Survey office, and they were proud to receive an Oakland Heritage Alliance Preservation Award for the work they did on the house.
For more on the book project, visit www.eastbaychildrensbookproject.org.
For more on the Splash Pad Park and other activities in that neighborhood, visit www.grandlakeneighbors.org.