El Cerrito High School parents are trying a new approach to their fundraiser gala to provide the class of 2013 a safe and sober graduation night.

The traditional Casino Night of years past is giving way to a gala evening of dancing, dining, beverages and a "sports lounge" from 6 to 11 p.m. March 9 at the Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane.

The blowout, now known as The Event: A night out for a good cause, will feature disco and salsa dancing (come dressed for either if you wish), a no-host bar, live and silent auctions, and the sports lounge that will have "a pool table, foosball, sports video, and easily accessible smokehouse almonds and beer."

Auction items will include artisan items for the home and garden, themed baskets and an overnight stay at the Claremont Hotel. ECHS seniors are also forming groups to auction their services.

Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door and proceeds go to sending seniors to Disneyland for Grad Night, which is also a departure from the traditional celebration held at the ECHS gymnasium.

For tickets or more details about the event or how to make a tax deductible donation, contact Beth Crespan at vlek@pacbell.net or 510-526-5844.

SPECIAL ED AWARDS: People who go above and beyond to assist special needs students in the West Contra Costa School District will be recognized at the annual You Make a Difference award ceremony at 7 p.m. March 11 at DeJean Middle School, 3400 Macdonald Ave.

The Community is invited to attend as Tom Vacar of KTVU returns as Master of Ceremonies for the event hosted by the district's Community Advisory Committee for Special Education.

This year's teacher honorees are Kathy Small of Downer Elementary School, Andrew Sanchez of De Anza High School and Gail Mendes of Harding Elementary. Instructional assistants being recognized are Celia Gil of Fairmont Elementary and David Lee of El Cerrito High.

Support staff being cited are speech therapist Romelda Famorcan, Helms Middle School site supervisor Robert Turner and Downer Elementary community outreach worker Gloria Orozco.

Honored administrators will be Pinole Valley High School assistant principals Timm MacDonald and Ryan Kolb.

FOUNDATION GRANTS: ROOF, the nonprofit Red Oak Opportunity Foundation, has announced this year's grants to organizations that support "housing, education and other critical social service needs in the East Bay."

Local recipients of the round of grants totaling $38,400 include Albany Police Activities League, Bay Area Alternative Press, Bay Area Community Land Trust, Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program, Berkeley Food Pantry, Community Resources for Science, East Bay Center for the Blind, Pacific Center for Human Growth, Parents Resources and More, Rebuilding Together East Bay (North), SchoolCARE, Richmond Art Center, The Body Positive, Read Aloud Volunteer Program, Waterside Workshops, Wheelhouse Academy of Baseball, Women's Daytime Drop In Center, Youth Engagement Advocacy Housing, Youth Mountain Bike Adventures and Youth Spirit Artwork.

Agents and owners of Red Oak Realty make up a committee that decides on grant recipients.

WEST COUNTY NOTES: A new film, "The War At Home," debuts this weekend at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Homefront National Historic Park Visitor Education Center,

1414 Harbour Way South in Richmond.

The film "uses oral histories, archival materials and personal diaries to illustrate the diversity and complexity of the World War II home front experience, from the perspective of a number of real people who lived in different cities across the United States."

The new entry is a companion to a film already at the center that focuses on the specific experience in Richmond during the war.

Showings of "The War At Home," produced by the National Park Service and Signature Communications, will be hourly from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 2 and 3.

It will also be shown daily in rotation with the center's other films.

Details: www.nps.gov/rori.

  • The ninth annual Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour is set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 5 and registration is now open.

    The free, self-guided tour allows participants to see 40 gardens in Alameda and Contra Costa counties that "are pesticide-free, conserve water, provide habitat for wildlife, and contain 60 percent or more native plants."

    Sites range from large properties to small yards in a variety of climates. There will also be talks and sales of native plants at some locations.

    Registration always fills and it's best to reserve a spot early for the award-winning tour by going online to www.bringingbackthenatives.net.

    Volunteers are also needed.

    A companion "Native Plant Sale Extravaganza" will also be held May 4 and 5.

  • Julie Winkelstein, a longtime fixture at the Albany Library and former columnist for Hills Newspapers, left both duties to enroll in a doctoral program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. We're happy to report that Julie has completed her work after more than four years and earned her doctorate in information sciences.

    Contact Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/christreadway. Stay up-to-date on West Contra Costa news at IBABuzz.com/westcounty.