Out & About

By Jessica Laskey
January 2021

Reach For The Stars

Local family raises funds to update fully accessible playground

In 2005, Universal Universe—one of Northern California’s first fully accessible playgrounds—opened at Southside Park. Now, a North Natomas family is raising funds to update the play structures and add additional programming through the Jonnie and Friends Reach for the Stars campaign, named for their late son.

After complications from meningitis confined Jonnie Laver to a wheelchair, his parents, Marc and Linda, made it their mission to give Jonnie the best life possible. Marc became Jonnie’s fulltime caregiver and the entire family, including younger sister Carolyn, became advocates for accessible play at area playgrounds.

Jonnie’s love for Southside Park’s solar-system-themed Universal Universe playground began in October 2005, when the city of Sacramento invited him and his family to be part of the park’s dedication ceremony. The playground features accessible play structures, padded surfaces, access ramps and handrails for kids of all abilities, with colorful space-themed rides and solar system artwork.

After Jonnie passed away in March 2019, the Lavers decided to honor his memory by launching a fundraising effort in partnership with the city and its supporting nonprofit Gifts to Share, Inc. to replace the park’s aging equipment and add new inclusive play structures—like the fully accessible We-Go-Round, which they hope to install this spring.

Home Depot, Target, Dos Coyotes and local businesses like Sagent Marketing (which is offering its services pro-bono), as well as dozens of individuals, have already contributed funds that will go toward equipment and future music and educational programming.

“We’re very fortunate that we have the support of people like Anne Staines at Sagent, Steve Hansen (former city councilmember) and Shannon Brown (city parks assistant director),” Marc Laver says. “This effort will give even more kids with special needs the opportunity to do things they wouldn’t otherwise get to do.”

To donate, visit giftstoshareinc.org and designate your donation by selecting “We Go Round at Southside Park.” All donations are tax deductible. For more information or to volunteer to keep Universal Universe safe and clean, visit jonniesdreamplayground.com.


The Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s 16th annual Dine Downtown program returns this month from Jan. 8–24.
This year’s culinary celebration includes 26 restaurants offering three-course, prix-fixe menus for brunch, lunch and dinner for three price levels—$25, $35 and $45. Food is available for take-out. Dine-in is dependent on restaurant availability and current health guidelines.

“Restaurants have been one of the most severely impacted industries by the pandemic,” says Michael Ault, executive director of Downtown Sacramento Partnership. “Dine Downtown provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy new culinary experiences and support our restaurants that need it now more than ever.”

For a list of participating restaurants, as well as links to make reservations and purchase gift cards, visit godowntownsac.com/dinedowntown.


A CARES Act grant from the city of Sacramento is helping local artists stay afloat during these difficult times. Through Sacramento.Shop, artists can sell their creations directly to customers at a lower cost than hosting their own website or using a commercial website.

Sacramento.Shop features wall art, jewelry, gifts, masks and home goods, all created locally with sustainability in mind. Customers can shop safely and easily online, and enjoy no-plastic shipping and same-day delivery in the Sacramento area. Free pick up is also available at 1020 Front St. in Old Sacramento.

“The beauty of Sacramento.Shop is that it’s local,” says Shira Lane, executive director of the nonprofit Atrium, a coworking space and community center for artists and creatives. “We manage the website, delivery and other customer services so local artists can focus on their creativity, and customers have easy access to some great local artists and their work.”


Archival Gallery on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento will present the group show “Collectors Corner” from Jan. 7–30 featuring memorable works by the gallery’s stable of represented artists, alongside works by the late Mel Ramos.
Ramos’ highly sought-after images of pinups and superheroes were featured at Archival in 2018 for what became his final appearance at the gallery—he passed away in October of that year. The gallery continues to celebrate his legacy of American figurative painting.

There will be no public Second Saturday reception, but visitors are welcome during normal business hours with no appointment needed. Masks are required. For more information, visit archivalgallery.com.


The city of Sacramento’s Department of Public Works recently released an updated Bike Map, making it easier than ever to grab your two wheels and go.

The online map includes more than 2.3 miles of protected bikeways in the central city; approximately 1 mile of protected bikeway on Franklin Boulevard from Mack Road south into Elk Grove; 4 miles of buffered bike lanes on Mack Road, Elvas Avenue, 24th Street near Curtis Park and other streets; and a new shared-use path along the American River at Sutter’s Landing Regional Park for bikers, walkers and joggers.

“There are so many great routes for biking in Sacramento, but it can be intimidating for folks new to traveling by bike,” transportation planner Leslie Mancebo says. “This updated map is a tool to learn about our bikeways and explore our great city on two wheels.”

To access the map, as well as additional information on rules, safety, monthly classes and more, visit sacramentobikes.org.


As of Jan. 1, the footprint of the Midtown Association’s Property and Business Improvement District has expanded to include the northern stretch of the 16th Street corridor. This brings the footprint and service area to 104 blocks in the urban core—from 16th Street to Alhambra Boulevard and from H to S streets.

The Midtown Association has operated as a PBID since 2008 providing service to support properties and businesses in the area. “In addition to supporting and amplifying much-needed city services, the Midtown PBID has been instrumental in creating and nurturing the unique identity and vibrancy of Midtown,” says Emily Baime Michaels, Midtown Association’s executive director.

“North 16th Street has seen a resurgence with housing development recently. And, with the support of the organization, we can extend the services we provide to help move the area forward that much more with regard to development, visitation and an enhanced visitor experience to an underserved area that has great potential for the future.”

The Midtown PBID expanded in 2018 to include the Alhambra corridor and Midtown quarter. The new 16th Street corridor expansion will extend just beyond C Street to the north. For more information, visit exploremidtown.org.


There’s nothing like a crackling fire on a cold winter night. But remember, until Feb. 28 you must “check before you burn” to keep Sacramento’s air quality at a healthy level.

“It’s important to remember that smoke from fireplace burning is unhealthy to breathe, just like smoke from wildfires is unhealthy to breathe,” says Jamie Arno, communications supervisor for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. “Both contain harmful, invisible particles that are small enough to enter the blood stream and pose serious health threats.”

In fact, wood burning causes more than 50 percent of the winter air pollution in Sacramento County.

Before you use solid fuels like wood, pellets or manufactured fire logs in your fireplace or stove, visit airquality.org to find out if burning is allowed that day. County residents can also call (877) NO-BURN-5 or download the free “Sacramento Region Air Quality” mobile phone app for daily burn status.


Speaking of air quality, leaf blowers are also nasty offenders when it comes to pollution. To combat this issue, the Sacramento City Council recently approved an ordinance amendment that prohibits the use of all portable blowers in the city when the air quality index is above 101.

The new code is applicable to businesses and residences that use portable blowers. Leaf blowers can contribute to dust emissions and gas exhaust, which can be harmful for breathing, especially when air quality is already at an unhealthy level.

Due to the recent wildfires, the AQI is already often well above 100, registering from “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to “hazardous.” To find the AQI for Sacramento, visit sparetheair.com/aqi.cfm.


Now’s your chance to join Leadership Sacramento, a Sacramento Metro Chamber Foundation program that brings together diverse leaders from around the region to learn, connect and give back. The application process for the program’s 36th cohort is now open.

Founded in 1985 and boasting more than 1,110 alumni, Leadership Sacramento is an interactive yearlong program designed to inform and educate community-minded business and civic leaders on issues that impact the region’s economy. 2021’s program will include both in-person and virtual activities.

“For nearly four decades, Leadership Sacramento has provided an unparalleled experience for the region’s brightest and most dynamic leaders,” says William Hodges, co-chair (with Crystal Richardson) of the 2021 program. “Graduates of the program gain a sense of pride, knowledge and a drive to further serve the region, their communities and others.”

The program culminates in the completion of a community-betterment project benefiting a local nonprofit. Over the past five years, the classes have invested more than $1.3 million in the local community.

To apply, go to metrochamber.org/foundation/programs/leadership-sacramento. There is a $150 application fee.


The Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office has received the California State Association of Counties 2020 Health and Human Services Merit Award for its Pretrial Support Project, which provides needs assessments for individuals in custody and information for their families.

The comprehensive needs assessment gathers information on an individual’s community ties, employment, military history, finances, education, transportation, physical health, mental health, substance abuse and housing. After the assessment is complete, a recommendation is made to the individual’s attorney for appropriate follow-up. Nearly 50 percent of assessments require follow-up with a social worker.

The program also addresses questions regarding how to get property back, appear by Zoom in court and find new court dates after COVID closures.

Through “this client-centered holistic program, we can help identify underlying needs of an individual that may have led to their engagement of criminal conduct,” supervising public defender Tiffanie Synnott says. “The structure of PTSP is innovative because law students and social work students earn credits for externships to conduct the needs assessment of individuals in custody.”


La Familia Counseling Center is partnering with Sacramento County to provide temporary hotel housing for agricultural workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone recently diagnosed.

This local partnership is part of the statewide program Housing for the Harvest, which provides workers with a free hotel room to self-isolate for up to 14 days to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Quarantine support also includes free meals, laundry assistance, transportation, wellness checks, financial assistance and support for family at home.

For more than 40 years, La Familia has provided free multicultural counseling, outreach and support services to low-income, at-risk youth and families in Sacramento County. For more information, visit lafcc.org.


This month, certified health and wellness coach Carolyn Fisher is offering the next installment of her 12-week coaching program to help clients get a jump-start on their New Year’s resolutions to get healthy and feel better.

In weekly one-hour sessions by phone or video call, Fisher helps clients identify personalized wellness goals to develop healthy habits. Program participants also have access to an online wellness portal with messaging, goal tracking and journaling, plus supplemental resources and a health and nutrition e-course.

Sign up for a free consultation at carolynfisherwellness.com.


Get your hands on limited-edition specialty merchandise designed by local artists, while supporting Sacramento small businesses, with the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s new #All4Small fundraising initiative.

Local artists Chelsea-Mari Kennedy and Brandon Gastinell have designed original artwork for all kinds of swag—decals, T-shirts, posters and market bags. Funds from merchandise sales will provide free one-on-one technical assistance and consulting services to the region’s small business owners who have been especially impacted by the pandemic.

“With more than 100,000 local jobs already lost due to the pandemic and our small business community facing a challenging winter ahead, the Metro Chamber knows we must do all we can to support our local businesses as they weather this storm,” Metro Chamber President and CEO Amanda Blackwood says.

For more information or to start shopping, visit all4smallbiz.com.


Gabriel Berzamina and Acme Lee, co-owners of NEO Escape Rooms, are finally living their dream. The winners of the Downtown Sacramento Foundation’s 2018 Calling All Dreamers competition have opened their storefront at 1124 Second St. at the Old Sacramento Waterfront.

With allowance by Sacramento County public health officials, NEO Escape Rooms will be open at or below 15-percent capacity by reservation only with enhanced safety measures for its 60-minute immersive Sacramento-themed problem-solving programming.

Bookings are exclusively for family/stay-at-home groupings. No walk-ins. Face masks must be worn at all times.

The NEO Escape Rooms experience is $39 per adult and $29 per child (12 and under), and households of four to eight can be accommodated. For more information and reservations, visit neoescaperooms.com.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Submissions are due six weeks prior to the publication month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento

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