Category Archives: Press

Food of Love Mini-Documentary – The Wonder of Love


The First Edition

The Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center

Tribute to Very Special People

Who Possess a

Special Kind of Wonderful”

Stacey Bressler

Michelle Fields Baggett

Melissa Henry Pratt

                                               Andrew Lloren

Cathy Buck

There are people in the world that possess a “Special Kind of Wonderful” within them, and our 5 recipients of today’s Tribute are examples. They each remind me of one of my favorite childhood character’s, Tinkerbell, who waved her wand and sprinkled “Stardust filled with Wonder” wherever she went. Our recipients have taken the world of “make believe” and turn it into a “Wonder-filled Reality.”

This particular story was created by Stacey Bressler and Michelle Fields Baggett who birthed the idea of giving a unique wedding gift to two very special friends, Elaine and Rick Jones.

They choose our Food of Love collaborative with Martin O’Neil Cancer Center as “The Gift” through the funding of the creation of our most compelling and power-filled mini- documentary and further development of Food of Love within our website.

The idea unfolded as Pacific Union College Film Department Instructor Melissa Henry Pratt and her class embraced the project with open hearts. One would not realize totally the process and extreme personal investments which would bring our dream into a reality with all of its mountaintop and and valley experiences, culminating with Andrew Lloren, who carried us to the finish line with his brilliance and compassionate care.

Scheduling, filming, and editing led us to the completion of a 7 minute masterpiece that encapsulated “The Wonder” – the Mission, Passion, and Heart of Who We Are and What We Do.

It was at this point that the Cameo Cinema’s Cathy Buck entered with “Cathy Stardust.” As our Chefs Extraordinaire DJ and Kent Nielsen prepared, and served scrumptious hors d’oeuves with the help of Food of Love teens, Cathy debuted “The Masterpiece” at this years St. Helena Family Film Festival, and played it every day in the month of June.

As the saying goes, “You have to see it to believe it.” Stars, Chloe Hagen and Delio Cuneo will touch your hearts.. . . . and you will experience what a glimpse of the “World of Wonder” looks like, sounds like, and feels like.

Food of Love Mini Documentary – The Wonder of Love


Editorial: Teaching kids the value of service

Originally posted in the St. Helena Star on December 30, 2013.

The laughter and innocence of a young person can do wonders to lighten the mood of a military veteran recovering from combat-related stress disorders. And what better way to teach kids about veterans than by putting them in a room together?

That’s the concept behind one of the most successful projects undertaken by the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, an organization founded by Tom Amato to promote young people’s mental and emotional well-being.

NVYAC’s core philosophy is that kids can find what they’re looking for — identify, purpose and a sense that they’re valued — by making a difference in someone else’s life.

The first time Jazmin Escobedo and Jacky Gonzalez, then eighth-graders, went to the Pathway Home, a nonprofit based at the Yountville Veterans Home that helps traumatized soldiers, they were nervously expecting to sit through a meal with a bunch of seniors and chalk up some required community service hours.

When they arrived, they found out that a lot of the veterans were younger than their parents, and easy to relate to.

When they left, they were asking Amato when they could go back.

After almost three years of regular visits to the Vets Home, Escobedo and Gonzalez, now high school sophomores, say they’ve forgotten all about their community service hours.

Now they’re excited about deepening their understanding of veterans, like when they met a service dog who’s trained to wake up his owner from trauma-induced nightmares. The students learned that yes, vets are heroes, but they’re also humans just like the rest of us, with unique strengths, flaws and interests.

Just chatting about sports and enjoying a meal with a young person can cheer up a veteran and relieve them from the weight of their most painful memories, at least for a little while.

Meanwhile, the vets are happy to draw on their personal experiences to advise kids to focus on their goals and keep a positive attitude.

The collaboration with the Pathway Home project is just one of the ways the NVYAC, which evolved from the old Angwin Teen Center, is teaching kids the value of service and compassion. At Rianda House kids teach seniors how to use cell phones, and every Tuesday kids prepare meals for cancer patients as part of the “Food of Love” collaboration with the Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center at St. Helena Hospital.

Connecting kids with veterans is an example of how Amato builds reciprocal relationships that benefit everybody, unlike a lot of traditional mentoring programs that are all about an adult helping a kid.

During more than 40 years as an educator, Amato said he’s learned how important it is to understand young people on their own terms. When he started mentoring the youth who used to hang out in front of the Carnegie Building, he looked past the tattoos, body piercings and misanthropy and found a group of smart, talented young people who just felt misunderstood.

He’s learned that at-risk behavior starts in elementary school, when kids who lack certain academic skills start to feel there’s something wrong with them.

If their needs aren’t accommodated by the time they get to junior high, they’re all too likely to start checking out of the educational system and experimenting with drugs, sex and other “at-risk” behaviors. They feel like they can study and fail, or not study and fail. So why study?

By recognizing those symptoms early, Amato said he believes our community can give kids a sense of purpose and confidence by teaching them the value of serving others. Along the way, they learn to relate to people who are very different from them, whether they’re military veterans, seniors or cancer patients.

We’d love to see Amato take the logical next step of encouraging the NVYAC’s youth volunteers to mentor their peers and become ambassadors of service and compassion.

It would be even better if the rest of the community could take Amato’s message to heart by embracing troubled youth, teaching them the value of service, and realizing that we can learn as much from them as they can from us.

Neighbor2Neighbor: Advocacy center serves Upvalley youth

Sometimes all the gears line up. Pieces and parts come together and work just as they should. You have yourself a proverbial well-oiled machine. But that’s not always the case. Maybe an ace mechanic must be brought in for some fine-tuning to help get things going. Perhaps a gear requires retooling, or just a bit of WD-40 may do the trick. Then the way is clear.

Lives are like that, too. There are times when what’s needed to help get a life on track or keep a life on track involves the presence of someone or a team of someones to observe closely, get down below the surface, and finesse the situation with a toolkit that includes compassion, intuition, practical skill-building, mentorship, and programs that extend and support family and community.

The Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center (NVYAC) works with Upvalley young people by providing support from many angles and using many strategies. Says Executive Director Tom Amato, “We champion our youth by walking beside them and strive to see each young person beyond typical evaluation criteria.”

When he speaks of the importance of recognizing and honoring not only what can be observed or measured in one’s life, but the inner life of each NVYAC participant, Amato quotes Helen Keller: “‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched, but are felt in the heart.’”

What is your purpose or mission?

Tom Amato, executive director: “The Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center (NVYAC) develops

innovative strategies to embrace and empower youth. This is done through exciting programs, clear communication, nurturing, and formal mentorships. All combine to create a formidable force that promotes authentic relationships as we identify and meet individuals’ deeper needs.

“Once we focus on the emotional and mental health of young people, we are able to help them develop practical skills for success. And through service in the community, they can directly see those skills put into action.”

In brief, what’s the history of your organization?

“NVYAC opened in May 2004 as an Angwin after-school center. Soon after, it expanded to support youth and families in St. Helena and Deer Park, dedicated not just to providing supervision and safe activities, but also mentoring, relationship development, the improvement of mental and emotional well-being, and real-life skills.

“Over the years, our mission and programs have expanded throughout the valley. We collaborate on site with many local schools and organizations.”

Who are the people you serve?

“As a youth advocacy and support resource, NVYAC networks with support groups and higher-education organizations. We provide youth, grades 5-16, and their families with access to counseling, mentoring, consulting, intervention, programming, activities and community connections.

“Through time together, outreach programs and crisis intervention, we serve, support, and at times act as a ‘critical care center’ for youth, with specific focus on Howell Mountain and St. Helena. In addition, we provide training, mentorship and internships to students in the education and behavioral science departments of Pacific Union College.”

Is there an anecdote that illustrates the work you do?

“‘Food of Love’ is a unique collaborative effort with the St. Helena Hospital Martin O’Neil Cancer Center, A and A Kitchen in St. Helena, and the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center. Kids literally step up to the plate, serving nutritious, delicious meals for cancer patients in Napa and Lake counties.

“Another NVYAC program that has make a profound difference involved a dinner for combat veterans at the Pathway Home project in Yountville. It was stimulated by an article in the St. Helena Star highlighting Terrence Ford’s photography work with the men who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

“Several parties collaborated: two extraordinary chefs, DJ and Kent Nielsen, a group from United Health Care, students from Howell Elementary, and NVYAC. Together, we created a life-changing dinner experience for Pathway vets on the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Students served and ate a delicious meal with the men from Pathway, who instinctively took the kids under their wings. Before you knew it, laughter filled a room previously filled with painful thoughts and anxiety. As one veteran put it: ‘Experiencing the innocence of a child brought joy and hope into my heart.’

“Such activities touch lives in both directions. Patients receive gifts of love, and youth learn life skills and values such as understanding and empathy, discipline, commitment and responsibility. Perhaps of most importance, they experience the joy of making a difference.”

What’s a current need or upcoming project?

“Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center works because of our volunteers. We’re always looking for what we call ‘Special Forces.’ These are individuals who have a nearly obsessive sense of compassion, passion and determination. They deeply care for the hearts, well-being, and success of youth in spite of obstacles and challenges.

“Specialty areas of need include skills in innovative thinking, human behavior, relationship development, and mentoring. We also value those with training in assessment, database development, business, social networking, public relations, finance and accounting, program development, fundraising, grant writing and management. If you have any of these skills and want to help enhance the lives of some truly great young people, please contact us for an interview.”

Neighbor2Neighbor is provided to the Register by Napa Valley CanDo. Founded in 2009, CanDo is a grassroots organization dedicated to “easing the path from intent to action.” Each week, CanDo provides a profile of a Napa Valley nonprofit or service club — what the organization does, what it needs and most of all, how an interested person can get involved. For more information on the column, contact Hilary Zunin at To learn more about opportunities for community service, email, call 252-7743 or visit NVCanDo .org.

Food, Film & Love

Thursdays, February 2 -23

Join the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center and the Cameo Cinema each Thursday in February for a featured film hosted by a Napa Valley celebrity chef. All proceeds will benefit Food of Love a mentoring program where teens learn to cook in a healthy way and support their community at the same time.

Food, Film & Love - A Cameo Community Arts Film series benefit for Food of Love

Film, Food & Love 2012: Schedule

Food of Love is a collaboration between A&A Kitchen of St. Helena, Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, and St. Helena Hospital Martin O’Neil Cancer Center, — a 100% volunteer, locally-focused program providing cancer patients and their families healthy meals during cancer treatment. While the main intent of the program is to provide nutritious meals to patients, the bi-product is a mentoring program for teens. Under the supervision and caring of the chefs Amy and Adrianne, teens are learning how to cook in a healthy way and supporting their community at the same time.

“The Food of Love program has opened doors that I never thought would be open. I have met people that have changed my life for the better and that care about me. Without the Food of Love program I would be wasting my time not doing anything productive, but now I am helping others and getting experience in the process. The Food of Love program is amazing and it’s all possible thanks to Amy and Adrianne.”
— Devin, junior chef

Purchase Tickets:

$30/person at the door for each individual event

Unable to attend? Support Food of Love

Not able to join the film series but you would like to support teaching youth how to cook in healthy way while giving back to their community? Support the Food of Love project and donate today!

*Tax deductible. Tax ID#13-4293407

A Holiday Appeal To Remember The Way It Was

Happy Holidays to Each of You,

This is an outreach to all of “my kids” over the last 40 years, friends, and family everywhere – “An Appeal To Remember the Way It Was.”

This is the Anniversary of a 40 year Career and Marriage – 37 years caring for kids in the Napa Valley and 3 in Fort Bragg. My most recent mission is, director of the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, where we care for the emotional well-being of kids grades 5-12+ through relationship development, mentoring, outdoor education, activities, programs, life skill development, and walking with them unconditionally through their choices, good and not so good.  Some of you may remember…

After seven years of donation-based service, struggling now in a depressed economy, we find ourselves at a crossroad.  We either can sustain financially or become extinct, which is why I am reaching out to you.  We need significant financial help to continue. Now, WE NEED ADVOCATES.  Advocates who remember what or who kids need most. They still need what you needed, someone to “be there” to walk by their side through mountaintop experiences and “hell and high water.”  They need someone who sees beyond their behavior, appearance, production, performance, and lack of perfection. They need someone who will love them when they are unlovable, and believe in them when they are unbelievable.  That is what we do. The bottom line is that in way too many homes, and in most schools, and communities there is insufficient time or priority for such an investment and kids are suffering from “hypothermia” – loosing warmth faster then it is produced. Some of you remember that feeling.  You also know the “first aid” – person to person contact where the warmth of ONE transfers to the other.

So many kids are walking alone in a crowd. So many kids feel worthless, and unworthy. So many kids have no one to trust, turn to, or lean on.  We need your help to continue to change this condition with a model I have used from the start  – “Emotional Cardiology” – the care of wounded and broken hearts.

If you are able and inspired, please help us with your financial support to continue to not only meet the needs of our Napa Valley kids, but create a reproducible model for other communities to see the value of creating such opportunities in their community.  Whether you are able to help financially or not, perhaps you know of those who have a passion for youth who might be willing to support. If so, please connect us.

My students may remember me talking about geometric progression, which I learned from my Dad.  I took ONE piece of paper and tore it in half. I then put the two halves on top of each other and did it again. Then I asked the question – theoretically, if we could replicate this process the number of squares on a chessboard, how far would the stack of paper go?  Do you remember?  I continued. . . . Will it go to the roof? Will it go to St. Helena, San Francisco, New York . . . Around the world?  “Raise your hand if you think I am crazy.”  I then had you do the “math experiment.”  “How far would it go?”  Over 93,000,000 miles!  It would go past the Sun.

As the power of ONE changes to you and me, and synergizes with another, and another, and another, miracles occur.  If you are able, join us as we take a “journey to the Sun,” continue to touch lives, and make Life Changing Differences together.

May the Spirit of Christmas be yours always.

With Love and Appreciation,
“Mr. Amato”  Tom
Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center
P.O. Box 268
Angwin, CA 94508
All gifts are tax deductible
Credit cards welcome

Art & Cookies

On May 22, community members gathered in Angwin for a day-long event – and the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center was right in the thick of things. The Angwin Flea Market, Classic Car Show, and Art in the Clouds art show were hosted by the Angwin Volunteer Fire Department and the Angwin Community Council. NVYAC helped with some of the publicity and coordination beforehand, and on the Sunday of the event they displayed youth art and invited people of all ages to get creative on the spot, had young people helping out with the day’s events, and sold the Center’s signature Everything Cookies.

NVYAC executive director Tom Amato brought the Mobile Art Center to the show, with various artworks on display as well as tables and easels outfitted with art supplies. Local high school students Carolyn Benner and Zoe Morphis were the “resident artists” who guided young people of all ages in a creative experience using a variety of media. Amato recounts how “the wind added a bit of excitement by trying to carry our canopy away. A neighboring artist rescued us with four containers of water which we used to hold us firmly to the ground.”

Meanwhile, NVYAC board members Meg Scofani and Jess Smith sold the now-famous Everything Cookies that are baked by teams of teens. They sold out their entire cookie stock, “thanks to Karen Lewis who bought us out just before it was time to go!” Amato recounts.

In addition to the connections made throughout the day, and the artworks that were created, NVYAC received some much-appreciated monetary recognition when a $1,000 gift was presented by the Angwin Community Council.

Thank you, Angwin, for supporting your young people!

Everything Cookies Go to Cheers

Three local teens brought — and completely sold — a stock of their famous Everything Cookies to the first Cheers St. Helena of 2011.

At the community event, which takes place once a month from May to October and celebrates the shops and restaurants of main street, Napa Valley wines, and local music and other entertainment, hundreds of people gather in downtown St. Helena.

Ene, Julian, and Freddy were busy at the Everything Cookie table on Hunt Street, where they sold the entirety of their stock of cookies (around five dozen).

The Everything Cookie Project, which is led by teams of youth bakers, is headed up by Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center board member Tami McDonald. Since Tami was out of town, Angwin volunteer Shaina Hasso led the Thursday baking session. The three boys baked fresh Everything Cookies, as they do each week. Another NVYAC board member, Barry Low, took the boys to St. Helena on Friday, where they set up their table with info about the cookies and NVYAC, tasting samples, and a basketful of cookies. The boys manned the table, talked with people who stopped by the table and advertised the cookies to passersby, kept the samples supplied, and made the sales.


Food of Love

“How do you turn down someone who says ‘I’m hungry’?” asks chef Amy Cohen. How about if they’re a cancer patient whose treatment is giving them a myriad of symptoms from nausea to fungus of the tongue that make normal food impossible to consume?

Once a week in a gleaming A&A Kitchen facility in St. Helena, a group of teens and adults gathers for an afternoon of culinary compassion, making incredible menus for just such people.

Currently hosted by St. Helena Hospital’s Martin O’Neil Cancer Center, A&A Kitchen, and the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, this project is highly rewarding ─ and promises to grow. Under the direction of chefs Amy Cohen and Amanda Tuttle, young participants are cooking and delivering meals for cancer patients in treatment at MOCC.

The young cooks, who are recruited by NVYAC and come from local public and private schools, home schools, and service groups, range from grades 5 to 12 and are across the demographics (and style) spectrum. The consistent factor is that the kids are participating because they want to, because they love the project. “They’re volunteering because their cousin or aunt or somebody had cancer, so they want to be involved,” Cohen says.

So far, 37 kids, seven college students, and ten adults have volunteered with the program, with several becoming regulars. They’re involved in all aspects of the program from nutrition education to menu development to problem solving ─ and, of course, culinary skill development. NVYAC executive director Tom Amato has been impressed with the young volunteers. This program is one of the most powerful I have seen,” he says, “with a learning curve that is fast and intense as the kids step up to the plate to do a phenomenal job.”

In turn, Cohen is “the consummate auntie,” developing relationships with the teens that include interactions ranging from the exchange of menu ideas through the week to online games of Scrabble! “It’s fun to get in there and watch these kids get a sense of accomplishment,” she says. A trendy teen with a “yeah right” attitude who refuses to eat anything green might join the project, and a couple hours later their mom shows up and asks what they made. Cohen loves it when the response is, “It’s like a kale salad – try this!” and the mom’s jaw drops.

Amato sees the project as the perfect place for this kind of transformation. “Many of the teens involved have had difficulty in traditional settings and are thriving with the personal attention, opportunity to be involved in making a difference, and training of caring mentors,” he says.

A story that sums up both the project and the kids’ commitment comes from a moment when the group was discussing possible names for the project. One young participant didn’t think the name should be in English. With a little research, they came up with “alimento di amore” ─ which in Italian means “food of love.”

Film Festival 2011

In a lively community event that’s all about imagination, stories, and film, local teens get a chance at the spotlight. The second annual St. Helena Family Film comes to the Valley May 27-30, and the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center is once again closely involved.

Started last year by Cathy Buck of St. Helena’s Cameo Cinema, the SHFFF is an event for families and kids of all ages and is all about community, stories, and supporting youth. This year, four days of events hosted at the Cameo and the St. Helena Oddfellows lodge will include movies, cartoons, workshops, special guests from the film industry, and the gala events for the screening of the make-your-own-movie and make-your-own-music-video projects. Like last year, proceeds from the event will again benefit NVYAC as well as other similar organizations.

NVYAC is working with the Cameo, serving on the planning committee, setting up connections with local schools, encouraging youth participation, and providing support during the weekend events – including teen volunteers.

Teens: Debut a Film, Join a Community

– Make a Short Film
Anyone ages 7 to 21 can make a 30-second to 7-minute video. Check out the details and applications at the St. Helena Family Film Festival website St. Helena Family Film Festival website.

– Make a Music Video
For ages 13-18, make a 30-second to 5-minute music video and debut it at the Music Video and Dance Party. Learn more at the St. Helena Family Film Festival website St. Helena Family Film Festival website.

– Volunteer at Events
Volunteers are needed at events May 27-30. Contact Tom Amato at or 888-7557 for more info or to volunteer.

The Angwin Event 2011

The Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center is facilitating teen involvement in an annual Angwin community event hosted by the Angwin Volunteer Fire Department and the Angwin Community Council. For many years, the fire department has hosted the Angwin Flea Market, and recently the community council added a Classic Car Show. This year, they introduce the “Art in the Clouds” show for local artists.

The Event
The Flea Market, Classic Car Show, and Art in the Clouds will take place on Sunday, May 22, and will feature music, food, and prizes in addition to the flea market booths, art, and cars. The Classic Car Show takes place from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and “Art in the Clouds” will be on display from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. All events are off the main road through Angwin and will be easy to locate.

Youth Involvement
Teen artists are encouraged to bring their artwork to “Art in the Clouds” on the day of the event to display it at the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center area, where the Mobile Arts Center will be open and exhibiting student artwork. For more, see our news story. The community council is also accepting student art exhibitors free of charge, if they wish to set up their own booth.

Additionally, youth are invited to participate in the community festivities of the day. If they are interested in assisting with any aspects of the event, they can contact NVYAC executive director Tom Amato at or 888-7557.