BY PAM MARINO for goodneighborstories.com
Original File Date: July 12, 2010
SAN MATEO, CA. - Call it a social justice/education store/community center mashup. It’s not like any other store or non-profit center around, which makes categorizing this new enterprise a little challenging – in a good way.
The for-profit educational supplies company and publisher, Reach and Teach, is teaming up with non-profit Rebuilding Alliance to share a new kind of store/non-profit combo in San Mateo, CA., called The Dove and Olive Works. The new store carries books and games that promote peace and social justice ideals. It also features an olive tasting bar and fair trade from Palestine sold by The Rebuilding Alliance, which helps rebuild communities in war-torn communities. Tucked in the back are desks and offices for the company and the non-profit.
The space is a dream realized for Reach and Teach's founders, Derrick Kikuchi and Craig Wiesner, who started their online, self-described “peace and social justice learning company” in 2004.
“It’s a place of learning and action,” Kikuchi said of the new center. “Learning inspires action, and action causes learning. It basically puts learning and action on a two-way street.”
In addition to places for sales and offices, the new location has an outdoor courtyard where Kikuchi and Wiesner envision gatherings, performances and movie-screenings. Ultimately they hope other organizations and people from the community will come in and use the space as a place to collaborate on ideas that will change the world.
For Donna Baranski-Walker, founder and executive director of Rebuilding Alliance, the combination of ideals and products of the two groups is very complimentary.
“Having the opportunity to be in a place with a peace and social justice learning company, what a wonderful match,” she said.
It also gave both the organization and the company a chance to expand out of cramped quarters. Baranski-Walker said her organization moved out of a 250-square-foot space where staff and interns almost sat on each other’s laps. Kikuchi and Wiesner were tripping over boxes of educational materials in their Daly City home.
From the beginning of Reach and Teach, the goal was to eventually open a brick-and-mortar store. Kikuchi said it was always meant to be a shared space, where people could not only get their hands on peace and social justice products, but could also get involved with others in action to help the world.
It’s been an interesting journey for the two men to get to this new project. The two came out of the high tech world, where they were pioneers in the arena of computer-based, long-distance, interactive education. In 1994 the men founded WK Multimedia Network Training and created the first interactive CD-ROM for the 3Com company.
In 2000, their lives began to change with a trip to El Salvador with a group from their church, First Presbyterian of Palo Alto. They went to honor a friend from the church who had started a project building wells in villages, but then died before he could see the wells completed.
Wiesner said he grew up poor, but the people of El Salvador were “truly poor.” Despite lacking money, food, and many of the conveniences we take for granted here, “they were the happiest, kindest, most generous people I had ever met in my life.”
The experience with the Salvadoran villagers deeply impressed the two men. Wiesner called it “a timer that started to tick.” Each of the men became more involved in topics they were drawn to: for Wiesner it was Israel/Palestine, and for Kikuchi it was border justice between California and Mexico.
The next year was 9/11, and within months they found themselves on another adventure visiting Afghanistan. The San Francisco group Global Exchange put together a trip of interfaith leaders to see first-hand the effects of war, and to bring together families who had lost loved ones on 9/11 with Afghani families who had lost loved ones or homes in the ensuring war. Two rabbis had bowed out of the trip on short notice, and trip organizers wanted to replace them with other Jewish leaders. Through mutual contacts, someone suggested they contact Wiesner, who is Jewish. Kikuchi, a Christian, insisted on going with him.
“It was meaningful (to go on the trip) in a couple of ways. If he was going to die, I wanted to die alongside him,” Kikuchi said. In addition, the men knew that the trip had the possibility to be a life-changing experience; as a couple they felt it was important to have that experience together (the two were married in a church ceremony 20 years ago and were married in a civil ceremony during the time same sex marriage was legal in California).
The trip turned out to be as meaningful as they expected. But the trip was only the first part of the adventure. Global Exchange requires that trip participants speak about their experiences in public for up to a year after they return. Kikuchi and Wiesner began talking at schools, libraries and other locations locally, sharing photos and first-hand accounts of what they found there.
The day before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the men spoke at a special event at Palo Alto High School. After two presentations of standing-room only attendance by students, the men had the kind of divine experience that can only lead to a major life change.
“This young man appeared out of nowhere in the parking lot and said, "I don't know what you two do for a living, but whatever it is you should stop. This is what you need to be doing. This is how kids like me need to learn about the world,” Kikuchi recalled. The student disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.
“We looked at each other and said our lives are not going to be the same anymore,” Wiesner said.
Within a year Reach and Teach was born on the Internet. One of the products featured from the beginning was an educational card game about civil rights Kikuchi invented, called Civio. They found other educational products with a peace or social justice bent from around the world, and have even started publishing books by authors who can’t get published elsewhere.
Several years later, the two find themselves on yet another interesting leg of the journey in The Dove and Olive Works.
Kikuchi said that while organizing the store for the open house he had put together a display of books that summed up where they’ve been on the journey, and where it has brought them.
“I had put together books about traveling, seeing the world, realizing it was broken, and then discovering there were tools out there to make the repairs,” he said. The display mirrored “our discovery, our journey, and the tools that we needed to make a difference, all in one bookcase.”
The Dove and Olive Works is located at 178 South Boulevard in San Mateo. Current hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 1-888-PEACE40 (732-2340), or 415-586-1713.