By Nancy Ng
Miss Agnes is an early childhood educator, thespian, social service provider, community volunteer and mother that I have had the privilege of knowing for the last 17 years. We first met when Luna’s MPACT program was launched as a pilot at the Solid Foundation’s centers in Oakland. Miss Minnie Thomas was the director of the Solid Foundation, and Miss Agnes was her “right-hand” woman, and the manager at Mandela 2, one of their residential treatment centers where Luna taught hundreds of classes for 13 years. The Solid Foundation closed its doors in May 2013, and I attended the celebration to commemorate their closing day. Women whose lives had been deeply affected by both Solid Foundation leaders came from all over the Bay Area and California, and a few other states as well to honor this agency and the incredible grassroots community-driven work of Miss Thomas and Miss Agnes.
Over the many years of our partnership, Miss Agnes and I established a strong working relationship and a friendship. While a manager at the Solid Foundation she was instrumental in ensuring that the women and children could attend Luna events outside of the three residential centers where MPACT classes occurred. For Luna’s 10th anniversary she drove one of the vans on her day off so that more women could celebrate with us. She also attended several of Luna’s GALAs where the evening would end with her bringing loaves of Acme bread that had been donated to the GALA to the residential centers for the following day’s meals.
She retired from the Solid Foundation before they closed, and during her retirement became involved with Stagebridge’s senior theatre program. I was able to see her perform in a Stagebridge play at the Ashby Stage—she was fantastic! And, she also came to a few adult creative dance classes at the Luna studio. Miss Agnes and I occasionally meet for lunch or speak on the phone to catch up with Luna’s programs, her volunteer work, and our families. In preparation for writing this story I spoke with her a few weeks ago, and I was amazed by her vitality and commitment to social service during her retirement years.
When I called she was in the middle of writing and sending cards to the senior citizens she knows. She knows about 25 seniors, and every day she communicates with several of them by sending them cards or calling them on the phone to chat. She told me, “I talk to them, give them encouragement, and someone to talk to.” On Mondays she volunteers for the Telecare program on the Herrick Campus at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. She speaks with social worker referred homebound seniors to check in on them and give them support. On other days of the week she is a Stagebridge volunteer for a literacy program, travelling to various Oakland public school 3rd-5th grade classrooms as a storyteller.
I asked Miss Agnes to tell me about her love for dance—What was her experience as a dancer? What does she remember about the dance experiences with the families at Mandela 2?
She shared that when she was younger; she was a “really quiet person” who did not know how to communicate. Her school girlfriend was more outgoing and an exceptionally good dancer. This friend taught her how to dance, and then Miss Agnes would watch others dance and then she took dance classes. I remember her telling me that she took social dance classes while at the Solid Foundation. While speaking on the phone last week she said, “I enjoy dancing and love dancing tremendously.”
Her memories of MPACT at Mandela 2 are that the teachers supported the moms to see their children and appreciate their children’s abilities. She remembers the children dancing on their own during the week after an MPACT class. Miss Agnes said, “I appreciate Luna coming in to teach and interact with the children and their mothers—they could exercise and be free.”