Aug 312007

Stamperia Benedetti

Stamperia Benedetti

By Francine Brevetti

On September 30, 2006, I found myself in the Tuscan town of Pescia — midway between Florence and Lucca — to return a favor on behalf of the Fior d’Italia. During my Italian vacation I was searching for a printing company named A. Benedetti & Co. and its proprietor, printer Gino Necciari.

In my book which recounts the Fior d’Italia’s history, The Fabulous Fior — over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen, I cite various novels and works of nonfiction that described the Fior d’Italia. One wonderful book I discovered is called Un Italiano in America written by Virgilio Luciani in 1956. A work of fiction, it recounts the story of an adolescent immigrant who gets his first job in America as a busboy at the Fior d’Italia around the year 1900.

His first job after school was a powerful exercise in learning the language. The restaurant was called “the Fior d’Italia”, founded by émigrés from the Liguria and Tuscany and was the most luxurious spot on Broadway.

In The Fabulous Fior, I quote this description of the restaurant and of the busboy’s work in it starting on page 31.

When you quote another work at length you must get permission from the publisher or author to avoid any legal disputes about copyright. I couldn’t find the author but he was probably deceased, I reasoned. And there was no publisher listed on the book! Only a printing company, A. Benedetti at 10 Piazza Matteotti, Pescia.

I wrote to the company describing the project and why I was seeking its permission to quote from a book they had printed in 1956. Several weeks later I got a response from the proprietor, Gino Necciari, granting me permission and asking only that I send one copy of my book when it was published. The Fabulous Fior was published at the end of 2004 and made its debut about the beginning of 2005. I never sent Stamperia A. Benedetti a copy because I always intended that one day I would go there and hand them the copy.

This past fall I traveled in northern Italy for three weeks. When I arrived in Pescia I checked into the Villa delle Rose, a comfortable hotel which receives touring groups on their way to see the hometown of Carlo Collodi, the author of The Adventures of Pinocchio, which is about a half hour down the road.

I called ahead to make sure Gino was going to be in the office. I imagined some two or three story industrial complex. But when I alit from the taxi on a cobblestone town square, I could see Stamperia A. Benedetti was certainly not that.

An elderly man shuffled to the glass door when I knocked. He could have been Gepetto, Pinocchio’s father himself. In his 80s, somewhat rumpled, a soft, plump body, with bushy eyebrows and a slow step, he greeted me with puzzlement. I explained to him that I had come to give him a book I had promised him two years ago. I showed him the letter he had written me. He certainly recognized the signature but I had no sign that he remembered Virgilio Luciani’s work which he had printed half a century earlier.

Gino goes to his workplace every day as he has done since he was 14, aided by a secretary and an assistant printer. Rather than a great industrial plant, A. Benedetti is more of a museum for it has apparently never disposed of a single piece of equipment in its almost century-long existence. Some real antiques stand side-by-side with more recent workhorses. The walls are decorated with framed examples of Stamperia A. Benedetti’s most artistic work.

I pointed out to him the page on which I cited the passage from Un Italiano in America and the reference to A. Benedetti in the bibliography. And I handed him two copies of the book from the case at Bob had sent me.

“Two?”, he asked.

“Why not?”, I said.

He gave his assistant an order to locate some materials. Back came Paolo with a collection of poetry from a native of the area that A. Benedetti had printed. And another book — a gorgeous biography of Gino and the history of the printing company. This work contains many of the lovely woodcuts which this artisan has reproduced.

Gino presented them both to me with the words: “Adesso siamo uguali. Due e due.” Now we are even. Two and two.

We may have been equal in the number of books exchanged, but it was I who had had the adventure. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

The origins of the Stamperia A. Benedetti go back to the 15th century according to its web site:


 Posted by at 9:29 pm
Aug 222007

James Kwon
James Kwon, Port of Oakland’s new maritime director
Appointee formerly CEO of Total Terminals International
By Francine Brevetti, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
OAKLAND — James Kwon is going to need his kendo sword.The newly appointed maritime director of the Port of Oakland will face a number of challenges when he takes his post Sept. 4.His master certification in kendo (fourth degree black belt) has taught him self-discipline, he said.”You really get to know your opponent’s style and you apply that to real life,” said Kwon, a native of South Korea. “In my day-today life there are always challenges. I make sure that I keep my composure and focus on the issue.”Since 2004, he has been chief executive officer of Total Terminals International, where he oversaw the growth of the company’s terminal traffic in the ports of Long Beach, Oakland and Seattle. He settles in at the Port’s Jack London Square headquarters in a few weeks.Kwon increased Total Terminal’s revenue by 250 percent and container volume by 30percent, according to a Port news release announcing his hire. So is he the right guy to bring traffic to the Port of Oakland that has been lured to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach?”My goal is to increase revenue and throughput (in Oakland), absolutely,” he said.Still, he said, those goals must be pursued in “a well-balanced way,” given community groups’ concerns about the Port’s impact on the local environment, especially air quality.”We would like to work with the community because we know there are issues about air quality,” Kwon said. “There have been efforts made by the port already to improve air quality. I will just continue the effort.”

Indeed, the community group ACORN protested the port commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, demanding the officials take more responsibility for cleaning up emissions from trucks.

Kwon said the Port of Oakland, despite its challenges, is on the brink of a terrific opportunity.

Up until the middle of the 1990s, Oakland was the No. 1 entry point for United States’ western seaboard. But the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports invested heavily in their development and lured massive amounts of cargo away from Oakland, he recounted.

“But now there’s so much congestion in that area that there will be an overflow of cargo. That could either come to Oakland or Seattle or to other developments in Mexico and Canada,” he said. “Our efforts will be to see that cargo come to Oakland.”

In 2005, cargo activity through the port generated more than 28,500 jobs, either directly or indirectly. It doesn’t take much to conclude: More cargo equals more jobs.

Kwon says he will huddle with his staff for the next six to 12 months to come up with strategies to increase revenue — and thus boost well-being of local residents.

“We have to work with carriers so that they make Oakland the first port of call,” he said.

Port Commissioner Darlene Ayers-Johnson called him “an extremely knowledgeable and impressive” man.

“We think he’ll bring a lot to the port. He’s very classy,” she said.

An urbane man who laughs easily, Kwon speaks Mandarin and Korean and says he has an excellent relationship with Chinese shipping companies.

Formerly he was the sales manager for Hanjin Shipping Company, based first in San Francisco and then in Long Beach. Before that he was marketing director for Palmco Corp. in Newport Beach, an investment holding company that promotes trade between the United States and Asia. There he oversaw its offices in Seoul, Moscow and Beijing. He has traveled extensively in Korea, Russia and China.

However, he acknowledged he still has to develop relationships with European carriers.

Maybe he won’t need his sword after all.

 Posted by at 9:14 am
Aug 192007

John Coleman
John Coleman, Oakland resident
State doesn’t offer enough help for disabled to find self-employment
By Francine Brevetti, Staff writer
Inside Bay Area
Dusty Dutton, a 30-year-old Larkspur woman with Down syndrome, is a successful and self-supporting puppeteer whose shows delight visitors to local farmers markets and children throughout the area. John Coleman, 45, of Oakland, disabled since undergoing knee surgeries a couple of years ago, cannot get the funding to start his high-tech manufacturing business from the state agency charged with rehabilitating the disabled.Besides the vast differences in complexity of their business plans, Dutton and Coleman are different in two other ways — Dutton has had the full support of her parents in navigating the state’s agency for the severely developmentally disabled, the Department of Developmental Services.Coleman, on the other hand, stands alone before the Department of Rehabilitation, a state agency critics say is ill-equipped to help the disabled achieve self-sufficiency through self-employment.Eight million disabled people live in California; a large proportion of them are children and others who either cannot or do not want to work for themselves.Still, a huge population of adults who yearn to work falls through the cracks of the two state agencies charged with helping them obtain self-sufficiency, according to those familiar with the challenges of helping the disabled obtain their own businesses.In California, the disabled are served primarily by the Department of Rehabilitation and the regional centers, a network of 21 nonprofits that serves clients of the Department of Developmental Services.Officials with those agencies say they work hard on scant resources to provide comprehensive services. Still, they only receive enough money to serve about 300,000 adults combined — less than 4 percent of state’s disabled.Those who are overlooked could be more independent, find more satisfaction in their lives, participate in the larger community and contribute to the tax base, their supporters say.Increasingly, people in the field of rehabilitation are learning that self-employment and entrepreneurship can be excellent work solutions for people with physical or mental limitations. These adults have often been assigned to workshops where they receive low wages, are isolated from the mainstream working world and don’t use their talents to their full capacities. In the worst cases, they are sequestered at home or in institutions.”Until employers eliminate architectural, attitudinal and cultural barriers to hiring, training and sustaining people with all types of abilities in their workplace, many people — even those with the most severe disabilities — have found self-employment to be a viable option,” said Mindy Oppenheim, president of San Francisco-based SEED — Supported Employment Education Designs — which provides training and technical assistance for supported employment.Overlooked opportunities The 1990 Census revealed that disabled people have a higher rate of self-employment and small-business experience than the able-bodied, according to information on the Web site of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.”Even so,” the Web site said, “entrepreneurship for people with disabilities is often overlooked by government programs and by many people with disabilities as an avenue from the public rolls to self-sufficiency.”

And data suggests that many disabled people are eager to start their own businesses.

The Rehabilitation Services Administration, which funds state vocational rehabilitation programs, said 20 percent to 30 percent of its vocational rehabilitation clients would prefer self-employment, yet only 2.7 percent of successful cases end in new businesses.

There is no record of what becomes of the remaining clients.

The state Department of Rehabilitation serves about 100,000 clients annually. Last year, the agency successfully closed 80 business plans, meaning those clients’ business plans were funded and materialized into sole proprietorships, said Lana Fraser, assistant deputy director for work force development. But the agency keeps no figures on how many people requested that service.

Self-employment opportunities for people with disabilities are still overlooked by state-funded programs.

The funds the state Department of Developmental Services pays vendors haven’t changed since 2002, when a freeze was enforced for the kinds of programs that would support entrepreneurs, said Rocio Smith, executive director of Developmental Disabilities Area Board V, which monitors the services provided by the regional centers in the Bay Area.

In 2006, a minor cost of living adjustment boosted payments to service vendors by 3 percent — or about $142,000 to the clients in Smith’s territory.

Some of that money, Smith said, will help support those who want to open small businesses.

But the freeze still exists. Why is this option so poorly funded?

“We do not see people with disabilities as capable of giving us value,” Smith said. “When they do anything, we say ‘amazing’ when they are just regular folks doing regular things. It’s a civil rights issue that has kept people with disabilities from being integral parts of our society.”

The rehabilitation department and the regional centers serve different populations and have different standards of acceptance.

The Department of Rehabilitation serves only the most severely disabled, as defined by a rigid set of criteria. The department requires clients who wish to start a business to develop a cogent business plan and have skills adequate to the task. The department will provide some business consultation.

Gary Karp, 52, of San Rafael is one of the rehabilitation department’s success stories. He was already in a wheelchair from a spinal cord injury when he developed chronic tendinitis in 1992 that interrupted his career in computer graphics. The rehabilitation department procured a computer and other equipment for him to start his new business as an ergonomics consultant. It did not offer him any startup money for operations.

“I had to write a business plan, which they approved, and they paid for me to meet with a business consultant two or three times,” said Karp. He received $2,000 to $3,000 between 1992 and 1993 for his equipment and the consultant.

Today, his clients are large corporations and he works from his home office. He’s also developed a public speaking and literary sideline focusing on disability resources at

A tough road

Other department clients have not been so fortunate, however.

Coleman, the Oakland man with the knee trauma, wants to start a technically ambitious business involving a manufacturing process that uses nanotechnology. He said the rehabilitation department has not given him consultation equal to the demands of his project, and complained the agency offered him only $4,000 to start a business.

“I couldn’t start a hot dog stand with that,” he said.

Officials with the rehabilitation department won’t comment on the particulars of its cases.

But Fraser said the department has no ceiling on the amount it will fund new business enterprises, which are financed based on their merits. In fact, she said the department has been criticized for undertaking projects that were overly ambitious.

Still, the work pays off: The government receives $6 back in taxes on every $1 it spends to support employment of the disabled, including through self-employment, Fraser said.

Michelle Alford-Williams, the department’s manager of work force development, said that two years ago the agency convened a working group to look at regulations on self-employment. Until that point, self-employment “was never seen as an option for people with disabilities before because of the stigma of disability or because of their lack of credit history,” she said.

But under new regulations soon to be implemented, “We are going to be giving additional support (for coaching for self-employment) by adding counselors and giving our clients a new way to report back to us with the online tools,” she said.

A supportive network

Regional centers are the state’s second service option for the disabled.

These 21 nonprofit private corporations contract with the Department of Developmental Services to provide or coordinate services for the developmentally disabled, including those with Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy. The centers serve about 220,000 people in California.

One of the regional centers’ star entrepreneurs is Dutton, the Larkspur puppeteer. She received support services from San Rafael’s Casa Allegra, a vendor to the Golden Gate Regional Center in San Francisco. Her father, Dale Dutton, said Casa Allegra greatly supported Dusty in starting her puppetry business,

Alan Kerzin, executive director of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, said the regional centers have “made self-employment a priority.”

Kerzin said the regional centers are more flexible and more consumer-oriented than the rehabilitation department. “Grass-roots advocacy is structured into the program and parents are very active,” he said.

Legislation passed last year, Senate Bill 1270, will give disabled clients many more options — including self-employment, than the workshops and day programs they were so often shunted to, Kerzin said. The law asks the State Council on Developmental Disabilities to convene work groups to discuss ways the disabled can better spend their time in paid work and other activities.

Even if the rehabilitation department and the regional centers could fully support every client who wants to be self-employed, the agencies serve only a portion of the state’s disabled.

A number of other agencies, such as East Bay Innovations in Oakland, also support self-sufficiency among the disabled. Innovations Executive Director Thomas Heinz would like to offer services for self-employment as well, but he said the agency hasn’t been funded to support such an endeavor.

Other organizations have sought grant funding to provide their clients with self-employment services.

Cerebral Palsy Center in Oakland received a grant from the UPS Foundation to provide business consultation and technical support for 15 of its adult clients to start their own computer-based businesses. Some run their own eBay businesses, while others are artists, writers or publishers.

While these individuals master their adaptive technology and learn to run their own enterprises, they also struggle with a world that really doesn’t want to let them in.

One Cerebral Palsy Center client, Vanessa Coveau, has run a successful eBay business for years despite her profound cerebral palsy. But the challenges she faced in filing the fictitious business name statement to open her venture are indicative of the problems many disabled people face in pursuing self-employment, said her job coach, Aram Attarian.

Attarian, who carries a notified stamp bearing Coveau’s signature and is legally able to conduct business on her behalf, said he faced roadblock after roadblock in trying to file Coveau’s paperwork at the Alameda County Courthouse.

A clerk there asked, “If she can’t sign it, then how could she run a business?” Attarian recounted.

“That is the mentality that you’re dealing with — warehousing people with disabilities,” Attarian said. “But you don’t have to be mainstream to do things.”

Not just do things, but have a career.

 Posted by at 9:30 am