The Ron Zeno Scholarship Program

SVN Legend, Ron Zeno, was a great man who, as a former SVN Board Member was instrumental to the early growth and development of our organization. His SVN contributions, however, represent just a small part of his incredible impact on his own family and community, giving back so much of his time, energy, and talents. To many in his hometown he was well known as the Santa at Children's Fairyland in Oakland, and many other efforts to help those in need.

Ron was the original, and the best, SVN Auctioneer. I'll always remember how he used his booming voice and quick wit and humor to motivate so many to reach into their wallets to support the Scholarship Program by overbidding on items we didn't need. Ron also hosted the 1998 SVN Annual Conference in his hometown of Oakland, California.

A few Years ago, this story about Ron posted on SFGate:

Living with Santa has drawbacks: December is tough

"I'm a Santa widow," says Sally Walker, 61, whose partner, Ron Zeno, 57, has been a Santa-in-residence at Children's Fairyland in Oakland since the early '90s. As a result, Sally, an oncology nurse at Oakland's Highland Hospital, spends December weekends alone. "But how can I complain about him being Santa?" Sally says. As a nod to her sacrifice, this year Ron took Sally's December birthday off - the first time in more than a decade.

The couple met in 1980 at a political protest. Ron, a veteran of the 1960s counterculture, helped found the Berkeley Free Clinic and remembers seeing Jimi Hendrix live. "But there's a lot I don't remember," he adds, smiling. Sally, a New York native, was post-Peace Corps and already working at Highland. After a first date of dinner and a movie, things lay dormant for a few weeks. But then Sally received a dozen roses at the hospital.

"It was a pretty cool gesture," she says, noting that Ron came on strong. "I could tell she was someone special," Ron says. Both had family roots in the South, and though from the outside the differences might have looked tricky to negotiate, the cultural samenesses were immediate. "We loved the same food and shared the same humor," says Sally, noting that her Alabama family took Ron in without a blink.

The two moved in together in 1981, and soon afterward bought their Fruitvale home on a cul-de-sac near Sausal Creek. Ron directs Safe Exchange, which provides supervision for court-ordered child visitations. With an office near Fairyland, Ron had been a regular there with some of his charges. One holiday season he was asked to step in for an absentee Santa. He's been suiting up in red ever since, performing in the daily musicals and holiday parades. Being an African American Santa sometimes causes snags. Occasionally kids who have been steeped in mainstream< Santa images find it hard to make the leap.

"I heard a mother explain to her son that I wasn't a 'typical' Santa," Ron says grimacing. "But I'm usually able to win those kids over." This is a job Ron adores. He's used to kids bringing in long lists of coveted gifts, but there are also those who simply want world peace. And what does Sally want from Santa this year? "Health coverage and a government that invests in and takes care of its people - especially poor people." And for Ron? "A vacation," he says. "Sally and I both fight the good fight every day. We need time off to take care of ourselves so we can in turn better take care of others."

A few years ago, Ron emailed me that he was leaving the field of Supervised Visitation. I am glad I saved this email where he expressed his heartfelt thanks.

" I believe it was sometime in 1994 when I received an email from Jane telling me about something called the SVN. We traded emails and in Austin TX I attended my first conference. I met some wonderful people.... Anyway this was the beginning of a marvelous relationship. I met new friends and forged some great partnerships with those friends. All the years of providing service to children and their parents/providers I am approaching the end. The economy hastened the process. You'll never know how much I have loved doing this but I'll have to get off of this fantastic ride which has brought laughter, tears, pathos, rascism and yes some danger and violence. All the doors that have opened to me, the Superior Court Committees that I was asked to join and or chair. I'll miss all that but mostly what I'll miss are children of all the colors of the rainbow that looked at me, smiling and saying, Ronzeno, I love you! That's what I'll remember most. All those smiling faces calling on Ronzeno to "keep them safe".

Peace, Ron

You can make a donation to support the Ron Zeno Scholarship Program HERE

You can apply to receive a Ron Zeno Scholarship HERE

You can apply to receive a traditional Annual Conference Scholarship HERE