Berkeley staffer up for top conservation ‘hero’ in online vote

The UC Berkeley community has a chance to vote for one of its own — Christopher Vernon of University Relations — as the top conservation hero of the Bay Area in an online competition.

Christopher Vernon at the Dover Street Community Park, from video.

Video on the contest site shows Christopher Vernon at the Dover Street Community Park.

The six-year Berkeley staffer is one of five finalists in the Bay Area section of the Cox Conserves Heroes promotion, a partnership of the Trust for Public Land and Cox Enterprises, an Atlanta-based media group. Voting goes through 5 p.m. Monday (Sept. 19).

When he’s not handling recruiting for the campus’s development arm, and lending a hand in employee relations, building issues and compensation for his unit — oh, and taking part in the Leadership Development Program, too — Vernon is busy greening his own North Oakland neighborhood.

He was nominated for the 2011 heroes contest for helping to build and maintain the Dover Street Community Park, a one-acre haven on the 10-acre development devoted mainly to Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute between Shattuck Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

The park, on Dover between 57th and 58th streets, was created in 2005, the same year Vernon came to work at Berkeley after majoring in English at the College of William and Mary and spending 20 years as an acupuncturist.

Christopher Vernon

UREL staffer Christopher Vernon.

Vernon, who also has been involved in local schools, helped create the park, which contains a play yard with a climbing structure, a grassy open area, and a bountiful community garden. The park has offered community events like outdoor movies, a Cesar Chavez Day celebration and cooking demonstrations

The frustration of a Children’s Hospital pediatrician who runs an childhood obesity clinic for kids who knew nothing about fresh vegetables led to a summer internship program in the park. This summer, six kids took part, doing “fun summer things as well as learning how to grow the food and how to cook it,” Vernon says. A video on the Heroes website tells the whole story.

The winner of the online voting will win a $5,000 prize. But Vernon says he’s happy just to be in the running.

“We feel we’ve won anyway — between the $1,250 (prize) as a finalist and lots of good publicity,” he says. The finalist award, he adds, will probably go toward a shed for the park’s tools.

“Either way I’m glad.”

This is the fourth year of the Cox Conserve Heroes contest, which operates as well in San Diego, Atlanta, Seattle, New Orleans and Hampton Bay, Va.