“Expanding Experiences” to offer Wine, Art and Altruism to Benicia Residents
By Samuel J Adams

This September the Rotary Club of Benicia is banding together local businesspeople, artists, and Liberty High School students to produce “Expanding Experiences,” an open studio and wine tasting event held at Arts Benicia to raise money for Liberty High.
The event, now in its seventh year, will feature vintages from more than a dozen different Northern California wineries, an opportunity drawing for various gifts, and finger food courtesy of several local restaurants. The finger food will be served by Liberty Students, who show up impeccably dressed after receiving a crash course in catering mores from Randy’s restaurant staff members. There are plans for live music too; in the past, this has come from musical groups made up of current and former Liberty High faculty.

Attendees will also get a chance to see those rare birds¬, artists, display their works in their native environment—although, thanks to the free disposal services provided by Allied Waste’s trucks, that environment might be a little tidier than usual. Allied Waste, Valero Refinery, and Raley’s Foods are the event’s biggest sponsors.

The revenue raised at the event will go towards two funds set up by the Rotarians to support arts education, vocational training, and other necessary services.

Because almost all art programs were eliminated from Liberty High, most of the revenue from the event goes in that direction. Rotarians feel Arts education is crucial for Liberty High students. Because many students have failed core academic classes, it’s vital to offer programs that give students a chance to display their talents and develop the sort of life skills that can’t be learned from the bubbles on a Scantron sheet. Liberty Principal Jane Abelee agrees, and mentions the popular African drumming class as an example. “Not only is it a chance for them to learn a musical instrument, it teaches collaborative teamwork,” she says. The money will also help fund the school’s yearbook, athletics program, and culturally enriching field trips.

Liberty High has long benefited from the support of the Rotarians. “Since Liberty is such a small school and many of the kids come from troubled family circumstances, the Rotarians have really been like a PTA for the school,” says Superintendent and Liberty neighbor Janice Adams.

In addition to providing financial support for arts and cultural enrichment programs, the Rotarians help students learn about the world beyond the classroom by arranging regular interactions with people who’ve succeeded in it. Throughout the year, Liberty students talk face-to-face with pastors and police chiefs, winemakers and educators, who come to Liberty to inspire students to succeed—and to disabuse them of any notions that success comes easily. The club also helps with career week, job shadowing programs, and transporting students to extracurricular events.

The events give kids a snapshot of the adult world, and a chance to consider career paths and ambitions previously unknown to them. But it also gives the adult world a snapshot of Liberty Kids, an impressive one that shatters the continuation school stereotypes. “The people who attend are bowled over by the kids …they show up to work, and they work,” says Rotarian Jim Trimble, who co-chairs the event with Beverly White. Many of Liberty’s students are behind in credits, and low on feelings of professional competence, so the event does wonders for the kids’ confidence and sometimes it does more than that: some students displayed such tact and maturity that employers hired them on site.
Above all, the event is a high-profile meet-and-greet, a fun party and place for Benicians to come together to celebrate the unique institutions that lend this town its distinct character. Rare is the place where continuation students, artists, winemakers, and professionals of all stripes mingle in the same room; it’s an odd mix, but hardly a chaotic one.

This year, event organizers hope to attract three hundred people, a crowd large enough to secure necessary funding, but still manageable enough to circulate through the buildings in an unhurried manner.
“It’s an event like none I’ve never seen before,” says Abelee. “It pulls all the local artists together for a good cause, and everyone seems to have a wonderful time.”


“Expanding Experiences” takes place on Wednesday, September 15, in Benicia’s Arsenal Area on Tyler and Jackson Streets. It costs $35 and runs from 6-8pm.