Wellness City Challenge Timeline

Spring 2003

  • Cindy loses 90 pounds through the support of intervention and self-help programs
  • Dr. Lance Gershen convinces Cindy to help others

Fall 2003

  • Cindy teams with Hollywood friends and films her first television cooking pilot show
  • Cindy forms earliest wellness ad hoc group around healthy eating and cooking


  • It all began with the Sunrise Bistro – THE Walnut Creek, California meeting place.

Winter 2004- Cindy Says Pilot

  • Doug Reid and Roy Cox create a new pilot for submission to the emerging food network channels “Cindy Says: Healthy Cooking Made Simple”. The pilot featured Cindy Gershen as the host and chef, Dr. Lee Lipsenthal as the medical expert and former NFL Raider and Superbowl player Jeremy Brigham for color and fun. “Cindy Says” is not picked up by the networks.

Winter 2004- Cindy Says – Rossmoor

  • Cindy decides to produce the show on local cable and enlists the retirement community of Rossmoor, the Rossmoor video club and the help of Rosssmoor producer Jerry Swanstrom.

Spring 2004- Cindy Says – Cable TV Series

  • 14 episodes of Cindy Says are produced at Rossmoor and feature local guests and community leaders to chat about local issues while cooking 3 quick, healthy meals per show. The series is shown on Rossmoor cable and on Walnut Creek’s local community access channel.

Spring 2004- Mayor-a-thon at Rossmoor

  • As a guest on Cindy Says, Mayor Gary Skrel suggests creating healthy programs for Walnut Creek. Cindy develops a Mayor-a-thon (the mayor walking with the residents) at Rossmoor – in 26 weeks walk 26 miles.

Fall 2004- Mayor-a-thon at Murwood Elementary School in Walnut Creek

  • Cindy and the Walnut Creek Unified School District set up a Mayor-a-thon with teachers and students of Walnut Creek Elementary School. Each child walks 26 miles in 26 weeks. A smashing success with over 80% participation, new Walnut Creek Mayor, Kathryn Hicks, personally passes out completion awards. The program spreads to 17 Walnut Creek elementary schools. Collectively students walked over 35,000 miles.

Winter 2004- Founding the Wellness City Challenge

  • Cindy Gershen officially names, recruits for and organizes the Wellness City Challenge organization.

Winter 2004- First Restaurant Challenge

  • Cindy begins to openly challenge local restaurants to serve healthier meals to local residents. Il Fornaio in Walnut Creek, California takes the challenge and adds a healthy kids meal to their menu with help from Cindy.

Winter 2005- Diablo Valley College Answers the Challenge

  • Diablo Valley Community College student chefs and instructors take the challenge and add healthy dishes to the cafeteria menu

Winter 2005- Lions Club Breakfast

  • Cindy and the Sunrise Bistro sponsor the annual healthy breakfast in Rossmoor. Sysco Foods San Francisco participates by donating some of the food

Spring 2005-Healthy Day at the J

  • The first spring event is held at the Walnut Creek Jewish Community Center. In partnership with the City of Walnut Creek, the local High Schools and dozens of local community sponsors, the Wellness City Challenge put on their first Spring Health Fair to teach wellness practices to kids and the rest of the community. Over 3500 people enjoy the live music, food, events, educational booths and local and regional business sponsors.

Summer 2005- Profoodnetwork.com

  • With Cindy’s expertise in front of the camera, profoodnetwork.com is launched as an experimental online food video library.

Fall 2005- Fall Festival

  • The Fall Festival event is held at Heather Farms in Walnut Creek. A follow-up to the Spring Health Fair event, the Fall Festival features 3K and 5K walking courses, live music, healthy food and sponsorship booths. The Wellness City Challenge team produces a 26-page magazine insert for distribution by The Contra Costa Times. 30,000 copies of the insert are distributed throughout Contra Costa County as a healthy lifestyle resource.

Fall 2005- School Wellness Commissioners Program

  • Kathy Chapple, a founding member of the Wellness City Challenge organization, works with Renee Zeimer from the City of Walnut Creek to develop a program to raise money and provide funding to local schools for wellness related activities. Over $38,000 is incrementally given to 12 schools to fund wellness programs and activities over an 8-month period.

Fall 2005- Creation of K-8 Health and Nutrition Curriculum

  • Kathy Chapple develops a health and wellness curriculum for the schools of Walnut Creek that is used to create the Wellness Policy for the Walnut Creek School District that fulfills the California State requirements for a wellness policy, as legislated by the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004.

2006- League of Cities Helen Putnam Award

  • The City of Walnut Creek receives the Helen Putnam Wellness Award at the California State League of Cities assembly for work on the Wellness City Challenge. An illustrious award, comparable to an Emmy for wellness, the recognition brings national attention to Walnut Creek and the Wellness City Challenge.

2006- The Breakfast Club

  • The PTA and food services at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, California decide to cooperate in helping the Wellness City Challenge start a Breakfast Club serving breakfast to students during finals week.

Fall 2007- Healthy Restaurant Association (HRA)

  • Walnut Creek food establishments sign up for the Healthy Restaurant Association. The HRA is formed with the intention of creating healthier food at the source by educating restaurants and assisting with changes. The HRA called for a 4-step program over 12 months to address Grains, Oils, Dairy and Sugars. Window stickers were given to over 80 member restaurants throughout Walnut Creek and monthly forums were held at the Lesher Center for the Arts with guest speakers teaching chefs, restaurant owners and managers and other nutrition and food industry professionals about better nutrition.

Fall 2007- Healthy Restaurant Association National Media Coverage

  • Substantial media coverage of the HRA with features in the New York Times, Kiwi Magazine, Prevention Magazine, Diablo Magazine, Bay Area Parents, and many local publications.

2007- Buy Fresh, Buy Local

  • As part of the Healthy Restaurant Association, in collaboration with Kaiser and Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust – BALT, Augustwolf Productions produced an educational video promoting the Contra Costa County food shed and the abundance of quality local produce.

Spring 2008- Spring Celebration

  • The third annual Spring Health Fair Event helps to raise thousands of dollars for the Wellness Commissioners Program. Numerous local sponsors step forward to help with the event, as well as the local high schools and countless volunteers throughout the community.

2008- Robert Lustig’s Truth About Sugar Lecture

  • University of California, San Francisco Pediatric Endocrinologist and head of the WATCH program, Dr. Robert Lustig came to Walnut Creek to put on a series of groundbreaking lectures regarding his research on sugar, more specifically fructose, and it’s role in causing the obesity epidemic.

Fall 2007- Official Non-Profit Organization
  • The Wellness City Challenge officially attained 501(c)3 non-profit organization status from the IRS. A dynamic board of directors is assembled to support the organizations efforts.

Fall 2008- Healthy Eating Guidelines Medical Advisory Board

  • Assembled by Len Saputo, MD, over 25 medical and nutrition professionals convene with the goal of establishing a 3-item set of simple guidelines that would help to combat the high rate of obesity and degenerative disease. The result was the creation of the Healthy Eating Guidelines, which has become the centerpiece for the Wellness City Challenge’s educational efforts.

Spring 2008- Eat ‘n’ Learn – San Francisco

  • With the “Eat and Learn” lectures held by Cindy in full swing at businesses and organizations in Contra Costa, the Wellness City Challenge held its first out-of-the-area event at an afterschool program in inner city San Francisco. In coordination with the University of California, San Francisco’s WATCH Clinic, dozens of children and their families participated in the active learning session, with printed take-home materials to help them learn how to make healthier choices for their children. The kids helped to prepare a healthy meal for their families while also taking part in the education process.

2008- KPIX – CBS Documentary

  • Local CBS affiliate produces a 5-part series on sugar, diabetes and obesity. Dr. Robert Lustig recommends that they do a feature on the action plan of the Wellness City Challenge. Cindy participates in an at-home show for the reporters, with assistance from world-renowned musician Carlos Reyes. The series is broadcast throughout the Bay Area on local news and helps to raise awareness of the health impact of excessive sugar consumption./li>

2008- PTA California Conference

  • The Wellness City Challenge was invited to share an informational booth at the California state PTA convention with the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The two organizations share a similar message and goal of stopping childhood obesity and are actively sharing best practices to develop new programs for fighting childhood obesity in schools nationwide.

Spring 2009- Proclamation Campaign

  • The City of Walnut Creek and Mayor Gary Skrel initiate issue the very first citywide Proclamation adopting the Healthy Eating Guidelines and policies of the Wellness City Challenge. Over the following months, all 19 cities in Contra Costa County adopt the Healthy Eating Guidelines. In addition, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, The California State Assembly representative, California State Senator and all local elected officials also issue Proclamations in support of the WCC.

2009- Healthy Eating Guideline Feature

  • The California PTA features the Healthy Eating Guidelines in their October statewide newsletter.

Summer 2009-First Annual Mayor’s Cook-off Challenge

  • Held at Todos Santos Plaza in the City of Concord, 8 Contra Costa mayors and their local chefs participate in the competition following The Healthy Eating Guidelines of the Wellness City Challenge. Thousands attend the event which was also covered on KPIX Channel 5 Eyewitness News. The host City of Concord wins the cook-off competition as voted by the panel of distinguished judges.

Fall 2009- Jeremy Brigham Celebrity Golf Tournament by the Make-a-Difference Foundation

  • In conjunction with the Make-a-Difference Foundation, the Wellness City Challenge helped to coordinate the Jeremy Brigham Celebrity Golf Tournament at the Callippe Reserve Golf Course in San Ramon, California. Proceeds from this event, coupled with an auction featuring donated sports memorabilia, helps keep sports programs in Mt. Diablo School District up and running.

Fall 2009- Collaboration with Martinez

  • The City of Martinez and Mayor Robert Schroeder, The Martinez Unified School District and Superintendent Rami Muth and the Wellness City Challenge agree to collaborate on a sustainable community health project.

Winter 2009- Contra Costa / Martinez Initiative Announced

  • The Contra Costa / Martinez Initiative is announced at the Mayor’s Conference Meeting. The findings of the model project are shared with Contra Costa County and other interested cities nation-wide.

Winter 2009-Puttin On The Glitz Gala Event

  • The First Annual Wellness City Challenge Gala Fundraiser is held in Rossmoor, California. 300 guests attend a formal dinner prepared and served by “Serendipity” the Mt. Diablo High School culinary program. Dr. Robert Lustig receives the “Wellness Warrior Award” for his landmark research on sugar. The award is dedicated to the memory of Kathy and Gordon Chapple. World-class musician harpist and violinist Carlos Reyes entertains. In spite of the economy the fundraiser not only helps to raise over $35,000 to help fund programs and projects for the Wellness City Challenge, but also showed just how much support the Wellness City Challenge has accumulated over the years in local communities.

Winter 2010- Cindy named Woman of the Year

  • Cindy Gershen is named California Woman of the Year, receiving her award at the state capital on the floor of the California State Assembly in Sacramento.

Spring 2010- The Martinez Initiative First Phase

  • The Martinez Initiative First Phase, a general assessment, begins throughout the Martinez school system.

Spring 2010- The Martinez Initiative Medical Group

  • The Martinez Initiative Medical group meets. The Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Group (Dr. Bruce Ames, Dr. Mark Shigenaga, Michele Mietus-Snyder), the UCSF WATCH Program (Dr. Robert Lustig), the City of Martinez (Mayor Rob Schroder), the Martinez Unified School District (Superintendent Rami Muth), the Contra Costa Department of Health (Andrea…), the Wellness City Challenge Board (Dr. Len Saputo, Dr. Lance Gershen, Cindy Gershen, Marc Berger, Douglas Reid, Geoffrey Marx, Paula Szloboda RN, MBA), Robyn Bickerton and local health professionals Dana Wenter and Ti Cauldron, PhD meet to establish groundwork for gathering data on the Martinez Initiative.

Summer 2010- Second Annual Mayors’ Cook-off Challenge- Martinez

  • The hottest day of the year marked the 2nd annual Mayor’s Healthy Cook-off in downtown Martinez during the afternoon farmers market. Special music guest Carlos Reyes and band played while the chef’s competed for the trophy. Walnut Creek and chef from Sasa took first place.

Spring 2011-May 7- Come to the Table: Change the Food, Change the Future Event

  • An all-day educational event held at Mt. Diablo High School, Concord CA with an incredible speaking panel, including keynote speaker Dr. Robert Lustig. Other speakers included: doctors, local city and county political representatives, school officials as well as a panel of “bright spots”-projects/organizations in the community that are leading the way towards healthier food and changing lives. Over 250 people attended. Another highlight was the award-winning film produced by Augustwolf Productions, “Change the Food, Change the Future”. Watch the video here:
  • The whole day was catered and served by Serendipity Culinary Students, giving them the opportunity to showcase healthy, simple meals. This event was the kick-off to larger efforts at Mt. Diablo High School.

Summer 2011- Third Annual Mayors Healthy Cook-off Challenge-Clayton

  • This year we added a representative from a school in each city. Student chefs from Serendipity acted as sous chef’s for the mayors and restaurant chefs, with a total of 11 cities participating. Concord took the trophy and won the prize of a “Whole Foods Market Garden” donated to Mt. Diablo High School in Concord

Fall 2011-Martinez Project Phase 1 Pilot

  • Pilot project “Eat and Learns” conducted at 4 Elementary and 1 middle school

Spring 2011-Las Lomas Cooking Project

  • 10 week after school cooking program for students and staff, free of charge (funded by Wellness City Challenge)

Fall 2011- Mt. Diablo Wellness Project (Change the Food, Change Everything) Begins

  • During the 2011-12 school year, Cindy and her team received a grant from the Mt. Diablo Healthcare District to pilot a staff wellness program at Mt. Diablo High School. For one whole year, Cindy and a group of Serendipity students cooked a healthy breakfast and lunch for the staff and teachers, free of charge. Data was collected on health outcomes, including a blood analysis, provided by John Muir Hospital. Many partnerships and opportunities sprouted from this project and a partnership was formed with the Mt. Diablo School District Food Service. In addition, Cindy Gershen applied for her ROP teaching credential and was offered a teaching position for the following fall.
  • Video documentation as well as a full report are available to the public (available on request) that capture the results of this innovative project.

Fall 2011-Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Project Begins

  • In partnership with the Monument Community Partnership and Healthy and Active Before 5, among others, the Wellness City Challenge is awarded grant money to create and model healthy cooking for the community

Summer 2012- 4th Annual Mayor’s Healthy Cook-off Challenge in Concord-Todos Santos Plaza

  • This year we included food service and student judges on judge panel. All of the produce came from the Mt. Diablo high school garden, seeds were a gift from the previous year. Each chef was given a “grab-bag” to cook “iron-chef” style, and had to use all of the ingredients in his bag. Pleasant Hill won the trophy with chef Leslie Stiles.

Summer/Fall 2012-HEAL Year 2

  • The second year of the HEAL grant is awarded and the Wellness City Challenge to provide healthy cooking classes and education for a variety of community groups, including food service and restaurant employees. Students from the “Food for a Healthy Community Program” are the shining stars and are active participants in all community classes. In addition, we have developed nutrition materials for distribution to the community.

Fall 2012- Mt. Diablo Project Phase II- “Change the Food, Change Everything”

  • In partnership with Mt. Diablo School District Food Service, an innovative educational program model is being developed that will be used through the school district as a model for other school districts across California. For program details visit: www.changethefoodchangeeverything.com

Fall 2012-Food for a Healthy Community and Sustainable Tourism Program begins

  • Cindy gets her ROP teaching credential and her own classroom at Mt. Diablo High School to teach “Food for a Healthy Community and Sustainable Tourism”. Here new classroom was completed in April of 2012. Chef Cindy Gershen laid the groundwork by engaging the staff and teachers through the Mt. Diablo Project Phase 1 program (Change the Food, Change Everything) that ended in June of 2012. In this cutting-edge program, students grow, process, cook and learn about nutrient dense and whole foods and how they impact health. This program also explores career and education opportunities linked to businesses, educational institutions and non-profit agencies. In addition, the classroom is being used for after-school and evening cooking classes for the local community.
  • Patrick Oliver-Biology/environmental science teacher takes care of the garden and teaches his students everything from composting to picking the vegetables for cooking in the kitchen. The garden has been ag-certified so the produce can be used in the cafeteria, strengthening our partnership with food service.

Winter 2012- The Weight of the Nation Screening at Mt. Diablo High School

  • In partnership with Kaiser Permanente and the Wellness City Challenge, Mt. Diablo High School hosted a screening of The Weight of the Nation Part 3: Children in Crisis. THE WEIGHT OF THE NATION is a presentation of HBO and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.
  • The film was screened to all 1600 students at Mt. Diablo and their teachers during an all-school assembly. A student-led leadership group created an improv film that was also shown during the assembly. Partnering with us was Mt. Diablo School District Food Service, healthy breakfast and lunch was cooked for every student, free of charge. (Food paid for by Kaiser Permanent). In addition, over 100 VIPs from the community partook in the occasion, watching the film and enjoying a lunch with table-top discussions led by our own students.

Spring 2013-Sustainable Hospitality House-warming party & Successful First Year!

  • The Sustainable Hospitality Pathway opened its doors to the community, welcoming guests to visit our newly built kitchen-classroom! Students proudly wore their hard earned chef coats and cooked a tasteful selection of the year’s best recipes!
  • Chef Cindy and Environmental Science Teacher Patrick Oliver celebrated a successful first year developing what will be a model program that can be taken to other schools.

Summer 2013-Summer Garden and Cooking Program & Mayors Healthy Cookoffs!

  • In partnership with the CARES after school program as well as Workability, we were able to sustain and grow thousands of pounds of fresh produce, from tomatoes and peppers to roses and peaches
  • The kitchen did not see a quiet moment in the summer as Chef Cindy and her students opened the doors to the Monument Crisis center for a weekly cooking class for the Kids Summer Camp Program. It was amazing to see 6 year olds eating green pasta and broccoli for lunch!
  • Our most successful summer endeavor was a partnership with Kaiser Permanente to host “Dinner with the Doc”, giving Kaiser employees a chance to get their hands dirty in the kitchen and garden! Chef Cindy lead the classes with 6-8 of her best students working in the stations to make sure everyone had a good time!
  • The Mayor’s Cookoff expanded this year to include two counties: Contra Costa & Alameda, each having their own cookoffs at local Pacific Coast Farmers Markets. The top 3 teams for each county were invited to compete in the Mayors Cookoff Showdown to take place in the fall in Chef Cindy’s classroom. Concord took first place for Contra Costa and Livermore took the crown for Alameda.

Fall 2013-Community Engagement!

  • School started back at the end of August, launching a new year for the Sustainable Hospitality Program. A new senior class was added, called Sustainable Tourism, and will include senior projects and internships
  • Sugar Savvy: As part of the Monument HEAL Zone, 26 of our seniors were trained to teach Sugar Savvy by Healthy and Active Before Five. These students have already completed 3 workshops in the community, with many more scheduled for 2014.
  • First Annual Mayor’s Showdown: 6 cities were invited to the ultimate cookoff challenge, hosted in our very own kitchen at Mt. Diablo High School! Mayors’ and Chefs’ took the competition very seriously, as they should with judges such as Narsi David waiting to get a taste! A successful and exciting evening for everyone involved. Concord took the culinary crown and donated their prize to our program.
  • Tom’s Chili Cookoff: Another successful year working the Chili Cookoff, with students from schools across the district entering their best chili recipes.

Winter 2013/2014-Chef Cindy Gershen and Dr. Robert Lustig Launch the Fat Chance Cookbook!fatchanceCBC

  • Hitting bookstores across the nation on December 31st, Chef Cindy, Dr. Robert Lustig & Heather Millar co-wrote the Fat Chance Cookbook, the companion to Lustig’s Best-seller Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food Obesity and Disease (both available on our home page)