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Mill Valley 3rd grader wins Whistlestop holiday card contest

Mill Valley 3rd grader wins Whistlestop holiday card contest This week, 400 Marin seniors and their supporters will receive the official Whistlestop holiday card bedecked with more than 50 hearts — most drawn on a sturdy tree trunk and on envelopes hanging from its branches.

“They’ll feel happy because there’s so many hearts on it,” said the card’s artist, Asher Abedin, 9, of Mill Valley. “Hearts mean love, and it shows some respect.”

Asher’s drawing — which also features a peace sign, a rainbow banner and a Cupid’s arrow — was named the winner out of hundreds of entries for the first countywide Whistlestop holiday card contest.

Entries were open to all Marin elementary schools, from kindergarten through fifth grade. For her prize, Asher’s drawing has been printed on the official holiday card for Whistlestop, the San Rafael-based nonprofit serving older adults and people living with disabilities.

“I’m really happy because I’ve never done this before,” said Asher, a third grader at Tamalpais Valley Elementary School. “It’s the first time I’ve won.”

Asher’s school entered the contest because some students at Tam Valley have “senior buddies” that they visit at the Tamalpais, the retirement community in Greenbrae, said Kia Bernstein-Abedin, Asher’s mother. Asher said she shares art projects and recipes with her “senior buddy,” a woman named Bobbie.

“It was really special that they entered this contest,” Bernstein-Abedin said. “(Asher’s teacher) wanted to engage in the community with Whistlestop because it’s such a support to seniors in our community.”

Joe O’Hehir, Whistlestop CEO, said Asher’s card was selected because it has a universal message of love that embraces all religious traditions. Contest judges included Whistlestop staff and some of the organization’s older adult members.

“We wanted the winning design to be inclusive of all faiths and backgrounds, and that it embraced the holiday spirit of love, peace, kindness and community,” O’Hehir said in an email. “We were also looking for designs that captured Whistlestop’s mission — the power of human connection, and the interconnectedness of community.

“We felt that Asher’s design, depicting a tree with hearts, love in the center and emanating love was a perfect depiction of the holiday spirit and Whistlestop’s mission,” he added.

O’Hehir said Whistlestop was heartened by the response to the contest and the hundreds of student entries.

“We’re thrilled with the outcome of Whistlestop’s holiday card contest and the connection we were able to build with Marin schools during this holiday season,” he said.

Mary Jane Burke, Marin County superintendent of schools, said the contest was “an ideal opportunity for our students to use their compassion and creativity to start a larger conversation about giving back, and to think about the importance of the generations that came before them.”

Bernstein-Abedin and her husband, Zane Abedin, said Asher has been an avid artist since preschool. At age 3 or 4, “most kids were doing swirls and fingerpaints, and she was doing pictures of falcons and seals — and you could see what they were,” Asher’s father said.

“We’re very proud of her,” he added. “She did an amazing job — it was beautiful work. She just loves doing any sort of art, so it was great to see that she was acknowledged for it.”

Creativity appears to run in the family. Zane Abedin’s father, Zainul Abedin, was a well-known artist in Bangladesh, and Bernstein-Abedin’s mother, Les Bernstein of Mill Valley, is a published poet and was a judge for the Marin County youth poetry contest. Both parents are accountants, but Zane Abedin said he did a lot of art when he was growing up.

In addition to Asher Abedin, there were almost a dozen finalists selected. The names and their entries are posted at whistlestop.org/holiday-card-contest.

Burke will officially recognize all the winners and runners-up at a ceremony at 4 p.m. Jan. 9 at Whistlestop’s Jackson Cafe at 930 Tamalpais Ave. in San Rafael.

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