Good News Blog


Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006

Food bank angel volunteer of year

In the last 10 months the Mukilteo Food Bank has served 4,625 people in the Mukilteo School District. But that number is a mere fraction of the families fed in the 25-plus years that Mary Lou Robertson has volunteered with the food bank.

And now she has been honored by the food bank’s directors as Volunteer Of The Year.

Mary Lou Robertson began visiting Mukilteo in 1943, when her parents purchased land and built a cabin here.

“I was a teenager then – we came out every weekend,” she says. “And I thought it was the most terrible place in the world.”

But years later, in 1961, Mary Lou had a change of heart – and circumstances. And Mukilteo has been her home ever since.

After her husband Ted was deployed with the Navy, Mary Lou and her young son Jimmie “moved to be closer to my parents,” she says. (Mary Lou also has a daughter, Mary Kay Bouck, who lives in Utah; her son Jimmie presently lives in Bellingham.)

When Mary Lou got involved with the Mukilteo Presbyterian Church, she began her volunteer work with the food bank as a volunteer at the front desk. As a result she got to know everyone who walked in.

Today she is secretary of the board, and works on Tuesdays. However, the food bank is open from 4 to 5 p.m. the Monday before the second Tuesday of the month, as well as from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, she says.

The time Mary Lou spends at the food bank helps her realize a basic truth: “We do have a lot of people around here with nothing in their cupboards.”

Today, she says, the food bank is in dire need of supplies – “I’ve never seen the shelves as empty as they are now.”

Things in short supply include canned fruit and meat, juices, boxed dinners, peanut butter and jam, instant potatoes, pudding and Jell-O® mixes, Top Ramon®, soups and chili.

“Cake and frosting mixes are not a necessity, obviously, but they are nice to have,” she says. Other useful products are personal items like soaps, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

“Really and truly, my hope is that one day the food bank won’t be necessary,” says Mary Lou Robertson. But that day is not today.

“The food bank is a necessity,” she says. “I wish it were open longer hours and more often during the week.”

Before that can happen, she adds, more volunteers are needed.

Monday, Sep. 11, 2006

Cat rescue is this woman’s fancy

When a stray cat wanders into a backyard, possibly looking for something to eat, some people don’t take notice. However, when this happened to a Sacramento area woman nearly 10 years ago, it changed her life.

The backyard belongs to Ann Dickson, a woman who rescues stray and unwanted felines in her spare time. However, Dickson didn’t always have an interest in cats, and vice versa.

“Most cats I met prior to 1995 just didn’t seem to like me,” Dickson said with a laugh.

Dickson, a 52-year-old state employee at the Department of General Services in West Sacramento, said she was scratched, hissed at and almost spit on by other cats so “getting into cats must have been something a great power had planned for me.”

Dickson acknowledges that while she didn’t like cats at the time, she would never have thought to hurt one.

“I felt sorry for the skinny little boy and began to put a little leftover food along with the crumbs,” Dickson said. “I was warned by my husband that he would become our cat if I continued to feed him. Well, I didn’t think that would happen, especially with my plan to have him neutered.”

After her initial experience, Dickson said she knew she had to get involved in the protection and general health of defenseless cats.

Ann’s home became a foster retreat for various cats of different ages. She and her husband, Herman, eventually added a 700 square foot extension onto their home to make sure they had plenty of room to care for their rescued felines.

In 1998, the couple took their mission one step further and created their own organization called Cause For Paws, dedicated to the vaccination, spay/neuter and adoption of rescued cats.

“I’m responsible for taking care of all the kittens and cats in foster care. [This includes] vet care, food, litter and many other needed supplies.” Dickson said. “We have an adoption site which is run every Saturday and is a 50 mile round trip for me.”

Spay and neuter of feral and domesticated cats is an integral part of Cause For Paws. A female cat that is not sterile is capable of having three litters of kittens in a year, which is a heavy tax on her body. In turn, male cats will fight, disable and even kill other males when they are vying for the attention of females in heat, said Gerry Clark, a feline rescuer and fellow State employee.

The operations also keep the population of feral and domesticated cats in check.

“The clinic was sponsored by the Sacramento SPCA, and when I went in, Ann greeted me with enthusiasm,” said Josh Hicks, a coworker of Dickson’s. “She gave me shots for my kittens at her cost and she’s very knowledgeable.”

Dickson is equally vocal about the adoption of her foster cats, which are kept at her home as well as in a small network of other foster homes.

“To the best of my ability I work on placing the kitties in the best homes I can find,” Dickson said.

Anyone can adopt as long as they meet the following criteria: the cats must be ‘indoor only’ for life, no de-clawing of the cats, and the pet deposit must be paid if the owner of the cat rents their home, the owner must be willing to make a true commitment, and be willing to pay an adoption fee.

As long as Dickson knows her client is truly ready to accept the responsibility of adopting, she will go out of her way to find his or her feline match.

“My boyfriend and I were looking for a female orange tabby, because he had always wanted one,” said Sara Horr, a client of Dickson’s.

The couple got in touch with Dickson and she e-mailed them a picture of the exact cat they were looking for. However, “she was very careful about the health of the cat and said it needed its shots and to be spayed. She gave it its first set of kitten vaccinations,” Horr said.

Dickson’s cause is not always an easy or joyful one. Clark recalls a perilous occasion where “there was a cat trapped on a freeway onramp. Ann risked her life to save it.”

It was Halloween and Dickson was dressed as a nun that year.

“I don’t think [drivers on the freeway] knew if I was real nun or not and I just sort of walked across saying ‘Sorry, I need to get over here,’” Dickson said. “I don’t think I would have ever spotted [the cat]… the coloring of her fur blended into the pavement very well.”

Ann and Herman Dickson have dedicated themselves to feline rescue for 12 years and are planning to retire from fostering next year. In 2005, Clark nominated the couple for the SSPCA Humanitarian Award, which they won. They have also spayed and neutered approximately 1,800 feral cats and adopted out at least 1,200 friendly cats and kittens.

Dickson may never have expected to spend so many years of her life saving animals, but has improved the lives of thousands of feral and domestic cats as well as creating countless bonds of love between her clients and their perfect feline matches.

Monday, Sep. 4, 2006

In the footsteps of an angel

A decent meal and friendly chat make a big difference to Melbourne’s many homeless and disadvantaged, writes Michael Lallo, a Margaret Oats Soup Van volunteer.

‘Mate, this is the first thing I’ve had all day,” says Frank, a hulking figure clad in a blue fleece top, as he gulps down a cup of steaming vegetable soup.

Judging by the speed at which the crowd descends on the table in Collingwood’s Smith Street, it seems Frank is not the only one who’s waited until 8pm for breakfast.

Volunteers busily dole out more food. As always, all of it is eagerly received. While some onlookers appear bemused by this scene, most are familiar with the nightly ritual.

Over the course of a typical week, about 70 volunteers – from students and young professionals to retirees – will hand out thousands of sandwiches, cups of soup and pieces of fruit to the homeless and housing commission residents of Collingwood and Richmond.

The scheme is the formal continuation of the work of Margaret Oats. Until her death in 1998, the “Angel of Collingwood” was a familiar sight on these streets, distributing much-needed food and clothes from her trolley.

And as I quickly discovered when I signed up as a volunteer last year, a sympathetic ear is just as sought after as a sandwich.

Tonight, Frank wants to talk about his health problems. Myself and Laura, another volunteer, simply listen and nod, and he seems to relax after unloading his woes.

But then Laura breaks the news that she’s leaving to spend a year doing charity work overseas. Frank’s face falls and he envelops her in a big bear hug. Only when she promises to write to him does he brighten.

As Laura says her goodbyes, the rest of us pack up and pile into two mini-vans, heading off to nearby housing commission units.

Kevin, a kindly man in his 50s, say this has been a particularly tough week. “Just ran out of money,” he admits.

Matt is more upbeat, inviting us in to show off his guitar.

Karen and Tom, who look to be barely out of their teens, emerge from a fog of pot smoke to request their usual – tuna rolls and apples.

Jack, who suffers both cancer and Parkinson’s disease, has a bowl ready for us to pour soup into. “Doc says I need to eat more vegies,” he explains.

As we leave, Jack produces a jar of lollies, proud to be offering us something in return.

“Take another one for the road,” he urges.

* Some names have been changed.

Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006

Red Cross volunteer makes sure no stomach is empty

Bandit the rat terrier jumps out of the car, tail wagging and full of excitement.

“That’s my helper,” says Mike Hellberg, Red Cross Meals on Wheels volunteer.

Bandit and Hellberg are preparing to deliver 19 hot and cold meals to elderly La Salle residents. This particular Tuesday, Aug. 1 there happens to be a heat advisory, but that doesn’t scorch the spirits of Hellberg and his small, but energetic dog. They’re happy to help.

“You’ve got to give back,” Hellberg says. “I might be in their shoes one of these days and hope there are people who want to do that for me.”

Hellberg, a 54-year-old retired UPS worker, has been giving back to the community and around the country for the past two years since helping after the 2004 Utica tornado and really, all his life. He remembers growing up with parents who were constantly involved in the community.

“There’s always something to do when people find out you’re retired,” he said.

Hellberg and Bandit pull up to one of their first stops that afternoon, Minnie Carter’s house.

“Let’s go see Minnie” he says to Bandit as the two step into her kitchen.

“How’ve you been today?” Hellberg asks Carter as they chat. She points to a bag of dog treats and angel food cake, specifically meant for Bandit.

“Hey, you’re tail is wiggling,” she says to the dog while smiling.

Hellberg opts to take the cake.

“I prefer the angel food cake because I’m helping him,” he says.

Spending just enough time to catch up, but not too much because people are waiting for food, the meal delivery duo says goodbye.

“I really enjoy doing this,” Hellberg says as he drives with Bandit in the passenger seat. “A lot of these people are your friends after you do this for a while.”

Hellberg says volunteering is in his blood. He recalled times when his mother would get frustrated with his father because if anyone was in need, whether it be a flat tire or directions, he would stop to help. And Hellberg is following that family philosophy.

Aug. 1 was his first day back delivering meals after spending three weeks doing flood relief in Pennsylvania.

“There were some pretty hard hit areas out there,” he said, noting he worked in a warehouse unloading supplies in the southeast region of upstate New York and the upper east corner of Pennsylvania.

But it was nothing compared to his time spent picking up the pieces from Hurricane Katrina at the Civic Center in Mobile, Ala. He said he saw 900-1,400 people a day working on clients’ cases and at times there was nothing he could do if people didn’t qualify for help.

“There’ve people you can’t do things for and you can’t help,” he said. “You just have to try. It was hard, especially when they say, ‘Hey, I give to the Red Cross.’”

His favorite thing about volunteering both out of state and in La Salle, is the gratitude. When he would wear his Red Cross T-shirt down south people would pat him on the back and thank him.

And the gratitude is seen locally too.

Hellberg and Bandit pull up to the next stop and park. An elderly man sits in a shaded lawn chair on the side of his house.

“There’s Leo waiting for his meals” Hellberg says to Bandit as they jump out of the car.

“I’ll bring them back to you — enjoy your shade,” Hellberg calls to Leo Wieczorek who started to walk toward the Red Cross volunteer. He moves back the chair to sit down.

“You’ve got your friend with you today,” Wieczorek says as Bandit comes running up for a pet. The two chat about gardening for a while and Wieczorek offers his appreciation for a hot meal at his doorstep.

“You know years ago you never had this,” he says.

But thanks to volunteers like Hellberg, people in need are getting help.

“It just helps out the community a lot. There is a need there,” said Sarah Stasik, executive director of the Illinois Valley chapter of the American Red Cross.

Stasik is seeking more dedicated helpers like Hellberg. Most drivers pair up for the deliveries, Hellberg rides alone with Bandit.

The Red Cross needs about 12 drivers to start a route in Oglesby. So far, Stasik said, there are three people on the wait list in that town for meals. Drivers devote about 90 minutes of their time every other week delivering the meals.

Stasik noted some drivers are actually older than the recipients.

“It just gives you a good feeling,” she added.

Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006

Mom uses body to protect kids against tornado – volunteers rebuild home

Nathan Brown stumbled into the shade of his supervisor’s tent, sweating and dehydrated from the summer heat at his company’s construction site with only one thing on his mind — “Super Mom.”

“That’s what I call her. Anybody who would do that for her kids is awesome. If she can make that kind of sacrifice, we can all make a sacrifice to help her,” Brown said.

Brown’s super mom is Amy Hawkins, a Hendersonville mother who has become a hero to many Americans. Hawkins saved the lives of her two sons, Jair, 6, and Cole, 3, by shielding their small bodies with her own when an F4 tornado literally flattened their house, tearing it down on top of them.

Brown is part of a 2,000 member team of trades people and volunteers headed up by reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Nashville-based Capitol Homes to rebuild the Hawkins’ home.

The Emmy-nominated, hit ABC television show picks a deserving family and gives them a complete home makeover in just seven days.

In the Hawkins’ case, the project means rebuilding the house from the ground up, and in time for the Friday unveiling when the family returns from a week-long vacation at Disneyland.

“A house is normally built in 90 to 120 days. The first two days were spent meeting the family, learning about their lifestyle and habits and designing the house around how they live their lives,” said Capitol Homes founder and president David Luecke. “Now the rest will be complete in less than five [days.] The hard part is making myself sleep — not because there’s so much to do. I have great people working for me, but because I am so excited.”

The construction site resembles a bustling anthill, swarming at all hours with blue shirts and white hard hats. Luecke said 60 masons laid 2,286 blocks for the foundation in four hours, a job normally done by a six-man crew in a day and a half. Another 60 house framers framed 126,000 board feet of lumber in 12 hours, a week and a half long job for 10 workers.

Spectators were welcomed to site, which could double as a Hollywood set. Buses brought on-lookers to the site who came from across the Southeast to watch as Extreme Makeover film crews documented both the work and the crowd.

One volunteer, a waitress at the nearby Texas Roadhouse restaurant, said she aspired to host her own home design show one day, while Nashville resident Tonya Lance said she made the 30-minute drive to introduce her son to “doing good things.”

The final product, estimated at $250,000, will be a drastic difference from the “war zone” local residents described as the tornado’s wake. Trees were snapped in half, cars thrown across yards and the land littered with personal belongs. A handful of houses, like the Hawkins’, were reduced to rubble.

“It was so sad. Your heart just broke for them. It was real emotional for anyone that saw it. Some homes were totally destroyed. You just saw the concrete pad that it was on,” said Wanda Gant, whose nearby home was untouched by the tornado. “It was real scary not knowing if there were any kids injured.”

Jair and Cole Hawkins were badly bruised and cut, but it was their mother who suffered the worst. Amy Hawkins was paralyzed from the waist down.

Everett Hawkins, her father-in-law, said that neighbors found the three of them buried in debris and fought quickly to free their bodies.

“They saw little Cole’s head sticking up from the brick area. They ran down there and started taking bricks off them. They could see Amy was in really bad shape. She had turned purple and was gasping for air. When they got Amy off the boys she was still cradling them with her arms around them,” Everett Hawkins said “My son went a long time not knowing if his family would be whole again.”

Amy Hawkins’ mind is whole again, and her spirits are high, Everett Hawkins said, but she faces a battle to walk again.

While the details of the house are being kept secret until Friday, people close to the project said a pool is being installed since swimming is part of Amy Hawkins’ physical therapy. The house will be wheelchair accessible with wider hallways and doorways so that she’s mobile room-to-room and the kitchen will be outfitted with lower amenities that she can reach, they said.

“One hundred percent is donated. The labor, the materials. This is the one time when cost is not even a concern,” Luecke said. “Amy is concerned it is too generous a gift, which is always the best gift to give.”

Sunday, Apr. 23, 2006

Bush to Recognize Student for Her Extensive Volunteer Work

A young Irvine woman is scheduled to be recognized by President Bush for her extensive volunteer work when he arrives in Orange County on Monday.

Laura Chanan, 18, will meet the president and receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award when he lands at John Wayne Airport before giving a speech on immigration policy.

Chanan, a senior at Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, began volunteering at age 12 as part of a bat mitzvah project, and decided to continue when she saw the impact she was making on people’s lives.

In one instance, she was the only one to show up for a resident’s birthday at the Regents Point retirement home in Irvine, where she was serving.

“You invest just a little of your time, and you can make someone’s week,” she said by phone from Stanford University, where she is considering attending college in the fall to study chemical engineering.

“I just realized I didn’t have to do that much to make a huge impact.”

Chanan is the youth member on the board of directors of Volunteer Center of Orange County.

She has helped organize the group’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service for the last three years, helped plan a youth service conference in 2004 and worked on community service projects that included sending more than 160 care packages to deployed U.S. troops.

Once a week, she tutors children at the Cambodian Family.

Bush has encouraged volunteering since early in his first term. “Laura has proven that you can answer President Bush’s call to service and make a tangible difference in your community at any age,” said Alyssa McClenning, a spokeswoman for USA Freedom Corps, a White House office created by Bush to expand volunteer services.

Chanan said she was nervous and excited about meeting the president.

“This is the president of the United States of America,” she said. “I hope that words will actually form in my mouth.”

Saturday, Apr. 22, 2006

Woman Celebrates 25 Years Of Hospice Volunteer Work

The Rockingham Memorial Hospital Hospice has been providing care to terminally ill patients since 1981.

During that time, hundreds of volunteers have selflessly given up their time to make people’s lives better.

Though many volunteers have come and gone, one that has remained a constant is Ruth Batten.

The 75-year-old Batten grew up wanting to be a nurse. She always had a love of helping others.

While she never became a registered nurse, she did succeed in her desire to provide care to the sick.

Batten has spent time in nursing homes, hospital rooms and individual homes, caring for those who may have only months to live.

She and the hospice program celebrate their 25th anniversary of caring for the terminally ill.

Caring For Others

Batten, a Harrisonburg resident, has given 8,000 hours in her 25 years as a volunteer. She made home and hospital visits for 10 years before moving to the hospice office on Stone Spring Road.

Presently, she gives her time coordinating the RMH Hospice Foundation work as well as keeping track of volunteer’s hours for the Medicare program.

The way people’s attitudes have changed toward the program is what Batten remembers the most.

“There was a man who resorted to swinging his cane at us because he was so mad about being sent to the hospice,” she said. “But after he spent just one night there, he did not want to leave.”

The theme for the majority of the volunteers is that great love can be given in small doses.

“There are no small jobs,” said Phil Ewald, a volunteer of five months. “You can’t do this job without a lot of caring and a lot of love.”

Ewald commits his time to sending personalized birthday and anniversary cards.

Ready For Help

Batten has seen through the years that her efforts have enriched the lives of the hospice patients and their families. Although, she says, sometimes patients have a hard time letting the volunteers into their lives.

“Not a lot of people want strangers to come into their house,” she said. “But once they realize that we are they to help them, they invite us into their lives.”

The volunteers explained just knowing that someone cares is enough for a lot of people.

“Sometimes you don’t even need to say anything at all,” Batten said. “There are different ways of providing comfort to people.

Thursday, Mar. 16, 2006

Congratulations to young volunteer

Much of the attention on Louisiana’s recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita has focused on the role of politicians and professional bureaucrats in advancing the state’s comeback.

But scores of volunteers also are making significant contributions to the recovery effort, as we were recently reminded when President Bush honored a Southern University student for his service in the recovery effort.

During a recent trip to New Orleans, Bush presented Theo Richards of Baton Rouge with a National Service Award to acknowledge Richards’ work in City Year Louisiana.

City Year, a national youth service organization, unites youths 17 to 24 years old for a year of community service and leadership development. City Year Louisiana includes 50 volunteers from across the United States who are helping with Louisiana’s recovery by serving the needs of families affected by the hurricanes.

The 20-year-old Richards is enrolled at Southern, but he’s taken a year off to serve with City Year. As part of the organization, Richards has worked with displaced students and faculty at Scotlandville Middle School. He assists teachers and helps youngsters with academic tutoring and mentoring. Richards also has worked with community service projects in New Orleans such as building playgrounds and cleaning schools.

We commend Richards for his service to Louisiana and congratulate him on his honor. We are also grateful to the many other volunteers who are aiding this recovery.

Dentists volunteer to relieve pain

Six local dentists will offer their services free of charge for one day, aiming to relieve plenty of pain in those who can’t afford to pay for time in the chair.

Calling it Dentistry With Heart, the event is coordinated by dentist Pat Clark, a graduate of the Dunn College of Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and a veteran of UT’s frequent dental community programs. He’s also a frequent participant in many overseas medical mission trips, some sponsored through Bellevue Baptist Church.

Other practitioners volunteering for Dentistry With Heart are: James Sexton, Barrett Sexton, Patrick Pearson, David Kizer and Medhi Sedeghi. Their focus will be on extractions and fillings to relieve pain. There’s also a desire to recruit more dentist to participate in the future and make this an annual event.

Sunday, Mar. 5, 2006

Hundreds of thousands clean up Australia

Organisers of Clean Up Australia Day estimate that up to 700,000 volunteers helped spruce up the environment by clearing it of more that 9,000 tonnes of rubbish.

Clean Up Australia chairman Ian Kiernan, who was helping a group clear rubbish in Sydney’s Botany Bay, said the 7,527 sites was a record since the clean-ups began in 1989.

“I’m immensely proud of my fellow Australians. They’re the ones who made the day the success that it is,” he told volunteers and media at the Botany Bay Collex clean-up site.

Mr Kiernan said the day was proving invaluable to the country’s parks, beaches, waterways and bushland, but said more needed to be done to improve Australia’s environment.

Joined by NSW Premier Morris Iemma, Mr Kiernan used the day to launch a program known as True Green, which will include year-round projects to fix environmental problems.

“There are more than eight million Australians who say they are concerned about the environment but don’t have the time or opportunity to get involved in Clean Up Australia Day,” he said.

“They no longer have an excuse for not taking action with the launch of the True Green campaign.”

Mr Iemma said Clean Up Australia had a become a national icon, but said protection of the environment required a day-to-day effort and urged Australians to join the new campaign.

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell, snapping on rubber gloves in Perth to join the West Australian clean-up, used the day to call for increased penalties for people caught throwing cigarette butts.

Mr Campbell said fines should be doubled or tripled for people caught discarding butts anywhere but in a bin.

“The biggest stream of litter we have seen this year in the Clean Up Australia campaign has been cigarette butts,” Senator Campbell said.

“Most of us don’t like the smoke that gets blown in our faces but we sure as hell don’t like the butts that people are leaving lying around.

“I think the existing fines are clearly not working. I think we need a system that makes people think twice before they (throw out their butts).”

NSW accounted for almost half the country’s clean-ups, with more than 300,000 volunteers attending more than 3,000 sites.

Victoria provided the country’s second-biggest contribution to Clean-Up Australia Day, with a team of more than 109,500 volunteers at 1,329 sites.

Bad weather failed to stop a record 109,000 Queenslanders taking part in the day, while almost 70,000 turned out in South Australia, 51,000 in WA, 25,000 in Tasmania, and around 10,000 in both the ACT and the Northern Territory.

Thursday, Mar. 2, 2006

Tijuana’s ‘Prison Angel’,79, is Mama to inmates

The red-faced woman barely rose above the wood podium in Mother of Good Counsel’s parish hall. Her words rushed from her mouth, with thoughts jumping from story to story, as she told engrossed auxiliary members of the Mission Doctors Association about her 29 years in an infamous Mexican prison.

Although she talked passionately of forgiveness, redemption and personal transformation, the former Granada Hills, Calif., housewife – who grew up in Beverly Hills with movie star neighbors like William Powell, Hedy Lamarr, John Barrymore and Dinah Shore – had not served serious time for running drugs, transporting illegals across the border or even murdering her husband.

No, Mother Antonia had voluntarily lived in a concrete cell at La Mesa state penitentiary almost 30 years ago for a radically different reason – to bring the good news of Christian hope and salvation to thousands of criminals.

During those three decades, which followed two failed marriages and seven children, the former Mary Clarke has brought prisoners food, clothing, pillows, blankets, bandages and medicine.

She has paid off their fines so they could be released and bought them bus tickets back to their hometowns and villages. She’s arranged for inmates to see a doctor or dentist. She has broken up brutal fights in the yard and kept aggressive guards from beating inmates.

Feeling good about giving

But most importantly, the gregarious 5’2″ nun has never stopped hugging prisoners, and telling them how much they are loved.

Living with thousands of men and women, day in and day out, has taught Mother Antonia a thing or two about giving, too.

To give is a joy; it is a joy,” she declared. “Everybody who goes out to work at the Red Cross or St. Vincent de Paul or at a church or in a prison comes back happy. Why not? They are giving of themselves to others
. ”

When I was in Washington recently, I took off my gloves and gave them to a woman who was cold,” she reported. “I felt so good about that. I mean, that warms your heart instead of your hands.”

The 79-year-old woman talked about being a teenager and visiting her father’s office one day in Hollywood. A hobo came by saying he had slept in a boxcar the night before and begging a quarter. The wife of a salesman present said nobody should give him money, but instead just buy a bottle of wine for the bum and his pals.

Seventeen-year-old Mary felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment for the down-and-out interloper. It was lucky for the salesman’s wife that her father was not around, she thought to herself. Because the altruistic businessman, Joseph Clarke, would never allow anyone to “bring down” a poor person.

Inspired by Monsignor Brouwers

Mother Antonia also spoke of another major life influence: Msgr. Anthony Brouwers. In the 1950s, the director of the archdiocese’s Society for the Propagation of the Faith founded the Mission Doctors Association along with the Lay Mission-Helpers.

She read his column in The Tidings, and finally sought his counsel for a relief effort to feed Korean children she was working on. He became her friend as well as spiritual advisor until he died of bone cancer in early 1964.

“He was my inspiration, and I took his name,” she pointed out to the auxiliary members. “I think, all the time, that one of the reasons I’ve had so many wonderful things happen in my years in prison, where I experienced so much giving and loving, is because God has blessed me because I had monsignor’s name. I think he’s my advocate in heaven.”

She spoke of an 18-year-old boy who was shot on Good Friday, March 24, 1978, by a guard at La Mesa. After X-rays were taken, doctors said the spinal injury was so severe the prisoner would be paralyzed from the waist down.

She prayed to Monsignor Brouwers, pleading that because of his own debilitating bone cancer he knew what it was like to be a paraplegic and not be able to walk. By Easter Sunday, the inmate walked out of the hospital.

“I don’t know what you call a miracle,” she observed. “I’ve seen so many of them during my years in prison. But the fact was, that was a beautiful miracle that I believe came from heaven through Monsignor Brouwers.”

‘Mama’ still ministering

Going on 80, Mother Antonia is still living at La Mesa, seeking the intercession of the hard-working priest who inspired her all those years ago.

Her ministry – which was chronicled last year in the book “The Prison Angel” by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondents for The Washington Post – is pretty much the same. She focuses on both the practical and spiritual needs of the prisoners, who call out “Mama!” when she walks among them in her white veil and black-and-white habit.

In addition, she started a halfway house (Casa Campos de San Miguel) for newly-released women prisoners, and cancer victims.

And she often spends a night or two on weekends at the nearby convent of the small congregation she formed (Eudist Servants of the 11th hour) of like-minded older women who feel a late vocation to enter religious life. The foundress likes to refer to herself and the other women religious as “lay missionary sisters.”

What has been changed has been me,” she told The Tidings after her talk. “I’m going to be 80 this year, and the years take a toll on you. Now I can’t run from one section of the prison to the other like I used to. I have a heart condition, and when I get back from the prison, I have to lie down because I’m exhausted.”

But Mother Antonia is not ready to give up her cell, which was given to her by a Mexican governor. She sleeps on a fold-out bed.

“I only know that my presence is positive and does some good there,” she confides. “So as long as it does that, I remain. Because I know that I’m needed. I might be in my room, but, see, when you’re a person with love in your heart for God, it goes out. And the whole prison knows I’m there. They know ‘Mama’s here.'”

Woman honored for volunteer work

In terms of physical distance, there is a wide gulf separating Doris Crocker from Haiti — about 1,500 miles of it. But when it comes to helping people, the world is a lot smaller.

Crocker is executive director of New Jersey-Haiti Partnership of Partners of the Americas, and a recipient of the Partners of the Americas International Lifetime Achievement Award. She has been involved in the organization, first peripherally, then directly, since it was founded by her husband, Clinton, in 1976.

“They always say that Partners is the best kept secret,” she said.

Unlike other international volunteer organizations, Partners doesn’t just dole out money, Crocker said. Working in conjunction with its sister organization in Haiti, the Haiti-New Jersey Partnership, the group has developed over the years a variety of exchange programs providing training in areas such as agriculture and public health.

“There’s something very special about Doris,” Susan Rosenberg, president of New Jersey-Haiti Partners, said. “She is very soft-spoken, but she’s a giant of a person.”

The group has a core membership of about 20, Crocker said. But in keeping with its name, Partners works with several other organizations that deal with Haitians either in America or still on the island.

A social worker by profession, she worked for 25 years in the Tinton Falls and Eatontown school districts before retiring in 1991.

“At least one of the number one problems is lack of education,” she said. “There are not enough schools for the population.”

Some 48 percent of Haitians are illiterate, she said, and many of the country’s poorest children do not attend school.

Though neither she nor her husband are Haitian, Crocker said she has always been interested in international relations, and her work with Partners has taken her throughout much of the Western Hemisphere. She is also a member of Province II of the Episcopal Church USA, in which she serves as the chairwoman of the Haiti Network.

Her international involvement doesn’t stop there though. When she joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Monmouth County Alumnae Chapter, she got involved with its International Awareness and Involvement Committee.

Describing Crocker as gracious and detail-oriented, Rosenberg said Crocker is a vital part of Partners’ success.

“If it weren’t for Doris Crocker, I couldn’t do what I do,” she said. “Nobody works alone in an organization. I feel it’s a privilege to work with her.”

Sunday, Feb. 26, 2006

Washington teen goes to work for Make-A-Wish

It wasn’t long ago that 17-year-old William Jackson of Washington was on the receiving end of a Make-A-Wish gift.

During that difficult time four years ago, the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave Jackson a laptop and other computer components that allowed him to stay in touch with friends and continue his school work despite being sick. And on Dec. 30, 2003, Jackson had a kidney transplant.

Now Jackson wants to give back to the organization that helped him through a rough time in his young life. He plans to raise a steer and put it up for auction this summer to benefit Make-A-Wish. And he’s getting some assistance with that project from Aldermere Farm, where he is a member of the 4-H Club called Aldermere Achievers.

On Thursday, Aldermere Farm Manager Ron Howard presented Jackson with a belted Galloway steer named Razz. Aldermere Farm, now owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, is one of the world’s premier belted Galloway cattle breeders and a favorite scenic attraction in the Camden and Rockport area.

The 136-acre farm was founded by the late Albert H. Chatfield Jr. and is permanently protected by conservation easements. Chatfield bequeathed the farm to MCHT when he died in 1999.

Aldermere “Belties” are known to breeders around the world as some of the finest stock anywhere. Bred primarily for beef, Belties originated in the mountains of Southwest Scotland, where they became an exceptionally hardy breed, adapting to the severe conditions. Unlike many other breeds, the Belties were able to forage for themselves on the range during the winter and their development under severe conditions made the breed highly resistant to disease and genetic problems.

Nearly a year old, Razz weighs in at around 630 pounds. It will be Jackson’s job to care for the steer, a responsibility that will increase as the white stripe around Razz’s midsection grows over the next seven months. It’s that white stripe sandwiched between the black front and back ends that earned the Beltie its “Oreo Cookie Cow” nickname.

“There’s a lot of work to do getting ready for show day,” Jackson said. “Feeding, cleaning the pen, trimming the tail, shaving the hair on his head, trimming his coat, shampooing, blowing dry and leading, lots of leading.”

Jackson said he will spend as much time as possible leading Razz around, getting him comfortable with the halter and lead rope, and making sure he’s not fidgety or nervous around people, especially judges.

Jackson’s previous experience with livestock has been raising and showing pigs, but he said cattle are easier to work.

“You can’t put a halter on a pig and tie it to a post to work with it like you can cattle,” Jackson said.

Jackson and Aldermere Farm will enter Razz in at least three livestock shows this summer, including the Bangor State Fair (July 28-Aug. 6), the Union Fair (Aug. 20-26), and the Windsor Fair (Aug. 27-Sept. 4).

It’s at the Windsor Fair where Jackson plans to sell Razz at auction. And after seven months of hard work preparing the Beltie for show and ultimately market, he will donate the money he earns at the auction to Make-A-Wish.

Amy Theiss, communications director for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine, was on hand Thursday for the donation of Razz to Jackson. “It’s always a great honor for us when wish kids come back to help us,” she said.

And while Howard knows Jackson, who will take Razz to Washington to live at a nearby farm, has a big job ahead, the Aldermere Farm manager hopes the partnership of Beltie and boy will inspire buyers come August.

“The real coup will be if we can get enough buyers at the fair, as this is an auction and they could bring in a good price,” Howard said.

Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006

Hospital janitor brings amazing grace to sick

Willie Pham stoops a bit and dips his mop into the metal bucket. He swishes the rope head over tired hospital linoleum, humming barely loud enough for the woman in the bed a few feet away to hear. Amazing grace. How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me.

He sings a few words of the old hymn, just above a whisper, then goes back to humming.

The woman never moves.

If she were awake, and well enough, this patient might ask Willie about his job mopping and scrubbing in the intensive care unit.

“I’m here to do more important things,” he’d say in his deep, soothing voice.

The Medical Intensive Care Unit at University Hospitals of Cleveland is serious business.

Its huge nurses station is surrounded by 20 private rooms filled with IV drips and intimidating medical equipment.

Relatives sit silently at bedsides, waiting for eyes to open or a word to be spoken, for any small beacon of hope.

“When people come here, this is the worst time of their lives,” says Rachel Vanek, a nurse practitioner in the unit. “We get the sickest of the sick.”

Willie Pham loves his work.

“I don’t look at my job as a lower job,” he says. “I was placed here for a purpose.”

Pham is a janitor. But people who know him call him other things: Mr. Willie. Brother Willie. An inspiration, a blessing, a saint. An angel sent by God.

Or they’re like Nancy Randall. She met Pham when she awoke from a coma in May 2004 and saw nothing but white light and Pham praying.

And then, like most people who talk about Pham, she begins to cry, tears of gratitude for how he helped her recover from a bad bout of pneumonia.

“I was in the hospital 5 ½ months,” Randall says, “and … all the days that he worked, he would come and pray with me.

“You know how you give up? I was so sick, I just about gave up. It fills me up to think about he helped me come back.”

Kimberly Kotora, the unit’s acting head nurse, says, “I don’t know how he does it, but he can bring a family together and have them praying over a patient in minutes.

“We had an incident up here where we had three very, very sick patients and the Catholic priest was overextended and couldn’t help,” Kotora says.

Of course, Pham stepped in.

Abby Gretter, another nurse, says: “I’m not even sure what religion Willie is, but he makes you feel warm because he has such a kind heart. Willie just bellies up to the bedside and offers some incredible spiritual words.”

The people who spend days and months in intensive care have their stories, too. Pham never forces religion on anyone, they say. He waits, with great respect, for someone to ask him to pray.

“Willie can sense boundaries,” says Kathy Ellsworth, who became friends with Pham when her son, Jared, was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, back when Willie cleaned rooms there.

“He’s not like a pest,” says Chriss Slabaugh, whose baby daughter was admitted to that unit days after she was born.

“As far as him doing prayers in the room, that was … only when he felt like the family wanted them.

“When she was passing away, going through those last hours, we called and told him, and he came,” Slabaugh says.

“And then we asked him to be at the funeral. And he was.”

On that freezing winter day, Pham drove 50 miles from Cleveland to Wellington, Ohio, and read a letter from Chriss and Delila Slabaugh about their baby girl. Then he led the graveside service.

“I guess he’s just a good friend of ours now,” Chriss Slabaugh says.

A good friend is what Pham is to hundreds of people who’ve spent time in that place between life and death.

Years later, they talk about how he still calls and sends Christmas cards or letters.

When Jared Ellsworth died at age 12, his mother asked Pham to speak at the funeral.

“It just wouldn’t have been right not to have Willie,” Kathy Ellsworth says. “You can’t help but feel peace when you’re around him.”

What brought her that peace, she says, was watching the gentle love that developed between Willie and Jared.

“I don’t know if I was strong enough to teach my son about life and death,” she says. “God sent Willie to us to do that. I don’t think he’s human. I think he’s an angel.”

Pham has little to say about all this. He’s embarrassed by the attention.

“This is what I’m supposed to do,” he says in his quiet way, never mentioning that he’s head of deacons at Zion Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Cleveland; that he studied at night for more than four years at the Baptist Bible Institute, earning a master Bible diploma in 2003; that he spends his spare time visiting nursing homes and taking Communion to the homebound; that his back aches nearly every day; that he usually skips lunch at work to pray with patients who have gotten well enough to move to the hospitals’ other wings.

“I have an opportunity to be of help,” Willie says. “That’s all it’s about.”

Friday, Feb. 10, 2006

She began at age 14 and never left

Sometimes people get involved with volunteer organizations because they simply want references to pad their resumes. It’s only with time that the experience becomes an end in itself.

But for17-year-old volunteer Stacey Bateman, helping others is its own reward — one that hasn’t lost its novelty over time.

“Her heart is in this direction,” says Judy Endecott, of Community Living Toronto, one of the many places at which Bateman volunteers.

“She likes to be busy and she likes to be helpful. She came here when she was 14 and she never left.”

When Bateman first began volunteering at Community Living Toronto she just wanted to keep busy by casually volunteering her time. She was open-minded and curious, and quickly absorbed everything she was taught.

Bateman took part in the adult literacy program for adults and has continued to do so consistently until this day. It is something she thoroughly enjoys.

“Someone mentioned Community Living, about people with intellectual disabilities, so I called up and I got placed in the literacy program,” says Bateman. “I loved it so much that I didn’t want to leave.”

Almost four years later, Bateman has volunteered at the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf and Blind, the Helen Keller Society and the Achilles Track Club. She has even has run her own events, and initiated and coordinated fundraisers. And it goes on — her history of volunteering is almost too long to list.

Bateman has received various awards for her community service, including two this year: The Violet Richardson Award and The East Toronto Rotary Club Award. She is also fluent in American Sign Language and is in the process of learning blind-deaf communication.

Not a bad track record for someone who just finished high school with an 80 percent average and an Ontario Scholarship.

So how does she manage it all and make it seem so easy?

“I’m up very early — every morning at 5 a.m.,” she says. “That’s the only way I’m able to do all that I do.”

That, of course, leads to the inevitable question: how does a teenager – or anyone for that matter – get up every morning at such an abominable hour?

“I like to keep to my commitments,” she says. “But, really, it’s because I love what I do.”

Bateman wants to turn her charitable acts into a career and plans to realize this dream at George Brown College this September. While she plans to study to become an intervenor — a guide and interpreter for individuals who are deaf and blind — she hopes to stay involved with Community Living Toronto.

Despite the prospect of a hectic study schedule and a job after that, Bateman says she’s sure about one thing — she’ll always be volunteering, as helping people is a lifelong priority, which is fun and enjoyable.

Endecott, who has known her for years, is still in awe.

“She’s unbelievable. She’s really great.”

Friday, Feb. 3, 2006

Dentists volunteer to provide free care to needy children

ST. PAUL – Needy children can get free dental care today and tomorrow.

It’s the fourth annual “Give Kids a Smile Day,” and it’s available to children whose families can’t afford to pay for dental care.

Volunteer dentists and other dental professionals expect to provide free dental care to more than six-thousand children at more than 180 locations around Minnesota.

Appointments can be made by calling 1-800-543-7790 or dialing 2-1-1.

Children must be under age 18 and can obtain checkups, sealants, fluoride treatments, fillings or more involved care.

The program is coordinated and led by the Minnesota Dental Association, with help from Three-M, Patterson Dental Supply, HealthPartners, United Way and the Minnesota Dental Foundation.

Volunteer reader brings generations together

Florence Holloway’s doorbell rings on a cool, cloudy Saturday morning.

“C’mon in,” the 93-year-old says softly. Her blue eyes peer through her glasses as she walks to the door, but Holloway feels more than sees where she’s going these days.

Alex Dobyan waits outside.

“Good morning, Alex,” the 17-year-old says, and his soft voice makes all 6 feet of him seem not so big.

He follows Holloway, who walks slowly and leans on her wooden cane, down the hall for another Saturday morning visit. The two aren’t related. They don’t go to the same church. Their worlds have little do to with each other. But Dobyan comes every Saturday morning, and Holloway answers, her Bible waiting on the table.

In her quiet kitchen, Holloway and Dobyan sit across from each other at a table by the window. The refrigerator hums as they catch up.

“Had a hard week, haven’t you,” Holloway says.

“I had a few tests this week,” Dobyan says. “How are you? How was your week?”

“Well,” Holloway says, “they can’t do anything for me. My eyes are too far gone. …

“I’m just the same old Florence,” she laughs.

“That’s what I like,” Dobyan says.

After a little more catching up, Dobyan rests one hand on the brown, 24-point, giant-print edition Bible at the end of the table. Holloway’s late husband gave it to her years ago.

“Wanna read some of this?” he asks.

She does.

The thin paper pages crinkle against each other as he thumbs through.

Holloway rests her wooden cane by her side and folds her hands on the table. She can’t see his shaggy brown hair or the brown eyes beneath his glasses.

But she can hear Dobyan’s voice, reading slow and clear.

“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye,” he reads, “but not to doubtful disputations. …”

Around the time Dobyan was looking to do some volunteer work, Holloway was looking for someone to read her the Bible. She suffers from macular degeneration and sees little these days but hazy outlines.

Dobyan, a senior at Central High School and president of the National Honor Society, knew volunteering was important for colleges. His friends were working with hospitals and food kitchens. But he wanted something different – something personal.

So his mom told him about Faith in Action Volunteer Caregivers, a program through Heartland Foundation and Heartland Regional Medical Center, where Dobyan’s dad works as a doctor.

Holloway got a call.

“I wasn’t very much interested,” she says, not feeling like herself that day.

They called again, and Holloway decided to give it a try.

In August, they met for the first time.

Both were nervous, and both were surprised.

“He was the most intelligent person,” says Holloway, who has one daughter living in Salt Lake City but no grandchildren. “He was intelligent and he knew what he was talking about.”

And Dobyan, who has no living grandparents, felt the same about her.

“We’re both very religious,” he says. “We share about the same beliefs, but I take what she says, and I apply it to me.”

He’s come every weekend since that first visit, sometimes bringing his parents, sometimes staying for hours learning how to make cinnamon rolls.

And sometimes, she is the student, learning about Dobyan’s busy young life playing soccer and tennis and applying for colleges.

“I’ve definitely brought her up to speed,” he says.

Faith in Action Volunteer Caregivers’ tagline is “A neighbor’s independence depends on you,” says program coordinator Martha Wakely.

“It’s so fitting,” she says, “especially in this situation. Just to have somebody care about you when you’re isolated adds such quality to life.”

As he reads, Dobyan swivels in his chair.

“Hast thou faith?” he says. “Have it to thyself before God. …”

Listening to the words she can no longer make out, Holloway feels uplifted. Her vision, her aching legs and the drain of a long life fade from her mind.

“That’s one strong message right there,” Dobyan says when he finishes the chapter.

“Let’s return thanks,” Holloway says, and the two pray together.

Seated at the table with red and white fake flowers and a glass dish of peppermints between them, two people from different generations and different churches find common ground with their heads bowed.

Holloway prays for people helping and affected by the hurricanes. She prays for troops overseas. And she gives thanks for her young friend.

“Amen,” she says.

“Amen,” he says.

Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006

Katrina volunteer atop first lady’s list

Theresa Shamlian, a Houstonian who helped the displaced masses at the Reliant Astrodome after Hurricane Katrina, was a guest Tuesday of first lady Laura Bush for the president’s State of the Union address.

Shamlian was chosen as a representative of the more than 100,000 volunteers who assisted relief efforts after the hurricane, said Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.

“She is very enthusiastic and energetic in her job,” said Mark Sloan, coordinator for the organization.

Shamlian and her husband, Robert, were flown to Washington on Monday and had a tour of the White House, Sloan said.

The 51-year-old former planner for Continental Airlines became a full-time volunteer after retirement.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier in Iraq who reinvigorated the anti-war movement, was taken into custody by police in the House gallery Tuesday just before President Bush’s address.

Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said Sheehan had worn a T-shirt with an anti-war slogan and covered it up until she took her seat.

Police warned her that such displays were not allowed, but she did not respond, Schneider said.

Sheehan was taken in handcuffs to police headquarters a few blocks away, where she was to be released on her own recognizance.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., had invited Sheehan to the address as her guest. “I’m proud that Cindy’s my guest tonight,” Woolsey said before the speech. “She has made a difference in the debate to bring our troops home from Iraq.”

First lady Laura Bush’s guests certainly were diverse. One, in fact, wasn’t even human.

Rex, a 5-year-old German shepherd, fit in with the other Iraq war veterans who were guests of lawmakers.

His owner, Air Force Tech Sgt. Jamie Dana, awoke in a military hospital last summer badly injured by a bomb in Iraq and crying for her bomb-sniffing dog. It would take an act of Congress before she could take him home to Pennsylvania.

The Air Force said that by statute, Rex needed to finish the remaining five years of his useful life before he could be adopted. Dana’s congressman, Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., helped abolish that policy, the White House said.

Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006

I’m not a hero I’m just a bit tired: six days fighting bushfires

Hear from an Anakie local as he enters his sixth consecutive day behind the wheel of the town’s firetruck, battling fires in the Brisbane Ranges.

Fancy knocking Nicole Kidman, Adam Gilchrist and Australian of the Year Prof. Ian Frazer off the frontpage of Melbourne’s biggest selling daily newspaper, the Herald-Sun on Australia Day. That’s exactly what Colin Trotter, Anakie resident and driver for the Anakie fire truck has done, and his fellow firefighters are letting him know all about it this morning.

“That was a bit of a set-up from the captain,” he says with a wry smile. Did they get his good side? “Yeah, I suppose the best side they could get,” he replies, the smile broadening.

It’s 8am Thursday morning at Anakie’s local sports oval, and while outwardly the firefighters preparing for the day’s work are joking and chatting amiably, the weather forecast for Australia Day is not good. Extremely hot, with the dreaded north wind – pretty much the last thing anyone wanted to hear on the sixth day of fighting a bushfire that’s still not under control.

“It’s quietened down a bit to what it was on Sunday. It’s a bit quiet at the moment, but today could be anything else,” says Colin. Having been at the fire since it began, did he always think it was going to be this serious, or was it something that developed?

“Yeah, it was something that developed. Probably about 1 or 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon it turned to sh**,” he quips with a chuckle, belying the seriousness of a fire that swept through the small town before a windchange turned its path, preventing further loss of property.

“It’s been a real good effort from everybody. Lucky there’s been nobody injured and there’s only been a few losses in buildings or stuff like that. It’s been a real good effort.”

It’s physically demanding work, in searing temperatures on rugged, hilly terrain through a national park – how are the crews holding up?
“The crews are real good, mate – they’re a good team of blokes. We’ve probably all been together for the last four or five days, we all know what we’re about,” he says.

Colin is back in the Anakie fire truck cabin after the night shift team have headed home for a well deserved break, having worked their 12 hour shift overnight to quell hotspots – a team made up of CFA volunteers from Shellford and Dereel, roughly 50-100km west of Anakie. How do the crews from other areas go on the back of local trucks?

“We usually have one of the locals driving the truck, and you have other teams from other brigades on the back doing the other work. You know where your truck and who are the people on it,” he says.

How important is local knowledge to safely fighting forest fires such as this?
“Real important. You have to know where you are, otherwise you can be in some trouble. You’ve really go to know what you’re doing.”

With five trucks per strike team and more than 50 strike teams covering the day and night shifts at the fire, how does a small town like Anakie get that local knowledge out to the crews and drivers who are unfamiliar with the area?

“The local knowledge goes to the strike team leaders, and they use our knowledge on where we should be and what the terrain’s like, and it’s about time our local knowledge was used in these sorts of situations.”

One of the issues showing up in many conversations with local firefighters is the sometimes tough personal decision to get on a firetruck and head off to a blaze when their own homes are being threatened by fire.

“Yeah, well it is, but I suppose that’s what you got to do if you belong to the fire brigade, you go where you go. We don’t get paid for it, it’s a volunteer job, so if you’re in the truck you can’t choose where you want to be. I suppose that’s part of bein’ there,” he says.

As for today – with what amounts to one of the worst weather forecasts one could hear in a state affected by hundreds of bushfires covering tens of thousands of hectares of land, what’s his prognosis?

“Everything’s looking a bit serious, depending on how strong the winds get. They’ve got heaps of water tankers floating around, let’s hope it doesn’t get any worse. It’s going to go south if it goes anywhere. It’s not going to come back this way. Hopefully.”

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006

Volunteers Regularly Saving Lives in Rescue Operations

The rescue of a group of climbers from frigid 9,000 foot Mount Olympus Sunday was a textbook team operation. It was also a tricky, potentially dangerous job, a job done, in large part, by volunteers. So just how much did that rescue cost?

The short answer is easily ten thousand dollars, perhaps more. An exact number is hard to come by because much of the time and services are donated by volunteers and Life Flight.

Over the weekend, it was an impressive mountain rescue, even by the standards of Utah’s expert search and rescue crews. Four injured climbers were plucked at high-altitude from the side of a chilly mountain peak after spending the night there.

Steve Achelis, Commander, Salt Lake Co. Sheriff’s Search & Rescue: “First is helping people. We get, for whatever reason, a lot of fulfillment out of helping people, that is stronger than money. The other thing is, most of us are avid back country people; we like to climb and rappel and ski and hike.”

The Mount Olympus rescue involved roughly 96 hours of work by paid deputies and 580 hours of work by volunteer rescuers like Steve Achelis, the team’s commander, a software entrepreneur. The typical team member volunteers 400 hours a year; for Achelis it’s 1000, often at inconvenient moments.

Steve Achelis: “It’s the page during the birthday party, and what do you do?”

Life Flight too donates its choppers and crew as a community service, something that this weekend would otherwise cost in the range of ten thousand dollars. For pilots, nurses and paramedics it’s a satisfying job.

Bill Butts, Director of Operations, Life Flight: “It’s just high fives all the way around when you’re able to get these kinds of missions done. When you know, you just feel comfortable with the fact if you weren’t able to do that, some serious things would have happened and it probably wouldn’t have come out as good as it did.”

Many ask, why not charge people the cost of rescuing them? But rescuers advise against it.

Steve Achelis: “We would rather people call early, than try to do a self-rescue, to wait until the night, until someone is critically injured or dying before we get the notification, not only for their well being, but for the rescuers’ safety.”

Just how much money does Salt Lake County alone save through its volunteer Search and Rescue team? It must be millions of dollars over time. Typically, Salt Lake County’s search and rescue team does at least 50 rescues a year. In 2002 there were 73. That year, Life Flight’s rescue costs along totaled more that 200-thousand dollars, again all donated.

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006

Angel honored

Today has been set aside to honor Martin County’s “angel of mercy.”

The county commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday night to declare today Lula Brown Day in Martin County.

“Through her Christ-like love for her fellow man, she has brought renewed hope to those on their last hope,” Mort Hurst, the commissioners’ chairman, said before the vote.

Brown, pastor and co-founder of New Fellowship Christian Church, has provided food boxes to the needy and sent relief supplies to people affected by 2005’s Gulf Coast hurricanes, according to a resolution voted on by the commissioners.

Brown is founder of Project Feed the 5,000, “which provides meals for the needy each November for Thanksgiving and each December for Christmas,” the resolution continues.

In 1999, Brown “set up, directed and operated a Hurricane Floyd distribution center to assist those who lost everything in the ‘Flood of the Century,’” the document reads.

Brown’s own home was flooded during Floyd but, the next day, she passed out food, water and clothing to residents who needed it, said her daughter, Stephanie, who accompanied the pastor to Wednesday night’s board session.

“I am blessed to have a mother who loves the entire world,” the daughter said.

Brown, a “Moses of our times,” helps address gaps existing aid agencies can’t fill, said Reginald Speight, director of Martin Community Action, one of those aid agencies.

MCA refers clients to Brown, Speight related.

Asked what might have happened had Brown not gone into the service she pursues, Speight replied, “It’s hard to even put that into words.”

After the board announced the rare honor Brown would receive, the audience gave the community activist a standing ovation.

Asked during an interview how she felt about the recognition bestowed on her by the county board, Brown recalled her husband, Columbus, who died seven years ago at the age of 62. He was the co-founder of the church of which she serves as pastor.

“I just want to say that I feel like I’m so blessed to have people who love me and people who support me and care for me,” Brown commented. “It’s been very difficult to continue to do the things that the Lord wants me to do without my husband. We were married 43 years. But I have found strength in the love that we had together, and I know that he would want me to go on and do all of the things that we had planned to do.”

Sunday, Jan. 8, 2006

Making the world a better, tidier place

“My mom never forgot where she came from and what it meant to grow up the poor child of immigrant parents.” – Mike Harvey. She never carried a gun or made an arrest, but Mickey Harvey was the heart and soul of the San Fernando Police Department.

“I called her my boss,” says Chief Anthony Alba. “She had the run of the place.”

It seems wherever Mickey Harvey went in life she had the run of the place. It wouldn’t surprise anyone in her family or the police department if she was up in heaven right now straightening things out and taking care of people who could use a little help.

It was what this remarkable woman who died of a heart attack at 87 on New Year’s Eve did best.

“Mom lived on $1,300 a month, but would give you her last nickel if she thought it would help you,” says her son, police Lt. Mike Harvey.

Every weekday morning for the last 20 years, Mickey arrived at the San Fernando police station at 5 a.m. to straighten things out and clean up the report room so when the detectives arrived around 7 a.m. everything was ready to go.

“Once in a while she’d leave a little note saying, ‘Your mother doesn’t work here, but I cleaned up for you anyway, so please try to keep it tidy,”‘ Alba said, laughing.

Actually, Lt. Mike Harvey’s mother did work there.

“I was in the detective bureau back when she started,” he says. “Our commander wanted us to go to lunch together, but we needed someone to stay behind to answer the phones.

“I asked my mom – who was retired and lived close to the station – if she minded volunteering once or twice a week to answer the phones for an hour. She said sure.”

Once or twice a week grew to five days a week. Twenty years later, Mickey Harvey was still answering the phones, tidying up, and basically having the run of the place.

“It wasn’t long before she had better access in the department than I did,” Mike says. “Everybody just fell in love with her.”

It didn’t surprise him. Everybody always fell in love with his mother.

She was born Rosealien McNamees, the youngest daughter in an immigrant Irish family that moved from Coney Island, N.Y., to an Italian-Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn when she was 7.

“Whenever my Italian friends saw me coming down the street they’d yell out, ‘Here comes the Mick,’ and the nickname just stuck,” Mickey Harvey told me seven years ago when she was being honored by the city for her volunteer work on her 80th birthday.

It was a term of endearment for the neighborhood’s only Irish lass – a nickname hung on Irish immigrants when they came to America at the turn of the century and began cooking and selling potatoes that were called Mickeys in ashcans on the streets.

“During World War II, as I was leaving for work in the morning, the Italian grandmothers would shout out from their windows, ‘You be good, Mick,”‘ she recalled.

They needn’t have worried. The government was already making sure of that. Nobody in the old neighborhood knew, but the Mick was one of the most important women in the country as she walked down those streets each morning to catch the Brooklyn-to-Manhattan subway line to work.

She was one of only three people in the country who had the combination to the vault room of Carl L. Norden Inc. on Beaver Street in Manhattan where she worked.

Inside that vault were all the records and plans for the Norden bombsight – a mechanical computer designed to determine the exact moment bombs needed to be released in order to hit their target.

Nothing got out of that vault room without the Mick’s OK. Barely 21, she was guarding one of this country’s most precious military secrets when most girls her age were working at Macy’s or Gimbals.

“I’d be locked in that vault all day locating pieces of plans and records that the country’s top engineers needed to refine the bombsight to work even better,” Harvey remembered.

“They had me taking a different route to the subway at night, just in case anyone was watching me. Then I’d get home and have dinner with my family like nothing was happening.

“I couldn’t even tell my mother and father what I was doing all day. They just had to trust me.”

They did, until the war ended and their daughter left national security to work in a less stressful job – assistant director of tours for NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza – then later as assistant to the president of a private investigative firm in Los Angeles until she retired.

Then her phone rang one day 20 years ago, and her son, the cop, wanted to know if his mother minded answering the phones at his station house during lunch a few days a week.

Later this week, Mike and his sister, Sheelin, will fulfill their mother’s last wish by returning to her birthplace, Coney Island, to scatter her ashes on the beach.

“She loved growing up near the ocean and was very proud to have come from America’s first melting pot, a place where the world’s poor came to make their American dreams come true,” Mike says.

It was just like their mother not to want any of her friends on the police department to send flowers or make a donation to a charitable cause in her memory. She had something else in mind.

“She wanted everyone to spend a little extra time with their loved ones this year, especially parents and grandparents,” Mike says.

“Mom always felt there was nothing more precious than the memories of time spent with your loved ones after they were gone.”

R.I.P., Mick. You were one classy lady.

Teen’s volunteer work nets top award

Youth has raised funds for education, needy kids living abroad

Sondra Clark had read stories and seen documentaries about poverty in Africa’s poorest nations. She thought that had prepared her for a trip she and her parents took there five years ago.

But the sights she saw — children who had lost their parents to AIDS, kids her own age fighting with dogs for scraps of food, utter poverty — were shocking.

“It was amazing what we saw,” said Clark, 16, a student at Christ Presbyterian Academy. “The minute I got off the airplane, I had a kid about my age come up begging me for money.”

During that trip, Clark committed herself to telling other people about what she’d seen and asking for their help. Since then, she’s raised thousands of dollars and contributed many hours to further education efforts in Africa.

Her work was recognized this month when Clark received the Tennessee Titans Foundation’s Junior Community Quarterback Award.

The award honors Tennesseans between ages 13 and 21 who are active volunteers in the community. The organization awarded Christ Presbyterian Academy a $5,000 grant in Clark’s honor to fund the continuation of several efforts Clark has helped promote, including the Salama Urban Ministries and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“There are a lot of awards for athletes and people who do other things,” said Clark, who plays soccer at CPA and once played on a youth football team. “It’s so great when people honor people who do volunteer work.”

Much of Clark’s volunteer work has centered on raising funds to help promote education in developing countries. According to her award application, she has raised over$80,000 for childhood education efforts in Africa and elsewhere.

The high school sophomore has worked with Childcare International, a relief agency that focuses on the needs of young people in poverty.

More recently, she trekked to Mississippi to assist in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. She was there when she learned she had won the award.

Clark has made a number of television and radio appearances to promote youth activism and even penned a few books, including one titled You Can Change the World! Creative Ways to Volunteer and Make a Difference.

Her book offers more than 150 ideas on volunteering, and a portion of the proceeds it generates goes to Childcare International.

She speaks to churches, service groups and schools on the importance of volunteering and also encourages people to sponsor needy children through Childcare International.

Her efforts have brought thousands of dollars in donations for the organization, as well as gifts such as toys, clothes, books, food and toiletries for needy children abroad, her award application states.

While she’ll continue to work with Childcare International and other agencies this year, Clark said she also plans to step up efforts to find new recruits to work by her side.

“My main focus now is really encouraging kids to volunteer and get involved. A lot of people are willing to work if they have the chance,” she said.

The Tennessee Titans Foundation handed out a total of $20,000 in grants through the Junior Community Quarterback Awards this year.

Nashvillian Aubree Johnson was a finalist for the award. Johnson, 18, a student at Middle Tennessee State University, helped found Teen Tutors at Homework Hotline, which provides academic assistance for students in Middle Tennessee.

The organization received a $4,000 grant from the foundation.

Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006

Selfless woman honored as volunteer of the year

Eleven years ago Sheila Johnson’s husband, Mike, died of lung cancer, and a few years after his passing she began turning her loss into a gain for countless others by becoming a Hospice volunteer.

An Ellensburg native who resides in Kittitas, the 58-year old Johnson volunteers with Hospice Friends, an organization that provides end-of-life care terminally ill patients. She’s been a hospice volunteer for more than nine years. During that time she has made an immeasurable mark on the lives of patients and their families, which is why the Daily Record selected her its Volunteer of the Year for 2005.

After Johnson’s husband fell ill he was being taken care of by a Hospice volunteer. That interaction helped her decide she wanted to help out at Hospice. [In the Midst of Life: A Hospice Volunteer’s Story]

“I thought to myself, someday I can do that, which is one of the reasons I wanted to join (Hospice) and help as much as I can,” Johnson said.

“I knew one of the ways I could help out was by giving back. I am not set up financially to give lots of money, so I give my time.”

She said giving time to Hospice has been one of the most rewarding experiences she has ever had.

“When I go into someone’s home and see the frantic look of helplessness, I want to help. It’s easy for me to help because I have been on that other side where you feel like you can’t do anything,” said Johnson. “To see that look of relief on people’s faces makes it all worthwhile.”

Her family and Hospice colleagues describe her as a compassionate and caring person.

“I don’t think she would ever say no. She is there just to bring something to the patients and to give herself. She wants to make a difference,” said Kim Brittain, a Hospice Friends program director. “Our tagline is ‘peace, comfort and care’ and she embodies it one hundred percent.”

Brittain said some of the qualities that make Johnson such a good volunteer are her compassion for others and her listening skills. [Field Notes on the Compassionate Life : A Search for the Soul of Kindness]

“She is very interested in people and their stories and accepting of who they are and where they are at in their lives,” she said.

Johnson’s daughter, Kim Dawson, described her mother as a “thoughtful and generous person.”

“Even for me, when you call her and ask her to do anything, she’s always willing to drop everything and do whatever she can to help out. She’s very giving and thoughtful,” said Dawson.

When Johnson isn’t giving her time to Hospice Friends she is highly involved at the First Lutheran Church, where she has been attending her entire life Dawson said. Johnson has sung in the choir and given sermons when the pastor is not available. She also enjoys going on walks, scrapbooking and water skiing Dawson said.

Prior to getting involved with Hospice Johnson was a beautician. She started cutting hair 27 years ago and she has been able to transfer that skill to her hospice work by giving haircuts to the patients who aren’t able to get out of the house much.

“I love doing hair so that’s not a chore or a job. It’s a nice hobby to have. People always feel nice after they get a haircut and I know I am doing something to make them feel good.”

She added that she thinks volunteering is one of the most enjoyable experiences a person can have and she encourages others to donate their time to hospice or other organizations.

“People don’t think they have the time and energy to volunteer but there are lost of different ways they can help,” she said. “I end up getting a lot more out of it than I give.”

Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005

Bell ringer for Salvation Army takes opportunity to learn

Among the many holiday iconic images, few are as readily recognizable as the ceaselessly tinkling silver bells that announce to all the presence of the Salvation Army’s ubiquitous red kettles.

Pass through the entrance of any large store or market this time of year and you stand a very good chance of encountering a volunteer ringer and the bucket that silently tugs at your soul for instant gratification.

It is a hard heart indeed that can pass by a kettle without making some sort of contribution.

But it happens, of course. Many people, either caught up in their own worlds and oblivious to the sights and sounds all around them, or else faking same, manage to trudge on by without even a kettle-ward glance.

Thankfully, these folks are the exception. And who knows? Perhaps they already donated a few dollars at another kettle or through some other means. Merry Christmas to them all, in any case.

On Wednesday morning, I had the privilege of helping this terrific organization, which provides all sorts of essential services to people in our community. And not just before and after hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters. The Salvation Army is a ministry that provides a range of counseling services and helps with life’s essentials, such as paying utility and housing bills or getting used furniture and clothing for families.

In short, our community would be a terribly diminished place without this organization.

So, here are a few observations from a morning spent ringing the chimes outside the bustling Inverness Publix:

There are only so many variations on the shake that such a little bell will allow. Trying to carry a tune is an impossibility. And forget any attempt at Jingle Bells. Ain’t happening.

Without exception, adults with children who stop to donate give the money to the kids and direct them to put it into the bucket. This small gesture is ensuring that a new generation of givers is being groomed.

If you stand in one place in Citrus County long enough, you will see someone you know. In a relatively short span, I spoke to nearly two dozen friends and acquaintances. And this was the middle of a weekday morning.

One older gentleman stuffed a dollar in the pot and noted that he gives at every red kettle he encounters. This is in gratitude, he said, for the help that the Salvation Army gave him during World War II.

The overwhelming fan favorite of donations, by the way, is a dollar bill folded widthwise and stuffed into the cross-hair slots.

Standing near a busy parking lot allows for other random acts of kindness. I directed at least two sets of people who had forgotten where they parked to their vehicles. (I had been watching people walk through the parking lot, trying to guess if they would be donors, and remembered them.)

On a related note, I may be the only person in Florida who does not have a handicapped placard hanging from my rearview mirror.

Ringing a bell and wishing strangers good holiday cheer tends to bring out the best in people. Teens on skateboards swooshing past folks pushing loaded shopping carts does not. Most of the adults just grumbled at the kids, but one gentleman bereft of the Christmas spirit vowed to insert the board into a bodily orifice of one of the teens, an act that would defy simple human physiology.

Everyone in America, it seems, knows about the Salvation Army’s kettle drive, but the information has not crossed the Atlantic. A British fellow stopped to ask just what the bell and bucket was all about. After a brief explanation, a light went on, and he recalled that kettle keepers have been in the news lately.

“Have thieves been pilfering them, then?” asked the delightfully erudite Englishman. “And are you carrying a gun?”

I assured him that I was armed only with good cheer – and a tinkling bell. “In England, we would shoot them, then toss them into the Irish Sea,” he said with a grim smile.

It is amazing how an unexpected “Merry Christmas” will uncrease even the most hardened face. Startled strangers just seem to glow when doused with this simple greeting.

And in a corollary, this surprise assault of good wishes on someone who has almost, but not quite, passed by without making eye contact quite often makes the person stop and fish around in a pocket or purse for a spare dollar for the kettle.

Can this be misinterpreted as laying on a holiday guilt trip? Perhaps.

But it’s all for a good cause, so my conscience is clear.

Besides, my kettle is a bit light today, so dig deep. For a fiver, I’ll play you a tune with my bell. For a ten-spot, I’ll stop.

Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005

Volunteer of the Week: Giving Back is her way of life

Arriving in Annapolis and the surrounding areas by way of 18 trucks instead of eight tiny reindeer is Linda Greenberg, aka Mrs. Claus.

Mrs. Greenberg earns this honorary title for her 22 years of service with the non-profit organization she founded, Giving Back. The nonprofit conducts a campaign to help the homeless during the holiday season. The drive has proven to be quite successful, growing from donations that once filled the back of her car to now filling 18 trucks.

A resident of Annapolis for the past 33 years and mother of two grown sons, Marc and Cory, Mrs. Greenberg has brought her own children up on the same mantra set forth from her own philanthropic father: “Take no more than you need, and give the rest away.”

It’s a premise that’s served her well over the years. Her first experiences with helping others less fortunate than herself began at age six, helping to feed the homeless.

Over the years she brought her own two sons into service as well as hundreds of other volunteers. Many years ago, the family led the annual Thanksgiving Dinner held at Camp Letts in Edgewater. From there she noted that many branched out into other areas of service on their own.

“It very gratifying to me that hundreds of people have been involved (along with me) over the years,” she said.

“We’re all in this world together_connected. It’s good to get away from your own needs. After all, the greatest joy is not in receiving the sweater, but in giving the sweater.”

Giving Back hasn’t been the only endeavor she’s been involved with over the years. She’s also volunteered for her sons’ ice hockey teams, at their schools and in their church.

An avid lover of all animals, Mrs. Greenberg and her family have raised alpacas, sheep and goats and even began a donkey rescue society. She hopes to one day establish a local wildlife sanctuary.

Mrs. Greenberg is also an accomplished businesswoman and is on sabbatical from a radio talk show on WNAV, “The Linda Greenberg Show.” She’s run multiple other businesses in the area as well, including a limo service.

She helps her husband David’s business, Greenberg Jewelers, who was able to add more than 1,000 new toy donations this year to her efforts.

Aside from her business and volunteer positions, her interests include swimming, tennis, walking, attending movies, helping animals in need and, a personal favorite, watching reality shows on television. She loves them all.

Something else she loves is her link to area students and their community service. During the week before and during her Giving Back drive, she routinely visits schools in the county, requesting help in the form of donations and actual time on location, helping to sort donations into various trucks. She also visits area businesses, which most often chip in bulk donations.

“I’m just the catalyst, a messenger,” she said. “To me, there is no greater joy than seeing a child give his or her toy to a youngster who has none, or a preteen enthusiastically handing out fliers, making phone calls and doing home chores to buy a new blanket. The greatest gift we give our children is inspiring them to give back.”

Involving more kids is really what she most needs this year. That and others such as entertainers, musicians, clowns, and most importantly, nurses and doctors to help deliver medical care along with the donations on Christmas Eve.

For Hanukkah this year, obviously she would like Giving Back to be successful. She also would like a bicycle so that she can begin training next year for her first triathlon.

Giving Back trucks will be on hand at the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market, at the corner of Riva Road and Harry S Truman Parkway, beginning tomorrow through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The organization is in need of backpacks, thermal clothing, hats, gloves, socks, blankets, coats, baby items and new toys.

Monday, Dec. 19, 2005

Woman’s miracle work spotlighted

Ella Richardson’s efforts for the homeless in Rockford will be broadcast on TV in January

The Rev. Ella Richardson delivers powerful sermons to homeless people who gather each week in Rockford for fellowship and hot meals. Come January, her words will reach a grander audience.

Richardson and her outreach organization, Arms of Hope Street Ministries, will be televised on “Breakthrough,” a Christian program led by Pastor Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church. The Ohio-based church has grown to more than 12,000 members, and Parsley’s sermons are broadcast on television stations worldwide.

World Harvest Church sent director/editor Eric Caldwell and videographer James Wright to Rockford over the weekend to film Richardson at the weekly homeless dinner she helps organize at Second Congregational Church. Caldwell and Wright alternated using a hand-held video camera and a microphone, filming songs and testimonials and trying to capture Richardson’s energy and compassion.

Richardson turned to World Harvest Church more than a decade ago when she began suffering from severe heart problems. Doctors told her she needed a heart transplant, but Richardson said through faith and support from her family and friends, she became healed.

She remembers watching a “Breakthrough” broadcast and feeling compelled to travel to Ohio, where she would eventually interact with World Harvest Church leaders.

“Only 10 percent of my heart is working, but I’m giving it 150 percent,” Richardson said, between hugs from friends and dinner attendees.

Caldwell said Richardson was the original focus of the “Breakthrough” broadcast because of her dedication and persistence in ministry, even during her health crisis. But just a few hours into filming, Caldwell said he was impressed by the overall environment.

People sang and raised their hands to upbeat praise music and offered stories about their own experiences. When she took the stage, Richardson ushered people, some who were brought to tears, onstage for hugs and prayers. She assured them they would have food and people to welcome them that evening.

“She’s really the definition of a miracle,” Caldwell said. “She’s been a faithful partner of the Rev. Parsley, and she’s such a good story. People are not only here for the food, they’re here for the hope.”

Rockford resident Pamela Darden stopped by Sunday to offer well-wishings to Richardson, whom she met through her mother, Alfredia Pounds. Pounds passed away in June but had worked closely with Richardson in ministry.

“Mom did a lot for the community, and I thank God for Sister Richardson, that she has continued this work,” Darden said. “It’s always something my mom was passionate about doing, giving back to the community. I’m here in support of Sister Richardson, to let her know I appreciate what she’s doing.”

Caldwell said the “Breakthrough” broadcast will air sometime in January. In the meantime, Richardson said Sunday’s dinner would be the last one at Second Congregational Church. She’s looking for a new church to host worship sessions and the weekly meals people have come to appreciate.

Richardson hopes to find a temporary location by the end of the week.

Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005

Everyday Heroes

Lloyd Ratliff Community and church volunteer

MOTTO: “Don’t forget who you are.” (what his mom always told him when he left the house)

AGE: 68.

HOMETOWN: Morven in Anson County; has lived in Monroe since 1960.

HIS WORK: He is a faithful volunteer at his church Central United Methodist in Monroe, where he and his wife, Nancy, have been members for 45 years; works with other members to take care of repairs and do general maintenance work, takes the church bulletins to the mail every Wednesday, serves as Sunday school treasurer, and along with his wife helps with Wednesday night supper. A member of the Monroe Civitans since 1960, he helps build handicapped ramps and works with Special Olympics and the Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina; he worked for 30 years in education, most of that time as an elementary or high school principal in the Monroe school system.

WHY HE DOES IT: “The church has helped me so much and the Lord has done so much for me. I feel like I owe it to do what I can to help.”

WHAT OTHERS SAY: “He can do anything. He’s always fixing things. I can’t name you the number of things he’s done, and always willing.” Jim and Helen Winchester, friends and fellow members of Central UMC.

Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005

Volunteers bring Christmas cheer to 200 cancer-stricken children

It is the season to spread some festive cheer especially to the less fortunate.

And doctors and volunteers from the Singapore Cancer Society and the National Cancer Centre are doing just that by playing Santa Claus and Santa’s helpers to some 200 cancer-stricken children islandwide.

Santa Clause is coming to town. The reindeer did not come along, but there were 20 motorcyclists on hand to deliver the gifts!

Four-year-old Bryan Tay, who has cancer, was overjoyed when he received his present.

Joanne Teo, Bryan’s Mother, said: “He is recovering from a bone marrow transplant and said he wanted a ‘Power Ranger’ for Christmas. He is really happy that his wish came true.”

Mark O’Dell, Chairman of Fund-raising Committee for the Singapore Cancer Society, said: “At the Cancer Society, we would like to look beyond the financial part, we would like to look at the emotional needs of the patients and their families, and this exercise is really about doing our part to serve them.”

And it certainly does not take a lot to bring a smile to these faces!

Friday, Dec. 16, 2005

Volunteer group brings small pleasures to seniors

When the holidays come around, many of us go out of our way to help others in need. But some dedicated Napa County residents go to extraordinary lengths to help others year-round. This series of articles tells some of their stories.

Red, green, purple, pink and blue flowers are often strewn all over the mini-factory where retired women arrange bouquets for seniors.

The wilting flowers at Albertsons and Raley’s supermarkets that would have otherwise been thrown away are being donated to a charity, Small Pleasures Flowers for the Elderly, where volunteers congregate Tuesday and Thursday mornings to arrange bouquets. The bouquets range in size and variety, and deliver a fresh and sweet aroma to patients at local nursing and retirement homes.

“As you can see we trim them out and still make beautiful arrangements,” said volunteer Faye Gonzalves.

All the volunteers agreed that the best part of being involved with Small Pleasures is making new friends. “And the reward comes when you see the beaming smiles when dropping off the flowers,” said Gonzalves.

“It’s always been nice to have the flowers around the patients,” said Kathleen Tucker, a registered nurse. “I deal with many patients with dementia and to see them go from being totally unaware of what’s going on around them to all of a sudden taking notice of the flowers. The bright colors catch their attention.”

Tucker said she has them touch the flowers and feel the smoothness of the cup. They smell them and react with a smile. “It’s very nice to see them voice wonder,” she said.

Tucker said that a lot of the patients don’t have families or don’t have families that spend much time with them, and to bring them something so simple means a lot to them and to the people that come in and see the flowers.

According to volunteer Lou Connelly, the charity has been around since 2000. It got started when Margaret Niemann, the founder of Small Pleasures, saw a man from Albertsons throwing away flowers. She told the manager that if they would donate the pulled flowers to her, she would do arrangements for five local nursing homes.

At Small Pleasures the volunteers work with a greater variety of flowers than if they were at a regular florist, says Connelly.

Small Pleasures currently has 15 to 20 volunteers making arrangements. The completed bouquets are then delivered to various nursing and retirement homes. Senior centers also make small arrangements for Hospice patients.

“We are now being helped with our main expenses from donations received from the various agencies that receive the bouquets,” said Connelly. In January 2004 the group received a generous donation from the Napa Kiwanis Club. The donation helped defray some of the costs connected with the move of the operation this year.

While decorating the bouquets, volunteers engage in conversations about what’s going on in the community, making it a complete social experience.

According to the women it is very common to speak about issues with their spouses. “For those who have a husbands, we’ll talk about what he did or didn’t do and what he expects,” said Gracie Geide, a volunteer. “But it’s all just good natured.”

“We pretty much talk about everything. With all these women together we don’t know where its going to go,” said Helen Johnson.

Being part of Small Pleasures doesn’t require any professional florist experience. The women rely on their intuition and personal creativity. But, Geide said, being a hair dresser for 34 years has helped. “It’s fun to do these flower arrangements. It’s good therapy. We come in a bad mood and leave in a good mood,” she said.

Those interested in becoming a part of Small Pleasures can call 254-7629.

“We are always happy to welcome new volunteers, to arrange bouquets, pick up flowers or delivery of arrangements,” said volunteer Francois Bowlty.

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