Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Actor Mark Wahlberg shows up at the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club to talk with the youth and help announce a  $50,000 donation from his and the Taco Bell Foundation.


Actor Drops in for a Visit and Offers Kids Lessons in Humility and Courage

By Diana L. Chapman

In a whirlwind visit Wednesday to the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club, actor Mark Wahlberg  offered teenagers a healthy dose of encouraging words along with thousands of dollars to rebuild the club’s 5-year-old studio . Along the way, he shared his own troubled beginnings.

A well-nourished partnership between Wahlberg’s Youth Foundation and the Taco Bell Foundation offered $50,000 to upgrade the recording studio—making it a multimedia facility—with plans to do so at others Boys and Girls Club facilities.

“I want one in every single Boys and Girls Club and every single high school,” Wahlberg announced with Taco Bell and Boys and Girls Club officials before assembled news media. “Not everybody is so fortunate. Growing up the way I did, we didn’t stand much of a chance. If we had something like this, there’d be a lot less kids getting into trouble.

“I was given a second chance. Most of my friends never had one.”

 The San Pedro Club – one of only four selected in the nation thus far– became the official launch site for the collaboration, said Mike Lansing, the executive director of the Harbor Area Boys and Girls Clubs. While $50,000 was donated, it raised the studio’s value to nearly $400,000 making it a top-notch facility.

“We were chosen as the launch site,” he said, “due to the fact our existing studio was so much more advanced than the other three and our College Bound program was already proven and aligns to the goal of combining academic success support with the studio/mentoring program.”

Wahlberg came to the ribbon cutting ceremony and openly shared his criminal days as a hard-scrabble street kid from Massachusetts where he was a Boys and Girl Club member. The police knew him well, having arrested him for assault, for which he served time in prison.

Today, it seems Wahlberg -- known for roles in “The Fighter,” “The Perfect Storm,” “Invincible” and earlier as Markee Mark in the rap group The Funky Bunch -- has spent much of his life helping young people find their way out of trouble.

Kids, he said, need the chance to create – a chance he never had when he was young -- to keep them off the streets and explore their creative souls with music, acting, animation.

Watching him in celebrity TV interviews, it’s difficult to imagine he is such a refreshing, grounded and humble man. But within a few short minutes at the Boys and Girls Club, it was clear he had captured the teens’ hearts with his genuine honesty.

“I was so happy to see him,” said 17-year-old Bradley Washington. “I had no idea he was a Boys and Girls Club member. And he never forgot where he came from. I hope to be as great as him.”

Wearing a white Boston Celtics T-shirt graced with a green shamrock and a pair of emerald sneakers (“I dressed for the occasion,” he joked), he shook more than a dozen teens’ hands, looking them directly in the eye and talking quietly as though each was an old buddy.

Many youths said they learned unforgettable lessons.

“The thing that stood out to me is it doesn’t matter where you came from,” said Angelica Arreola, a 16-year-old who attends the Wilmington Boys and Girls Club. “It’s your determination that will make you. He shook hands with the teens. It was like we were somebody. He understands that we’re the future.”

Arturo Korafi, 16, added:  “I learned that anything you want to accomplish in life you can always go after. And that I will give back whatever I have. If I don’t have money, I will volunteer to work with teens.”

Taco Bell Foundation for Teens has worked with Harbor Area Boys and Girls clubs for years, giving college scholarships for essays and hosting contests for club members to come up with a creative meal. The winners get to see their meal on Taco Bell menus for one month, not to mention a $1,000 scholarship. More than $4 million in grants will be distributed nationally to Boys and Girls Clubs and other teen organizations in 2011, according to Taco Bell.

The foundation’s driving goal is to reduce the high school dropout rate and encourage more youths to attend college. The foundation dishes out disturbing statistics such as 1.3 million students drop out of school every year and  are “lost to the graduation pipeline.”

Bob Fulmer, executive director of the Taco Bell foundation, said there’s a lot of work to do, which is why partnering with Wahlberg was the right thing to do.

Fulmer noted that the kids at the Boys and Girls Club of San Pedro have a 98 percent high school graduation rate and 90 percent go to college (with help from its College Bound program). “We love teens,” he added. That’s why the foundation wanted to partner with Wahlberg to strengthen what it can do.

In turn, Wahlberg, a  father of four who is devoted to his Catholic faith, said he “couldn’t sleep at night” if he didn’t return to the community to help–especially the children who face so many hardships today.

In Massachusetts, he said, people admired the tough guys, the “knuckleheads” with sports cars hipped to beautiful girls. Because of that, he at first ignored his mentors,  such as his priest and Boys and Girls Club employee Mike Joyce, who still works there. Wahlburg still visits Joyce and remains appreciative of his help.

Prior to his turnaround, the actor said he was attracted to crime. He believes his incarceration is a large part of what saved him. As the youngest of nine children, Wahlberg said he had to “scrap and kick” for his share of the pie.

His turn with rap music helped, but when he tried acting he knew he’d found his niche. He believes young people need to explore their creativity to its fullest, adding not everyone is going to be a football player.

While Wahlberg turned to creative outlets for youth, Tony Tripp, the San Pedro club’s music director, said the Boys and Girls Club knew they had to do something to better the facility.

“We really wanted to take it to the next level, but we didn’t know how,” Tripp said, adding that music was how he kept himself directed as a youth.  “We wanted to engage the kids more in film, music and animation.”

Then, he added, Wahlberg and Taco Bell came along, giving them the chance to expand and enhance the studio and its equipment. The club added a digital animation room, a new audio room and a sound booth.

But Wednesday wasn’t all about Wahlberg.

In a stroke of luck for the kids, a former Lakers basketball star, John Salley, who also played with the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls before retiring in 2000, showed up at the club to meet up with Wahlberg, a long-time friend.

Since his retirement, the 6-11 Salley has acted and done several shows on TV, including his own reality show. Wahlberg invited him to come to the new studio so they could record an interview and push Salley’s latest show, “Game On! with John Salley,” on Reelz Channel every Sunday.

“It was an opportunity to get together with him,” Salley explained, who added he grew up on troubled streets in Brooklyn.  “I love Mark and I think everything he does is great.”

Like Wahlberg, he spent time Wednesday signing autographs and having photos taken with club members offering them “positive energy,” he said.

Yvonne Bogdanovich, the local Boys and Girls Club “chief volunteer officer” who has served on the Harbor Area’s executive board for 17 years, summed up Wahlberg’s visit.

“Sincerity,” she said. “He was down to earth. He didn’t talk above the kids. He didn’t talk below them. He talked to them.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tennesee Basketball Coach Pat Summitt talking to her players.
The Diagnosis of Early Onset Dementia for Longtime Basketball Coach Pat Summitt Left Me Reeling for Reasons That May Surprise Some;  It Has Nothing to Do With Sports 

By Diana L. Chapman
 The day I heard the announcement about widely-respected basketball coach  Pat Summitt’s battle with early-onset dementia, a rush of emotions from --crushing heartbreak, painful memories, refreshing respect --swept over me.

Although I never heard of Pat Summitt (which in the world of sports is like not knowing Elvis Presley or Princess Di) her statement and obvious determination to remain as the women's basketball coach “as long as the good lord is willing” for the University of Tennessee reminded me of one of my saddest moments.

The minute the news broke,  Summitt, 59, – who has coached for 37 years and won more seasons than any other basketball coach – I was riveted.

She might not realize it, I thought, but she had just placed a kind hand on the shoulders of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people coping with the disease and provided them guidance in ways she'll never know.

“Throughout my career, I have always made it a point that my life and basketball team are an open book,” Summitt said during a video posted on the university’s website.

That’s why she decided to share her story. She opened this chapter when she revealed her visit to the Mayo Clinic after forgetting scheduled appointments, specific basketball plays and grew more confused. Things she should know like the back of her hand were slipping away.

The bold honesty and genuine emotions she shared thrilled and saddened me because of a similar announcement that came nearly 20 years ago from another national icon: Annette Funicello, a Disney mousketeer at age of 12 who became a singer and actress and starred in a slew of famous beach movies with her side-kick Frankie Avalon.

For years, however, she kept a terrible secret: She was experiencing repeated spells of physical collapse, dealt with the depths of exhaustion, coped with dizzy spills and  myriad of other debilitating symptoms.

 When she reunited with Avalon in later years to do more beach movies, she fell frequently on the set. Avalon always helped her up, but entertainment reporters caught the action and told her if she didn’t reveal what was going on, they would do it for her. Funicello would have to come out with her story or they would publish what they believed – that she was a drunk.

In 1992, she admitted publicly that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This revelation came just two months after I learned the mysterious and sneaky-disease was attacking me. Every day, I felt more and more like I was walking through a wall of water while trying to keep pace with my friends and colleagues.

 I was exhausted down to  my core; For years I  blamed myself for being lazy – until I learned that fatigue was one of the most debilitating symptoms of MS.

 At the time, I was a reporter at the Daily Breeze, a local newspaper in Torrance, when many nebulous symptoms’ began showing up. Some I had since I was child.  But  never had so many swooped in at once. It was scary.

 My hands and legs began to tingle for weeks at a time. I became confused, tripped and fell, drove my editors crazy when I put in wrong dates and times on photo assignments and in stories. By 2 p.m. every working day, I became so exhausted I wanted to collapse into bed.

I was only 32 years old, but like Summit, I couldn’t remember simple things and lost my train of thought consistently. Once a friend told me that she and her boyfriend of eight years had broken up. The next day she called and I couldn’t remember it.

Another morning, I came out of my house and saw spatters of brilliant red blood everywhere, up and down my driveway. It took me more than an hour to decipher what I was really seeing –  brown drops of car oil.

Before I was diagnosed, my doctor told me I needed a psychiatrist.

No one took my condition seriously until one 90 degree day. I was at a local City Hall talking to the city manager’s secretary when my eye begin twitching and fluttering repeatedly. All of a sudden I felt a piercing snap. It was painful, but quickly went away. By 6 p.m. when I was driving home I couldn’t see out of my right eye. Instead, there was a white, blurry fog.

Multiple sclerosis wreaks havoc with the central nervous system. It messes up emotions and can serve up anything from paralysis in the limbs, total blindness, slurred speech, loss of balance, dizzy spells, memory loss or all the above.

My parents, from the old school, begged me to hide it. They were worried how others would react, how my employers would behave, whether I would lose friends. But from a young age, I had always been an open book and hiding this made me feel like I had to hide from myself.

Now I was in two battles: How to cope with such an illness I couldn’t begin to fathom and whether I should hide it

My answer came when Funicello made her announcement. It was as though a door flew open.

 The actress unknowingly guided me to how I was going to handle a sad and tragic illness that robs people of normal life often starting in their 30s.  It robs them of time with the family, a social life, of living life to the fullest. And all that is tough to do when  you have to go to be in the middle of the afternoon.  Working first on my repeated forgetfulness, I consulted with an occupational therapist.

“Write everything in a date book,” she told me.But then I would forget to look at the date book.
Living like I was attached to an erratic pendulum, I finally understood from Funicello that it was better to share my story than hide it, because people would see what was happening  and make all sorts of things up. An animal trainer I met once had multiple sclerosis. He didn’t tell anyone. His frequent falls and his  paralyzed face forced  others to draw their own conclusions.

His co-workers decided he was a cocaine addict.

Another time I was talking to a couple who had a close relative working on the docks who was diagnosed with M.S. He should quit, they said, because he was so lazy. I screeched my chair back and made this proclamation: “He is not lazy. He has MS!”

After Annette, the door opened and I stepped out slowly.  I found good friends tried to understand the best they could. The friends I did lose weren’t true friends anyway.  The hardest thing for anyone to understand is that I became exhausted even making  calls and I forgot to return many of them. In the meantime,  my immune system fired into "failure mode."

  I had repeated bouts of sinus infections, bronchitis and pneumonia. A sample of severe memory loss and connection was when I parked at the beach and failed to put money in the meter. That was the first day. The next day I went to the same parking lot and forgot again. The third time in a row that I did it, I knew the city was racking up some great fees from my inability to remind myself to put, for god sakes, money in the meter!

 Watching Annette made it much easier for me to understand hiding the illness was not the answer – at least for me. It guided me through a desperate and treacherous time in my life. I was afraid, because no one can will tell you what will happen next and it’s hard to train yourself at age 32 that perhaps you can no longer run around at night, have such a big social life and need to go to bed at 9, or sooner, just to make it through the next day.

Since those early days, I’ve thanked  Funicello frequently for saving me. She made me understand many others were going through the same ordeals, including movie stars, and showed me that hiding it is not the answer for everyone.

Annette gave me a path; Summitt is likely to do so too among the folks who fight early onset dementia.

As I sit hear writing this, I can’t help but admire Summitt’s personal courage to face this head on. Perhaps she understands that she’s unlocking many doors to help others with her frankness. I salute her and Annette, and of course Actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, for coming out publicly and bringing brilliant lights on their diseases.

 For all of them, I pray they can continue in this work “as long as the good lord is willing.”

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Travis Collier, who left Dodson Middle School in July.
Terry Ball departed in July as well from Dana Middle School.  

Dodson and Dana Middle School Principals Both Depart Their Campuses at the Same Time in July for Top Promotions; New Principals Are Expected To Be Hired Next Week

By Diana L. Chapman

In a rare and odd coincidence, two principals, who both started in 2005 at Dodson and Dana local middle schools that serve San Pedro as well as parts of the Harbor Area, vacated their posts in July for promotions in Los Angeles Unified.

Their new posts are eerily similar.

Michael Romero, who heads Los Angeles Schools District 8, said he promptly promoted Dana Middle School’s Terry Ball, 52,  and Dodson Middle School’s Travis Collier, 40,  for a variety of reasons, including their strong increases in their school’s test scores and their strengths in working closely with students and their communities.

They will both supervise  a mixture of high and middle schools.

“It’s just a coincidence,” said Romero, who heads all Los Angeles Unified Schools in San Pedro, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Lomita, Wilmington, Carson, Gardena and stretching north to include much of South Los Angeles.  “We were looking for strong instructional leadership. They’ve ensured safe and civil campuses. There was strong growth all over District 8. Beyond being strong instructional leaders, there were many other dimensions in leadership that I took into account before making the final decision.”

“They did great work reaching out to families and kids. They offered clean, safe and nurturing environments. I’m most pleased that we were able to hire instructional leaders that embrace their role as instructional leaders who have great interpretive skills, a wonderful work ethic and passion in ensuring quality education.”

They competed with about  eight other applicants for the newly devised jobs; Both administrators salaries went from roughly around $113,000 a year to $116,000, they said.

In a great shift from earlier LAUSD philosophy, Romero has broken from the traditional supervisory roles where one district administrator oversees  instruction solely of high schools and another is in charge of middle schools.  

These are the "secondary directors" posts that Collier and Ball will be filling. Now retired Shannon Lee supervised the high schools in District 8 and Walter Flores managed the middle schools. Flores too was promoted.

Instead , Romero opted to encourage a study and promotion of  “a family of schools” where each former principal will tend to a blend of high schools and their middle school feeders to incorporate more collaboration efforts and a better  understanding between the upper level and middle schools.

Currently, many high and middle schools fail to collaborate in any fashion.

“It's just common sense,” Romero said.

In the new structure, Ball will direct San Pedro and Narbonne High Schools, along with their continuation high schools, Angel’s Gate and Patton High. In the restructure twist, Ball will also watch over three middle schools, Dana, Fleming and Dodson.

Collier will administer to Gardena and South Los Angele’s Washington Preparatory high schools along with two continuation high schools, Moneta on the Gardena campus and Duke Ellington on the Washington campus.

In the meantime, Romero said, a group of teacher, parents and administrators are busily interviewing and narrowing down the field of potential candidates for Dodson and Dana.

Each committee for the two schools sorted through 20 applicants and will submit three names for each campus – in no order -- so Romero will make the final decision. He plans to announce his selection next week.

“I make the final choice so this weekend I will be reflecting and making the final decision,” Romero explained.
Calling the departure from Dana “bitter-sweet,” Ball said he believed his greatest achievements at the school were welcoming and encouraging parent participation, increasing the state’s standardized tests scores from 654 to 716 and most importantly – changing its pitiable reputation that haunted it for years. Dana was always considered a poor-achieving school compared to its Dodson counterpart. Many residents outside of Dodson’s residential area clamored to get in the school.

“We really improved Dana’s reputation and we increased parent involvement,” Ball said. “This year, we received parents (and their children) that we usually wouldn’t get. I think Dana’s test scores are ready to explode. It was a hard decision to leave. I feel like it’s my baby.”

In his new frontier, Ball said he was “excited” and ready to embrace the new model Romero created. For the most part, all Dana shared in the past with San Pedro High was a fence. The schools are side-by-side. Now, Ball said he will be able to help the campuses collaborate and enhance the needs of children starting out at  middle all the way through high school.

Collier said he was delighted to receive the job, but a bit nervous at the same time. When he first applied, another person received the position, but was quickly upgraded to higher post.

As soon as he settled on returning to Dodson – a school he’s proud of for several achievements – he received the call that he was selected.

“It was very bitter-sweet,” said Collier, who lives in Lomita. “I love the kids at Dodson and the community was supportive. We had done some really positive things and it was close to home. It was difficult to leave.

“But I wanted to look at the district from a different perspective.”

His biggest accomplishment at Dodson, he explained, was when he and his staff were able to achieve the 800 level in standardized test scores in 2009 and by 2010 the school leaped to 825. When he started, the school received a 738 in test scores.

“I would say my staff and I made it a really student centered campus and we really pulled it together,” he said.

One of his biggest goals, Collier said, is to reduce the 9th grade dropout rate. He’s looking forward to changing that.

“If a kid has not been successful for awhile and they can’t face that anymore then they drop out,” Collier said. “We have to change that.”

Romero also named Veronica Aragon, last the principal overseeing the construction and opening of  Rancho Dominguez Preparatory School in Long Beach and a formal middle school principal, as a third director to manage the oversight of  middle and upper grade campus.

Aragon will manage Rancho Dominguez, a 6-12 grade campus, Banning and Carson High Schools along with Carnegie, Curtis and Wilmington middle schools.

“We wanted to be bold and innovative,” Romero said, “and push ourselves outside the box.”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A mother watches her other son as best she can from outside of Peck Park Pool's facility.
Parents  Still Locked Out Of Peck Park Pool

By Diana L. Chapman

By all accounts, they are still locked out – unless they agree to swim.

Parents who come eager to watch their youngsters at Peck Park Pool in San Pedro have been banned from inside the facility.  Parents at other Los Angeles city pools --that don’t yet have this rule in place – all I can say is: Beware!

The parent-banning practice can be implemented with something as simple as a change in management. And while parents for years had been allowed in to watch their children at Peck, a management change is exactly what launched the new policy.

Immediately after my story ran on this practice earlier this month on City Watch and Theunderdogforkids blog, I received a call from head of the Los Angeles aquatics division. Trish Delgado informed me they would start allowing parents whose children are on the swim team or in swim lessons inside on the bleachers.

Other than that, she needed time –with no deadline -- to make any other changes.

“We are looking at the close of the summer,” Delgado said, explaining that the aquatics staff will be busy shutting the doors of seasonal pools. “We’ll look at it. We’ll work on it in the fall and have that in place. I can’t make it happen in a month. I just can’t be held to a timeline.”

My swimming arms were still ruffled, because I couldn’t understand why we were still eliminating parents whose children were in free swim – but accepting the parents whose kids were in lessons or on the swim team. The whole practice does not  bode well.  After working with a group to turn the pool around from its headier days, I don’t want to see it go backwards.

So on Tuesday,  I went back to check  and not a single parent was inside the facility. No one had been told that if that their child was on the swim team or in swim lessons they could sit on the bleachers inside. This didn't happen, Delgado said, because they coudn't distinguish the parents.

While this parent-banning (unless they are swimming) isn’t done at all the city pools, Delgado added, it is done at many and often is determined by the pool deck’s size. Other cities, she explained, also have this approach such as Lakewood and Carson.

That doesn’t explain why parents were once allowed all around the facility prior to its latest manager, Richard Rincon, who came to the pool two years ago, but became serious about the outside policy this year. 

 Rincon was not allowed to make a statement.

Many parents said they are still unnerved by the practice.

San Pedro High Principal Jeanette Stevens praised the swim programs, but said after she was tossed outside she felt so uncomfortable  she found herself bringing her children less and less.

Not good. This is a woman well trained in emergency services and the type of parent we want at our pools.

In the past the lack of parents at Peck allowed gang members to infiltrate the pool and take it over. Encouraging the adults to return helped eliminate the criminal element.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Rick Hamilton, a respiratory therapist with extensive training in medical emergency services. He has two bad knees and a cane. “Instead of being ten feet from my daughter, I’m  300 feet. This is about common sense and common courtesy.”

He dislikes being so far away from his daughter, Alexandria, 10. But his wife, Rovita, said she wouldn’t mind if the facility would provide shade outside. She was sweating under a baking afternoon sun.

Mother Falana Monroe, whose 10-year-old son James is taking beginning lessons, said she would love to sit inside because she strains to hear what the lifeguards are teaching her son. If she had that information, she explained, she could reinforce it when taking him during free swim.

“It would be nice if I could sit inside and be so helpful,” Monroe said. “Our goal is to get James strong enough so he can be on the swim team.”

The reasons parents aren’t allowed in are numerous, Delgado said, including the ability of lifeguards to attend to emergencies on the pool deck, concerns that parents will track in bacteria with their clothes and street shoes and the fact the Peck Pool had a change in management. In addition, some parents interfere with swim lessons and at other pools – have apparently said they were going to sit and watch their children avoiding the $2.25 fee – and then went inside and got into the pool.

When I returned Tuesday, only a  handful of parents were there.

What aquatics officials have done so far is planted more benches in the grassy area. However, the gate to the pool from the grassy area remained locked and parents had to go around the facility to get inside.

 Father Rick Hamilton, said he found some of reasoning flimsy at best. He understands bacteria issues having worked in emergency rooms and hospitals. When parents are involved when he's working, he said,  he finds it frustrating when they are  interfere  and cry – but they have right to be there. Taking them out of the equation isn’t right.

I guess that’s exactly how I feel.

More than a decade ago, the parents left the equation at the pool when they weren’t welcome. They dropped their kids off in the morning and picked them up at 6. What happened then wasn’t a pretty picture. The lifeguards became babysitters, mentors and parents and an ugly element took over.

Bringing parents back changed the flavor of the pool for the better. Parents bonded with other parents, building a sense of community around a pool that once never existed. To avoid destroying this, I’d like to make some suggestions to the city having been part of the early movement to makeover the facility.

  •   Don’t ban the parents from the pool. Instead, tell them they can sit on the back bleachers but can’t roam the pool the deck. Also, open up the square patch of grass in the back – by removing the giant fence so parents don’t feel like they are locked in a cage. Then give parents the choice of the grass area or the bleachers where their children can come visit them.
  •   For those trying to cheat the swim fee charge – which always is a miniscule amount of people and everyone gets punished --  either stamp the hand of those who’ve paid or provide them with a bracelet that can be cutaway later.

  • Have a meeting with the parents and explain the actions. Ask parents for their input on ways to make this work. After all, many parents are sore because they feel shunned and punished. They would be thrilled to be asked for suggestions.

In the meantime, Fermina Gutierrez, whose sons Guadalupe, 10, and Demetrio, 18, both swim at Peck, said she’s not as bothered as other parents, but added she would like the choice of coming inside.

“It’s OK,” she said. “But sometimes I’d like to see them closer.”

Brand new to the scene is Josephine Lemus, who brought her 7-year-old daughter Dayanarah Villegas.  She was surprised that she couldn’t sit inside, but unlike other parents she hadn’t had the chance to enjoy that in the past.

“I just thought it was odd,” Lemus said. “It’s not good. I’d definitely like to be inside.”