Friday, February 22, 2013

Boys and Girls College Bound Member Wins Acceptances to Law School

Emmanuel Catalan celebrates his victory to go to law school despite the odds.
A Feather in the Cap of the Boys and Girls Club College Bound; Student Who Once Called Himself "Worthless" Now Gaining Acceptances And Full Rides from Several Law Schools 
     By Diana L. Chapman

   I felt like screaming with joy when the email came through.
   Emmanuel Catalan, 23, -- once a lost, "wandering" kid who believed he had no value -- reported to family and friends via face book last week that he has been accepted to four  law schools, two of which offered him a full ride. He is waiting to hear back from four more.
   "It was the most amazing feeling in the world knowing where I started and how far I came to coming one step closer to reach my dreams," he told me recently about the acceptances. "Much of it I owe to the Boys and Girls Club for helping me reach my potential and expanding my moral imagination about what is  possible in life.
   "I keep on climbing."
     For Mike Lansing, the Los Angeles Harbor Area Boys and Girls Club executive director, the news was more than sweet. He's been challenged over the past five years to keep the College Bound program alive and running since he created it in 2002-2003 school year as a way to break his members away from the cycle of crime, gangs and poverty. Despite the souring economy and smaller donations, the program's staff  still sent 1,000 participants to college over the past four years -- including Emmanuel whose life changed radically.
   Within the College Bound program, he quickly surprised and impressed staff when his once failing grades flipped into As. They helped him plan his future in law. But when he hit another ugly jarring in his family life, fears rose that he would become lost again.
   Instead, he showed us his muster.
   "I am just so proud of Emmanuel for his hard work and sacrifice to get to where he is today," Lansing said adding that there's so many more Emmanuels. "I am also very proud of our staff and College Bound program for placing him on the right path to the success he is experiencing today.
   "He just needed our program to free him from the self doubts and provide him with the resources to tap his great potential."
   George Mayer, who mentored Emmanuel said he couldn't be more proud.
   "We at the Boys and Girls Club saw his potential before he did," said Mayer, a long time club volunteer who mentored Emmanuel. "What a story I have to tell about my first mentee and his journey when he left of the club. I am proud of the paths he chose."
   So far, Emmanuel, close to graduating from University of South Florida with a major in political science and a minor in international relations, immediately embarked on applying to eight law schools. He has been accepted so far to four: University of Miami Law School, Hofstra University of Law in New York,  Florida Coastal School of Law and New England School of Law in Boston.
   The last two universities both offered him full rides. Hofstra offered him a partial scholarship of $25,000 a year.
   But the truth is it's nearly a miracle that Emmanuel made it to university at all -- much less that he will soon enter law school.  When I met him the first time in a volunteer writing workshop at the Boys and Girls Club, he stood up and told the class he was "worthless," had a 1.8 GPA and had moved every two years in his life.
   I argued no one was worthless, but he disagreed. I was about to let it go, when a 16-year-old student, Anabel Jiminez (now 22 and getting ready for law school), offered this up: Hadn't Emmanuel just been named sergeant in the junior ROTC? she asked.
   That was the day at the Boys and Girls Club that a boy who was repeatedly belittled and hammered by his stepfather transformed. He didn't realize that being awarded a sergeant title showed responsibility and leadership skills or actually understand he had great writing talent.
   "The Boys and Girls Club gave me hope that there was something better than what I had in my present life," he said. "That there was something that I could achieve that no one in my family could ever achieve."
   On the other end, Yesenia Aguilar, the College Bound Director at the time, was working to encourage him about all the things he could do with his life. Why not? She had done it herself, determined to get away from the gang links in her family using college. If she did it, so could he.
   Aguilar returned to run the College Bound program after Lansing had a disastrous first year using a professional who failed to understand his youths. Aguilar defined the program and understood the kids, especially Emmanuel.
   She assigned him a mentor, got him into a writing program and helped him recover credits from his failed ninth grade year. When his family moved to San Pedro, his grades improved  but remained average in his sophomore year. With the club's grounding, however, Emmanuel turned his life around reaching a 4.2 GPA in his junior year. The remarkable changes, he said, came from the club's staff and his peers who supported him, believed in him and had faith in his career choice in law.
    "We had the opportunity to surround Emmanuel with adults who truly believed in him and kept that expectation of him. He had that dream of becoming a lawyer from day 1," Aguilar explained. "We got him into College Bound, gave him a plan, supported him via tutoring , workshops and mentoring."
   She also mentioned that his peers, such as Anabel, made him feel wanted and welcomed.
   But another ugly blip would arise with Emmanuel that scared us all. His stepfather, with the military, said the family, including his two half brothers, were  moving back to Florida. It was the summer right before Emmanuel was suppose to step into his senior year and finish out at San Pedro High.
   We panicked that his now found confidence might come crashing down if he was yanked away from the club's support system.
   Aguilar worried so much that "we would lose him," she went to Lansing and lobbied him to help Emmanuel stay to finish off his senior year. Lansing offered Emmanuel a room, but the stepfather refused the offer.
   Instead, he packed the family off to Tampa, Florida. Within the month, he abandoned the family, including his own son. Emmanuel helped his mother care for his brothers while attending university and was struggling in his first year with grades, but didn't want to lose his mission. He improved them.
   Whatever the club did, it provided him a foundation that stuck. Emmanuel kept in touch with the club members via social media and did internships at the Sindhi American Political Action Committee, The Torture Abolition Survivor Support Coalitions and the Empowering Center for Career Development.
   "Nothing has stopped him," Aguilar said. "His diligence and hard work toward his goals and his value in education. He kept the belief that anything is possible through hard work."

An addendum: Emmanuel continues to explore his writing penning out poetry to this day.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Little Dog Lost


Small Loving Mystery Dog Wandering  in Wilmington Crosses Major Boulevard and Finds Me

By Diana L. Chapman

   Driving to Wilmington recently on a cold morning, I got off the Anaheim Avenue exit from the 110 Freeway and my eyes immediately fell on a tiny terrier, smaller than some cats, trotting along the street.
   The munchkin couldn't of weighed more than ten pounds and kept looking back at a man walking another dog on its leash.
   I had two minutes to get to Gulf Street Elementary for a writer's workshop so I concluded (to make myself feel better) that the little beast belonged to the man. After all, she kept looking back at him -- lovingly.
   I dismissed it from my brain's archives. But life plays tricks on us in mysterious ways and nothing is ever what it seems. As soon as I abandoned any thoughts of rescuing the little gal some shifting in the universe must have taken place.
   After a great workshop, I walked out the school doors and was astounded to find her sitting there. She would have crossed Wilmington Boulevard, an artery often clogged with semi-trucks and piles of traffic around the hustling Los Angeles port. She too must have wandered through other busy residential areas hemmed in with apartments and homes.
   I was surprised she had made it here to this school in one piece at all and was also bemused by the coincidence.
   "Oh, sweetie, what are you doing here?" I said. She immediately wiggled over, this wiry haired looking terrier, rolled on her back and waited for me to pet her tummy.    That wasn't something I couldn't resist.
   The moment I saw her at the school, I decided she was coming home with me for safety reasons alone while knowing my family of two dogs, one son, and one husband were going to be furious.
    But I had no choice. To  leave a small dog that was basically acting like a baby and trusting everyone and anybody wouldn't live long on the streets -- just from sheer volumes of traffic alone. As we left, I watched her whimper out the window looking for something or someone. She cried and cried.
   Before I could mix her with my dogs, I raced her to the vet who -- and I agreed -- assessed that she was well cared for. She had no fleas, seemed well groomed as much a wiry haired dog can be -- and was so loving and affectionate that it seemed virtually impossible that she hadn't had a loving owner. She also had a microchip, but it had not been registered. Dead end there.
 While many stray dogs roam Wilmington streets, this wasn't  the norm. The vet gave her a clean bill of health and I headed home to my two-pack dogs who always act silly when anyone arrives barking and leaping up like a frenzied lightning storm. They were doing their usual craziness as I walked in, but then realized something was in my arms.    
   They stopped. Looked. And then began to gruffly bark and surround us with even more over-the-top enthusiasm.
   She was terrorized. To her, my dogs, while not that big, must have seemed like giants. Boo and Baxter, while a bit peeved, seemed to realize we had a guest for awhile and let her settle in.
   The next round was with my human family, my husband and son, both of whom already told me on the phone they were angry that I thrust another animal in our lives of an already crowded house. That was before they met her. Their sentiments were about to change.
   The first test was Ryan, the 19-year-old son. He walked in the door, took one look, at the quivering canine, scooped her up and instantly adored her.
   Later, when my husband walked in, I braced for more anger. Instead, the little one raced to the door to greet him with a wagging tail.  Once he spotted her, I could see his face melt with kindness. He agreed she couldn't have stayed on the mean streets of sprawling Los Angeles. Last April, police found two beheaded dogs, a chocolate Labrador and German Shepherd, in a trash can in South Los Angeles, a disturbing and gruesome cruelty one top official called "despicable."
   I was so outraged over that act and did a story to alert readers. A $20,000 reward was offered to snatch the culprits.  How could I possibly leave this loving baby to wander into who knows what?
   Now -- currently serving as her foster family, we have given our little one, who likes to sit quietly in my lap for as long as possible, the following names: Lulu, Adele, Little Girl, Pumpkin Baby Girl and No Name.  We will be on a search for those who loved her and possibly lost her. A teacher from the elementary school has promised to look at lost dog signs. I will too.
   Because it's not possible that in our crazy world which so often treats animals as disposable garbage that someone didn't love this mysterious little girl.
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   I can be reached at

Monday, February 04, 2013

Six Faces of Cancer

Larry Bonney, 4, Captain Marvel
Devin Hamilton, 9
Crestwood Avenue Elementary

Camille  Ferrante, 51, Lorraine's aunt

Elizabeth Carter, 74, Lorraine's mother
Ryan Rossi, musician 27
Mark Vasquez, 36, Manhattan Beach Police Officer

 The Six Faces of Cancer: A Longshore Woman's Loss of Mom and Aunt to Aggressive Blood Cancers Drives Her To Put on A Concert At Warner Grand To Raise A Pretty Penny For Research

By Diana L. Chapman

First her aunt went, dying in 1996 of an aggressive leukemia within two years of  the diagnosis at age 51. Her niece, Lorraine Shea, didn't know much about cancer then and felt helpless.

Then Lorraine's mom went in 2010, dying within four months from a different form of the savage disease at age 74. Now Lorraine knows more about blood cancers than she ever wanted to know and can tick off stats such as "every ten minutes someone dies of blood  cancer."

After the loss of her mother, Shea, 49, found herself traveling across the Vincent Thomas bridge from her longshoring job, feeling routinely angry, devastated and robbed. Every day, at 5 p.m. she had called her mom, Elizabeth Carter, while driving over the bridge -- a pleasure that she no longer had.

"I hate cancer more than anything else," Shea said, sometimes tears filling her eyes. "I want to help other people beat cancer. This is my passion. It gives me purpose."

Lorraine Shea completes a run to help raise money for cancer research
And that is why Lorraine, 49, a Harbor City resident, has launched an aggressive campaign to raise $150,000 for blood cancer research  and is planning a giant jazz concert at the Warner Grand in San Pedro on February 9. It's an unprecedented goal for a single volunteer to raise that much for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Lorraine also picked six faces of cancer to honor-- all of different ages -- to show the public how the disease can strike at anyone at any time and leaves a train wreck behind for families overwhelmed by their losses.

Her purpose was the whole point of ....

--the marathons
--the bowling tournaments
--the bake sales

Despite that she's been nominated as "Woman of Year," for the society, it's not the title she's after; it's the money needed to investigate ways to prevent the prolific serial killer.

In her more recent events, Lorraine already raised $20,000 toward her goal with the help of friends she met in Team and Training, one arm of the society's fundraising efforts. The society provides coaches to train volunteers how to run scheduled marathons as a way to produce research funding. That's where Lorraine's dedication to the agency began.

It started out small at first. Her first goal was to raise $5,000 by completing the Disneyland half-marathon in 2011.  It was a challenge. But she did it.

"I had never run a marathon or anything like that," Lorraine said, adding when she crossed the finish line "it was an amazing feeling. Every emotion came rushing in all at once. I felt sad because it was all over but happy because it was over. I don't think I'll ever have that feeling again."

Lorraine, however, wasn't satisfied with her first fundraiser; the goal amount was too small and now she knew more and more people afflicted with the often deadly illness. Anyone who wants to talk to her about cancer can easily gain her ear and her heart. She's more than interested now and says she has leaned on a team of about 15 women -- who became friends with her when running the marathons  --  stacking up their efforts to support her mission called Unite to Fight Blood Cancers. She calls "my girls" "Team Forzo" Italian for strength.

After she completed that half marathon, she became a volunteer mentor working with other runners to compete in more Team in Training marathons. Lorraine now loves to run.  Her cheer leading efforts caught the eye of Whitney Vanpelt, a campaign manager for the society who nominated Lorraine for the society's Woman of the Year. Whitney has no doubts that Lorraine will actually raise that much money.

"She was on my (running) team and she got everyone so motivated," Whitney said. "She gets to know everyone on the team. She's fun. She's hilarious. She's organized. She doesn't give up. She just goes and goes and goes. She's been working really hard to make a difference.

" She's like a thoroughbred. I think she can do it."

The upcoming concert will honor six people who have died from blood cancer.

They include: Larry Bonney, a four year old who loved Captain America; Devin Hamilton, 10, a student at Crestwood Avenue Elementary; Ryan Rossi, 27, a musician; Mark Vasquez, 36, a Manhattan police officer; her aunt, Camille Ferrante, an avid golfer and production assistant for Mattel, Inc. and her mother, Elizabeth Carter, a longtime volunteer at Torrance Memorial Hospital.

 "It's people who have touched my  heart either directly or indirectly," Lorraine explained. "It's a diverse group. I think about how we are going to end our time here. It's just mind boggling. The fact that I have a purpose to help people I've never met makes me feel good."

Those whose loved ones will be noted at the concert said they appreciate and respect Lorraine's efforts.

Jenny Bonney, who lost her little guy at the age of three, two days before his fourth birthday,  described an enthusiastic boy who loved Captain America, but began having terrible stomach aches. He was routinely misdiagnosed with anything from rheumatoid arthritis to meningitis before the family learned he had leukemia and the doctors told them "there's no next step" to save him.

Before he died, Larry told his mother he felt better and that "Jesus kissed my feet last night."

Jenny said it's a beautiful gesture that Larry is included in the concert who also was "a mascot" for one of Lorraine's bowling events. "Sometimes, we're just still in shock."

Devon Hamilton's grandmother, Mary Martinez, lauded Shea's decision saying losing Devon at the age of nine broke the hearts of everyone that knew her.

"This concert humanizes our loved ones once again," the grandmother said. "Family members will be there supporting the cause to find a cure. For many of us, it's already too late. But this is to someday find the cure and save the lives of our future doctors, dancers, mothers, friends."

No family touched with blood cancer is unscathed.

Lorraine describes tortuous days as the end neared for her mother, diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a rare form of the cancer. She blesses the fact that before illness she took her mother to New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Orlando, Mexico and Italy. In Vegas, her mother always happily won at Blazing Sevens slot machines, she said.

But on their return trip from New York, Lorraine and her brother, Alfred Davino,  noticed their mother had slowed down and deep colored bruises, some the size of grapefruits, began appearing on her body. She was no longer interested in food. Then she had dental work done and the dentist couldn't staunch the blood flow.

Doctors at Torrance Memorial -- who knew Elizabeth well as a volunteer - found her white blood count "twenty times" greater than it should be. Before the diagnosis, Elizabeth had told her kids that she dreaded wheeling patients to chemotherapy ward and that she never wanted to be rolled through that door. Now, she was facing the of fight of her life there, one that would go on for about four months. Chemotherapy. Remission. Chemotherapy.

Instead of thinking about herself when she was hospitalized, Elizabeth puttered to
get the doctors and staff their meals, snacks, make them coffee or run other helpful errands, Lorraine said.

On Thanksgiving 2010, her mother relapsed and died on Dec. 1. Lorraine said she felt empty, cold and wondered if she had been a good enough daughter. "It was hell for me," she said.

Many oncologists and nurses showed up for Elizabeth's funeral. "They loved her," Lorraine said.

But all Lorraine had left afterward was a gaping emotional hole -- one that her purpose has since begun to fill with light and happiness --  and money to defeat one of the world's biggest killers.

Now Lorraine can grin and say if her mother were here, Elizabeth would once again be calling her "an octopus" for all her involvement and good deeds she had shed on the world.

The Unite to Fight Blood Cancers Concert will be held at 5 p.m. February 9th showcasing bands like One World, Azure and One Ten South. A silent auction will also be held. General admission is $20 a ticket; VIP seating $30. Tickets sold at the door will cost $25. Tickets can be bought at The Warner Grand is located at 478 6th Street, San Pedro. For more information, call (657) 210-cure or visit