Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Janet Wolf

Janet Wolf, courtesy photo

Janet Wolf, courtesy photo

Issues like the environment, housing, transportation and social services usually top the agendas of county government, but women’s health is also high on the list of concerns for Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who celebrates her first year in office in January.

Leslie Dinaberg: I know health is a big concern of yours since you had a heart attack (in December of 2004). How do you manage to stay healthy with such a busy job?

Janet Wolf: I try to continue my daily exercise routine and eat healthy foods. I started a “walk and talk” program, so instead of meeting some people for lunch they would come and we would do a walk and talk downtown. I didn’t want to get into the habit of eating out all the time, so I kicked off this idea at the American Heart Association Wear Red Day last year.

LD: That’s a great idea.

JW: We’re going to do it again in February for the Heart Association.

LD: So you’ve become a heart health advocate partially in response to your own experiences.

JW: Yes. I went through a physical rehabilitation program and changed my diet. I went to a five-day program offered through the Mayo Clinic called Woman-Heart. Women who’ve experienced heart disease, not necessarily heart attacks but a whole myriad, were trained to become spokespersons for women and heart disease.

…I made a commitment that I was going to speak about it and talk about my experiences. They wanted women who did not have a medical background, so they could easily relate to other women about their experiences.

When I returned from the program I was incredibly motivated to get the word out because, as I’m sure you know, heart attacks are the number one killer of women.

… Lois Capps was the co-sponsor of a bill–Heart Disease Education, Research and Analysis, and Treatment (HEART) for Women Act–I was honored to be asked to go to Washington and testify for this bill. In a lot of ways it’s been a way for me to just speak out about something that I’m so passionate about. Talking to women who are moms about heart disease, diet and exercise can also have positive impacts on their children.

LD: Prior to your heart attack, had you ever been told to watch anything by your doctor?

JW: No. Everything was fine. …When this all happened, it just threw us all for a loop.

LD: I can imagine.

JW: I just felt extremely lucky to, first of all, live in Santa Barbara and get really top-notch care when I was in the hospital. But I think the thing and the message to women is prevention and then to know that when you feel that something is not right, don’t wait–take the initiative to get to the doctor or get to the emergency room.

LD: What did it feel like? It doesn’t sound like the dramatic thing that you see on TV.

JW: No. My husband said that, “you didn’t clench your heart and fall over.” It happened over time. I was having what felt like indigestion … (for several days) … I called my doctor… he prescribed medicine for indigestion, so I went and got the prescription filled and it didn’t help. … In the middle of the night I woke up and the pain was incredibly intense.

… By the time I got to the hospital I was having a massive heart attack. By that time the main artery was 100% occluded.

LD: I know this is a stereotype, but do you think that women are more likely to ignore their symptoms because they’re taking care of their families?

JW: I think that is partly true. When I was at the Mayo Clinic there was a woman who said she was having angina while she was at her son’s soccer game but she didn’t want to miss the soccer game. I am grateful that most women know about getting mammograms and colonoscopies … but we need to work harder about the letting people know about the increase of heart disease among women. We must be proactive.

LD: Switching gears a little bit, what’s like to be on the Board of Supervisors?

JW: It’s very exciting; it’s very challenging and rewarding.

LD: I know you served on the Goleta School Board for 12 years, how is it different?

JW: The obvious difference is that this is a full time job and the issues are broader, but I think a lot of the same skill set transfers over … For me it’s just really important to be prepared and on top of my game. And I find the meeting’s fascinating and engaging and it’s very interesting to deal with such a variety of issues. … Trying to have a really positive impact in our community. And that’s the rewarding part. And also meeting some incredible people. I’ve been very lucky to have a great staff.

… I think … we’ve taken care of outstanding issues that the county was dealing with like uniform rules, sphere of influence, and we have some issues that are coming before us like Goleta Beach and we’re also starting the Eastern Goleta PAC that’s going to be the planning document for our community. … I’ve got a great group of colleagues too to work with. Even though we certainly …don’t agree on everything and philosophically I have a point of view they may not share, but I think there is a mutual respect.

LD: That’s always good to hear. What do you think our biggest challenges are right now as a county?

JW: Right now I think it’s aligning our budget with our priorities or our fiscal challenges with our priorities.

LD: I keep hearing at the state level the budget is going to be so bad, how does it look in the county?

JW: There have been very conservative estimates on the impact on the county budget and because of the potential there’s been certain budget principles that have been put into place that are a little troubling to me. I think we will be impacted but there are also ways on the revenue side to try and enhance that. I have requested that the board hold a budget workshop in late February or early March to review the preliminary budget so that we can have input earlier on in the process.

… It’s certainly not a rosy picture but I also don’t think it’s total a bleak picture either. … If you have to make cuts, in my opinion, you look at the whole picture and you make them timely and wisely.

Vital Stats: Janet Wolf

Born: Los Angeles, May 17, 1954

Family: Husband Harvey, three daughters, Jessica (27), Stephanie (24), and Kim (20)

Civic Involvement: Alpha Resource Center, Planned Parenthood, National Charity League, League of Women Voters, Women’s Heart Health Advocate

Professional Accomplishments: Worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for more than 20 years; served on the Goleta School Board for 12 years; current member of the County Board of Supervisors

Little-Known Fact: “I love making necklaces. It’s a new hobby. I just discovered it.”

Originally published in Noozhawk on December 31, 2007.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down with Steven Crandell

Steven Crandell courtesy photo

Steven Crandell courtesy photo

Between his calming Kiwi accent and his towering 6-foot-6-inch presence, working with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation for the abolishment of nuclear weapons seems a natural fit for Steven Crandell. There’s something soothing about spending time with this former Stanford basketball team captain, journalist, biographer and fund-raising consultant, who now devotes his days to working for peace.

Leslie Dinaberg: Tell me about the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Steven Crandell: The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has been working on the abolition of nuclear weapons for 25 years and it has a great reputation. (President and founder) David Krieger is well known; he has international relationships and reputation and yet the question that always comes back is, “What do you do?”

LD: So you’ve created this DVD about nuclear weapons to help explain. What are the main things you want to communicate?

SC: I have this story of three numbers, and if you know them you can take a big step toward awareness about nuclear issues.

How many nuclear weapons are there in the world? And the answer is 26,000. Most people don’t know that. Most people are pretty surprised that it’s that many.

The second question is how many nuclear weapons are on high alert, which means they can be fired in moments? 3,500 can be fired in moments.

OK, we’ve got two numbers: 26,000 nuclear weapons and 3,500 on high alert.

How many does it take to kill a million people? One.

And I think those numbers tell the story probably better than anything. We’ve got a weapon that’s so terrible it’s impossible to imagine it being used.

LD: Now of those 26,000, how many belong to the United States?

SC: About 10,000. Russia has a few more than we do and I think it’s around 90 percent are Russian or American.

LD: You have said previously that three-fourths of Americans are against nuclear weapons. What can we do to stop them?

SC: The first thing they can do is get informed … (We have a) new local program which is Santa Barbara Peace Community, and the basic goal of that is to train peace leaders in Santa Barbara. They’ll watch our DVD, and next year we’re adding a simple quiz so you’ll have the right answers. We’ll ask people to sign a pledge that says what we want the U.S. to take leadership for de-alerting weapons and no first use, getting back to working with other nations working toward the goal of a nonproliferation act and using the money, the billions of dollars — the U.S. alone spends $6 billion a year on nuclear weapons. Another step is e-mail five of your friends and ask them to watch the DVD, that’s something you can do right now on our Web site, which is www.wagingpeace.org. And the fifth step is you give to us. The sixth step is actually coming in here … they’ll get trained on how to present things to people and also more background information about nuclear weapons. And seventh is a very important step, especially for today’s peace leaders: They’ll come up with their own individual plan for who they want to approach.

… It’s kind of like a personal journey of development, if you like, except you are developing your knowledge about nuclear weapons and your ability to actually be involved and make a difference.

LD: I understand the work obviously is very admirable, but why did you choose this particular job?

SC: I’ve got four reasons and their names are Isaac, Luke, Josette and Nathaniel, my children. And I don’t try to, I’m far from an expert on nuclear weapons, but I don’t think you have to be. I think this is a legacy issue and by that I mean it’s an issue about what do we give to our kids, what world do we leave to them.

LD: Were you actively looking to go from being a consultant for a bunch of different organizations to working for a single organization?

SC: I think that was always a temptation. I had a great, great time as a consultant with my dad, we had our little company, the Crandell Company, the highlight was of course the book (Silver Tongue), which you’ve heard a lot about, which in itself was a fund raiser. But one of the things I felt as a consultant is that … fund raising is so strongly connected to the program, and when you get people who will give the time so that you can present the case, they want to know that you know it in and out and you believe in it. I think that makes a difference. And it’s not that I didn’t believe in the other charities I was helping, but I was helping a number of them and I was a consultant. Now there’s no question what I’m about and which team I’m on, and that makes my job easier in the end because I think that’s one of the things that I do probably better than other things, which is just speak from the heart.

LD: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

SC: I play the guitar and sing. I’ve been running with my brother, Michael, who is a marathoner. I can’t run that far but just to get away at lunch and go for a run by the beach is great. That’s the advantage of Santa Barbara. And I’ve got two little kids — 2 and 5 — who I spend a lot of time parenting when I’m not working.

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?

SC: The whole invisibility thing isn’t all that attractive to me so. … I guess I’ve gained a lot of humility through life in various different ways, and I have a real sense of my own clay feet, so I don’t mind being myself. There’s an acceptance that has come with that, an acceptance of my foibles and more glaring faults as well, not as an excuse, just that I’m going to disappoint people in some ways somehow. But that’s not really the point of life. This point is, and I actually said this. John Zant interviewed me, or Mark Patton, when I was 18 and I was going away on a basketball scholarship and the headlines said, “He just wants to enjoy life.” … This is still me. I want to enjoy my life.

Vital Stats: Steven Crandell

Born: Feb. 15, 1959 in Harrisburg, Pa. Moved to Santa Barbara in 1960

Family: Wife Kathleen, children Nathaniel, 2; Josette, 5; Luke, 14; and Isaac, 18

Civic Involvement: “I do my best to my limited capability as a father and I think that, in the end, fathers and mothers are the key to community health. We don’t all have children but we all are children, all sons and daughters, and so that relationship is the key and often colors the relationships we choose for ourselves, how we approach life. My thought is if I’m going to invest time in anything I’m going to invest time in my kids.”

Professional Accomplishments: Author of Silver Tongue, about the life of his father, Larry Crandell; producer of the national news in New Zealand for 15 years; director of development/public affairs, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Originally published in Noozhawk on December 24, 2007.

Card sharks up the ante at Christmas

courtesy pixbox77 at freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy pixbox77 at freedigitalphotos.net

It all started with Cady and Sting.

A few years back, Cady Huffman (whom some of you know from her sis-boom-bah’s as a cheerleader at San Marcos High School and some of you know from her va va vooms as Ulla on Broadway in The Producers) sent us a great Christmas card. It was a picture of her with her arms around Sting.

Yes, that Sting.

And the message was perfect: “Happy Holidays, Love Cady and Sting.”

Many laughs later we found out that she had taken the photo backstage at a concert and that Sting had no idea she was exploiting their 20-second friendship. Still it was the perfect holiday card, a simple message that reflects the sender’s personality (Cady knew she was going to be a star long before the critics ever heard of her) and brings a smile to the recipient.

Another favorite was my pal Kim Adelman and the Elvis impersonators. She had spent the previous year writing The Girls Guide to Elvis (still available at your local bookstore) and her holiday card was a virtual travelogue through her adventures in writing the book.

Another perfect card.

With two writers in the house you can imagine the pressure to come up with an annual Christmakkuh missive.

If that weren’t enough, as a Jew and a goy we have to be funny and secular too. Talk about mixed blessings, hmm … how would we illustrate Merry Mazeltov or Schlepping Through a Winter Wonderland?

See, it’s a lot of pressure.

Not that my husband and I haven’t had our moments in the holiday card hall of fame. One year, long before we were married or even thinking about children, we took a cliched family picture by the tree with our then-infant niece in my arms, and a one-year-old nephew on Zak’s knee. The card read: “Happy Holidays, Love Leslie, Zak, Mikey and Nicole.”

You should have seen all the emails we got and the belated baby congratulations from far flung friends.

Zak’s agent event got him extra money on a project because “this guy’s got two kids to support.” It’s nice when Hollywood people take the time to care.

A few years later when we actually had our own child to photograph, I thought we were home free on the holiday card thing.

Year One was an adorable naked baby wearing a Santa hat and holding a menorah.

Year Two was a sweet naked baby playing outside in the pool with some ornaments.

Year Three was a freezing naked baby writing holiday greetings in the sand.

You can only hide behind naked pictures of your child for so long before the police start knocking and you start thinking the therapy bond your friends gave at the baby shower wasn’t such a bad idea.

Thus, our quest for the perfect Christmakkuh card began again in earnest this year.

“We could all dye our hair green,” suggested my husband.

“A great idea, but the Taylor family already did it,” I reminded him.

“We could write a satire mocking all of those bragging holiday letters by telling people all of the terrible things that happened to our family this year,” he said.

“But we’ll never be able to out-bitter the one that Linda Stewart-Oaten did a few years back,” I said.

Good card ideas are hard to come by. Sometimes I think it takes a village to come up with one, which is why I’m asking for your help.

Send your best holiday cards to me at the Santa Barbara Daily Sound, 411 E. Canon Perdido, Suite 2, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine. That’s right, as a Christmakkwanza bonus, I’ll lay my own holiday cards on the table and send you whatever we come up with in the next few days.

Oy joy! And a very happy holiday to you and yours.

When she’s not spinning her wheels to top last year’s holiday card, Leslie can be found whirling around town doing some last minute shopping, or on email at email. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 21, 2007.

One on one with Kate Parker

left to right): Santa Barbara School Board members Dr. Pedro Paz, Gayle Eidelson, Kate Parker, Ed Heron, Monique Limon (courtesy photo)

left to right): Santa Barbara School Board members Dr. Pedro Paz, Gayle Eidelson, Kate Parker, Ed Heron, Monique Limon (courtesy photo)

Coming up on the tail end of what she calls one of the most “fascinating and stressful years of her life,” the newest member of the Santa Barbara School Districts Board of Education, Kate Parker, took some rare time off to share her experiences.

Leslie Dinaberg: What’s it like to be on the Santa Barbara School Board? Are you the only elementary parent?

Kate Parker: I am. It’s a lot of meetings. It’s hard because I really feel like it’s important to have parents serve on our school boards. They can offer a really unique perspective, especially in Santa Barbara (where the secondary and elementary boards are combined) … but it’s really hard when you have young kids. … I couldn’t do it if my mother (Jan Wharton) didn’t help.

But … I’ve learned so much. I feel like I’m really contributing to our community and it’s just been a fascinating year, and it’s also been the most stressful year of my life.

LD: I would imagine it’s more challenging as the parent at an elementary school because it’s a smaller community.

KP: Once you get on the board, you really quickly get the perspective of the whole district, rather than me being just an Adams parent … when I came on it was really the toughest teacher negotiations that the district had in decades, and I was the only school board member that was on a campus every day picking up kids. So I was having a lot of direct contact with teachers, who are always so kind and respectful of me, but also had lots of questions and concerns.

LD: Did you feel like you knew what you were getting yourself into?

KP: I went to most meetings for two years, so … I understood the business of the board; I understood the way the board ran. What I didn’t anticipate, I think, is how emotional these issues are to so many people and so many people come to the board when there’s a problem. … We do have celebrations … there’s so many great things going on that people will come just for that moment and celebrate, but when they come to speak to the board it’s because they have a concern. … They come in with a lot of misconceptions, and that part I didn’t anticipate. … These people are really upset and I can’t make a decision that’s going to please everybody.

I have to always keep in mind what is best for the students even though that may make everybody unhappy. And so that has been the biggest challenge for me.

LD: There’s a vast difference in the resources that the different schools can bring with parent volunteers and fundraising, especially at the elementary level. Is the board involved in that?

KP: Right now it’s a site level thing, but we certainly have been looking at it, and I think that is a discussion for the coming year.

… You’re starting to create these schools that have very different feels to them. … For me personally it’s starting to feel quite uncomfortable to see this developing and seeing situations where parents will say I’m going to choose that school because look at how much money that they raise. … I don’t like to see that kind of disparity in this community but I’m not sure what the solution is at this point. It’s time to start that discussion.

LD: It’s very challenging, and I can see as an administration not wanting to discourage the generosity of families.

KP: No you don’t want to. What I would personally like to see is more going to the district level to be sure that students throughout Santa Barbara are able to have the same educational opportunities. It is hard enough for us to see because we have these Basic Aid Districts (where school dollars are tied directly to property values) in elementary level right next to us: Cold Spring, Montecito Union and Goleta, Hope District’s about to go. The interesting thing is Santa Barbara is also about to go, we’re probably about three years away from becoming Basic Aid, and that will be nice, but we’re never going to catch up to Montecito.

LD: What do you think are the biggest challenges right now for the district?

KP: For me I’m always trying to keep an eye on what are the goals of the district. The over-arching goal is an excellent education for students. The biggest issue that I see that we’re working with right now, and I feel like we’re working with it quite positively, is our budget. It’s hard enough to be in declining enrollment, but this has been an incredibly difficult year for me to come on the board and see that our business services department has a lot of problems and the budget was not accurate. I feel like I will feel so much better in January. Right now we’re going through a fiscal review with a company called School Services of California … I’m feeling so much better that this review is going on.

LD: What do you feel like has been your biggest accomplishment on the board so far?

KP: Everything feels like it’s so in process right now. That’s one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s actually really slow to make reform happen. … Pushing for the junior high electives to be restored once we knew that there was some money back … I really wanted to make sure that there were services in place for kids this year and not have them be completely eliminated and then we attempt to restore it the next year. … I’m glad that I was able to work with the rest of the board to restore elementary music.

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?

KP: I would love to be invisible in a closed session of the City Council, see what’s really going on behind the closed doors.

Vital Stats: Kate Parker

Born: June 23, 1967, Clark Air Force Base, the Philippines

Family: Husband Ian, Adam (11), Simon (7) and Nicola (3)

Civic Involvement: Former Adams School PTA President; Current Board of Education Member, Santa Barbara School Districts

Professional Accomplishments: Assistant Librarian, Cate School

Little-Known Fact: Her father was in the Air Force and she lived in Taiwan for five years when she was in elementary school.


Originally published in Noozhawk on December 17, 2007: http://www.noozhawk.com/article/noozhawk_talks_leslie_dinaberg_sits_down_with_kate_parker/

Harmony, Hope Abound at La Casa de Maria

La Casa de la Maria, courtesy photo

La Casa de la Maria, courtesy photo

The halls were decked with boughs of holly and undeniable good cheer filled the air at La Casa de Maria’s holiday concert December 9th. Featuring Christmas carols from the Vocal Point Jazz Ensemble and a reading of the timeless holiday story, “The Gift of the Magi,” from Vicki Riskin and David Rintels, it was an afternoon in perfect harmony with the Montecito center’s peaceful surroundings.

“There is a timeless quality to this gathering and this place,” said Congresswoman Lois Capps about the 26-acre nonprofit interfaith retreat and conference center. Once thought to be holy ground by the Chumash nation, and formerly part of the San Ysidro Ranch, today La Casa de Maria offers a quiet destination for people of all faiths to escape the stress of everyday life and deepen their spirituality through individual and couples retreats in the intimate surroundings of the Immaculate Heart Center for Spiritual Renewal, or in group gatherings throughout La Casa’s campus.

“I’m always mindful, even when I’m far away, that this place is here and will always be here,” said Capps. She told the intimate gathering of La Casa supporters that the story of “The Gift of the Magi,” in which a woman sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain for Christmas and the husband sells his watch to buy his wife hair clips, is one of her favorite stories. Its theme about the true meaning of gifts serves as a reminder of “what a gift we have in this place. I call it a sacred space,” said Capps, who first became involved with La Casa de Maria when she came to town 40 years ago.

La Casa de Maria is in the process of a $7.7 million capital campaign. Director Stephanie Glatt announced that they have now raised $550,000 toward a $1 million challenge grant, which will be used to pay off the property’s mortgage.

In addition, funds raised by the “Campaign to Preserve and Renew La Casa de Maria” will also be used to renew the conference center’s buildings in an environmentally sensitive manner and preserve their historical and architectural integrity. Along with preservation of buildings, funds will also be used to preserve the ecology of the site, including the creation of a sustainable agricultural site that protects native plants and development of an organic orchard/garden to provide the produce for the dining rooms, and improvement of the overall health of the citrus orchard and native Coast Live Oak grove. Funds will also go toward providing programs and retreats that address the spiritual, cultural and ecological needs of society, as well as building a fund to make scholarships available for programs and retreats.

To find out more about La Casa de Maria, or to donate to the capital campaign, call Stephanie Glatt at 969.5031 ext. 204 or visit lacasademaria.org.

Originally published in Noozhawk on December 16, 2007.

Dear Santa

cescassawin by freedigitalphotos.net

cescassawin by freedigitalphotos.net

Dear Santa,

I’m not sure if you remember me. It’s been a while since I’ve written. Truthfully, I was giving you the silent treatment, whether you realized it or not, because in all the years I did write to you, you never, ever, ever got me what I asked for.

I always thought it was because I was Jewish and we didn’t have a tree, until someone explained to me that saints couldn’t possibly be anti-Semitic.

But I just found this box of old letters in my parents’ garage, so now I realize that it wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry, Santa. I really am.

I owe you an apology for all those nasty thoughts I’ve had about you. Like when I didn’t get the pink Barbie convertible in 1970 and I drew a Hitler moustache on your picture. Or when you didn’t bring me a pony in 1974 or that purple Camaro in 1979 and I made those little kids cry when I told them you weren’t real. I feel especially bad for all those mean things I thought about you when Captain Awesome dumped me and took Princess Not-So-Nice to the Winter Formal in 1980, when I had already bought my red taffeta dress and everything. Those ex-lax brownies I left you the next year were truly unforgivable, but I’m asking you to forgive me anyway.

See, now I realize it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t get my letters because my mom never mailed them.

I’m sure my mom meant to mail my letters, but she just got busy. You know how it is. I certainly do. That’s actually why I’m writing to you now, and to apologize, of course. See, this year I really need something I can’t find in the stores, or even on the Internet. Believe me I’ve tried. What I really need this year is a clone of myself. I’m not kidding. There’s not enough of me to go around these days.

I can’t keep up with the whole Christmas comparathon competition. It’s bad enough that I’m losing in the cooking and crafting divisions, but then there are the cards. Those daily reminder letters about how perfect everyone else’s family is make me want to scream. “Matt and Karen’s fetus just received early admission to Harvard for 2025,” and my kid can’t even remember to take his backpack out of the car and hang it on the hook in his room! And he’s trying to remember, that’s the worst part.

I’m trying too. I’m trying my very best.

I’ve tried being in four or five places at the same time, but for some incredibly frustrating reason it just isn’t working. I’m always late and half the time, once I get somewhere, I forget what I’m supposed to be doing in the first place.

I’d love to know how you manage to visit every house on Christmas Eve, Santa. If you would share that one secret with me, then maybe I wouldn’t need to ask you for a clone.

Here’s a typical day, yesterday. I needed to go to Koss’s school early, to help with a fundraiser. This meant I had to wake myself up early and get him up and dressed early, none of which bodes well for the rest of the day. Especially since the mom who was supposed to bring the coffee apparently forgot. If anyone deserves a lump of coal…!

I also had an interview scheduled that morning, a doctor’s appointment, we were out of orange juice and it was laundry day, which means my socks didn’t match. Plus, my husband couldn’t find an address he needed and I really had to pee and he was still brushing his teeth.

The rest of a day went by in a similar whirl of stories to write, calls to make, gifts to buy, and emails to answer.

Then before I knew it, it was pickup time and the phone was ringing, and I forgot I was supposed to bring dessert for a board meeting, and Koss had a play date, but he also had basketball practice, said he was starving, couldn’t find his shoes, and I forgot that I was supposed to be at a completely different meeting that afternoon.

Then, just as I finally got him settled at practice and I had a few minutes to organize myself, the person I was supposed to interview the day before finally called me back. Where did I put my notes again? I seem to have misplaced my short-term memory. I know it was around here somewhere.

Anyway, Santa, if you’re still reading, you get the picture. I could really use some help around here. I just found a huge stack of last year’s thank you notes I forgot to mail, along with a letter that Koss wrote to you. I meant to mail it, I really did. But if you get him that puppy he asked for, then we’re really going to have some issues!

What’s on your Christmas wish list? Tell Leslie at email. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.
Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 14, 2007.

One on one with Paige Shields

After being a stay-at-home mom for several years, Paige Shields was looking for a way to use her extensive computer skills to reenter the workforce in a child-friendly, flexible and sociable way. Not finding an existing job that fit the bill, in 2005 she created Whiz Kidz computer gaming and education center.

Leslie Dinaberg: When you started out, had you ever seen anything like Whiz Kidz?

Paige Shields: Not really. But there was a shoe store downtown (Global Kids), … they had these game cubes and (my then three-year-old son) Hayden would just turn on like fire when he saw those games, and he didn’t even know what they were. I got to where I would go once a week so he could play the games, but I would guiltily buy the cheapest pair of shoes I could find.

… So much of my life centered on technology that, when he was a baby, I thought I don’t even want him to see a computer until he’s 30. … I wanted him to be a surfer poet and have no computer skills whatsoever… we had a separate office, we tried to keep the door closed all the time, but he was a smart baby. And every time I left that door open he was in my chair at the keyboard.

LD: I remember you told me that he learned his ABC’s easily from playing a Spiderman game, after you spent months trying to teach him the old-fashioned way.

PS: Then I started experimenting with other games, asking him what he liked. … I would help him and he would get frustrated and I would get frustrated. … he would say “Mommy leave me alone. Just let me try.” So, I would walk away for 20-30 minutes, get distracted and I’d come back and he’s passed a level. …I was amazed at that. So that was our first big training lesson at Whiz Kidz: don’t hover over kids.

LD: When you’re learning anything that has to do with computers or technology it’s so hands-on, it’s different than passively sitting in a classroom.

PS: And that’s one reason I think that we can teach our classes to considerably younger kids, is that they don’t even have to be able to read for about 70% of our classes, not that it doesn’t help.

LD: But kids are so much more advanced, the schools keep needing to adjust the technology standards higher.

PS: I think that’s the challenge at Whiz Kidz and computer education in general. One of the reasons it’s so expensive is that it changes so fast, and you’re trying to stay up-to-date. We’re at a slight advantage probably over the schools simply because we are only doing computer education. And I can bring in any expert I think can teach the latest thing … Nine times out of 10 the people who even consider coming to do a class at Whiz Kidz are amazingly great people. … When I ask, “Why are you doing this?” They usually say, “I just think this is a great thing. This is so cool, I wish this existed when I was a kid.” We’re the anti-boredom, anti-testing center. That’s our other name.

LD: Does Whiz Kidz still have a focus on education?

PS: Yeah, absolutely. Now that we’ve expanded (taking over the Captain Video space in the Turnpike Shopping Center), even more so. … The first year was mostly about gaming and birthday parties … then after our first spring break and certainly our second summer when we sold out almost every class, which was phenomenal. …we offered enrichment programs after school for the first time and only one class didn’t fill up in our second session. And that was with almost no advertising because I couldn’t afford it because we were paying for so much new equipment.

LD: What about the film classes? Most kids I know like to make movies of doing dangerous skateboard tricks or blowing things up.

PS: Yes, we’re all over that. That’s what half of the Whiz Kidz movies are, that’s what happens. The first year the film festival came out we took some heat because there were kids playing soldier in their back yard and they had put in realistic sound effects to the water guns … but our only rule was it had to be PG-rated … Mainly our focus is … are you telling a story, are you learning how the program works, how the camera works, how the lighting works … the result is often potty humor or whatever kids do …If you want to know what’s going on in a 9-year-old’s mind, watch the film festival reel.

In the first film class … the very first question… “So what do you use for blood? Jam or ketchup? Do they teach you that in film school?” Oh man. Very first question.

LD: And that tells you a lot. What are the most popular games?

PS: Lego Star Wars is still really, really popular. World of Warcraft, every Star Wars game really, Battlefield 2, Call of Duty and Super Smash Brothers.

LD: What are some of your favorite moments at Whiz Kidz?

PS: My favorite time is when kids are all playing a game together …ten kids all playing the same game at the same time and they just are screaming, you killed me, I’m going to get you. It’s almost chase in your backyard but on computers. I just really love it when they’re so happy and having so much fun and doing something they cannot do anywhere else. It’s awesome.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

PS: Crazy, jiggly, softhearted, kind of a pushover.

LD: Don’t tell the kids that.

PS: I think they know. I think Whiz Kidz is based on those three qualities (laughs).

LD: If you could be invisible anywhere in Santa Barbara, where would you go and what would you do?

PS: I would probably jump into the ocean naked–I’ve always wanted to do that.

Vital Stats: Paige Shields

Born: Oklahoma City, January 26

Family: Husband John, son Hayden (6)

Civic Involvement: CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), Robo Challenge robotics competition

Professional Accomplishments: Worked for the Department of Defense as a political scientist and database expert in the field of nuclear non-proliferation; computer and database consultant for the private sector; founded Whiz Kidz in 2005

Little-Known Fact: “The thing that the kids are always most shocked about is that I used to work for the Department of Defense and that I have a top-secret clearance. They always go, ‘Wow, were you a spy?'”


Originally published in Noozhawk on December 10, 2007

Time to earn your keep

© Greenland | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Greenland | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I recently spent the day with Lila, a delightful two-year-old charmer who earns her own living simply by smiling and being cute. This got me thinking. If she’s only two and she’s already got a steady income, then it’s high time my eight-year-old started carrying his own weight.

If Koss got a job it would solve a lot of my problems. I keep telling my husband that driving 25 miles to Ojai for brunch doesn’t really count as a vacation. We’d be able to afford much better trips if Koss chipped in. Plus, let’s face it; unemployed kids are a pain the neck, with all the Lego’s and crushed popcorn underfoot and the dirty fingerprints on the walls. This is what jobless children do: they track mud and leaves into your house, they spill orange juice onto your keyboard, and they want play dates and snacks. Trust me, I see this kind of slovenly behavior every day.

Leeching off mom and dad is a way of life for unemployed children, and they’ve got no qualms about it whatsoever.

Enough of this freeloading, it’s time for Koss to get a job. He won’t even have to start at the bottom. Koss has already proved he’s management material. You know how schools and sports clubs try to shamelessly turn children into miniature salespeople? Well, instead of going out and doing his own wrapping paper pushing and raffle ticket racketeering, he’s conned me into doing it.

I’ve got to admit, Koss is an excellent supervisor. He’ll say, “Mom, have I sold enough wrapping paper to get the shiny spinney silly noisy flashy thingee that will break in the car on the way home from school yet?” Then he’ll give me the sweetest little smile that makes my heart melt, so I’ll call up yet another family member and con them into a few more rolls. Then he’ll add in the ultimate sales motivational tool–and give me a big fat hug.

I’m told that in the good old days, when a kid was old enough to make his parents crazy, you put ’em to work slopping hogs or tarring roofs, or knocking on doors collecting for newspapers.

But now, annoying kids are usually sent off to go throw a ball against a wall, or play computer games, which doesn’t do much to help my vacation fund, or our trade deficit with China, for that matter.

If ever there was ever a kid who could benefit from a solid day’s work in a Chinese Gap clothing factory, it’s Koss. Okay, maybe that’s too extreme. He might not make it in a Chinese sweatshop if they don’t serve Red Bulls and goldfish crackers. I’d settle for him putting in a solid day’s work at the Gap in the mall. The skills he’d learn folding all those waffle knit hoodies would sure come in helpful on laundry day.

Of course Koss’d be grumbling and complaining so much that he’d probably get fired the first hour. He’s eight, and already lagging with the work ethic. Maybe the Amish have the right idea, with their centuries-old tradition of having children tend to the fields and work in sawmills.

That’s the problem with trying to make kids work. They start out as babies. Adorable, sweet-smelling, cuddly babies to be sure, but keep in mind, babies are society’s most devious leeches. Think about it. A baby makes the tiniest little peep, and his every need is taken care of. Not only that, babies are praised–actually gushed over–for doing what comes naturally. Everyone oohs and ahs and claps their hands when they pass gas. They say, “what an angel you are” when all they do is fall asleep.

No wonder most eight year olds are so lazy, they’ve been lying around, eating, sleeping and playing since they day they were born.

But children are remarkably well suited for many careers. Why just the other day, my husband and I were out to dinner with our son, and when the server came to take our drink order, Koss spoke right up: “My dad will have a Firestone, mom will have a glass of merlot.” So you can see why we decided to promote him to vice president.

When she’s not being “managed” by her son, Leslie’s usually typing away at email. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com.
Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on December 7, 2007.

One on one with Wendy Read

Wendy Read, courtesy CEC

Wendy Read, courtesy CEC

Santa Barbara County faces huge challenges with foster children, especially as they reach their teenage years and it becomes almost impossible to find homes for them. Funded by a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation, Founder/CEO Wendy Read and her team have been working to create the Children’s Project, which will be the state’s first residential charter school, located on 60 acres of oak-studded hills north of Los Alamos.

Leslie Dinaberg: How did the Children’s Project get started?

Wendy Read: When I was 20 years old, I … was a volunteer with foster kids. I followed a young boy from the time he was six to the time he was 18, … to 27 different placements, including prison, where he spent the last six years of his life.

I was an actress at the time (appearing on TV shows such as “A Team,” “Knight Rider,” and the “North & South” miniseries)… but I realized that my real passion wasn’t acting, it was advocating for change in the foster system. That’s what drove me to go to law school. … There’s really not a day that goes by that I don’t think of that boy and … what would have made his life different. What could we do that would change the trajectory of people like him that are now following through the system.

LD: How did the idea for a boarding school come about?

WR: We received funding from the Orfaela Family Foundation which allowed us to start the steering company and we met once a month … it was all of us sitting around the table saying who are these kids, why are we sending them out of county and how do we bring them what they need.

LD: So at that point there was no specific agenda to build a school for foster kids?

WR: Oh no. … We just said who are the kids, why are we sending them out of town and how do we bring them home.

… We were surprised at how many times our kids moved and how many times they moved out of town, and how many times they were separated from their siblings… We were surprised at how many referrals were made … it made us say we don’t just want to bring them home. We want to bring them home and do a better job of raising them than their parents were.

LD: Why foster children?

WR: There are so many kids to be helped in the county, but there’s a big difference between foster kids and at risk kids and homeless kids or kids that need help. Maybe it’s because I’m an attorney that I see it that way, but we elected the judge that sits on the bench and says to a parent, “You know what, you’re not doing a good job of parenting your children. Based on the values that we as a society have created, you’re not doing a good job. We’re going to take your children away from you and care for them ourselves until you clean up your act.” And in that moment, we not only have a moral responsibility to care for these kids, but we have a legal responsibility to care for them. …We become the parents … fewer than 50% of them graduate from high school nationwide, so we’re doing a pretty bad job of parenting.

LD: Are there other models for this type of school?

WR: A program in San Diego called San Pasqual Academy (www.sanpasqualacademy.org/), which is a boarding school for foster youth, opened our eyes to what is possible. We asked for their advice, and they said they would start in 7th grade, so you could do two full years of remedial work. They talked about starting it as a charter school … to have the flexibility to say if you get reunited with your family or you get adopted, you can still be a day student. The charter school gives us that flexibility.

LD: What about the idea that being in a home is best?

WR: All we’re trying to do is provide an option for some kids that don’t want to be in a foster home or can’t be placed in a foster home, they can’t reunify with their families and would like to get a great education.

…Right now the judge has to say to a parent, “You have six months or a year to clean up your act and you get your child back,” it’s either/or. You clean up and you get your child back 24/7 or you fail and all rights are terminated. We really feel like one of the advantages of the campus is that a parent can start the healing process and still maintain a connection to the child … which is best for the kid if he wants to be connected, but not having the responsibility of having the child live with them, which is what caused those problems in the first place.

My whole thing is I want to stop arguing about where the pillow is at night and make sure the desk is in the same place every day.

LD: What’s the timetable for opening?

WR: With an aggressive timeline, we’re hoping to open in September of 2010.

LD: And the idea is to raise them up through better education?

WR: Exactly. Some of these families, it never occurs to them that the kids could go to college. You start talking about these things and it changes the whole family dynamic and then it changes the whole community dynamic. And then we talk about the ripple effects of this campus …I think this is really an opportunity for the entire community of Santa Barbara to do something that’s going to change things on a national level. That’s what seems to be appealing to people. … The idea is education being a way to solve a problem that we all know is there.

Vital Stats: Wendy Kilbourne Read

Born: June 29, 1964, Hollywood, CA

Family: Husband James, son Jackson (16), daughter Sydney (12)

Civic Involvement: Founder/CEO The Children’s Project; Cate Parents Organization, Current President; Katherine Harvey Fellow at Santa Barbara Foundation 2004

Professional Accomplishments: Cover of T.V. Guide in 1985; Passed the CA Bar 2002; Junior League Woman of the Year 2007

Little-Known Fact: Wendy has her Private Pilot’s License


Originally published in Noozhawk December 3, 2007.

With Open Arms: Sarah House

Sarah House (courtesy photo)

Sarah House (courtesy photo)

While the image of a residential care facility for people who are sick and dying doesn’t exactly conjure uplifting images, a visit to Sarah House is more inspiring than depressing.

“Sarah House is a place where you live your life until the last breath. It’s a celebration of your life,” says Kerrie Kilpatrick-Weinberg, board member of the nonprofit, which opened in 1994 as a home for people with AIDS, and has expanded its mission in recent years to focus on end-of-life care. “You have your family and the things that mean so much to you around. This is important and sometimes gets overlooked when you’re in a larger setting such as a hospital.”

According to executive director Randy Sunday, throughout the past year, 85 percent of Sarah House’s occupancy was for hospice care and only 15 percent for people with AIDS. While anyone designated as “low income” (making less than $27,000 per year) is eligible for care, about 40 percent of the people who live there were previously living on the streets, with no income at all. “These numbers have picked up because awareness has increased in the community,” he says. People often ask if there are conflicts with having formerly homeless people living alongside low-income people, but Sunday says “when you’re sitting in the living room in pajamas, it doesn’t arise; there’s a great quality about that.” He describes the atmosphere at Sarah House as, “not a luxury bed and breakfast, but there are always muffins or fresh granola. For the homeless, it might be the home that they never had. For everyone else, it’s just inspiring. The element of hospitality is something we always want to keep. The unit of care isn’t just the residents, it’s their families and friends as well.”

Working closely with the other end-of-life care agencies in town–such as Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care of Santa Barbara, Doctors Without Walls, Hospice of Santa Barbara, and Cottage Hospital’s Palliative Care Unit–who provide referrals, medical services and counseling, Sarah House offers a warm home for people to live out their days in a caring, extended family atmosphere. Named for the late Sarah Shoresman–her daughter, Linda Lorenzen-Hughes, remains active on the board of directors–Sarah House offers the highest level of medical care in an intimate, eight-bed setting, rather than a sterile hospital environment. “There’s such a need. It’s a special place, and we’re able to offer something to a group of people that may otherwise be forgotten,” says board president Jay Albert.

“We are committed to teaching people to see this as a natural journey, and this is a place to take that journey along with your friends and loved ones,” says board member Nancy Lynn. Part of that community education involves participating in special course on caring for those approaching death. “A lot of people come to the class, it’s not just caregivers but folks who think they might become caregivers at some point and people who have lost someone and want to understand more,” says Sunday.

Sarah House, which doesn’t receive funding from Medicare or Medi-Cal, raises about half a million dollars each year from private sources, individuals, foundations, and special events in order to provide all of its services at low or no cost to residents. The annual events–which include Light Up the Night, an annual holiday party where gorgeous holiday trees designed by local artists and celebrities are auctioned off; an Oscar Party, which celebrates the Academy Awards; and Second Seating Dinner Parties, where members of the community are invited to Sarah House to sit among the residents and learn about the program, among others–are designed not only to raise money but also to help educate people about the organization. “You have to have fun,” says Kilpatrick-Weinberg. “And it’s not making light of the situation. Sarah House is not about dying, it’s about celebrating and living your life right to the very end.”

For Sarah House’s annual holiday fundraiser–“Light Up The Night: The Artizan’s Ball”–on December 8 at the Santa Barbara Women’s Club, dress as your favorite artist or work of art and enjoying live music and special cocktails such as Cosmo Van Gogh. The Oak Group artists will be creating paintings on the spot, to be auctioned off, and many other unique works of art will be available for purchase, along with the traditional holiday trees, designed by local artists and celebrities. Tickets: $100 suggested donation. For more information, call 882-1192 or visit sarahhousesb.org.

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine on December 1, 2007.