Inspirational Stories

Overcoming Arthritis at Two Years Old; A Story of Charity

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Most people think of the elderly when they think of arthritis, but the 2010 Western Mass. Arthritis Walk Youth Ambassador Brianna Croteau, demonstrates that this disease touches all ages.

Brianna Croteau

Brianna Croteau, a brave little girl!

Brianna Croteau was just 2 years old when she was diagnosed as having Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) affects more than 300,000 children nationwide, which is more than cystic fibrosis and juvenile diabetes combined.  Of the three kinds of JRA, Brianna was diagnosed with the most crippling form which affects only 10% of all those diagnosed.  This means she experiences pain, stiffness, and swelling in all of her joints.  Brianna struggles with every day tasks such as holding a toothbrush or buttoning her pants. To this day, doctors are still trying to determine the correct “mix” of medications to properly tame her arthritis flares. Despite all this, Brianna considers herself to be an average kid, just special in her own way.

On October 17, Brianna led “Team Bear” to the title of top fundraising team with more than 60 friends and family walking with her to find a cure and to help charity!

As youth ambassador, Brianna actively worked with the Arthritis Foundation to inform the public about the benefits of physical activity to ease the pain of arthritis or prevent some forms from developing. Let’s Move Together is an initiative of the Arthritis Foundation designed to inspire people to move every day to prevent or treat arthritis, encouraging daily physical activity for better health. Physical activity, such as walking, is crucial to managing joint pain, improving mobility and reducing fatigue often associated with arthritis.  The Arthritis Foundation is hoping that Let’s Move Together campaign and the Arthritis Walk will lead people to take action both to improve their own lives and the lives of others with arthritis. Events like the Arthritis Walk are perfect starting points for people who are committed to taking steps to improve their health and limit the impact of arthritis. In fact, walking for just 30 minutes per day can ease joint pain, improve joint mobility and reduce fatigue.

For more information about the Western MA Arthritis Walk, visit or contact the Arthritis Foundation at 800-766-9449 x 131.

Aging Well: A Celebration of the life of Jeanne Louise Calment

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“If you live to be a hundred, you’ve got it made, because hardly anybody dies after the age of one hundred.”— George Burns.

The other day my neighbor Arnie and I had a discussion — a bit of an argument really — about old people, people who are, as Arnie put it, “a hundred and something. “

“I’ve read stories about them,” Arnie said, “and they all live in some remote village in Uzbekistan or Tajikistan or Taxistan, and they eat mush every day. Most of them have never been outside their village, and one of them I read about had lived in the same hut for 103 years.  What kind of life is that?”

“Arnie,” I said, “you’re being disrespectful. For all we know these were some of the happiest people in the world who did wonderful works of charity for everyone else in their village.” I took Arnie’s dismissive attitude as a challenge. Surely I could find someone who had lived not only a long life, but a rich life as well. And just as surely, as soon as I Googled “old person,” I found someone.

Jeanne Louise Calment

Jeanne Louise Calment at age 40

She is Jeanne Louise Calment, who was born February 21, 1875, and died August 4, 1997. According to the Guinness book of records, she is oldest person ever to have lived. If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning picture this: Jeanne Louise had to do it 44,724 times in her lifetime.

Jeanne Louise did not live in a remote village, but in Arles, the historic city on the Rhone River in Provence that was romanticized by Georges Bizet in his lyrical L’Arlésienne Suite. Nor did she have to live in a hut.  Her father Nicolas, a shipbuilder and her mother Margurite who was born into a family of millers, provided her with comfortable surroundings.

When she was 13, a gentleman whom she described as “very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick,” came into her uncle’s fabric shop, and she sold him some colored pencils.  He was Vincent Van Gogh, and if Jeanne Louise’s judgment seems harsh, it was shared by others in the town who a year later were instrumental in having the artist institutionalized. Nearly 60 years later, Jeanne Louise was featured in a short film entitled, Darkness Into Light,  a promotion for the 1956 Van Gogh biopic Lust for Life starring Kirk Douglas.

When Jeanne Louise was 21, she married Fernand Calment, a wealthy merchant, and was able to live what one biographer called “a lavish life … She never really had to work and pursued learning the piano, swimming, cycling, tennis and opera.”

She loved chocolate and reportedly ate a kilo a week — 2.2 pounds.  She also enjoyed sipping port, and is said to have smoked a couple of cigarettes a day until the age of 117 when she quit smoking, becoming undoubtedly the oldest person in the world to kick the habit. Although not considered particularly athletic, she took up fencing at 80 and was still cycling at 100. Living long came naturally to Jean Louise’s family. Her father Nicolas lived to 93, her mother Margurite to 86, and her brother Francois to 97.

Jeanne Louise Calment

Jeanne Louise Calment at age 60

Jeanne Louise was thirty-two when Picasso introduced cubism, thirty-nine when WW I broke out, fifty-two when Charles Lindbergh completed his historic flight with a landing at Le Bourget Field in Paris, seventy when WW II ended, eighty-two when the Beatles introduced Sgt. Pepper, one-hundred-one when Viking 1 and 11 landed on Mars, one-hundred-fourteen when the Berlin Wall fell, and one-hundred-twenty-two and in the last two months  of her life when the first Harry Potter book was published.

According to Wikipedia, in 1965 when Jeanne Louise was 90, she sold her apartment to a lawyer named Andre-Francois Raffray in return for a monthly payment of 2,500 francs for the rest of her life.  M. Raffray must have figured, “How much longer can she possibly live?”  Another 32 years as it turned out.  Nevetheless M. Raffray, and subsequently his widow, kept their part of the deal, ultimately paying Jeanne Louise more than 900,000 francs or about $180,000, more than twice the value of the apartment.

In her later years she accepted her role as a celebrity of sorts. “I wait for death and journalists,” she once said. She suggested her longevity may have been the result of a divine accounting accident: “I’ve been forgotten by our good Lord.”

Jean-Marie Robine, a public health researcher who is one of the authors of a book about Mrs. Calment, had a more scientific theory. ”I think she was someone who, constitutionally and biologically speaking, was immune to stress,” he told the New York Times. ”She once said, ‘If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.’ ”

Jeanne Louise Calment

Jeanne Louise Calment at age 122

I rarely drink port, but the next time I do it will be to toast Jeanne Louise Calment, whose long and fulfilling life refutes the myths that many people hold about centenarians. Michel Vauzelle, the Mayor of Arles, told the Times what Jeanne Louise meant to the city: ”She was Jeanne the Arlesienne, one whose picture went around the world. But above all, she was the living memory of our city.”

Children get Arthritis, too.

Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Nate Schwitzenberg - Arthritis hero

Nate Schwitzenberg - Arthritis hero

Nate Schwitzenberg and his family are very much like any ordinary family. Sporting events, school activities and family play time consume much of their day. But the Schwitzenberg family has one added dimension to their lives, 5-year-old son Nate suffers from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. He is currently doing very well. But it took the family and his medical team about a year to get his symptoms fully under control. With help from his doctor and the Arthritis Foundation, he is now currently medication-free and fully enjoying all the typical activities for any five-year old.

Similar to most other children his age, Nate’s parents tire out well before he does. He has a passion for a variety of sports, and over the past year has played organized soccer, tennis, basketball, football, swimming, hockey and gymnastics. In addition, his full regimen of close friends and his little brother fill in any moments of rest and solace that might occur.

Challenges & Triumphs (A word from Nate’s mom)

“In many ways, the challenges presented by Nate’s diagnosis were greater for his parents than for Nate. Watching your child in pain is excruciating, but Nate simply made it impossible to lose faith for more than a few moments. The number of times he complained or let his symptoms slow him down were few and far between. Nate would sometimes simply say, “I need a break” when he pushed himself too far. He seemed to make a decision early on that he was going to choose his attitude rather than have it dictated to him by his disease. That spirit was truly infectious on those around him.

That being said, the treatments can be difficult because no six-year old really loves shots. One of the other challenges for us as a family is the number of appointments and specialists JRA has added to our lives. Nate has spent a lot of time in waiting rooms and doctor’s offices since his diagnosis and even though he realizes the importance of pro-active health, he gets frustrated with that, too.

Because of his attitude, his great medical team, and his diligence with physical therapy Nate has been doing well for the past 20 months; he is stronger, more flexible, and more body aware than he was even before the disease. Nate’s body has responded well to all types of treatment which will help him as he manages the disease in his future.

It’s probably all parents’ aspiration that their children become better people than themselves, but it’s not all parents that are able to realize that in a five year old. If anything positive has come out of Nate’s diagnosis, it is that it has presented him with the opportunity to truly demonstrate his remarkable strength of character. We draw inspiration from him every day and consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to witness his approach to life.”

Nate seems to inspire all those with whom he comes in contact. That is why the Arthritis Foundation is proud to honor him as 2010 Youth Honoree at the upcoming Chicago Jingle Bell Run. Nate and his family hope that their efforts, along with those of the Arthritis Foundation will help bring awareness to the general public and hope to those who suffer from America’s most common cause of disability!


Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid
Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier

Two weekends ago I was sitting at the car wash in a small town half way between Tacoma and the base of Mt. Rainier waiting for my daughter’s Dodge to make its way through. Along comes this huge countrified dude in his 60’s who lowers himself into a chair a few feet away.  He had Bunyanesque biceps, an oversized gut that on him actually looked good, and a cowboy hat the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the last time I was in Cheyenne.

“Anselm,” he said, extending his hand.

“Riley,” I said as my hand disappeared inside his.  “Nice day.”

“Any day’s a nice day if you’re looking down at the grass and not up at it,” he said.

Given his boots and overalls, I expected he’d brought in his pickup for a cleaning, but I soon realized his vehicle was the shiny white-and-red sports car. “That’s a nice looking Vette you got there.  How do you like it?”

“Let me count the ways,” he said.

“I’ve always wished I could have a sporty car like that. I could afford it, but I just thought people would think, ‘Why did silly old Riley spend money on a toy like that?’”

“Don’t worry what people think about you, because chances are they rarely do.”

I tried changing the subject. “Where’s your home?”

“Home is where the heart is.”

Suddenly I was glad he and I were sitting in an open air public place.  If I were trapped in an elevator with this guy, I’d be scared to death. So I tried for a second time to change the subject, although I wasn’t sure what the subject was.

“I’m on my way to buy some wine for a dinner.”  I said. “Can you recommend any local favorites?”

“The best wine is the oldest wine,” he said.  “The best water is the newest.”

“That’s fine,” I said, “but I really wanted your advice.”

“When we ask for advice, we are really looking for any accomplice.”

I’d had enough. “Do you ever talk in straight sentences?” I asked. 

“I speak with the wisdom of ages,” he said.

“You speak goofy,” I replied.  “I’m dying to know what you say when your wife asks you to take out the garbage.”

“I tell her, ‘Love is blind, but taking out the garbage restores its sight.’”

Suddenly his cell phone rang out the theme music from “Bridge on the River Kwai.”

“Anselm,” he said.  (Pause.)  “A stumble may prevent a fall.” (Pause.)  “Of course I’m listening, but remember, we are more anxious to speak than to be heard.” (Pause.) “That’s your problem.  You know the best way to keep one’s word is not to give it.   (Pause.)   “Well you knew that when you hired him.  Remember, it’s easier to get an actor to be a cowboy than to get a cowboy to be an actor.” (Pause.)  “Farewell.”

“Who was that?” I asked, and even before I had finished saying the words, I realized it was none of my business.  

He stared at me, and for an instant I considered running, but then I realized I would have to leave my daughter’s car behind. Finally he said, “You don’t get it, Riley.”

“Get what?”

“The reason I talk in generalities.”

“So why do you?”

“Because I can never be wrong. That’s why politicians talk so abstractly.”

“So you know it all.”

“In a way.”

“Well if you’re so smart with the English language, answer me one thing.”


“What’s another word for Thesaurus?”

Next week:  Driving after 60 …  and 70 …  and 80.

Al-Nour Organisation for Development and Child Rights and their work in schools in Iraq

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Since July, 2010, the Al-Nour Organisation for Development and Child Rights, with funding from Generation i, has been working on a large project in many schools in Iraq. The organisation has been working to put first aid rooms in twenty schools in the Baghdad-Rusafa sector – Ma’amil area, in the following areas: Al-Nasir, Al-Amari, AL-Batoul, Al-Rashad, Al-Bawiya, and Al-Husaeniya.

The organisation has been working hard for the past 2 months and has made great progress. They have worked to construct first aid rooms in each school, which has involved installing walls, painting, and more. They have also been installing pharmacy cabinets in each school and purchasing and delivering medical supplies.

As well, Al-Nour Organisation for Development and Child Rights has been working to prepare a room for lectures to be given at the Al Aamal Secondary school for girls. This room is set-up with tables, chairs, as well as a large viewing screen.

Members of the Al-Nour Organisation for Development and Child Rights have been visiting several schools during their work and have seen firsthand some of the major issues these schools face, including poor air quality due to a burning trash dump nearby.

With the new first aid rooms, lecture hall, and medical supplies, the Al-Nour Organisation for Development and Child Rights continues working on their goal of providing better education and medical support for many young boys and girls from Iraq.

Karrisa Leiterman

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

My name is Karissa Leiterman, I’m 6 1/2 years-old and I have Polyarticular Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. That’s a big word for JRA. Most people think only old people have arthritis, but kids get arthritis too!

When I was only 2 ½ years old, I was hurting a lot so my mom and dad took me to lots of doctors who told them it was just growing pains. Well, my parents did not agree with them and finally, after many more doctors and tests, I was diagnosed with JRA. I have arthritis in both knees, both ankles, both wrists, most of my fingers and even some of my toes. I hope one day they can cure arthritis because I want to be able to play, twirl and dance without hurting!

My doctors are 4 hours away at Duke Children’s Hospital in North Carolina because there are no pediatric rheumatologists near us. 8 hours in the car stinks and I have to miss a whole day of school just to go to the doctor’s. Yuck!

On September 11th, me and my team, “Karissa’s Crusaders,” will be walking in the 2010 Upstate Arthritis Walk. Please help support my team in any way you can. If you can’t donate financially, please join my team! I need you on my team because I want the biggest and the best team and want to walk surrounded with my family and friends! Please say you’ll join me and help battle Arthritis!

Making that Career Move with the help of WHW ~ Video

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Maria- A WHW Story of Success

WHW/Men2Work/Success Story

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Eric B. “I was readjusting to life and being a single father of three children and it was all very, very overwhelming,” stated Eric, WHW Men2Work client. Eric had just completed his five year service with the Marines in addition to relocating from the Midwest where his family resided. After making these two momentous changes, Eric was filled with anxiety toward reentry into the workforce and was referred to WHW’s Men2Work program for assistance.

“I was reenergized with confidence after I left the apparel center. I knew I had the skills to get a job but you just doubt yourself sometimes. Being helped by WHW’s Personal Shoppers was really what I needed. They gave me a friendly, honest opinion and helped me find the perfect fitting items.  When I was getting frustrated, they stepped in and helped me. I walked out and I knew I looked professional and I knew that it would show in an interview. Everything and everyone was just so helpful.”

With his newfound confidence and motivated more than ever to find employment, Eric began his job search.  After three interviews, Eric earned a new career as an Electrical Engineer with local hospitals.  “It’s the perfect job for me because it uses my skills so I didn’t have to settle for just any job…it’s a profession that I am proud of.  What’s the best feeling is that now I can support my family but I also get to help others by working with the hospitals. 

Eric also signed up to help WHW’s Men2Work program as a volunteer.  “My experience here was so great and I am just so thankful and would love to help future male clients get back on their feet. I needed support when times were tough, and WHW Men2Work gave me that extra encouragement and assistance and I won’t forget ever forget that.”

About WHW’s Men2Work:  Since 1993, WHW’s Men2Work – a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization – has been about the power of employment.  Each year, over 200 partner agenicies refer approximately 3,000 clients to WHW’s Employment Success Program.  They trust that WHW’s experience and knowledge will ensure a successful transistion for those in need.  WHW is committed to providing clients with excellent service that will allow them to “put their best foot forward.”

WHW is the only nonprofit in Orange County, California to offer a full array of workforce development services at no cost or obligation to clients or their nonprofit referring agencies.  For more information regarding WHW, please visit our website at

WHW Success Story/Eva

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Eva L., a former Women Helping Women client recalls challenging moments in her decision to leave her abusive husband. “Coming from a mentally, emotionally, and physically abusive marriage, divorce was a welcome event in my life. Divorce meant freedom from all the unspeakable acts, suffering, and control from my ex. It meant a new beginning. But where did I start? Where would I go? I had nothing since I had lost all my friends and family during my marriage. Every day, even though I knew leaving was the right thing, I found myself full of fear. I had no idea how hard this transition would be.”

Eva was forced to work odd jobs such as housekeeping and pet sitting in order to pay her bills although she was a skilled technician. “I couldn’t afford interview clothes and I knew no one would hire me with the clothes that I had….so I just settled.” After years of unfulfilling jobs, she decided to go to an EDD workshop for employment readiness in which she was referred to WHW.

“I was afraid to go to WHW at first because I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I thought that I would have to pay or that they would look down on me. Instead, I walked in and I was greeted with big smiles as if I was being welcomed into someone’s family! I walked in a room full of clothes, shoes, accessories, jewelry, and all types of toiletries like make up, perfume, and lotions. I couldn’t believe that I got to shop here!”

Eva was all the more overcome when she was paired up with a WHW Personal Shopper to assist her to coordinate her interview attire. “I had never genuinely been told that I looked great before this experience. Nobody here put me down or told me what was wrong with my look. Instead, they complimented me and showed me ways to dress for my shape and size. I really felt like I was given the tools to present myself better in interviews.”

Motivated and determined after her experience at WHW, Eva secured an IT job on her first attempt! “I proudly wore my new clothes to my interview and to my amazement; I was hired on the spot by one of the biggest Fortune 500 companies!” Her career has thrived tremendously and leads her to expand her profession in multiple directions, such as currently training all new staff members.

“I am proud to be a former client of WHW and continue to be a huge supporter for the good cause of installing hope and helping women in need. We need to push to help our sisters; we need that support to help us walk back into life with confidence. To this day, I still keep those clothes and have used them proudly in meetings because it reminds me where I started and the women behind my success. The first step back into society is always the hardest. WHW has helped turned tears into laughter.”

About WHW:  Since 1993, WHW – a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization – has been about the power of employment.  Each year, over 200 partner agenicies refer approximately 3,000 clients to WHW’s Employment Success Program.  They trust that WHW’s experience and knowledge will ensure a successful transistion for those in need.  WHW is committed to providing clients with excellent service that will allow them to “put their best foot forward.”

WHW is the only nonprofit in Orange County, California to offer a full array of workforce development services at no cost or obligation to clients or their nonprofit referring agencies.  For more information regarding WHW, please visit our website at

UCI MIND and ReMIND receive $12,000 in honor of Grandma Betty

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

UCI ReMIND graduate students

The Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, or UCI MIND, and its group for graduate students interested in neurological disorders, ReMIND, have received a $12,000 donation from Betty’s Foundation, formed by five family members in their late 20s and early 30s to honor their grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. The relatives, two of whom live in Trabuco Canyon, raised the money through garage sales, a jewelry party and a band night last fall.

Their gift will be used for research in UCI MIND director Frank LaFerla’s lab and to fund ReMIND. “They looked into research institutes in Southern California and chose to support our program,” says Linda Scheck, community relations director for UCI MIND. ReMIND is run by graduate students Melissa Strong, Maya Koike, Kara Neely and Emily Mitchell (pictured from left to right).