Posts Tagged ‘fundraising’

The Conversion of Arnie

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Mrs. McD and I were walking on a downtown street a week or so ago, when we both spotted a familiar looking van, stopped for a red light, with a magnetic Meals on Wheels sign adhering to the front passenger door.

“Isn’t that …” she said, her voice trailing off.

“I think it is,” I replied.  “There’s one way to tell — the bumper sticker.”

“Right.  The bumper sticker.”  We took a few steps backwards so we could see the rear bumper, and sure enough there was the quirky bumper sticker.  It read: “Be alert.  We need more lerts.”

“It’s Arnie!” she said.  “Driving for Meals on Wheels!”

Well a few days later we met Arnie in the neighborhood and asked him how long he’d been a Meals driver.

“Almost four months now,” he said

“How did this come about?” Mrs. McD asked.

“Remember my daughter who gave me the computer last year so we could trade e-mails?”

“The one who lives in Vienna,” I said.

“Right, Vienna, Australia.”


“Whatever.  Anyway she was here at Christmas and one day she taught me some of the neat things you can with the computer.  So we were shuffling the web…”

“Shuffling?” I asked.

“He means surfing, dear.”

“Will you guys quit interrupting me?  Anyway we went to this web site that had a whole bunch of You Tube videos that showed people talking about Meals on Wheels.  Some were volunteers and some were old people who got meals every day.  I mean to tell you those videos will just tear your heart out.  The people getting the meals were alert and friendly but they couldn’t drive anymore or didn’t have the strength to go shopping.  They were saying things like, ‘I don’t know what I’d do without Meals on Wheels. I’d just be lost without it.  One woman said, ‘We only bring in $697 a month. We just can’t feed ourselves on that. I tried to imagine if I lived alone and came down with some illness that kept me in the house all day.  How would I get food?  I mean that’s real scary.”

“So you volunteered?” Mrs. McD said.

“I did.  And you know food isn’t the only thing.  I mean some of those seniors have virtually nobody in their lives.  The spouse has passed on and the kids live ten states away.  Those people just love spending a few minutes each day talking with a volunteer.  There’s a lady on my route who comes to the door with a huge smile on her face.  She says I’m just about the only person she talks to on my delivery day. She tells me about her daughter and her flowers.”

By now I was pinching myself.  I was sure this was all a dream.  We went home and I phoned Robin who is the coordinator at the Age Well center where Arnie volunteers.  “Arnie is every bit as good as he sounds,” Robin says.  “The people on his route love him.  You know what else he does? He talked his golf foursome into kicking in ten dollars apiece  every week as a donation to Meals. That’s almost enough to feed someone for a whole year.”

Later that evening, as Mrs. McD was doing the Times crossword, I said to her, “Arnie is a changed man.”

“Maybe,” she said. “but…”

“But what?”

 “But I’ll bet the rat still cheats at golf.”

I couldn’t believe her. “You know, you’re a really hard woman,” I said.

She paused and looked absent-mindedly at the ceiling. “Who was the British prime minister during the Crimean War?” she said at last. “It has eight letters and begins with A.”

All’s Well That Ends Well at Age Well

Monday, April 4th, 2011
By Riley McDavid Riley McDavid

For privacy reasons we have substituted the pseudonyms Daniel and Mr. and Mrs. Anderson in these two narratives, and we have omitted the names of cities where they live. However, Enrique Ramirez and Shelli Mire are the very real names of the Age Well staff member and Meals on Wheels volunteer involved.

Here are two stories — real life incidents — that started out very badly and could have ended even worse were it not for the interventions of two people: Enrique Ramirez, a driver in the Age Well Transportation Program, and volunteer Shelli Mire, a Meals on Wheels driver.

Enrique’s story began when he arrived to pick up a fellow named Daniel at his home.  Daniel had requested a ride to a medical appointment. Unfortunately, when Enrique knocked on the door, there was no answer.  So he tried calling Daniel’s phone.  Still no answer.  So Enrique made a second call, this time to Transportation Director Ben Corona.

Ben in turn called the police department in Daniel’s town and asked if someone could check to see if Daniel was okay. As it turned out, he wasn’t. When the paramedics arrived, they found Daniel on the floor but responsive.  They administered first aid and took him to the hospital.

At last report, Daniel was back on his feet and recovering well, thanks to the intervention of Enrique, who triggered a chain reaction of actions that may well have saved Daniel’s life.

“Enrique and the Age Well program managers did an excellent job of assessing and managing the situation,” said Chief Operations Officer Dan Palumbo.

Shelli’s incident began when she attempted to make her MOW delivery to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, both of whom suffer from varying degrees of senility. She knocked on their door, but got no answer. So she went inside, immediately smelled gas, and went to the kitchen. “Mrs. Anderson was in the kitchen and Mr. Anderson was outside on the patio,” Shelli says. “So I got Mrs. Anderson outside there as well.”

When Shelli came back inside, she discovered three of the gas stove’s burners were turned on, but not lit.  She turned them off, and then went about the house opening doors and windows to let the accumulated gas fumes escape. Eventually the gas company was called and a representative came out to check for gas leaks and the like.

This incident caused some family members to see they needed to be more involved with their parents. One of the sons, who lives a few miles away, works out of a home office.  He packed up everything and moved his workspace to the parents’ home, where he now works every day and provides considerable support as well.

Meals on Wheels drivers receive regular training to help cope with situations they may encounter “You don’t just sign up and immediately head out on a route,” Assistant Site Manager Sharon Williamson said. The volunteers are trained to spot situations that may require an intervention — signs of illness for example, and indications of elder abuse.  And if you have a healthy allotment of common sense, which Shelli Mire obviously does, you can handle a whole range of unexpected developments.

Shelli has been an MoW driver for twelve years and says some of the people on her route have literally seen her children grow up. “I love doing it,” she says, and it’s safe to say that several generations of the Anderson family are very glad that she does.

The Last Doughboy

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

In the movie “Up in the Air,” Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a twenty-ish entry-level exec, and career businessman Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) are on a marathon trip for their employer, hop-scotching from Omaha to St. Louis to Miami to Wichita and beyond.  At one point Natalie is on the cell phone with her boyfriend, who is apparently jealous of his girlfriend’s long distance trek with Bingham.

“No,” Natalie protests to her boyfriend. “I don’t even think of him that way.  He’s old.” In the background, Bingham, who certainly doesn’t think of himself as old, grimaces as Natalie’s unintended dart punctures his ego.

Moral: Old is a relative term.  When you’re ten, anyone over fifty is ancient.  But when you turn fifty, you refer to yourself as middle aged, not old.  For several years, I played golf with six guys in their seventies and eighties, plus one guy, Fred, who was ninety-four.  We referred to him as “the old guy.” Presumably the rest of us were kids.

Just this past week I came upon some startling statistics about what constitutes being old. CTV, the Canadian English-language TV network, says that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about half a million centenarians in the world. Really! Half a million!  Of those, nearly 100,000 live in the U.S., and by 2050 that number will jump to 1.1 million.  Are you a baby boomer?  Then here’s an even more mind-blowing stat. Researchers at Boston University predict that some three million of you boomers will live to be 100 or older.

This week’s blog is about a centenarian, and before getting to his story, I wanted to make the point that simply living to one hundred isn’t nearly as amazing a feat as it once was. In the 20th century the average life span increased thirty whole years, which is greater than the increases in the last 5,000 years of human existence.  So let us celebrate this week’s centenarian not just for living long, which even a heel can do, but for living a full and admirable life. 

Frank Woodruff Buckles was born into a Missouri farming family on February 1, 1901, and died at his Gap View Farm in West Virginia on February 27, 2011. If the name is familiar it is because his recent passing received considerable publicity in local and national newspapers and on network TV. Mr. Buckles was the last surviving American soldier who fought in World War 1.

“I always knew I’d be one of the last because I was one of the youngest when I joined,” Mr. Buckles told the New York Daily News in 2008, when he was 107. “But I never thought I’d be the last one.”

After the war began, Mr. Buckles tried to enlist in the Marine Corps and the Navy, but was turned down by both.  The Marines said he was too young — he was sixteen — and the Navy complained that he was flat-footed, a fact which he disputed his entire life. In spite of his small size and youthful age, he managed to enlist in the Army and was soon sent to Europe.

He served as a driver in England and in various locations in France, driving military autos and ambulances. The war’s effects left a lasting impression on him. “The little French children were hungry,” Mr. Buckles recalled in a 2001 interview for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. “We’d feed the children. To me, that was a pretty sad sight.” He never got close to the action. But, as he told columnist George F. Will in 2008, “I saw the results.”

After the war he went to business school and worked for many years in the steamship industry, eventually being posted to Manila. In an ironic twist, the man who never faced a bullet as a soldier in World War 1 became a civilian prisoner of war in 1942.  He spent the next three and a half years in a Japanese POW camp.

“He was only a corporal and he never got closer than 30 or so miles to the Western Front trenches, “ wrote Richard Goldstein in the New York Times, “but Mr. Buckles became something of a national treasure as the last living link to the two million men who served in the American Expeditionary Forces in France in ‘the war to end all wars.’

 “Frail, stooped and hard of hearing but sharp of mind, Mr. Buckles was named grand marshal of the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington in 2007. He was a guest at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day 2007 for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He was honored by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the Pentagon and met with President George W. Bush at the White House in March 2008.” Early in life he met General John Pershing and in his later years he was presented with France’s Légion d’honneur by French President Jacques Chirac.

When he died in February, Mr. Buckles was 110.  On Tuesday morning, as a line of mourners passed by, Mr. Buckles body lay in repose in the Memorial Amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery. Later in the day, he was buried there with full military honors..

The McDee Awards

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“Who the heck is Justin Bieber?” I asked Mrs. M. as we were reading the Sunday paper last weekend. “His name is everywhere.”

“He’s a 16-year-old millionaire who makes his money singing songs to 12-year-old girls,” she said. 

“First Miley Cyrus, now this guy. Whatever happened to kids just going out and getting a paper route?”

“You’re jealous,” she said.

“I am not,” I lied. But I was inspired, in a way. I got to thinking that people at the other end of the life’s age span should be getting as much publicity as youngsters.  So I hereby announce the establishment of the McDee Award, an honor reserved for people no younger than seventy who have made notable accomplishments.

The first McDee goes to Ann Timson, a 75-year-old grandmother from Northampton, England, who proves that some people will still get involved regardless of the potential danger to themselves.  Ms. Timson was in a Northampton shopping district on February 8 when she noticed a commotion across the street involving a half-dozen or so young men.

“At first I thought one of them was being set upon by three others,” she told the Daily Mail. “I was not going to stand by and watch somebody take a beating or worse so I tried to intervene.” But when she got closer she realized it was a robbery. The gang was using sledgehammers to smash the windows of a jewelry store. So Ms. Timson ran up to the men and started whacking them on the head with her purse.

Sarah Jane Brown, a jewelry store employee, told Sky News, “We were terrified. We locked the door. We hid under the desk. We were really scared. And then, we looked outside and, God love her, she was running down the road, with her handbag in the air, banging them on the back of their helmets with her handbag.”

One of the gang fell off his scooter and was detained by a passerby. As of this writing, four others have been arrested. Well done, Ms. Timson.

The second McDee goes to 89-year-old actress Betty White, who on February 1 received the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) award for outstanding female in a comedy series.  Ms. White was honored for her role as the sassy Elka Ostrovsky in the TV Land show Hot in Cleveland.

What makes the honor especially noteworthy is the competition she beat out: Tina Fey, who seems to win every award in sight for her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, and Jane Lynch, who plays Sue Sylvester, the over-the-top cheerleading coach on the hit show Glee.

Betty White began her film career in 1945, and her list of roles on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) since then is literally pages long.   She was a youthful 41 when she created the role of Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and just 56 when she began playing Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls. She has won 19 awards (20 counting the McDee) and has 16 additional nominations, including four Golden Globe nominations.

She said the SAG award was “the biggest surprise I’ve ever had in this business.”

Finally, let me point out one person who will not be getting a McDee.  He is the so-called Geezer Bandit who has held up 19 banks, mostly in the San Diego area, and is giving us seniors a really bad name. His pictures make him appear to be in his 70’s or 80’s, so maybe the guy is enrolled in a senior wellness program that keeps him fit enough to perform like a youngster.

If the San Diego police really want to catch this guy, I have a suggestion. Get on the phone to Northhampton, England, and hire Ann Timson and her handbag to come over here and stake out local banks.

To see Ms. Timson foiling the robbery, go to

It’s A Tough Job But Someone’s Gotta Do It

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Mrs. McDavid and I came home from a movie after dark one night last week, and as we got out of our car we spotted our neighbor Arnie staring off into the distance. “What are you looking at?” I asked him.

“The red light out there on top of the radio tower.  It’s real pretty. How do you suppose they change that thing when it burns out?”

“I’m just guessing, Arnie,” Mrs. McDavid said, “but I suspect someone has to climb up there and change it.”

“Now that’s something I’d like to do just once,” he said.  “What a view you’d get up there.” I shuddered at the thought, but he was quite serious. ”Something else I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to be the guy at the airport that stands in front of the plane as it taxis up to the gate and holds those neon thingies telling the pilot when to turn and when to stop. That’s power! I’d be controlling a great big 767.”

 “Just once,” I said, “I’d like to be the guy at the driving range who drives around in the caged tractor with the things on the back that collects the golf balls.” 

Mrs. M. gave me a strange look, but I just shrugged. Then she got this sly smile on her face. “Here’s what I want to do,” and she paused as if waiting for a drum roll. Finally she said, “I want to referee the Super Bowl.”

“You just want power over men,” I said.

“You’re darn right. The bigger, the better. Can’t you just see me. ‘Fifteen yard penalty on number 67 for roughing the passer, and don’t scowl at me buster or I’ll give you another 15!’”

“She’s tough,” Arnie said.

“Oh, yeah. She really identified with Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.”

“Okay,” she said.  “Let me tell you a job I wouldn’t want.  I wouldn’t want to be a toll taker at a bridge.  Too boring.”

I said I just couldn’t be a CHP officer.  “Imagine having to pull somebody over on a deserted stretch of road at night.  You don’t know who could be inside. That’s scary.”

Dental“I couldn’t be a dentist, “ Arnie said. “Imagine pulling someone’s tooth. Or a heart surgeon with all that blood and everything.”

”But aren’t you glad somebody does these things?” Mrs. McDavid said. “I mean if nobody wanted to do them, we’d be in a big fix. There’s lots of jobs like that.  Being an ER nurse.  Taking care of the elderly people who come to Adult Day Care at Age Well. Working in a nursing home.  Volunteering at a homeless shelter or a battered women’s shelter or a hospice. Those people are saints.”

“Yeah, I just couldn’t do stuff like that,” Arnie said.

“Oh, I think you could,” Mrs. M. said.  “What do you do on Saturdays?

“Saturdays?  I go see my dad up in Paterson.”

“Isn’t that a five-hour drive one way?” I said.

“Yep. I’d move him down here, but he’s around things that are familiar to him up there and that’s really nice for him.”

“What do you do there?”

“I read to him.”

“Read what?” Mrs. M. asked.

“Oh, Field and Stream and chapters from Tom Sawyer, which he really used to love, and I don’t know what else.”

“Does he understand it?” I asked.

“Naw! He just smiles once in a while.  When he does that, it’s like it used to be between us.  Real friendly. But these days he doesn’t even know who I am.”

“But you still go,” I said.

“Of course!  He’s my dad.”

“Arnie,” I said.  “you’re a heart surgeon.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s okay, Arnie,” Mrs. M. said.  “It was a metaphor.  He meant it as a compliment.”

“Well, okay, thanks,” Arnie said.

The Man Who Made People Smile

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011


By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Leo Cullum was an airline pilot who made millions of people smile. He was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1942, grew up in North Bergen and graduated from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he majored in English. After graduation he became a marine aviator who flew 200 missions in Vietnam, and when his  service was over, he became a pilot for TWA and later for American. Eventually he began filling his time on layovers in New York and Rome and Paris by learning the art of drawing cartoons. 

Predictably, his first cartoon sale was to a relatively unknown publication, Air Line Pilot Magazine, but he gradually worked his way to the pantheon of the cartoon world, the New Yorker, where he published 819 cartoons over the years.

New York Times writer William Grimes described Leo Cullum as “a cartoonist whose blustering businessmen, clueless doctors, venal lawyers and all-too-human dogs and cats amused readers of The New Yorker for 33 years.” But Leo was never snarky or mean. He seemed to have great affection for his characters even when he chronicled their imperfections.

He did so many medical cartoons that he eventually collected into a 128-page book. “It’s a good thing you’re here,” the ear doctor says to the patient. “I just punctured your eardrum.”   He often kidded doctors about their fees.   “Your wallet,” a doctor says to a patient.  “It’s got to come out.” A man stands at the head of the line to get into heaven. “Would you step aside?” St. Peter says. “They’re still doing CPR.”

He excelled at animal cartoons, mainly, I think, because he endowed them with such recognizable human traits. “I love the convenience,” says the buffalo talking on a cell phone, “but the roaming charges are killing me.”

A cat in a stylish executive business suit sits at a desk while talking on the phone. “Can I call you back?” he says. “ I’m with a piece of string.”

One chicken to another in the barnyard: “The body is 82 percent broth.”

He had at least a half-dozen cartoons that played on the venerable argument, which came first, the chicken or the egg.  In one, which has no caption, a chicken and an egg are each defiantly holding up one of those “We’re Number 1” gloves that fans wear to football games.

“There are many ways for a cartoon to be great, not the least of which is to be funny, and Leo was one of the most consistently funny cartoonists we ever had,” Robert Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, told Grimes.

“Leo Cullum was one of the most consistently funny cartoonists that I knew,” New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast said in an interview with the blog Comic Riffs. “Even when he used the traditional set-ups of magazine cartoons, his take on them was always fresh.”

ParrotSome years ago my daughter, who is the most creative gift giver I know, finally had to ask for help.  She phoned Mrs. McDavid from the state of Washington to find out what dad might like for Christmas.  A book of Leo Cullum cartoons, Mrs. McDavid told her.  She sent one and since then on Christmas I have received more Cullum collections, including the medical collection, Suture Self, Tequila Mockingbird (animal cartoons), and Cockatiels for Two (bird cartoons).  Whenever I get one, I have to ration how many cartoons I read at a sitting, lest I open a book on Christmas morning and have it all read by Christmas evening.   Six months later I can take the same collection out and enjoy it just as much.

Leo Cullum retired from airline piloting in 2001 and spent his days with his family in Malibu, California, cartooning. In a 2009 interview, the Cartoon Bank Blog asked Cullum,  “Has living in that famously wealthy, celebrity-filled environment supplied you with good ideas for cartoons?”

“I have not gotten one cartoon idea from living in Malibu…seriously. It’s not a funny place. Pretty, but not funny.  Maybe that’s the problem. Too much sun and blue water.”

Last October he died of cancer at age 68. He was not a household name but when he passed on hundreds of newspapers carried his obit.  Google “Leo Cullum” and you will get more than 300,000 results.

In the past we have paid tribute in this blog to a humanitarian and a pioneering scientist.  Leo Cullum was neither of those things. His contribution to society was to make life a little more fun for us, one cartoon at a time. I never met Leo Cullum, but I wish I had.  I suspect he was filled with humanity, the quiet kind that feels no need to advertise itself.

Leo Cullum is survived by his wife Kathy, a former flight attendant whom he had met on a flight to Boston, and by his daughters Kaitlin and Kimberly.

Elsie Koff, National Problem Solver

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid


Elsie Koff

Elsie Koff

Americans are living a lot longer these days.  For example, meet Elsie Koff, a Mission Viejo resident, who’s 91, extremely active, and definitely not living in the past. “I drive, I use a computer, and I have a cell phone,” she told me. Longevity runs in Elsie’s family.  Her sister lived to be 99, and her dad passed away at 101. “He used to say, ‘I still got all my marbles,’ and he did,” Elsie said.

After an in-person interview, I asked if I could phone her with any follow-up questions.

“Sure, if you can catch me at home,” she said.  “I’m pretty busy.”  And sure enough, both times I called her, I got her answering machine and listened to a voice that sounded like it was years away from turning 91. Busy includes lots of get-togethers with friends for mah-jongg and various card games, going to gym classes, and, once a week, volunteering at Age Well’s Adult Day Services on El Toro Road in Laguna Woods.

Anywhere from 45 to 70 people come to the center each week day.  About 40% have Alzheimers or similar disorders, while others are quite alert but have limitations that prevent them from being alone all day. They all have a plan of care, nutrition to meet their particular needs, and a wide range of activities.  There are two registered nurses there each day, one fulltime and one part time. Adult Day Services not only serves the seniors but helps to provide much needed respite for caregivers — spouses, relatives and others.

Each Friday Elsie helps prepare and serve lunches to the people who come to the center.  “She makes salads, she fixes meals for those on special diets, she serves, she cleans up — she does anything that’s asked of her,” said Nutritional Manager Diane Palermo.

“I’m just a general flunky,” Elsie told me.

Diane has a far different view. “She’s a remarkable inspiration. She just continues to give.”

Elsie became intimately acquainted with food preparation at an early age.  She was the youngest in the family, and at age thirteen, with both parents working, it fell to her to cook dinner every day for her parents, herself, and her two siblings.  She grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Manual Arts High School.  In 1947 she married Milton Koff, a World War II veteran who had served with Merrill’s Marauders in the China-Burma-India theater of operations. She and her husband, who died a few years ago at age 87, had a retail business in Hawthorne.

A few years ago Elsie had to stop volunteering because of a medical problem.  Eventually she called Diane and asked if it would be okay if she came back. “Okay? You bet it would — we’ve missed you!” Diane told her.  “I give her a big hug every day she comes, and she told me, ‘That’s why I come here — for the hugs.’”

Elsie’s story is one piece of a much larger mosaic. At the same time she is making salads and serving lunches, she is doing her part to help solve a serious national problem. As I said at the outset, Americans are living a lot longer these days, but not all of them have the physical stamina and mental acuity of Elsie Koff — including those who come to Adult  Day Services.

Other countries provide forms of elder care that, in the words of the late Dr. Robert Butler, “make it possible for people to have dignified care right up to the end of life.” But America doesn’t have sufficient systems or facilities to care for all the legions of older people who can no longer care for themselves. “We’re not there yet,” Dr. Butler said in a PBS interview.

Three years ago at the World Science Festival in New York, Dr. Butler, along with other researchers, was on a panel entitled “90 Is the New 50.” Dr. Butler was skeptical of the concept.  He later told author Susan Jacoby, “The trouble with expecting 90 to become the new 50 is it can stop rational discussion.” What we ought to be concentrating on, he suggested, is how to make 90 a better 90.

Which is pretty much is what Elsie and all the hundreds of other Age Well volunteers are doing — in Elsie’s case, one lunch at a time.  Every hour she and the other volunteers are on the job, they are expanding Age Well’s ability to provide care, and improve the quality of life for clients.

It is something Elsie is most happy to do. “I’m glad that as old as I am, I can still give back,” she told me.  “I feel fortunate to be on this side.”

Help the seniors that Age Well serves. To donate funds, volunteer or become a community partner, go to

 Thank you!

Outstanding Charity: Voices From Harlem

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Meet Richelle and Maryam, two HCZ mothers who share similar stories. They were the special people that everyone turned to for help, but when things went bad for Richelle and Maryam, they turned to HCZ so they could keep their children safe and on track.

As part of helping children, the HCZ nonprofit organization serves families so they can do the best job possible to support their children’s growth and development. Toward that end, we do everything from teaching parenting skills to supplying warm coats to counseling families in crisis.

To change the odds for poor children and successfully get them to college, HCZ works in schools while addressing the various issues that affect our children outside the walls of the classroom. For families with few resources, we are sometimes their only lifeline.

All of our programs are provided free of charge through our fundraising events and the generosity of people like you.  Please take a moment right now to support our work. Your generous contribution will enable us to strengthen our children and families in Harlem. 

Harlem Children's Zone

Driving Resource Center: The Sequel

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Someone once said “Expect the unexpected.” Actually, “somebody” is an understatement.  When I did some online research to find out who had originated this and similar phrases, I found, not surprisingly, that Oscar Wilde had said it (didn’t he say almost everything at one time or another?), but so had dozens and dozens of others. So let’s let that first sentence read, everyone who ever wrote once said, “Expect the unexpected.”

This is a lesson I learned the excruciatingly hard way during my recent series of events in trying to renew my driver’s license.

But first a caveat. In September I wrote two blogs about Age Well’s Driving Resource Center at the Florence Sylvester Memorial Senior Center.  It’s a place seniors can go to prepare for their DMV licensing tests. Don’t read this blog and conclude from my travails that you’ll never pass your next test. If you prepare for the test, at the Resource Center and on your own, and if you are capable of driving, you will do just fine. If there are two things Raul Saralegui and the other volunteers at the Center can do for you it’s give you both the knowledge and the confidence you need to succeed.

My journey began on November 18 when I passed my written test but failed the vision test.  My right eye can see all kinds of objects, but it just can’t pick up letters on an eye chart. That meant that on December 22, at 1:50 p.m., I would have to take a behind-the-wheel drive test.

I really prepped for this.  Raul showed me a great video of a driving instructor simulating a road test in terrific detail. I read the instructions on passing a drive test. I went out and practiced on the road. I even went down to the DMV, parked near the drive test area, and several times followed cars out so I could become familiar with the route, which was a user friendly neighborhood drive.  Over the next month, I drove that route at least two dozen times.  When I got to the DMV for my appointment, I was brimming with confidence and more than ready.

But to quote Jack Hawkins, the droll British commando leader in “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “There’s always the unexpected, isn’t there.”

In this case, the first unexpected element was the weather on December 22.  It was the nastiest of the pre-Christmas winter storms — “the main event” in the words of one meteorologist. Downpours had caused a power outage that had shut down the entire shopping center — Polly’s, Fresh & Easy, B of A, Big Lots, assorted smaller retailers, the Sylvester Center — and, of course, the DMV.

“Come back tomorrow at the same time,” a DMV rep told me.

So twenty-four hours later, on December 23, I was back, only the lines were much longer.  Naturally.

My appointment time came and went, and I was still waiting … 2:30 … 3:20 …  4:15 …

Daylight was fast disappearing and I was beginning to realize that I might take my test in the dark — and in heavy traffic. Moulton Parkway, already a confusing maze because of construction, was now jammed with commuters and last minute holiday shoppers.

At 4:46, we finally headed out of the lot. The sun had set, and the clouds blocked out any remaining daylight.  It was dark.

”Turn right, “ the examiner said. I signaled, and turned right, as I had expected to do.

“Turn left at the signal.” I did, as I had expected.

“Now get in the right lane.” No, wait, no! I thought. The route I studied puts me in the left lane! “We’re going out on the freeway,” the examiner said.

Ordinarily, no big deal.  But at 5 p.m. on the night before Christmas Eve, I-5 was a parking lot, and I was unnerved.

We got to the freeway, I signaled, looked back and tried to inch my way on.  Unfortunately, the guy I was trying to inch in front of wasn’t about to let me.  Apparently he held sole title to this plot of freeway.  I tried, he sped up. I  slowed, he slowed. Finally, I maneuvered my way in, but not before putting a fright into my examiner.

“You should have signaled quicker,” the examiner said.  “You gotta get your signal out there in plenty of time.”

Hard SellThe freeway speed was just under five miles per hour. The driver and the examiner don’t normally engage in idle chatter during the drive, so the ten or so minutes it took us to get to El Toro exit were uncomfortably quiet.  I was convinced that the freeway entrance had cost me the test, and I would have loved some human contact with the examiner.

We got off the freeway and made our way down Carlota, across Ridge Route and back to the DMV. Just as I was coming around the last half turn to the parking lot, a car came barreling towards us. I did a quick jog to the right, and the guy missed us.

“Nice move,” the examiner said.

Had I redeemed myself? I pulled into a parking space (to be honest, I pulled into part of one and most of another), and sat while t he examiner did some math on his clipboard. Finally, he said. “Well … you passed.”

So how do you prepare for the unexpected? The same way you prepare for the expected.  Raul and my study guides had drilled into me a whole bunch of instructions: Turn into the proper lane. Signal, look at your mirrors, and check your blind spot before changing lanes.  No right turns against a red arrow. Scan constantly for possible hazards.  And a whole lot more.  If you practice these enough so they become ingrained, it doesn’t matter if bad weather or any other variable gets thrown at you. You’ll be well enough trained to succeed.

Thanks to Raul, Shirley Witt and the Driving Resource Center, I no longer have to contemplate trading in my Mazda 626 for a bike.

How to Make Your Butterflies Fly in Formation

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

My friend Arnie approached Mrs. McDavid and me last week with a worried look on his face — very unusual for a man who customarily projects a thousand-megawatt smile.  “I got a problem,” he said to me.  “Didn’t you used to be a teacher or something?”

“Or something,” I said, “many years ago in another life.”

“I just got elected president of the local Vermont Retired Citizens Association.”

“Congratulations!” I said, ignoring the glaring non-sequitur. “Did you campaign hard for this office?”

“Heck, no.  I wasn’t even there when they held the vote.  I was elected in abstinence.”

In absentia,” said Mrs. McDavid, who studied Latin all four years of high school.

“Why is being president a problem?” I asked.

He sighed the deepest, most worrisome sigh I had ever heard.  “I have to give a speech at our next meeting, and I’m not like most people.  I get hugely nervous talking in front of people. I get real serious butterflies in my stomach.”

I gasped.  “Astounding!” I replied.

“I’m shocked!” Mrs. McDavid said.  “Shocked, I tell you.”

“No it’s true.”

I tend to approach Arnie’s foibles with gentle responses, but not Mrs. McDavid.  She goes right for the gut.  “Of course it’s true, you ninny,” she said.  “Everyone gets nervous when speaking before a group. You’re no different than the rest of us.”

“No way!”

“Way. Whenever there’s a survey about what people fear most, public speaking almost always comes out number one.  You know what that means?  It means people fear public speaking more than they fear death.” Nerves, she told him, is the reason the famous old time radio announcer, Harry Von Zell, introduced the 31st president of the United State as “Hoobert Heever.”

Arnie thought for a long while, and finally said, “Okay, so everyone gets nervous.  What do I do about it? Gimme a hint.”

“I’ll give you five hints. First and most important,” I said, “don’t think of nerves as a drawback.  They can actually make you a better speaker.  They cause you to play up to the audience, which is what all good entertainers do.”


“Really. Art Linkletter once said, ‘If you feel nothing unusual inside of you when you stand up before an audience, you are probably on the verge of delivering one of world’s all-time terrible talks.’  So be thankful for your butterflies.

“Number two, Arnie, is be prepared. Do your homework and make an outline of your talk. Those retired Vermonters will love you if you know what you’re talking about. On the other hand, if you ramble and sound unprepared, they’ll get nervous and fidgety, and so will you.

“Number Three is rehearse out loud. Going over it in your mind doesn’t cut it. Nothing is scarier than hearing your voice for the first time in a roomful of people so get used to the sound of your own voice.”

“Whoda thunk it?” Arnie said with honest amazement. “Now should I begin with a really funny antidote?”

“That’s tricky,” I said. “If you begin with a joke and it falls flat, you’re dead right from the start.  So only use one if you’re really sure it will get laughs. However, I do have a suggestion for your beginning.”

“Which is?”

“Rehearse the daylights out of it.  Know the first few minutes as well as you know own name.  If you can get through the first three minutes, you can probably talk forever.”

“Well thanks,” he said, looking totally confident. “I think I’m ready.”

“Not so fast,” Mrs. McDavid said.  “Riley has one more thing to tell you.”

‘The longer you’re the only one in the room speaking,” I said, “the more likely you are to feel a little jittery.  So create some two-way communication between you and the audience. A friendly voice from the audience will make you feel right at home. Maybe ask a couple of questions.”

“I know!” Arnie said. “I’ll ask how many are righthanded and how many lefthanded!”

Mrs. McDavid groaned.  “You’ve got to do better than that,” she said.  “How about finding out which Vermonter has been retired the longest?”

“Or what people miss most about Vermont?”

“Or dislike about California.  That ought to draw a few laughs.”

“Wow,” Arnie said.  “I think I can do this. I can really give this talk.”

Mrs. McDavid nodded in agreement, and then turned to me. “I believe our work here is done,” she said, and we both walked on.