Posts Tagged ‘Senior Services’

Music — Our International Language

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

Sunday in Laguna Beach Mrs. McD and I bought two cups of ice cream. It was a simple commercial transaction: we got butter pecan and cookies-and-cream, and the gal behind the counter got nine bucks.  I doubt that the gal behind the counter had anything emotional invested in the deal.  Before she had even finished handing me our cups she was shouting, “Next!”

Not all transactions are like that. An artist I know takes great delight in transferring ownership of something he has created to a buyer, and not just because money changes hands. He doesn’t paint just for himself.  He wants others to enjoy his work. 

And what kind of transaction is a musical performance? Nineteenth century German novelist Berthold Auerbach said, “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” The temptation, of course, is to assume that the soul that Auerbach was referring to is that of the audience member. But that’s only partly so.  In a bravura performance by any orchestra, the audience is uplifted, but so are the musicians.  It is a communion between the two, not a one-way transaction.  When it’s over, the musicians don’t shout, “Next!” They can be as much in love with the performance as the audience.

On July 8 about 80 guests as well as the Laguna Woods Symphony and members of the Saddleback College Emeritus Institute Symphony Orchestra experienced this kind of communion at the Sea Country Community Center in Laguna Niguel, the site of the Age Well Senior Center. It was a concert and luncheon billed as ”Tea and Symphony.”


The group’s intergenerational violin section

“It was a wonderful afternoon for the guests and the orchestra,” said Robin Trexler, Site Manager of Age Well Senior Services. “The music was from some of our favorite musicals — Man of La Mancha, West Side Story,  Gigi and  Cabaret to name a few.  Maestra Valerie Geller conducts the Laguna Woods orchestra and the Emeritus orchestra.

The group has performed at the Disneyland concert series, at the SOKA International Music and Arts Festival, and at the sing-along and play-along Messiah each year. They number about 60 in the fall and the spring, and about 40 during the summer.

They range in age from twelve to ninety. “We have three twelve-year-olds — a violinist, a saxophonist, and a percussionist. The orchestra has a wonderful intergenerational and mentorship aspect. “ Shelby and Tony Wong, daughter and father, both play in the violin section.  Ian Hoaglund and his dad John play saxophone side by side.

The orchestra plays a pops series in the summer and a more classical repertoire during the fall and spring semesters. Valerie says they performed their first full symphony only four years ago.  Last fall they did Saint-Saens Third Symphony — the Organ Symphony — a challenge for the most accomplished ensemble, and in the spring Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” This fall they’ll perform Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique.”

“We are not just about trying to sound better than anyone else,” Valerie says. “We are completely about working really hard for the love of making music.”


Maestra Valerie Geller and musicians: “We play for the love of music.”

Valerie, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and is a professional violinist and conductor. She played with the L.A. Philharmonic for a number of years, and is currently concert master with the South Coast Symphony, the Disneyland Symphony, and the private symphonic band, J.T. and California Dreamin’.

Each summer Valerie organizes an overseas trip for some of the musicians.  This year about 22 of them will go to Eastern Europe and literally play along the Danube.  Next year they will travel to the top of the world — Tibet.  In 2009 they journeyed to the Great Wall of China.

“It was one of the more remarkable moments of my entire life,” Valerie said.  “We were surrounded by an international audience because the tour buses were there with people from all over the world. We were playing primarily American movie and Broadway music and when we played Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music, the entire audience spontaneously broke into voice. It was one huge international chorus. As I was conducting there was just this wave of language, this homogeneity of voices singing this song.  It was very emotional and truly wonderful. Music — it’s our common language.”

Do you play? Valerie Geller and her musicians want you to join them.   “We want all the closet musicians of Laguna Woods Village to join us,” she says. “We play for the love of music. We can find a place for everyone who plays.” She thought about that a bit.  “Well maybe it’s hard to find a piece scored for harmonica, but generally, we can find a place for everyone.”

Seniors Helping Their Neighbors

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011
By Riley McDavid   Riley McDavid

“Did you see this?” Arnie said, in a tone suggesting that whatever it was, he didn’t much like it.  At the time he was standing by his mailbox holding a bunch of mail in one hand and waving a letter in our faces with the other.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s someone else who wants a donation.  Something called the Foundation of Laguna Woods Village. You know I’ve given to the Leisure World Foundation and I give to Age Well. They all do great work.  But now this too?”

“Shall I tell him or will you?” I said to Mrs. McD.

“You better,” she replied.  “You’ll be a lot kinder to him than I would.”

“Arnie,” I said most patiently, “there is no more Leisure World Foundation. It’s now called the Foundation of Laguna Woods Village.”

“How come?” Arnie said.

Mrs. McD couldn’t hold back any longer. “Because there’s no more Leisure World, you dodohead!” amply proving her point that she’d be tougher on him.

“Okay.  That makes sense.”

“But they do the same great work,” I said. “They provide temporary emergency financial assistance to residents of Laguna Woods Village. Specifically, the Foundation provides interim assistance with food, medication, utility bills, medical or nursing care, caregivers and respite care. “

“So if somebody’s a little short, they send them money?”

“They don’t send the person any money,” Mrs. McD said.  “If somebody’s in a real financial squeeze and can’t pay a bill, they can apply to the Village’s Social Services Department for assistance.  Once all other avenues of assistance have been exhausted, Social Services sends the request to the Foundation for consideration. It’s done confidentially. Social Services codes the requestors’ identities so the Foundation people never know who they are.”

“If the Foundation approves,” I added, “then the Foundation sends a check directly to the vendor —  Edison or the pharmacy or whatever.  In some cases they’ll send people scrip cards for groceries. It’s just for temporary help.  And it’s only for Village residents. And you know who else they help?”


“Allow me,” Mrs. McD said.  “They send $12,500 every month to support activities of Age Well Senior Services — $5,000 for Meals on Wheels …”

“Which I deliver,” Arnie said proudly.

“…$3,500 a month to the Florence Sylvester Center for the congregate lunch program, and $4,000 to the Adult Day Care Center.  And every bit of that goes to help Village residents.

“Gollee,” Arnie said in his best Gomer Pyle imitation.  “I think I should send them something”

“You certainly should,” Mrs. McD said. 

Then she went on to explain how the foundation gets it funds.  Last year it had income of $101,582 — $57,276 from donations by 1,271 individuals and $20,865 from Village clubs and organizations.  Another $10,000 was a grant from the city of Laguna Woods and the remainder from the invested reserve fund. They were able to disburse more than twice that — $219,206 — thanks to the generosity of several residents who had in years past remembered the Foundation in their estate plans. Individual donations range anywhere from ten dollars to several hundred dollars at a time.

“Your daughter in Vienna — what are you going to get her for her birthday?” I asked.

“Gosh,” Arnie said, “it’s such a hassle sending stuff to her all the way over there in Australia.”

“Austria, Arnie,” Mrs. McD said. “Austria.”

“Right.  Anyway sending her stuff overseas is such a hassle. And besides she’s got just about everything she could want or need.”

“So here’s what you do,” Mrs. McD said.  “Sit down and write a check to the Foundation.  When you send it to them, tell them it’s in her name and give them her address.  They’ll send her a nice card, and she’ll be delighted to know that her present went to help seniors who really needed some financial first aid.”

He thought about that a bit.  “That is sooooo cool,” he said at last.

“And Arnie, when Mrs. McD called you a dodohead…”


“With her that’s a term of affection.  She calls me that all the time.”

You can help Village seniors by donating today. To reach the Foundation, please call 949-268-2246. Also you may email them at the Please check their website for more information:


Photo caption:
The volunteer board members who make the Foundation of Laguna Woods Village work:
Back Row (left to right): Charles Little, Mike Straziuso, Jayson Rome, Eliot Brody (Secretary), Pat Wilkinson (Vice President), Marvin Walts, Jerome Radding (Asst. Treasurer).  Front Row: Marion Levine (President), Beth Perak, Ruth May, Clara Baker (Treasurer), Ruth Bailey