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About Martha Michael

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A professional writer for decades and the editor of multiple products from Valley Publications, Martha is in a constant search for new challenges. While maintaining her editing post for more than eight years, she also opened an antiques business and authored her first book, “Canyon Country,” by Arcadia Publishing.

Martha manages two blogs—one for business and one that is more personal—and works to market and perfect her craft in every arena. Lack of energy is never a problem, and Martha is daily generating ideas, taking photos and talking to members of the community. She believes strongly that “everybody has a story.”

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Dr. Ron Nekoukar

| Sand Canyon Journal | June 19, 2017

The residents of Sand Canyon have a lot in common, though they come from a wide variety of backgrounds. And no one embodies that notion more than new resident Ron Nekoukar, DVM.

Animal lover? Check. Likes rural living? Check.

And like so many residents of the canyon, Dr. Nekoukar, his wife, Lilie, and their son and daughter, Eithan and Leah, have already started adding furry family members to their numbers. They have two dogs, two cats, two pygmy goats and two Russian tortoises. But they aren’t done yet. There are more to come, say the new residents, possibly starting with chickens.

The owner of Sierra Veterinary Clinic on Sierra Highway for the last five years, Dr. Nekoukar became acquainted with Sand Canyon through clients who live in the area.

“I love it here,” he said. “The fact that when you leave the house and go to work you go through a few minutes of horses and it’s green … it’s like living in the country.”

When he was a young boy in the Middle East, where many of Dr. Nekoukar’s relatives still reside, he would frequently bring home hurt birds or cats and interface with the local veterinarian. His interest was piqued at a young age, but he points to experiences he had later as most significantly affecting his future.

“I grew up in Israel and went into the military,” he said. “The men serve three years and females serve two years. It shaped me in many ways. … That’s when my life fell into place — you get structure, and you appreciate things.”

One of Dr. Nekoukar’s most notable habits today was forged by the strong arm of a superior officer. Whereas he used to be lax about time, now he is never late, thanks to harsh penalties for lack of punctuality in the military.

Dr. Nekoukar then went to veterinary school in Budapest, Hungary, earning his degree in 1999, after which he moved to Canada and then the United States. Able to speak English, Hebrew, Farsi and a little Hungarian, the widely traveled veterinarian took a job at an emergency clinic in Miami, where he met Lilie, who was a veterinary technician.

Lilie holding a Maine Coon Cat

Prior to purchasing Sierra Veterinary Clinic in 2012, they lived in Tarzana and he worked in the San Fernando Valley, sometimes as a mobile vet, seeing clients in their homes. He almost exclusively treats dogs and cats, but has treated other animals when necessary, even a lemur one time.

This time of year, pets with snake bites come into the clinic once or twice a week. He treats the greatest number of bites from May through the summer, Dr. Nekoukar said.

“It’s mostly dogs. Snakes don’t attack animals,” he explained. “Dogs usually push their noses into them. … The best thing you can do is snake bite classes for dogs. One training is usually enough.”

The number one issue facing most of Dr. Nekoukar’s patients — as many as 70 percent — is skin disease, often from allergies, which can lead to ear infections.

“It’s probably the most discomforting problem dogs have,” said the veterinarian.

When your dog is suffering from these issues, Dr. Nekoukar has a home remedy that works to maximize your dog’s comfort level. Keep them occupied. Boredom adds to their distress, much like a child with chicken pox who doesn’t think about the itching while he’s at Disneyland, he said.

“Most allergies are food allergies,” he explained. “Generally we know it’s the protein that causes the allergy.”

Symptoms include chewing on their feet and ear shaking. And tackling the problem yourself involves making choices about dog food. “Focus on one protein,” Dr. Nekoukar said. “Try to find an alien protein, like rabbit or deer.”

Performing surgeries is the vet’s favorite part of the practice, but not the routine ones — the more unusual, the better.

When not in the clinic, Dr. Nekoukar enjoys practicing Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense technique. Eithan and Leah go to Hugo’s for gymnastics classes, plus the family uses their passes to Magic Mountain and Universal Studios for entertainment. And with their recent move, they will likely increase the time they spend enjoying life in the canyon.

Eithan helping a kitten

Leah and the goats

“Now with everything in the backyard,” the new homeowner said, “the solar heating in the pool — it works great. It brings it to 90 degrees.”

After settling in this summer, the Nekoukar family will be gearing up for fall, when Eithan, who is 7, and Leah, 5, will enroll at Pinetree Community School in Canyon Country.

Meanwhile, Ron Nekoukar will do what he does best — making animals feel more comfortable at his veterinary clinic … and at home.

Sierra Veterinary Clinic: (661) 252-3333
17755 Sierra Hwy, Canyon Country, CA 91351

Golden Grizzlies – GVHS Senior Standouts

| Canyon Country Magazine | June 18, 2017

When you talk to the top students in Golden Valley’s class of 2017, there is an obvious irony: They are from different ethnicities, yet it’s their diversity that unites them.

Valedictorian David Chung and salutatorians Dachelle Alo and Justine Reblando had some common experiences as students in the SCV. They all attended Golden Oak Community School, La Mesa Junior High School and, finally, Golden Valley. And like most American high school students at the top of the class, they all took a large number of advanced placement and honors classes.

Their common ground didn’t end with graduation, however. All three are headed to schools in the University of California system.

David Chung
Entering UCLA as a regent scholar — which means he is in the top 1.5 percent of incoming students — David Chung is majoring in molecular cellular developmental biology. If it sounds like his goal is medicine, you may be underestimating him. He hopes to go to medical school, but do research as well with an M.D./Ph.D.

“I’ve been interested in biology since I was 6. I just like it,” David said. “My AP biology teacher, Gary Williamson, showed me that there’s a lot more to biology than what I knew.”
But when it came to personal inspiration, it was La Mesa Junior High School band teacher Jeffrey Stephan who influenced David.

“He was always passionate about his teaching and everything he did with the students. He taught life lessons,” David explained. “He showed me encouragement to find what was interesting, and (taught that) when you’re doing something you have to work hard at it.”

David played clarinet through high school, going from section leader to drum major of Golden Valley’s marching band by his senior year.

The 18-year-old still refers to a frequent quote by Stephan, which is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” David’s experience in band was so positive, in fact, he is considering an audition for UCLA’s wind ensemble or symphonic band.

But music wasn’t David’s only activity in high school. He was the academic decathlon president and is a three-year volunteer at Henry Mayo Hospital. He also served as the district vice-president for the city’s student board of the American Red Cross.

This summer, David will make his first trip to his parents’ home country of South Korea. He was born in Los Angeles and lived in Glendale, moving to Santa Clarita in time to begin first grade at Fair Oaks Community School. He has a strong appreciation for the wide range of ethnicities he was exposed to through his classmates.

“I feel like, in general, Golden Valley seems to be a little more diverse and because of that, we tend to be more friendly with each other,” David explained. “It makes it so that all the students are kinder. The overall atmosphere of the school seems more relaxed.”

Justine Reblando
Another senior standout headed for UCLA, Justine Reblando plans to major in chemical engineering. When asked about teachers who made an impact, Justine has a long list.

“Mr. Galarza, Mr. Montanio, Mr. Suarez, Mr. Kirkland, Dee, Mrs. Bricker, Mrs. Werts, Mrs. Coleman, Mr. Printz, Mr. Moskal, Mr. Williamson, and Mr. Stimac,” she said in an email, adding that she is grateful for her other Hart District teachers as well.

When asked how it feels to be one of Golden Valley’s two salutatorians, Justine described it as a “great honor.”

“Something that truly enabled me to become a top student was the support from my friends and family, as well as hard work,” she explained. “For one, I would not have been competitive and passionate about pursuing higher education had it not been for my friends who continuously challenged the way that I think, and pushed me to be my very best, since I always thought of them as my rivals. They never let me fall below my true potential and always pushed me harder to raise the bar and triumph over any challenges.”

And in case her mature outlook made you forget she’s still a teen, Justine added, “Shout out to Haut Cheat Oh Partee and Pbs – you guys know who you are.”

Justine points to an ironic source of her success — she was shaped for the better by situational and personal detractors.

“Dedication and pursuing my own interests amidst the naysayers and the disbelievers formed me into a stronger student and a stronger person,” she said. “I was never the smartest person in school, but one thing that really made me stand out was my hard work. Even though I struggled in certain areas at school, I chose to be persistent and to work harder in subjects that I was weak in.”

This determination formed a kind of work ethic for Justine. “If you choose to fail, failure will be inevitable,” she said. “But, if you look failure in the eye and put in the effort to succeed, it will all be worth it. It is about being honest with yourself and following the only path that you can take, regardless of what everyone around you is doing.”

Justine attended three other elementary schools before enrolling at Golden Oak Community School after her family moved to the Canyon Country-Newhall area. And it is to her extended family she expresses her thanks, including her parents, sister, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

“The never-ending support meant a lot to me,” Justine said, directing comments to her family members. “It was a long and difficult road to get here, but thank you for sticking with me throughout this whole time and giving me the freedom to do so.”

When she wasn’t working on scholastic performance, Justine volunteered with the City of Santa Clarita and served with the Newhall Optimist Club to help them with their local activities. She continues to reach out, hoping her advice will build a positive future not just for herself, but also for those around her.

She said: “Stay optimistic, find your passion, and happiness will eventually follow.”

Dachelle Alo
A lot is happening in the life of salutatorian Dachelle Alo. For one thing, when the 17-year-old leaves for University of California, Irvine in September, the rest of her family is moving too. They are staying in Santa Clarita, moving to a house nearby, while she studies computer science.

Her favorite subject in school was AP Calculus and she played tennis at Golden Valley for two years. Her coach, Josh Stimac, would later be Dachelle’s economics and AP government teacher, making a lasting impact on her as a mentor.

“He treated students with respect and he emphasized the importance of the family and of happiness,” Dachelle said.
At Golden Valley she became involved in Key Club, Junior Optimist International and was a member of the California Scholarship Federation. Her junior year, Dachelle and her friends started a LINK Club, which stands for Liberty in North Korea.

“We raised awareness for people in crisis over there,” she said. “We had fundraisers to help resettle refugees in South Korea.”

Dachelle is of Philippine descent, and was born in Alberta, Canada. Her family moved to California when she was one year old.

In her free time, Dachelle enjoys playing the piano and guitar, but it’s her favorite aspects of technology that drive her plans for the future.

“I’ve always been a visual person, so I’ve always liked the design of things like Instagram, things I use on a daily basis,” she said. “It inspired me to major in computer science.”

Dachelle has specific goals following her education, mainly enhancing user-friendliness in the technological world.

“I want to be a designer or engineer at Google, improving the interaction between humans and technology,” she said. “Improving the little aspects of technology to make the experience enjoyable.”

Like her classmates, Dachelle feels the diversity at Golden Valley benefits everyone.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of different cultures and languages,” she said. “We’re all open and accepting of each other and it’s really cool.”

Flying High with Chandler Jackson

| Canyon Country Magazine | June 17, 2017

During the teen years it is not uncommon to watch the trajectories of young people point skyward, and many adults take pleasure in seeing them soar to greater and greater heights.

Chandler Jackson is the kind of 19-year-old who takes that literally. As a full-time flight instructor, he soars over the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley regularly, teaching men, women and youth as young as 13 what they need to know to become amateur pilots. He has been flying since he was 12 years old and this year began teaching what he knows.

“My father works in sales and marketing for an airline. My uncle’s a pilot. My aunt was a flight attendant and my grandmother was a flight attendant,” Jackson said. “So, I’ve always been around the airline industry.”

An Agua Dulce resident and a Vasquez High School student for his first year of high school, the young pilot’s training ground was the east side of the SCV, including Agua Dulce Airport.

“Agua Dulce has a pretty long runway and is surrounded by a lot of mountainous terrain,” he said. “It’s in a small valley, but the runway is just over 4,000 feet, almost a mile.”

Jackson also commented on the fact it has a fairly new look, including hangars that resemble red barns. “The runway is resurfaced, and it has nice painted lines,” he said. “It’s maintained really well.”

Though his family moved to Valencia and he graduated from West Ranch High School, he typically teaches students at Agua Dulce Airport and in Antelope Valley at William J. Fox Airfield, known as Fox Field, which is about five miles northwest of Lancaster.

Right now he has about 10 full-time students, plus some who are part-time, mostly in their 20s or 30s, but ranging in age from 13 to 65.

“You need to be 16 to fly by yourself and 17 to get your flying certificate,” Jackson said.

The young flight instructor is usually up in the air six days a week, with his day beginning at 5 a.m. “The best block for a lesson is usually the morning between 7 and 9 a.m. when the wind hasn’t kicked up yet and it’s not too hot,” he said.

Because of his proximity to Edwards Air Force Base, Jackson often has aerospace engineers taking lessons, and he sometimes gets international students. “I have an Australian student and another from Brazil; plus, I had one from Holland,” he said.

While pilots three or four decades ago were, stereotypically, white males, often in their 60s or 70s, Jackson sees the field becoming more diverse. Only about one-quarter of his students are females, but a number of agencies and associations are working on drawing more women into the industry.

The best candidate for a pilot’s license is “someone who pays a lot of attention to detail,” he explained. “There’s a lot of information you have to take in — looking for other airplanes in the sky, making sure the engine is running right. So if you find yourself going around the house and being OCD about how you clean it, you’re a good candidate.”

But even the most conscientious pilot wannabes have a lot to learn, which is one reason Jackson pays close attention during lessons.

“Usually once a day I’ll have a wakeup call. But, you’ve got to let them make mistakes,” Jackson said. “Every time they’re doing something, maybe coming in to land, I’m making a split-second evaluation, and if it’s not going to break something, I’ll let them do it.”

He would like to become a career professional pilot, and is looking at corporate aviation — flying private jets. But he also wants to continue teaching, because it forces you to study and stay proficient.

“Once they get their first private license, no restrictions, everybody gets complacent, thinks they’re invincible,” he said. “I’ve had a few run-ins with weather. That’s all what experience will teach you.”

The farthest Jackson has flown so far is St. George, Utah and San Francisco. He plans to fly to North Carolina soon, because his student purchased a plane there and needs to pick it up.

The 19-year-old’s bucket list includes a trip to Seattle to fly a float plane. And looking back at his accomplishments for the first 19 years of his life, it isn’t beyond the imagination to expect Chandler Jackson’s future dreams — whatever they are — will someday take flight.

Gilchrist Farm

| Community | June 1, 2017

Local residents who enjoy the Southland’s annual Renaissance Pleasure Faire will be pleased to know they have a new opportunity here in Santa Clarita — and this one is family-friendly.

On Saturday, June 3 from 10 a.m.-7 p.m., new event venue Gilchrist Farm in Saugus is hosting A Summer Faire, where guests will experience life in the Middle Ages — complete with archery, magicians, storytellers and more. There will be two jousting shows — 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. — sponsored by the American Jousting Alliance.

Jim and Monica Gilchrist own the 15-acre property on Bouquet Canyon Road and decided to create something new after they saw the Alliance in action at a Boy Scout event.

“They brought these beautiful, amazing horses and did a live jousting demonstration on horseback,” Monica Gilchrist said. “We thought it would be kind of fun to bring something here, locally, for the public.”

While the ticket price includes most of the fun and games, other activities will be available for purchase at the Summer Faire, including pony rides and a renaissance mercantile with crafts for the kids. There they can create goblets, shields, pendants and other renaissance pieces.

“There will be face painting, fortune telling, those kinds of things,” Monica said.

Every Saturday Gilchrist Farms is open to the public for free from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. There are wagon rides, a petting zoo and demonstrations such as goat milking. Guests get a view of life on the farm, which includes the family’s longtime hobby raising dairy goats.

Since Monica’s childhood, she has lived at Gilchrist Farm off and on. Currently, she, her husband, Jim, and two of their children live there, and her parents live on the property as well. Jim and Monica began boarding horses in 2010, but it has been just over a year since Gilchrist Farm was born as a party venue and public attraction.
“I got laid off from my job in January of 2016,” Monica explained. “After the initial shock, I used it as an opportunity to create a business out of what I absolutely love. It was a natural evolution — doing what we love, doing it full time.”

When Lombardi Ranch closed due to the long-running drought, it fueled a growing desire for a new harvest season destination. The Lombardi family had been hosting its fall festival since 1989, drawing visitors from all over Los Angeles.

Last year’s fall festival at Gilchrist Farm included some of the traditions from Lombardi Ranch, including the chance for non-profit groups to make money selling baked goods.

The Gilchrist family raises Thanksgiving turkeys and custom-fed pork, plus they offer year round horseback riding lessons. When the Summer Faire closes, Gilchrist Farm gets into the busy summer camp season. On July 7 they are holding a Family Campout, inviting families to camp on the property and take advantage of horseback riding and goat milking.

“They’ll bring their own tents,” Monica said. “We’ll do a fun campfire style event, with skits, singing, music and a nature hike. We provide the food.”

You may purchase tickets for the Summer Faire online at Gilchristfarm.com. Pre-sale tickets are $22 for adults and $12 for youth ages 5-14. Groups of 10 or more get $5 off every ticket. At the door tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for youth.

Gilchrist Farm is located at 30116 Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus. Call 661-645-2517 or visit GilchristFarm.com.

Now Brewing in Castaic

| Community | May 25, 2017

Featuring wingback chairs that contribute to its comfortable atmosphere, It’s A Grind in Castaic offers customers whole bean coffees, espresso drinks, teas, fresh pastries, homemade burritos, newly featured drinks, and menu items such as empanadas, salads and sandwiches.

New owners, Brad and Lea Lanfranco, had been patrons of It’s A Grind for years, walking to the coffee shop from their home in Hasley Hills.

“We had told the previous owner several years ago that if she ever wanted to sell, we were interested,” Brad Lanfranco said.

The couple was thinking of an investment several years down the road, but when the opportunity presented itself earlier than they expected, the Lanfrancos jumped on it.

“I didn’t want to be a Walmart greeter in my retirement,” Lea joked.

While the husband and wife team haven’t given up their day jobs, you can find them in the store daily.

“It was very important for us to preserve the warm, friendly hometown atmosphere,” Lea said.

It’s A Grind is a local, family-run business. The Lanfranco’s daughter Bailey works as a barista, juggling her time between the business, completing her senior year at Hart High School and taking college courses. Brad is a Marine Corps veteran and also works for National Write Your Congressman. Lea works as a communications leader at Intuit. Both of them are eager for the day they can make It’s A Grind a full-time gig.

“We love this business,” said Brad. “We really want this to be the place where people come to get great coffee and food, to relax and socialize.”

Like the bar on “Cheers,” where everyone greeted Norm by name, It’s a Grind has regulars the Lanfrancos see nearly every day.

“We know their cars and their drinks, so when they walk in, the baristas’ goal is to put the drink in their hands when they walk through the door.”

It’s a Grind is located in Hasley Canyon Village at 29641 The Old Road in Castaic; 661-702-9636.

Childcare Center to Close Unexpectedly

| News | May 25, 2017

Families with children at Valencia KinderCare Learning Center got some bad news last week, and with little explanation. Despite many of the parents being pleased with the teachers and curriculum at KinderCare, the Valencia location will close its doors in two weeks.

A statement issued by KinderCare’s corporate office said: “Our Valencia KinderCare Learning Center will close on Friday, June 9. We know our center is a home away from home for children and families and we’re honored to have served Santa Clarita families throughout the years. While change is never easy, our goal is to make the process as smooth as we possibly can for our families. We have two other KinderCare centers in the area — Canyon Country and Granada Hills — and both of those centers have openings for Valencia children.”

The Canyon Country KinderCare director, Iliana Faraldo, said she is prepared to accept new families into her program. When asked why Valencia’s facility is closing, Faraldo said, “I wouldn’t be able to give you specific information on why that center would be closing.”

Staff members at KinderCare’s headquarters in Portland, Ore. were similarly quiet about the situation. According to the communications department at headquarters, several of their centers are closing in a process they referred to as “consolidation.”

Rachel McCarthy, a mother of two children at Valencia KinderCare, said she was shocked at the news.

“The staff doesn’t have the details either. They walked in the day after Mother’s Day and were told. They were getting prepared to kick off summer,” McCarthy said. “Multiple families don’t want this school to close. … We want to fight for it.”

Valencia KinderCare Director Jeni Bromberek would not confirm the date that she and her staff learned their location was closing, but did confirm it was recently. Some of the 17 teachers leaving the Valencia Center will transfer to the Canyon Country location, she said. There are 92 children in the program in Valencia, which Bromberek confirmed was not the maximum capacity. Those families are searching for new sources of care for their kids.

“Our parents are amazing,” Bromberek said. “These parents are so supportive of our staff, and sadness is generally what they’ve been experiencing. But overall, they’ve been incredible.”

Bromberek, who lives in Crescenta Valley, has been employed by KinderCare for just five months and hopes to stay with the company. “My plans are still up in the air,” she said. “I’ve been in education for 25 years. It’s my passion. … I just have to figure out my options.”

McCarthy said that several of the parents had called both district and corporate offices, but couldn’t get an explanation.

“If there’s an issue, how can we fix this?” she asked.

There are 1,370 KinderCare Learning Centers across the country, and almost every one of them are accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC. According to KinderCare spokesperson Zibby Pillote, fewer than 10 percent of other childcare centers are accredited. The KinderCare Learning Centers have a proprietary curriculum for children as young as 6 weeks old to 12 years old. For the older students, the program offers care before and after school.

McCarthy gives KinderCare glowing reviews. Before she brought her kids to the Valencia center, her 4-year-old son was showing signs of being on the autism spectrum.

“Now my son comes home every day asking about his teacher. He started using full sentences. He went from having limited speech to this,” she explained. “This particular school has the greatest teachers.”

After 12 weeks at the school, McCarthy could remove her son from the Individualized Education Program, or IEP, at school, because he no longer needed the added assistance. KinderCare’s curriculum was working, which is why she’s so perplexed at the news.

“You made magic now, you’ve got the right staffing. This is where you want your kids to go,” McCarthy said. “I actually changed my job to make sure I could keep my kids in this school.”

Pillote, who is a communications associate in the KinderCare corporate office, was unable to shed light on the reason for closing the doors in Valencia, but underscored the message of the press statement released by her office.

“We’re working with each family to help them find the best solution for their child, regardless of whether that’s at a KinderCare center or another provider,” Pillote said. “Our Canyon Country KinderCare is accepting new families and we have already told families at the Valencia center that there’s availability for them there. We also have a center in Granada Hills that we’re directing them to.”

For parents who were pleased with the whole package in Valencia, it’s little consolation.

“Coming here and finding this community — I want to keep my kids here and keep them thriving,” McCarthy said. “It’s impacted my family greatly.”

Oaks of Hope

| Community, Sand Canyon Journal | May 15, 2017

Like many local families know, addiction is something that, once planted, can take root and grow. And grow. And grow.

Statistics show opioid abuse is rising across the nation. And closer to home, the last few years the numbers of deaths by drug overdose in Santa Clarita have averaged about one per month.

But there is a family in Canyon Country who decided to slow the pace of the problem. And they hope their idea can take root and grow faster than the rate of addiction.

Teri and Greg Gault turned their Sand Canyon home and its expansive grounds into a residential detoxification center, which they opened last fall. The house is now the site of a chemical dependency treatment program that focuses on motivating change and helping patients develop a healthy, therapeutic lifestyle of recovery.

Oaks of Hope is licensed for a partial hospitalization program, or PHP. Clients go to the house-turned-treatment center Monday through Friday for six hours of groups. Intensive outpatient treatment is not available through their program, which is a stage where people in recovery find a sober living home.

Oaks of Hope admits patients in the initial stages of recovery. “We’re the first point of contact — that’s detoxification,” Teri Gault explained. “Detox is usually anywhere from 5-10 days, depending on what their condition is. Then detox plus residential is about 30 days.”

The patients take part in a minimum of six groups a day, and on weekends they go on outings. There are speaker meetings, which is often a place for members of the program to find sponsors. Most of the treatment uses the 12-Step Program, such as Celebrate Recovery, which is Christian-based.

“Some people don’t want to do 12-step and they don’t have to do 12-step. There are a lot of ways to get well,” Teri said. “The clients come first. We really care about them. We want to challenge them. It comes down to one word that comes to me a lot, which is ‘submission.’ If they want to submit to the treatment plan, they have a really good chance of making it, and we have a lot of good results.”

So far, 18 individuals have “made it” through the program at Oaks of Hope and they range in age from 19-54. “We have a fantastic clinical team,” Teri said. “But also it’s a great home — this place is meant for recovery. My friends, everybody would say, ‘There’s just such a good feeling here.’ That’s the Lord.”

Before Greg and Teri Gault and their two sons created Oaks of Hope, the house was their residence. After they made the necessary preparations and got a home occupation permit, it was transformed into a place of recovery and they moved to a four-bedroom rental property in Canyon Country.

“I’m so content with it,” Teri said. “It’s kind of amazing, leaving after living here for eight years, and now I get to come here every day (where) I see people coming in and people getting well.”

Oaks of Hope is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a high-end neighborhood. There is an outdoor gym, a swimming pool and a full-time chef.

What motivated the Gaults to open Oaks of Hope was their watching family members suffer the consequences of addiction.

“I have a brother that I lost to meth-related heart failure and he was only 29,” Teri said. “And I have another brother who was in and out of incarceration. He’s sober now. He’s one of my key staff members.”

Oaks of Hope is a residential detox center for chemical substances and alcohol. “In 2008 in the Santa Clarita Valley we started having a lot of black tar heroin,” Teri said. “But now it’s gone more towards ‘benzos,’ which is Xanax. We’re seeing that coming from everywhere.”

Doctors, nurses and therapists work with patients at Oaks of Hope, who all have psychological evaluations, and sometimes they are referred to a higher level of care. Sadly, there are times when individuals are referred to treatment facilities, but never show up. One woman who was referred to Oaks of Hope overdosed the night before being admitted.

“Her name is Audrey,” Teri said. “We have a chair that our clients sanded and painted that sits in our room and the empty chair reminds everyone that you need to get help, because nothing good comes from drug abuse.”

When you discuss the range of drugs that are affecting the lives of addicts, Teri can reel off a long list, including Fentanyl, heroin and elephant tranquilizers.

“When people are on heroin it’s a game changer. But the good news is, with treatment there are a lot of ways to get well. They’re going to find something that makes a difference,” Teri said. “If you want it, it’s here.”

For more information about Oaks of Hope, call 866-705-HOPE.

Santa Clarita Canyon Cowboys Youth Football

| Canyon Country Magazine | May 13, 2017

A local team of parents, football alumni and community leaders pulled together to create a youth tackle football organization that is “all inclusive.” According to Michael Haiby, the president of the new Santa Clarita Cowboys Youth Tackle Football organization, kids and youth ages 6-14 can get on a team regardless of experience and at a nominal cost.

“By keeping our overhead down and with community support and corporate sponsorship we are able to offer the, by far, lowest registration fee (at $300) in Santa Clarita,” Haiby said. “The immediate goal of the organization is to fill strong teams by facilitating a robust recruitment program where athletes can play for as little as  $20 out of pocket.”

A Disneyland raffle fundraiser enables families to raise the remainder of the $300 total registration fees, Haiby said, adding that most youth football programs in the area cost close to $450.

Registration is open now and available to all youth football players in the entire Santa Clarita Valley plus residents of outlying areas without restriction due to geographic boundaries.

“Santa Clarita Cowboys is a nonprofit organization which fosters the development of community youth by providing education for the advancement of athletic skills and sportsmanship,” Haiby said.
A part of the Valley Youth Conference, goals of the Santa Clarita Cowboys also include a commitment to schoolwork.

“We truly believe that academics and athletics go hand in hand with our student athletes,” Haiby said. “We want to develop student athletes who can look forward to continuing their endeavors in high school and go on to college.”

The leaders of the new organization include former football parents whose kids are grown and they want to coach youth football as a way to give back to the community.

“We have coaches who are currently coaching in our high school district and able to make some time as well to coach for Santa Clarita Cowboys,” Haiby said. “We have coaches (who) have experience playing D1 college football, such as Cade Apsay (University of Colorado quarterback) and … we’ve got San Diego State University and the Oregon Ducks represented. Then we’ve got some coaches who are parents of current Santa Clarita Cowboys players who bring to our program their years of football experience. We are also fortunate enough to have student leaders involved in our football program, such as the varsity high school football players who put on a demonstration for the entire Santa Clarita Cowboys organization in the weight room last month.”

Practice has begun already and will run through the summer months. The youth football game season is close to the same as the NFL season.

In an effort to make registration easy for aspiring players, there is weekly registration available — every Saturday in 2017 from 2:30-3 p.m. at Toppers Pizza, located at 18417 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country. Families can also register with any team manager at practice.

For more information about the Disneyland fundraiser, go to SantaClaritaCowboys.org and click on the “Documents” button. For more information about the program, visit www.SantaClaritaCowboys.org.

Cowboy Football Camp
Players are all invited to attend summer football camp through the program from June 12-14, 2017. The non-contact football fundamentals skills camp welcomes beginners through proficient players of all ages. The fee is $55 and the camp runs from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

The camp is conducted by Canyon High School Football Coach Rich Gutierrez and his staff. It will be held at the CHS football stadium.

Kids age 6-7 only register at the camp at 8:45 a.m. on the first day of the camp — not online. All older players can register through the Santa Clarita Summer Seasons Brochure, also available online at Santa-Clarita.com/seasons.

Non Profit of the Week – The Canyon Theatre Guild

| SC Living | May 12, 2017

The Canyon Theatre Guild has always done its best to make the world a better place by entertaining, educating, enlightening and enriching the community through quality live theatre. Forty-seven years ago, in early April of 1970, a notice appeared in the local Santa Clarita newspaper inviting interested members of the public to a community meeting to explore the possibility of forming a local theatre. In July of 1970, the Canyon Theatre Guild (CTG) mounted its first production at the William S. Hart High School Auditorium. There were 20 people in the audience that night and the auditorium seated approximately 1,000 — but the CTG spirit was born with that first show.

For years after that performance, the members of the CTG performed wherever they could find a space and an audience. Their first longtime home was at “Callahan’s Old West” up Sierra Highway. They kept producing successful shows, and from a total of 2,500 audience members for the four shows in its 1986-87 season, the theatre grew to an audience of over 13,000 for the nine shows of the 1999-2000 season. The work was accomplished 100 percent by volunteers from the theatre. And with the ingenuity of their technical volunteers and the tenacity of dedicated audience members who faithfully drove up Sierra Highway to support them, the theatre mounted productions the size of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Annie.”

By 1996, the Canyon Theatre Guild had the opposite challenge of that first show at Hart High. The Sierra Highway location was bursting at the seams. Members of the CTG again began to search for a new home which would meet their growing needs. In 1996, TimBen Boydston located a perfect, 6,000-square-foot property in downtown Newhall, and with the blessing of the board of directors, they started fundraising. The quest began to call 24242 Main Street the new home of the Canyon Theatre Guild.

Members of the Canyon Theatre Guild worked tirelessly to raise the funds. They hired Boydston as their full-time director of operations to facilitate fundraising efforts and coordinate the location purchase and renovation.

“It’s hard to believe that the very property that we wanted for our theatre was available three years later when we had finally secured enough money to make an offer,” Boydston said. The City of Santa Clarita Redevelopment Agency awarded one of its first grants to the CTG to assist in the purchase of the property, and in 2000 the Canyon Theatre Guild opened its new, state-of-the-art theatre with a seating capacity of 285 in Old Town Newhall.  This new and central location allowed them to better serve the citizens of the Santa Clarita Valley with their existing programs and the increased space allowed them to expand programming.

The Canyon Theatre Guild has now been serving the citizens of Santa Clarita Valley with quality live theatre for over 47 years. The Guild produces 10 full-scale productions each season and has been voted the “Best Live Theatre” in the Santa Clarita Valley every year of the Reader’s Poll. Over 30,000 people attend performances each season. Over 500 SCV citizen artists and volunteers consistently demonstrate their love of the theatre through their donations of time, talent, and hard work. The CTG also receives support from local government, businesses, and corporations and thousands of Santa Clarita citizens.

With all this success, The Canyon Theatre Guild now gives back to the community in multiple ways. They serve the youth of the community through the Youth Theatre Institute, offering 10 full production workshops throughout the year for kids of all ages. Tuition is low, fun factor is high – AND – all experiences are designed to teach much more than theatre! Best of all, 10 percent of all workshop participants are given full scholarships by the CTG, based on financial need as identified by the Boys and Girls Club. In addition, each year the CTG awards 2-3 $500 scholarships to graduating seniors from local high schools. The theatre donates hundreds of free theatre tickets to the Boys & Girls Club, churches and other non-profit organizations. They donate goods and services to over 90 community non-profit organizations and gallery space to the Santa Clarita Artists’ Association for the display of local artists’ work.

From day one, the Canyon Theatre Guild has truly been a community effort. Literally, thousands of volunteer hours go into the efforts of CTG in all areas, from design and construction to financing. The hundreds of shows that have been produced by the non-profit group have brought seasoned actors together with beginners in a spirit of fun and cooperation. For information on summer shows, summer youth theatre camps and volunteer opportunities, call the CTG Box Office at 661-799-2702 and become part of a vibrant, working theatre with a robust history and future.

Local Elk’s Lodge Celebrates 50th Year

| Community | May 11, 2017

Five charter members of Santa Clarita Elks Lodge #2379 gathered on Tuesday night to share stories from the early years of the service club. Nathan Beverly, Bruce Fortine, Bob Tallant, Jim Williams and Bob Gill, who is also a charter officer, remembered old friends, meetings and pranks from yesteryear.

Founded on November 15, 1967, this year the celebrating will continue with: a roast for longtime Elks member Jay Larkins Sept. 9; a Friday night special menu and entertainment by “Mr. Music,” Richard Roeloffs, on Oct. 13; and a commemorative dinner on Nov. 18 honoring the Lodge’s 50 years of service to the community.

The Elk’s Lodge is at 17766 Sierra Hwy, Canyon Country, CA 91351. Phone: (661) 251-1500

‘Elephant Man’ Performance at Sanctuary Church

| Entertainment | May 11, 2017

A local church is pooling its talent to bring the community a live stage performance of Bernard Pomerance’s “The Elephant Man” for the next two weekends. The Sanctuary in Newhall has built a professionally designed stage and with a combination of entertainment industry talent from their congregation is bringing the thought-provoking script to life.

“The reason we chose ‘Elephant Man’ is because we loved the story as it is, but also what it represents historically, because it stems from an actual life, as the story suggests,” said Jonathan Edwards, executive pastor at The Sanctuary. “The story allows someone taking in the story to not only hear and listen and watch a story play out, but oddly enough, identify with it.”

The main character in the drama — “John Merrick” — is based on the life of Joseph Merrick, a 19th century Londoner who was born horribly disfigured. The storyline covers the ability of a young doctor to transform him from an object of pity to a favorite of the aristocracy.

Directed by actor Mark Henderson, a member of The Sanctuary’s congregation, the aim of the church’s production is to inspire a depth of thought and discussion.

“With some plays you go to you walk away and say, ‘That was cool; that was fun.’ But with this one you get in the car, you sit down and ask yourself, ‘How does this apply to me?’” Edwards said. “My issues might not be as evident as this man, John Merrick, but — you know what? We all have a version of what this man went through.”

Performances are May 12-14 and May 19-21 at 7 p.m., with one matinee on May 20 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 and may be purchased online at ElephantManPlay.com.

The Sanctuary Church is located at 26444 Friendly Valley Parkway in Santa Clarita.

Sand Canyon Country Club

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | May 10, 2017

Sand Canyon residents have watched the changes at Robinson Ranch unfold over the last couple of years, anxiously awaiting its final transformation. It began with closure of the Mountain Course due to drought conditions. Then there were the fires, followed by floods.

Owner Steve Kim had the weighty decision to create a direction for the necessary redesign after half the holes on the Valley Course were burned in the Sand Fire. He and his team took a drought-friendly approach, choosing to build a “desert concept” style for the golf course. While designing the outdoors, the owner also redecorated the clubhouse, which now has crystal chandeliers and new furnishings in the Sycamore Bar & Grill.

And last month he changed the name. Robinson Ranch is now Sand Canyon Country Club.

“Everything is kind of changing after the fire and so much rain,” Kim said. “The fire caused us to close down. Now we are making it a 27-hole course.”

Sand Canyon Country Club will have three nine-hole courses—Mountain, Valley and Desert. Valley and Desert are open and the Mountain Course is still being constructed.

“To conserve water we’re doing a lot of things,” Kim said. “Like synthetic turf. And we’re making it a desert course.”

There are 30 spots on the driving range, which has synthetic turf, and will soon be covered by solar panels for additional shade.

“We got (the) permit and it’s being fabricated,” Kim said.

There are special promotions with various tee times, some as low as $35 per player, which are spelled out on the Sand Canyon Country Club website. Lessons and membership are offered also, and there are tournament packages available.

Indoors there were both physical changes and an effort to make the facility more community friendly, head golf pro Mark Kagaoan told Canyon Country Magazine in March. “We have the most beautiful clubhouse,” he said. “Some of the concerns were we were always closed because we were such a busy wedding and event venue.”

Steve Kim said that changes to the patio, including Plexiglas, mean the Sycamore Bar & Grill can remain open during most of the events held at the venue.

“Now we have a fireside patio, so it’s a separate room covered with glass,” Kim said. “Occasionally, unless it’s a big wedding, the restaurant will be open.”

Sand Canyon Country Club can hold functions with as many as 300 guests. There is live music on weekends and the Sycamore Bar & Grill holds events such as taco night and wine tasting.

What began as a course designed by Ted Robinson, Jr. was eventually owned by Kim and a group of investors — until last month. Now Kim owns the 400-acre property completely.

Its final phase should take about two years. Kim is planning to expand the club to become a resort, complete with a 100-room hotel, a spa and tennis courts. The plans will be submitted soon for the project, he said, a vision he compares to the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.

But in the meantime, Kim’s message to locals is: “Just come in.” Even the name change is his way of communicating his desire to build a sense of community.

“He is a golfer, he loves golf. He wants this place to succeed,” Kagaoan said.

From Kim’s perspective, Canyon Country residents are invited to step up to the tee and become a part of the changing landscape at Sand Canyon Country Club — both inside and out.

Highway Hook-Up

| News | April 20, 2017

Sierra Highway. It’s had a life as “El Camino Sierra,” been nationally-known as “U.S. Route 6,” and first made it to the silver screen in the final shot of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” in 1936.

So, what now?

If you’ve driven north on Sierra Highway from Soledad to Vasquez Canyon Road, you’ve probably noticed a few things, such as deterioration of the roadway, the announcement of a community center, and the presence of tractors up on the ridgeline when you face west.

To inquire about all of those issues isn’t entirely simple, as the City of Santa Clarita doesn’t own all of Sierra Highway. Some of it south of Soledad Canyon Road actually belongs to CalTrans. And a small portion of the road, a .7-mile stretch between Golden Valley Road and Friendly Valley Pkwy, has been a point of discussion for leaders of Santa Clarita recently. Legislation was co-sponsored earlier this year by Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) and state Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) to authorize the California Transportation Commission to relinquish all or any portion of Sierra Highway from Friendly Valley to Newhall.

 Acosta spokesperson David Creager said in an email to Gazette writer Lee Barnathan, “This was requested by the city due to the state’s inability to maintain the section of highway. The city wishes to take over responsibility for the section in question in order to make sure that the highway doesn’t fall into any further disrepair.”

But north of Soledad is not owned by the state. It is owned by the city up to Fox Feed, beyond which Sierra Highway is owned by L.A. County.

“When the Community Center moves forward there will be significant improvements to Sierra Highway going north from Soledad,” city Councilman Bob Kellar said.

The Canyon Country Community Center is planned for the northeast corner of Sierra Highway and Soledad, though the fate of the white, two-story building  located there (photo below) is unclear.

“At this point we are working with all the surrounding property owners for the development of the new Community Center, Caruso’s included. We have had preliminary discussion with the owners,” City Director of Public Works Robert Newman said.

Angie Caruso, whose family owns the building on Sierra Highway where their restaurant, Caruso’s, is located, has been informed about the proposed Community Center, and debunked any rumors that their building would be demolished as part of the plan.

“They contacted us last year that they have plans to build in back of us. That’s okay,” Caruso said. “We have no intention of selling (the building). My grandpa bought that in the 1950s, it’s something my grandfather left us. My mom and dad have no intention of selling it.”

Angie Caruso owns Piccola Trattoria, an Italian restaurant on Dolan Way, around the corner from Caruso’s. She believes both of her family’s businesses are impacted by the state of Sierra Highway.

“We do need Sierra Highway upgraded,” she said. “It’s very dark, very dangerous. We offer valet here because we don’t want any of our customers crossing Sierra Highway. That was one of the reasons we started valet — we didn’t want anything to happen to anyone. They need lights. They need sidewalks.”

That’s where the City of Santa Clarita comes in.

“With the development of the Community Center, street improvements along the property frontage on Sierra Highway will be constructed including sidewalk, curb and lighting,” Newman said. “(It) will include full construction of curb and sidewalk improvements along the project frontage, along with striping changes to include three lanes and a bike lane.”

Newman responded to questions about the current state of the roadway.

“The city has made a number of improvements along Sierra Highway over the years, including widening to two lanes within the city, landscaped medians with development partners and traffic signal enhancements,” Newman said.

And what about where Sierra Highway becomes county-owned, north of College of the Canyons and Fox Feed?

“For residents I would refer them to the local 5th District County Supervisor’s office,” Kellar said. “Other improvements will take place over time on Sierra as new development occurs. The Skyline project is a case in point, with the creation of a new intersection just north of the Backwoods Inn Restaurant.”

The Skyline development, which will all be on county-owned land, is a property of Pardee Homes, with approval for 1,220 total units, all single-family detached homes. According to Dave Little, division president for Pardee Homes, about a quarter of them will be age-restricted units in their own gated section, the same size as Belcaro, a 55 and older gated community in Valencia.

“In conjunction with the development of Skyline we’ll be providing another school for Sulphur Springs, also a nine-acre public park,” Little said. “With our grading equipment up and over that ridgeline, you can see what’s going on across the street from the Backwoods Inn. There’s an inherent inconvenience, but a lot of benefits, in addition to having the equipment out there.”

What they’re constructing is Skyline Ranch Road and will connect Plum Canyon Road to Sierra Highway. An intersection will be constructed in front of the Backwoods Inn.

“At the connection point we’ll improve the intersection there. We’re working with the city to see what they’re doing with improvements right there, so we can see how we can dovetail with that,” Little said. “Vasquez Canyon Road is obviously a sore subject for residents of Santa Clarita. Skyline Ranch Road will offer people another way to get to the Sierra Highway side.”

 

National Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

| Canyon Country Magazine | April 18, 2017

As difficult as it is for an individual with Parkinson’s disease to move forward, the effort to raise money for research and treatment is also something that occurs one step at a time. One Canyon Country woman is making the process of raising funds and awareness look more like a trot than a walk as community development manager for the National Parkinson Foundation for the last two years.

“I came to the foundation because my younger brother has early-onset Parkinson’s disease (PD), diagnosed four years ago, when he was only 32,” explained Sarah Osborne. “It was a very confusing time for our whole family, with emotions ranging from denial and disbelief to fear and sadness. None of us knew what to expect or how to handle the inevitable changes we were about to face. The National Parkinson Foundation has been a valuable and trusted source of information for us and thousands of families.”

According to the NPF website, Parkinson’s disease affects an estimated one million Americans and four to six million worldwide. PD is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s and is the 14th leading cause of death in the United States. There is no cure for PD and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States alone.

Actor Michael J. Fox has brought attention to the need for funding for the incurable disease, which causes symptoms such as tremors, stiffness and slow movement. The mission of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is to “(accelerate) breakthroughs patients can feel in their everyday lives.”

“The best advice I can give someone is to stay away from searching the general internet and guard yourself from the avalanche of misinformation, speculation, and trends,” Osborne said. “Talk to and listen to your medical professionals, connect with reputable organizations, advocate for yourself or loved one, and STAY ACTIVE! These are key to fighting PD.”

Moving Day
The limited movement that victims of Parkinson’s disease experience is the point of the organization’s fundraiser, the “Moving Day” walk. Locally, Santa Clarita is host to Moving Day North LA County later this month, which is a celebration of movement, while raising funds and making victims of the disease aware of the benefits of exercise in managing Parkinson’s disease.

The National Parkinson Foundation Moving Day walk will be held at Valencia Heritage Park on April 29, 2017 from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Participants can choose the family-friendly walk course or enjoy the kids’ area, a “Caregivers Relaxation Tent” or visit the “Movement Pavilion,” a tent with activities such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi, dance and more.

Last year the local effort raised nearly $60,000, which is used to provide free patient and caregiver resources like life-saving “Aware in Care” hospital kits, the professionally-staffed NPF Helpline, education, and part of the funds stay local in the form of community grants.

“Moving Day is fun, it is great exercise and it’s educational,” Osborne said. “But mostly, the support of the community enables us to continue to make meaningful changes in the lives of those with Parkinson’s. We believe that ‘People who move change the world.’”

Last year’s top fundraising team came from Canyon Country: “Carolyn’s Cruisers.” It was Carolyn’s sister, Mary, who signed up their team of nine siblings, who then rallied their families around the cause. “I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years ago,” said Carolyn. “I had a hard time accepting this, because I had already been through so much. In 2004, I was diagnosed with mantel cell lymphoma. I fought back with a stem cell transplant, but the lymphoma returned. In 2007, I underwent a bone marrow transplant, and I recently celebrated 10 years of being cancer free!”

After Carolyn was diagnosed with PD she was still working as a full-time registered nurse, trying to persevere through the symptoms —difficulty walking, clumsiness, falling and tremors.

“Fast forward five months later when my family heard about Moving Day North Los Angeles,” Carolyn continued. “It was exactly what I needed. The Moving Day walk motivated me to turn something negative into a positive. When I began training in March, I was barely able to walk a quarter of a mile. But I did not give up and I continued to walk three days per week. My doctors helped me by adjusting my medication and providing me with ways to improve my stride. It was my dream to be able to accomplish this walk and not give up on the possibilities of what I can achieve. I realized that I couldn’t let this disease be the reason for not doing something. At Moving Day North LA I walked with my team and completed my first 5K! Goal accomplished!”

Nationwide, Moving Day has funded millions of dollars in mission services, focusing on addressing the unmet needs in the Parkinson’s community, expanding successful programs to new areas and developing new programs to make life better for those living with the disease.

“We have funded the largest clinical study of PD ever, called the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project (POP),” Osborne said. “Started in 2009, the POP involves nearly 10,000 participants in four countries, with the goal of improving patient care and outcomes.”

According to Osborne, key findings include the following:
Interventions that provide neuroprotective benefits, such as exercise, could change the course of the disease.
Increasing physical activity to at least 2.5 hours a week slows the decline in quality of life.
Regular neurologist care could save the lives of thousands of people each year.
Depression and anxiety are the number one factors impacting the overall health status of patients.

Osborne moved to Santa Clarita a decade ago and now lives in Canyon Country. “We like the family atmosphere of our neighborhood and being on the ‘quiet side of town,’” she said. “We have great access to the 14 and bought a home at a great value, comparing size, amenities, and price, so we’re very happy to call Canyon Country home.”

Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital and St. Jude Medical are sponsors of Moving Day North LA. To learn more about how you, your family and friends and/or your company can get involved, visit www.MovingDayNorthLA.org.

For more information about the disease, visit www.parkinson.org, or call the NPF Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636).

Man of the Year, Woman of the Year

| Canyon Country Magazine | April 13, 2017

One might say that non-profit involvement is a contact sport in Santa Clarita, meaning the field of volunteers is crowded with generosity, and there is a crossover of efforts among organizations of all kinds. That is why choosing a top philanthropist in this community is likely to be a difficult task.

Serving a 501(c)(3) is encouraged year round, but every spring one man and one woman are celebrated for the breadth of their volunteerism. Each year there are residents of Canyon Country nominated, and this year there are four individuals from this side of town. Previous winners of the Man of the Year and Woman of the Year honors will gather together to choose which of the nominees gain the two titles, and it will be announced at a gala on May 5 at the Valencia Hyatt Regency Hotel. The two winners each receive up to $1,000 to donate to the nonprofit(s) of their choice.

Alan Ferdman was nominated by the Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers, Inc. He has chaired the organization’s annual Rubber Ducky Festival for three years. The retired aerospace engineer is perhaps best known by locals as the chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, or CCAC, for 17 years. He is active in numerous non-profit groups, including Bridge to Home and the Santa Clarita Senior Center, and is a member of local clubs such as Sunrise Rotary, Santa Clarita Elks and Mint Canyon Moose Lodge.

Alan and his wife, Pam, moved to Canyon Country in 1965, and raised two children.

“I am a big supporter of Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers because of the important role they provide for our uninsured and under-insured residents,” he said. “Nothing is more important than maintaining our health and the health of our family members.”
Tracy Hauser was nominated by the SCV Senior Center. A broker for Cobalt Realty, Tracy has tireless energy and has touched the lives of many through Santa Clarita non-profits. She is a big supporter of Single Mothers Outreach and helps with fundraising efforts for SCV Education Foundation and Bark for Life. She is known both in and out of the non-profit community for her ability to connect people to resources. Her personal experiences fuel the work she does with those in need, whether it is single mothers, a role she had in the past, or the senior population.

“The Senior Center provides for the well-being of the whole family, as well as the seniors,” Hauser says on her Tracy Team real estate webpage. “One of the critical services supported by fundraising events such as the Celebrity Waiter Dinner is the Home Delivered Meals program, which delivers hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors five days a week.”

Diane Green was nominated by the SCV Disaster Coalition, which she and her husband founded with Carl and Jeri Goldman. Seeing the experience of victims after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Diane was moved to put some preparation in place on a local scale.

“We are so unprepared as a community,” said Green. “Certainly if we have a disaster here, we have to be prepared to help victims.” The Disaster Coalition is a non-profit you don’t hear about except in a crisis, such as the recent fires and flooding. “We stick with the families throughout the whole process,” Green said. “You can lean on us until you can stand on your own.”

Diane and Neal Green were in the car when she got a text message from Carl announcing her nomination for Woman of the Year. “I had to read it three times,” she said. “I was beyond honored — it really is a thrill.”

Janice Murray was nominated by Circle of Hope, Inc., where she has volunteered for more than six years. She serves on the executive board and has held roles as vice president, secretary, event chair, public relations ambassador, and headed up auction fundraising.

Circle of Hope is a charity dedicated to providing emotional, financial and educational support to those diagnosed with cancer in the Santa Clarita Valley. Working as host of “Non-Profit Spotlight” on KHTS AM-1220, Murray interfaces regularly with many of the charities she has been involved with as a volunteer.

Janice Murray was nominated right on the heels of her nomination for Zonta Club’s Service Award this year. “I can honestly say I was honored and very flattered to be nominated for Woman of the Year,” said Murray. “There are so many more deserving women in this town who I admire and look up to for their volunteerism, and I’m thrilled just to be thought of along with them!”

Friends and family of the nominees and members of the nominating organizations can purchase tickets online for $125 each at scvmw.org/awards-dinner-reservation-form/. Regular tables are $1,250 and include seating for 10. Premium tables, at $1,500 each, include seating for 10 with the sponsor’s name on the table, plus a full-page ad in the program book. Guests are encouraged to make reservations early, since seating is limited and will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

The committee also is taking reservations for congratulations advertisements in the program to show appreciation to the candidates. Ads are due by April 15, 2017 and may be e-mailed to akovach@insidescv.com.

Sand Canyon Plaza

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | April 8, 2017

Current view of the site

It is perhaps best known as the project replacing the mobile home units on the corner of Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon roads.

Sand Canyon Plaza is a mixed-use project on approximately 87 acres that plans to include: 580 dwelling units (comprised of single-family and attached multi-family units); 60,000 square feet of retail (primarily restaurants situated around a water feature); and a 130-bed, 80,000-square-foot assisted living facility. According to developer Tom Clark, the project will also include three private recreation areas, commercial plaza areas, various private streets, driveways, parking and landscaped areas.

“We have had two Planning Commission public hearings, to date, with a third scheduled for May 16, 2017,” Clark said. “If approved at that meeting, the project would likely be scheduled for City Council consideration in June/July. We intend to start land development after City Council approval, if granted.

Royal Clark Development has made several changes to the project over the last two years, after considering input from the community, city staff and the Planning Commission.

“Recent changes have included increasing the size of the commercial square footage, the provision of additional parking, and the creation of a two-acre park, which will include a pool, jacuzzi, clubhouse, BBQ, fireplace, basketball court, dog park and trails,” Clark said.

The project will connect to the existing public sewer system, and water for the project would come from Santa Clarita Water Division. Previously, the Sand Canyon Plaza development was intended to connect with the nearby Vista Canyon development for some of its water.

“Castaic Lake Water Agency will be distributing recycled water from the Vista Canyon Water Reclamation Plant,” Clark said. “Based on their engineering studies they will be using the recycled water in Vista Canyon and then off-site into Fair Oaks Ranch. They are not proposing to utilize the water at this stage to properties east of Vista Canyon such as Sand Canyon Plaza. However, we will be incorporating all of the city’s green building requirements into the project, (including) the use of drought-tolerant landscaping, low-flow fixtures and other water conservation strategies.”

To some of Canyon Country’s residents, progress seems slow, considering rumors that the lot where the mobile home park currently stands would possibly become the site of a Trader Joe’s, or that Vons would move there from its current location across the street.

Tom Clark explained some of the process involved. “Large scale development projects like Sand Canyon Plaza and Vista Canyon take time (years, not days) to develop,” he said. “Assuming City Council approval, grading and infrastructure work on Sand Canyon Plaza will take us through mid to late 2018, with vertical construction following.”

Nearby residents are hoping the presence of both developments prompts two thumbs up.

“We made a point early on to reach out to the surrounding community,” Clark said. “The feedback has been very positive. Additionally, the public outreach process has really resulted in the creation of a project that will be an asset to this part of town.”

What’s Happening to the Highway?

| Canyon Country Magazine | April 6, 2017

Sierra Highway. It’s had a life as “El Camino Sierra,” been nationally-known as “U.S. Route 6,” and first made it to the silver screen in the final shot of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” in 1936.

So, what now?

If you’ve driven north on Sierra Highway from Soledad to Vasquez Canyon Road, you’ve probably noticed a few things, such as deterioration of the roadway, the announcement of a community center, and the presence of tractors on the ridgeline to the west.

To inquire about all of those issues isn’t entirely simple, as the City of Santa Clarita doesn’t own every stretch of Sierra Highway. Some of it south of Soledad Canyon Road actually belongs to CalTrans. And a small portion of the road, the .7-mile length between Golden Valley Road and Friendly Valley Pkwy, has been a point of discussion for leaders of Santa Clarita recently. Legislation was co-sponsored earlier this year by Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) and state Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) to authorize the California Transportation Commission to relinquish all or any portion of Sierra Highway from Friendly Valley to Newhall. Acosta spokesperson David Creager said in an email to Gazette writer Lee Barnathan, “This was requested by the city due to the state’s inability to maintain the section of highway. The city wishes to take over responsibility for the section in question in order to make sure that the highway doesn’t fall into any further disrepair.”

City Councilman Bob Kellar told Barnathan that “the city spends between $8 million and $10 million (the city’s website puts it at about $9.5 million) annually on slurry seal and overlay road preservation to improve roadways and extend their lives.”

So, what’s happening on Sierra Highway north of Soledad?

“We maintain roads much better than the state,” Kellar added.

But north of Soledad is not owned by the state. It is owned by the city up to Fox Feed, beyond which Sierra Highway is owned by L.A. County.

“When the Community Center moves forward there will be significant improvements to Sierra Highway going north from Soledad,” Kellar said.

The Canyon Country Community Center is planned for the northeast corner of Sierra Highway and Soledad, though the fate of the white, two-story building located there (photo) is unclear.

“At this point we are working with all the surrounding property owners for the development of the new Community Center, Caruso’s included. We have had preliminary discussion with the owners,” said Robert Newman, city director of public works.

Angie Caruso, whose family owns the building on Sierra Highway where their restaurant, Caruso’s, is located, has been informed about the proposed Community Center. She debunked any rumors that their building would be demolished as part of the plan.

“They contacted us last year that they have plans to build in back of us. That’s okay,” Caruso said. “We have no intention of selling (the building). My grandpa bought that in the 1950s, it’s something my grandfather left us. My mom and dad have no intention of selling it.”

Angie Caruso owns Piccola Trattoria, an Italian restaurant around the corner from Caruso’s. She believes both of her family’s businesses are impacted by the state of Sierra Highway.
“We do need Sierra Highway upgraded,” she said. “It’s very dark, very dangerous. We offer valet here because we don’t want any of our customers crossing Sierra Highway. That was one of the reasons we started valet — we didn’t want anything to happen to anyone. They need lights. They need sidewalks.”

That’s where the City of Santa Clarita comes in.

“With the development of the Community Center, street improvements along the property frontage on Sierra Highway will be constructed including sidewalk, curb and lighting,” Newman said. “(It) will include full construction of curb and sidewalk improvements along the project frontage, along with striping changes to include three lanes and a bike lane.”

Newman responded to questions about the current state of the roadway.

“The city has made a number of improvements along Sierra Highway over the years, including widening to two lanes within the city, landscaped medians with development partners and traffic signal enhancements,” Newman said.

And what about where Sierra Highway becomes county-owned, north of College of the Canyons and Fox Feed?

Canyon Country Magazine reached out to the 5th District County Supervisor’s office, and was referred to Steven Frasher, public information officer for the Los Angeles County Public Works office. There are no projects planned for the county-owned section of Sierra Highway, Frasher said. Recently there was work on recessed pavement markers and striping, he said. If residents have concerns they should direct their inquiries to the district engineer’s office at 661-947-7173. And in the case of a downed tree or potholes, you can call a 24/7 dispatch line at 800-675-HELP (4357).

“Other improvements will take place over time on Sierra as new development occurs,” Kellar said. “The Skyline project is a case in point, with the creation of a new intersection just north of the Backwoods Inn Restaurant.”

The Skyline development, which will all be on county-owned land, is owned by Pardee Homes, with approval for 1,220 total units, all single-family detached homes. According to Dave Little, division president for Pardee Homes, about a quarter of them will be age-restricted units in their own gated section, the same size as Belcaro, a 55 and older gated community in Valencia.

“In conjunction with the development of Skyline we’ll be providing another school for Sulphur Springs, also a nine-acre public park,” Little said. “With our grading equipment up and over that ridgeline, you can see what’s going on across the street from the Backwoods Inn. There’s an inherent inconvenience, but a lot of benefits, in addition to having the equipment out there.”

New Road from Sierra Highway side

New road from Plum Canyon

What they’re constructing is Skyline Ranch Road, which will connect Plum Canyon Road to Sierra Highway. An intersection will be constructed in front of the Backwoods Inn.

“At the connection point we’ll improve the intersection there. We’re working with the city to see what they’re doing with improvements right there, so we can see how we can dovetail with that,” Little said. “Vasquez Canyon Road is obviously a sore subject for residents of Santa Clarita. Skyline Ranch Road will offer people another way to get to the Sierra Highway side.”

Local Man Put Polio on the Run

| Community | March 31, 2017

When Wayne Archie contracted polio in 1950 he was knocked off his feet. But despite the damage the epidemic caused to the bodies of thousands of Americans every year, the paralysis it caused Archie — who was just 15 months old at the time — was not permanent. It was one of the earliest signs of a lifetime of resilience.

The Archie family lived on a chicken ranch in Sylmar after World War II, when the area was much more rural. Wayne’s father had attended Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley to learn poultry farming. He built cages on their property and they eventually owned 3,000-4,000 chickens.

When Wayne got sick, the Archie family included two older brothers, a two-month-old and their mother and father. They moved to the area to be near the VA hospital after Wayne’s father, a war veteran, contracted tuberculosis. Wayne’s parents took him to the General Hospital in Downtown Los Angeles where they diagnosed him with polio. He had stopped walking and became paralyzed from the waist down.

“People tell me I cried a lot because I was in isolation, so when my parents would come I couldn’t touch them, and they couldn’t hold me,” Wayne said.
After two to three months, the paralysis was gone, but Archie was left without muscles in his left leg, he explained. Doctors told his parents he may not live, and he would at least be in a wheelchair or have to wear braces on his legs for the rest of his life. But even as a baby, when Wayne went home from the hospital he found a way to prove them wrong. When his little brother — just 13 months younger than Wayne — began walking, it was a great opportunity for him to follow.

“As he learned to walk, I kind of did what he did,” Wayne explained. “But I would fall when I put any weight on my left leg. I learned to keep my knee locked when I walked.”

Meanwhile, the Archie family was adapting too. The March of Dimes assisted them financially, and Wayne’s mother actually learned to drive in order to take him to physical therapy appointments at the hospital.

“My brothers would tell me that Dad had the chicken ranch and also got a job down in Burbank,” Wayne said. “He’d come home and have his cold coffee from the refrigerator (that Mom would make in the morning), and he’d work on exercising my leg.”

Members of the family praised the head of pediatrics at the hospital, Dr. John C. Wilson Jr., who later headed up pediatrics at Good Samaritan Hospital.

“The doctors would have consultations and some would say, ‘We should operate and put half the muscles from the right leg and put them in the left leg,’ but Dr. Wilson said, ‘You don’t mess with what works,’” Wayne recounted.

Because of Wayne’s easy going nature, he went to school and successfully made friends, whose physical help he would need at times. And though many would doubt, sports was a part of Wayne’s life, especially with three brothers.

“I’d play catch and baseball all the time with my brothers,” Wayne recalled. “My second brother was really into sports, so he pushed me hard.”

Hard enough that Wayne even played high school sports. He was a member of the Sylmar High School tennis team.

“I had to be really good at placing the ball,” he said, acknowledging that he had less chance of winning if running was involved. “I knew how to hit and I knew how to hit pretty hard.”

Wayne also took part in swimming, but through the years he was subject to some major surgeries, including the day he missed junior high school graduation. A highlight, however, was a visit by a high profile citizen of Santa Clarita, also Wayne’s homeroom teacher — the late Clement Cox.

“He brought me the flowers from graduation,” Wayne remembered. “We were really close. He had a chicken ranch and we’d talk a lot. I had him for three years in junior high.”

Later, Wayne’s brother would, in fact, teach at Leona Cox Community School in Canyon Country, named for Clem’s mother. Another one of Wayne’s brothers, Stan Archie, taught at nearby Sulphur Springs.

When polling any of the numerous individuals Wayne has forged a relationship with over a lifetime in the northern part of Los Angeles, one quality about the man remains evident: He is very optimistic. Following double bypass heart surgery in 1994 and triple bypass surgery in 1999, he has returned to hiking and working, and attending exercise classes at Henry Mayo Hospital, where people frequently ask him about his upbeat attitude.

“I have a great outlook on life; I try to be positive,” Wayne said. “What’s your choice?”

He can be found after the cardiac rehab classes twice a week, chatting it up with the women who run the program, like Dorinda, Reba, Christa and Dina.

“I go two times a week,” he said. “I run into people there, and we sit around and talk until whenever.”

Now almost 68 years old, Wayne began working at Magic Mountain more than 40 years ago. A student at California State University, Northridge at the time, the big 1971 earthquake caused him to look north. He worked in the merchandise division of the theme park and stayed in the industry for his entire career. After 13 years at Magic Mountain he went to work for an import company overseas and in 1989 formed his own company—Archie & Associates. Once again, his way with people gave him a good, solid start, as he knew many of the members of the Tourist Industry Retail Merchants Association already.

He said he’s finally slowing down. For instance, he no longer attends the Smoky Mountain Gift Show, which he did every year.

Wayne and Nancy Archie both grew up in the San Fernando Valley and met in 1968 through the YMCA. They have been married for almost 45 years and have two sons and three grandchildren, with one on the way. One son and his family live in Santa Clarita and the other son and his family live in Chicago.

There is really nothing lacking for Wayne Archie, which becomes clear when asked what he would wish for, if his health limitations weren’t a part of the equation.

“One of them is to walk up the stairs one foot at a time without holding on,” he said. “And the other is to run around in the outfield to catch a fly ball. I would’ve loved to play baseball.”

The example many see when they look at Wayne Archie is a life well lived, whether or not they have been knocked down by a force like polio. They see a man who was able to run free in every other way. And for most people, that’s as good as a home run.

Prom Planning

| Canyon Country Magazine | March 19, 2017

This month, Canyon High School students will create a runway show where they preview the latest prom styles for classmates. It gives them a month to seek out the look they want for the April 22 prom. Golden Valley’s prom will be right on their heels on April 29, this year held at Madame Tussaud’s in Hollywood.

For dresses, a lot of the girls turn to Eugenia’s, a longtime local resource for all the high schools. Others head to downtown L.A. to the fashion district to seek out something they wouldn’t find in local department stores.

Of course, the winter formals the schools had a few months ago are also a great way to check out the latest looks. Bailey Moore of Canyon High School told us what she saw this year. “The majority of the guys wore dark colored tuxedos and the girls wore longer dresses, primarily matte black,” she said.

What are they doing with hair and makeup this year? For answers, Canyon Country Magazine consulted with Nicole Lorraine, a local hair and makeup artist.

“I think that the messy up-do is in still this year,” she said. “The loose curls and pulled-out braid are very trendy and popular. Beach waves are another favorite this year.”

Has anything changed, in terms of style?

“The last few years I have seen more of the formal style, the more ‘put together’ up-dos or half-up style,” she said. “This year is more of a messy/fun look.”

And for makeup? “This year everyone is loving the glowy/dewy finish,” the makeup artist said, “and full brows that are pushed upward and fluffy compared to last year’s carved out brow and contour.”

Jen Gerard of Gerard Cosmetics agrees that brows are full this year. “Full and sculpted brows are very in at the moment,” she said.

Gerard described other makeup choices also. “The hottest trends are glitter and metallics for eyes and lips,” she said. “Color-wise, I would use more nudes and pinks for teens. I also would go for a more natural look.”

Wolitarsky Could Be a Great Catch for NFL

| News, Sports | March 16, 2017

As a 2013 graduate of Canyon High School, Drew Wolitarsky already had his name in the history books for record-breaking football stats. He cracked the ceiling on total receiving yards and total number of receptions among all California high school football players that came before him.

He continued to perform as a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher, where he finished his college career at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27. It was Wolitarsky’s 26th consecutive game, with a catch that put him among the top 10 receivers in Gopher history for that category.

The season for NFL scouting starts in late February with the Combine, where football players show their abilities to scouts. After that invitation-only event, each of the larger colleges host their own Pro Days, drawing scouts to their schools to showcase their best players.

Last week, Wolitarsky was one of 10 players who performed for approximately 46 NFL scouts representing 26 teams at the University of Minnesota’s Pro Day. They ran pretty much the same drills as the Combine, timing their speed and testing their strength.

“They literally just jot things on their clipboards and go to the next Pro Day,” explained Drew’s father, John Wolitarsky, who attended the event. “For the next three weeks or so that’s what they’ll be doing … fact-gathering.”

What it means is that Wolitarsky’s a contender.

After the Holiday Bowl, the University of Minnesota senior began training with Bill Welles, the personal trainer for Larry Fitzgerald, an All-Pro NFL wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. The trainer’s indoor facility is about 30 miles from the university.

Drew Wolitarsky, who turns 22 next week, spent eight weeks doing intense training there, all leading up to Pro Day. Part of the demonstration for scouts includes bench pressing, where they put 225 pounds on the rack and see how many times the player can bench it. Wolitarsky did 14 repetitions of the 225 and then he ran a 4.67-second 40-yard dash.

The players also completed two other drills, which are important for receivers: the 3-cone drill, which Wolitarsky whizzed through in 6.88 seconds, and the shuttle drill, which took him 4.22 seconds.

“It was an amazing experience to remember when Drew started playing flag football at seven years old to now watching him perform in front of a bunch of NFL teams,” John Wolitarsky said.

He began with Santa Clarita Parks & Recreation football and later joined the Canyon Country Athletic Association Outlaws team before joining the Canyon Cowboys and on to Minnesota.

“Then to play in the Big 10 with a fantastic senior campaign, ending it all in San Diego at the Holiday Bowl—it’s been fun to watch the journey,” John said.

Now on spring break, Drew will return to train right through the NFL Draft April 27, because if his name is on a roster, the Gopher grad will have to head to camp right away, according to his dad.

Santa Clarita is convinced Wolitarsky is a great catch. In another month, we’ll know if he’s also caught on with the NFL.

A New Opportunity for Learning

| Canyon Country Magazine | March 14, 2017

While Opportunities for Learning is known for making education more accessible, last month the local charter school took advantage of an opportunity of its own. Canyon Country’s OFL location moved to a bigger facility, near the Canyon Country Edwards Stadium Theatre.

“We have been serving the Canyon Country community for the last 15 years and wanted to stay as close to our original home as possible. Some of our students take public transportation or walk to our learning center, so we were cognizant of their needs when we decided on our new location,” said Julie Johnson, who has served as principal of OFL Santa Clarita Valley/Ventura for three years. Due to Johnson’s recent promotion, Canyon Country resident Candice Varner, who was principal of OFL Simi Valley, is now the new principal of SCV/V OFL.

“After 10 years in public education, I am looking forward to leading an instructional team that is dedicated to serving OFL’s diverse and unique student population,” Varner said.

Before opening the new facility, students attended class at OFL near the Vallarta Supermarket on Soledad Canyon Road. Most of the students who attend locally also reside in Canyon Country, and the new location accommodates the growing needs of the program.

“About two years ago, it became apparent that we needed not only more space, but updated space,” said Peggy Wilson, enrollment and outreach specialist. “More staff in specialized fields were added, and space was getting tight with resource teachers, continuing enrollment. … This space provides a larger learning environment as well as space for laptops, textbooks, smart-boards, and other educational tools that allow our students more access to technology and resources.”

Staff members, city leaders and associates celebrated the official opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Feb. 24. Johnson officially welcomed attendees before accepting certificates of recognition from Congressman Steve Knight, State Senator Scott Wilk, State Assemblyman Dante Acosta, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth and the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“Our student population remains steady in the Santa Clarita Valley,” Johnson said. “We serve a population of students who are looking for a school of choice that is different than a comprehensive high school campus. OFL works closely with the Hart district to recover students and return them to the district based on student needs and parent choice.”

Established in 1999, OFL is a free public charter school, serving students in grades 7-12 who have fallen behind in school, are looking to get ahead and graduate early, or simply desire a non-traditional learning environment. Via a blended learning model, students learn through independent study, small group (SGI) classes, online courses, one-on-one single-subject tutoring and hands-on, experiential activities. There are trips and cultural excursions available also, including scholarship trips to Washington, DC, Cuba, Italy and China.

For more information, call the Canyon Country OFL at 661-233-7889 or visit www.emsofl.com.

Andy Del Rio – Vargo Physical Therapy

| Canyon Country Magazine | March 14, 2017

Every town has one. That medical professional who is so well-known you only have to say his first name. He treats everyone you know and is esteemed by all.

In this case it’s Andy at Vargo Physical Therapy.

Whatever your insurance, whoever your primary care doctor is, you’re probably only a few degrees from Andrew del Rio, MPT.

Located near Chi Chi’s and Telly’s on Sierra Highway in Canyon Country, Vargo has been a fixture since the turn of this century. Always swarming with patients, they’ve had to knock down walls – more than once – to increase the facility’s size.

According to the Vargo website, “The original Vargo PT location, the Canyon Country clinic, opened its doors in 2000, has expanded twice and was completely renovated in 2011. It was here the company first implemented its unique approach to physical therapy – a combination of cutting edge technology within a truly community-centered focus including highly-trained therapists who make the time to care for each and every patient all in an open and friendly environment.”

Continuing with that mission are Vargo owners Andy del Rio and Jeff Vargo. The practice now has nine offices. In Canyon Country there are two therapists – Rosemary Conner and Andy – six aides and office manager Sarah Solis.

Vargo has a steady stream of repeat business, just one aspect that underscores how important the practice is in the community. They treat children as young as 6 years old, and del Rio says his oldest patient was 100.

“It’s not a sterile environment and everybody communicates about what they’re doing together,” del Rio says. “And they get better when they come.”

The team’s approach is hands-on. “We use our skill to keep your joints moving properly. “It’s crucial to recovery,” del Rio says, and “getting you back to what you love to do.”

If a patient needs treatment for an ACL, it may take six months. But if it’s something like a sprained ankle, he says, they have turned people around as quickly as a week.

“I’ll keep you here until you can return to your sport,” he says. “There’s no time frame on your therapy. You’re here until you’re done. I’m not going to kick you out of here just because I need a table.”

With a number of Biodex machines and isokinetic strengthening and testing apparatuses, Vargo’s therapists can measure muscle and tendon functionality. Clinicians at Vargo are educated and certified to “foster healthier connective tissue and long term healing of muscles and tendons,” Vargo says on its site.

The biggest challenge is treating someone with long-term problems, del Rio says. “Chronic pain cases are tough, ones that involve nerve damage, because of the unpredictability of the case,” he says.
Vargo treats a lot of the local Hollywood entertainment people, particularly stunt men and women. But another couple of groups they see are firefighters and police force personnel.

A resident of Fair Oaks Ranch, del Rio is connected to the community, supporting local athletic teams, such as the Canyon High School football team. But del Rio’s extra attention has turned toward home lately, as father to a 4-year-old girl and a baby boy born this month.
Perhaps all the well-wishing the popular physical therapist gets from his patients is their way to offer him a sort of “pass” to take some time off. If he ever takes them up on it, they know it’s not for long because of his strong connection to his patients.

That and the fact that Andy del Rio is that guy … the one everyone in town knows they can count on. And those that don’t know him yet probably will at some point.

Voice of a Vargo Volunteer

As a 17-year-old girl fresh out of my junior year of high school, I found it nearly impossible to find my first job. No one really wanted to hire a minor with little-to-no previous experience and, quite frankly, I was tired of filling out one application after the other. That’s when my mom suggested working somewhere as a volunteer.

The reason I wanted to volunteer at Vargo was because that’s where my brothers went for their sports injuries in years past, and physical therapy was something that really fascinated me. So, I mustered up a bit of courage and walked in the clinic hoping someone would give me a chance. I asked Vargo’s clinical director Andrew del Rio (or Andy, as people like to call him) if they needed a volunteer. I was so nervous I don’t remember much, but he did warn me about the towel folding (there was a lot!). I was ecstatic when I got a call that weekend asking me to come in on Monday. On my first day, I followed the workers around like a lost puppy, simply observing everything around me. Slowly I learned how to give ultrasounds, how to prepare an ice pack properly, and yes … how to fold the towels!

I loved the mix of people that came through the doors, from Canyon student athletes to kind senior citizens. My favorite part was sitting down with patients and asking them about their recovery, because I heard some pretty interesting stories from my time there, to say the least. I think PTs have an incredible job, because when people are recovering from injuries it’s often a long and tedious journey. I witnessed the impact that it made for the Vargo team to walk with patients through their exercises and ask them how they’re doing, making the healing process so much better overall.

The positive atmosphere is what stood out to me the most. Andy was always encouraging and his humor lightened the mood, and I think the whole team definitely reflected that energy. I wasn’t at Vargo for very long – just two or three days a week for that summer, but I am so thankful to have gotten a glimpse into the life of a PT. The experience has helped me have compassion for other people, which is something I’ve carried with me to my current job and will continue to carry to whatever’s next.

Non-Profit of the Week: Pets N Suds

| SC Living | March 11, 2017

A Valencia store has a non-profit animal rescue that seeks adoptive families for homeless pets. Pets N Suds is a 501(c)(3) located inside a store by the same name, which is located on McBean Pkwy.

The animal adoption process operates on donations, which have been dangerously low, threatening the life of the non-profit.

“We are having great difficulty paying our rent. Our rescue will suffer if we cannot operate in this location,” said Jennifer Berardini, who owns the store with her husband, John. “We got the space and it took all of our money to build up the space, i.e., floors, ceilings, sprinkler system, walls, air conditioning, our signage, etc., so now we find ourselves in this position of near eviction.”

A GoFundMe account was opened in the hopes that resources will come in to boost the animal rescue’s viability. The link to the account is https://gofundme.com/501rescuepetsnsuds. The group’s goal is to raise $15,000, and Berardini can provide non-profit tax receipts to donors.

“We have saved hundreds of animals,” Berardini said. “We have animals in our care right now that need your help. We want to continue rescuing animals.”

Berardini sees loss of the store location as possibly fatal to the adoption charity.

“We do not want to lose our space,” she said. “We put a lot of time and effort into our organization. Our pet store Pets N Suds needs to keep the rescue mission going. The animals are depending on us.”

The animal rescue organization is in danger of closing due to the high expenses and low volume retail sales of the retail portion of the store.

“Our rescue is in danger of closing due to expenses that we cannot maintain at the moment,” Berardini said. “It was an expensive adventure to move and we need your donations to keep us alive in the Valencia Area.”

The shop owner sees the problem as short-term and solvable.

“Once we are on track, the weather gets warmer and more people know we are here, I know we can survive,” she said. “The animals are counting on us to keep rescuing them.”

Animals accepted into Pets N Suds are rescues only, brought in by community members or, literally, left on the doorstep of the store. All adoption fees are used to pay for animal food and health care (shots,vet visit etc). The store is open Sunday and Monday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Pets N Suds is located at 27736 McBean Pkwy in Valencia. The non-profit’s phone number is 661-263-2424 and the website is www.petsnsuds.com.

Non-Profit Harnesses Stubbornness of Mules to Turn Around Teens

| Community | March 3, 2017

It’s the perfect metaphor: Headstrong youth take on creatures even harder to control than themselves. That’s what One Spade Youth Packers is all about.

Located in Kern County, but drawing from all areas, co-founder Reid Hopkins spoke at SCV Rotary last month about the non-profit and the adolescents whose lives have been changed by the program.

“It’s a leadership and character development program for at-risk and/or underprivileged kids,” he explained. “They learn how to harness and drive teams of mules and learn how to hook them to various farm implements.”

But if you’re thinking, “It’s not your grandma’s training program,” you’re wrong. It actually is.

“We have a comprehensive collection of ancient packing equipment. George Washington packed in the Revolutionary War just like these kids are doing today,” Hopkins said. “Nothing’s changed and there (are) very few things now that haven’t changed in the last 200 years. But packing has stayed the same. The way a family went into the back country in 1890 we do the same way now.”

There are no paid salaries – it’s operated solely by donations and volunteer driven.

“The program is no cost to the family,” Hopkins said. “Most of the kids, their folks don’t have the money to do this.”

What “this” entails for the 10-15 adolescents who participate is a yearlong commitment to everything from planting fields to riding horses.

“We hit ‘em pretty hard with feeding and care for the animals. They learn the diseases and health issues they have,” Hopkins said. “For a lot of kids that’s the first responsibility they’ve ever had. They’re actually held accountable for the animals.”

The teens have to maintain a “C” average and they can’t have severe attitude problems.

“A lot of the kids we get have some issues at home,” he said. “A lot of them come from single parent only situations; they’ve maybe been in trouble, but nothing criminal. Some are right on the fence and they can go either way.”

One Spade Youth Packers has changed the lives of 350 or more teens in 22 years of operations.

“A lot of these kids don’t want to play football or baseball,” he said. “A lot of them have never been on a team of anything and they learn the value of that. It’s kind of a unique program.”

This year there are four girls and eight boys who spend every other weekend and most of spring break at the Kern County Ranch of Reid and Eileen Hopkins, who founded the organization together.

“It’s comprehensive. They have to learn a lot and learn it quickly,” he described. “They learn how to put pack saddles on and tie loads on. … They learn a lot of anatomy and physiology, how much water and hay they need a day.”

The whole program culminates in bringing the teens to Mule Days in Bishop, Calif. in May, where they compete for world titles in a range of events.
“They compete in the farming class, using the team of mules pulling an implement,” Hopkins explained. “All the implements we have are pre-1915. The kids kind of get a window into the past.”

They also compete in packing contests and the “Teamster Challenge.”

“It’s really a difficult competition,” Hopkins said. “Most of the people they’re up against have 20-30 years of experience.”

There is a trails class, obstacle course and packing scrambles, plus events like “Musical Tires” and the “Dolly Parton Race.” The kids get to ride in the largest parade of its kind as well – another rare opportunity.

What are the One Spade core values?

“Honesty is number one,” Hopkins explained. “We teach them that these gray areas … they do not exist. You know in your gut, that little voice tells you if it’s right or wrong.”

Building self-confidence is another aim of the program, and teaching the kids to set goals and complete them.

“Self-reliance, self-confidence, personal responsibility – you have to own what you do, good or bad,” said Hopkins, who retired from 39 years in law enforcement. “We emphasize they can control a lot of what happens in their life.”

One Spade Youth Packers exists because of Hopkins’ own background. He suffered “a horrible childhood” and an “awful, awful home life,” as he describes it. He became a runaway, but found his way back, even graduating from college.

“There were people who stepped in to help me at critical times,” he recalled. “I realize the importance and the monumental impact they had on me.”

He sees a lot of familiar symptoms in the adolescents in the program.

“I went through the same thing myself,” he said. “Kids are pretty perceptive. They size you up in a heartbeat.”

What happens after the program?

Some kids come back for more than one year, even as many as five years, often helping to mentor the younger boys and girls. And after Mule Days they go on actual pack trips, to the Golden Trout Wilderness, for instance, so they can see how it all applies.

And even more lasting, Reid and Eileen use the program to give some a leg up with college and career training.

“We sent two of them through horseshoeing school. Some go to work for the National Park Service packing,” he said. “Over the years we’ve got a pretty large support group — we can do a lot of good in helping them head in the right direction.”

It is this support group that keeps the doors open at One Spade Youth Packers.

“We have a volunteer crew and I don’t want to underemphasize them,” he said. “It makes it work. They help with the cooking and help with the kids, (some who) are accomplished horse people who help with the kids riding.”

Financially, it is donations from multiple groups and individuals that keep the program alive.

“My wife and I, some years, have finished in the red and other years finished in the black,” Hopkins said. “Rotary, the Masons, the Exchange Club, several Bakersfield veterinarians – everybody chips in every year and we raise the money each and every year to do this. Folks are generous. Some folks have the time, not the money, and we’ll take all the help we can get.”

Reid and Eileen Hopkins get the satisfaction of watching a brotherhood and sisterhood emerge among participating teens, who learn to depend on each other.

“We get ‘em ready to compete in the world. It’s really rewarding to see them metamorphosize,” he explained. “You really get a chance to mentor them, get them going in the right direction. It’s the hope that they’ll become more productive members of society.”

To contact One Spade Youth Packers call 760-223-1612 or visit Onespadeyouthpackers.org.

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