About Martha Michael


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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Non Profit of the Week – Carousel Ranch

| Community, SC Living | December 14, 2017

With the new year approaching quickly, it is a good time to reflect on all of the good things that happened in 2017. For Carousel Ranch, it was a year full of changes and growth … something that would not have been possible without the incredible support of this community, filled with those who choose to keep Carousel Ranch in their hearts throughout the year.

In years past, Carousel Ranch was proud to provide equestrian therapy to over 80 children each week. This year, however, the program has seen over 50 percent growth, serving 140 individuals with special needs through both their equestrian and new Ready to Work! vocational training programs.

They say that timing is everything and at Carousel Ranch that statement seems so true. From a tiny little program that started in a backyard—to where they are today, the Ranch has literally come full circle. Today’s programming enables the organization to take a student from childhood all the way through adulthood, meeting their ever changing needs along the way.

In the words of Luc’s mom, Ashley:

Luc has an undiagnosed neurological condition that affects his motor skills and he has difficulty with balance, resulting in frequent falls. While what he experiences is mild, it is so big to Luc and to me. It has been hard for him to not always be able to keep up with other kids or do the same things they can. Carousel Ranch is one of the few places he does not experience limitations. It’s apparent how much they love working with these kids and that makes all the difference. Being a total ham, Luc loves having the undivided attention of three adults while he rides and is always excited to go to the Ranch.

Luc only started riding in July, but his core strength has already improved and the tightness through his hips and hamstrings is starting to loosen. His neurologist was blown away that he’s shown progress so quickly. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw him be able to raise his knees up while hanging from a bar for the first time, when he had not been able to pick his feet up, hardly at all. I am thrilled that he is starting to be able to almost jump. It’s not much movement, but his feet are getting off the ground together and he is moving forward ever so slightly. Our family

has been blessed by Luc having the opportunity to ride at Carousel Ranch and we look forward to seeing him continue to become stronger and gain more abilities.

In the words of Alexa, who participated in the equestrian program as a small child and then the RTW! program recently as a young adult:

Carousel Ranch has impacted many parts of my life, from helping me become physically stronger in the equestrian therapy program and teaching me valuable life lessons in the volunteer program to helping me learn work skills in the Ready to Work! program, and then giving me my first job as a Carousel Ranch employee. A few months later, Carousel Ranch helped me get my first job interview at Rise & Shine Preschool, and fortunately, I was hired and continue to work as a teacher’s assistant there. I am forever grateful for all that Carousel Ranch has done for me and so many others.

What does the next year hold for Carousel Ranch? The answer is simple and has remained the same for over 20 years — working to make a difference, one child at a time.

For the young adults serving in the RTW! program, that means more working in jobs and volunteering in our great community. For the many children in the equestrian program it means another year of working with each to achieve their very best.

Carousel Ranch is dedicated to improving the lives of children and young adults with special needs. Through both equestrian therapy and vocational training programs, the program strives to create an atmosphere where every student can and will succeed … a place where therapy is disguised as fun.


Santa Day at Carousel Ranch

Last weekend Carousel Ranch held its annual Santa Day, where students and their families could enjoy a holiday celebration in a safe environment that accommodates disabilities. The party is designed to offer hundreds of disabled individuals a chance to socialize and make new acquaintances. It is an action-packed day complete with Santa (a former special education teacher) and Mrs. Santa, petting zoo, crafts, s’mores over the fire, gifts and a Sweet Shop for refreshments. Gifts for students and their siblings were provided by the California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Santa Day is sponsored by Pardee Homes and staffed by many of the company’s employees.



Girl Scouts Build River of Hope

Local Girl Scout Troop 6592 dedicated their Silver Award project to children with special needs. Members of the troop built a “River of Hope” at Carousel Ranch, a project finalizing their efforts to earn the highest award possible for Girl Scouts at the Cadette level. The scouts first joined Carousel Ranch students in hand painting rocks including each child’s name, and then created a rock river by placing all of the artwork within the riverbed. The Carousel Ranch River of Hope is a visual representation of each child’s personal progress and growth.

“We were so excited to create a dry river bed, acknowledging hope on a long journey that the Carousel Ranch students have accomplished, enabling them to grow to where they are today,” said Brooke Lackey, one of the scouts who participated.

Girl Scout Troop #6592 is made up of seven girls ranging from 12-14 years of age who are students at Rancho Pico Jr. High School, Rio Norte Jr. High and Legacy Academy. After completion of their Silver Award, the girls will bridge to become Senior Girl Scouts.

Carousel Ranch is located at 34289 Rocking Horse Road in Santa Clarita. For more information, call 661-268-8010 or visit CarouselRanch.org.

Sand Canyon Christmas Gift – SRD Straightening Reins

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | December 13, 2017

In this season of giving there are many examples of generosity, and here in Sand Canyon, a local non-profit is grateful for a new home. If you’ve noticed a sudden flurry in the corrals at the ranch on Sand Canyon and Lost Canyon roads, it may be the presence of SRD Straightening Reins. The organization offers mental well-being and hope to at-risk teens through equine therapy.

Previously located on the other side of the Santa Clarita Valley, the SRD board of directors completed a yearlong review of finances and programs, finding a Canyon Country property that better met their needs.

“After reviewing multiple ranch locations, our Sand Canyon facility met the criteria — improved accessibility, transition feasibility, and a decrease in overhead costs,” said Deborah S. Rocha, SRD Straightening Reins executive director.

Rocha founded the non-profit in 2011 after the death of her daughter, Samantha Rocha Dyer, who had struggled with mental illness. Her initials became the moniker for the organization — SRD.

Clients are from the Santa Clarita Valley, students at many of the middle schools and high schools. Both the teens and their families take advantage of SRD’s programs. Youth who participate there range in age from 5 through 22 years, in addition to parents. Currently, there are 14 participating in equine-assisted psychotherapy, known as EAP. There are weekly groups for foster youth, domestic violence center clients, individuals from the department of children and family services, and teens known as Ranch Crew.

About 6-10 young people and 6-8 adults volunteer their time every week, providing supervision, maintenance of animals and the facility, advertising, data entry, a food recovery program, and fundraising, among other tasks.

SRD board member Susan Lopez became involved when her son, Eric, needed hours for Honor Society at Canyon High School.

“SRD is a wonderful place for children 8-18 to volunteer and give back to the community,” Susan Lopez said. “There weren’t very many non-profits in SCV (at that time) that had ongoing opportunities to volunteer for students under 14 years of age. After the first year, I fell in love with the cause and difference SRD made, and continues to make, in the lives of those who become involved, either as a volunteer or recipient of services.”

Deborah Rocha and her son live on the property as caretakers for SRD’s herd.

“The Hanson family has been wonderful and have already become part of our SRD programs,” Rocha said. “Our herd came with us from our original facility, as they’ve been chosen specifically for helping others heal.”

Like most charities, SRD Straightening Reins relies on donations to survive.

“Without our donors we’d be nothing. They’re the peanut butter to our jelly,” Rocha said. “Just because we have a great mission doesn’t guarantee that we’ll be around for years. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s just that: reality.”

The SRD Straightening Reins board made decisions that cut expenses by a third, Rocha said, including pulling up stakes in San Francisquito Canyon. It was a big job with a team of people assisting.

“We are fortunate to find an owner of a location that believes in our mission that we can afford,” Lopez said. “Moving to a new location was more out of necessity, rather than desire. Sustainable funding is a challenge for any nonprofit, especially one that has only been in existence five years.”

Rocha has been able to continue by forming partnerships and seeking out businesses, organizations and individuals who have like-minded goals about mental health education and treatment.

“Honestly, most other challenges pale in comparison to our need for funding to keep our doors open and accomplish our mission,” she said.

The organization has worked in the lives of many local families to address behavioral issues and reduce teen suicide.

“I’m not sure those who hear about SRD understand the multitude of benefits this nonprofit provides to youth in need of services or a safe place  to hang out, do homework or ranch chores,” Lopez explained, “where kids can be themselves without judgment.”

Rocha wants to bring the problem of mental health challenges into the open and garner more community awareness.

“We work with mental health in our community, and we have a difficult time getting media/community support,” she said. “Mental health is a very sensitive subject … and the dirty little secret of many families.”

For more information, visit srdstraighteningreins.org.

Teen Tech Entrepreneur Links Up with Amazon

| News | December 13, 2017

It’s not too often that a company like Lockheed Martin gets behind the ideas of a 13-year-old. But three years ago, that’s what the aerospace giant did, along with Gantom Lighting & Controls, Rancho Vista Golf Club, Valencia BMW and Westside Union School District in the Antelope Valley. These businesses were investing in the future — in more ways than one.

Niamani Knight, 16, is celebrating the success of her brainchild, S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo, a non-profit event that brings youth and 21st century disciplines together. Through special events, the program promotes science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and manufacturing to students.

“The aforementioned companies and a host of individual supporters took a chance on her in middle school, and we are so happy they did,” said Nia’s mother, Nikia Richards.

It was not as easy as it sounds for Niamani to garner the support she needed.

“I was grateful they’ve stuck beside me and seen where this has gone,” said the Saugus High School junior. “I heard a lot of no’s along the way.”

What began with 400 attendees now draws up to 1,500 people per S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo. Niamani has held these interactive conventions in Santa Clarita, Long Beach and Atlanta, and her upcoming event in Antelope Valley in March is her eighth.

“Through persistence, partnerships, and lots of hard work, S.T.R.E.A.M. is gaining momentum,” Richards said. “As parents or guardians, our jobs are to support our children by exposing them to a little bit of everything positive. It is not our job to dream for our kids, but to cultivate a space that allows their dreams to become reality.”

And while many teenagers are dreaming of success down the road, Niamani is living the dream now. At the S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo in Long Beach she made a connection that was a game-changer.

After a number of mini-interviews, a representative from Amazon asked her to be the keynote speaker for the company’s “Hour of Code,” which she completed last week. She was also featured in Amazon Stories and on the company’s Day One Blog.

“It’s been an honor to work with Amazon,” Niamani said.

According to Richards, Amazon and Niamani are still in conversation about further projects.

“They’re getting a deeper idea what Niamani wants to do,” Richards said. “They like that she’s bringing kids more access to technology.”

Among the unusual experiences the teen has had in the process, she’s gotten an inside view of the vast range of occupations within a company the size of Amazon.

“My access to employers has been incredible,” Niamani said. “Students like me are exploring different options … and sharing with other students gives me joy.”

Her immediate goal is to get local businesses involved in the upcoming expo, as well as schools and community members.

“Businesses not only get exposure, but they get to speak to these kids directly and begin to give them tips to prepare them for jobs in their companies,” the young entrepreneur explained. “The earlier companies are able to connect with them, the better.”

Leadership has always been in Niamani’s skill set. The idea for S.T.R.E.A.M. came to her when she participated in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a pilot program in the Antelope Valley. She was a peer leader in middle school, played basketball, and is currently the co-captain of Fellowship of Christian Athletes on her campus.

“I love having a leadership role, but also showing other students the possibilities,” she said. “One thing that makes S.T.R.E.A.M. so special is it’s run by a kid, and kids know what kids want.”

Niamani’s Kids Expos are for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, along with parents and teachers who accompany them. Sometimes she coordinates an event called Parent Café that coincides with the Expos. Educators, employers and parents can attend lectures by industry experts to learn about such topics as preparing students for college.

“Expos and Parent Cafes are tailored to each community, so the topics will differ,” she said.

Niamani’s ultimate goal? She hopes to create a permanent center here in the northern suburbs of Los Angeles, where students are exposed to S.T.R.E.A.M. aspects on a day-to-day basis, including parent resources, companies offering presentations and interactive projects with kids.

“We lived in AV when I first started the expo,” she explained. “I didn’t like that students had to drive to Glendale or Pasadena to go to a science center. I’d like to meet the need in as many communities as possible.”

For more information, visit Streamkidexpo.org.

Golden Valley Football Team Has Best Season in School’s History

| Canyon Country Magazine | December 8, 2017

The Golden Valley Grizzlies have a reason to celebrate this year. The football team reached the CIF Southern Section Division 6 finals — the first time since the program began more than a dozen years ago.

“They were a very talented group eager to play the game of football,” said Golden Valley Grizzlies coach, Daniel Kelley, “a lot of hard work, dedication and accountability towards playing the game perfectly.”

The players aren’t the only ones who have gained yardage over the years. The parent booster club has increased its involvement and the fans have energized the team, especially the student body, which is called “The Den.”

Coach Kelley’s favorite part? “Watching the program grow and the players develop over time,” he said. “We are headed in the right direction as a program. The players and coaches are all-in and when you have that combination, the sky’s the limit.”

Boys & Girls Club Finds Vendor after Losing Free Snack Program

| Community | December 7, 2017

When the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley lost the vendor for their free snack program in October, the after-school sites were paying $400 a week to keep the kids fed. Approximately 200 local children eat snacks every day at the two sites — Newhall and Canyon Country.

“Our vendor we had previously couldn’t do both locations,” said Abigail Gutierrez, branch manager at the Newhall Boys & Girls Club. “So, we had to pay out of pocket $200 a week at each site for a month and a half.”

Gutierrez acted quickly, calling the Burbank Club for a referral and applied through the Office of Government Relations.

“I thought, ‘Why not? I’ll see if they can provide something,” Gutierrez said.

It worked out as she had hoped—she got the green light, so USDA Vendor will pick up where Child Empowerment Corporation left off beginning Dec. 18, 2017.

“It’s going to be hot snacks — a full meal,” she said. “It’s called the supper snack. It comes with milk, it comes with apple and chicken tenders and it’s ready to go when the kids get here. We are open 2 to 7 and their snack is from 3:00-4:00. They have a whole hour.”

The number of kids eating at snack time is actually a fraction of the total number the Boys & Girls Clubs serve. Newhall’s daily attendance is about 220 and the numbers at Sierra Vista Junior High School’s location in Canyon Country is greater.

According to Gutierrez, a truck full of snacks arrives about 1 p.m. with the food in a barrel, which is wrapped and pre-heated. The vendor also brings plates and forks to the sites; then the company picks everything up at the end of the day.

Wonderland Art Exhibit at SCAA Gallery

| Community | November 16, 2017

The Santa Clarita Artists Association Gallery will be participating in Sip N’ Shop and Light up Main Street events on Nov. 18, 2017. Sip N’ Shop will be from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. followed by the tree lighting activities. The new Wonderland exhibit runs through December 30.

“We change out the art every six weeks — so come often. Included are original works, prints and hand-crafted artwork in various sizes and affordable price ranges,” said Scott Parker, coordinator. “There are many beautiful pieces on display to enjoy … and take home with you.”

SCAA Art Gallery is located at 22508 6th St. in Old Town Newhall, between Railroad and Main. The gallery is open Thursdays and Fridays 6-9 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays 3-9 p.m. Look for signs along Main Street to announce gallery openings.

In addition, SCAA artists will hold a Holiday Boutique on Dec. 2-3, 2017 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Home Care Services, 23340 Cinema Drive, Suite 5 in Santa Clarita. Small fine art, gifts for all, jewelry and one-of-a-kind crafts will be available for purchase. Patrons will be entertained with live music and refreshments. For more information, contact LyndaFrautnik@yahoo.com.

SCAA is the only non-profit fine art association in Santa Clarita since 1989. For inquiries, visit SantaClaritaArtists.org or call 661-313-5316.

Memorial Scheduled for Longtime Resident Dennis Marazzito

| Community, Obituaries | November 16, 2017

Members of the Marazzito family, who settled in Canyon Country more than 50 years ago, are grieving the loss of Dennis Marazzito, 67, who died Monday, November 13, 2017 after a long battle with heart disease. Dennis and his wife of 31 years, Rose Marazzito, owned The Drifters bar on Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country.

He was born in New Jersey on March 15, 1950 to Emily and Joseph Marazzito. Following graduation from William S. Hart High School in Newhall, Dennis joined the United States Marines.

Always an advocate for the needs of children, Dennis and Rose raised funds every year to purchase and donate 10-20 bicycles for the holidays. He placed barrels at The Drifters to collect toy donations, which were filled to the brim, and every holiday the couple served free meals to anyone from the community who gathered. Dennis never wanted anyone to be alone or hungry on a holiday.

Services will be held on Saturday, November 18 at Heart of the Canyons Church, 24551 Valley Street in Newhall. A viewing will be held at 9 a.m. and a service at 10 a.m. Interment will follow at Eternal Valley, 23287 Sierra Highway in Newhall. The family welcomes visitors to attend a reception held in his honor at 2 p.m. at VFW Post 6885, 16208 Sierra Highway in Canyon Country.

Dennis and Rose

Dennis is survived by his wife, Rose; his children, Dennis, Joey, Sheri, Angela, Barbara Ann, and Jessica; and 11 grandchildren, including the youngest, Hendrix. He is also survived by four siblings, Barbara, Joe, Eddie (Bridgett) and Lydia (Sid) and many more family members.

“There must be a big job for Dennis in heaven,” says the Marazzito family. “He will be missed by so many, because he touched so many lives. Dennis, you are and always will be a legend. Rest in peace.”

Giving Thanks Giving

| Community | November 16, 2017

An annual event that pools together the generosity of many local church members provides a hot meal, entertainment, clothing and crafts for those in need. Giving Thanks Giving is a morning of activities and a luncheon serving thousands of individuals each year on Thanksgiving Day.

Several churches get involved, including Heart of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, collecting donations of clothing, blankets, shoes, toys, books and more, which are handed out to visitors to the event. This year it will be held from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 23 — Thanksgiving Day — at Newhall Public Library, 24500 Main Street in Newhall. For more information, contact Marc Botello at 661-388-8917 or find Giving Thanksgiving SCV on Facebook.

51 The Next Level

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | November 14, 2017

At last month’s “Top 51” event hosted by The Signal at Sand Canyon Country Club, community members from 10 different categories of service were recognized. While some awards presentations feature individuals who are influential in their neighborhoods and towns, the Top 51 winners are chosen for their level of involvement in the community, say event leaders. The goal is to inspire others to greater volunteerism and build stronger bonds among residents and their causes.

The Santa Clarita Valley Signal vice president and editor Jason Schaff poses with Gillian Stone after she wins her award in the non-profits category during The Signal’s 2017 Top 51: The Next Level event at Sand Canyon Country Club in Canyon Country on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Ryan Painter/The Signal

Sand Canyon residents Chris and Sue Hoefflin were in attendance with a table filled with associates of their nonprofit organization, the Michael Hoefflin Foundation. MHF president, Gillian Stone, was a winner in the “Nonprofits” category. Stone has been at the Foundation for six years, inspiring growth and dedication to the charity, which benefits families battling pediatric cancer.

The Santa Clarita Valley Signal vice president and editor Jason Schaff poses with Jasmine Foster after she wins her award in the education category during The Signal’s 2017 Top 51: The Next Level event at Sand Canyon Country Club in Canyon Country on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Ryan Painter/The Signal

Sand Canyon resident Jasmine Foster was a “Top 51” winner in the “Education” category. She is public relations liaison for College of the Canyons, notifying members of the community and bringing attention to programs, events and notable individuals. Her volunteerism includes furthering the causes of SCV Habitat for Heroes, the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center and the William S. Hart Union High School District.

The top award went to Taylor Kellstrom, a 27-year-old realtor and owner of SCV Book Exchange. He founded “Bowling for Kids” in 2012 to raise money for the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, and he serves as board president for Circle of Hope. He is a motivational speaker for high school and college students and the entrepreneur is creating a free workshop for teens who want to start their own businesses.

Another award winner was Steve Kim, owner of Sand Canyon Country Club, formerly called Robinson Ranch Golf Club, where the event was held. On top of donating $150,000 to the SCV Senior Center’s capital campaign, he is transforming his Sand Canyon business venue, earning him “Top 51” recognition in the “Economic Development” category. The entrepreneur began his career in his home country of South Korea, but expresses gratitude toward the United States for the opportunities he has had in the last few years.

The event was held at Sand Canyon Country Club where, in addition to 27 holes of golf, there is a 25,000-square-foot clubhouse with new furnishings inside and on the patios. Guests crowded the resident-favorite terrace lounge and sampled from a variety of food while listening to live music by Dole-Humphries, a duo who won an award in the “Hospitality Philanthropy” category.


New State Preschool Program at Leona Cox

| Canyon Country Magazine | November 13, 2017

Community leaders gathered last month for a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the opening of a California state funded preschool on the campus of Leona Cox Community School in Canyon Country. The first of the preschools in the Sulphur Springs Union School District was opened in 2002 at Mint Canyon Community School and Canyon Springs. In the fall of this year Leona Cox became a third site for the preschools.

The schools offer early learning for low-income families as well as students in the special education preschool program. Collaboration between teaching staff of all preschool programs ensures continuity of topics as the children move between classrooms.

The State Preschool Program director, Mary Mercogliano, cut the ribbon with a few of the students. Other leaders in attendance included Julie Escalante, the preschool program’s site supervisor; State Assemblyman Dante Acosta; Sulphur Springs Union School District board members Shelley Weinstein, Kerry Clegg and Denis DeFigueiredo; Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi; school psychologists JoAnne Broutt and Gina Fu; Paul Frisina, director of special education; Kim Tredick, director of curriculum and instruction; Leona Cox principal, Heather Drew; and assistant superintendents, Michele Gookins, Josh Randall and Kathy Harris.

Registration for next year begins on February 1, 2018. For more information, call Leona Cox Community School at 661-252-2003.

Visitors got to see the preschool in action

The ribbon-cutting with two students, board members, district personnel and dignitaries

Students sang two songs for the attendees

L-R: Mary Mercogliano, Shelley Weinstein, Heather Drew and Catherine Kawaguchi

In a Dream World

| Canyon Country Magazine | November 13, 2017

The Cea family is living the dream.

Their journey to the United States from their home country of El Salvador is slightly different from the stereotypical, “climb the ladder of success to homeownership” definition a lot of us have.

“For me, the American dream is to have freedom, not to have things,” David Cea explained. “It’s the freedom to go wherever I want. … If I want to go out at midnight for a coffee, I can do that.”

When they tell their story of becoming naturalized citizens, it involves leaving some of the nightmares of El Salvador for the dream of America.

“My wife was kidnapped right in front of me,” David said. “She was alone in El Salvador and the civil war was really bad. Three times the rebels took everything. They treated her (badly), almost killed her, looking for money and other things.”

In Mexico, David was chased and shot at during one of his five driving trips to El Salvador and back between 1986 and 1989. But the final straw for the couple, who were married in 1984, was when Carolina was in the car in front of David at a stoplight, and a rebel opened her car door and got in the backseat. She was abducted, robbed, and then released.

“That was the moment my wife decided to move to the U.S.,” he said. “She wasn’t excited to come here (before that) because she’s the oldest of four kids and after her mom passed away she was the ‘mom’ of the house.”

When David first got his green card in 1982 he arrived in Cudahy, California, near Bell Gardens, where he said he spent time “working, working, working.”

“You don’t know the system, you don’t know the language,” he described. “You have to start working and you don’t have an education.”

David returned to El Salvador in 1984 to get married and stayed until 1986, when the family lived part of the time in both countries.

Not only did the Ceas immigrate legally, they continue to share the dream with family members.

“It takes over 12 years,” David said of the process to obtain a green card.

David and Carolina’s nephew, Ricardo, is returning to San Salvador next month after living with them for two years. Carolina’s sister and her family recently arrived, hoping to stay and become naturalized citizens as well. This Christmas, the Cea’s home will add one more couple to the mix when Ricardo’s parents arrive.

David and Carolina settled in Canyon Country, where they have lived in the same house for more than 20 years. Their son and daughter, Josue and Ana, grew up attending Mitchell, Sierra Vista Junior High and Canyon High School. They both attended College of the Canyons and graduated from California State University, Northridge. One of their grandchildren, Andrew, now attends Mitchell as well.

“One of the reasons we came to Canyon Country is it’s a better place to raise my kids,” he said. “We found it’s not a perfect city, but way better than most of L.A.”

David is the ninth of 10 children and currently has three sisters, one brother and his 98-year-old mother living in the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 1996 and Carolina in 1999.

David is the pastor of Spanish Ministries at Grace Baptist Church in Saugus and described his congregants as immigrants from approximately 15 countries in Latin America.
“They all really appreciate this country,” he said. “They are trying to live, enjoy and reach some goals,” he said. “We’re looking for something we don’t find in our country — freedom, peace, a job, and honesty.”

David agrees that many natural-born Americans take it for granted.

“I teach that we come to be a better citizen, to contribute to society and to the economy. This country has been wonderful. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better,” he said. “For me, it’s a blessing to be here.”

American Experience

| Canyon Country Magazine | November 11, 2017

It’s been a little more than two years since Ricardo Hernandez Rivera got on a plane in El Salvador and came to Canyon Country. And he’s gone a long way since then — completing two degrees at COC on a student visa, working as an English tutor, maintaining a 3.9 GPA, and landing jobs writing for Cracked.com and Creators Media, an entertainment website.

Ricardo Hernandez Rivera in 1999 with his parents, Jose and Briseida, and his sisters, Maria Jimena and Anna Gabriela

Graduating next month from College of the Canyons, Ricardo expected to transfer and begin working on a four-year degree, but he has to return to his home country. He will join his two sisters, Maria Jimena and Anna Gabriela in San Salvador, while his parents — Jose Ricardo and Briseida del Carmen, who just got their green cards — will come to the United States.

Like their son, Jose and Briseida will live in Canyon Country with Ricardo’s Aunt Carolina and Uncle David Cea.

The 25-year-old Ricardo is graduating from College of the Canyons next month with an associate’s degree in both Communications and Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. But he did not wait to enter the workplace. He has been writing for Cracked.com and he even wrote a movie pilot. He has articles posted on Cracked with titles like “6 Things You Won’t Believe Were Built by a Single Person” and “5 Heartwarming Stories to Restore Your Faith in Celebrities.”

Despite his success, it has not been a road to riches for Ricardo.
“For my last semester, I have had to turn to GoFundMe, the crowd sourcing platform, since my family, all of whom are still back home in El Salvador, are experiencing financial difficulties,” he explained. “I was supposed to transfer to USC, my good grades and extracurricular the perfect fit for their Communications program. However, I will now be returning to El Salvador at the end of the year, because I cannot afford it.”

Naturally, it’s disappointing for Rivera.

“I’m doing well in school, so I know I have the potential to continue, but it’s a blow,” he said. “But over there … it’s much, much cheaper.”

The hard-working student initially rode the bus to COC, but saved money from his on-campus job as an English tutor to purchase his own vehicle. He spends no time feeling sorry for himself; in fact, Rivera is grateful for the opportunity he has had to live in Canyon Country with his aunt and uncle. He acknowledged that they have “sacrificed a lot to keep me in (their) house (rent free!), and … know the effort I have put in, and how I have little to nothing to show for it.”

Armed with his two degrees, the media journalist is looking at universities in El Salvador and is in contact with some potential employers.

On top of the many contributions Rivera has made to the community, we can benefit from his perspective as an international visitor. Before he moved here two years ago he had only been in the U.S. for a brief vacation.

“Coming here was culture shock. I guess I expected everything to be like in the movies. They paint a perfect picture of Hollywood and Los Angeles,” he said. “But people are very friendly. I fell in love with the people, the lifestyle, but not the weather.”

Living in the United States has left an imprint on Ricardo Rivera that goes far deeper than the temperature outside. “It’s much safer than back home,” he said. “I keep hearing people my age say, ‘There’s nothing to do.’ But I like it … very peaceful and quiet.”

Local Football Star Heads North by Northwest

| Canyon Country Magazine | November 3, 2017

Doubles Down on Citizenship and Prospects

Professional football player Drew Wolitarsky was number 21 on the Canyon Cowboys, number 82 on the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, and now he is number 80 on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, playing in the Canadian Football League.

But in the hearts of many Canyon Country residents he’s still number one.

While at Canyon High School he broke records as a wide receiver, cracking the ceiling on total receiving yards and total number of receptions among all California high school football players that came before him. His stats took him north to Minnesota, where he found a place among the top 10 receivers in Gopher history for his performance. Then he went prospecting north of the border to begin his professional career. His mother, Audrey, is originally from Canada, and Drew decided to take advantage of his dual heritage. All he needed was the paperwork proving his Canadian citizenship.

“Once we got all of that figured out, my agent started contacting teams and letting them know that I was eligible to play in the CFL,” he explained. “You do not have to be a Canadian citizen to play in the CFL, but it is a large advantage to be Canadian because there have to be a certain number of Canadians on the field at all times.”

He got the citizenship papers in time for the supplemental draft and was chosen by the team in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

There are many Americans playing in the Canadian Football League, said Wolitarsky, who did not give up his American citizenship in the process. He described the game in the CFL as having many different rules, but the basis of scoring and receiving first downs remains the same.

“I would say that the difference from college to the CFL is not as drastic as it was from high school to college,” he said, adding that in both cases it involves learning a new offense and the intricacies of the playbook. “The game slows down when there is less you have to process, and the more you can simply react. The style of play was a little funky at first to get down. It just takes a lot of repetition and getting a feel for motioning before the ball is snapped. I’m a lot more comfortable with it now and have pretty good timing!”

When asked to describe what he left behind, Wolitarsky has a lot of praise for the Canyon Cowboys staff.

“I miss playing for Canyon because it was simply fun. There was no business attached to it,” he said. “It was just people who wanted to play and coaches who coached because they wanted to see their kids go on to do great things. I really miss my coaches from the early years. They were great motivators and definitely helped guide me to where I am today. Teachers are underrated — both in the class and on the field. I can attest to that!”

At the University of Minnesota, Wolitarsky had as much success in the classroom as on the field, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English.

“I miss the community in Minnesota — people my age, students, friends,” he described. “Everything was close and all my friends were within a small vicinity. I miss just being with my old team. I know I will get to that same place with my new one, but after four years in college you get pretty tight with all your teammates, and I miss that feeling.”

The CFL season differs from the NFL, partly due to the expected temperatures nearing -40 degrees (Fahrenheit and Celsius). He currently practices up to four days a week and sometimes has games that are less than seven days apart. But the season ends soon, lasting six months total, and many of the players have off-season jobs.

As Wolitarsky is new to the team and its lifestyle, he isn’t sure what the off-season will look like for him. But year round, he is likely to focus on the interpersonal side of life.

“One of the main reasons I play is to form friendships and constantly improve myself, both on and off the field,” he said. “I would say my expectations have been happily met, although not easily!”

Non-Profit of the Week – Gibbon Conservation Center

| SC Living | October 26, 2017

For more than 40 years, the Gibbon Conservation Center has been dedicated to promoting the existence and study of the rarest group of apes in the Western Hemisphere. Not only does the non-profit organization provide observation and non-invasive research opportunities for students and scientists, staff members do consulting work with zoos, museums, and government agencies such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Originating from countries that include Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia, Gibbons are endangered arboreal apes with entertaining antics making them “acrobats” and “songbirds.” They live in the dwindling rainforests of Southeast, South and East Asia, where they mark their territory by vocalizing (singing). Adult gibbons and their mates sing duets and their offspring join in. Swinging from branch to branch, known as brachiating, the rare mammals leap distances as high as 40 feet at speeds of up to 35 mph while 200 feet above the ground.

Baby Howard was born on December 7, 2016 at the Gibbon Conservation Center.

The apes eat fruit, young leaves, flowers, bird eggs, insects and birds. The Gibbon Conservation Center houses the following species: Northern White-Cheeked Gibbon, Eastern Hoolock Gibbon, Javan Gibbon, Pileated Gibbon and Siamang, which is the largest.

The founder of the Gibbon Conservation Center is the late Alan Mootnick, who did not enter the field through academia. He was a self-taught primatologist who grew to earn the respect of leaders in the industry. He gained important insights into gibbon social behavior, species identification and captive management, at the same time publishing nearly 25 peer-reviewed manuscripts.

“Having your own primate center takes a great deal of dedication, and a person cannot just walk away from it,” Mootnick said. “It becomes your life.”

The Gibbon Conservation Center operates on the generosity of donors. The organization’s website invites the public to donate time, skills and talents, or money in the form of a tax deductible contribution. Members of the community can visit the center and groups can book tours year round.

The public is invited to visit for “Halloween at the GCC” on Saturday, October 28 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Visitors can take part in a costume contest, pumpkin decorating, plus trick-or-treating, candy stations, spooky activities and music. Bring your money to support the non-profit with purchases from the gift shop and a silent auction.

The Gibbon Conservation Center is located 19100 Esguerra Road in Santa Clarita. For more information, email Info@gibboncenter.org or visit www.GibbonCenter.org.


Heroes of the Week

Gabriella “Gabi” Skollar has been working for the Gibbon Conservation Center (GCC) since 2005. She graduated in 2004 with a master’s degree in Biology at the University of Szeged, in Hungary. She is an active participant in the gibbon zoological, conservation, and scientific communities worldwide. As the SSA Zoo Liaison at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Primate Specialist Group, she is responsible for representing the SSA within the Zoo community, and improving links between in-situ and ex-situ conservation. She is also a husbandry advisor for the gibbon SSP in the USA, as well as a member of the gibbon hand-rearing and surrogate team. Gabriella gives educational lectures and tours at the GCC, focusing on gibbon conservation and behavior.


Alma Rodriguez is a graduate of California Polytechnic University in Pomona with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science, and a minor in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. Alma holds an Event Planning certificate from Cal Poly Pomona, the Extended University. She has been featured on TV & radio, including an online article by National Geographic about the GCC. In 2015 she visited Java to see both the field and release sites of the Javan gibbons and meet with key individuals in their in-situ program. Alma has developed the off-site and on-site education programs and has been called on to speak to local elementary school children. She is currently working on expanding and improving those programs to continue to make them a valuable resource to the community.

Tiffany Darden graduated from California State University, Channel Islands in 2017 with a BS in Anthropology. In 2017 she received recognition on a paper presented in regard to captive gibbons’ response to predators. Tiffany gives tours of the center and is regularly interviewed by college film students. She also feeds gibbons, trains volunteers and oversees Girl Scout and Eagle Scout Projects.

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Local Eighth-Grader’s Crowning Achievement

| Community | October 26, 2017

While many young teens are busy sorting out their personal trajectories, Keely Young is already moving forward. The Rancho Pico Junior High School student is a candidate for the Girl Scouts of America’s second highest honor, the Silver Award, and she is also competing in the National American Miss Pageant next month in Anaheim.

Through both of these engagements, Keely is able to double down on support for her community service project, “Hearts 4 the Homeless’ Pets.” It is a printed guide for local homeless individuals who have pets, offering them a list of resources for free food and services.

“By competing for this title, I hope to use it as a stepping stone to expand my community service project, ‘Hearts 4 the Homeless’ Pets,’” Keely said. “My hope is to have it grow and become a non-profit that encompasses all of Los Angeles.”

She has volunteered in quite a few capacities, including offering her time at a local animal shelter, taking part in a food drive called Caroling for Cans, leading her church’s Vacation Bible School, and working with special needs students at her former elementary school.

Keely has placed in the top 15 of competitors for the past two years at the pageant’s state level. This is her first year competing at the national level, for National American Miss All American JR Teen 2017.

At Rancho Pico Jr. High School, Keely earns straight A’s while singing in the Chamber Choir and participating in the West Ranch High School Color Guard. She is also an actor and model.

“Singing is my passion and I hope to make a career out of it,” she said. “Not only would I like to become a singer, but I am making sure to become a well-rounded individual.”

The pageant is in Anaheim on Nov .20-26 and in order to participate in the pageant, she has to turn in her entry fees and purchase the required production number dress.

“I have used my own money that I have earned through acting jobs and turning in recycling in the past, but I am asking for your help in paying for this pageant,” Keely explained. “There are a few ways to support me on my journey. Pledge any amount at my GoFundMe (www.gofundme.com/keelynaamjrteen). All money goes directly for pageant expenses, i.e. entry fee, wardrobe, travel costs and pageant coaching fees.”

As for her community service project, Keely believes that providing for the pets of homeless individuals is a way to contribute to their state of mind.

“As most pet owners will tell you, their pet is considered a family member,” she explained. “And for many homeless, not only are these animals family, but also serve as an emotional service animal, so they can’t be separated from them.”
She plans to eventually provide veterinary services, grooming services, pet supplies and more through Hearts 4 the Homeless’ Pets.

“This is why I need your donation to help these animals get health check-ups, better food for them, and much more so that they can live a healthy, happy life,” she said.

The community may also help by donating services and/or supplies, or they may share her project with others to help spread the word.

“I am just now starting to create the program, but plan to have a website up soon,” Keely said. “Any donors will be mentioned on it.”

For more information on the Girl Scout Silver Award program, check out their site, www.girlscoutsla.org/pages/events/silver_award.html

Keely’s site for her animal project is: https://hearts4homelesspets.wixsite.com/hearts4homelesspets

Local Restaurateur Provides Brunch for Chamber Golf Tournament

| News | October 19, 2017

While members of the community are teeing up, Steve Dinkowitz will be serving up food for hungry participants at the 33rd Annual Oak Tree Golf Classic. The owner of The Backyard Grub N’ Brews in Centre Pointe Marketplace, Dinkowitz will prepare breakfast burritos for 250 golfers at the SCV Chamber of Commerce fundraiser.

It’s not out of the restaurateur’s wheelhouse, having been the owner of multiple Dink’s Delis in Santa Clarita, which he sold after 25 years, calling it “bittersweet.”

“Being in the restaurant business is not easy; (it’s) a lot of work and time,” said Dinkowitz, who started baking at the age of 15 and parlayed his skills into a major cookie business, eventually shipping as much as 1,000 lbs. a week.

Donating food for the Chamber’s Octoberfest-themed golf tournament on Monday, October 23 is just one example of Dinkowitz’ community involvement. Thursday nights are “Pint Night” at The Backyard Grub N’ Brews, where customers enjoy live local bands offering blues, jazz, R&B and rock music. Beer suppliers add to the excitement by offering giveaways, such as shirts, glasses, hats, key chains, etc.

There is also music on weekend nights, and sometimes for the Sunday brunch crowd.

“My hope now for The Backyard Grub N’ Brews is to give all the people of SCV a fun place with good food … where they can come on a night and relax and enjoy music, have a drink and then call it a night,” Dinkowitz said.

For more information, call 661-286-1165 or visit Thebackyardgrubnbrews.com.

ER Alternative Opens in Stevenson Ranch

| Community | October 19, 2017

For residents who have experienced long waits in emergency rooms, or have been frustrated by a shortage of resources at their urgent care facilities, a new medical center opened to offer something different. Exer More Than Urgent Care opened its doors to patients Wednesday in Stevenson Ranch, the company’s seventh Southern California clinic since its inception four years ago.

The first of its kind in the Santa Clarita Valley, Exer is staffed with ER doctors and includes on-site medical services such as X-ray, lab, splinting, laceration and diagnostics.

“Each of our centers has the capabilities to stabilize and treat over 80 percent of the cases seen daily in the local ER with little-to-no waiting and for a fraction of the costs,” said Exer CEO Rob Mahan. “We accept most PPO, most HMO insurance plans and we have a Prompt Pay Program with affordable payment options for those with minimal or no health insurance.”

Founded by Cherlin Johnson, M.D., Deann Hampton and lead investor James Fay, Exer’s unique model was developed with the belief that patients receiving care in an emergency room could be better served in a more convenient, high-quality and affordable urgent care environment.

“We’re on a mission to help people to feel better faster,” Mahan said. “That means placing our centers in easy to access locations that are close to residential areas, local hospitals and schools. In addition, our partnership with Providence Health & Services enables us to serve more communities we may not otherwise be able to serve.”

Exer More Than Urgent Care is located at the corner of The Old Road and Constitution Avenue in Stevenson Ranch. For more information, visit Exerurgentcare.com/urgent-care-santa-clarita/.

Non Profit of the Week – Thank-A-Vet Golf Foundation

| SC Living | October 13, 2017

Nancy Butler, founder and organizer of the annual Thank-A-Vet golf tournament, has very personal reasons for working tirelessly throughout the year to produce and implement her event. There are four very important military veterans in her life: her father, brother, and two uncles, as well as dear friends and former students. They were, and are, men of honor who were bound by duty and love of country to do what was asked of them to protect and guard the dreams of so many while putting their own dreams on hold. This made a huge impact on her as a child.

Thank-A-Vet’s mission statement is a testament to Miss Butler’s dream: The mission of the Thank-A-Veteran Golf Foundation is to honor and embrace the spirit of the dedication and sacrifices of military and their families by:

Organizing and implementing fun, enriching, and community-connecting events, the major event being the non-profit’s annual Thank-A-Vet Golf Tournament
To be able to provide a meaningful monetary contribution to organizations that benefits local military veterans

Her dream of honoring those special veterans in her life blossomed into an annual golf tournament which consistently has a waiting list of participants. Veterans play for free (or make a voluntary donation), while others pay a very reasonable set fee. Still other individuals and local businesses donate goods and services for silent auction and raffle items to raise money for various veteran-based organizations. Past events have taken place at Robinson Ranch Golf Club (now Sand Canyon Country Club) and TPC Valencia.

This year, Thank-A-Vet’s annual 18-hole scramble format golf tournament will be returning to the beautiful TPC Valencia Golf Club on Monday, October 30, 2017. Again, as expected, it is sold out, but hole sponsorships, silent auction, and raffle donations are still available.

Typically, each event is kicked off by an address from a local city or state official.

Miss Butler closes the opening ceremonies by thanking all the participants, contributing community partners, and the highly valuable volunteers that make this event a success.

Veterans are treated to a boxed lunch while on the course and a catered dinner when play is complete. The event is capped off with prizes awarded to winning teams and sponsor recognition ending with the silent auction and raffle.

Thank-A-Vet hopes at some point in the future to involve professional golfers in a pro/am format and to implement and host a few more tournaments … all aimed at raising funds for local veterans.

For more information about this golf tournament, to make a donation, or to obtain more information about the Thank-A-Vet Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, contact Nancy Butler at thankavetgolf@gmail.com. Look for them on Facebook as well.

Carve Out Time for Halloween

| Canyon Country Magazine, Community | October 7, 2017

Whether Trick-or-Treating or hosting a Halloween Party this year, there are plenty of places to enjoy this spooky holiday…

Gilchrist Farm
Every day in October there’s a pumpkin patch party at Gilchrist Farms in Saugus from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. You can pick out pumpkins for purchase and on weekends enjoy: Mule Drawn Wagon Rides, Pony Rides, Face Painting, Pumpkin Decorating, Fall Farm Crafts, Live Entertainment, Caramel Apples, Roasted Corn on the Cob, Food Trucks, the Petting Zoo, Straw Slide, Pig Races, Chicken Splat Bingo and free Goat Milking Demonstrations each Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m. You get free entry to the Straw Bale Maze if you bring a donation to the SCV Food Pantry from the non-profit group’s website: scvfoodpantry.org/HowtoHelp/NeededItems.

Gilchrist Farms is located at 30116 Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus. For more information, call 661-645-2517 or visit www.gilchristfarm.com/harvest-festival.

Trunk or Treat
This family-friendly holiday event on Sunday, October 29 from 5-6:30 p.m. brings community members together to trick-or-treat from decorated cars! Santa Clarita United Methodist Church is inviting residents and friends to come—costumed or not—to collect candy from cars in the parking lot. It’s a safe event for kids to trick-or-treat and includes a maze and food for everyone. Santa Clarita United Methodist Church is located at 26640 Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus. Call 661-297-3783 or visit SCUMC.org.

Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest
Watch certified scuba dive teams carve masterpieces under water at the 10th Annual Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest! Every year, the City of Santa Clarita hosts this unusual event, held at 6 p.m. on Saturday, October 28 at the Santa Clarita Aquatics Center, located at 20850 Centre Pointe Pkwy in Santa Clarita. The community is invited to watch it live on big screens and enjoy crafts, games and trick-or-treating. Call 661-259-2489 or find the event on page 22 of the Seasons Catalog at Santa-Clarita.com/seasons.

PumpkinLiner Train Rides
The Fillmore & Western Railway is “dying to see you” board their vintage train for the annual PumpkinLiner day trips. There are departures Saturdays and Sundays beginning October 7 at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. taking passengers to “The Patch” to pick out pumpkins for purchase. There are added attractions this year for $3 that include a haunted house, antique carousel, jolly jumpers and hay rides. Vendors will be onsite so you can enjoy tri-tip sandwiches and other eats, while the kids get face paiting, a hay maze and more. Tickets range from $10-$22 and lap children under age 2 are free. There is also a Zombie Hunter Train Ride and a Haunted Hayride Family Dinner Train in October. Fillmore & Western Railway is located at 364 Main Street in Fillmore. For more information, call 805-524-2546 or visit FWRY-blog.com.

Mary Purdy – Teacher of the Year

| Canyon Country Magazine | October 6, 2017

If you created a song from the life of newly retired choir teacher Mary Purdy it would sound a lot like the last verse of Huey Lewis’ “Heart of Rock & Roll.” Only her lyrics would be “Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, New Mexico, California, Elsinore, Morro Bay and San Fernando.”

Mary Purdy was always going places — even from childhood, moving a lot thanks to being a pastor’s daughter — but when she began her career in music education she made sure the kids were going places too. Not only does she have numerous students from her 26 years at Canyon High School who went on to study music in college, but she literally took them places — a lot of them — from her first year as Canyon’s choir director. She led choir trips to: Hawaii, New York, Chicago, Orlando, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, Boston, San Antonio — some of those more than once.

“I attended three trips: a Mexico cruise, Orlando Disney tour and Vancouver,” said former student Danny Jaramillo, who graduated in 2004. “I had such an amazing time on all three.”

As many of her former students will contend, Mrs. Purdy didn’t need a change of scenery to keep it lively. It’s what happened in the classroom day-to-day that made a difference for them.

“She has helped in more ways than she knows,” Jaramillo said. “I credit her with the reason my voice has grown into what it is today. She gave me a rock solid foundation of skills that I still use to mold my ‘instrument’ whenever a piece of music I need to learn comes up.”

Jazz vocalist Natalie Mendoza, 25, said it was one of her last days in Mrs. Purdy’s class that inspired her to become part of multiple college choirs.

“I remember singing with Madrigals in rehearsal and feeling my voice open and fill out in a round and resonant way that I hadn’t quite felt before,” Mendoza described. “Mrs. Purdy heard this difference and stopped the rehearsal for a moment to tell me in front of the choir that I had finally started singing with my true classical sound and that I would sing that way in my college choirs. I hadn’t even considered singing in choir in college at that point, but her words propelled me into the notion that music would inevitably be a part of my college career. I became a music major, studying both classical and jazz voice, singing in five different choirs during my college years.”

Purdy earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from California State University, Northridge, and in 1977 got her first teaching job in East Los Angeles at Stevenson Junior High School. In 1981, she joined the William S. Hart Union School District as a teacher at Sierra Vista Junior High. Nine years later, Purdy began teaching English at Canyon High School, and took on the choirs, which were, at the time: Women’s Chamber Ensemble, Concert Choir with about 35 students, and Treble Choir, which was for beginning singers. The small, exclusive group, Madrigals, met in the evenings. In 1994 she added the Men’s Chamber Ensemble.

This year has been a big one for Mary Purdy. She retired in June and was recently recognized as the William S. Hart Union School District Teacher of the Year. While her excellence in the classroom is rewarded by Hart leadership, what her students remember is that her classes were anything but “business as usual.”

“I remember, quite vividly, that Mrs. Purdy would spray the contents of her water bottle on you if she heard you playing ‘Heart and Soul’ on the piano,” Jaramillo said. “The people ‘in the know’ would always stop what they were doing and look to watch her reaction when someone unknowingly played the trigger song. It was comical!”

Andrew Taban of Canyon Country has similar memories after four years in the classroom with a teacher he calls “feisty.”

“If you said something out of turn she would chase you and spray you with water,” he said. “One time I ran out of the room to escape. When I went back in the classroom, my backpack was soaking wet.”

There was a different vibe in choir than in other classes, students say. It may be, in part, because music is an elective, but it had everything to do with Purdy’s style.

“I think that most people would think every day in my classroom was pretty crazy,” Purdy said. “We did a lot of laughing each day.”

The biggest takeaway for her students, however, was her generosity of spirit, and the benefit to them personally.

“She didn’t care who you were, she wanted to be there for every one of her students. … She loved every single one,” Taban said. “We adored her.”

The choir room doors were open for teens to spend their free time, and she developed relationships with students that continued after graduation.

“Mrs. Purdy and I share a birthday and EVERY SINGLE YEAR I receive a birthday card in the mail from her that is signed “birthday buddy,” Mendoza said. “She called me that in high school.”

But Purdy’s playfulness had substance.

“Besides the obvious music skills … I learned how to be an adult as a student under her guidance,” explained 30-year-old Jaramillo. “Empathy, punctuality and personal responsibility are three poignant character traits that I can say she nurtured in me!”

That positive feedback might be enough for a lot of retirees to, deservedly, consider it a job well done and relax. But that isn’t Purdy’s way. She keeps moving, no matter what.

“I haven’t finished cleaning out closets, so I’m not bored yet!” Purdy joked. “I have to say that it is really weird. I don’t miss getting up at 5 a.m. or going to faculty meetings (no offense, Jason!) or professional development that has nothing to do with what I teach. I like being able to read my Bible every morning and the newspaper at my leisure. However, I really miss seeing the kids and making beautiful music with them.”

Mary Purdy has been “making beautiful music” with her husband, Wally Purdy, for 44 years. They have planned a trip to Hawaii and a cruise to see the fall colors in New England (a time of year educators rarely get to travel, she points out).

Mary and Wally, who is executive vice president at the Bank of Santa Clarita, checked with the State Teachers Retirement and found that she would receive the optimum benefit by retiring in 2014. But, that year was the groundbreaking for a brand new Performing Arts Center on the Canyon High School campus.

“Since I had been involved with the design from the beginning, I wanted to see all that planning come to fruition,” Mary Purdy said. “I wanted to be able to perform in it for one entire year, so that was when I retired.”

Canyon High School’s new choir teacher, Kelly Caswell, is a Valencia High School graduate and was one of Mrs. Purdy’s student teachers.

“I knew that she was a person who knew the program and would work with the established traditions and would have a long, successful career at Canyon High School,” Mary Purdy said. “When she came to meet these kids, they fell in love with her immediately. She is talented, nice, fun, kind, caring, everything you would want in a choir teacher.”

Canyon students will never again join Mrs. Purdy onstage for a teary farewell singing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” And they’ll never again watch Mrs. Purdy navigate such choir tour snafus as the time the door to their airplane door broke off (resulting in 110 students finding alternate transportation to NYC).

But they will make memories with Ms. Caswell, while Mary Purdy keeps moving in her own, new direction. So far that means daily walks with friends, helping her mother-in-law and singing at Grace Baptist Church and the Santa Clarita Master Chorale.

And while the “heart of rock & roll is still beating” for Huey Lewis & the News, Mary Purdy’s heart is still beating the way it always has … filled with purpose and generosity, impacting whoever gets the pleasure of her company, wherever she goes from here.

Tried and True – True Crime Details from Local Menendez Juror

| News, Sand Canyon Journal | October 5, 2017

It isn’t often that Sand Canyon has a prison insider. But viewers of “NBC News” following episodes of “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders” can see local resident Betty Oldfield share what she knows about the famous trial 23 years ago. She served as a substitute on the jury for Erik Menendez during the first trial, which ended in a deadlock. After a second trial, in 1996, the brothers were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

NBC began airing the “Law & Order True Crime” series on Sep. 26, which will be presented in eight one-hour segments. It is a drama starring Emmy Award-winner Edie Falco as Erik Menendez’ defense attorney, Leslie Abramson. NBC’s Colleen Williams will air her interviews with jurors intermittently.

Oldfield and another juror, Hazel Thornton, were interviewed by Williams for the segments, as well as many other shows over the last two decades, such as “Snapped” on the Oxygen Network. One of Oldfield’s first interviews after the trial was on “Larry King Live,” plus she appeared on TMZ, and she was interviewed by Greta Van Susteren on “Fox News.” Producers always send a car to take Oldfield to their studios in Los Angeles, she said, except the Reel Channel, who filmed in her Sand Canyon living room. She’s been on so many shows at this point that she’s lost count.
While actress Edie Falco was impersonating attorney Leslie Abramson to the best of her ability, the real Abramson was reconnecting with former jury members Oldfield and Thornton, now an author with a book entitled “Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror.” Back in 1994, to prepare for the second trial, Abramson reached out to several jurors to learn which aspects of the defense resonated with them. Oldfield developed a rapport with the attorney, as well as a friendship with defendant Erik Menendez.

According to press about the new show, the storyline will focus on why the brothers committed murder, an attempt, in part, to humanize them. And in the same way “Law & Order True Crime” seeks to grow public empathy for the Menendez brothers, Erik has a parallel project behind bars, according to Oldfield. He works with groups of inmates to help them develop empathy for fellow prisoners.

“One of his goals is to bring in some of the younger inmates to learn empathy for the older ones,” Oldfield explained. “He makes much time in helping others while incarcerated.”

Over the many years Erik Menendez has corresponded with Betty Oldfield, she has become impressed by how he’s turned a life sentence into a life of productivity, including educating himself and developing his skills as a painter.
She received a copy of a letter from a Folsom Prison official praising the younger Menendez for how he’s helping fellow inmates.

“The prison where he is has a lot of physically handicapped individuals,” Oldfield said. “Erik said they’d be pushed in a corner and just be ignored. So, he started a group where they could all meet and socialize a bit — and now the group has grown way beyond that.”

The role the cameras played in the courtroom during the first trial (the judge barred them from the second trial) have, doubtless, affected public sentiment about the case. And the spate of shows about the Menendez brothers will add layers to the already existing (largely negative) attitudes.

“My slant is not what the media has portrayed,” Oldfield said. “I certainly know Erik for who he really is. He’s a very caring person. My main goal is to help people understand they are not the rich, spoiled kids from Beverly Hills. Those people have not sat through the same trial that I sat through.”

In the case of both Lyle’s and Erik’s deadlocked juries in 1994, votes were pretty much split down gender lines. The women voted for leniency, while the men were unsympathetic to the defendants.

“You could see (the male jurors) throw their notepads down and not bother to take any notes,” Oldfield said. “It was never a case of whether they were guilty. It was question of degree.”

For anyone wondering how the jurors in the second trial managed to make a decision for guilt, Judge Stanley Weisberg limited testimony about allegations of sexual abuse by Jose Menendez. “I could understand how they reached a verdict,” Oldfield responded. “They didn’t hear the truth of it.”

Elks Lodge Member Jay Larkins Roasted

| Community | September 28, 2017

In a warm-up to the celebration for the 50th anniversary of Elks Lodge #2379, members roasted fellow Elk Jay Larkins earlier this month. The roast drew a crowd, and the night ended with Larkins’ rebuttal to the playful jabs that left guests laughing.

The Lodge was filled with local Elks members on September 9, as well as Elks leaders from other lodges in the Southern California area. Exalted Rulers, known as ERs, past ERs and leaders from Burbank, Canoga Park,  San Fernando, Sunland-Tujunga and Van Nuys  were present to hear the “dirt” about Jay. The program started off with a short film followed by Larkins’ friends and family sharing embellished tidbits about the guest of honor. Even Ginger, Jay’s wife, had a turn roasting her husband.

Santa Clarita Lodge Exalted Ruler Maurice Hamilton turned the heat up, and Master Roaster, Councilman Bob Kellar, who is a longtime Elks member and who seemed to know Jay Larkins well, elevated the roasting thermometer to the highest level, according to reports.

Councilmember Bob Kellar “roasting” Elks Member, Jay Larkins

Larkins has a successful career in television as current president/director of Southern Comfort Productions, former director of  NBC’s “Entertainment Tonight” and “Crime Watch Daily,” plus numerous other productions. He has served the Elks proudly at the local, district and state levels — helping fellow Elks garner numerous trophies on display at Elks Lodge 2379. Proceeds from the event are used to further the programs and services of the Lodge.

The Elks organization is a national fraternal order, with more than 2,000 lodges and approximately a million members across the country. Elks Lodges are places where neighbors come together, families share meals, and children grow up. Elks invest in their communities through programs that aim to make it possible for children to grow up healthy and drug-free, meet the needs of today’s veterans, and improve the quality of life for many individuals. The monthly Lodge schedule has activities every day of the week — from regular events such as Sunday breakfast and bingo; Monday night football; Taco Tuesday; and Friday night dinner to events sponsored by the Santa Clarita Emblem Club, an auxiliary group supporting Lodge 2379 projects.

Today, Elks Lodge 2379 has more than 700 members and is led by Exalted Ruler Maurice Hamilton who says, “It is an honor to be serving the lodge and community during our 50th year celebration and to have the opportunity to enthusiastically set the tone and direction for the next 50 years serving the Santa Clarita community.”

For more information about the Elks 50th Anniversary, their programs and projects, contact Phyllis Walker at 661-251-1172 or visit Elks.org.

Non Profit of the Month – The Brittany Foundation Sanctuary and Dog Rescue

| SC Living | September 28, 2017

Saving the lives of animals is the mission of The Brittany Foundation Sanctuary & Dog Rescue in Agua Dulce. It is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the rescue, care and placement of dogs — all breeds and mixtures. There are approximately 50 dogs on the property at any time, many with various physical challenges.

The dogs are shown at the Foundation’s weekly adoption program at the sanctuary in Agua Dulce, plus there are adoption events throughout the year. While in the care of Foundation staff members, the dogs are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and given a thorough check-up, along with any necessary medical attention. The dogs are also micro-chipped. If dogs are not adopted, they will live at the sanctuary for their entire lives. In other words, it’s a no-kill facility!

They rescue all dogs, regardless of breed, and focus efforts on the harder-to-place dogs such as seniors, disabled or abused dogs, and “media condemned” breeds such as pit bulls, chow chows and Dobermans. It’s relatively easy to find a home for a cute little terrier, but the gratification for Brittany Foundation volunteers comes from placing the 6-year-old pit bull with one eye, the stray mutt who has never had a home before, or the 12-year-old Doberman with severe separation anxiety (who is now living in a wonderful home of his own). Of course, they also have the adorable, well-behaved angels who are still searching for their forever homes too.

A Day in Their Paws

The Brittany Foundation will be holding their major, yearly fundraising event, A Day in Their Paws, on Saturday, October 14, 2017, at the Agua Dulce facility. The community is invited to visit the dogs during the event, and maybe find the dog-companion of their dreams.

At A Day in Their Paws volunteers commit to spending 24 hours in a kennel with the dog of their choice. It is a dramatic way to raise awareness of how shelter and rescue dogs live.

Volunteers can only get out of the kennel by finding sponsors who will “buy their freedom” for $1 per minute. There is an open house at The Brittany Foundation Sanctuary that day from 12 noon-4 p.m., with music, raffles, a silent auction, and of course you can tour the sanctuary, visit the “incarcerated” volunteers, and learn about the dogs who are keeping them company.

You may also visit the website to meet participating volunteers and to help them meet their fundraising goals: Brittanyfoundationonline.org.

For more information and a visit to the facility, contact founder Nancy Anderson at 661-713-5420 or email Brittany_dogs@yahoo.com.

Tattoo Artist Has Designs on New Building

| Canyon Country Magazine, News | September 28, 2017

Like some of his clients who spend time researching and designing the tattoo they hire him to create, Adam Guyot looked at his options and is happy with his choice. After 23 years since he opened his doors, the Canyon Country business owner is moving Eternal Art Tattoo down the road to Flying Tiger Drive.

Like other businesses in his building on the northeast corner of Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway, Guyot had to find a new space to set up shop. The City of Santa Clarita is taking ownership of the buildings on the east side of the 18400 and 18300 blocks of Sierra Highway in order to construct a new Canyon Country Community Center.

The news was not welcome initially, at least by most of the tenants.

“That’s how I felt at the beginning as well,” Guyot said. “I’ve been here 23 years and being told I had to up and move — I wasn’t too happy about it.”

His prospects were perhaps more slim than some of the other business owners, partly because he needed specific zoning criteria. And that’s where he feels the City of Santa Clarita is coming through for him.

“At first I thought they were going to just run us out of town,” he said. “The city is really helping us with the whole move. And they’re allowing us to stay open there until we’re in the new location.”

While it may not sound like much, being allowed to stay at 18438 Sierra Highway through the waiting period involved could add up to survival for Guyot’s shop.

“My biggest concern was (that) I have five other artists,” he said. “As of this month the city is actually my landlord.”
Guyot turned in Conditional Use Permit paperwork last week, which is two months before they can actually do construction.

“We wanted to stay local. I love this place,” said Guyot, who was born and raised in Canyon Country. “I think our clientele will be able to find us.”

Not only is the city offering financial assistance for the move, the City of Santa Clarita is supporting Eternal Art as a co-applicant for the conditional use permit, or CUP, at the new business address.

“It’s the same building where the (Canyon Country) Community Center is currently,” Guyot said.

Among other phases of the process, Guyot is waiting for approval by the health department and the plans to be drafted by an architect, followed by engineering before construction begins. He is hoping, assuming even, there will be no interruption in business.

I hope we get this place built and once it’s turnkey ready, we lock the door here and unlock the door there,” he said.

After the move—for as long as the current building is still standing, the city’s Planning Department will allow a window painter to direct customers to the new address for Eternal Art Tattoo.


And in a sort of symbiosis, Guyot plans to donate his time to the efforts of the community center, perhaps painting a mural or teaching art classes to kids after school. It’s a way to give back, considering he was a Canyon Country student too, first at Honby Elementary, then Sierra Vista Junior High, and later Canyon High School.

Guyot also participated in ROP (Regional Occupational Program) classes at Saugus High School and Hart High.

“It was a graphic arts program. I’d go from Canyon and go work with Mr. Shaw at Saugus, then Gary Lindberg at Hart,” said the 44-year-old Guyot. “I learned the whole printing industry.”

In 1995 he opened his own business after years learning his craft as a tattoo artist. “I wanted to try it on my own,” he said. “I knew that I could do it and have a place that people could feel comfortable.”

According to Guyot, the cell phone store already moved up the street, which he said was “uneventful.” The city helped them with that move. And the auto repair garage is having some issues with zoning, because the business requires bays and lifts, etc.
“It’s hard to find a spot to reopen,” Guyot said about the City of Santa Clarita’s help. “They’re being fair. You can fight them in court for three years or you can play ball.”

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