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The Return of Rudy Cruz

| Canyon Country Magazine | October 5, 2013

By Martha Michael

Rudy in front of his mural

It isn’t unusual to hone one’s artistic skills on the street. After all, there are street musicians, street chalk festivals and painters who line the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter and Montmartre in Paris.
Canyon Country has its own Salvador Dali, a man whose art took shape, in part, while he lived in Canyon Country as a teen. And, though this artist’s work has taken him to many streets outside of the SCV, Rudy Cruz is back in town.
Cruz would appreciate being compared to Dali, as he also favors surrealistic art, and considers the famed 20th century painter a big inspiration. His admiration for yesterday’s artists underscores Cruz’s love of history, which directs his tendency to look to the past for mentoring. Favorites include artists Marcel Duchamp, photographer Man Ray and (from even further back) – 15th century painter Hieronymus Bosch.
But it was not the streets of Europe that trained young Cruz. “When I was young, my best friend, who lived next door to me, was a graffiti artist. He showed me how to do letters and different styles of graffiti, which inspired me a lot when I was young…that was my first impression of the art world,” says Cruz. “I was very creative growing up, but never did I think I was an artist…just different. So, I really dedicated my life to art when I was nine years old.”
In a twist of irony, Cruz and his family moved to Canyon Country when he was 13 years old, in part, to escape the street gangs present in Atwater, California at the time. While a student at Sierra Vista Junior High School and Canyon High School, Cruz kept his dream alive, even leading him to a college degree at the esteemed Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
“Otis was great. I have had the best times of my life at Otis. There is nothing like being surrounded with a bunch of people who have the same ambitions as yourself. I learned the rules of art, and how to express myself in a way that most art critics, and people in general, would accept it.”
At age 27, Cruz left Canyon Country for work, and 14 years later, he is back.
While 40-year-old Cruz is now getting paid for his talent, he still finds his art taking place in the street, sometimes completing one of his favorite jobs – large scale murals. He is completing some now in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, while also painting small canvases and preparing for a solo art show in North Hollywood. Next up for the artist – he is becoming a licensed tattoo artist, taking a job at the Body Shop in Glendale.
Because it is not uncommon to see an artist “go where the work is,” Rudy Cruz has walked the streets of many towns and communities. Perhaps, now that he’s back in Canyon Country, he will get to experience something more like an “artist in residence.”

The Trick to Treatment Addiction Specialist Cary Quashen Serves Community for 30 Years

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine, Spotlight News | October 4, 2013

By Martha Michael

Cary Quashen

Most of us know there is no easy fix for addiction, nor for life with an out-of-control teen. The sheer existence of terms like “road to recovery” and “12 steps” underscores that such battles demand time-consuming transformations.

When this community looks for a “transformer” of sorts, very often they find it in the successful programs of ACTION and its founder, Cary Quashen, whose name is virtually synonymous with that of the non-profit organization.

Quashen developed and operates ACTION Family Counseling Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers with 12 locations and 16 programs in the Southern California area. These involve alcohol and substance abuse intensive outpatient and residential treatment programs for both teens and adults, and sober living facilities in Bakersfield and the Santa Clarita Valley.

Quashen began working on these challenges in the community about 30 years ago, later forming the non-profit foundation in 1989 and the corporation Action Family Counseling in 1997.

ACTION Foundation offers a parent-teen support program with several different aspects at many different schools. There are recovery-based self-help groups, assemblies at almost every school, both private and public, among seventh grade students and older. Some of the work the foundation provides includes interventions at schools.

“Today we got called by one of the high schools. A kid was apparently high, so we drug tested him, assessed him,” Quashen explained.

One of the program’s most popular offerings is a free parent-teen support program, held every Tuesday at Canyon High School. The teen groups are led by certified counselors and cover issues such as truancy, gang activity, family issues and self-esteem.

“Parents are in the other room with trained facilitators,” said Quashen. “We want to empower parents – so they don’t feel like they’re all alone, that it’s the end of the world…we introduce them to other parents to give them hope, where they’re not going to be judged.”

ACTION has a similar group held at Hart High School at the same time – Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. – for Spanish-speaking families. “We have had it for over a year,” said Quashen. “It’s the only one of its kind.”

When asked whether or not Quashen envisioned himself in this line of work when he was younger, the answer was sort of mixed. “I didn’t want to be the person that kind of wasted their life and did drugs and, unfortunately, my life took that road for a period of time,” he said. “Then I got clean and sober – this Christmas Eve it’ll be 34 years.”

The Action Family Counseling arm of the organization has residential treatment centers totaling over 150 beds for adolescents and adults. One of the better known venues for this community’s adolescents is called “The Ranch” in Santa Clarita. “It is a place where they come and they can spend usually about 30 days to get kids out of the situation they’re in, to find out who they are and get clean,” he said. “Across the street is the adult ranch, where there are six adults in the house, where they can get away from everything and get better.”

ACTION also has an intensive outpatient program, where those in recovery can attend three hours a day, three times a week. It is a very structured program with strong leadership. There are ACTION programs in Kern County and Ventura County, and one forming in Las Vegas.

“We don’t have any more drugs than any other city like us,” said Quashen. “We are talking about it more. We aren’t hiding our heads in the sand…I’ve never seen a community get so involved in it and not deny it.”

Quashen is also the executive director of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Behavioral Health Unit, a 23-bed locked psychiatric unit.

Another resource in Canyon Country that ACTION offers is a drop-in center called “The Zone” on Ruether Avenue and Soledad Canyon Road. “It’s an alternative to suspension, it is part of a sober academy in conjunction with the schools,” Quashen explained.

Whereas many other prominent local organizations for high-risk teens have successful support systems, ACTION has a number of different levels of treatment. “We are geared toward high-risk stuff, we are licensed to treat people, we have residential, intensive programs and we work with all the boarding schools,” Quashen explained.

The Quashen Family, L-R Sean and Jessica Quashen holding Nicholas, Cary, Kirsten, Courtney and Scott
Photo by Renee Bowen www.reneebowen.com

Quashen’s eldest son, 25-year-old Sean, just left Afghanistan, after serving as a marine for four years. His second son, 21-year-old Scott, is now working with his father at ACTION. Cary Quashen’s youngest is 15-year-old daughter, Courtney.

“Even though I trust my kids completely, I’m very involved with what’s going on with them,” said Cary Quashen. “I stay very involved with their life, not micro-managing, but I’m involved.”

Cary Quashen hopes his work will “help people become united.”

“ACTION takes its own route – it pulls us in directions that it wants to go…it brings us there. It kind of has its own life,” he said. “We go where we’re needed.”

Quashen likes to joke that he would like to go out of business, “but…that isn’t happening anytime soon,” he said. “We are in no hurry to grow, but, unfortunately, we are growing.”

ACTION has a 24-hour helpline, where you can call if you have questions: (800) 367-8336.

Still Thinking Pink, Breast Cancer Awareness

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | October 2, 2013

By Martha Michael

The Big C is a Showtime original television series which just ended after four seasons, winning several awards, including last month’s Emmy going to Laura Linney for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie.” The storyline follows teacher Cathy Jamison – a reserved, suburban wife and mother – who is diagnosed with melanoma. At first she chooses to keep her diagnosis from her family, behaving in ways they find puzzling and increasingly bizarre. Viewers watch as she finds new freedom to express herself and really begins to live for the first time in her adult life. Eventually, Cathy allows her family and some new friends to support her as she copes with her terminal diagnosis, and finds both humor and pathos in the many idiosyncratic relationships in her life.

Women just like “Cathy” are those who are honored each October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. It is a decades old fixture in our culture, born from interesting alliances.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was founded in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries (now part of AstraZeneca, producer of several anti-breast cancer drugs). The aim of the NBCAM from the start has been to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. In 1993 Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice president of the Estée Lauder Companies, founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and established the pink ribbon as its symbol, though this was not the first time the ribbon was used to symbolize breast cancer. In the fall of 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation had handed out pink ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors.
*Source: Wikipedia
Circle of Hope Fundraiser

Get tickets for this year’s 10th Annual Afternoon Tea benefitting Circle of Hope, a local non-profit organization for women with breast cancer. It will be held on Saturday, October 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Robinson Ranch Golf Club, 27734 Sand Canyon Road in Canyon Country. This year’s theme is “Romantic Daydreams,” and it will be hosted by Emmy and Golden Mike Award-winning CBS2/KCAL9 anchor Sandra Mitchell, who will share her experiences as a newscaster, world traveler and breast cancer survivor. The $55 donation ticket price includes a cocktail reception, three-course tea service and live entertainment. For the $80 donation ticket, guests will also receive a 2013 Brighton “Power of Pink” Bracelet ($60.00 value; one per paid admission). Visit www.circleofhopeinc.org or call (661) 254-5218.

COC Star Party Focused on Finding New Planets in Our Galaxy

| Canyon Country Magazine | October 1, 2013

College of the Canyons will join the scientific search for new Earth-sized planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy, during the Canyon Country campus’ fall Star Party on Friday, Oct. 11.

During the event, attendees will have the opportunity to view the night sky while interacting with NASA research astronomer Dr. Natalie Batalha, who will deliver the presentation “Beyond the Cradle: Kepler’s Search for New Worlds” related to her work as deputy science team lead for the ongoing Kepler Mission.

“The Star Parties are a wonderful occasion to showcase the beautiful Canyon Country campus while welcoming a great turnout of students, staff, and community friends,” said Dr. Ryan Theule, Dean of the Canyon Country campus. “Attendees always delight in the opportunity to look through the telescopes on display while learning more about the universe from our featured guest speakers.”

Charged with the task of satisfying humankind’s ongoing speculation about the existence of far away planets similar to our own, the NASA Kepler spacecraft mission launched in March 2009.

As NASA’s first mission capable of locating worlds similar in size to Earth, the Kepler spacecraft is performing a continuing census of previously undiscovered planets orbiting stars throughout the vastness of the Milky Way.

To date, the mission team has discovered more than 3,500 planet candidates, hundreds of which are earth-size, hinting that nature has the ability to efficiently produce small planets.

Dr. Batalha

During her presentation, Dr. Batalha will describe the techniques used to identify potential new planets, while highlighting some of Kepler’s most significant milestone discoveries.

Other activities will include several astronomy related experiment tables and a unique hands-on audience activity emphasizing key elements of the local K-12 astronomy and science curriculum. COC professor Teresa Ciardi will lead the activity, utilizing children in the audience to complete a scale model of our solar system and two Kepler “solar” systems.

Members of the college’s Astronomy and Physics Club as well as the local Astronomy Clubs of Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley will be in attendance with telescopes that attendees can use to view the night sky.

The fall Star Party will take place from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, in the Canyon Country campus’ Carl A. Rasmussen Amphitheater. Admission is free of charge and open to the public.

Though some seating will be provided, Star Party attendees are encouraged to get to campus early with blankets, lawn chairs and picnic baskets, to enjoy a festive outdoor atmosphere as the sun begins to set and the night sky emerges.

Food and beverages will also be available for purchase at the event through the on-campus Canyons Café. A portion of the concession sales from the Star Party are being donated to the Dr. Ram Manvi Memorial Scholarship to benefit students who are majoring in the fields of mathematics, science or engineering technology.

Dr. Manvi was the former Dean of Math, Science and Engineering at College of the Canyons and was instrumental in launching the campus’ initial Star Party event in 2009.

More About the Speaker

Dr. Natalie Batalha is a research astronomer in the Space Sciences Division of NASA Ames Research Center and the Kepler Mission Scientist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and a doctorate in astrophysics from UC Santa Cruz.

Batalha started her career as a stellar spectroscopist studying young, sun-like stars. After a post-doctoral fellowship in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she returned to California.

Inspired by the growing number of exoplanet discoveries, she joined the team led by William Borucki at NASA’s Ames Research Center working on transit photometry — an emerging technology for finding exoplanets.

Today, she and the Kepler team stand poised to make discoveries that humans, prior, have left to the imagination and the realms of science fiction.

For more information about the College of the Canyons fall 2013 Star Party, please call the Canyon Country campus at (661) 362-3801.

Death Cafe Dinner with Strangers to Talk about Death

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | August 12, 2013

By Martha Michael

An ironic new movement is coming to town: it’s an idea that is just taking its first breath, but it’s focused on taking one’s last.

In an almost eerie resemblance to a wake or funeral, strangers gather for food and conversation, all with a desire to process grief, beliefs, feelings and experiences associated with death. These group discussions are called “Death Cafes,” and they are cropping up nationwide, breathing new life into the concept of death – coping with it, wrestling with it, accepting it, even questioning it.

“It is time for people to be able to talk openly and honestly about death and life in a safe space,”

Death Cafe leaders (left to right):
Shawneen Rubay, Lisa DeLong and Betsy Trapasso

explains Betsy Trapasso, who is launching the movement in Los Angeles. “Death Cafes offer people this opportunity, which is why the movement is taking off all over the world.”

Death Cafes bring together people with as disparate of backgrounds and experiences as one can imagine. The first group held in Santa Clarita included a pediatric oncology nurse, grieving parents, a social worker, a Shaman, an east coast intellectual, and a gay man wrestling with his religion. Much of the discussion, in fact, centered on beliefs about the afterlife.

Says Trapasso, “Our objective is to increase the awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

The Death Café website and Facebook page will tell you that “at Death Cafes people come together in a relaxed and safe setting to discuss death, drink tea and eat delicious cake.”

For this community, Trapasso led a group, complete with dinner and comfortable seating and made the handoff to Lisa DeLong of Canyon Country, who will now facilitate “Death Café Santa Clarita” beginning this month.

“Having this conversation in a loving, safe environment,” says DeLong, “is a great gift. Letting the process of grieving take as long as it takes.”

DeLong knows firsthand what that process feels like, as she lost her eldest child, a son named Justin, to cancer 13 years ago. And her second son began battling cancer when his age was just in the single digits. Lisa DeLong and Shawneen Rubay recently founded “Justin Time Children’s House,” a new non-profit organization designed to aid kids who are in the grieving process. (See Sidebar at left)

The first Death Café Santa Clarita will be held on August 14, led by DeLong and open to a finite number of guests, who will eat and talk through these issues.

Before you consider this a foreign, bizarre topic, or think that you have to be looking terminal illness in the eye, you have to consider the scope of its relevance. Perhaps you were one of the 700,000+ likes or 34,000 shares of the Michigan bride’s Facebook page, where she posted a photo of herself, clothed in her fluffy white gown, clutching her bouquet and kneeling at her father’s grave. Or maybe you saw the viral video of the (not actually engaged nor getting married anytime soon) “bride” having the wedding dance with her dad, because he wouldn’t live to see her wedding day.

The topic literally touches everyone in this lifetime, and each Death Café experience is different, as a host of related topics reveal themselves. According to Trapasso, some Death Café facilitators choose to come with a discussion “menu” prepared, but she likes to let the conversation evolve.

“What we hope to accomplish and why we are creating a Death Cafe is to create an environment where others can speak and share about what is often considered the ‘unspeakable,’ death and dying,” explains Rubay. “We welcome the conversations in hope that the participants will feel a sense of connection and freedom to ask their questions and express their views on the subject without fear or judgment.”

While the topic seems random, it really dovetails nicely with the current culture. Nowhere else can foodies gather and combine it with one of the biggest cultural buzzwords around: conversation. After all, citizens are advised daily – whether the topic is the Zimmerman trial, same-sex marriage or political ethics – to join the conversation.

So, why not try a new topic?
Justin Time Children’s House

The name is a nod to Justin DeLong, the son of co-founder Lisa DeLong, who launched the non-profit organization with Shawneen Rubay earlier this year. These two women aim to provide a community in which no child has to feel alone in grief.

The mission of Justin Time is to help children and families who are grieving the death of a loved one find hope and healing within themselves.

In a drop-in community space in
Newhall, the staff will offer art therapy and writing workshops as part of its program, structures through which emotional support can be offered.

www.JustinTimeChildrensHouse.org
For more information, visit www.DeathCafe.com and
www.JustinTimeChildrensHouse.org or find both Justin Time Children’s House and Death Café Los Angeles on Facebook.

Successfully Returning Tweens and Teens Back to School

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | August 8, 2013

by Cary Quahsen, CAS
August is back to school time. As a high risk teen counselor, I know that returning back to school can be risky, especially for our tweens and teens as they move from childhood to adolescence And as your tweens make the transition from elementary school, I would encourage you as a parent never to fall victim to the myth that you can now stop parenting your kids when they reach the ages of 12, 13, and 14. Once a parent, always a parent!

Navigating the pitfalls of adolescence is tough. Adolescents are changing cognitively, emotionally, and physically. Not only are their bodies changing significantly, their social dynamics are changing as well. Boys feel pressured to establish themselves as powerful and popular. And girls are often dealing with the pressures of multiple friendships and dealing with their changing bodies. One minute they are mimicking their friends and the next they feel alone and alienated. Just as adolescents are dealing with changing bodies, mood swings, and hormones, they are also moving into another strange world. Peer pressure increases, classes are larger and kids often feel invisible. Kids go from having one classroom and one teacher to several teachers and several classrooms. And, often times, middle school students are so stressed, overwhelmed, and overloaded they just shut down.

I asked my transitioning teen who they were having lunch with and she replied. “I can’t find anyone I know on campus. They all look alike.”

Believe me, all of these changes would be hard for an adult, let alone a tween or teen. It’s almost as if we are throwing them in the deep end of the pool and yelling, “Swim!” when they haven’t learned how to swim yet or have a life jacket on. And yes, some of them may be drowning.

Parents often wonder how to equip their tween to make a successful transition into middle school or high school. Your empathetic encouragement is imperative. It’s important that you never downplay your adolescent’s fears or shrug off their concerns. Sharing your own middle school or high school horror stories isn’t helpful either.

By now you are thinking, “With all of this going on, how do I help my kid stay focused on school?” Be honest and encouraging with your tween and teen about the changes ahead.

Start discussing puberty before it happens. Eliminate the mystery which will allow your kids to better focus on their studies instead of their bodies.

Make sure your adolescent gets plenty of sleep. Middle school and high school kids still need 8–10 hours of sleep a night, despite what they tell you.

Never take their maturity for granted. Just because their bodies are physically maturing, doesn’t mean they are emotionally mature. Your kids are still kids. They still need lots of parental involvement and guidance.

Make sure you have an open, healthy dialog about going back to school. Make sure you hear all of their concerns, founded and unfounded.

Make sure your discussions include conversations about your kid’s friends, classes and activities for the coming school year. No matter how prepared kids may be for the back to school experience, some kids are still upset about their first day or their first week of school. Most kids settle down and adjust to change in just a few days and are fine.

As kids come home with problems to work out, make sure that you empathize with them and let them come up with workable solutions. So often we want to bubble wrap our kids and insulate them from risk. They don’t learn anything that way. They then soon learn they don’t have to solve problems as long as mom and dad are solving it for them.

Cary Quashen is a high-risk teen counselor and certified addiction specialist. He is the founder and president of Action Family Counseling. Quashen may be reached by calling (661) 297-8691.  

Jim Hogan and Atticus The story of a man and his very special dog

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | August 8, 2013

By Andrew Thompson

Atticus

Throughout his lifetime, Atticus Hogan has served in quite an impressive list of capacities.

Over the years, he’s been a representative of several veterans’ groups, an ambassador for a variety of well-known organizations, the featured guest at numerous parades and conventions, an Elks Lodge member, a calendar model, an honorary Marine, the Grand Marshal of a special awards show recognizing heroes, and – of course – man’s best friend.

But in order to fully understand the story of this yellow Labrador retriever, it may be necessary to see Atticus through the eyes of Jim Hogan – eyes remarkable for the very attribute that gave Atticus his life’s mission: they can barely see.

Part I: A Good Sound

That wasn’t always the case.

Born in Wisconsin and raised in California from the age of 10, Jim Hogan enjoyed a normal childhood, except for two relatively minor conditions: he had some difficulty seeing at night, and he often struggled to hear. The latter problem was deemed serious enough to warrant Jim’s receiving special education at the Mary E. Bennett School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, but when Jim finished school, he was determined that he wouldn’t be defined by the limitation.

“After I graduated, I took my hearing aid off and still survived with everybody else – ‘cause no one really knew I had a hearing loss,” Jim says.

But Jim’s hearing difficulty had a tendency to follow him when he least desired. Shortly after high school, Jim was drafted by the Army during the Vietnam War, but his hearing loss made him ineligible. In an era in which many were looking for ways to avoid the military, Jim – for reasons he still finds difficult to put into words – was determined to serve.

A couple of years later, when Jim made the acquaintance of a Navy recruiter, he got his chance. The recruiter told Jim he could learn to pass the hearing test by watching those before him push the button as they heard the sounds.

“And I did,” Jim recalls. “And I got caught. So, they put me in a room by myself, and – I’ll be damned. I passed the test.”

Jim had almost made it to the end of boot camp before his disability caught up with him once again. It was then that a recruiter called him out for essentially giving the right answers to the wrong questions and sent him for additional testing. He failed.

While waiting for the bus back to boot camp after a visit to the medical office, where he learned that he would receive a medical discharge, Jim bummed change for a phone call and contacted his recruiter. When he explained the situation, Jim says, the man basically told him that it would be taken care of.

“Two weeks later I graduated and got orders to go overseas,” Jim says. He never learned what happened, and he never questioned it.

Once in Vietnam, Jim spent three years serving on a landing ship, as well as nine months aboard the historic aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Enterprise. Looking back on his time in the war, Jim finds it strange that his disabilities never raised any suspicions.

His lack of night vision in particular had led to a variety of complications, ranging from the humorous (he recalls being barked at for refusing to face officers he simply couldn’t find) to the serious (he would pass off the night-watch responsibility of tossing concussion grenades into the water because he couldn’t make out the edge of the boat; the action was intended to ward off any swimmers who might want to come aboard the craft and cut the sleeping soldiers’ throats).

Unfortunately, after the war, Jim found that being stateside presented challenges of its own. He

Atticus accompanies Jim on a cruise on the LA River

distinctly remembers flying into San Francisco Airport, where he says soldiers were spat upon and called “baby killers.”

“I wanted to get rid of my uniform,” he recalls, adding that he doesn’t think anyone he’s met who served in Vietnam has ever forgotten coming home.

But Jim’s war experiences followed him in other ways, too. In part, his decision to move to Santa Clarita from the San Fernando Valley was prompted by his inability to stand the noise of the L.A. Police Department helicopters that would regularly pass overhead.

“To me, when I hear a helicopter, there’s – there’s something going on,” Jim says. “There’s an incident.”

Jim counts among his greatest accomplishments his overcoming that response, a success proven once and for all one day when a helicopter at a Veterans Day parade roared overhead triumphantly.

“That sound did not bother me. I really thought it was gonna bother me…” Jim says. “But all the guys in the parade…you know…gave a big, ‘Yeah!’ And that was a good sound.”
Part II: That Quarter of Pie

Of course, not all of Jim’s life post-Vietnam was centered on overcoming past experiences. On the contrary, it was during that time that Jim’s life really began to move forward.

Soon after returning home, Jim met Pam, his brother’s wife’s sister, whom he would ultimately marry. By 1977, when Jim had managed to land a job working as a building inspector for the City of Los Angeles, the future must have seemed bright. But there were also bumps in the road.

Once, on the evening of a party, Pam chewed Jim out for his rudeness after he had refused to shake hands with nearly every person he had met. Jim didn’t understand.

“Honest, Babe, I didn’t pay attention – didn’t notice!” he remembers telling her.

It didn’t take them long to figure out that it was Jim’s lack of peripheral vision, not manners, that was causing his breach of etiquette. From then on, whenever they went to public events, Pam sent Jim signals while they held hands.

In 1983, a visit to the doctor confirmed that Jim had retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease linked with a gradual loss of vision throughout life. It wasn’t until 1999, however, that Jim learned he had a particular condition called Usher Syndrome Type II. Another visit to the doctor that year informed him that, with his field of vision at only 10 degrees, he was already legally blind.

Jim remembers receiving the letter that made it official. “What do I do with this?” he asked the doctor. The answer he received, he claims, was something along the lines of “Do whatever blind people do.”

“I thought that was a slap in the face!” Jim says today. And it helped launch him on a crusade to both improve and raise awareness about the services available to the blind and disabled. As a result, Jim is particularly passionate about helping his fellow veterans get assistance through the V.A., which he says is the best place for anyone who served, received an honorable discharge, and became legally blind to go for help. He also helped create and continues to serve on a special committee that meets at City Hall to improve public transportation for the disabled.

And while he’s happy with the impact he’s made so far, Jim still has some desires he says he’d like to see come to fruition.

“Never go after the whole pie,” he jokes, referring to his attempts to bring about positive changes. “You’re never gonna get it.”

But if you’re patient enough and nice enough, he adds, you might be able to get the pie one piece after another.

“I’ve still got that quarter of pie to go,” says Jim.

Part III: To Be a Dog

For all Jim’s work to help his fellow blind and disabled, it took him some time to make use of the resource that would have such a deep impact on his own life: a dog.

The tipping point finally came when Jim and Pam saw firsthand the advantages a friend’s service animal provided. Jim subsequently applied with Guide Dogs for the Blind, and, before he knew it, he was flying to Oakland to meet the canine companion that would help to shape his life.

He remembers the first time he met the yellow lab, part of a litter of “A” names being trained at the time. He was called Atticus. Jim says the number one question people ask him is whether he chose that name.

“No,” he jokes. “I would’ve named him ‘Atta Boy,’ not Atticus!”

Names aside, the pair bonded rapidly. Before Jim knew it, Atticus was helping him almost everywhere he went.

Jim says he truly realized how much he now relies on Atticus one day when he crossed a street without him. After arriving at the corner, Jim listened for the surge of cars that indicated to him he could cross.

“The light changed, I got the surge, and I said to my cane, ‘Forward,’” he recalls. “And I started [getting] across.’”

Jim made it to the other side of the street – not paying much attention, because he was trusting in the instincts of his absent companion – before he realized what he had done.

“He makes a big difference,” Jim now says, referring to the level of mobility facilitated by his four-legged friend.

Part of Atticus’s ability to contribute so significantly to Jim’s life comes down to his superior discipline, which Jim says is special even among service dogs. But Jim says there are also times when Atticus knows better than to do what he’s told. Once, Jim grew frustrated at Atticus for not leading him across a street and stepped forward on his own – right into a ditch.

There are also times when Atticus can be just plain stubborn – never when he’s called to duty, but sometimes when…well, duty calls.

Atticus has been trained to go on command, and his ability to withhold his urges has become legendary. Once, on a cruise, Atticus held his bladder and his bowels for 50 hours, after refusing to use the kitty litter the ship had provided him or even, at Jim’s command, to make “poop deck” a more literal term.

Jim says Atticus was the first one off the ship, found a nice patch of grass in front of some loading buses, and went so long that people stopped to watch. They didn’t stick around, he claims, when he pointed out that they were waiting for number two.

Atticus is undeniably important in Jim’s everyday life, and – like many dogs – has quirks that can occasionally entertain a crowd. But perhaps most notable is the way Atticus has become a symbol, of sorts. Jim calls Atticus an ambassador for service dogs everywhere, a title perhaps solidified by Atticus’s recent selection as Grand Marshal of the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards.

Atticus has been so talked about and generally beloved over the years, in fact, that Jim has occasionally found himself standing in Atticus’s shadow. Once, while riding in a Fourth of July parade shortly after the release of an article about the duo, Jim and Pam heard children saying, “Look! It’s Atticus! And the blind guy!”

With such a level of fame, lots of good food, a fulfilling purpose, and plenty of love, Atticus is living the good life.

“You know,” Jim jokes, “I’ve always said: if I’m gonna come back – if you believe in reincarnation – I want to be a dog!”

After all of their experiences together, Jim has come to recognize just how special a companion he’s been given.

“I’ve been blessed with a good dog,” he says. But no one is ready for the ten-and-a-half-year-old Atticus to retire just yet.

“I’m not ready to let him change his career. And he doesn’t want to,” notes Jim. “I just can’t get another dog and then say, ‘All right, you’re done.’”

So, if you happen to see Jim in the upcoming days, don’t be surprised if right by his side is his aging yellow lab with the loving spirit, the disciplined mind, and the puppy’s heart.

After all, neither Jim nor Atticus would have it any other way.

Canyon Country Optimist Club Benefits Michael Hoefflin Foundation

| Canyon Country Magazine | August 7, 2013

A prominent non-profit group benefitting children with cancer just got a chance to receive the benefits of a local non-profit group. The Michael Hoefflin Foundation received a generous donation from the Canyon Country Optimist Club recently, which funded 50 “Kare Kits” for distribution.

The club donated a total of $3,000, which means that more families of children with cancer will receive Kare Kits, packages that the Michael Hoefflin Foundation gives to patients and their families. The kits are filled with practical supplies needed for a hospital stay, including grocery, gas and phone cards, a special blanket for the patient and a notebook of resources for parents.

“The generosity of the Canyon Country Optimist Club is something we really appreciate and want to acknowledge throughout Santa Clarita,” said Gillian Stone, executive director of MHF. “Their kindness goes a long way toward helping local families in need at a time when they truly need to know that others care.”

The Canyon Country Optimist Club raises funds which grant scholarships, help children of needy families and other benevolent services. Club President Michael Holt says, “We at the Club are a busy bunch of folks with families, jobs and a belief that by working together, we can make a positive difference in the lives of children and in the quality of life of our whole community. It makes us feel we are doing what needs to be done by helping in some small way the families in our area who need this help at a devastating moment in their lives.”

Throughout the year, MHF helps families in many ways, including providing support group meetings and family outings — aid crucial to families dealing with the emotional and unexpected financial burden of cancer. For more information about the mission of MHF, call (661) 250-4100 or visit www.MHF.org.

*The Michael Hoefflin Foundation’s biggest fundraiser of the year is “An Evening Under the Stars,” and this year it is the organization’s 20th annual gala, held on September 21, 2013 at Mann Biomedical Park in Valencia. Call (661) 250-4100 or visit www.MHF.org for tickets!

Local Golfers Invited to Play in 23rd Annual COC Foundation Golf Tourney

| Canyon Country Magazine | June 21, 2013

The College of the Canyons Foundation’s 23rd Annual Golf Tournament is right around the corner, and local golfers are once again invited to help give the gift of education by enjoying a day out of the office and on the golf course!

The tournament will take place Monday, August 5, and is once again being hosted by Valencia Country Club. Proceeds from this year’s event will help support COC scholarships and other support programs, which impact a broad range of individuals.

“We are excited to once again be supporting student scholarships through this year’s tournament,” said Joe Klocko, chair of the COC Foundation’s golf tournament committee. “Scholarships provide much needed financial support to students in these challenging economic times, and can be especially helpful to students trying to balance school with life’s other responsibilities.”

Included among these student groups are veterans returning home from serving their country, adult re-entry students looking to complete their education goals and quickly return to the workforce, and recently unemployed students who are returning to school in order to learn new skill sets that will help jump-start a career.

In recent years, the populations of these particular student groups have surged at College of the Canyons. Currently, the average age of a COC graduate is 26, which indicates that many of the college’s students are indeed returning to the classroom after spending time pursuing other career and family related endeavors.

According to the COC Financial Aid Office, on average, it costs a full time COC student roughly $2,800 per school year for academic fees, textbooks and supplies. For students who provide for their own room and board, transportation and other personal expenses, the cost of a year of college can top out at more than $11,000, making the price of attending college one of the greatest barriers students will face on their educational journey.

“The cost of education is one of the major barriers for students looking to enroll in college,” said Tom Bilbruck, COC Financial Aid Director. “Scholarships provide an important financial resource for students who might not otherwise be able to afford to attend college. Students who receive scholarships are also better able to focus on their education, as opposed to having to worry about how they will pay for it.”

In response, the COC Foundation has continually worked to raise funds — through annual giving, special events and endowment programs — to provide increased educational opportunities for students and community members of all ages.

“In essence, tournament participants will be supporting COC students beyond what public funding will allow,” said Klocko. “Sometimes just having the knowledge that others believe in them, can make all the difference in the world for these students.”

Single player tournament sponsorship opportunities for the Foundation’s 23rd Annual Golf Tournament begin at $350, with each player receiving a continental breakfast, cart and greens fees, driving range privileges, a player’s gift bag, lunch and on-course beverages. The post tournament awards reception features numerous opportunities for skills-based awards as well as plain old luck-of-the-draw prizes during the tournament raffle.

Other tournament team sponsorship opportunities include the $1,750 “Birdie Sponsor,” which includes four player spots (with all single player benefits), a company tee sign and recognition as an event sponsor in all tournament publications.  Additionally, one company can still claim the Title Sponsor opportunity along with the significant promotional benefits associated with the role.

Tournament participants also have the option of sponsoring a three-man team and filling the final spot in the foursome with a current or former member of College of the Canyons men’s golf and women’s championship golf teams.

With plenty of opportunities to participate as both a player and sponsor, last year’s tournament featured more than 100 golfers teeing off in the name of education!

For more information about the College of the Canyons Foundation’s 23rd Annual Golf Tournament or to register as a player/sponsor please contact Michele Edmonson at (661) 362-3435 or Cindy Biehahn at (661) 362-3737.

Jacob Mijares

| Canyon Country Magazine | June 17, 2013

From the sixth grade Jacob Mijares has been bound for the military. His Wiley Canyon Elementary School yearbook quotes him, saying, “In 10 years I’ll be at West Point College preparing for the U.S. Army.”

Well, Mijares wasn’t exactly right—but he was close. When he learned, in the seventh grade, that if he went to the Air Force Academy he could be in the military and fly jets, he’s never looked back. Five years later, he applied to no other college.

The Troop 303 Eagle Scout and Canyon High School graduate stayed the course, and on May 29, 2013, proud parents, Michael and Susan Mijares, and siblings, Rebecca and Kyle, saw 22-year-old Jacob Mijares graduate from the United States Air Force Academy.

“It was quite a process: earning the rank of Eagle Scout, getting a Congressional nomination, and earning an appointment to the academy, not to mention four years of hard work, in and out of the classroom. It was very surreal sitting in Falcon Stadium realizing that Graduation day had come and the adventure was coming to a close,” said Susan Mijares.

Born into a family of military men, Jacob’s uncles served in the military—one was a navy man and two were career Army Special Forces officers. His cousin is a West Point graduate.

So far, Jacob plans to follow suit, hoping for a long career in the military. He will get married this summer to Saugus resident Leeanna Walter, then head to pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma.

“The last four years were a struggle against difficult, dynamic challenges that continued to establish my character and provided me with a strong sense of resiliency.  I am glad the rigors of the Academy are over but I am delighted to have had the opportunity to face and overcome the various obstacles presented to me along the way,” Jacob reflected.

Jacob Mijares is an example of the patriotic pride found in the sons of Canyon Country.

The Many Roles of Brooke Moore

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | June 14, 2013

Brooke Moore

The last time we interviewed Canyon Country teen Brooke Moore, she was portraying the lead character in “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Repertory Theatre in Newhall. As she comes around the bend, entering her last year of high school, Canyon Country Magazine caught up with the honors student recently to see if she’s on stage, on track or on the soccer field…or all of the above.

CCM: Which of your activities is your favorite? (Track? Theatre? Soccer?)
BM: I am so passionate about all of them. I grew up with both soccer and theatre, so I have deep ties to both of them, and a lot of memories of them both. As for track, although I started only three years ago, I have grown to love it so much — the people, the thrill – it’s awesome. Despite…being torn for many years, I have recently decided that theatre is now my favorite. I found that I am happiest up on stage, and even just in rehearsal, developing a character and becoming someone else intrigues me very much – theatre is my true passion.

CCM: Why didn’t you go to L.A. County High School for the Arts?
BM: I didn’t go to LACSHA for many reasons, the main one being the commute, but when I was writing my pros and cons list between LACSHA and Canyon High School before my freshman year, I found that Canyon would fit me best…not only did it offer theatre, but also soccer, track, chorus, and I love all of them – not to mention Canyon has wonderful Honors and AP courses. At LACSHA, it would have been just theatre, and that wasn’t going to fly with me. Plus, I have so many friends here in Santa Clarita; I couldn’t bear to leave them.

CCM: What are you involved in outside of school?
BM: I have been playing soccer for about 10 years, so I play on a club soccer team named LAPFC, and I play varsity soccer at Canyon as well. I run varsity track at Canyon.  My time in the 100-meter dash put me on Canyon’s “All Time Top Ten List” (12.68 seconds – woohoo!) I also am involved in ESCAPE and have been since I was six years old. I love the organization and everyone involved; they are like a second family to me, and so talented at what they do.

CCM: Where else have you done shows?
BM: I did one show outside ESCAPE. It was “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Repertory East Playhouse. That show was such an amazing experience for me. Everyone involved was so talented and wonderful, and I had the honor of working with the wonderful director, Jarod Scott, (who) really opened up the acting world to me. He taught me so many valuable things and I owe a lot to him.

CCM: What’s your plan for after high school?
BM: I plan to go to college, but I have no idea where. I am going to start my search very soon, but you can bet that I’ll be minoring in theatre. My major is still undecided, although I know that I want to pursue a career involving children. I love children so much – there is something about their innocence and willingness to learn that I find so endearing. I’d love to be a teacher, to be the one who answers all of their questions and teaches them about the world. That’d be ideal.

Brooke as Belle

Brooke Moore will next perform the role of “Belle” along with over 300 other talented youth in ESCAPE’s “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” at The Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center. Brooke’s three performances are Friday, June 21 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, June 22 at 2:00 p.m. and the closing night show on Sunday, June 23 at 7:00 p.m.  Call 661-299-5264 for tickets.

 

Photography by Crystal Moore  (www.CrystalMoorePhotography.net)
Costume by Cathie Polk of “Sew What Designers”       Makeup by Javier Mena

Brooke as Belle

Sand Canyon’s Deadly Curve

| Canyon Country Magazine, Spotlight News | June 12, 2013

By Martha Michael

Warning sign on Sand Canyon informing drivers of the curve ahead

To some residents in Sand Canyon, it seems like an oak tree just south of Alamo Canyon Road can magnetically pull speeding cars toward it, resulting in debilitating injuries and sometimes death. The truth is that the curve near that site is too difficult to maneuver when drivers fail to observe the 45 mile-per-hour speed limit.

In September of 2011, one of many car accidents at that site occurred when Canyon Country resident Nathan Wolitarsky was driving home and lost control of his vehicle. His family was home, unaware of the near fatal crash, until one of them received a phone call from someone on the scene.

“I thought it was a fender bender,” remembers Nathan’s father, John Wolitarsky. “But when we came around the corner they had lights up and there were fire trucks and emergency personnel. Nathan’s car was halfway up Mr. Fisher’s hill. It looked like a train wreck initially. I thought, ‘There’s no way he survived that.’ It was ugly. Really ugly.”

The Tree

Ken and Nancy Fisher live in the house on the property where so many have crashed. They have witnessed a great number of tragedies, including the death of teenager Dakota DeMott last year and 29-year-old Brittany Schlumpberger last month. Even as far back as 32 years ago, 17-year-old David Spencer veered into the same tree.

The role of homeowners at the site of such drama is a challenging one. But the Fishers have accepted the role and affected the outcomes.

“He saved Nathan’s life,” John Wolitarsky said about Ken Fisher’s quick action. “There was a fire that started underneath where Nathan was sitting. He had the presence of mind to get a shovel and use dirt on the fire to put it out. Literally, he (Nathan) could’ve burned to death.”

Wolitarsky learned that the sheriff’s department wasn’t planning to contact the family until they had more clarity about the situation. “By the time we got there, the jaws of life were well at work,” he said. “It took them 40 minutes to get him out of the car. The entire engine block came out. They pulled him out where the engine used to be. The biggest miracle is he didn’t sever any arteries, didn’t sever any veins.”

What about that particular location? Is it the tree?

One local resident, who asked to remain anonymous, weighed in on the issue. “It’s the curve of the road and people’s speed. If there was no tree, it would be a fence. If there was no fence it would be the hill. If there was no hill it’d be the house.”

In other words, the issue is reckless driving and the decision to ignore the speed limit on Sand Canyon Road. “It’s a curve

and, just like anywhere you go, you should slow up,” said Sgt. Richard Cohen, from the Traffic Unit at the Santa Clarita

The Curve – the tree is just ahead on the left as you drive south on Sand Canyon – just after the curve

Sheriff’s Station. “There are plenty of curves and there are plenty of accidents all over Sand Canyon – it’s not just there.”

Sgt. Cohen said that the sheriff’s department has added attention to the area, including last month, when several motor officers were conducting traffic enforcement on Sand Canyon. The officers “happened to witness a young teen on the roadway driving about 85 miles per hour, passing on the wrong side of the roadway,” he said. “She had several kids in the car, and was on a provisional license (the earliest period in a driver’s license, where passengers are not allowed in the car). The kids said, ‘Thank you for pulling us over, we thought we were going to be killed.’”

That speeding incident occurred at 9 a.m., proving that the accidents are not just related to driving in darkness. Many are at night, including Wolitarsky’s, whose crash meant numerous surgeries and rehabilitation for leg injuries. His recovery has been considered remarkable.

“I relive this thing every day when I drive by that tree,” said John Wolitarsky. “Not the horror. Every day I drive by the tree I thank God for Nathan. Without fail.”

The solution to the disproportionate number of accidents is not clear. Whether it means adding speed bumps to Sand Canyon or reducing the speed limit there, the ultimate decision lies in the hands of the City of Santa Clarita Traffic Engineering Department. One resident sums it up with, “The biggest question is—since Nathan, Dakota and Brittany, what has really changed there? Not a whole lot.”

Keep a Watchful Eye on Teens This Summer

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | June 10, 2013

by Cary Quahsen, CAS

“Summer time and the living is easy” and “there ain’t no cure for the summer time blues” are musical words that typify the summer season of our lives, especially for teenagers. They either find their lives jam-packed with summer activities like summer school, football practice, band camp, a summer job, or they find themselves bored and endlessly complaining there’s nothing to do.

As far as I am concerned, summer time is the toughest time of the year for our teens. While both parents and teens alike believe that summer time is less stressful, I know the absence of a structured school day often allows kids, particularly teenagers to wander down the wrong path.

Summer is not a time for easing up on parent expectations and teen accountability. If we are managing our teen’s lives with consistency, be it spring, summer, winter or fall, we will hold our teens accountable for household chores and responsibilities, curfews, family and moral values, and we will still be there to watch our teens with that watchful parenting eye and pay attention to whom our teens are hanging out with.

Unfortunately, the very nature of summer leaves most teens these days without supervision. Keep in mind I said without supervision, I didn’t say without friends. Ah, the friends – even if you tell your teen they are not allowed to have company in the house while you’re at work, they still find themselves in the company of their friends. Impossible you say? Consider this. In this day and age, most teens have cell phones or have friends who have cell phones. The telecommunications world has given our teens the opportunity to talk to their friends, 24 hours a day, and to text message them as well. If you think your teen is home alone, think again. In many instances, the Internet has become our teen’s best friend. Instant messaging, chat rooms, and Facebook has increased the teen-to-teen communication process, and it has also exposed our teens to unwanted negative influences as well. Many teens fill their time with nonstop video game playing. I am not talking about an hour per day, but in many instances, it is the entire day, especially during the summer months.-

I recognize you can’t quit your job or take a three month vacation. However, your consistency in setting boundaries and rules will ensure the safety of your teen.

Know where your teen is at all times. Keep in touch with your teen and have a check-in time every day. Make sure you meet their friends.Set and enforce a regular curfew. If that curfew is broken then set the appropriate consequence for offending the curfew rule. Teens adhere to rules when they know what the consequences are for breaking the rules.

The rules of parenting are consistency and frequency. Don’t assume because you told your teen once, that they will comply with the rules. They need daily reminders about family rules and regulations, especially curfew rules. Imparting rules can be done with love and objectivity without sounding like a Marine drill sergeant.

Discipline is not necessarily the consequence for broken rules, but the message that is delivered beforehand as well. It’s important during the summer to schedule activities so your kids aren’t bored. You may not be able to take a family vacation, but may be able to design a one-day trip or weekend that departs from of the ordinary routine. Have the entire family help plan the event.

Summer camps, attending summer school, volunteering, taking your teen to work with you to see what your daily routine is like, are great ways to keep your teen active and out of trouble as well.

While there may be no cure for the summer time blues, there are ways for teens to have an enjoyable summer while we set boundaries to ensure their safety. Now go out and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Cary Quashen is a high-risk teen counselor and certified addiction specialist. He is the founder and president of Action Parent & Teen Support Group Programs, Action Family Counseling, and the Action Zone Teen Center in the Santa Clarita Valley. Quashen may be reached by calling (661) 297-8691.

Oh The Places You’ll Go

| Canyon Country Magazine | June 8, 2013

If you love nothing more than a day near the ocean waves, but are put off by the complications of getting from here to there, Santa Clarita has a system that is smooth sailing. Santa Clarita Transit offers convenient, quick, and affordable transportation to Santa Monica on the Summer Beach Bus, which means you can enjoy a day at the shore without the hassle of traffic and parking.

While Santa Clarita Transit also offers services for traveling throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, the beach destination is a popular annual offering, operating only in the summer. The air-conditioned bus ride is available on Saturdays and Sundays from June 8 through September 1 with service in Canyon Country at four locations. Fares are $3 each way for children and adults, and $1.50 each way for persons with disabilities and seniors 60 years of age and over.

Buses depart Santa Clarita beginning at 8:40 a.m. and arrive in Santa Monica around 10:30 a.m. Return trips back to Santa Clarita will pick up patrons from Santa Monica at 3:30 p.m.

Community members can board from locations throughout the City, including: Canyon Country Park, Soledad Canyon Road and Solamint Drive, Soledad Canyon Road and Shangri-La Drive, and Via Princessa Metrolink Station in Canyon Country, as well as Santa Clarita Park, Santa Clarita Metrolink Station, Cinema Drive Park ‘N Ride, and McBean Regional Transit Center.

Around Town
Santa Clarita Transit also has eight local bus routes that travel to various locations throughout town. One of the newest local hot spots is Old Town Newhall, where every Thursday you can enjoy an event featuring food and music set along Main Street as part of the City’s Thursdays @ Newhall program. Most businesses stay open later to accommodate evening shoppers and, with longer daylight hours, Thursdays are now the perfect way to get your weekend started right!

Routes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 14 offer service to Main Street on Thursdays, where you can enjoy the following events:

Farmers’ Market- Home to some of the region’s best farm-fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and specialty food items, the Farmers’ Market takes place every Thursday night from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and is now located in the Old Town Newhall Library’s parking lot.
ArtSlam- On the first Thursday of each month from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., enjoy large interactive art installations with a new theme each month designed by local artists, as well as several themed galleries on Main Street in Old Town Newhall.
SENSES- These monthly themed block parties include bands, food trucks, themed activities, contests, and more. SENSES is hosted every third Thursday from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and runs in conjunction with the weekly Farmers’ Market.

Visit Other Cities
The 757 NoHo Express is a valley-to-valley transit service that connects to almost any destination, seven days a week. The route provides frequent opportunities to connect to LADOT Express services, Burbank Bus, numerous Metro bus services, as well as Metro’s Orange and Red Line. Mid-day return trips on the 757 NoHo Express provides affordable transportation options to visit major attractions, including: Los Angeles Union Station, Staples Center, Hollywood, Universal City, Van Nuys, Burbank, Pasadena, and Long Beach.

For more information about Santa Clarita Transit, visit SantaClaritaTransit.com or contact (661) 294-1BUS (1287).

Canyon Country Coup How Christopher Varner Inspired Young Soldiers

| Canyon Country Magazine, Spotlight News | June 6, 2013

L-R, Varner, LaRue, Girard, Cusumano, Sutton

Canyon Country has four homegrown “boys” who, now young men, can see they have more than just a casual bond. Parker Sutton, Lash LaRue, Matthew Girard and Charlie Cusumano have all served under two life-shaping taskmasters: Coach Chris Varner and Uncle Sam.

In some cases, one led directly to the other. Canyon High School teacher and former football coach Christopher Varner “took me to the recruiter,” said Girard. “He knew I had to get out of town.”

Girard was the first to sign up for the armed services, then LaRue made his decision to join.

“My senior year, he (Varner) said I would be a perfect soldier,” said LaRue. “That’s when I really started thinking about it.”
Three of the new recruits looked at the U.S. Navy as an option, but Cusumano had always had his eye on the Army.

Sutton and Cusumano joined about two years out of high school, within months of each other.

“I went to lunch with him (Varner),” said Sutton. “He knew I was making bad choices. He said it would be good for me.”

While that level of involvement by a teacher/coach may seem unusual, Varner had his reasons. “I considered my responsibility as a coach to extend beyond football and games,” he explained. “If we won games, but these young men failed after high school, I would have considered my job a waste. I cared about them and their future—football seasons come and go. I wanted them to work for something beyond the here and now; I wanted them to grow to be great fathers and husbands…not a bunch of guys speaking about their teen years as the good old days. Their best years are ahead of them and that makes me happy.”

The young men who played for Varner have made some comparisons between their years on the football field and their experience in the Army. They bring up more than just the physical aspects, also the mental preparation—an attitude that never lets them quit.

“In the army you achieve success through attrition,” said Varner. “I tried to push them physically and mentally to prepare them, not only for football, but the trials and tribulations that life may throw at them. These boys worked hard and the army was just another venue for them to excel.”

At times the former players talked about having been more afraid of Coach Varner than any of their drill sergeants, explaining that the DS would challenge them in the same way, but with Varner it was harder.

“I am quite certain that at times they did make me angry,” said Varner. “I wanted to make every moment a teaching moment, but unfortunately I failed to stick to that. In the army you don’t get to know your DS on a personal level. I knew these boys for three years. I knew them better than their parents did. I think they were more afraid of disappointing me and their teammates than actual fearing me.”

The young men agreed that he insulted them, but his humor softened the message. “He interacted with us, so it was easy to take advice,” said Girard.

In the same light, they were able to tell which fellow soldiers (from a leadership and physical standpoint) had not participated in competitive sports. Varner concurred.

“Football pushes you and teaches you unlike any other sport. Young men that have been tested with sweat and tears tend to respond better during the stress of basic training than those that are strangers to pain,” Varner explained.

The four young soldiers agreed that he taught them a lot about becoming a man. Cusumano weighed in on the fact that Varner’s coaching years are behind him, at least for the time being. “I wish he was still coaching so he could still have influence on other kids,” he said.

The admiration appears to be mutual, as evidenced by Varner’s view of the service of these former students: “I consider them much more heroic than myself. When I served there was no war. These young men joined during the middle of a war and have put their lives in harm’s way to defend our country.”

All four young men have served in war – Girard in Iraq, and LaRue, Sutton and Cusumano in Afghanistan. Reflecting on war and their impressions, Sutton and Girard were shell shocked by the conditions in a third world country, making them appreciate where they came from – increasing their patriotism. “You just feel bad for the people there, living in a war zone, watching little kids running through bullets,” Sutton said.

Girard remembered an accident where Iraqi civilians were injured. “I kept waiting, thinking an ambulance was going to come help. Nothing ever came. It made me appreciate and respect our police and firemen,” he said.

LaRue agreed. “I remember seeing a woman carrying a baby, and once the fighting started she just ran,” he said.

Sutton summed it up. “As Americans, even though we have split political views, there’s still a lot of national pride…those countries don’t take pride or treat each other well. If you ask 70 percent of the people in Afghanistan who their president is, they don’t know.”

While they all are more patriotic, they seem particularly loyal to Canyon Country – the town, the school and their coach. “I got care packages from lots of people here,” said Girard. “I met a lot of guys in the service who didn’t have good things to say about their hometown.”

Cusumano expressed pride in “Cowboy Football and just the town,” while another soldier chimed in, “How many people do you know that have ‘Valencia’ tattooed on them?”

They caught up with “Coach” (as they still refer to him) while home on leave after their recent deployment. The career goals of the four soldiers are varied, but they all would like to see coaching in their futures, with hopes they can be a positive influence in young men’s lives, as Varner was in theirs.

Canyon Country Merchants Association

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | April 12, 2013

By Andrew Thompson

Diane Southwell has been involved with Canyon Country for more than half a century.

“In the early 1960s…the Mint Canyon Chamber of Commerce telephone rang in [our] home,” she says. “That tells you how small of a community we were; we didn’t have…an answering service, or anything.”

In those early days, Southwell says, Canyon Country was a special place. It was an area full of future promise – it formed the foundation of what would eventually become Santa Clarita – and yet, it also managed to stay true to its pioneer roots.

“We had frontier days,” Southwell says, recalling the time when many Canyon Country residents owned horses and the community featured themed events. “It was wonderful family entertainment…now we don’t have room for things like that, but we still have the same family…feelings, here.”

Canyon Country may have maintained its family feel, but the fact is that the landscape of the Valley has drastically changed. Canyon Country has joined with several other communities to become the single, incorporated City of Santa Clarita. The focus of developers has largely shifted to the west side, with newer residences and vast commercial centers having sprung up in areas like Valencia. The Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce has merged to become part of the broader Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and, ultimately, some residents have been forced to face a hard truth: many of their fellow Santa Clarita residents believe that, while other parts of the Valley are now flourishing, Canyon Country had been left in their dust.

“We kind of got lazy about it, I guess,” Southwell admits, referring to the growth of Canyon Country, relative to that on the Valley’s west side.

But many still feel like the current perception of Canyon Country (lovingly referred to as the “stepchild” of the Valley by some who live there) is somewhat unfair.Southwell contends, Canyon Country has much to offer.

“Canyon Country is a wonderful place,” says Southwell, “and we need to be doing more about promoting all our businesses and all our events, and our activities, and creating more activities.”

Canyon Country Merchants Association: L-R Kim Kurowski, Diane Southwell, Alan Ferdman, RJ Kelly, George Thomas, Doug Sutton, Patty Kelly

A little more than a year ago, Canyon Country residents and business owners George Thomas and R.J. Kelly were thinking much the same.

Thomas, the owner of a restaurant called Route 66 Classic Grill that regularly holds bike nights, classic car shows, and other community events, had decided to investigate what needed to be done to put more of an emphasis on events in Canyon Country. When he spoke with a City official, the advice he received was clear: Thomas would need to get people organized if he wanted a better chance of winning the City’s ear.

Meanwhile, R.J. Kelly of Int’l Tax Network – Thomas’s friend and occasional business associate – was also becoming aware of the importance of organizing to promote the interests of some of his fellow merchants.

“We felt that…there wasn’t a lot of communication between the City, the Chamber, and other organizations regarding Canyon Country, and Canyon Country is one of the largest suburbs of the city,” Kelly says. “And…we kind of felt like we were getting slighted over on this side of town, and we wanted more involvement.”

One day, while discussing their shared interest in helping the Canyon Country business climate and community as a whole, the two men decided that it was time for something to be done.

“[We] sat down one day and put our heads together and said, ‘Yeah, we – we need to move on this,’” Kelly recalls. “We agreed that we just need to band together as business owners, or managers, and…try to get some support from the City and organize amongst ourselves to improve the business climate in Canyon Country.”

They decided to act. The result was the formation of the group that would come to be known as the Canyon Country Merchants Association.

“We just kind of put out the word, and ended up with about 10 merchants that all got together,” Kelly says.

One of the merchants they first approached with their idea was Doug Sutton, a 15-year resident who owns Valley Publications, another Canyon Country business.

“I think, for me, it rang a bell,” Sutton says, recounting the surprise he experienced when he first moved to the area and discovered both the negative perception of Canyon Country and the lack of travel to the area by many other Santa Clarita residents.

Sutton says he has friends from Valencia who claim they can’t even remember the last time they traveled to the eastern part of the Valley. “They think it’s been two or three years since they’ve been to Canyon Country,” he says.

Members and guests at a recent CCMA meeting

That’s a trend, some members of the Merchants Association believe, which must be changed. “We wanna get some folks to come over here…” Sutton says. “And we can show – ‘Hey,’ you know, ‘we’re a nice community, we’re a family community, we’ve got lots of good businesses – come check us out once in a while.”

Since coming on board with the Association, Sutton has gone on to become its Chairman. As a board member of the Chamber of Commerce, Sutton also serves as one of the representatives of the Chamber, under whose umbrella the Canyon Country Merchants Association operates.

But the Merchants Association’s meetings include several other prominent Canyon Country figures as well. Alan Ferdman, another longtime resident who also serves as the chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee and has recently announced that he will be running for the City Council, is one of the meetings’ regulars.

“It really is true…the Valley is really not two sides of the Valley, it’s really one Valley,” Ferdman says. “It’s a really good thing to see if we can get synergy across the Valley in…making everything work,” he adds. “And that’s another goal of the Merchants Association.”

A recent meeting of CCMA

Kimberly Kurowski, a Saugus resident, has found a benefit to working with the Association to forward a cause of her own. “I believe in getting everybody to shop local,” she explains, “and Canyon Country is part of our ‘local,’ so I want to do what I can to help.”

Lupe Hafner of Doctors Express, Santa Clarita – a medical clinic also located on Soledad that opened only eight months ago – has attended just three meetings, but says she certainly likes what she’s seen so far. “I think you need to go to these meetings so that you can get to meet people and see – you know, how you can work together, and help each other,” Hafner says, noting that she has made a variety of helpful connections by doing so herself.

There are other regular Association attendees – including that original Mint Canyon Chamber of Commerce associate and 54-year resident Diane Southwell. But, perhaps just as noteworthy as the merchants and other members, have been some of the Merchant Association’s recent guests. Organizing has, in fact, gotten the City’s ear. Recently, representatives of the government of Santa Clarita have attended Merchants Association meetings regularly to coordinate with the committee, and have expressed their desire to work with the Association in the creation, execution, and publicizing of Canyon Country events.

Other attendees have included representatives of institutions such as College of the Canyons, as well as the Sheriff’s and Fire Departments. Ed Bernstein, a director with the Old Town Newhall Association and the owner of the membership discount card 25Score, has also attended and expressed his interest in working with the Association to promote local merchants. And one of the most important regulars is another representative of the very organization under which the Association currently works: Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Terri Crain.

“Terri Crain has really been a valuable asset,” Sutton says. “She doesn’t live in this part of town, but she recognized the need for what we’re trying to accomplish, and she bought into it, and she’s really been a big help.”

(Taste of Canyon Country, one of the important upcoming events Association members are organizing, is actually one of the official events of the Chamber of Commerce.)

Yet, for all the commitment of City officials, organization presidents, and more, most of the Association agrees that an absolutely essential key to the future of the Association will be the growth of the membership itself.

“All are welcome,” Sutton says. “We would love to have anybody – even if you’re not a business.”

Sutton points to Southwell as someone who is not a merchant, but still is committed to helping the Association work toward its goals. And one needs not even be from Canyon Country to attend.

“Anyone…even outside of Canyon Country who is interested in helping us promote Canyon Country is welcome to be on the committee,” Kurowski states.

“We welcome the merchants to give us a phone call,” Kelly says, “…to come and spend an hour with us, and bring some problems to solve, and bring some questions to ask, and possibly bring some solutions.”

The Canyon Country Merchants Association meets at 10:00 a.m. on the second Thursday of every month at the Sulphur Springs School District Office, located at 27000 Weyerhauser Way, off Via Princessa. For more information, contact Doug Sutton at doug@scfree.net or the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce at 661-702-6977 or info@scvchamber.com.

Canyon Country Community Center

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2013

Ribbon Cutting at the new Canyon Country Community Center

The dawn of the new year brought with it a new arrival in Canyon Country. The City of Santa Clarita held a grand opening for the Canyon Country Community Center on January 12, with a ceremony attended by more than 100 residents of the area.

The front of the new Community Center

Located at 18792 Flying Tiger Drive, what sets the Canyon Country Community Center apart from other recreational venues, such as the Santa Clarita Sports Complex, is that it provides not only recreational activities for its members, but educational and community service offerings as well. The center’s mission statement is “to enrich the community by connecting with residents and providing quality, structured programs and activities.” This stands in contrast to other existing centers, where many of the activities are unstructured.

The facility is open Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is closed on Sundays and holidays. The center is just beginning many new programs, including: Healthy Santa Clarita and Leisure Enrichment Activities. Residents must register for all programs prior to attendance, which can be done online at www.santa-clarita.com/cccc.

Activity Wall

Participation is open to all residents of Santa Clarita, not just Canyon Country. The center also offers specialty programs and events. Birthday party rentals are available two Sundays a month for children ages 5-12. Other special events include Family Night, Popcorn and a Movie, Kid’s Night Out, sports programming, workshops, specialty camps, and an interactive sports wall.

The center will also host programs available to seniors, intergenerational activities and events for parents with young children and babies. There is also a host of after school programs for students in kindergarten through the sixth grade. Mayor Bob Kellar said, “The center was designed to provide core programming, activities and be a resource to Canyon Country residents.”

Many residents think this resource is long overdue for Canyon Country, which has seen an increasing gang problem in recent years. Said one local parent with two small children, “Hopefully the center can encourage children in a positive way and keep them off the streets and away from gang pressures.” Another resident said, “Perhaps the center can serve as a model for other cities in Los Angeles County who have also seen an increase in gang related activity.”

Some locals added that they see this as a new and improved version of the Newhall Community Center, which is the only other community center in the Santa Clarita Valley. The Newhall Community Center, located at 22421 Market Street in Newhall, is a 17,000-square-foot community center, which offers many programs similar to that of CCCC. The facility has a gym room, a dance floor, social conference room and many other amenities. The Newhall Community Center is open for one hour longer each day than CCCC, operating Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It is believed that the Newhall Community Center, which was located too far away to be useful for Canyon Country residents, actually served as a model for the new CCCC. In fact, the New CCCC, the Newhall Community Center and the Santa Clarita Sports Complex all share a universal membership. When you apply for membership at the New CCCC, your membership card can be used at the other two venues as well. Membership is free unless you lose your card, which costs five dollars to replace. All members under the age of 18 must have a parent or legal guardian sign the registration application. Also, all members must abide by the rules and regulations that are posted at all three centers. Members who violate the rules are subject to immediate dismissal from use of the resources and will have their memberships revoked.

The coordinator for the new CCCC said the Santa Clarita City Council voted unanimously on July 12 of last year to approve the lease for the new CCCC, which will cost the city’s general fund $103,800 annually. She also stated that 2,000 to 3,000 residents visit the Newhall Community Center each month and hopes for a similar turn out at the new CCCC. Housed in a 3,900-square-foot commercial building, it will allow residents to access the center by car, on foot, by bike or by bus. As part of the lease, the CCCC would be eligible to use 27 percent of parking spaces in the business complex. Canyon Country Advisory Committee Chairman, Alan Ferdman stated, “We look forward to this being a great success. I’m hoping this will be a model we can duplicate around the city.”

 

NEW TEEN PROGRAM AT
CANYON COUNTRY COMMUNITY CENTER

The City of Santa Clarita invites youth to participate in a new, interactive junior high teen program called “Friday Night Lights.” This is one of the first of many programs to be launched from the new Canyon Country Community Center, located at 18792 Flying Tiger Drive.

Friday Night Lights will be hosted at various parks and facilities on the first Friday of the month, providing junior high age teens with a variety of free recreational opportunities, including: games on the new interactive “Sportswall” game board, web-cam world tours, funny photo booths with props and costumes, prizes, music and more.

“The City is constantly looking at ways to increase and improve the quality and quantity of community services for our residents,” said Mayor Bob Kellar.  “The new Friday Night Lights program was created to provide junior high teens with resources and a meeting place to interact with friends in a fun and safe environment.”

To participate in the Friday Night Lights program, teens must pre-register, complete a waiver form and bring a valid school identification card.  Space is limited, so reserve your spot today by calling (661) 286-4006.

For more information about programs available at the Canyon Country Community Center, please call (661) 250-3708 or visit Santa-Clarita.com.

Vista Canyon

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2013

I. The Man

“Yeah, I’m a big fan of Lincoln,” admits James S. Backer, and the evidence seems to support his claim.  A sketch of the 16th President greets guests in his office. A quote from the man welcomes visitors to the website of his company. If you ask him, both Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field “really captured the essence” of their characters in the recent film – and with his history degree from Stanford, he should probably know.

But it’s not through his knowledge of history that Backer is making his mark. Instead, James Backer – Jim, as he’s called by those who know him – is being recognized for the way that he’s shaping his own community today.  After all, Backer is one of those rare individuals who can honestly say he’s helped build a city – from the ground up.

Backer is the founder and president of JSB Development, a real estate development company headquartered in Valencia. Among his impressive contributions to Santa Clarita is his involvement in the development of Valencia Town Center, Valencia Commerce Center, Centre Pointe Business Park, River Court, and Tourney Place – to name a few.

Backer has been shaping the Santa Clarita community for more than 28 years, but this city hasn’t always been his home.  Though a native Californian by birth, Backer spent much of his early life in the Midwest; Omaha, Nebraska, was his childhood home.

“I had a lot of interest in art when I was growing up,” Backer says, reflecting on how his childhood experiences may have led him toward his current career. His drawing skill has come in handy, he says, considering the importance of design in his field. “We essentially try to buy dirt and create something that people want to buy or lease from it,” he jokes.

Backer has always enjoyed working with people, he says. From an early age, he tended toward positions that involved leadership or problem solving, including heading his high school newspaper and interning at the Senate while in college. But it wasn’t until late in his Stanford career that a fateful meeting with a university trustee, who happened to be the chief executive officer of the Newhall Land and Farming Company, placed Backer on the path toward a career in real estate development.

“We got to talking, and about a month later I was flying down here (to Southern California) after I graduated,” Backer says. When his parents asked him what he expected out of his journey, Backer prophesied correctly. “I think he’s gonna offer me a job,” he told them, “and I think I’m gonna take it.”

That job landed him in Santa Clarita in 1984, and he’s been a part of the community in one way or another ever since. During the course of his tenure at Newhall Land, Backer learned as much as he could about his industry as he helped the company gradually shape Valencia. There were other stops for Backer along the way, including extensive travels both domestically and abroad, an MBA program at UCLA, a two-year stay with another L.A.-based company, and a job overseeing a large project in Sacramento – but it all led up to one thing: the founding of his own company in 2000.

For the last 13 years, JSB Development has played a major part in bringing project after project to fruition, gradually forming the modern landscape of the Santa Clarita Valley.  But Backer’s building of the community includes more than simply putting together brick and mortar. Backer has also been actively involved with a number of non-profits, including the SCV Education Foundation and the Foundation for Children’s Dental Health.

Whatever work he does in his career or for his community, Backer admits his Christian faith and love of family are what truly drive him. And, although his career and nonprofit work would seem to make him a busy man, Backer is especially devoted to spending time with his three kids.

“I get the pleasure of, you know, going on campouts with my son and coaching my son in baseball, and…trying to make sure (my daughter) gets to ride a horse once in a while,” Backer says with a laugh.  “That’s the…the treat of life.”

And in Backer’s eyes, Santa Clarita is a rather unique place to raise a family. “I think people (in Santa Clarita) have a lot of focus on their kids, and…I think family is important out here,” he says.  “It’s a pretty small community,” he adds, even going so far as to say that in some ways, the city has an almost-Midwestern feel.

But Santa Clarita, Backer is sure to point out, is also special for its California history. “This area has really participated in just about every California boom there’s been…gold, oil, railroads, the movies, freeways…” Backer says. “So, it’s got a very rich history, I think.”

And that’s where, for both Backer and the city, the past meets the present. The past meets the present because Backer always considers the history of the places in which his company builds.

“Real estate has nothing if not history,” Backer says, commenting on the appropriateness of his original degree. “Nothing. Real estate is all history.”

It’s a point that is especially relevant, considering Backer’s plans to begin construction at one of the most historic locations in the Santa Clarita Valley.

II. The Plan – Canyon Country

In 1860, Thomas Mitchell became the first permanent white settler in Santa Clarita when he decided to call a ranch in Soledad Canyon his home. Today, standing by what’s known as the Vista Canyon site – a vast expanse of dust and ragged bushes, rabbits and the occasional roadrunner darting by – you can almost imagine Thomas and his wife, Martha, forging their way on the same unforgiving desert land. That is, if you can ignore the sound of the cars whizzing by on Highway 14 behind you.

You can also imagine, if you try hard enough, how the land will look as the massively ambitious Vista Canyon community; a development complete with homes, stores, hotels, a town center, a corporate campus, four miles of trails, a 10-acre park, a new Metrolink station, and a community garden – all of which are included in the JSB Development design.

It’s a plan that JSB Development has been working on for quite some time, but seeing that it becomes a reality has not always been simple. The process of acquiring the land took many years, Backer says – and even when the entire property had finally been purchased in 2006, the company’s plans for it were not yet fully cemented. In fact, Backer admits, his company’s original intentions for the land were not nearly as grand.

“Our initial plan for Vista Canyon was…just homes,” Backer says. “Homes and maybe a little park and some trails, and that was it.”

But when they presented their plans to the local residents, recalls Backer, he and his colleagues realized that Canyon Country residents were ready for something more.

“They said, ‘You know, what we really don’t have over here is, we just don’t have a center and we don’t have a place to eat and we’d like some more restaurants and we’d like a few shops closer to us,’” Backer explains. “They just said, ‘Hey, it’d just be nice if you kind of looked, you know, a little more broadly.’”

They did, and over time, the current Vista Canyon plan was born. But Backer says that the involvement of the community in the design of the development didn’t end there.

“There are probably – I don’t know – half a dozen to a dozen things that I can directly point to you in this plan that came directly from a meeting with the communities,” Backer says.  “And we had almost 80 community meetings, in one form or another…(and) all of them involved Vista Canyon and what it was going to be and what it could become.”

One of the important suggestions of the community, explains Backer, had to do with the development’s overall look and feel. “They kept saying, in Canyon Country, ‘We want this to reflect our community,’” Backer recalls. And that meant something clear: a more rural design that honored the area’s pioneer history, rather than the Mediterranean style used in other developments, such as Valencia Town Center.

Other community suggestions led to the development of a road pattern that both directs commuter through traffic away from the rural Sand Canyon Road and leaves the adjacent Santa Clara River open to view. In fact, traffic and transportation considerations were one of the major issues JSB Development faced. That’s partly why the company, at the request of the City, agreed to take advantage of the development’s proximity to the Metrolink tracks by relocating the Via Princessa station to the development.

“A lot of what, you know, downtown L.A. and parts of L.A. are trying to do, they’re trying to create these – these centers around Metrolink stations,” Backer says. “Well, we get to create it from the ground up.”

But to paint the project as all about urban planning would be to ignore the obvious history of the site – something Backer would never do. That’s why he emphasizes the importance of measures such as keeping the graveyard overlooking the land, in which its early tenants rest, intact.  Backer also hopes the community will make use of the planned River Education Center.

“(The Center is) kind of another way to, again, draw upon the history of the area and feature that,” Backer explains, “but give the community something that they can use forever, which is a meeting center, a meeting area.”

It’s just one of the many aspects of the plan that the company is hoping will both honor the past and be of additional use to the development’s future population. The project could be “shovel ready” as soon as this spring, Backer says, when it wraps up the few administrative and other tasks that remain uncompleted. And with the economic climate looking the way it does today, Backer believes that the time is right – that local residents are ready for Vista Canyon to arrive.

But the decision about when construction will begin may not be in the company’s hands at all.

III. The Potential Delay

“We were approved in May of 2011 by the City; we were sued in June of 2011,” Backer says.

The lawsuit he’s referring to was brought forth, in part, by both S.C.O.P.E., the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, and Friends of the Santa Clara River.  Backer says that Lynne Plambeck, a self-described community activist who currently sits on the Newhall County Water District Board, was behind both organizations’ decisions to sue.

According to Backer, the lawsuit was enabled by CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, which he says he believes is in need of reform.  CEQA, Backer claims, has enabled S.C.O.P.E. to sue and delay many of what he believed were desirable Santa Clarita projects, allowing the organization to become what he calls “a de facto impediment to economic growth and quality development in Santa Clarita.”  This, he says, has “an unfortunate and costly outcome for the community with no clear or apparent offsetting benefits.”

Among the complaints against the Vista Canyon plan are allegations that the development of the site would adversely affect the Santa Clara River.  The Vista Canyon development would, for example, reduce the width of the floodplain – a claim that Backer admits is true, but says he believes is overblown, arguing that the floodplain would still be 800 feet across, almost twice the average width of the river throughout the eastern part of the Santa Clarita Valley. Meanwhile, Backer contends that JSB Development has taken a variety of measures to ensure it handles Vista Canyon’s land and resources responsibly, including the planned development of the project’s own water reclamation plant. This would be the first project-associated water reclamation plant in the city, which would essentially make the development water-neutral, Backer claims. But one of the complaints against the development actually alleges that the plant itself could produce adverse effects, such as adding chloride to the Santa Clara River, contributing to a problem for which the city has already been fined.

Backer also notes that the company has taken steps to address a multitude of other environmental concerns, including adjusting plans to accommodate local animal populations, as well as implementing measures to mitigate the impacts of traffic and energy consumption. “We have done everything within our power to minimize the footprint and the impact on the community by this development,” Backer stresses. “At the same time, we can’t apologize for the fact that there will be homes there, there will be businesses, they will use electricity, cars will drive there, they won’t all be electric…there are tradeoffs.  It’s not a perfect world.”

Among those tradeoffs, Backer suggests, are a variety of other benefits for the area – including a decrease in commutes, an increase in available jobs (with an emphasis on corporate and professional jobs for the east side), and an overall boost to the local economy – all of which, he says, have the potential to actually improve the environment or the quality of life in the community as a whole.

But not everyone agrees.  The suit, Backer says, revolves largely around a wide variety of issues regarding the thoroughness of the city’s EIR, alleging that it didn’t do enough to analyze the impacts of the development in the first place. If the court rules against Vista Canyon, the city would likely have to complete additional studies and consider adjustments – although Backer says the company would likely appeal.

“If they win, yeah – we’re not gonna go away. We’re gonna keep at it,” Backer says. But that would likely result in delays in the progress that could otherwise be made at the Vista Canyon site. The initial decision is expected some time in the middle of the year.

IV. Waiting

Typically, Backer says, he tries not to let things like the lawsuit upset him – he’s the kind of person who keeps things in perspective, not fretting over that which he is unable to control.  “What I can do is spend my time on things that I think are important,” he notes.

But in the case of Vista Canyon, Backer’s frustration is difficult to hide. “Vista Canyon is an amazing project that was created with tremendous community input, with tremendous thought from my team, my consultants, my designers, and with tremendous commitment from us to make it the best project that we could,” Backer says.  “And…to just go sue it, is to me, to just – you know – just throw it down the drain, and not to respect…what’s gone through.”

Ultimately, it will be up to the courts to decide whether or not the claims of Backer’s opponents are valid, and whether the company needs to take additional measures to ensure compliance with environmental regulations.

But, in Backer’s view, the stakes could hardly be higher. “I think a community is either living or dying – one of the two,” he says.  “There’s no static.  It either grows, it improves, or it dies…people leave, people move away, people don’t wanna invest there, they don’t wanna be there.  So…I’m puttin’ my choice with the living crowd.”

Later, Backer simply adds, “(We’ll) do the best we can. That’s all we can do.”

For more information on Backer, JSB Development, or the company’s plans for Vista Canyon, visit www.jsbdev.com or www.vistacanyon.com.

COC Students Encouraged to Plan Ahead For Winter, Spring 2013 Class Schedules

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | December 10, 2012

With the fall semester quickly coming to a close, College of the Canyons officials are encouraging students and community members to explore the multitude of educational and career training opportunities available during the college’s 2013 winter session and spring semester.

In November, COC officials announced that the college would offer a 2013 winter session of approximately 100 online class sections.

Originally, college administrators had planned not to offer winter classes, as a cost saving measure in anticipation of the possible defeat of Prop. 30 and the forecast of statewide “trigger cuts” to the California Community College System.

Locally, those cuts would have equated to a roughly $4.6 million hit to the college’s 2012-13 budget.

Instead, the voters’ passage of Prop. 30 is expected to provide the state’s community colleges approximately $210 million in restored funding during the 2012-13 academic year, which will help provide access to desperately needed classes.

By making the decision to offer a winter session the college will be able to offer classes for approximately 3,500 students.

“At College of the Canyons we are continuously looking for ways to increase access to education for our students and accommodate their educational needs,” said Jasmine Ruys, director of admissions, records and online services at the college. “The ability to offer students a 2013 winter session would not have been possible without the foresight of the Board of Trustees and college administration team to plan for all possible budget scenarios, while keeping the best interests of students in mind.”

The courses being offered during the 2013 winter session will be primarily general education “core” classes that all students need to either graduate, transfer to a four-year school and/or meet course prerequisites associated with their immediate educational plans.

The college’s 2013 winter session begins Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, and will conclude Saturday, Feb. 2.

The spring 2013 semester will then begin on Monday, Feb. 4, and run through Friday, May 31, offering students approximately 1,500 class sections to choose from. Of those, roughly 300 class sections will be offered at the Canyon Country campus.

Spring semester registration will begin for new and continuing students during the first week of January.
All students are encouraged to routinely check their ‘My Canyons’ account to receive their assigned registration date/time for both the winter session and spring semester.
In addition, the college’s winter/spring 2013 schedule of classes are now available to view at www.canyons.edu.

With community college courses expected to be in extremely high demand throughout the region in 2013, college officials are encouraging students to plan ahead and explore the multitude of educational and career training opportunities available during the college’s recently announced winter session and upcoming spring semester. The college’s five-week winter session begins Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, and will include approximately 100 online class sections. Spring classes will begin Monday, Feb. 4, and will include approximately 1,500 class sections to choose from.

Once again, community college courses are expected to be in extremely high demand throughout the region. With that in mind, college officials are sharing the following registration tips with all students:

Make sure the college’s Admissions and Records office has your current email, telephone number and postal addresses so that the college can provide you with up-to-date information regarding your registration time/date.

Know what classes you really want and sign up for them during your registration period. Once you are registered for a class, only cancel it if you are absolutely sure of your decision.

Check the online schedule of classes frequently for updated class listings and/or changes.

Students who enroll for classes during the 2013 winter session or spring semester will be charged a $46 per unit enrollment fee.

For more information about the College of the Canyons 2013 winter session or spring semester schedule of classes, please contact the college’s Admissions and Record office at (661) 362-3280 or visit www.canyons.edu.

Buying the Pharm

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | December 8, 2012

by Martha Michael

Outside of Total Care Pharmacy

Pharmacist Mahesh Kaneria used to work for big box stores, filling prescriptions for a lot of clients, many not getting the personal attention he feels they deserve. His solution? Open his own independent pharmacy.

Located in the heart of Canyon Country, his new business, Total Care Pharmacy, aims to serve a growing customer base in the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley. “This is a busy community,” said Kaneria, pharmacist and manager of the new establishment. “Though there is a Walgreen’s, CVS and Rite-Aid, this area is still underserved.”

When it comes to performance, Kaneria is making it personal. “I welcome people to come in and sit down and talk about their health and their medications,” he said. “We are a family pharmacy, trying to get to know each patient.”

The advantage to consulting with Kaneria is that local residents can be assured their medications are being looked at altogether, which is an important factor in eliminating problems when a resident has a combination of prescriptions. In addition to meeting with individual patients, Kaneria also performs telephone consultations.

“It is called ‘reconciliation of medications,’” he explained.

Kaneria thinks that new customers will be surprised at the difference between Total Care Pharmacy and their experiences at big box stores. “If they come, they will see the service and how we treat

Inside of the Pharmacy

them,” he explained.

The new business warrants two additional pharmacists to cover Kaneria, plus he employs a pharmacy technician. The 2,100-square-foot shop is located near Chris’ K-9 Clippery, near S & S Donuts in the TJ Maxx shopping center.

The address is 19409 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country. Contact Mahesh Kaneria and the staff at Total Care Pharmacy at (661) 250-3800.

Advanced Care Animal Hospital, Old School Personal with Today’s Technology

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | December 6, 2012

By Martha Michael

Dr. Gillen and her staff

Canyon Country pets made a new friend this fall, and the newcomer has state-of-the-art standards. Advanced Care Animal Hospital just opened at Whites Canyon and Soledad Canyon Road in the Ralphs shopping center. This brand new practice offers pet owners the skills of Dr. Amanda Gillen, who is making good use of modern technology.

“Besides the fact that our facility and equipment are state of the art, we aim to practice veterinary medicine to the highest standard possible,” says Dr. Gillen. “We are not a shot clinic, or a low quality spay/neuter factory. We offer everything from hydrotherapy, to ultrasound, advanced surgical procedures, critical care, dentistry, etc.”

While staying on the cutting edge is important to Dr. Gillen, she also plans to integrate the veterinary experience of the past with the advancements of the future. “We want to be ‘old doc,’ but without the shortcuts, and with the knowledge, equipment, and facility to provide top-notch medical care,” she explains.

The office décor is also a blend of features. “State of the art meets Feng Shui. It’s a modern, calm, practice with a distinct female touch. Lots of stainless, and gray with purple accents,” says Dr. Gillen. “We have four examination rooms, two bathrooms, a large treatment area, digital radiology, digital dental radiology, top notch surgical suite, separate dog and cat wards, and an isolation ward and pharmacy. It’s the fruit of over two decades of working in this field, and having been in a lot of practices. I’ve filed away what I liked, what worked, and what didn’t, and brought it all to the table when building Advanced Care Animal Hospital. My contractor has been building veterinary practices for over 30 years, and he was a huge help as well.”

As for the location for the practice, Whites and Soledad has the highest traffic of any intersection in the heart of Canyon Country. Gillen points out that it has the lowest density of veterinary clinics in Santa Clarita and, therefore, the biggest need for a vet.

Outside of the hospital

For now, Dr. Gillen treats dogs, cats and “furry pocket pets.” They do not treat large animals, birds, or reptiles at this point.

Radiology

The University of California, Davis graduate has experience working in emergency and critical care, but Advanced Care Animal Hospital is not an emergency 24-hour-a-day facility. That would leave Dr. Gillen no time with her family, which includes a husband and three-year-old son. “He gives so much meaning to everything I do. I strive to be the kind of person, and the kind of veterinarian my son thinks I am,” she says. “Besides, he quizzes me on all my cases every night, so I have to make sure I do a great job – ‘What “aminals” did you see? Why were they sick? Did you give them medicine? Are they ok now?’ Talk about pressure to be the best vet that I can be!”

The veterinarian really enjoys challenging medical cases and surgeries. “I deal with patients who cannot speak for themselves, and with people who, while they adore their pets, are not medically trained to notice the things that I notice when I examine their pets,” explains Dr. Gillen. “It’s my privilege to be a voice for that animal, and find out what they cannot tell me themselves. I also enjoy the close relationships I develop with clients through their pets – lots of clients become kind of a second family to me.”

Dr. Gillen is not exaggerating about her priority to know her human clients as well as the furry ones. “I like to hang out in reception and meet clients, and answer questions from time to time. I don’t always wear a lab coat, and I like to interact with people on a less formal level, and get to know them before putting on the ‘doctor’ role,” she says. “It’s fascinating the things that clients will share with the person behind the front desk, that they would never tell me in the exam room, because they may be too embarrassed, or feel awkward.”

Treatment room

The cutting edge veterinarian aims to keep it personal. “Our goal is to become your other family doctor,” she says. “We want to get to know YOU

Surgery

and your pet. This allows us to personalize and tailor your pet’s care to theirs and your lifestyle. We have found that oftentimes veterinary care becomes an impersonal, volume-driven, cookie-cutter affair. We want people to have a very different experience at Advanced Care Animal Hospital – we want to personalize veterinary medicine again. We want to earn your trust, so that together we can provide your furry family members a happy, healthful, long life.”

Advanced Care Animal Hospital is located at 19406 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country. Contact the office at (661) 263-4334 or visit www.advancedcareanimalhospital.com.

Comments Off on Don McMillan From Computers to Comedy

Don McMillan From Computers to Comedy

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | December 6, 2012

by Martha Michael

Don McMillan mixing technology and comedy

An average, everyday 6-foot 5-inch card-carrying PTA member, golf lover, Silicon Valley engineer out of Stanford, married with a kid at Sulphur Springs, stand-up comedian…what?!? (This is where “Sesame Street” would ask, “Which one is not like the others?”).

But it’s true. Canyon Country resident Don McMillan is actually a former engineer, a husband of 16 years to Laura, and father to nine-year-old Garrett, who is a Sulphur Springs fourth-grader, and spends his nights delivering such lines as:
“We moved here from Stevenson Ranch and one thing I’ve noticed is that we have all the same kinds of stores on this side of the valley, just with different names. For example, here we have ‘Canyon Car Wash.’ The other side of the valley has ‘The Auto Spa.’ (Like, on the other side of town your car will be getting a massage with the wash.) Other side of town: ‘Victoria’s Secret.’ Canyon Country: ‘The Fun Zone.’ See what I mean?”

Canyon Country Magazine’s Martha Michael attended two of Don McMillan’s shows, one at Robinson Ranch, a fundraiser for Heads Up Horse Therapy, and the other at J.R.’s Comedy Club at Marie Callender’s in Valencia. She saw how cleverly he marries his engineering background with his passion for comedy by delivering clean, intelligent humor with the use of power point presentation. She probed a little bit more about McMillan by catching up with him recently.

MM: What year did you first begin doing stand-up? What was the catalyst?
DM: I won Star Search in 1993. For those who don’t remember the show, it was hosted by Ed McMahon. It was a precursor to American Idol, but included singers, dancers, comedians, actors, and spokesmodels. The winner in each category received $100,000. Before you ask: that money is all gone – although I still have the huge, fake 6-foot by 3-foot check they gave me.

And more mixing technology and comedy!

I started doing stand-up in 1987 in San Jose, Calif. At the time I was working in Silicon Valley at a company called VLSI Technology. I designed integrated circuit chips and later managed a group of 15 engineers before “retiring” in 1991. As for why I started doing stand-up, my standard answer is, “My boss used to look at my work and ask, ‘Are you some kind of comedian?”” But in truth, I was always a comedy fan and my friends thought I was funny. We were at a local comedy club one night and the emcee mentioned an “Open Mic Night.” A friend said, “You’re funny – you should try it.” To his surprise, I took him seriously. I tried it and immediately loved it. I continued being an engineer by day and comedian by night for four years. I didn’t sleep much in those days.

MM: Where are you from? What did your parents feel about you switching careers?
DM: I grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey – a suburb of Philadelphia. I was one of four children (I have 3 sisters) of Harry and Jane McMillan. My Dad was a mechanical engineer. My mom was a chemist and later a computer systems analyst at a major insurance company. My parents were in shock about my change of careers for many years (especially after earning a master’s degree from Stanford). My dad came around when I won $100,000 on “Star Search.” Mom never fully recovered. She has always hinted about wanting me to return to the high tech world. I think she always wanted me to be the next Albert Einstein, scientist – not the comedian (Albert Brooks’ real name is Albert Lawrence Einstein).

MM: What comedians have influenced you?
DM: I grew up listening to and watching Bill Cosby. I owned three of his albums – back in the days when there were comedy albums. I also loved Steve

Don McMillan

Martin. Starting about age 10, I used to stay up late and watch Johnny Carson every night. I loved Johnny and I particularly enjoyed it when he had comedians on the show. Rodney Dangerfield was great. Steven Wright is fantastic – smart and funny. I dreamed of being on the show with Johnny, but he retired before I had a chance to audition.

MM: What is the most difficult aspect of doing comedy? What do you miss about engineering?
DM: Since I love performing and writing comedy, the hardest part is the business. You have to work hard to book shows, deal with club owners, promote yourself, and build a following. The creative part is a joy. The hardest part of performing is going on stage the very first time. They say that public speaking is the number one fear of most people, so getting up that first time is harrowing. If you tell a joke and no one laughs – you know; the audience knows it; everyone knows it. It’s the worst feeling in the world – that’s why they call it “dying.” Every comedian has experienced it at some point. But you survive, you go on, and the laughs come again.

As far as engineering goes, the only thing I really miss is the people. I loved the folks I worked with. We were a team. There is no “office” that a stand-up comedian goes to every day. In a normal job, you see the people you work with every day. You share their lives; you trade stories; you talk about the news. I miss that camaraderie.

MM: How often does your wife get to see you work?
DM: I could say, “Every day! I am a laugh a minute at home!” But that would be a lie. People always say to my wife, “It must be so fun being married to a comedian,” to which she answers, “You have

At Work

no idea.” Don’t be fooled, people! Most comedians are as boring as anybody else at home. I can be very unfunny (ask my son), especially when I get new technology – I’m a nerd after all! I get grumpy and crabby and sometimes I’m not any fun to be around. No one pays to see that side of me. But my wife and son see it and they still love me. My wife manages to see me perform a few times a year when friends or family come to a show. She’s seen all my “standard” material, so she finds it funniest when I mess up and I’m forced to make something funny out of my mistakes or a heckler or a weird audience member. To tell you the truth, that’s fun for me, too. I’ve always loved doing improv.

MM: Is there anything that’s off-limits for you to use as far as comedy material?
DM: I am considered a clean comedian. I’ve never relied on vulgarity or dirty words or adult situations. I leave that to other comics. I find that clean comedy can be used in so many more situations – why limit myself to only “R-rated” comedy. Plus, the majority of my shows these days are for corporate audiences, so keeping it clean and politically correct is essential. Other than that, I avoid anything TRULY personal about my wife or son. I talk about men and women and relationships in general, but my family’s personal lives are private and I respect that. Also, I never ever joke about the Amish. No particular reason – I just don’t find them funny.

MM: Where are you from? And your family members?
DM: I grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Laura is from St. Louis, MO – Lindbergh High School (everyone in St. Louis says what high school they went to – what is that about?). My son is from my wife – but he was delivered at Henry Mayo in 2003.

MM: Do you like Sulphur Springs? Canyon Country? Why did you relocate?
DM: We love Sulphur Springs. We are Mustangs at heart! Although my son has commented that in four years he has still not smelled the sulphur. We love Canyon Country, especially when the

Don McMillan

thunder echoes down the canyons. That is so cool! I also love the SCHOA (Sand Canyon Homeowner’s Association) e-mails. Every day there’s at least a few stray animals, and occasionally you’ll see a runaway turtle, an escaped parrot, or a lost goat. If you don’t receive the SCHOA e-mails, get on the list. It’s very entertaining. Why did we move here? Saugus would not take us.

MM: What are some of your hobbies?
DM: I am a golfer and I have been so since age 12. I was a member at Robinson Ranch for several years until back surgery slowed me down. I still play once a week or so. I also love to play with technology. I networked our TiVo’s together and added network storage. Now we can watch thousands of hours of television from anywhere in the house – instantly. I am very proud of that!

You can see a Don McMillan power point show for yourself on his website, www.technicallyfunny.com. You will also find his show schedule and learn more about the comedian on the site.

Christmastime Fundraiser for Hoefflin Foundation

| Articles, Canyon Country Magazine | December 3, 2012

Michael Hoefflin Foundation & Albertsons Join Forces in Fundraiser
Santa Clarita Albertsons locations are hosting barbecues to benefit the MHF for Children’s Cancer.  All proceeds will benefit children with cancer and their families.

In conjunction with this, local Albertsons also will be selling Family Favorites Cookbook: A Collection of Recipes from the Children of the Michael Hoefflin Foundation at three upcoming barbecues. Barbecues will feature music, a raffle, a car show and pictures with Santa. One of MHF’s children will do a cooking demonstration as well.

Barbecue locations and dates are:
Canyon Country        Dec. 8
Valencia (Copper Hill)        Dec. 8
Valencia (The Old Road)    Dec. 15

“We are so grateful that Albertsons is partnering with us during this time of year, when families faced with the devastation of pediatric cancer are still trying to find a way to make the holiday season special,” said Gillian Stone, executive director of MHF. “These upcoming events for the community give people a fun way to make a positive impact on families who need our help.”

Throughout the year, the Foundation helps families in many ways, including providing gas and grocery assistance, support group meetings, and family outings — aid crucial to families dealing with the emotional and unexpected financial burden of cancer.

The Michael Hoefflin Foundation for children’s cancer is a public non-profit 501(c) (3) foundation serving children and families touched by pediatric cancer in the Santa Clarita and surrounding valleys. For more information please contact us at (661) 250-4100 or go to www.MHF.org.

Santa Clarita Carolers
A holiday tradition like many others, Vibe Studios can be counted on to provide professional carolers to neighborhood and corporate parties every year. The mixed quartet can be booked as greeters, strollers or they can do a “spotlight show.” They perform such well-known favorites as “White Christmas” and comedic numbers, like “Grandma’s Killer Fruitcake.” View them and listen to sample music on www.vpasonline.com. You can contact Andrea Vibe to book the group on the same website.

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