Angels Among Us 2005

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By utahvalley360.com

“Community” is about looking out for each other. The more people who open the blinds and look for chances to serve, the better the community will be. As always, this year’s group of givers is diverse. They come in groups and as individuals. They create nonprofit organizations, and they help wayward youth. But the one thing they all have in common is that they were uncomfortable with the recognition. However, you’ll find their stories inspiring.

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Because her mom’s life mattered:

Danielle White, Orem

Danielle White has every reason to feel like life has dealt her a bad hand. She was raised by a single mother who died of breast cancer when Danielle was 15 years old. Her grandmother couldn’t take her in, leaving her to track down her father — whom she’d never met — and ask him to take her in for her last three years of high school.

Then, after she joined the LDS Church in her native San Diego shortly after high school graduation, what was left of her family disowned her.

But adversity didn’t stop this 26-year-old from graduating from UVSC and winning the prestigious Gold Triangle Award, given by the American Academy of Dermatology, for her work as founder of the Cancer Crusaders organization and, in particular, for the group’s fight against skin cancer.

“When my mom died, I decided at that young age that I was going to do something to help others in fighting cancer,” she says. “Cancer affects everyone somehow.”

While at UVSC, she set up a cancer awareness group on campus. After her best friend’s brother died of melanoma at the age of 21, she placed an emphasis on skin cancer awareness.

“I had worked with breast cancer education for eight years and realized that, thankfully, there were many people involved in that fight,” she says. “Our organization still works with educating people about all kinds of cancer, but we noticed there wasn’t much out there as far as skin cancer education and awareness, so we’ve emphasized that because of the need that’s there.”

Danielle points out the frustration — and the hope — that comes from fighting skin cancer.

“It’s the most common form of cancer, and it’s almost always preventable,” she says. “It’s frustrating to see people — especially people my age — just not care about taking care of themselves. We just don’t like to think about our own mortality.”

The above mentioned best friend, Natalie Johnson, won Miss Utah 2002 and used skin cancer education as her platform, giving the cause a much-needed push in the media. Danielle was working hard behind the scenes to support Natalie’s platform.

In May 2003, the two women started a pilot program called “Only Skin Deep” targeted to people ages 17 to 30 about the dangers of overexposure to the sun. The program led Danielle and Natalie into creating their nonprofit organization, Cancer Crusaders, on Jan. 1, 2004 — the anniversary of Danielle’s mother’s death.

“That it happened on that date was kind of like a seal of approval from my mother,” Danielle says.

Since then, Danielle has developed curriculum aimed at educating people about proper sunscreen use and general skin care. She’s encouraged groups to visit dermatologists for skin checks and to take precautions to limit the risk of skin cancer. And her “Only Skin Deep” program continues to receive accolades, like the Gold Triangle Award, for its work in education. The organization also developed the orange ribbon to symbolize the fight against skin cancer, a symbol which is now recognized by millions.

“We’ve reached 118 million people through the symbol and the curriculum,” Danielle says.

But fighting this hard for something doesn’t come free of challenges. Danielle works two jobs to pay the bills and is continually looking for funding for the organization — most of which comes from former classmates and other young people who believe in what Danielle is doing.

Fortunately, she is starting to see some progress in her fight against skin cancer. She recently started a radio segment every Friday at 1 p.m. (locally on KSTAR) called “Conversation with Cancer” that will be available 24 hours a day on the Web and will be streamlined to an interested sister station in Ireland.

Danielle has also been in talks with UVSC about creating a permanent cancer awareness facility on campus. One step toward that will start this fall when UVSC plans to offer a cancer awareness class.

The ultimate success for Danielle will be when the day arrives that recreational tanning will be looked at like the killer it can be.

 

Because a friend is in need

Each year after we read the nominations for our annual “Angels Among Us” feature, we leave the office wanting to do more. This year’s angels — and those in years past — have found ways to help that utilize their personal talents and resources. After you read about these givers, you’ll want to make this world a better place, too. So here are some ideas to get you started.

Two Utah Valley families are facing challenges, and you may be able to help.

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The Andersens

Chuck and Julie Andersen are in many ways your typical Utah County family. They own a home in Mapleton, have four children, and work hard to make ends meet and have some extra to create familyl memories.

In March, they found out that Chuck has an inoperable brain tumor. Now their time and resources go to Chuck’s chemotherapy and other treatments.

When Julie attended the Corporate Alliance Summit in May, the other 50 Summiteers found out about her challenges. The business owners opened their hearts and wallets, and now they have planned a benefit event that is open to the public. On Tuesday, July 12th, a “Wishing Well” benefit will be held in the Andersens’ honor at the McKay Events Center (upper court mezzanine). The event will include an auction, raffle, entertainment, desserts and snacks. For more information, e-mail marenturnidge@yahoo.com

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The Richardsons

This story has ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” written all over it. This Pleasant Grove family includes 20 children, most of whom suffer with disabilities.

In May, a fire gutted their home, leaving this large family homeless. Now the community has pitched in to get this family back in their home. C&A Construction is the general contractor on the project. Others such as Budget Blinds, Blackhurst Carpet and Brite Nites have donated their products and services.

If you’d like to be part of this feel-good project, call Tracy Gillman at (801) 785-4908.

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Because service brings families together:

Jim Clark L Family, Provo

Serving others is a family affair for the Clarks in Provo.

Jim Clark, a family physician, volunteers at the Volunteer Care Clinic in Provo, and his wife, Judy, works at the front desk. Two of their children, Sarah Groneman and Adam Clark, volunteer as certified nurses assistants and translators at the clinic every Tuesday night.

“It’s fun to help people while also spending some extra time with family,” Sarah says. “It’s always more fun to share things with family.”

Jim is one of a handful of doctors who volunteer to see uninsured and low-income patients at the clinic. Sarah and Adam both recently returned home from LDS Church missions in Venezuela. They each work as CNAs and also translate for the high number of Spanish-speaking patients who use the facility. In fact, it’s Jim who often needs their services.

“I grab them because they both have a medical background and they both speak Spanish, which is really helpful,” Jim says.

The clinic opened in October 2004 and saw about six patients a night during those first few weeks. However, as word has spread, the clinic routinely sees about 50 individuals a night, even though the clinic only accepts sign-ins for two hours.

“We will have people wait for three hours and never complain or get restless,” Judy says. “They’re just so grateful to receive help.”

While initially, almost all patients were Spanish-speaking immigrants, the Clarks are seeing an increase in the number of low-income white families who utilize the facility.

The clinic is currently open two nights a week — Tuesday and Thursday — and is located in the Health and Justice Building on University Avenue in Provo. Because the clinic uses the building in the evenings, the hours of operation are limited, starting at about 5:15 p.m. with the last check-ins welcome at 7 p.m. Volunteers stay until all patients are seen, although there is some screening done to verify qualification for treatment.

While Jim and the other physicians are limited in what they can do at the clinic — no surgeries or routine physical exams, for example — they are in a position to refer patients to the necessary specialists, many of whom are excited to participate. In fact, one area of emphasis for volunteers at the clinic has been generating a database of specialists available for patients who are unable to pay or are uninsured.

“We’re finding that there are people who are willing to help if they know what we’re doing,” Jim says. “As people hear about what’s happening, and especially if they come down and see what we’re doing, they’re more than willing to help.”

While IHC offers lab work for the clinic and the United Way of Utah County assists in some funding and volunteer coordination, the Clarks have noticed a need for additional funding from local businesses and individuals.

They also cite a need for skilled medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, which would allow for the clinic to be open more often.

But for now, Jim and Judy — and their entire family — are enjoying the time they get to share with each other and the community.

“We’re all just doing the best we can and helping as many people as we can,” Sarah says.

“This is real service,” Jim says. “It’s meaningful. It makes a real difference in people’s lives.”

The Clarks say even their other children who don’t come to the clinic each week are involved in the service.

“They’re sacrificing to get themselves to sports practices or church activities,” Judy says. “But this is bringing us all closer and is a positive thing for our family.”

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Because Lions can special Eagles fly: Bryan Rust, Provo

When Bryan Rust joined the Lions Club 25 years ago, he didn’t expect his membership to take him to a fenced-in park north of the Recreation and Habitation building every Tuesday where 26 scouts would vie for his attention.

But in 2002, when the Boy Scout troop that his Lions Club sponsors for special-needs individuals was looking for a new Scoutmaster to fill the shoes of their Iraq-bound leader, Bryan — himself an Eagle Scout and one-time Scoutmaster — volunteered.

“I saw a need and decided to help out,” says Bryan, who owns Rust Coin in Provo. “I love every minute of it.”

And every minute is filled with assisting one of the 26 scouts in the troop — all with varying physical or mental disabilities, with the most common being Down syndrome. When he signed up to take on scoutmaster duties, the troop had two members. Three years later, the number has jumped to 26, with most of them being in their 20s and 30s. The Boy Scouts of America has adjusted rules of completion for special-needs individuals as compared to other scouts, one being that scouts can continue to work toward advancement after the age of 18.

“We had an 89-year-old Eagle Scout once,” Bryan says.

The other differences are subtle. In fact, his special-needs scouts complete the same requirements as other scouts, with a few exceptions necessitated by their mental or physical limitations.

Bryan also works closely with the scout troop associated with his LDS ward, and he lets those boys know they can learn a few things from his special-needs troop.

“I always tell my church scouts, ‘If you want to see how a troop should be, come with me one of these nights,’” Bryan says. “They work together, they are always in uniform and they love the time we have working on merit badges.”

In fact, “Rusty” (as his troop calls him) frequently receives calls at work from his scouts asking about an upcoming event or activity.

While the troop has taken traditional camping expeditions, most of the time the troop completes camping requirements on the grounds of the facility in a tepee donated by the Lions Club.

The troop is actually made up of two groups of men — one that meets at the Recreation and Habitation Services building in Provo and the second is a group of men that lives at Scenic View in Provo. The Scenic View group doesn’t wear traditional uniforms, so Bryan made polo shirts specific to the troop with the name and troop number. Bryan spends two hours every Tuesday night with each troop — which keeps him busy from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The troop has already had four Eagle Scouts since Bryan took over and another three are close to finishing the requirements. Bryan welcomes the pace of each scout and enjoys seeing them progress in their skills and attitudes.

“We do what we can each week,” he says. “Sometimes we only do a little bit toward the merit badge, but the guys enjoy what we do.”

Sometimes it’s more than just the guys who enjoy the scouting activities.

“We’ll get women from RAH (Recreation and Habitation) who will see what we’re doing outside — maybe painting or something — and want to come do it with us,” he says. “We welcome them in, too.”

While the scouts are blessed by Bryan’s devotion, he believes he’s the one who is really learning from the experience.

“They teach me more about how to live life than I teach them,” he says. “They’re so loving and welcoming. They really are great guys to work with.”

And Bryan plans to continue learning from his scout troop for a long time to come.

 

Become an angel

Adopt some grandchildren

Whether it’s the unforgettable taste of freshly baked orange rolls or the fragrant smell that lingers after a warm hug, grandparents have a way of leaving impressions.

The Utah County Senior Services Department offers a way to leave more than a lipstick mark on the future generation through the Foster Grandparents program. Volunteers, who must be at least 60 years old, are required to agree to a 20-hour-a-week commitment.

For information, call (801) 851-7785 or  www.co.utah.ut.us/dept/FostGr/index.asp

 

Help at Thanksgiving Point

Thanksgiving Point can fit your need to be needed with many service opportunities.

Valerie Pahl, volunteer manager of Thanksgiving Point, says the volunteers are not assigned to specific hour requirements.

“We have people who come maybe once a month, every Monday night, or every event we have, “ Valerie says.

About three to five volunteers are on duty at Thanksgiving Point on any given day.

To become a volunteer, fill out an application at www.thanksgivingpoint.com/volunteers, or contact Valerie at (801) 768-7426.

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Because there’s a need and she filled it: Wendy Bird, Lehi

Doing good doesn’t just mean giving money or even giving time.

It can also mean changing attitudes and providing opportunities for training and education that can eventually lead to people becoming self-sufficient.

For Wendy Bird of Lehi, who owns My Princess Pearls, it’s the life-changing effect that education and opportunity bring to families that encouraged her to start the Pearls with a Purpose Foundation.

The foundation began in 2002 after Amara, who is Wendy’s jewelry supplier in the Philippines, told her of the economic hardships many women and children were suffering. Wendy decided to help. She sent 17 boxes of clothing and other materials in August 2002 — all from her house.

“The entire first shipment came from my house,” she says. “It’s really embarrassing that we had 17 boxes of stuff to send over, and we didn’t even notice.”

From that first thrown-together-in-time-for-Christmas shipment, Wendy became more organized in her giving. She started Pearls With a Purpose (www.pearlsnecklace.net/PearlFoundation), a non-profit organization that coordinates the gathering and shipping of supplies to the Philippines, but the donations come from a variety of places.

“I have people call all the time and ask what we need,” she says. “As we spread the word, it’s amazing how supportive people are.”

But Pearls With a Purpose does more than just send material aid to the Philippines. The organization sends hope of a better life to Filipino families.

When My Princess Pearls orders jewelry from the Philippines, Amara is able to hire and train women in her country in the art of jewelry making.

Pearls With a Purpose builds on the idea of creating self-reliance by providing the goods needed to educate children and parents in the Philippines, enabling them to find meaningful employment and break the cycle of poverty and ignorance.

“When you just give people things, it can create a dole effect,” Wendy says. “When you encourage education, you encourage people to better their situation by themselves.”

Pearls With a Purpose joined the cause of the Live to Learn foundation that supplies tuition and school supplies. Participants are required to pay back the foundation, thus allowing other people to benefit from the philanthropy.

Pearls With a Purpose gathers school supplies like books, paper, pencils and paint, and sends them to school children in the Philippines.

Wendy sends between 20 and 40 boxes of aid to each of four cities in the Philippines every six to eight weeks. She sends supplies through Las Vegas-based Atlas Shipping, which is a Filipino-owned company that specializes in shipping to the Asian island country. The company sends the materials for cheaper than other companies and takes a picture of the recipients with the untainted boxes to confirm safe and timely delivery. However, the photos do more than confirm delivery.

“It’s amazing to see the looks on the people’s faces when they receive the shipment,” Wendy says. “It is so rewarding.”

Atlas Shipping honored Wendy recently with a special humanitarian award.

Perhaps the most amazing part of all is that Wendy has never been to the Philippines. She communicates with the country via e-mail and receives little more than the delivery photos to reward her work. But a trip scheduled for this fall should change that and bring even more meaning to the work she’s doing.

Wendy’s efforts are also paying off closer to home. Her oldest daughter looks forward to working for the foundation, and all of her children are constantly looking for things to send to Asia.

“My youngest daughter will play with a doll for a while and then bring it to me and say, ‘I’m done with this doll. Can we send it to Asia?’” Wendy says. “It’s just encouraged an environment of giving.”

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Because every teen deserves a chance: Jerry Spanos, Provo

Jerry Spanos knows how to reach the troubled youths he works with as founder of the Heritage School in Provo — and it has little to do with being a social worker or earning the right degrees. What makes Jerry so well qualified is that he’s been in their shoes.

“I struggled as a youth myself,” Jerry says. “I was lonely. I wasn’t successful in public school. As a result, I isolated myself and didn’t make friends. Life was just about survival at that point.”

Jerry’s experience is similar to many of the youths his facility assists. Heritage School is an education/treatment center for at-risk teens from around the country. Jerry defines “at-risk” as youth (12 to 18 years old) who are out of existing parental control and are failing at major tasks of adolescence, such as family relationships, school, socialization and community responsibilities. The school acts as a drug treatment facility, but it also works with students who suffer from illnesses such as depression, bi-polar disorder and ADHD.

“We approach education by trying to teach them about these areas where they’re struggling,” Jerry says. “Our goal is to have them become successful parents.”

Jerry’s desire to serve youth stems from a life-changing experience he had while serving an LDS mission to Kentucky. Jerry had struggled with education his entire life, only to find out in his 20s that he had a learning disability. A missionary companion confronted Jerry about his future plans. Jerry mentioned he wasn’t planning on college, and his companion pushed to know why.

That led Jerry to open up about the emotional reservations he had toward education and about his lack of confidence in the academic arena.

“My companion just listened,” Jerry says. “He didn’t make any judgments. He just listened. When I was done, he told me that in his experience I was one of the best missionaries he’d even known and that it would be a shame for me not to attend college.”

The talk worked. Jerry enrolled at Weber State in Ogden, although he had to take refresher courses before enrolling in for-credit classes. He worked through his educational problems and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Weber State and finished with a 3.2 GPA. He then went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Utah  with a 3.7 GPA.

“The (social work) licensing board allowed me to take the exam orally and I received my license,” Jerry says.

His approach to helping youth, however, is considered unorthodox by others in his field. He built a facility in the Provo Riverbottoms that is based on relationships and trust. There are no bars on the windows, even though tighter security could help chronic runaways.

“There’s something about relationships that can help people through hard times,” Jerry says. “But the person has to open up.”

And students are opening up and getting help. When Jerry opened the school in 1984 he had three students, all girls. Now his facility is at 95 percent capacity — right where they like to keep it — and serves about 165 students at any given time. Classes run all year, and the atmosphere on the 20-acre campus reflects Jerry’s philosophy. The school campus has a residential feel, complete with a church where students of all faiths worship. The facility employs about 150 people and is achieving its goals.

“We find that when we figure out how to reach students, about 80 percent of them will make the Honor Roll,” Jerry says. “It helps that they’re in class everyday and don’t have traditional expectations. The individualized approach for each student certainly helps.”

And it helps Jerry to come to work everyday because he sees the good that is happening, although he knows he can’t take the credit for all of the success stories.

“It’s amazing to see what’s developed,” Jerry says. “I can’t take credit for it. The staff has bought into the relationship model and it’s working.”

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Because all feet were meant for dancing: JaLeah & Janalyn Homan, Highland

Janalyn and JaLeah Holman, sisters from Highland, run a tight ship. They team-teach 30 dancers and demand each one does his or her best. The dancers wear costumes, get their hair done and learn the dance steps. But most important, they all wear smiles.

The Holman sisters teach a PALS dance group made up of dancers with Down syndrome. But despite the limitations the dancers face, whether real or imagined, Janalyn and JaLeah ask a lot.

“We demand that they wear their costumes correctly and that their hair is done,” Janalyn says. “We have costume changes, and our dances are more than just hand movements to music.”

In fact, the sisters teach every interested dancer a solo that can be performed at a moments notice.

Janalyn and JaLeah both have experience with dance and music. JaLeah is the more skilled dancer of the two, and Janalyn is the musician, currently working toward a master’s degree in piano performance from the University of Utah.

But their real qualifications and motivation for leading the group come from their experience with two siblings with Down syndrome. Their brother Jarron and sister Jazzy are both in PALS, making the group a Holman family affair.

Seeing their two siblings have a social outlet and a chance for exercise is rewarding for JaLeah and Janalyn.

“Parents appreciate the exercise,” Janalyn says. “We make them do sit-ups and push-ups and give each one of them a DVD that allows them to work on things at home.”

PALS gives the dancers some goals to work toward. And the hard work is paying off.

At the end of July, the group will be performing in Anaheim, Calif., at the National Down Syndrome Congress Convention and then as part of Magic Music Days at Disneyland. The group is also a regular performer at Especially for Youth on the BYU campus and has even performed before a Utah Jazz basketball game.

“I look forward to teaching PALS so much more than anything else,” Janalyn says. “They’ve got a special ability to love and be loved.”

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Because everyone needs help when they’re starting out: Joan Dixon & Ingrid Guzman, Provo

Joan Dixon and Ingrid Guzman consider themselves facilitators more than philanthropists. They each work closely with the Hispanic community in Utah Valley by encouraging different existing groups to work together and by educating the Hispanic community about the services available to them.

“What we’re finding is people are looking for ways to connect to the Hispanic population,” Joan says.

Five years ago, Joan started the Timpanogos Community Network, which is a collection of organizations looking to reach the Hispanic community in the valley. The network operates with e-mail communication and a Wednesday morning meeting at which representatives from various organizations meet to discuss ways they can help the community.

Joan started her quest for helping the Spanish-speaking community while working at BYU. She has her doctorate in international development education and works in the Center for Economic Self-Reliance in the Marriott School. As part of that role, she began to look for ways to assist low-income families in Provo.

Through that process, Joan saw the need for assistance to immigrant families and started pooling resources and holding meetings, eventually forming the Timpanogos Community Network.

Ingrid’s background and perspective are a little different. She came to Utah as an immigrant from Guatemala.

“Ingrid is great because she offers the perspective of a woman who is finding things for her own family, but also someone who has access to government agencies,” Joan says.

The two complement each other well, with Joan doing much of the administrative duties and behind-the-scenes coordination and Ingrid being the face to the community.

“I love teaching the Hispanic community about how to live here,” says Ingrid. “They love to learn the customs and laws. They want to do things the right way.”

Ingrid works at Provo’s Centro Hispano, which is a meeting place for the Spanish-speaking community that is designed to help with any type of crisis, to help individuals learn the customs and laws of the United States, and to work with other organizations.

Ingrid and Joan are on the front lines of the battle to help Hispanics in Utah County.

 

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