Friday, December 30, 2011

The Last Few Weeks of the Year

It's been a while since I posted, but it's been Busy Times for Topanga Women's Circle and that's a good thing...right?  Could you say YES a little louder please because Karen and I need the encouragement!

Because it's a busy time for all of us, I'm going to keep this brief and picture heavy and set out like a timeline.

December 2:  Karen spoke to the kids at Topanga Elementary about just what it is we do at Christmas for the families we serve and helped kick off their toy drive for TWC.  Later that morning I got an email from Destiny London, a parent at the school, and she basically said 'Sign Me Up!'  Welcome new member, Destiny, and thanks for all your help so far.

December 4:  Ivy Mabius donated a super crib.  As always, timing is everything and we had just been contacted about a family at Westwood with a year old baby who needed a crib.  Thank you Ivy for the crib and the many other items you had for us!

December 5:  Sent out an email about a little boy at Bessie Pregerson who had hardly any suitable clothes who was often wearing his sister's things.  Asked for donations from our group and you responded SO generously.  Thank you to all who donated beautiful new and gently used clothing for Joshua.  You are truly angels.

December 6 and all week:  Starting hearing mumblings from Lissette at Westwood Transitional Village about new families...not a few family, but FAMILIES.  They wanted to move them in before Christmas.  Three of them.  Emails started flying, and power shopping ensued.  And not the Christmas kind.

December 9:  Linda heads down to the Bin for a pleasant Friday morning with Toni Colvig.  Lots of folks stop by which is great but yikes...we need to pull items for next weeks set-ups.  No idea where to put everything.  Then Mary Morley stopped by and stayed...for several hours!  She helped me pull items for the Monday set-up and I was never so happy to get help in my life.  A real lifesaver!  Thank you, Mary!

That evening was the Topanga Chamber of Commerce Christmas party at Bruce and Teresa's beautiful Tuscali Mountain Inn where TWC was honored with other non-profits for our work.  We are humbled by the recognition.

December 12:  Set-up, Westwood. POURING down rain.  Meet at Pine Tree Circle with new volunteer Destiny London, Nancy Hanson and Teresa Royer.  Karen was there as well to hand some items over and organize for tomorrow's set-up. Cars packed, we headed to Westwood, all of us dripping wet!  Had to make a couple of trips to Ross because sheet sets (packaged and labeled and brand new) were FLIPPIN' INCOMPLETE!  I won't share what I said.

December 13:  Set-Up, Westwood. Sunshiny day.  YAY!  Karen and I were joined by Isabel Freeman and Linda Mann and all went smoothly with those two experienced setter-uppers.  All went well except Karen and I had to put that crib together...with no directions.  We're both pretty handy but but this was challenging...VERY!

December 15:  SET-UPS, Venice.  Was it three or four?  Time dulls one's memory.  Karen and new volunteer Julie Rosendo went with cars loaded.  Without going into detail as it causes a spike in blood pressure, suffice it to say NOTHING was ready for them. The place was a mess.  Beds were not even there.  So they placed all the items for each family in neat little piles. This was a first set-up for Julie.  Now we need to let her know they're not all like that!

December 16:  Went to Topanga Elementary to pick up donated toys.  What a terrific group of kids.  My trunk was filled to the brim and there were many happy children at Venice Community Housing this Christmas because of the generosity of Topanga students.  Thanks to all the teachers, parent coordinators and fourth graders for their ongoing support of Topanga Women's Circle.

December 16.  Believe it or not, another Set-up at Westwood:  Karen, April and Mary did this one and we're happy to say, we have no more until the first week of January. We're awaiting the phone call and will let you know when we get it!

December 17.  Gift wrapping at Linda's.  Volunteers drifted in and out all day and we all worked like demons.  A friend of mine from Malibu and her high school daughter came for four hours and were an enormous help.  By 3:30 or so, Karen and I needed to stop.  After an 8:30 start, our backs and brains were finished, though we weren't quite finished wrapping

Lis Dupuy brought over a car full of personal products that the girls and teachers at Louisville collected for us.  It will stand us in good stead for months! It's such a luxury to be able to go to our storage bin and have shampoos, deodorants, toothpaste and brushes, etc ready for our families.

December 18.  Day of Rest.

December 19.  Karen and Paulette (and Angel) came over and we finished up the wrapping.  We had gifts for the last two children to go and we did it. What a good feeling. We then hauled everything down to the basement awaiting delivery later in the week.

December 21.  Load cars.

December 22.  We met up with Teresa Royer's group of elves who had a fund raising drive and purchased all of the gifts for the children at Bessie Pregerson at Westwood plus gifts for their siblings and gift cards for their parents.  What an amazingly generous contribution this was and it really made it easier for all of us to breathe this Christmas.  It's not too early to start thinking of who can help us next year with this toy drive for the 80 +/- children at this fabulous Child Development Center which serves some of the neediest children in our City.  After this, we headed over to Venice Community Housing's Transitional Living Center and dropped off the 12 big felt stockings (pictures below) which we'd filled with the absolutely terrific gifts donated by TWC volunteers and the children at Topanga Elementary. Because of your generosity, Christmas was a lot brighter for these children.

And finally, Karen met a young woman outside Trader Joe's one day last year.  She teaches at the Cindy and Bill Simon Technology Academy High School in Watts and she she had a non-perishable food drive for TWC.  Yes, kids from Watts gave all the food you see below to TWC. The picture doesn't do justice to the extraordinary amount these students brought in to share with others.  How amazing is that!?  I'd love to see some of our area private and public high schools do something like this so if any of you have high school students here's an idea you could suggest to them.  They could organize a non-perishable food drive at their school, collect the donations and deliver them to us.  It would be a terrific way for them to earn community service hours and gain a terrific feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.

All of these non-perishable foods are from the kids at Simon Tech!  AMAZING!

And finally, here are some set-up photos from December!

Hi April!

And finally...look at these beautiful gift bags for the kids at Venice!

And finally, Happy New Year to All of You.  
Karen and I thank you for all you do for the families at Westwood and Venice.  
Without you, TWC would be nothing.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Another Face of Homelessness

This Thanksgiving, most of us probably reflected on how very fortunate we are. This morning while skimming through The Huffington Post, I came across an article about Carey Fuller, a mother of two who regularly blogs about her experience  of living with her children in a van.

The article is well worth a read, as is her blog which is linked in the above piece.  After reading about Carey and much of her blog, I found myself reflecting more than usual on just how lucky I am.  I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with the love of family, a warm and comfortable home and happiness and joy.

So for the year a head, let's all make a pledge to continue helping moms like Carey Fuller with the same enthusiasm and commitment that we have in this past year, remembering that for every face of homelessness we see, there are countless more who need help.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November Meeting 11/17/11

A lively meeting was held last Thursday evening at my home and while many regulars were unable to attend due to travel and seasonal illness, etc., we still had a good turn-out with 16 TWC members. Krista Stilley, the Director of Westwood Transitional Village, was our guest speaker and attendees included: Patty Colvig, Catherine Grasso, Teresa Rosati-Royer, Linda Mann, Janaki Welch, Ildy Lewis, Linda Handler, Paulette Rapp, Deborah Kashinsky, Geraldine Flaxman, April Hinkle and her guest Talia, Liz Dupuy, Mary Morley, Karen Sherwood and me.

As usual there were lots of yummy dishes and great chatter before our meeting started.  Krista spent a lot of time over dinner and drinks just chatting with TWC members and it was obvious she had lots of information to share with us all.

Janaki took notes.

After dinner our first speaker was Patti Colvig who has been actively involved with Jane Donaldson and Deborah Demontreux in brainstorming sewing kit ideas.  This includes a sewing/repair kit to be given to each household that we set up as well as a potential fundraising idea of selling kits, for  example, for kids going away to college.  They also instituted a button drive at Topanga Elementary which yielded a pretty big haul, especially from TWC member Linda Handler's kindergarten class!  Ideas were discussed about how to package these kits and if any of you can think of good, practical and affordable ideas, please drop Patti a line at  Gabriel thought it would be good to go with Patti when asking for donations. April Hinkle volunteered to help Patti with this project with regard to asking various organizations for donations so I look forward to an update from them at the next meeting.  Patti already has a donation of $400 so she's well on her way.  Linda Handler mentioned that as a teacher she gets a 15% discount at Michael's which is good to know.  Thank you Patti!

 Patti Colvig presenting a variety of great ideas on her sewing project

Possible inclusions in the sewing project

Several months ago, Karen and I invited Krista Stilley the director at Westwood Transitional Village, to attend one of our meetings and she accepted with great enthusiasm.  We also thought we should share with her our operation controls center and office, aka the 'Bin' which Karen did before leading her up the hill to my house.  During dinner, Krista had chatted with many members and when she spoke, she shared with all of us the basic structure at Westwood, intake procedures for the families and enrichment programs for the residents and their children. 

She also spoke with great fondness of the Bessie Pregerson Child Development Center (preschool) and the success of that program.  Krista then shared with us her career path from coming to Los Angeles to try her hand at acting to working with homeless kids and acting programs in Hollywood and then transitioning into working with the Salvation Army and finally her promotion to being the Director at Westwood Transitional Village.  She shared with us that because of Federal funding, there can be no discrimination in housing and that they accept traditional married couples, two moms, two dads, single moms or unmarried couples with children.

Ten of the units at Westwood Transitional Village, or fully one-quarter of the apartments, are reserved for Veterans and their families.  As Catherine Grasso said, this is very important to many of our donors and is something that we should be sure to share with our member base.  She also requested that we share with members when a veteran family is being moved in.  Krista then briefly spoke about the fact that national transitional housing programs are in a state of flux and that the country is watching the programs that remain in place in Los Angeles.

And finally, Krista presented a beautiful plaque  to Topanga Women's Circle thanking us for all we do at 'The Village.'  We will bring it to the next meeting so you all can see it but the inscription says:  "The Salvation Army Westwood Transitional Village Expresses Its Sincere Appreciation to The Topanga Women's Circle.  Their work to provide warm homes for the Homeless Families and Children at the Village is life changing.'  We are humbled and honored by their appreciation.

Every speaker had a rapt audience

Teresa then talked a bit about her group, PSI Seminars, and their commitment to the Xmas gift giving initiative for the children (and their siblings) at Bessie Pregerson.  What a generous things for them to do.  Our gift gathering and Christmas wrapping party will be a LOT easier this year since they are handling the collection, wrapping and delivering of these 80 odd presents!  Thank you Teresa...VERY much.  She also shared Rita Street's donation to TWC of toys from a prior business, Prancing Ponies.  This is a terrific gift to TWC and we're most appreciative. 

These are some thank yous that Krista shared with us.  So sweet and so appreciated.

 A big thank you from the little ones at Bessie Pregerson CDC at Westwood

A thank you note from a family we helped at Westwood

And finally, we will be getting the list of children at Venice Community Housing and their Christmas wish list within the next few days and TWC is committed to creating a nice holiday for these kids.  In the past, TWC member Kelly Radinsky through her children's gift giving program at Mariposa School, collected the most beautiful gifts for us to share with the children at Venice.  She isn't handling the program this year, so we are asking each of our volunteers to contribute a nice Christmas gift so that we will still be able to put together something nice for these very needy kids.  We will be getting the list out to you of the (age, size and gender) and are asking that you will respond by choosing a child and a gift off the suggested list.  In the past, as most of you will recollect, we filled a giant Xmas stocking with gifts for each of them.  Let's hope that even if we can't do as much this year, it still will be something to thrill them.

A reminder of gift collecting, wrapping and giving last year!

Clicking on all photos brings them up to a bigger size.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Last Couple of Weeks

While Karen and I were away, Isabel organized the two set-ups at Westwood and did an admirable job.  She was flexible and unflappable and didn’t bat an eyelash when told the set-up organized for Friday had been moved to the following Tuesday. 

Their first set-up went quickly and smoothly and the unit, a ground floor on the freeway side, had all new furniture.  All was there and ready for the new family except the mattress which didn’t arrive in time for Isabel and Geraldine to make it look pretty.  Still, the family was, I’m sure, delighted with the new bed linens and pillows.

Geraldine did a great job in the kitchen and brought additional food and both she and Isabel brought fresh fruit so the cupboards were filled and the fruit bowl overflowing.  I’m sure it looked great. 

The second set-up that Isabel handled was postponed a few days, finally happening on a Tuesday, and thankfully she was able to handle the change in dates and, with the able help of Ildy, they created a nice home environment for the Franklin family who had moved in the day before.  Isabel reported that they had very little in the way of household supplies and so all that they did was greatly appreciated.   

Nefertari Franklin was in school, but Mrs. Franklin was at home as she was ill.  She was expecting TWC, though, and extremely happy and appreciative.  She loved everything that was provided and knew her daughter would really like the clothes and stuffed animals.  No photos, but a happy outcome! 

Ildy contributed fruit, rice, a couple of pillows and some shampoo…very needed items which we’ll use for further set-ups.

They were short a mattress pad for this set-up so Karen and I dropped one off later in the week.  Mrs. Franklin was so appreciative of everything Ildy and Isabel had done and was still glowing with happiness.

This past Friday Karen, Nancy Hanson and I headed over to Westwood for two small set-ups. Each had just one-bedroom with a trundle bed and we were able to do both within a couple of hours.

The first one was for Feydra Caldwell and her little one-year old son, Saedyn.  Unfortunately, her brand new furniture hadn’t yet arrived, but we managed to fix up the kitchen and bathroom and ‘pose’ the toys for little Saedyn.

Then we wandered next door to Oleisha Sanford’s one bedroom unit for her and her three-year old son, Marshawn.  We’ve got a few pictures of that set-up which went quickly and easily. 

Today when Karen and Mary went over to Westwood to drop off some items for an emergency move-in (that story follows), she saw Oleisha who came up to Karen and told her how very appreciative she was of everything we gave her.  She found it hard to express just how happy little Marshawn was with the little train we gave him.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you” was all she could say!

There also was an emergency move-in on Friday which Karen and Mary organized earlier today and then went over this afternoon so the family could get settled in.  Everyone was home and the father and his brother-in-law carried everything up to the apartment on the second floor which was very helpful.  They were so very appreciative and their little girl was over the moon with the stuffed animals we gave her. There was some confusion and the family was expecting TWC on Monday, so it was just good luck that they were home.  But it all turned out well; just not as tidy as we usually like it!

Still, none of that matters when you have a family that were as filled with gratitude as they were today.  They kept thanking Mary and Karen and shaking their hands.  Mom Wendy Moon said, “It feels like Christmas has come early!”  The three-year old little girl, Kassidy, took the stuffed bunny handed her and giggled and hugged it in absolutely delight.  Hard not to feel good about what we do when you see a reaction like this.  And all the while Baby Kaspian slept on in his pac-n-play in the middle of the living room!

So, it’s been a busy few weeks and who knows what the future holds!

Mary Morley (and her darling granddaughters) and Linda Mann (and her husband!) handled Friday's 'Open Bin' and when Karen and I got back to Pine Tree Circle after the set-up Mary and the girls were just finishing up.  Great job ladies!

Hope you all can make it to our meeting on November 17 at 7 PM.  Pictures follow from the set-ups.

 Ready to make some spaghetti for dinner.  Cookbooks to the left!

 No furniture yet but toys at the ready!

 All the bedding in front of the mattress.  The frame hadn't yet arrived.

 Bathroom ready.  Pretty shower curtain.

 Love the green and pink theme.

 Mom on top and little one's trundle bed underneath.

 A welcome note for the Mom and a sweet little Thanksgiving card made by a Topanga child (we think).  These were in the storage unit when we returned from our holidays.  Really sweet cards.

 The new living room furniture.  It's a lighter colored wood which feels fresher.

Mary's grandchildren busy helping at the Bin on Friday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The latest

I'm in Eastbourne, E. Sussex, England at the Starbucks closest to my Mother's house...the place where I can actually use wireless and get on my computer.  I can do slowmo stuff at my Mum's but not with my computer.  It takes patience.  This just takes speed as I need to type quickly enough so I can finish before my battery says no more.

This is just a quickish update on the latest.  Firstly, I hope you all noticed the new TWC handout which was in the Topanga Chamber of Commerce publication which was recently sent to all households in Topanga.  Bruce Royer, Chamber president and husband of TWC member Teresa, kindly offered this free opportunity for TWC to get our message out to the whole community.   There was only one problem:  we didn't have anything to send.  He then suggested that Jennifer Babcock could most likely design something for us that was catchy and would fit inside the Chamber publication which she did... quickly and for a great price since we're a non-profit. The caliber of her work, quick turn-around and good communication skills were terrific and Karen and I can heartily recommend her to all of you if you have any publication needs.  She's terrific!  So, we had 4,000 (give or take a few hundred) printed and you'll see some pictures below that show you just what we had to do to get them out...i.e., stuffing in the Chamber mailer.  It was, um, fun. We also have enough to share with those interested in TWC.

Lisa handled the bin this past Friday and I haven't heard from her yet, but gather that she was putting away all the stuff I left for her in the center aisle of the bin!  Thanks Lisa.

The Friday before Mary Morley helped April and her twin sis Ashley with their first bin duty.  They were busy and accomplished a lot.  Thanks, ladies.  Nancy Hanson, our coordinator, will be sending out updates for this coming Friday.  

We've got an upcoming set-up on November 1st which Isabel Freeman will coordinate.  I would appreciate it, though, if anyone who is available to help on that date contact Isabel Freeman at  Thank you.

And finally, before the pictures, I want to encourage all of you to attend our next meeting at my house on Thursday, November 17, 7 PM.  Krista Stilley, the director of Westwood Transitional Village will join us.  She's a terrific young woman, dynamic and always upbeat and I'd like for her to meet as many of you as possible.

And now photos of the 'stuffing party.'  Geraldine, April, Deborah, Nancy, Teresa and I worked hard that first night and almost finished.  Paulette joined Teresa and I a few days later and we made pretty short work of it after we decided to abandon the sticky dots...which proved to be not quite as sticky as we'd originally hoped.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Today's Set-Up, Tuesday October 11

The weather gods were smiling on us today as it wasn't overly hot and we dodged the 100 degree temps forecast for tomorrow and Thursday.  Yay!

Mary had helped me pull items on Sunday so today it was just a matter of showing up at the bin and loading our cars.  Teresa Rosati-Royer, Catherine McClenahan, Mary Morley and I headed over to Westwood around 9:30 AM with our cars packed with [almost] everything we need.

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhh...I'd somehow not picked up the big blue Ikea bag that had the pots and pans and cutlery in it and had to run down to Ross to grab those items.  Of course when I popped into the Bin after the set-up, the big blue Ikea bag     was sitting right where I'd left it...oh well.  (confession: my language in the car on the way to Ross was as blue as that bag!).  But, while there, I did find some good deals on single bed sheet sets. 

Teresa, Mary and Catherine are seasoned setter-uppers and everything was done and dusted in an hour and a half and here are a few pictures that give you a better idea of how it turned out.  I love the way TWC can make each unit look just that little bit different, thanks in great part to your super donations.  No doubt you'll recognize something of yours in the pictures. Click on them to enlarge.

Cook books, a cute little container with napkins and some measuring spoons.  
The cookbooks are a great addition to each set-up, but I still haven't given up 
on the idea of TWC creating one for the families we serve.  
[Gentle hint:  if you haven't done so yet, please send family favorite recipes 
with accurate instructions, measurements, cooking times, etc., 
as well as a one or two sentence little intro to each recipe.

 Fresh fruit on the dining room table and a welcome note to Lorena and her boys,
Michael and Matthew. 
Teresa bought the fruit and I think it makes a real impact when you walk into the flat.

Living room with a small rug but it still helps the place feel warmer.  
Mary found the cushions when she stopped by an estate sale on Sunday
and they looked great.

A chair made a little more welcoming with a cushion.

This is in the living room.  I'm sure Matthew and Michael, aged 4 and 6, 
will be thrilled when they walk through the front door.

Doesn't this look welcoming? The other little boy's bed looked just as cozy...
each with their own big teddy and other stuffed animals.

Another Cutie from a Topanga Elementary School 
Fourth Grader.  I just love these notes.

Their chest of drawers.  Look at the really darling clock in the background.
Catherine brought that with her this morning.

 It's a handicapped bathroom and extra big. Unfortunately, there were no towel rails
so here's a shot of the shower curtain.  Exciting, I know.

Another shot of the bathroom.  The colors all worked really well together.  
Not that you can tell from this bad photo!

Lorena's bedroom.  I can't remember who gave us this quilt, 
but I think it looks terrific in her room. I'm sure she'll love it.

Mom's chest of drawers.  We had a pack of greeting cards but Mary found 
a better use for them.  She slipped a card into each picture frame and I think they look great.

Hopefully this young Mom and her two little boys will find some 
peace and happiness in their new home. 

Don't forget the Open Bin this coming Friday.  April and her twin Ashley will be there, along with Mary Morley.  If you can remember to stop by with any non-perishables, that would be terrific.