Despite Pandemic, Burroughs VMA Makes Its Production Sing

“The way things used to be.”

“Back in the day.”

“The good ol’ days.”

Throughout our lives we have become accustomed to hearing those phrases uttered by our parents, grandparents and anyone else who has lived long enough to recall a time when things — for better or worse — were different.
Today, those phrases are as prevalent as ever, though they are now uttered by young people as often as they are by those who have more days behind them than in front of them.
Just last year at this time, teenagers were going to school and participating in all of the traditional extracurricular activities. That came to a sudden halt this past March, when schools shuttered their campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By the time the pandemic hit we had completed our big shows, and as we got to the end of the year we weren’t really sure what would be happening when the new school year began,” said Brendan Jennings, who heads up the music program at John Burroughs High School. “So when school began this year, realizing things would be very different, we had to figure out how we would move forward. We had to especially figure out how we would handle our live performances, which the students love, have been extremely popular with audiences and have served as a vital method of fundraising for our program.”

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Even in Celebrating Honorees, FSA Displays Its Vision

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Michael Albanese, Anthony Portantino, Justin Hess and Laurie Bleick gather during the recent presentations of the Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award.

For the past 67 years, Family Service Agency of Burbank has cultivated and celebrated relationships with officials in the city and the surrounding area, just as it has with those who have been in need of its counseling and mental health services.
Those relationships were honored as the agency presented the Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award to state Sen. Anthony Portantino and City Manager Justin Hess at the recent 2020 “Imagine a City” fundraiser.
This annual event usually lures more than 300 supporters to gather for a gala evening of silent auction bidding, a sunset cocktail reception, dinner and live music. Though that wasn’t an option this year, the organization did break ground in staging Burbank’s first socially distanced fundraiser since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown began.
Former City Manager Mary Alvord, who served as the co-chair of the event along with Terry Stein, said the FSA Board of Directors gave a lot of thought to figuring out a way to make the evening possible.
“We did the same thing the agency has been doing to serve their clients since the pandemic began,” said Alvord. “We put our heads together and came up with a way to reinvent this event, which serves as our major fundraiser, and still abide by all health and safety protocols.”
This year’s awards ceremony was staged against a backdrop known as the “Field of Hope,” which included hundreds of cutouts representing everyone who purchased a ticket. The event was held at the Olive Ball Fields, where attendees parked in the field’s parking lot and remained in their cars for the presentation of awards while eating a ballpark-inspired box dinner.
Guests were welcomed by Laurie Bleick, the agency’s executive director, and board Chairman Michael Albanese, and the highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Vision Award to Hess and Portantino.
“These two men mean a lot to us at FSA,” Bleick told the drive-up assemblage. “They have inspired me with hope, taken the time to learn what we do, and embody the vision and spirit of Mary Alice O’Connor.”
The Vision Award is given annually to honor the memory, work and spirit of O’Connor, a longtime dedicated community volunteer and founding board member of the agency, who died in 2010.
Serving as the evening’s master of ceremonies, Albanese praised the two honorees for doing “hard work and heavy lifting” in making Burbank a better place.
“They both have a heart to serve, a passion for the work that FSA does, and for people of this community who find themselves in crisis,” said Albanese.
While presenting Portantino with the award, Bleick lauded him for the bravery he has shown in candidly sharing the issues of mental health that have touched his own family by the death of his brother Michael, who took his own life in 2010.
Accepting the award, Portantino in turn praised Bleick and FSA.
“I fell in love with Laurie the first time I met her,” said Portantino. “Along with the dedicated work of her staff, she does so much to help individuals and families and to bring the stigma of mental illness out of the shadows through open and honest conversation.”
Emotionally referencing his late brother, Portantino said that since his death many people have shared similar stories with him of mental illness and suicide within their families.
“When people share their stories with me, we immediately become like members of a family that no one ever wants to be a part of,” said Portantino. “But it is by sharing our personal grief and stories and hope that we can be of invaluable help to one another, just like FSA is to the community at large.”
Hess, who was presented with his award by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff during a pre-event ceremony two weeks ago at City Hall, said he was honored to receive an award that over the years has been given to so many men and women who have played an instrumental role in providing vital care, assistance and help to so many Burbankers.
“While I’m honored to accept this award, I feel it is really FSA that is to be honored,” said Hess. “They have a spirit and soul that is outstanding. They are the ones that carry out their mission and help everyone — rich, poor, you name it. Mental health issues are so much more prevalent than people realize, and I greatly appreciate what FSA does on a daily basis for those in our community who need their help.”
Among the dignitaries and special guests who came out to honor Portantino and Hess were Burbank Mayor Sharon Springer, Vice Mayor Bob Frutos, City Council members Jess Talamantes and Tim Murphy, and former Mayor Marsha Ramos.
The mission of FSA is to offer quality mental health counseling, care, education and advocacy at low or no cost. The agency has dramatically changed and saved the lives of local individuals, couples and families as well as active and veteran members of the armed forces by providing housing, crisis intervention, legal guidance, safety in the face of domestic violence and hope for those in the grips of mental illness and substance addiction.
For more information about Family Service Agency of Burbank or to make a financial donation, call (818) 845-7671 or visit familyserviceagencyofburbank.org.

David Laurell may be reached at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

Rotarians Give Students a Glimpse of the Old Normal

Photo by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Local Rotarians Albert Hernandez, Barry Gussow and Kelli Lowers worked to bring a little normalcy to the students of Washington Elementary School.

People of all ages dressing as ghouls, goblins, witches or popular-culture characters for Halloween.
That’s a normal late October occurrence.
Teachers personally interacting with their students.
That’s a normal school-day occurrence.
Children losing themselves within the stories and pictures of a new book.
That’s a normal childhood occurrence.
Sadly, these are not normal times.
“We’re living in a time when normalcy is in short supply,” said Albert Hernandez of the Burbank Noon Rotary Club. “Because of that, we wanted to do something to bring about a sense of normalcy — to give kids the chance to dress up for Halloween, get to see their teachers or, in some cases, to actually meet them for the first time, and be given an age-appropriate book they can enjoy.”

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Soup Line of a Different Kind — a Fundraiser

Although a soup line is traditionally for those in need, this past Sunday the tables were turned as those who lined up in their cars for a bowl of soup at Burbank’s UMe Credit Union were those fulfilling a need.
The soup-securing succession was staged in lieu of Family Promise of the Verdugo’s annual Empty Bowl event in which supporters of the nonprofit agency select a hand-crafted artisan ceramic bowl and local restaurants team-up to provide a signature soup for a sit-down luncheon.
Close to 200 supporters of the organization, which provides assistance, safe shelter and meals to homeless children and their families, pulled into UMe’s parking lot to receive a take-away container of Guy Fieri’s Kitchen and Bar Express’ chili or tortilla soup. This arrangement was made possible by Steve Mora, president of Metropolitan Culinary Services, who serves as the prime food and beverage provider at Hollywood Burbank Airport.

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Advice for Future Mayors From Those Who’ve Done the Job

In the east wing of Burbank City Hall, just off the rotunda, you’ll find a portrait gallery. The gallery isn’t exactly a big draw for tourists visiting Southern California. In fact, it’s probably fair to assume that most Burbankers don’t even know it exists.
If you are ever in City Hall, you may want to check out the gallery, which will give you a gander at the official portraits of the 62 men and women who have served as the city’s mayor.

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Hess Lauded by Agency Imagining an Ever Better City

Photo by David Laurell
Burbank City Manager Justin Hess is FSA’s 2020 Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award honoree.

It would typically not be a good sign if Burbank City Manager Justin Hess’ secretary Joyce Thompson interrupted his midday business to say he was immediately needed in front of City Hall. It would cause even further concern if, instead of being led through the most direct path via the front doors, he was taken around the corner to approach the front of the building from the side.
That scenario is exactly what took place this past Monday morning.
If Hess’ anxiety level was a bit high as he turned from Third Street onto Olive Avenue, it dropped precipitously when he saw Congressman Adam Schiff, the full complement of the City Council, members of the city’s executive staff and representatives of the Family Service Agency of Burbank welcoming him with applause.

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Kiwanis Looks to Draw Its Next Generation Into Service

Photos by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Newly sworn-in Kiwanis Club of Burbank President Kelly Peña (center) with First Vice President Douglas Chadwick (left) and Second Vice President Bryan Snodgrass at last week’s reorganization ceremony, which fellow club members saw via Zoom.

This past week, for the 99th time, members and supporters of the Kiwanis Club of Burbank gathered to swear in the organization’s new president and board of directors.
While the event included all of the traditional components of a Kiwanian reorganization, it was also very different from the previous 98 ceremonies. Instead of a gathering at a local restaurant or event facility, the service club’s 2020-21 reorganization was physically attended only by the group’s board members, who wore masks and maintained a social distance while convening at the Magnolia Park home of incoming President Kelly Peña.
As preparations were finalized by the evening’s hostess, Charissa Wheeler, to “go live” via Zoom and bring in a screen-ful of fellow Kiwanians and local dignitaries, Peña shared some insight on what the organization will look like under her leadership.
“My theme will be ‘Creating the Leaders of Today and Tomorrow,’ and we will be making that happen by what I am calling the ‘Three M’s’ — membership, marketing and mentoring,” Peña revealed.

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Advice on Happiness Was Just What the Doctor Ordered

Jarvey Gilbert

With the presidential race overshadowing just about anything going on in “down-ballotville,” it is important for Burbankers to be aware that as Election Day draws nigh, our city is about to embark on a historic one.
In 2018 voters passed Measure V, which eliminated the city’s primary election and moved the general election from April to November to coincide with statewide and national elections. That means this fall will be the first time in the city’s history that Burbankers will elect their municipal representatives on Nov. 3.
As the Burbank City Council race heats up, I have been reflecting on the many people I have known who have served as the mayor of our city over the years. As I thought about them, one thing became painfully clear: I am old!

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It Takes a Village to Make This Imaginative ‘Zoo’

In pre-pandemic Burbank, residents would have to make their way over to Los Angeles’ Griffith Park to visit a zoo. And going to an aquarium would have entailed a trek to Long Beach.
Today, things are different. Now, thanks to Wendy and London Ruff, Burbank has its own community zoo and aquarium, located right smack in the middle of the city’s Rancho neighborhood. Gathering inhabitants from the plains of the Serengeti to the world’s great oceans and tropical reefs the Ruffs have rivaled Noah in bringing together a magnificent menagerie of critters — or rather, fanciful images of them.
Though the goal of the creature collector of Genesis was to fill an ark, the Ruffs’ has been to fill their front yard with art that represents all manner of animal and aquatic life.
“This all started after my daughter London returned home from Washington, D.C.,” said Wendy Ruff. “She had been doing a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, and when they closed she came back to Burbank.”

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Nonprofit BTAC, Which Assists Many, Receives Help in Return

Photos by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
Sunrise Rotary Club President Kelli Lowers and Noon Rotary Club President Barry Gussow teamed up to stage last week’s drive-thru food drive for BTAC.

A man who served his country and worked his entire adult life to provide for his family.
A single mother whose job in the food service industry gave her the income to afford a small apartment, food, other living expenses and an occasional treat for herself and her two children.
A young man, just a year out of college, using his degree to begin what he hopes will be a high-paying career in post-production.
Not one of those people — like countless others with similar stories — ever thought they would be in need of the services of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center. Yet today, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployed, financially challenged, hungry and homeless are no longer just those on the fringes of society. They are our friends, former co-workers and neighbors. They are our fellow Burbankers.

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