Book Drive Honoring ‘Evie’ Benefits Young Patients

Photos courtesy Meredith Swierczynski
An annual book drive is being held in memory of Evelyn “Evie” Swierczynski, a Burbank High School student who died of leukemia in 2018. Reading, which was one of her joys, became especially important when she was a patient at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, whose Literally Healing program provided her with books while she underwent treatment.

Evelyn “Evie” Swierczynski loved to read.
Wendy Vargas, assistant principal at John Muir Middle School, where Evie attended 8th grade, said she always had a book in her hand. Her mother, Meredith, said she often had a stack of tomes nearby.
Evie still loved books when she was at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, having been diagnosed with leukemia just after finishing her freshman year at Burbank High School, where she was in the theater program, in 2018. Even when the chemotherapy made concentrating on reading hard, Meredith Swierczynski said, she and the rest of the family appreciated having them.
Staff members and volunteers with the hospital’s Child Life program would bring Evie DVDs, games and crafts, while the CHLA Literally Healing program provided a new book every day. The latter was a particularly encouraging initiative, Swierczynski said in a phone interview. When Evie was in treatment and couldn’t leave her room on some days, a volunteer could come in wearing a gown and gloves and offer her a book.

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Nursing Home Combats New COVID-19 Outbreak

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader
By Wednesday, a COVID-19 outbreak at the Burbank Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center had infected 54 residents and killed eight, according to Los Angeles County officials. A previous outbreak at the same facility brings the total to more than double those numbers.

On Oct. 12, the Burbank Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center popped up on the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health coronavirus dashboard — an outbreak had been reported.
It started with a handful of cases: four workers, two residents. But, as has been seen at nursing homes across the country, the virus, whose symptoms can sometimes be undetected for weeks, spread quickly.
By Wednesday, Nov. 4, 19 staff members and 54 residents had tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility, according to the county department. Eight people had died. Elizabeth Tyler, a media contact for the Burbank center, said that by Thursday, that number was 10 — all residents.

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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.

Plenty of Clarity in Voting on Legislators, Ballot Measures

Though the outcome of the presidential election remained unclear as ballots in battleground states continued to be counted on Friday morning, results of most legislative races and ballot measure campaigns in California left little doubt about who or what were the winners.
As of Thursday evening, incumbent state Sen. Anthony Portantino had a firm lead over Kathleen Hazelton — 236,728 votes to 122,979 — and will continue representing District 25, which includes Burbank.
Laura Friedman defeated Mike Graves to continue serving the people of the 43rd Assembly District, receiving nearly 71% of the votes cast.
Adam Schiff will also be reelected as the U.S. representative for the 28th District with 73.58% of the votes in a race against Eric Early.

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Anthony, Schultz Take Early Lead in Burbank City Council Election

With millions of votes counted in Los Angeles County, some local candidates have appeared to take the lead in their races, while a controversial rent regulation measure faces steep opposition so far.

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office last updated figures at a little before 3 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13. The office said Tuesday night that there was an estimated 142,715 ballots left to count, not including votes postmarked by Election Day and received through Nov. 20. About 69,500 of the ballots left to count were mail-in ballots, including those deposited in a drop box.

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Council Candidates Report Donations Totaling $191,000

Source: City of Burbank

The eight candidates for Burbank City Council received a total of roughly $191,000 in campaign donations by mid-October, according to final pre-election disclosures.

According to publicly available filing records, donations, during Burbank’s 2017 primary election, which also featured eight council candidates, totaled less than $81,000.

Two council seats will be decided in the election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Though contributions wound down across the board during the most recent reporting period, from Sept. 20-Oct. 17, real estate broker Paul Herman again raked in the most money — more than $16,600, bringing his total to nearly $52,700. He spent nearly $14,500 during that reporting period, making his total expenditures through Oct. 17 more than $46,600.

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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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Housing Nonprofit Sends Care Packages to Residents

Photo courtesy Burbank Housing Corp.
Staff members of the Burbank Housing Corp., including (front row, from left) staff accountant Sally Veres and Executive Director Sylvia Moreno, prepare packages of food and household items for the nonprofit’s residents. They are joined by Raha Arnold, director of operations and asset management; Yolanda Sandoval, office manager; and Emily Lopez, community outreach and special program manager.

The box contained food, laundry soap and paper towels. But to Irma Avelar, “It felt like I had gold.”
Avelar, who works at a domestic violence shelter and is a single mother of two teenage boys, was on sick leave from work for about a month, she said in a phone interview. She didn’t have COVID-19, but since her work requires her to be in close contact with the public, she couldn’t take any chances.
She thought that her unemployment benefits would kick in, but issues with the system kept her from getting the money she needed to pay rent. Since about 2007 — with the exception of a period when she lived out of state — Avelar has lived in a housing unit owned by the Burbank Housing Corp., a nonprofit that runs affordable housing rented to local residents.

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Special Education Students’ Return to Campus ‘Getting Closer’

Burbank Unified School District officials held another virtual session on Tuesday focusing on special education and assured parents that they are working on a safe return for special-needs students.
Though the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has allowed schools to reopen at a limited capacity for students with disabilities and English-language learners since Sept. 14, BUSD has kept its campuses closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The district is working various scenarios and proposals to try to bring back some of our most vulnerable learners,” said Tamara Schiern, director of special education. “We are working on it, and I think we’re getting closer to implementing something.”

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BWP Could Cut Power to Some Nonpaying Businesses

Starting in December, Burbank Water and Power could once again shut off power or issue late fees to medium and large businesses that are behind on their bills from the utility.
BWP representatives told City Council members on Tuesday that residential and small commercial customers would continue to have late fees and shutoffs suspended. But having those options reinstated for other entities, representatives added, will help the BWP negotiate repayment schedules with such customers.
According to a BWP official, the agency will begin notifying substantial commercial customers of the revised policy on Dec. 1. If a customer does not agree to a payment plan, the utility could cut off power less than four weeks later.

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