Friday, June 15, 2018

Resident Voices: My Father's Son

“My name is Herb Foerster. I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1928. I moved to Porterville, California in 1954, and I have lived in this area for 69 years.

My mother and father were both very important to me. As a matter of fact, they are the people whom I admire the most. They gave me my beginning, and encouraged me when I went off to college, a place that ultimately became my home away from home. This experience helped me gain knowledge in science and chemistry. In turn, I wrote and created my own chemistry textbooks for 30 years, and I developed a course where students could learn without anxiety or worry.

My father met my mother in Pittsburgh. My father was an intermittent laborer during the Industrial Revolution in the 1880s and 1890s working all over the west as a stone mason, building tall smoke stacks. Father had been married early on in life and they had a son, but Father’s first wife died on a homestead in Nebraska, and he eventually lost the homestead because he had put it in his wife's name. Father was of a very strict German descent, and he worked all the time prior to meeting my mother. 

Because of his earlier experience, my father abandoned his strictness, adopted a new attitude toward me, and consequently I was raised by a family who was very quiet. My father turned out to be a wonderful father. My mother was very religious, and I grew up to be a very quiet person due to her quietness. I had wonderful parents even though they were older – my mother was 47 when I was born in 1928, and my father was 61 years old.

I attended school on an island in the Ohio River, completing grades 1-9. When I was in the 10th grade, my father retired, and I finished school in Mercer County. Later, when I graduated from high school, my parents allowed me to choose what I would do with my life. About 1946, I served in a military band as a flute and piccolo player. I went to play in Montgomery, Alabama for three years, and, on the GI Bill, I applied to Pomona College. I went through graduate school, and I became a teacher. I taught chemistry and physics, and I also developed a lifelong interest in connections between science and religion.

Chemistry, physics, and connections between science and religion are some of the topics that have always interested me most. I also enjoy astronomy and space interface connections with religion. My goal is to write to people about what I have learned in my life.

All this thanks to a very special Father!"

By Herb Foerster, Claremont Manor Retirement Community 

LifeBio is an engagement program that captures cherished memories and lasting legacies through storytelling. Since launching in 2000, LifeBio has helped 20,000 people tell their life stories through autobiographical tools and services for all levels of care. LifeBio uses technologies as mediums to help individual document their stories in an easy and unique way such as tablets, web cams, and audio and video equipment. LifeBio has been a partner with Front Porch since 2009. For more details, check out LifeBio’s Impact Story on the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) website.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Veteran Voices from LifeBio: George Goodall's Story

 By George Goodall, resident at Vista del Monte Retirement Community

After the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, I wondered what I should do. I had already decided not to transfer to UC Berkeley in Agricultural Engineering for my third year, because of the unsettled situation. I had completed two years of basic ROTC training at UCLA, so my first action was to apply for Advanced Corps ROTC, but the next class was filled. When I asked to be on a waiting list, they suggested I apply for Enlisted Reserve Corps, and I did. A new program opened up for meteorological training at UCLA with the Air Corps, but I was refused when I tested red-green color blind. So, I continued in school.

I received my call to active duty in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, along with hundreds of other students, on March 1, 1943. There was a big campus send-off for us on buses to Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro, California, for induction. We were tested and given uniforms. They didn't have boots large enough for my size 13 feet. I continued to wear my white and brown college saddle shoes with the rest of the Army uniform well through our basic training at Camp Roberts. I got lots of double-takes and kidding!

At Camp Roberts, near San Miguel, California, I was assigned to a company that specialized in Intelligence and Reconnaissance. I found this interesting and more to my liking than just basic infantry training. About midway through training, I developed a bad cold, which turned into pneumonia, and I went to the hospital. When they gave me the antibiotic, Sulfa, I broke out in a skin rash; this was the first time that I learned I was allergic to certain drugs. After about a week in the camp hospital, I returned to duty, where I learned to drive Jeeps. We finished the 13 weeks of basic infantry training and I qualified for further education in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).

I rode a train to my assignment in engineer training at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. When we arrived, our dorm rooms were not ready, so we were put on cots in the football stadium building. We were given intensive physical training under the direction of the famous football coach, Williamson, and more refresher courses. Finally, we were assigned to former women's dorms across the street from sorority row. In early September, our classes began. I remember one class in which we had a professor that was an expert in American dialects. He had each of us talk and he would tell us where we were from. When he heard me talk, he said he didn't know. I guess that southern California doesn't have a distinct dialect. Each dorm was organized as a platoon and I was selected to be the Cadet Commander for our platoon. 

I was given two weeks leave at Christmastime to go home, and I rode the Greyhound bus both ways on US Route 66. What a glorious homecoming! Our classes continued through the spring and after I completed three quarters, I was an engineer in the Army's eyes, but would probably need another year to get a degree at a university. In early June, a group of us were shipped to a replacement center at Camp Howze in Texas, just south of the Oklahoma border. There on the banks of the Red River, our military exercises were in knee -deep mud with dust blowing in our faces. 

After a few weeks, I was sent to my new assignment as an enlisted cadre for a new unit, the 1012th Engineer Treadway Bridge Company, at Camp Bowie at Brownwood, Texas, in the hill country. This unit's job was to transport and install a floating pontoon bridge of steel treadways for military vehicles to drive over a river. The Captain selected me to be his radio operator and sent me to a three-week long radio school. The hardest part of that was learning Morse Code. Soon thereafter, our unit moved over 200 miles to Camp Swift, east of Austin, Texas, using its own trucks and equipment. On the day of the move, I drove the Captain's Jeep and communicated on the radio to keep the convoy of trucks and buses together. I was promoted to a Technical Corporal.

My assignment was changed to a Crew Chief's position in our motor pool, which would provide me opportunity for advancement. While working there, I realized that I really didn't like the grease and grime of maintaining the huge Brockway trucks that hauled the pontoons and bridge sections in the Texas summer heat. So one weekend, when I was serving as Charge of Quarters (CQ), I found and sent an application to Engineer Officer Candidate School (OCS). A few weeks later, when we were on blackout night training, one of our trucks broke down and I stayed to get it repaired.

It was late, so I put my bedroll on the ground beside the truck. In the morning, a buddy asked, "Did you know you were sleeping in a bed of poison ivy?" The next day, I went to the camp hospital with a severe reaction. After about a week, I received my orders to go to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to OCS. I had gotten over my poison ivy reaction just in time to be able to travel.

Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the famous, historical headquarters of the Corps of Engineers, was indeed an inspiring place. It's about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C., and across a bay of the Potomac River from historic Mt. Vernon. I arrived by train in July 1944. They called us the ‘90-day wonders,’ because some say, ‘It's a wonder you can survive 90 days of such intensive training!’ You remove any showing of rank on your uniform and sew on an OCS Cadet patch on your pocket. Our training involved classroom studies, work in shops, and examinations, as well as formations, marching, exercises, and field projects to construct bridges and build roads. We spent a final week at the AP Hill Military Reservation in southern Virginia in individual tents and on field maneuvers: it was a snowy October and freezing cold. A final test of our stamina and resolve!

We graduated and were commissioned in November 1944 in an impressive ceremony. Many of us had no close family or friends to pin on our new gold bars, so we pinned them on each other. We were given a three-day pass to New York City, where we saw some Broadway shows, ate very well, and I had my picture taken in my new uniform to send home. Next, I enrolled in a three-week training course in Heavy Engineer Equipment, which I enjoyed very much. I had no trouble operating the dozers and graders, since I had learned both on the ranch. I did have trouble slipping in the snow with the motor grader. I used this training in a few months when fighting in the Philippines. Just as I ended this course, I received orders to go overseas.

My orders called for me to take a transcontinental train to Ft. Lewis, near Olympia, Washington, for processing, including shots and uniforms, to go to the South Pacific Theater. So it was on to Oakland to board a new, fast troop ship bound for a replacement depot on New Guinea. This ship could presumably out-run any Japanese submarine. It did, fortunately, with some Navy airplane cover. From there, I was flown to Tacloban Airport on Leyte in the Philippines, where I joined the Rear Echelon of the 8th Engineer Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division as a replacement for an officer killed in the Battle of Leyte. I was assigned as a Platoon Leader in Troop B. 

Our main body of the 1st Cavalry Division had already landed at Lingayen Gulf and had dashed into Manila, with the bulldozers of the 8th Engineers leading the way. Other units had replaced the Cavalry in the fight for Manila and the Cavalry had regrouped south of Manila for the drive to free southern Luzon. Through a series of several Navy ships and a Jeep ride, I was finally able to catch up to my new unit.

The 1st Cavalry Division and the 8th Engineer Squadron were both regular Army units stationed along the Texas border in peacetime. Those of us who were citizen soldiers were added as replacements. They were a very well-trained and equipped, hard fighting and drinking, rough and ready bunch, with one of the best fighting records in our military. It was organized on the old square division system with four of each squads, platoons, troops, squadrons, and regiments of about 50,000 men total.

A well-experienced Staff Sergeant was handling my platoon, so I was temporarily assigned as an Intelligence Officer, to seek out engineer materials, and to check roads and other paths for us to move south. This involved flying with the crazy Division Artillery observation pilots. They would zoom in and out, and up and down to allow me closer views of potential sites. Occasionally, we would be shot at by the bypassed Japanese; luckily, they missed. We found that most of the roads and bridges had been blown up by the Japanese. 

The Cavalry asked for Navy support and they moved the troops around the Japanese by using landing craft to a beach west of the town of Naga. For several weeks, I was located at that beachhead, where our Engineer troops were assisting the landings and moving the troops inland to Naga. Three bright spots in our lives there included the ability to go swimming to clean up from the tropical heat, using sticks of TNT to blow fish out of the water for fresh food, and befriending a teenage Chinese boy who sorted out the poisonous fish for us. This young boy had lost his family who had been cooks, so we let him travel with us to help with the Tagalog language and secure fresh food. We called him a ‘dog robber.’ He stayed with us until we left for occupation duty in Japan. 

We found that the railroad line south of Manila to Legaspi and its bridges were intact, so our mechanics made rims for our Jeeps and weapons carriers to ‘ride the rails.’ We even found several rail cars that we towed behind the weapons carriers to haul supplies, timber, and gravel. Several times, we had to use .50 caliber machine guns mounted on each vehicle to blast our way out of ambushes. One night on the beach, we were ambushed by mortar shells from the mountains above us. We tried to fire back, but we couldn't do much at night. The Cavalry went after them at daylight. Our camp site was damaged some, but none of our equipment. The shelling made a mess of our camp site, so we moved to another. I was hit by a piece of shrapnel, but it only grazed my lower leg, so I bandaged it and went on. We had no medics with us and there was no evacuation hospital near, so it never got reported, thus no Purple Heart. I still have a scar on my leg.

Our Troop B regrouped in the City of Naga and used it as a base of operations for several months. Here is where I was finally able to get acquainted with my platoon. As the junior officer, I got all the least desirable jobs among the officers: mainly cleaning up the debris, garbage, and trash throughout the town from the ravages of war to open the roads. We met with the priests at the Cathedral, who tried to get us drunk so we would agree to clean up the grounds and repair their walls. I was pressed into intelligence work again to search for engineer material. This time, I was introduced to the Huks (Filipino resistance fighters), who accompanied me overland to check out a large supply of lumber at a lumber mill site in a remote forested area. We traveled on foot at night and slept in Filipino villages during the day until we found the lumber. We came back to have it moved to the coast, where it was then hauled by landing craft to docks near Naga for use in rebuilding bridges.

Another interesting story is when we went back up the coast to pick up the lumber, I rode on the Navy Picket Boat that accompanied the landing craft hauling the lumber. On the way back, the ocean became very rough; so rough that the crew of the Picket Boat were all seasick. I was the only one not sick, so the Captain had me steer the boat while he sat in back and gave me instructions. I felt this was the acid test to say I'm not susceptible to seasickness.

I was unable to protect myself on this trek from mosquitoes, so in a few days I came down with a terrible case of malaria. I was evacuated to the field hospital set up at Lucena. I was in a coma for several days and missed hearing about the European war's ending. I lost a lot of weight, down to about 130 pounds, and lost energy from the terrible sweats and chills. By the way, I continued to have malaria episodes until I reached Japan's cooler weather that winter. During the summers back in California, when I would get hot and tired, I'd have new episodes for many years. 

While I was in the hospital, our unit moved from Naga into Lucena for a rest camp. The unit was housed in the subtropical fruit orchard of the former US Department of Agriculture Experiment Station. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, as a subtropical horticulturist, to get better acquainted with tropical fruits like mangoes, mangosteens, bananas, and papayas. The dog robber would have a collection of fruit for me to enjoy on the stand near my bed every evening when I would come in from work.

The largest task our platoon did there was to build a firing range for the Cavalry in a coconut palm grove. Fortunately, the trees were planted in rows, so the Troopers would shoot between the lines of trees. We needed to remove only a few trees along the line of targets to build the pits and a protective berm. The only photo of me in combat was taken when I was holding the guideon flag of Troop B of the 8th Engineers in the camp in the fruit orchard at Lucena. I was wearing a .45 caliber Colt pistol that I inherited from the officer I replaced. I liked it a lot better than the carbine rifle that I had been issued. I don't have more pictures in the Philippines, because the Leica 35 mm camera I had taken overseas with an ample supply of colored film was lost when our officers' quarters in Japan burnt down. I had procrastinated and not sent the film home.

While at Lucena, I attended Ship Quartermaster Training at the Naval Base at Subic Bay, up the coast north of Manila. This was in preparation for our over water move to Japan. The atomic bombs had been dropped and Japan had surrendered. We were scheduled to load all our men and equipment at Batangas Bay, south of Manila, for Tokyo Bay. I was trained to load all of our heavy equipment, trucks, bulldozers, cranes, etc. on the decks of cargo ships. After that training and frequent trips to Batangas, we finally got everything loaded on board and on time. This ends the seven months I spent on Luzon as a combat engineer officer.

It was a rough sea voyage to Japan. The Captain of our ship tried to out-run a typhoon, because we had our equipment on the deck. We finally arrived at the docks at Yokohama several days late. Several of us were put ashore in rubber boats to inspect the docks for safety. We worried that the Japanese might have set explosive boobytraps or other snares against us. After a tense day of investigation, we finally concluded that it was safe to dock. But the lack of anyone in sight, utter silence, and all the area and streets swept clean, was scary. We posted very heavy guards, still not trusting the armistice with the Japanese. We learned later that the Japanese people had all gone into the hills, because they had been told we would kill them on sight. 

The next few days were scary and tense as we unloaded our equipment and men and moved to Meiji Shrine Park, a large open space in the middle of Tokyo, to set up a tent city along with the rest of the Division. The 1st Cavalry Division was assigned to occupy the City of Tokyo. That meant, as engineers, we had the awesome responsibility for all the roads, bridges, utilities, etc. Gradually, we managed to handle the worst problems, get acquainted with the city, and move to our new permanent base at an old Japanese Army Camp on the northern edge of Tokyo, near the community of Osaka. The Cavalry renamed it Camp Drake. I was reassigned to be the S-2, Intelligence Officer, in the Squadron's Commanding Officer's Staff. 

One of my first duties was to work with the Japanese Home Office in Tokyo and 11th Army Corps Headquarters in Yokohama to secure interpreters to work with our units. I was very fortunate to be assigned Mr. Ito, a native Japanese man who had graduated from Stanford University with an Electrical Engineering degree and had represented Western Electric in Japan before the war. He was a wonderful man and was a great help to us. I asked him to head our interpreters' staff. As S-2, I secured maps of the city and its utilities, which were invaluable in getting to and from our many jobs. We learned in time to cooperate with the Tokyo City Home Office in finding Japanese contractors willing to do construction jobs for us.

The next job was to design and build stables for the Cavalry. Yes, I said stables. Although the 1st Cavalry had been converted to an infantry style fighting force in the 1930s, many of the old time Cavalrymen wanted to ride in their time off. I hadn't ridden for years, but I enjoyed riding with them. In addition, we built shops, warehouses, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and a football field. We learned about an Army Hospital not too far away with a full complement of nurses for us to date. One night, while we were having dinner with the nurses, I accidentally tipped a bowl of very hot soup into my lap. I jumped and yelled and they tried to help. Life's most embarrassing moments! I traveled to see some of Japan's beautiful shrines and gardens and to a Rest and Relaxation week at the Mt. Fuji Hotel. So, we had some fun while on occupation duty.

That fall, most of our senior officers went home with enough overseas points. This left us with six 1st Lieutenants out of a usual complement of 26 officers. I had received my promotion to 1st Lieutenant when we arrived in Japan. Engineer officers were declared essential and not eligible to go home for a year, regardless of points. We had a full complement of 800 enlisted men, because we were receiving transfers from the European Theater. For a few weeks, I commanded B Troop and was still S-2.

Then for a month or so, I was both S-2 and S-3 Operations Officer. We had no Executive Officer. Finally, after the first of the year, we started receiving new officers and by spring, we were up to strength. I went back to S-2, but did a lot of special projects. 

One of our special projects was finding housing for dependent families moving to Japan that next fall. Our first task was to survey the few remaining Japanese homes in the Tokyo area that had, or could add, western-style toilet and bath facilities. You'll remember our Air Corps had fire-bombed most of Tokyo. We identified nearly 100 homes, and the Japanese Home Office negotiated to rent these for the dependent families coming later. A concurrent job was to design 400 new dependent housing units in a construction project to be built on some open land at Camp Drake. With the help of a Japanese architectural firm that Mr. Ito found for us, we completed the design, but it wasn't built until after I came home.

One night in the middle of these jobs, our offices and officers' quarters were burned by a holdout Japanese; he was never caught. We had used the ground floor of that building for offices and the second floor of that building for our officers' quarters. I had three roommates; two of them went down the hall and were burned to death, while the other roommate and I jumped out of the window. He hit a power line on the way down and broke his back, but recovered. I jumped into a pine tree and only got scratched and bruised. These were old Japanese buildings, and the wood was very dry and burnt very quickly. Obviously, this was a serious loss. On the lighter side, I jumped out of the window with my boots on, in my pajamas, and wearing my Army hat; regulations are that an Army officer is always covered (hat on). I was well trained!

Another job we had was to design and build a parade reviewing stand for the Cavalry to host a visit by General Dwight Eisenhower and other high-ranking officers on the parade grounds in front of the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo. We designed it in sections so we could build it at Camp Drake and haul it down on our flatbed trailer trucks. This worked very well. Our 8th Engineer Squadron was represented in the Review Parade as a troop.

In May 1946, I was notified that I would be eligible to return to the States in two months, unless I wanted to continue to serve in Japan. I didn't have to think twice to decide to return home! About August 1st, I received orders to return to the States on a new troop ship from Yokohama to San Francisco. One of my great thrills was to enter the Golden Gate in the early morning and to see the beauty of San Francisco behind it. Oh, to be back in the wonderful ol' USA! 

After being processed to leave the service at Camp Beale, above Sacramento, I took the train to Glendale, where my folks met me for a grand homecoming. They had moved to the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles while I was overseas, so it was a short ride home. I had been overseas a bit more than a year-and-a-half, and on active duty service with the Army for three-and-a-half years.

LifeBio is an engagement program that captures cherished memories and lasting legacies through storytelling. Since launching in 2000, LifeBio has helped 20,000 people tell their life stories through autobiographical tools and services for all levels of care. LifeBio uses technologies as mediums to help individual document their stories in an easy and unique way such as tablets, web cams, and audio and video equipment. LifeBio has been a partner with Front Porch since 2009. For more details, check out LifeBio’s Impact Story on the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) website.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Veteran Voices from LifeBio: Walter Allsop's Story

By Walter Allsop, Claremont Manor Retirement Community

My name is Walter Allsop, and I was born in 1928. I served in the Navy as a Seaman 1st Class on the Aircraft Carrier USS Valley Forge CV-45.  

I had graduated high school mid-term, and I was working part-time in a machine shop and also delivering by motor scooter for a drug store. I chose to enlist because I wanted to be in the Navy, mainly because my father had been. Older friends from school felt the Navy had been the best choice for them, as well, so in April of 1946, I enlisted in Los Angeles. My parents took me to the “Enlistment Ceremony" at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which had a large class. From there, we were bussed to the San Diego Naval Base for training.

Boot camp and training sure was a new way of life for me! Every day was different, but always regulated. We were tested for water safety, up early, and participated in military drilling. I had a short haircut, which led to sunburn on my nose and ears. I missed home and my girlfriend, Mary. I also missed my car, which I had given to my brother. The food was plain, and some days better than others, but we had little choice. The barracks and routines were preparing us for military life. There were no weekend passes until toward the end of training.

Finally, the long hours of basic training ended. We left by train for Rhode Island (by way of Mexico and Canada). There was no travel priority for a troop train, and it took almost a week. There were no showers or bunks, and the food was brought aboard on certain stops.

Everything was new to me on the East Coast. I felt the "Petty Officers" in the First Division were fair and reasonable, resulting in a "tight-knit" group, and I made lasting friends. We went to New York many times on "leave" from Philadelphia. We saw the Empire State Building, Ellis Island, and much more. Often at the movies, there would be entertainers on stage, such as Billie Holiday.

An amusing incident comes to mind. Several of our group were returning to the ship from a "Night on the town." One of our group wanted to bring liquor on board with him, which was strictly against the rules. Bradley was ordered to throw the bottle overboard. He quickly removed one of his new shoes and threw it over. The officer on duty didn't see the shoe go, but heard the splash. He took it to be the liquor.

While waiting for the Valley Forge CV-45 to be commissioned, I had three weeks of leave, and I sent for Mary to come to Philadelphia, where we were married. After our wedding, we stayed in Philadelphia. We often had friends from the ship visit us to play cards and join us for dinner. My friends were as anxious to start the cruise as I was.

Once underway, I was so impressed to be onboard this huge carrier as we went through the docks! I had been trained in firing the 5" cannons in the “Gun Tubs,” which needed to be removed for passage. We were on the way to San Diego. As soon as we got there, I was taken off the ship and sent to Balboa Naval Hospital where I had surgery on my knee. It wasn’t long until I was aboard the next ship leaving San Diego for Hawaii to rejoin my crew. Arriving in Hawaii, I could see ships that were sunk in the bay, and there was much destruction. From there, our ship was soon headed for the Panama Canal.

I wrote many letters home to my parents and Mary. I gave them much information about the Valley Forge maiden cruise: a good will cruise around the world. There have been three Valley Forge Aircraft Carriers. I have a "plank" from the flight deck of the original ship that I was on. 

I was discharged in February of 1948 at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. I flew home from Hawaii to San Francisco for it. Mary had found an apartment; and there was so much to do: start school, work, and family. After I left the service, I returned to work at the machine shop. I entered John Muir College, graduated, and applied to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and was accepted. I applied to USC, using the GI Bill of Rights, and I stayed in college until I received my master's degree. 

Mary and I went on to have two daughters, and now we have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren!

-Walter Allsop, Claremont Manor Retirement Community

LifeBio is an engagement program that captures cherished memories and lasting legacies through storytelling. Since launching in 2000, LifeBio has helped 20,000 people tell their life stories through autobiographical tools and services for all levels of care. LifeBio uses technologies as mediums to help individual document their stories in an easy and unique way such as tablets, web cams, and audio and video equipment. LifeBio has been a partner with Front Porch since 2009. For more details, check out LifeBio’s Impact Story on the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) website.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fresh Ideas: Innovation and Collaboration in Action

Fresh - new, additional, further, invigorating, newly created, harvested, bold, cool. These are powerful, inspiring words not to be taken lightly. This is why at Front Porch we call our annual program Humanly Possible® “Fresh Ideas.

The Humanly Possible® “Fresh Ideas” Action Projects begin by gathering each mind in each department throughout the entire organization to brainstorm how to improve our services to those we serve inside or outside our communities. Themes vary by year. The focus for 2017 action projects was to “inspire engagement to those we serve inside or outside our communities.”

From the Front Porch Humanly Possible® handbook …

“Today, more than ever, we need every mind, every discipline, every level of our company working together on what’s possible, what’s achievable, and what’s next. Because, no matter the job title or department, each person is a wellspring of experience, insight and possibility— and a crucial contributor to every challenge and opportunity we confront and embrace.”

“Fresh Ideas” empowers our greatest resource – our people – and builds upon the innovative spirit that has long existed through out Front Porch. When everyone has a voice in giving ideas and choosing an idea, support, buy-in and excitement occurs.

“Fresh Ideas' encourages us to come up with solutions,” said Paulina Zarzuela, an LVN at Kingsley Manor. “We come up with unique and different ideas to help residents and employees.”

After getting feedback from meaningful conversations with a sampling of those who may have a stake in or be affected by the project, each department’s project is put into action. In 2017, Front Porch departments created 53 “Fresh Ideas” action projects.

“Fresh Ideas” are more than just implementing a project. “Fresh Ideas” are about collaborating, sharing and learning from one another. “Fresh Ideas” projects have potential to bubble-up and expand by being replicated in another department or at other Front Porch communities.

Built into the process is providing multiple venues for the “Fresh Ideas” to be shared. Each community holds a “community share” where all staff and residents can see displays about each of the projects and makes inquiries. Department teams and residents learn what other teams worked on and what the motivation was for their “Fresh Idea.” At the Carlsbad By The Sea community share, residents learned how the housekeeping team began a creative and informative way to introduce new residents to each housekeeping team member. Each team member completes an information card with his or her name, where her or she is from, how long he or she has been at Carlsbad By The Sea and his or her “heartfelt why” they do what they do. All cards are displayed together like a family tree in the hallway by the housekeeping office. A new resident receives a copy of the card with his or her assigned housekeeper. 

At the Walnut Village “community share” residents learned how the dining room partnered with the church next door to help feed low-income families within the outside community. Staff at Walnut Village cook, transfer and serve lunch to 40-80 people at the church monthly.

At the Sunny View “community share” residents learned how the maintenance department, to improve work order communication, started using door hangers with “Work in Progress” on one side and a service log on the other side.

As a culmination, Front Porch hosts a “regional share” event where representatives from each Front Porch department gathers to share its “Fresh Ideas” with one another. Presenters and participants include team members from all parts of the organization, including cooks, directors, housekeepers, presidents, transportation coordinators and CNAs. Frequently the presenter is a team member who helped implement the “Fresh Idea” and may have even come up with it. That ownership, pride and enthusiasm emulates through them and becomes contagious. 

Some of the “Fresh Ideas” community team members learned about included …

The Claremont Manor dining room team hosting a food show for residents with 30 different items to sample from food vendors. “This proved such a success with our residents that we plan to have this as an annual event,” said Wayne Scott, dining services director at Claremont Manor.

The Front Porch Home Office finance team provided its services of free gift wrapping for the
residents for the holidays. One December afternoon, the team visited Kingsley Manor with all supplies for a wrapping station. Residents brought gifts to be wrapped, and the team also picked-up and delivered the wrapped items back to some residents’ accommodations. “Residents appreciated the gift wrapping assistance and continue to talk about the joy of interacting with the Home Office team members,” said Lexie Alexander, director of resident services at Kingsley Manor. The residents who didn’t receive wrapping assistance still enjoyed the cheerful visit during the holidays.

Bold, new and cool projects are all around but more importantly, presenters talked about how inspiring projects were and how much fun they had implementing them. High-fives literally all around at the “regional share.”

The “regional share” involves more than celebration and a notepad filled with inspiring ideas. At Front Porch, We Take Action!

The “regional share” concluded with each community gathering together to commit to bringing back a new “Fresh Idea” to its own community. Huddled together each team member shared his or her top three and why they could be a good match for his or her community. Debates, discussions and voting occurred to choose one “Fresh Idea” to commit to. Each community stood up to proclaim the “Fresh Idea” that it would take back to bloom at its community - as imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

Some of the “Fresh Ideas” chosen to imitate and bubble up through Front Porch included …

Carlsbad By The Sea’s “happy stairwell.” Ignited by residents’ requests to have more interesting stairwells, Carlsbad collected inspirational quotes from residents to enliven the stairwell. Ashley Parker, a driver at Carlsbad By The Sea, shared, “Implementing the ‘happy stairwell’ resulted in residents and staff using the stairwells more often. A nice bonus for getting some steps in.”

Walnut Village’s “non-contact boxing” was targeted for residents with Parkinson’s disease but open to all. Initiated by Emmanuel Solis, a Wellbeing Coach at Walnut Village and a boxer himself, boxing workouts improve balance, improve hand-eye coordination and decrease reaction time; a perfect fit and meaningful for residents with Parkinson’s disease. “All we had to do was purchase boxing gloves and hit mitts. Let’s just say it’s been a ‘hit’ with the residents,” said Ryan Fillingane, wellbeing director at Walnut Village.

Kingsley Manor Care Center’s “music in the shower” for care center residents who have anxiety when bathing. A “Fresh Idea” inspired by a CNA involving the life enrichment team, CNAs and residents collaborating to create individualized playlists for each resident in the Care Center. Using a digital music player and a waterproof carrier and speaker, residents can listen to their favorite songs while bathing. As Ripsime Janikyan, director of social
services, admissions and marketing at Kingsley Manor Care Center, shared, “The individualized music helps residents remain calm. We have seen a huge difference in our residents.” Ripsime continued, “A long-term resident who had high anxiety when bathing now talks about her childhood and how her mom used to always sing the song to her.” 

As per the Front Porch Humanly Possible® handbook, “The world today is filled with zillions of mindboggling examples of our collective ingenuity and perseverance. And almost every discovery, invention, development and advance began with a ‘what if’ moment—a glimpse into what could be … It is up to us to see these challenges as opportunities, and rise to the occasion.”  

“Fresh Ideas” brings a breath of fresh air to Front Porch. The possibilities, those “what-if” moments, are limitless. “Fresh Ideas” provide energy, excitement, vigor to team members, but the true gift is improving the daily lives of the remarkable people we are honored to serve.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Mom’s Lesson: Balance in the Checkbook of Life

Solace for this writer when she and her husband fell on hard times
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell for Next Avenue

I’m spring cleaning my office and desk when I come across my mother’s checkbook in one of my drawers. Mom’s been gone over a decade. The account is long closed and I’m in purging mode, so I contemplate putting the checkbook in the shredder.

But I can’t seem to let go of this meaningful memento of her once-ordinary life because of the vital lesson it symbolizes for me.

Buying Gifts for the Family

A cartoon caricature of an older woman smiles from the checkbook cover as a bubble over

her head exclaims: “Stop me before I shop again!” I smile, remembering how my mom loved to shop, especially for gifts for her family.

A widow on a modest pension that she received due to my dad’s career working on the railroad, Mom began shopping for the next Christmas year as soon as the current one was over — always seeking out bargains for the perfect presents. This was the only way she could afford to buy for her three adult daughters and our extended families. We begged her to stop buying presents, but it was the thing that gave her the greatest pleasure.

Mom was meticulous about balancing their checkbook, always making sure it had $50 extra that wasn’t counted in the balance — just in case.

Mom maintained the household finances and was meticulous about balancing their checkbook, always making sure it had $50 extra that wasn’t counted in the balance — just in case.

My dad passed away in 1981 at 58, just as my parents were about to enjoy more financial comfort with an empty nest. At 64, Mom went to work as a pharmacy cashier, where she was able to earn enough to maintain her own apartment and independence. After she began drawing the Railroad Retirement pension, Mom continued working as long as she could, using that “extra” income to buy gifts and indulge in her hobbies, weekly hair appointments and an occasional new outfit.

The Genie in the Bottle

So now, to us.

My husband, Dale, and I grew up in the same working-class neighborhood. We were both taught a strong work ethic and that the most important thing we have in life is our good name. We were cautioned not to ruin it by getting into debt we couldn’t handle. This philosophy worked well for us — until the Great Recession.Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell and her mom

That’s when Dale was laid off from his job as a diesel mechanic and my freelance-writing business was sent into a tailspin.

We went through our emergency fund within a few months. Living in a small Arkansas town, my husband had few opportunities to find a job paying close to anything like he’d been making. He ended up working two full-time jobs for minimum wage, $7.50 an hour. It still wasn’t enough to cover our modest expenses, so we began using credit cards as a means to survive. Soon, debt collectors began calling; we then refinanced the mortgage and took advantage of a loan modification on our truck.

Through those rough 18 months, I would sometimes open the top desk drawer, pull out my mom’s checkbook and rub it. I thought of all the financial hardships she’d endured: After my dad died, mom was forced to close her new craft business and sell the larger dream home they’d been able to buy two years prior. She needed money to pay their debts and live on until she could draw that pension.

Like a genie in a bottle, as I rubbed that checkbook, my mom’s can-do spirit would jump out at me. “Life is always about balance, in every area,” I remember she had told me.

What My Mom Did to Survive

Her voice kept me going through the hardest of those months. Still, at the end of our hardship in the spring of 2010, Dale and I thought of doing what my mom had done to survive — sell our house. Like her, we didn’t know where we would go or what we would do, but we felt crushed by the long hours of work and the debt. We made an appointment with a Realtor.

The day before that appointment, Dale was called back to his job.

Unlike my mom, we were fortunately able to hold onto our greatest asset, our home and land.

As the economy recovered, so did my freelance business. Today, we still have some of the credit card debt we racked up, although we’ve made progress reducing the balances. Dale was finally eligible for his company’s matching retirement plan last year, so we’re hoping to rebuild some of the savings we lost.
Living Mom’s Lesson

Like many Americans, we’re nowhere near where we need to be financially. But — thanks to Mom’s advice — we’re doing the best we can by balancing work and life, and trying to save a little along the way. Now in our 50s, nearing the age my dad was when he died, it makes me anxious that one of us might not be able to work before we’re able to pay off the house and most of our debt.

I’m holding Mom’s checkbook in my hand, as I contemplate what to do with it.

I close my eyes and see Mom’s tiny 90-pound frame standing in front of me at the grocery checkout line, writing a check as the cashier waits patiently. Long after most people had giving up checkbooks for debit cards, Mom clung to hers. It was comforting; her careful penmanship told her the checkbook balanced, no matter what, and it always had that little extra — just in case.

I hear her words again. I smile, returning Mom’s checkbook to my top desk drawer. Life is all about balance, even when you’re in the mood for purging.

Our financial future is still uncertain, but Mom’s checkbook still has that little something left in it I can cling to for comfort — that genie that brings her voice back to me when I need to hear it the most.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Giving In to the Coloring Craze

Credit: Thinkstock
Why am I spending so much time doing something that may be a waste of time?

By Jill Smolowe for Next Avenue 

“So, be honest,” I say to my husband. “Is this stupid?”

I’ve just shown him my latest masterpiece, a mandala [an Indian symbol representing the universe] that swirls with a rich assortment of colors. After oohing and ahhing appropriately, he says, “No, it’s not stupid. I think it’s a pleasant way to pass time.”

“Nothing more?”

For my 61st birthday, my husband gave me an enormous cache of gel pens that initially made me cringe. Too much, I thought.

“Nothing more.”

This is what I dread. I am wasting time. “No aesthetic value?”

“No, but that’s not why you’re doing it.”

He reminds me that, having acted on my curiosity about the
adult coloring book craze sweeping the country, I find the activity relaxing, absorbing and an antidote to stress. He doesn’t understand my problem.

“You play Words With Friends. Why is this any different?”

Because it is, I insist. Fun apart, word games can help build vocabulary (dutifully I look up words I don’t recognize — then promptly forget them), ward against Alzheimer’s (maybe), keep my mind active.

They are, in a word, productive (sort of).

“Why do you have to accomplish something?” he presses. “Does coloring quiet your mind?” Yes.

“Is a half-hour of meditating wasting time?” No, not at all.

Being Here Now

Meditation helps me to focus. To immerse in the now. Which is what this coloring stuff does, too — to my surprise and delight. I haven’t had an outlet for my virtually non-existent art skills since elementary school. Painting, ceramics, needlework, none of it has attracted me. But this I really enjoy. The world recedes. Time flies by.

So why am I having trouble accepting that coloring mandalas with Magic Markers and gel pens is a legitimate way to spend my time? Sitting out on my porch, I become so absorbed in the challenge of finding new combinations of colors that at times I enter the complete immersion state known as flow — an experience that, until now, I’ve been able to achieve only when writing. That, in and of itself, suggests the exercise is worthwhile.

Yet I still can’t quite accept that it’s perfectly OK to spend time coloring. An hour here, two hours there. Never mind that it provides me with an excuse to dip into music I haven’t listened to in ages (Diane Krall, Van Morrison, Bob Marley). Surely there is more value to this than I realize.

Consulting a Color Expert

Seeking explanation, I invite Amy Wax to lunch. The author of Can’t Fail Color Schemes, Amy is a color consultant whose company, Your Color Source Studios, helps people select colors for the interiors and exteriors of their homes. When I tell her, a bit red-faced, about my new coloring habit, she lights up with pleasure.

“Coloring brings out our creative side,” she tells me. “There are no rules. It allows you to push limits.”

Though I like the sound of this, I remain skeptical. I’m just coloring inside of someone else’s lines, I say. I mean, it’s not really mine. Is it any more creative than, say, doing one of those paint-by-numbers pictures we used to do as kids?

“It is,” she says firmly. “Those pictures, they all look the same. These mandalas of yours, you made the choices. You’re creating this. No two are the same. That’s what makes it art.”

Art? Come on.

What Is Art?

“Art is a lofty term, but it’s appropriate,” she says. “You’re taking something two-dimensional and creating an illusion of three-dimensionality with the push and pull of the colors.” Think of it as collaborative, she says. Though someone else did the design, “It’s still yours.”

She points to my small assortment of completed pictures. “People are afraid of too much color. Once they take the baby step, they want to explore,” notes Wax.

Yup. With each successive mandala, I’ve incorporated more and bolder colors. Then, for my 61st birthday, my husband gave me an enormous cache of gel pens that initially made me cringe. Too much, I thought.

Not true, I quickly learned, as I began to experiment with the effects I could get from so many different shades and tones.

“I find it almost mathematical,” I say to Wax. “I feel instinctively that if I’m going to make all these colors work together, there has to be symmetry.”

“The mathematical part is what makes it succeed,” she explains. “You’re creating a world of balance.” Up the road, she suggests, I might want to experiment with asymmetry.

Hmmm. Hadn’t considered that.

“Look, playing with colors is whimsical,” she says. “It’s freedom to express yourself. It’s a tool to enhance visual awareness.”

All good, I allow. But in the end, jeez, I’m just coloring in a coloring book.

Wax laughs. “I feel the term ‘coloring book’ is holding you back. A coloring book is, by definition, juvenile. What you are doing here is not juvenile.”

The Precious Present

I pull out the three (yes, three!) books that I’ve purchased. Only one owns up to being an “adult coloring book.” The other two bill themselves respectively as “color art” and “color pad therapy.” Perhaps anticipating resistant types like myself, one of the two showcases a higher purpose in its subtitle: “anti-stress coloring pages.”

Recently, I read that some psychologists recommend coloring as therapeutic for grief, as well.

“It’s inspiring creative parts of you that have been dormant,” Wax says. “You’re getting something from this, which is why you keep going back to it.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But. I’m still a 61-year-old woman sitting on my porch coloring pictures with a proliferating assortment of markers and gel pens.

My 22-year-old daughter, blessed from birth with artistic ability, rolls her eyes when I share my doubts. “I can’t believe you think that way,” she says. Supportive of my new hobby, she has no patience for my reservations. “You enjoy it. That should be enough. Just keep coloring. Don’t ruin it for yourself.”

She’s right, of course.

But in case I didn’t internalize her wise admonition, a few days later I come across this from spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle in his 2005 bestseller, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. “You are present when what you are doing is not primarily a means to an end (money, prestige, winning) but fulfilling in itself.”

Even I can appreciate that being present in the moment is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Lewis MacAdams: Always Searching for the Impossible

“If it’s not impossible, I’m not interested.”

It’s a phrase that Lewis MacAdams, poet, journalist, filmmaker and activist has become known for over the years. Often repeated by friends and fans, it’s made its way on to tee-shirts and is now forever etched in the base of a seven-foot sandstone sculpture of him overlooking the Los Angeles River - his muse and mission for more than 40 years.  
Lewis’ relationship with the LA River dates back to 1985 when an impromptu stroll along its banks led to a vision: that the concrete entombed waterway could once again become a flourishing oasis for wild life and recreation.
“Essentially, I asked the river for permission to speak for it in the human realm and the river didn’t say no,” Lewis explained.
Since then, Friends of the River, an organization he co-founded, has made significant strides toward returning the river back to a more natural state. “Friends” organized river clean-ups days, community events and has advocated for improved water quality, development of surrounding green spaces and increased neighborhood access.
“An unexpected pleasure has come to me knowing just how many people have responded over the years,” Lewis said. In 2017 Friends of the River mobilized 10,000 volunteers to help remove 100 tons of trash.

Lewis’ inclination to tackle the seemingly “impossible,” however, did not start with his mission to revitalize the 48 miles of winding concrete, but has been a guiding principle since childhood, as the son of Civil Rights activists growing up in a sleepy town in west Texas.
Along the way he’s penned dozens of books of poetry, co-directed the documentary What Happened to Kerouac? and has been a contributing writer for Rolling Stone, the LA Times, and Men’s Journal. He is also the acclaimed author of The Birth of Cool: Beat, Bebop and the American Avant Garde. He is currently 200 pages into a memoir project, Poetry and Politics, which he’s working on with historian Michael Block.
At Kingsley Manor Retirement Community, a community that attracts many artists, intellectuals and like-minded lovers of the “impossible,” he’s found many kindred spirits, including a few fellow river enthusiasts, who share his desire to connect regularly with the thriving metropolis all around.

His favorite spot, naturally, is Kingsley’s rooftop deck which he visits on a daily basis to take in its expansive view of the city. From the Hollywood sign to the Library Tower downtown to the Pacific just on the horizon, it’s a vista which, like the river, reveals itself slightly differently every day: magnificent, impossible and ever-inspiring.

Friday, April 20, 2018

How I Finally Found the Right Volunteer Experience

Giving back isn’t always as simple as it sounds, but it's worth it

By Jill Smolowe for Next Avenue

Credit: Getty ImagesMan using computer keyboard, close up

In 2011, social entrepreneur Nancy Lublin had an aha moment: Millennials don’t dial into help lines when they’re in crisis because they hate speaking on the phone. Two years later, Lublin launched the Crisis Text Line, a 24/7 crisis-intervention hotline that enables people to reach out for free help via text messaging — a communication comfort zone for people in their teens and 20s. Plainly, it was an idea whose time had come: In just three years, the hotline’s crisis counselors have exchanged 28 million messages with texters nationwide.

When I first read about the Crisis Text Line, I was instantly interested. Its focus on helping young people in a moment of distress promised to make good use of skills I’d developed as a grief and divorce coach. Couple that with my ongoing search for a satisfying volunteer experience, and it seemed like a slam dunk…

…until I thought about the texting thing. That conjured visions of me tapping out typo after typo with my too-big thumbs on the too-small buttons on my cell phone (a device with which I hardly have a love relationship). I took a pass.

Try, Try Again

As I continued to look for a volunteer opportunity, I was surprised to discover that it’s not so easy to find an outlet that tidily matches the skills and passion you have to offer with the needs of an organization.

One friend told me that she knocked on non-profit doors for years trying to find an outlet for her environmental interests, only to come up empty-handed. Another friend who wanted to do advocacy work for homeless dogs found that the free offer of her time was not enough to get her phone calls returned.

Over the next eight weeks, trainers armed me with a canny array of skills for guiding people through a moment of crisis.

Some of my own efforts proved discouraging. A group that works with grieving children put me through a day-long training, only to notify me that my services wouldn’t be needed at an upcoming weekend-long event. A mentorship writing program that pairs high school girls with professional writers put me on a wait list. Given that I don’t have two heads, do have good manners, and offer a professional track record in both the writing and grief-work fields, I suspected that I was an older candidate than either organization was seeking.

Age proved a non-issue when I signed up for a tutoring program. My fourth-grader and I hit it off from the get-go. But he was a bright 10-year-old boy who didn’t actually need tutoring. Each Wednesday we’d tear through his (boring!) assignments, then play games. Mostly, he kicked my butt at chess. Often our time together felt more like babysitting than “giving back.” (And, ahem, my math skills were not always terribly useful to him.)

A New Approach

Around the time his school year was winding down, my daughter returned from college, absent her cell phone, which mistakenly had gone home with another student. Given my daughter’s 24/7 texting habits, I assumed that retrieving her phone would be a priority. To my surprise, she was actually enjoying the time untethered to a phone. To my greater surprise, that freedom hadn’t cut her off from exchanging texts with her friends.

“I do it on the computer,” she told me.

Subtext: Duh.

Valhalla! Texting via computer would mean a full-size keyboard, a big monitor and none of that annoying thumbs-only stuff that, for me, produces more typos than real words.

Quickly I found my way to and clicked the “Apply Now” button for volunteers. After clearing the assorted hurdles (including a criminal background check and references from two people) and making a yearlong commitment to handle calls four hours a week, I was assigned to an online training pod.

Becoming a Volunteer

Over the next eight weeks, trainers armed me with a canny array of skills for guiding people through a moment of crisis. The focus was on helping people shift from the heat of despair or upset to a place of cool and calm. The list of potential issues we could expect to encounter was formidable, among them suicide, self-harm, sexual abuse, LGBT bullying, eating disorders and homelessness.

No matter what the crisis, the Crisis Text Line approach was clear: you’re not here to solve people’s problems. Rather, you’re here to listen to them, to validate their pain, to remind them of their strengths, then to work with them collaboratively to identify a goal that will help them to keep moving in a positive direction when the texting conversation (convo, in crisis counseling lingo) ends.

In a nutshell, the text line was offering training for a skill that I hadn’t realized could be taught or enhanced: empathy. Armed with a particular style of questioning and response, it was possible to guide texters away from feelings of extreme distress. The hotline’s data backed that up: while some 70 percent of callers open conversations with dire statements (“I’ve lost the will to live,” “Suicidal feelings,” “I’m overwhelmed and want to die”), only 1 percent require intervention to halt a suicide attempt.

Six months later as I near the 100-convo mark, texters who write, “I’m trying not to cut myself,” no longer throw me. (Tip: Try drawing on your skin with a red marker, then tracing the lines with an ice cube. It “bleeds.”) I’ve yet to encounter any of the one-percenters (roughly 10 texters a day) at imminent risk of taking their lives. But I’ve shared the joy of other counselors who, in collaboration with a supervisor, have mounted successful rescues by tapping into local resources.

A Satisfying Experience

The Crisis Text Line platform is mindful of how intense these conversations can be for volunteers. Though everything is done online and I work from home, supervisors are always available to guide. And there is a chat room counselors can turn to for instant advice from other on-duty counselors while handling a difficult conversation.

In another chat room, counselors can take a breather. There, the messages are always supportive and lively. Given that 77 percent of the hotline’s 2,800 active counselors are between the ages of 18 and 35, favored discussion topics run toward cats, holiday plans and grad school applications.

For the 117 crisis counselors who are over age 55, such dialogue offers a delightful window on Millennial interests and preoccupations. The actual crisis conversations provide a sobering window on the stresses young people face today. “Volunteers over age 55 make exceptional crisis counselors,” Lublin said via email. “Through lived experience, they are (not surprisingly!) committed, highly empathetic and strong active listeners.”

As I pass the halfway mark of my first year as a volunteer (at year one, I get a text line sweatshirt. Woohoo!), I feel that it was well worth the hunt to find a volunteer experience that engages my heart, mind and skills. If you, too, are seeking a satisfying volunteer activity, please trust there are people and causes out there that need your time and experience. Just be forewarned: it may take some trial and error to find what you’re looking for.