We present Ventura County’s local heroes as nominated by you, our readers!
A true advocate: Janet Barron
Janet Barron not only works at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Ventura County, Inc., she is also a volunteer. She currently serves as training coordinator while also dedicating her time as a CASA, which was an opportunity to help that she was certain of but had initially decided to postpone because her children were still in grade school.
“I started by taking the education rights for a young high school student as the time commitment was less than that of a CASA. My appointee knew what CASA was, but was not assigned to the program at that time. When she asked me to be her CASA I felt like I couldn’t refuse her and become yet another adult that had let her down,” Barron said.
For the last four years, she has been assigned a youth whose best interests she has advocated for in many areas including court, education, health care, employment and housing.
Barron beams with pride with each step forward that her youth takes, including graduating high school equivalency and starting community college this year. And while it may perhaps seem trivial, receiving a hug after six months as her CASA was a particularly memorable encounter.
“Youth in foster care often have trust issues because their trust has been broken by adults in their lives. It can take time to build your relationship and to gain the trust of a child that has been through so much,” she explained.
Per Barron, being through so much can also manifest in behavioral issues as a method of coping; it is not uncommon. She had firsthand experience the several times her youth ran away from a group home.
“I worried about her when she was gone as I worry about my own children, hoping she was safe wherever she was staying. Given the risks of exploitation that runaway youth face, in addition to the uncertainties that go with being on the street, she was always on my mind when she was gone. She is street savvy and tough, but she was still a teenage girl on the streets. My appointee is incredibly smart but had so much stress and upheaval in her teen years living in group homes that school was not a priority at all,” she said.
It made their time together inconsistent and accomplishing their goals was challenging. Thus, she unequivocally supports the mission of CASA and believes in being a good advocate: being an attentive listener, and advocating for the specific needs for the specific youth at that time.
With the ups and downs, Barron keeps going because of and for those around her. Her youth, who she is intent on seeing flourish; her fellow colleagues and volunteers who share her vision; her case supervisor who is instrumental in offering guidance and support.
And by helping this particular teen, she feels that she has acquired the skills to become a better advocate.
“I have learned so much in the time I have been with my appointee and I feel like I am still learning. If I had to pinpoint one thing it would be the intricacies of the child welfare system. It is very complicated and has changed a lot in the past five years,” said Barron. “I know much more now than when I first started about the details, subtleties, policies and procedures and people involved such that I feel I can be a more effective CASA.”
She added that providing the much-needed help as a volunteer to youth in the welfare system is possible in more than one way. With 10-15 hours per month, one could be an effective CASA.
Per California law, children may retain an advocate until age 21 and at that time, may choose to end the [CASA] relationship. Barron is ready and willing to stand by her youth indefinitely.
For more information, visit www.casaofventuracounty.org .
A vision for happier lives: Linda Catlin
Linda Catlin’s desire to help others, especially youth, began when she herself was a teen and has prevailed throughout her life. In high school, she volunteered after school and during the summer at Pacific Palisades YMCA. Thereafter, Catlin enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she continued to volunteer in the summers as a counselor and leader of Teen Tours throughout the country plus more locally based tours.
“This experience helped me be chosen as a demonstration and teacher trainee for UCLA. My efforts during these years helped prepare me for becoming an educator. Plus, I strongly believe my role helped these kids rise to a higher level and higher goals,” said Catlin.
She went on to teach for 13 years, where her focus was cultivating her students education both in and out of the classroom. She began at a low-income school where she was deeply involved in enrichment classes in music and art, along with academics during and after school. She later spent seven years directing and teaching gifted children programs plus training/demonstrations for teacher-bound students at UCLA.
Catlin moved on to real estate but her helping hand was not idle, especially following the sale of her husband David’s company in 2003, which allowed more time for philanthropic efforts. Catlin joined Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families where she served on the Angels board and chaired or co-chaired two of the annual galas.
Subsequently, she became involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Conejo Valley (BGCGCV). Over the last 14 years, Catlin has been an active member of the BGCGCV (David is on the Finance Committee). She has served in numerous roles including as the first female chair of the board. Catlin has hosted many fundraisers at her home, raising needed funds and also providing the opportunity for staff and volunteers/donors to interact.
“BGCGCV serves over 4,000 children at 10 locations in this area. There is a wealth of nationally proven studies relating to the positive impact on these young people leading to them becoming better citizens, enhanced interpersonal skills, higher graduation success, and happier and more successful lives after graduation,” she stated.
She adds that, “Many of the club attendees require scholarships to be able to attend, which is where our fundraising plays a critical part. The combined activities during the school year and the summer include not only academics enrichment, but also music, art, sleep away camps in the summer and much more.”
Catlin’s support for BGCGCV is unwavering. Her contribution to the expansion of the club at Lindero Canyon Middle School was significant; the club was renamed the Linda and David Catlin Boys & Girls Club.
“They share our enthusiasm about positive outcomes for those attending the boys and girls clubs. Ed especially believes his ‘Boys Club’ time growing up in Kentucky was a key reason he avoided the negative forces around him at that time.”
For more information, visit www.bgcconejo.org.
Practice of well-being: Megan Mescher-Cox
Megan Mescher-Cox, D.O., chose to become a physician with the intent of always evaluating and treating the “whole” patient; osteopathic medicine allowed her to do that.
Endorsing wellness extends beyond her office hours at Dignity Health Medical Group. Earlier this year, Mescher-Cox was instrumental in establishing the local Walk with a Doc program, part of a national campaign to educate, exercise and empower.
She and other physicians lead members of the community on a walk and/or run every first Saturday of each month at 9 a.m. at the Ventura Pier boardwalk or the Pacific View Mall in Ventura during severe weather. Everybody is welcome: athletes, children, seniors, those who utilize mobility devices, etc.
“The most common question is “how do I do it?” with limitations of time, money, too much stress, etc.,” she said. “The answer is different for each person and starting to understand that individual’s challenges allows us to focus on their unique solution.”
In fact, Mescher-Cox was recently Board Certified in Lifestyle Medicine, which she described as a true focus on health care, and the conversation with patients shifts to details on the foundations of health including diet, exercise, sleep, stress and their support system.
Stress is one of those foundations that the physician has observed as frequently overlooked.
“Unfortunately, when someone is under chronic stress, it is hard to even identify it as stress and it often feels to the person like ‘being stuck.’ When we are stuck, the idea of changing what we eat, increasing activity or other positive changes appears overwhelming and unless we address the underlying issue of stress, we won’t truly make headway on other areas of health,” she noted.
Her own work-related “burnout” is what led her to Lifestyle Medicine, and she is confident that adopting stress reduction behaviors as well as other healthier lifestyle choices improved her wellbeing.
“There are many challenges to get us moving more, incorporating more vegetables, decreasing our stress levels — and modifying our current habits is the biggest challenge. Habits account for 80 percent of what we do on a daily basis.”
So, Mescher-Cox also cooks with her patients. She revealed that the crux is how healthy food is viewed and once there is the realization that said food can be tasty and quick to prepare, a person is more apt to implementing changes.
Mescher-Cox advised that slowing down momentarily can be beneficial, and so is volunteering; it is an excellent way to contribute to the community while simultaneously having a positive impact on one’s wellbeing.
The physician also hosts bi-weekly community talks; the last one was for a walking group and bone-builders class at St. John’s Medical Center. The topic was “Adding Life to Years and Years to Life.” And, she is the newest board member at the nonprofit KidSTREAM, a children’s museum which will feature interactive exhibit space where children and families can participate in hands-on exploration and activities.
For more information, visit www.walkwithadoc.org/our-locations/venturacounty/ .
Born to volunteer: Dennis Kulzer
Since he was 19 years old, Dennis Kulzer had the opportunity to travel the world. Consequently, he developed the need to not only explore another country but to find a way to help. So, he and his wife, Jayne, joined the Peace Corps where they were assigned as teachers in Tonga for more than two years.
“I was an industrial arts instructor and department head. I was very fortunate to have a Tongan teacher who had a vision to turn the industrial arts program towards a vocational training program that would provide the students practical skills that they could utilize in their villages and/or if they were to leave the country to work. As most students at the high school did not graduate, this in my opinion was a much better option for them,” Kulzer explained.
He described the experience as hard but wonderful, and especially gratifying because the work that was done was carried on, as Kulzer found out when he visited Tonga five and then 20 years later. The principal during Kulzer’s time in Tonga went on to become the head of education for the Wesleyan Church programs and Vocational Training; he maintained and developed the program, which was based on the success of the pilot program.
Back home, Kulzer continued to give his time including serving five years in the 1980s as a volunteer firefighter in Seal Beach, California.
Currently, he volunteers with the annual Homeless Count Day in January, which he emphasized is of great importance because funding relies on how many [homeless] are counted. Kulzer is also a volunteer work leader for Channel Islands National Park where he and others accompany school and volunteer group trips out to the islands. And, for about six years he has been devoted to preparing for and attending planting trips on San Nicolas Island for Channel Islands Restoration. As a work leader, he also assists the staff in utilizing the volunteers more efficiently.
Helping was ingrained in him and he has nurtured that inclination, with mutual support from his wife, Jayne, who is also dedicated to helping others.
“I am very fortunate to have parents that instilled the value of volunteering to us when growing up. They were always involved in church and other activities and gave their time to their communities up until they were physically unable,” Kulzer said.
He concluded that, “We hope we have passed this on to our children. When they were young, they would ride their bikes with me as I ran and would get embarrassed when I’d pick up trash along the promenade and put it into their bike baskets, but before long they too were collecting it along the way as well.”
Picking up trash would not be unexpected for Kulzer; he loves the outdoors and nature, and wants to do what he can so that others may enjoy their experience. For the last two years, he has served Ventura Land Trust (VLT) as a board member and on its stewardship committee. Not only does he help focus on strategizing about the future of VLT, he also serves as a volunteer work leader.
“My vision for the Land Trust is to see the young and old flocking to the trails to mountain bike, hike and run. Getting more people out in nature invests people in the importance of and need to preserve wilderness,” Kulzer explained.
Actually, he began overseeing a men’s hike and bike group that was founded by his friend Richard, who left to travel. The group meets on Fridays to hike and occasionally take bike rides together; Kulzer maintains the schedule and notifies the participants ahead of time.
He hopes that his work and that of those organizations that he is involved with will allow other members of the community to continue to have the opportunity to enjoy nature. He did, however, note that [that] privilege requires effort from everyone.
“Funding is typically the main challenge for all of these organizations, and by volunteering it greatly helps them stretch the funding dollars they receive and we then have sweat equity in the effort.”
Dedication to special needs: Terri Hillard Olson
Volunteering enriches one’s life. Terri Hilliard Olson’s mother shared that tidbit with her; she believed it then and she has continuously experienced it since.
The attorney is president at her law firm, Law Offices of Terri Hilliard, PC, but she ensures that she offers her time and expertise to support a variety of efforts including Moorpark Morning Rotary and PAUSE4kids, a nonprofit that advocates and provides opportunities for special needs children and their families.
“I became involved when my client, the founder, Keri Bowers, asked that I serve to support the special needs community and the nonprofit’s mission since 2010. I host the speaker series,” Olson said.
Besides its quarterly expert speaker series (in which she is an active participant) the nonprofit provides: support and resources for parents and professionals in the community (scholarship or grant funding for programs or services for children with special needs), hosts a monthly Advocacy Group Meeting to assist parents in advocating for their child’s needs, and sponsors events and activities including Art-A-Thon, Abilities Awareness and others intended to educate the public about the needs of special needs children.
Olson also gives her legal expertise on the Legal Concerns Pro Bono Panel and manages the team of serving attorneys. It is a program that she helped create while serving as a board member for Conejo Senior Concerns.
The organization was established over 40 years ago and provides legal, financial and advocate services, year-round Meals on Wheels, an adult day program for the frail and memory challenged, and caregiver support and education on healthy aging.
In 2018, it served 174,547 people with a total of 55,000 hours of care supporting two caregiver’s respite per family; Meals on Wheels provided 32,000 meals and served 32,000 families; Legal and Financial Pro Bono panels served 87 families.
Still, Olson has endeavored to further assist seniors.
An example is the Conejo Valley Village, which is a virtual community that flexibly provides supportive services and social activities so that each member may maximize their experience as comfortably as possible.
“It was inspired by power of community. A few hard working, involved community members visualized the power of helping one another with our unique talents and thriving and living in place,” she said.
Friends with those who live outside: Kathy Powell
For 20-25 hours each week, Kathy Powell gave tirelessly to those in need. Until recently, she was the chair of Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura’s (UUCV) Lift Up Your Voice program, which focuses on a multitude of issues related to homelessness in Ventura County.
For example, it aims to offer annually one educational event; in 2018, it developed a documentary on homelessness in Hawaii, where the demographics and challenges are similar to Ventura.
This year, a Rainy Day Motel Fund was provided through a partnership with other churches that gathered and offered funding for shelter to those in need during the winter.
“People were so appreciative since the Shelter was in Oxnard and was full each night and it was so wet outside. They got a bed and a bathroom thanks to houses of faith working together through us,” said Powell. “I got to work with the shelter and a few social workers putting families in for a few days until they could meet the criteria they needed for assistance.”
Powell stated that while she does not dream up ideas, she is good at carrying them out.
One such well-executed concept is the Lift Up Your Voice Speaker’s Bureau, which was the brainchild of Judy Alexander and Kate Mills. With a grant from the McCune Foundation, Powell made certain that Lift Up Your Voice would live on. She gathered 20 people who then underwent training and have since continuously advocated throughout the city of Ventura.
She is driven to achieve more.
“Some of the things that are needed are funding to get people into rehabs, which normally run about $700 per month. Funding for that is scarce and desperately needed. We would be able to offer help with that if we had that funding, and sometimes it takes numerous tries to stick with someone so the flexibility needs to be there to assist,” Powell said.
Additionally, she explained that overlooking those who are homeless because of misconceptions about homelessness stagnates progress in effectively and efficiently addressing the issue.
Regardless, she is happy to help people, some of whom suffer from problems that she stated she can definitely relate to.
Powell ran the kitchen at Harbor Church where her fellow volunteers were homeless. For two years, she served as vice chair and as secretary for one year for the Ventura Social Services Task Force, an organization that is devoted to ending homelessness in Ventura. And with UUCV Park Outreach program, she helps give baby wipes (donated by the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy in Ventura), socks and hygiene products to homeless individuals.
“We also give the Park Ambassadors bus passes so they can get people to places they need to go. Temple Beth Torah, Church of the Foothills and Bardsdale United Methodist congregations have adopted our team and bring donated clothes to my house. We make sure anyone who needs them gets them and bring them once a month to Family to Family, the meal program,” she said.
Although Powell has recently had to direct her focus to her health since being diagnosed with cancer, she cherishes the time she spent volunteering and looks forward to doing so again with her dedicated team.
“They have all become my extended family, my heart surrounds all of my [homeless] friends who live outside. The Lift Up Your Voice crew is always ready as the army to go forward, so many people walking alongside each other using their skills as advocates and direct assistance skills to surround people in need. I have been blessed and inspired.”
For more information, visit www.uuventura.org/social-justice/lift-up-your-voice/ .
During the writing of this article, Powell underwent major surgery related to her cancer diagnosis. Her friends have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her and her family. For more information, visit www.gofundme.com/kathy-powell-cancer-support-fund