“A Christmas Carol”

Fox 10 weatherman McCloskey brings Scrooge to life

Published in SanTan Sun News Dec. 6, 2014 issue

For years, Cory McCloskey dreamt of playing Ebenezer Scrooge, but he never believed he looked old enough to pull it off.

Despite that, the popular Fox 10 Arizona Morning weatherman decided to audition for the role in “A Christmas Carol” at the Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert. He figured he would try out and leave the rest up to theater staff. Apparently, they believed in him. He serves in the role in the “red” cast, while the “green” group features Mark Kleinman as Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol“I think people who know me from television will be shocked at how disgusting I look in this role,” McCloskey says.

“A Christmas Carol” runs Monday through Saturday until Wednesday, Dec. 24, at the Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Ave., Gilbert. There are 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. performances, as well as matinees at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays.

Tickets range from $20 to $36 and can be purchased by visiting www. HaleTheatreArizona.com.

“This has been a thrill and a half for me because I really haven’t thrown myself into a complete role in a show in 25 years,” McCloskey says. “I’m enjoying this so much.”

The role of Scrooge is nonstop. He has to have the “pedal to the floor from scene one to the curtain because Scrooge is on the stage every scene whether he is speaking or not,” McCloskey explains.

He enjoys playing the character because Scrooge evolves from being unpleasant to generous.

“The journey is rather grinding for him and for an actor, too,” McCloskey says.

His favorite moment in the play is when Scrooge sees himself as a young man in love. McCloskey describes the scene as heart-wrenching and powerful.

“I love doing it,” he says of the scene. “It still hits me very hard every time.”

McCloskey explains “A Christmas Carol” is a special production because of the many magical moments.

The musical version of Dickens’ classic is full of special effects, stunning costumes, talented singers, dancers and actors.

“It is going to be an exciting show to see,” he says.

McCloskey recounts his journey of acting as that of a typical high school kid growing up in a small Pennsylvania town. After discovering he enjoyed musicals, he performed in his first community theater production of “Camelot” in his 20s.

“I was spotted there by a director of another theater, a dinner theater,” he explains. “She approached me and told me they needed a young man of my type for a few shows for their upcoming season. (She asked) would I be interested in coming on board and she said we would pay.”

That was a selling point for McCloskey. When he moved to Philadelphia, he was referred to a modeling agency, which led to an eight-year career.

“It was a city in the 1980s that had a few large, family-owned department stores that had enough work to keep a few men pretty busy,” he explains.

During that time, he traveled to New York  to audition for commercials and films.

“I had some moderate success,” McCloskey says. “I had a small role on a soap opera ‘Another World’ and sang some jingles.”

He also toured with a company that did children’s productions, all the while earning his Actors Equity Association card. Soon, his inspiration changed.

“We were sitting in the living room one night watching the evening news in Philadelphia and the weatherman came on,” he says. “I remember saying, ‘You know honey, I think I can do that job.’ The way (wife) Mary Jane is, she said, ‘Well call him up and see how he got his job.’”

The initial conversation with Philadelphia WPVI Channel 6 weatherman Dave Roberts turned into career move.

The couple moved to Illinois where McCloskey landed a part-time job, for which he learned how to work the camera. He then moved on to weatherman. He relocated to Arizona and has been a popular weatherman at Fox 10 Arizona for 13 years.

“The acting was just the best preparation, at least for me, for that job,” he says.

Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-Off

Learn about Arizona history, while enjoying period food

Published in SanTan Sun News Nov. 1, 2014 issue

More than 8,000 people are expected to celebrate Arizona’s history with demonstrations, activities and, most importantly, authentic period food.

The fifth annual Chandler Chuck Wagon Cook-Off is set for Friday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 9, at Tumbleweed Ranch at Tumbleweed Park, 2250 E. McQueen, Chandler.

Chuck Wagon4

Photograph provided to the SanTa Sun News

The cook-off was inspired by cook Dave McDowell’s passion for outdoor food creations, says Jean Reynolds, public history coordinator for the Chandler Museum.

“He also wanted to come up with an event that would make a little bit of money to go back to the museum to help with education,” Reynolds says.

The event supports the educational development of Tumbleweed Ranch.

“We do the event to preserve our western history and Arizona history that goes back to the late 19th century with the whole idea of cowboys, ranching and cooking on the trail.”

Since 2000, McDowell has competed in chuck wagon cook-offs in Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming.

“We have about seven to 10 wagons here in the state that are always looking for an event to compete in,” McDowell says. ”There was a big gap in the fall schedule. We thought the Tumbleweed Ranch would be a great place to do it.”

He was the driving force in bringing the annual Chuck Wagon Cook Off to the Chandler area. The first year, it attracted four wagons. But, he adds, “we have made some great progress.”

On Friday, the activities will be held from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The morning will focus on tours with school groups and senior citizens.

Later that morning, cooks will demonstrate different ways to cook turkeys outdoors.

“It’s a unique way to do a Thanksgiving dinner,” she says. Friday evening a campfire glow will be held at 6 p.m. with Arizona troubadour Wally Bornmann, a cowboy singer and storyteller, around the fire with s’mores.

The event on Saturday runs from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The main Saturday attraction features 12 chuck wagons competing for awards based on appearance, taste and texture of period food. The teams will cook and prepare their own unique meal, which includes meat, bread, potatoes, beans and a dessert. Reynolds says each chuck wagon makes about 50 meals.

Chuck Wagon2“We provide them with the main ingredients,” Reynolds says. “They have their own spices.”

Tickets, which are $12 for the meal, go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday morning and typically sell out within the hour.

On Sunday, many of the same activities and demonstrations as the previous days will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition, a 10 a.m. breakfast will consist of a three-course meal of potatoes, eggs, biscuits and gravy.

In the afternoon, 18 kids will participate in a junior cook-off, during which they work with wagon teams to create a peach cobbler with a Dutch oven.

Television personality and Times Media Group food columnist Jan D’Atri will provide a cooking demonstration in the afternoon.

For more information, visit www. chandleraz.gov/chuckwagon.

 

“We gave them a lot of attention”

Chandler mom returns from volunteer opportunity in Peru

Published Nov. 1, 2014 in SanTan Sun News

Photographer Rachel Tabron traveled abroad for the first time to Peru, where she spent time volunteering at an orphanage.

She witnessed extreme poverty and poor living conditions, but the Chandler resident would go back in a heartbeat.

“Overall the experience was very positive,” Tabron says. “Easy travels for the most part, met a lot of nice locals and learned a lot. (It was) very different economically wise of course, but still many beautiful areas and things to see.”

Tabron lent a hand to El Arca Orphanage, outside of Cusco, where she stayed with a host family. The two-week visit was set up through International Volunteer HQ.

“Each day they would tell us about the area and cook us Peruvian food,” she explains about the three meals a day. “I think being around them we got to see more than the average tourist.”

The orphanage housed 45 children that ranged from 2 to 17 years old. She spent her time serving lunch to the kids, hanging laundry that was handwashed in buckets and helping with homework.

photograph taken and provided by Rachel Tabron

photograph taken and provided by Rachel Tabron

“We gave them a lot of attention,” Tabron explains.

She says they spent about five hours a day at the orphanage. Although there was a language barrier, her friend Viviane Gomes de Souza spoke Spanish and helped translate.

Besides helping with everyday activities, Tabron shot photos for the orphanage’s website, http://www.elarcafam. org, which is used to attract sponsors. She says the kids “had a blast” posing for photos.

Tabron took headshots of all the children, as well as action shots of them playing, and detailed photographs of the orphanage, the building, cooks prepping food and the clothes being washed.

“I documented it pretty well,” she says.

The orphanage was basic with a few rooms for the kids, she explains.

“They had triple bunk beds and divided the rooms up for boys and girls and one little kitchen area and basically a little shack with a shower in it,” she says. “For the most part it was so organized and the kids were well taken care of.”

Tabron says it felt like one big family at the orphanage, founded by Americans Alan and Laura Lenz. Tabron says she and her group raised $2,500 for shopping money for the orphanage.

“We were able to get them a lot of groceries, supplies for the orphanage and a large stove,” she says, which was all on their shopping wish list.

Only one burner on the previous stove worked.

While Tabron was in Peru, she had the opportunity to Skype with her three small children.

“They learned a lot from it and why I went,” she says.

Tabron also spent time showing the Peruvian orphans photos of her children.

She says it was also apparent how lucky she is as an American. Peru’s pollution, noise and economic standing stuck out during her time in the country.

“They were really poor down there,” she says.

For those interested in seeing more photographs, visit Tabron’s website at http://www.arayaphotography.com/peru.

 

“Reconnect with the earth”

Bike ride explores state from Tucson to Chandler

Published in SanTan Sun News Nov. 1 issue

A few slots remain for the inaugural Tucson to Phoenix bike ride which concludes with dinner at Tumbleweed Park.

The ride will be held on Sunday, Nov. 9. Bicyclists will meet at 3:30 a.m. at Tumbleweed Park, 745 E. GermannRd., by the tennis courts where the bikes will be loaded before driving toTucson. The bike ride then begins at Oro Valley Bicycle, at 12985 N. OracleRd., in Tucson. Wheels will be on the road by 6 a.m. and cyclists will return to Chandler before 5 p.m.

The more than 85-mile bike ride will allow cyclists to see the beauty of Arizona, as well as an opportunity to stop at historical markers to learn about the history of the Grand Canyon state.

“We have done it twice from Phoenix to Tucson,” says Chandler resident LaVerne Lindsey, owner of One on One with LaVerne. “A couple of riders wanted to do it in reverse from Tucson to Phoenix.”

Tucson to Phoenix bike ride. Photo courtesy of LaVerne Lindsey

       Tucson to Phoenix bike ride.  Photo courtesy of LaVerne Lindsey

Lindsey says the trip is safe and fun.“There is little to no traffic on the roads that we travel,” she says. “It is a low stress ride.”

It’s about “putting your feet down for a minute and …a reconnection with your surroundings.”

The trip costs $100, and that includes transportation, automobile support, dinner and a group rider photograph. The bike ride is open to 10 participants.

For more information or to sign up for the bike ride, visit www. oneononewithlaverne.com.

“I am on the road with the riders,” Lindsey says. “I make sure the last rider always has company.”

An accompanying automobile will provide water and food. The car will also be available to those who may need a break during the bike ride.

“You can hop into the car and eat,” she says. “It is a very well-supported ride.”

At the conclusion of the bike ride, participants will enjoy a pasta meal with garlic bread and a salad at Tumbleweed Park.

Lindsey began riding 12 years ago at age 40. She says she began because she was out of shape and overweight. What started off as riding for better health turned into a passion.

“There is nothing like riding and having the wind blow through your hair,” she says. “It’s something about the quietness and the freedom. You feel alive.”

After raising her daughters as a single, working mom, she hopped on a bicycle and it opened up a whole new world.

“Once I found the love of cycling, I started my all women’s biker group that ride every Saturday,” she says.

Lindsey says the Saturday morning rides allow women to ride for four hours while enjoying the beauty of Arizona. The group rides at about 12 to 15 miles per hour and takes breaks.

“It’s more about camaraderie and establishing women supporting women,” she says.

Lindsey also provides one-on-one coaching for women at any and every level.

“My office is your front door,” she explains.

Halloween Spooktacular returns for 33rd year

Halloween Spooktacular returns for 33rd year

Published Oct. 18, 2014 in SanTan Sun News

The City of Chandler is offering a safe alternative to trick-or-treating with the 33rd annual Halloween Spooktacular from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, at the Downtown Library Plaza, 125 E. Commonwealth Ave.

More than 1,200 are expected to converge on the plaza, which will also host a costume contest, according to City of Chandler Recreation Coordinator for Special Events Stephanie Feldaverd.

The contest will be split into different age categories—0 to 4-years-old, 5 to 7 years old, 8 to 10 years old and 11 and older. There is also a category for the best overall family costumes.

“Last year we had a group come out as ‘Hook,’” she says of the different characters from the movie “Hook.”

A first- and second-place prize will be given to the best boy and girl costumes for 0 to 4 years old; best superhero, cartoon character, best princess and scariest costumes in age groups 5 to 7 and 8 to 10. The best overall costume will be given for participants 11 years old and older.

The evening will be filled with different events, which are free or available for a nominal charge. For haunted house fans, there will be an attraction organized and designed by Teens Actively Serving Chandler.

Five City departments will provide trunk-or-treat for the youngsters. A souvenir photo opportunity and frame to capture this year’s memories will be offered for $3. Face painting will be $1. Feldaverd says the money raised will go to the Mayor’s Youth Commission.

A pumpkin patch with 250 pumpkins will be part of this year’s Halloween Spooktacular, with families allowed one pumpkin. Kids will have the opportunity to paint their pumpkins and leave them to dry before heading home.

An array of eight carnival games will fill the plaza, as well as an assortment of other interactive games and arts and crafts.

A new game offered this year is the Witch’s Broom Race. Feldaverd says participants will use a broom to push a pumpkin down a designated path around a witch’s broom and back to the starting line. She says only five participants will compete at one time in different age groups.

“The winner will receive candy,” she says.

A cupcake walk and pumpkin bowling are other games the youngsters can participate in this year. Participants will receive a Halloween cupcake when they end up on a certain number when the music stops.

The Chandler Lions Club will have refreshments, drinks and snacks for sale at the event.

For more information, call the Chandler Special Events Hotline at (480) 782-2735 or visit http://www.chandleraz.gov/default.aspx?pageid=605.

 

‘Developed incredibly as a player’

Teen travels to Boston to hone clarinet skills

Published in SanTan Sun News July 19, 2014

A 16-year-old Chandler student is calling Boston University his summer home as he perfects his clarinet performance at a workshop for teens.

“I have certainly developed incredibly as a player,” says Thomas Desrosiers, who attends Corona de Sol High School.

Desrosiers is participating in Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute Clarinet Workshop and Young Artists Wind Ensemble through Monday, July 28. He was accepted into the program after providing an audition videotape of him playing a few clarinet excerpts and two contrasting solo pieces.

“In March, BUTI offered him a spot and a scholarship. A week later, CWU (Central Washington University) offered him a spot and a scholarship,” his parents, Julieta and Bob Desrosiers, explain in a joint emailed statement. “It was a difficult decision, but we opted to focus solely on BUTI’s two-week clarinet workshop. We thought that was the end of it, but later received another invitation to participate in BUTI-Young Artists Wind Ensemble, a four-week program right after the clarinet workshop.”

The scholarship was a very nice offer, but we still could not afford the second program. After a few calls back and forth, Thomas received a hefty scholarship to attend the Young Artist Wind Ensemble for almost free of charge.”

Since arriving at the camp, Thomas has participated in ensemble rehearsals, individual practices and attended afternoon concerts. He says he has learned a lot of new ideas, techniques and materials.

“It is really incredible because it is such a high level of playing and high level of maturity,” Thomas says. “Back at home, there would be only a few kids practicing 10 hours in a day. Here it is everyone. You get to be with your own kind in a way because they enjoy the same things you do.”

The camp, Thomas says, develops individuals into players, not only during the weeks they are enrolled, but when they return home. He says the Boston University camp provides ample opportunities to make connections with professors and guest artists.

Thomas says he came to the camp hoping it would guide him toward a career path.

“I came to this camp hoping it would be a deciding factor of whether or not I would pursue music in the future or science,” he says. “Even though it has been almost a month of being here, I still have not come to a conclusion.”

Alexander Borodin, an 1800s composer and chemist, is the teen’s inspiration.

“He was not only a great performer, but a noted chemist,” Thomas says. “He found time to do both science and music, which is really what I admire.”

Thomas’ interest in the clarinet began while he was in fifth grade after a musician visited his elementary school and demonstrated various instruments. The sound of the clarinet grabbed his attention, and he has kept it for the past five years because of its versatility.

He says he can play jazz or classical music with the clarinet with a dark tone or bright clear sound.

“It can really do anything depending on the player,” Thomas explains.

He is a member of the Youth Ensemble at Phoenix Youth Symphony. In the fall, he will join the Youth Symphony of Southwest and will continue playing with the Wind Ensemble at Corona del Sol High School and King of Glory Clarinet Choir.

 

“I’m from NASA”

The two students I interviewed for this article sounded very excited about the trip they were going to make to Texas, as they should be. They were one of 18 team proposals chosen out of 400 submissions. I’m excited to hear how their experiment went after they return to Arizona from Texas.

Chandler-area graduates head to NASA

Published in SanTan Sun News June 7, 2014

It was far from your typical call from Texas.

“I’m from NASA,” said the voice on the other line.

But Ruben Adkins, a Chandler High School graduate and current University of Arizona student, heard just that after submitting a proposal for an undergraduate research project on microgravity.

Adkins and five other students from the UofA, many of whom are Chandler Unified School District graduates, traveled to the Johnson Space Center last month to participate in the NASA Student Flight Program.

“I’ve never got a call from NASA (before), so that was pretty neat,” he says.

The program provides college and university students with the opportunity to propose, design, fabricate, fly and evaluate a reduced gravity experiment of their choice.

Adkins says he and Hamilton High School graduate Justin Hacnik formed a team of all juniors at UofA last summer and submitted the proposal to NASA.

The proposal included the inception of their idea, how the team could realistically achieve it, as well as safety information about their project.

Adkins was told that NASA received a lot of applicants this year and they were excited to announce that his team was selected as one of the finalists.

“I called everyone else on the team,” he says.

Eighteen team proposals were chosen out of 400 submissions. In addition to Adkins and Hacnik, Chandler High School graduates Dustin Groff and Kellin Rumsey; Perry High graduate Andrew Jiminez, and Michael McCabe, who attended high school in Texas, also made up the team.

The project is called “Investigations of a Frontal Polymerization for on-board Materials Processing Applications.”

“We developed this research and it is something we are interested in,” Adkins says.

The project will form products in microgravity, meaning the team can investigate the different properties the materials possess with the affect of gravity. It will determine the polymerization process, Adkins says.

In layman’s terms, it’s a good option to produce materials in zero gravity.

“If there is something you need to produce when on a mission, it can actually be done,” Adkins says.

The project will take place in an aluminum box that is heat initiated with two reactants to the test tube.

“It’s a glorified test tube rack,” Hacnik explains.

Under the test tube there is a heat gun that is mounted to a shaft. The experiment will have 30 second reactions.

Adkins says they will test their experiment on the reduced gravity flight in Houston. The team left at the end of May and stayed until June 8.

“Once we are on the plane, (it will be) as simple as turning a crank,” he says.

The flight will have 30, 30 second intervals. Within each of those intervals, microgravity will be experienced.

“Each interval we will be testing each of the polymerization,” Hacnik explains. “We want to make sure we have multiple tests, so we can compare it to our data.”

The team wants to thank the UofA Honors College, the College of Engineering and Dr. Jennifer Barton, interim vice president for research

 

“Won the lottery”

Over the course of the last few weeks I have had the chance to interview a few U.S. Presidential Scholar’s. It’s inspiring to see what high school seniors are accomplishing. These students are going to go far in this world.

Chandler student a U.S. Presidential Scholar

Published in SanTan Sun News June 7, 2014

Named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, Arizona Virtual Academy senior Anna Han feels like she “won the lottery.”

“I never thought it would happen,” Han says. “There is no way to say who is going to get it and who is not. I knew a lot of people who were contenders and thought they were amazing.”

The Presidential Scholar in the Arts will travel to Washington, D.C., this month and perform at the Kennedy Center during the award ceremonies. The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964, by executive order of the president, to recognize and honor some of the nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors. In 1979, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. Each year, up to 141 students are named as Presidential Scholars.

Arizona Virtual Academy Head of School Cindy  Carter says she is proud of Han.

“She is an example of how this particular academic environment worked for her,” Carter says. “It wasn’t an easy road. It was rigorous for her.”

Han says she began attending Arizona Virtual Academy when she was in eighth grade because the school provided her with the flexibility she needed to focus on her academics while pursuing her musical interest.

Longtime musician Han took up piano 13 years ago when her parents enrolled her in extracurricular activities.

“I started out with group lessons and developed an appreciation for music,” she says.

The 18-year-old has been with the same piano teacher, Fei Xu, since she began. She cites Xu as one of her influences.

Han says for most presidential scholars, their eligibility is based on ACT and SAT scores. Han, on the other hand, was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar through her participation in the national program YoungArts. She explains that she sent an application to YoungArts and was invited to Miami for a week last January where she participated in workshops, master classes and performances.

While Han was in Miami she performed a basic 10-minute piano audition, before being paired into chamber groups to learn a piece of music.

“It was really fun. We got to know all the teachers there and learned a lot,” she says of her experience in Miami. “I got paired with another pianist. We did a dual piece.”

Because Han was a junior when she participated, she was evaluated and considered as one of the 60 high school seniors to be nominated for this year’s scholar award.

“You get nominated for the presidential arts program, then you apply,” she says. “That application gets sent to the presidential scholar committee.”

Han will be honored in Washington, D.C., during National Recognition Weekend. She, along with the other scholars, will receive the U.S. Presidential Scholars medallion at a White House-sponsored ceremony. She says a show with a storyline will be put on by all the performing arts scholars in the Kennedy Center.

“I have never done something quite like it, so I am excited,” Han says.

She says she is most excited to meet the other scholars because she is sure each one is amazing.

This fall, Han plans on pursuing a bachelor’s of music degree at The Juilliard School, which is located in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.

“Ideally I would like to perform. Music has been something I have been working towards since I was really young,” she says. “It’s a really difficult career to sustain. I want to bring it to more people. I am also interested in teaching.”

 

 

“We could have a substantial impact”

When people come together anything is possible. This article shares a glimpse of that.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

On June 12, 2014 I received an incredibly sweet email from Bryan Newman, a gentleman I interviewed for the article:

Thank you so very much for writing a great article of the Risen Savior Spring Food Drive. I don’t know how it could have been better.

You were a joy to work with and I hope we will have the opportunity to do so again. I will be sure to contact you the next time we provide a

noteworthy service within the Chandler community. On behalf of all of us at Risen Savior Church & School, thanks again.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Risen Savior collects, donates 3.6 tons of food

Published in SanTan Sun News June 7, 2014 issue

Risen Savior Lutheran Church and School’s four-week food drive yielded 3.6 tons of food for the Chandler Christian Community Center’s Chandler Food Bank and the congregation is deeming the community outreach program a success.

“Knowing that there are some in the Chandler area that struggle to even put food on the table while our cupboards are full was just unacceptable,” says the Rev. Ron Burcham, Risen Savior Lutheran Church and School senior pastor. “We also knew that as individuals, we could make a difference, but if we pooled our resources and asked for God’s blessing we could have a substantial impact.”

The program began the first week after Easter and concluded Sunday, May 18. In conjunction with the drive, Burcham prepared a four-week sermon series about feeding people in need, whether spiritually or through food assistance.

“It was marvelous,” says food drive cochairman Bryan Newman.

The sermon focused on the Miracle of Five Loaves and Two Fish, with a message that not just one person can feed 5,000 people, but together, as a congregation, a huge difference can be made. To make his point and to encourage the congregation to donate, Burcham displayed the collected food on the altar.

“We had people dropping food by the church every day of the week,” he says. “What a privilege to witness the generosity of God’s people and their desire to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

Six members of the congregation gathered after church the last day of the drive to begin counting what was collected.

“It took the six of us five hours to box and move the food outside of the sanctuary to be picked up from the food bank,” says Newman, who added that the food filled one and a half trucks and a van.

He says they collected 8,241 food items that had an estimated value of more than $16,000. The donations weighed 7,244 pounds, which is equivalent to 3.6 tons of food.

“That is enough to provide about 5,660 meals,” Newman says.

More than $1,000 in donations from the congregation was also collected during that four-week food drive.

Risen Savior Lutheran Church and School plans on continuing its services for the community.

“This is the first move in doing that,” Newman says.

The congregation, located at 23914 S. Alma School Rd., has been generating ideas on how to further help the community, including providing turkeys to the food bank.

“I am extremely proud of our congregation,” Burcham says. “They gave freely and generously from their hearts. As a result, they are a blessing to others and in the end it was a blessing for each member as well.”

For more information about the congregation, call (480) 895-6782 or visit http://www.rslcs.org.

‘We believe in our country’

I was excited when my editor assigned me this article a few weeks ago. Due to my involvement in the nonprofit organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc., I have a very special place in my heart for all the men and women who have served this country. I say this because I have talked with many veterans because of my involvement with the organization and have a better understanding of what they have gone through, as well as what their family has gone through.

I really enjoyed talking with Councilwoman Nora Ellen about Operation Welcome Home, a program she brough to Chandler, Arizona. I was shocked and excited when she sent me this email:

“I want to express my deep heart-felt gratitude for the outstanding article you have written about Operation Welcome Home. I appreciate the article was on the front page and so well written in your description of the purpose of the program. I know we had people come to the ceremony Monday because of your timely article.
 
I am cc-ing Rep. J.D. Mesnard in this email to thank you for giving him the credit due of encouraging me to bring this program to Chandler. We are both very grateful to you.”
She left me speechless . . .

Operation Welcome Home honors Chandler veterans

Published in April 19, 2014 SanTan Sun News

U.S. Army Reserves Maj. Rob Polston has left Chandler once since he moved to the area 10 years ago. It was for a 15-month activation that included six months in Afghanistan for Operation Joint Endeavor.

Chandler resident Maj. Rob Polston spent six months in Afghanistan with Operation Joint Endeavor in 2012.

Chandler resident Maj. Rob Polston
spent six months in Afghanistan with
Operation Joint Endeavor in 2012.

“It was tough to leave my wife and kids,” he says of the experience in 2012. “My son was 2 years old and my daughter was 3 months old. That was a little challenging.”

Polston is among the handful of veterans who have been honored by Operation Welcome Home, an initiative introduced by the City of Chandler last year.

When Councilwoman Nora Ellen took office in January 2013, her goal was to bring the program to Chandler. Her son, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, brought the program to her attention. She says the program is important because veterans and their families sacrifice so much for Americans’ lives and freedoms.

“I want to honor and recognize that,” Ellen says.

She says some of the soldiers do not make it back home, while others see their friends die or get injured, and face traumatic situations themselves.

“They are our heroes,” Ellen says.

The program has a special place in Ellen’s heart. There is a long line of veterans in her family, including her father, who served in World War II. Five nieces and nephews as well as a brother-in-law served in the military at the same time.

Debuting initiative

The first Operation Welcome Home took place on Nov. 4, 2013, honoring four veterans, including Polston, attracting about 300 onlookers.

“It was overwhelming,” Polston says.

He heard about the program through the Chandler Veterans Memorial; he sits on its fundraising board.

“I found out through the board that Chandler was looking for veterans who have returned from overseas,” Polston says.

Nominees for Operation Welcome Home must be a Chandler resident and a veteran who served away from home during the last two or three years or are leaving soon. Four veterans are honored during each ceremony.

“We want to make it very personalized for them, so it is not a mass ceremony,” Ellen says.

The evening was special to Polston.

On Nov. 4, he arrived at a meeting place, only to be greeted by a limo waiting for all of them. The Patriot Guard Riders said a prayer before the veterans were escorted to the Chandler City Council Chambers.

Polston was overwhelmed as he stepped out of the limo in uniform, seeing hundreds of people cheering them on and waving American flags.

“It’s something you never really expect; you don’t think you really deserve,” he explains. “No veteran chooses to go to a combat zone or deploy overseas because they think they are going to get the recognition. We go to serve our country and do something that we feel like we need to do. We believe in our country. We know we are going to leave family at home. You understand that and take that into account. To be appreciated for it publicly was humbling and unexpected.”

Once the crowd greeted the veterans, the ceremony continued inside the chambers.

Polston received more than $300 in gift cards and goodies before being treated to dinner at Floridino’s Pizza and Pasta.

“It is really cool to be honored in that way,” he says. “I want to thank the City of Chandler and the council members, especially Councilwoman Nora Ellen. I look forward to honoring more veterans for serving overseas, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Ellen says the support the council receives from the community enables the governing body to provide gifts for the veterans.

“Some of them can really use the money,” she says. “They come back and some of them have a hard time finding a job.”

Polston works at Intel as the program manager in its efforts to recruit veterans. He still serves as a major in the Army reserves.

The next ceremony, which the community is invited to attend, will start outside the chambers at 6 p.m. Monday, April 21.

Nomination forms, as well as sponsorship forms, can be found at www. chandleraz.gov/patriotism.