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Anita Rufus

Felina Danalis, 46 and now a Palm Springs resident, was making a difference on a global scale.

After graduating magna cum laude in international relations from Georgetown University, she earned a graduate degree in international economics at Johns Hopkins’ Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, including a year studying in Italy and an internship with the Associated Press. She then walked straight into a job with the World Bank.

“I was in the department that helped countries get development money,” she says. “I wanted to help make the world a better place. After all, I had been schooled in free-market solutions to everything, and I wanted to know more about the world. I traveled to places like Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Macedonia. It was fascinating, and the best training I could ever have had as a first job—if you don’t count folding sweaters at Benetton while attending college.”

After her three-year stint at the World Bank, Danalis worked for the Greek foreign minister, who wanted an adviser to his cabinet who had international-development expertise.

“I couldn’t read or write Greek,” she says, “in spite of my parents both having come to America from Greece. I actually lost a lot of my hair the first six months, just from the stress.”

After two years advising the Greek cabinet, Danalis was recruited by the European Union to go to the Balkans as a program manager when the European Parliament allocated funds for the Serbian government.

“I was on track to being a true American success story,” she says, “but then I was in Belgrade when I witnessed a horrendous incident that would change my life.”

In 2002, Danalis and a friend were sitting in their car when a man walked past them and began to get into the car parked in front of them.

“He opened the door—and the car just exploded, and so did he,” Danalis says. “I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t be alone and couldn’t be with people. It was a very frightening place to be. Everyone around me was well-meaning and said the equivalent of, ‘Suck it up. If you’re going to do work like this in the world, then things like that will happen.’”

In 2003, Danalis left Belgrade and went to live on the Greek island of Kefalonia, where her father had been born.

“I told people I was going to write a book,” she recalls. “That’s what you say instead of, ‘I’m having a nervous breakdown.’ In my year there, I learned so much about myself.

“When I got my graduate degree, it was handed to me by (former U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright, who was the embodiment of a tough woman. I believed that my toughness was my greatest asset. What I learned that year in Kefalonia was that my emotions and compassion were my greatest assets. I felt that the system that was preparing me to make it in the capitalist world had lied to me.”

Danalis moved to Athens and was there for 10 years, working as a consultant to the sustainability and corporate responsibility industry, helping companies improve their bottom line by focusing on people and the planet as well as profits.

An only child—born in New York and arriving in Southern California in 1980—Danalis came to the desert in 2011 to take care of her mother, who had Stage 4 cancer.

“I stayed in Palm Springs because by the time my mom died, I had made a home here,” she says. “Besides, I met the love of my life!

“My parents met each other at a Greek restaurant in Greenwich Village. Mom had come to the U.S. when she was 9, my dad when he was already an adult. My mom had had a traumatic childhood, so although she was very artistic, she never had the self-confidence to stick with any idea. But she always told me, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to.’”

While taking care of her mother, Danalis studied Buddhism and taught at the Buddhist meditation centers in both Palm Desert and Palm Springs. Since 2011, she has been pursuing her mission as a “mindfulness coach.” Danalis (felinadanalis.com) is a regular presenter at the Golden Door spa in San Marcos, working with individuals and groups online, and presenting programs for Planned Parenthood, Cancer Partners in Palm Desert, and the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs.

“There’s too much homogenization in the world right now,” Danalis says. “We need to stay in touch with our individual cultural roots, combining the best of our traditions with modernity. We’re all so stuck to our phones; it’s all about transactions but not about relationships. We sometimes forget that we are human beings with a connection to our history underneath it all.

“I’m concerned about the implications of economic inequality that results in a lack of access to health care. Stress has an impact on illnesses, and I believe we can make a difference in our own well-being by not focusing so much on ‘self-help,’ but rather on the cultural and social impacts that influence our health.

“Mindfulness, to me, is helping particularly women master resilience in the face of stress, anxiety and the drama in their lives, so that they are able to have more impact in the world. It’s a kind of spiritual fitness—just as we exercise our physical muscles to be physically stronger, we need to exercise our spiritual fitness muscles in order to be able to be still. Only then are we able to have a social impact that can change the world.”

Sometimes, traumatic events do not stop us; they can make us stronger. Felina Danalis exudes a positive energy that is infectious. She is still making a difference on a global scale—just not in the way she originally thought she would.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

She is creative, funny and a vibrant 87. He is laid back, nice to everybody, a supportive cheerleader and a cancer survivor still going strong at 91. They’ve been together for nearly 40 years and finish each other’s sentences.

Phyllis and Wade Tucker met in 1976 when they worked across the hall from each other. He had his own insurance agency; she was a secretary for a management company.

“Everyone in my office was Jewish; everyone in his wasn’t,” Phyllis says. “We used to call the distance in between the Gaza Strip.”

Wade remembers not liking her much, because she would always come into his offices to run copies on his machine.

“He told me I had to pay 10 cents a copy,” she laughs. They discovered they were both going through rough divorces—and the rest is history.

Wade (“It’s really John Wade, but I always go by just Wade; it was my mother’s maiden name,” he says) was born and raised in Beverly Hills. His father was in the real estate business.

“My dad drank a lot,” he recalls, “but wouldn’t touch a drop when he was working on a project. He had developments in the Palm Springs area, and I always liked it here, which is why, 19 years ago, when Phyllis and I retired, I wanted to move here.”

Wade and his sister were raised in a religious family. His mom, originally from Minnesota, was a Christian Scientist; his dad, originally from Connecticut, was Methodist. Perhaps the greatest lesson in his life was learned from his mom: “She taught me to always be nice to everybody, more even to the poor than the rich. We were in Beverly Hills, where there are so many rich people, and she would take my old clothes and donate them for those who needed them.”

Phyllis, the youngest of three sisters, was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a Jewish family that kept a kosher household. “My grandfather was a rabbi,” she says, “and my mother, originally from Kiev, Russia, and father, originally from Warsaw, Poland, had an arranged marriage. I’m so proud to know my father’s name is inscribed at Ellis Island.

“I got my sense of humor from my mom, who lived to 97 years old,” Phyllis says. “She used to joke that she had no wrinkles on her face, ‘But you should see my behind!’ She worked in a bakery all her life, and my favorite story is when a robber came into the bakery, and she got in his face with: ‘I work for a living. You should go out and get a job, too!’

“My mom taught me there was nothing more important in life than family. She was such a strong influence on me. My dad, on the other hand, was kind of just there. He was very quiet.”

Phyllis went to Drake Business School after graduating high school, while Wade went into the service during World War II as a paratrooper; he completed one year at Santa Monica Community College when he returned. Phyllis and Wade both had first marriages with children.

Although Phyllis and Wade met in 1976, they didn’t get together as a couple until 1981—and after Wade finally asked her out to dinner, they started to sneak home at lunchtime. She used to play April Fools’ jokes on him, once taping his phone receiver down so when he tried to answer it, the entire instrument came up; another time, she put dirt into his instant coffee.

“My daughter had lots of dolls,” she recalls, “and I once took the head of one of them and put it into the men’s bathroom toilet, so when they lifted the lid … .”

Wade and Phyllis got a motor home and traveled around the country for more than six years. “It was the best time of our lives,” she says. “We met so many people.”

Wade adds: “We’d drive into a park; someone would come by to say hello, and we’d have cocktail parties every night.”

Says Phyllis: “My mother would ask me, ‘How can you live in a truck?’ She didn’t realize it cost more than a condo!”

They say they’d put on shows in the motor home parks. “We’d do Roaring ’20s and dress up,” says Phyllis.

“She made me do it,” Wade adds with a laugh.

When Wade got ill with cancer, they decided to settle in Palm Desert, where they would be closer to consistent treatment.

Phyllis started an aerobic pool exercise group, and then joined the “You Don’t Have to be Hemingway” writing group (where I first met her five years ago). Her writing is almost always infused with humor. One piece was about the embarrassment of trying to squat behind her car to relieve herself in the middle of a long drive, with the constant complication of men stopping to help; another was about turning the tables on a sales-scam caller that concluded with him quitting his job.

Wade is the cheerleader. “He’s the one who told me I should start writing,” she says.

He chimes in: “She’s so intelligent.”

How did these charming, interesting and obviously devoted people become who they are?

Phyllis claims to have been very shy, “an ugly child” who had few friends and wasn’t happy as a young woman. “I felt lost in a crowd of one.” And yet, Phyllis is the now more outgoing and social of the pair.

Perhaps what unites them most is a sense of acceptance of where they are in life.

Wade: “You have to live each day the best you can and enjoy yourself. Don’t get mad at people when it doesn’t make that much difference. What’s happening in the world doesn’t have to make you mad. If you don’t like somebody, just don’t be around them.”

Phyllis: “I do get mad sometimes—at Wade’s illness—but you have to roll with the punches. It doesn’t make sense to be mad. Have patience. You have to hold on to a positive attitude, or you’ll hate life.”

Phyllis’ humor rises to the occasion yet again, mentioning that the writing group’s latest assignment is about describing a picture. “I’m picking the ‘Mona Lisa’ and assuming her expression is meant to say, ‘Hurry up. I have to go to the bathroom!’”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Indio resident Tod Goldberg, 48, talks very fast—which makes sense, because he has a lot to say.

The author of hundreds of books and articles, he is also the founder and director of the 10-year-old low-residency master’s program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Riverside’s Palm Desert campus.

“I wanted to have an MFA program on the business of writing,” he says, “so our participants get published or get their works produced. I see my job as getting my students’ work sold, and we’ve been extraordinarily successful.”

The program has had more than 300 students, with more than 75 percent of them being published or produced within two years of graduation from the program. Goldberg oversees a faculty of 16 and an online-mentor program, in addition to the intensive 10-day residency workshop, held annually at Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage.

Goldberg, born in Walnut Creek and raised in the Coachella Valley, comes from a family of writers. His mother, Jan Curran, now deceased, was the society editor for The Desert Sun for many years. She had been a columnist and editor long before coming to the desert.

“I used to fall asleep to my mom writing her column. To this day, the sound of an IBM Selectric typewriter can make me fall peacefully asleep,” Goldberg says.

His father was a television news reporter and station manager; his parents divorced when he was 2 years old. Goldberg has three siblings, all older: his brother, Lee, a novelist and television producer; sister Karen, a lawyer and author; and sister Linda, an artist and author. “Between the four of us,” says Goldberg, “we’ve published about 100 books!”

Goldberg’s wife, Wendy Duren, is also a writer. They married in 1998, lived in Las Vegas until 2000, and then settled in the desert.

“We have no kids,” says Goldberg, “but we do have two dogs.”

Goldberg didn’t really learn to read until he was about 10 or 11 years old. “I was dyslexic,” he recalls, “and the first book I remember that had a profound emotional effect on me was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I stole that book from the library, because it was considered too old of a read for me at that age. My mom had a great appreciation of literature, and when she found I had taken the book, she marched me back to the library and told the librarian, ‘Every single book in this library belongs to my son!’

“Steinbeck was easy to read, but asked difficult ethical questions, like about the nature of love between men, and what it means to care for someone in such a profound way that you would take their life to save their life. It also made a difference that the book took place in Northern California, in places I had been. It was important to me as a writer to know that something that was made up happened in a real place that I could see.”

After graduating from Palm Springs High School in 1989, Goldberg earned his bachelor’s degree in English at California State University, Northridge, in 1994. “I have to admit I majored in ‘frat boy,’” he says. “I was a terrible student, but I was involved in student government and was homecoming king!”

He went on to receive his master’s degree in fine arts from Bennington College in Vermont: “I became an excellent student. I really cared because I was finally doing the thing I loved most—writing.”

Goldberg’s first book, Fake Liar Cheat, was published in 2000 by Simon and Schuster.

“I was very lucky,” he says. “After college, I had published short fiction pieces, so I had established a literary reputation. That makes agents take notice of you. I started writing the book in 1998, and it’s really something, seeing what you write in print.”

Although Goldberg’s primary focus revolves around crime and criminals, he cites Empire Falls—a 2001 novel by Richard Russo which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2002—as a major influence. “He taught me how to write from multiple points of view, and how small towns could mirror all the problems of a big world,” Goldberg says. “I’ve also been influenced by writers like Margaret Atwood, Aimee Bender and Susan Straight, who changed my view of magical realism, dystopia and our own Inland Empire.”

Goldberg has also written opinion pieces for various newspapers across the country, focused on violence in the United States: “I remember once seeing a boxer die in the ring when I was a kid, and I’ve written essays about the terrible side of life. I’m always trying to understand why seemingly normal people do abnormal things.”

A prolific reader, Goldberg can quickly rattle off a host of titles he read in various decades of his life: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (“It showed that absurdity had a place in the world”); crime authors like Ralph Ellison and Lawrence Block; Richard Ford’s Rock Springs and The Sportswriter (“He taught me that genre fiction could be mixed with other concepts”); and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (“I learned the ability to look at the vulnerability of people in combat”). Goldberg is currently working on a series of four books about Rabbi David Cohen, a fictional character based on a real hitman from Chicago.

“I prioritize the things that are most important to me,” he says. “I write one to two hours every other day, but once I’m into it, I’m pretty regimented. Mornings, I read students’ work and sometimes write book reviews. I’m most creative in the evening, and when there are no classes, I’ll write from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., but I also need to be able to turn it off. Wendy’s also a writer, so she understands. She’ll ask, ‘Who am I talking to right now: the hit man, the rabbi or my husband?’

“I’m a kind of method actor when I’m writing. I need to replicate a character’s language and keep it in my head; otherwise, the character doesn’t feel human. I’m fascinated by what gets people to kill. People make irrational decisions when they feel pressed against the wall. There are lots of great books about killing in a war, but in crime fiction, there’s a glorification of violence I find disturbing. In my books, there is always a ripple, a ramification, a consequence.

“I write because I have to, and because it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve satisfied what I always wanted out of my life: a beautiful wife, and the desire to write and to teach.”

Tod Goldberg has a lot to say, and he has found a way to build his life around saying it.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Peripatetic is a word based on the way Greek philosopher Aristotle studied and learned: by walking about. Today, that word also describes an itinerant—one who travels about for duty and business.

Dan Paris fits that description.

Paris, 68 and a Rancho Mirage resident, was born and raised in Cleveland, in what he describes as “a Hungarian ghetto.” His father was a soccer-playing immigrant from Hungary who had worked in the salt mines as a child. His mother had been born in Cleveland, but Hungarian was the language spoken at home.

“Knowing another language is an advantage,” says Paris. “It’s like another culture given to you. … I was very inquisitive as a kid, and I always had to excel. … I’d get interested in something and stick with it for a while. I was always looking to do things that made a difference to me and that helped others, either directly or indirectly.”

Paris went to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., initially planning to major in German, but he quickly changed to biology, thinking he would go into the medical field.

“I planned to become a doctor, but that meant being inside all the time,” he says. “However, the college allowed students to design their own focus, and I decided to make another major for myself in film. I took classes in film editing and camera work, and even made a film about an artist at the college.

“While at school, I took half a year off and went to Europe to work at the British Film Institute. After a week, I decided I was going to visit the great centers of Europe and Africa and shoot some film. I got a van in Amsterdam and drove to Paris and then to Morocco. I was fascinated with the London Tube (the underground transit system), which had a really creepy ambiance. I visited some family relatives in Hungary during the time when Eastern Europe was still under Soviet domination. I ran out of money in Morocco, so I worked on a fishing boat for three weeks while waiting for some money to come from home. When I got back to college, I put all the experiences together on film.

“While at college, I rented a basement apartment, and one of my memories is that the Humphreys were my neighbors!” (Hubert Humphrey was a senator who served as vice president from 1965-1969 and lost a presidential bid to Richard Nixon in 1968.)

Macalester allowed students an “interim term” to explore their own interests, and Paris had a friend at the UCLA film school. “He asked me to come out,” recalls Paris, “and thus really began my film career.”

Paris now describes himself primarily as a documentary filmmaker—although his peripatetic nature still prevails.

After college, Paris stayed in Minnesota for 20 years, working with a small film-production company. He was then offered a job in New York, but the weekend before he was going there, his then-girlfriend invited him to her family’s lake cabin.

“On the way,” he says, “her dad had to stop at this beautiful farm, 100 acres with a lake and a four-bedroom farmhouse that needed a lot of repairs. It was for sale for only $14,000. So instead of taking the job, I bought the farm. I’d had some experience in gardening, and I pretended I was a farmer for a year. I even rented a cow from a local farmer! I’ve made some bad choices, but I always pick the choice that I think will make me happy.

“After a year, I needed to get a job. I became a human-services technician at a state-run nursing home, which became one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It was a kind of dumping ground for people without family support or who had illnesses that nobody wanted to deal with. I had taken care of my great-grandma when I was young, so I jumped in. I made a documentary film while I was there, based on interviewing the residents. My attitude was that I was going to get into whatever their reality was from day to day, and not try to pull them into mine. That film was actually used for training at that facility for many years.”

Paris later began a career in log-building. “I cut the logs myself and built from the ground up. I just finished and sold a project in Idyllwild built in the old Norwegian style. I even taught classes in how to do it. And I just finished doing a house here in the desert that was featured during Modernism Week.

“I’m always doing several things at once. I put together small film festivals while I was in school. I did sponsored films for corporations while I was in Minnesota. I’m not about to earn a living as a documentary filmmaker, although my current project is filming a series of 15-minute profiles of people in the Coachella Valley who love what they’re doing. I search for unheralded individuals with a passion for their work, and their struggles to help themselves and others to find joy and celebration in their lives. I’d love to pitch it as a series for local film festivals or maybe to run on PBS. It would be a good project to do with film students at College of the Desert.”

Paris loves to cook, dance, watch sports and hike. His enthusiasm when he speaks is engaging. He’s been married to Lori for the past 28 years, and they have a blended family from prior marriages.

“We’re totally opposite,” he says. “She is cautious, a thinker, but we mesh well together, like oil and vinegar once they’re blended.”

Paris came to California almost 30 years ago after visiting his film-historian older brother in Los Angeles.

“I love the desert,” he says. “I love the diversity here, and I love the proximity of five grocery stores within a five-minute drive. But my first week here, I had a nightmare that I couldn’t find a parking space that wasn’t handicapped. That speaks to my anxiety.”

Dan Paris has settled into the desert life, but if his past is any prologue to his future, he will continue his peripatetic lifestyle, always looking for a new way to express himself.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

La Quinta native Cruz Moore is a young man with a plan.

The 25-year-old was raised with his younger sister by their grandparents, and he says he was taught about responsibility and the need to follow a path toward the future. Moore’s path has led him to become a filmmaker, and one of his films, The Rise and Fall of Robert Benfer, has been accepted into the Palm Springs American Documentary Film Festival, and will be showing at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 2, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

As a child, Moore was exposed to the full spectrum of film, influenced by his grandparents to see movies like The Sound of Music and Jurassic Park, and by his uncles to see science fiction and horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th.

“The full spectrum of human emotions can be found in horror films,” says Moore. “When you take human beings, isolate them in a threatening world and force them to survive, you find empowerment. You affect people on an emotional level.”

Moore says he was “the class clown, coming up with anything I could for comedy—that was just my personality. But I got a lot more reserved and subtle by high school.”

After graduating from La Quinta High School, Moore attended College of the Desert and earned his associate’s degree in liberal arts.

“I was too far along in my studies to switch majors when COD adopted a film degree, although I tended to hang with people who are into the same interests as I am,” he says. “I do intend to complete my bachelor’s degree in film.”

Moore’s 46-minute film in the festival is about Robert Benfer Jr., an award-winning clay-animation pioneer who gained a massive following online—before becoming what many call a huckster.

“I track his work, which had artistic integrity, and then how he changed into someone who was apparently a total con,” Moore says. “He offered his entire filmography in boxed sets on the internet. People pre-ordered them through PayPal, but the product was never delivered, and getting a refund required asking (for the refund) within 60 days of purchase. So many people were ripped off.

“My film chronicles the beginning of his career and his influence on young filmmakers, and I include interviews with his fans and what he meant to them.”

Moore says one of his strongest influences regarding the project was his best friend, Jimmy Mancilla; he introduced Moore to the work of Robert Benfer in 2005. “I thought I was the class clown until I met (Jimmy). He’s hilarious, always on point and an intelligent guy,” Moore says.

Is this endeavor the beginning of a career making documentaries? “As long as I continue to make films and make a name for myself, I’m not stuck in any one genre,” Moore says. “I’m into short films, music videos, documentaries and movie trailers—where I pull out clips to make a better trailer than the original marketing package. I’ve made over 100 videos, and my primary focus is that people get something out of what I’ve done.

“It’s actually astounding to see how much support the Benfer film has gotten. It shows me that no matter how esoteric or unknown a subject is, there is a fan base out there that will thank you for making the film.”

Moore says he’s been making movies since 2006.

“I started making my own films, recording almost everything, and submitting them to sites like FilmFreeway, where you can submit films by paying a submission fee,” Moore says. “Some of the sites even take submissions for free. I go to film events and festivals and meet people with similar interests—and I’m aware that the local film community is growing. We have festivals for international films, short films and documentaries. We need to encourage young people with these interests to stay here (in the Coachella Valley).”

Does Moore prefer documentary filmmaking, or does he also want to make scripted films? “There’s a big difference between documentary and scripted,” he says. “The biggest factor in scripted film is in crafting your own story from your imagination without falling into some stereotype. Documentaries, depending on the subject matter, might be easier, because the story is already there. And I’d be willing to direct others’ films.”

Moore works on a low budget, and works as a full-time projectionist at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “I use Final Cut Pro for editing and do the writing and voice-over myself,” he says. “I haven’t really put together a crew.

“I just know that if you want to work in film, you have to put work into it every single day.”

Cruz Moore is a young man with a plan—and that plan is striving to make creative, diverse content on film. Getting his first festival acceptance into the American Documentary Film Festival is a sign that he is heading in the right direction.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Palm Desert residents Earl and Sandra Mitchell started out as high school sweethearts; today, they are retirees who finish each other’s sentences. Their paths in life were formed by higher education, but they’re now tapping into artistic skills they’d pushed into the background while pursuing professional careers.

Earl, 73, was born in Albuquerque, N.M., into a family with one brother and five sisters. His family moved to Compton, Calif., when he was 10. Sandra, 72, was born in Riverside and raised in Compton, with a brother and two sisters.

Earl and Sandra married when she was 19, and he was 20.

“When I was in high school, I fell in love with a beautiful girl, but I had to get permission,” Earl says with a laugh, “because at that time, guys had to be 21 to marry on their own.”

After high school, Earl studied at California State University, Los Angeles, majoring in business, accounting and finance. “I was then blessed to get a scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,” he says.

He worked as an accountant for 25 years.

“He was closed off in his room, studying like crazy (for his CPA), and I felt like I was slipping food trays under the door,” laughs Sandra.

Earl eventually changed directions and went into education, getting a doctorate in educational leadership from University of La Verne, and working as an assistant dean at Santa Ana College, before becoming finance director and eventually a dean. He retired as a teacher of accounting and finance.

Sandra attended her mom’s alma mater—Langston University in Oklahoma, originally as a music major.

“My mom exposed us all to music,” she says, “and I loved classical piano.”

But after a year, she wanted to return home. She married Earl at age 19, and then continued her education at California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.

“But I knew I should get practical, so I went on to Cal State L.A. majoring in English,” she says. She followed Earl to Illinois and went on to get a master’s degree in elementary education, teaching and working in curriculum development and child development for 22 years. She also worked for a time as a pharmaceutical rep for Proctor and Gamble.

Earl and Sandra originally bought an investment house in Palm Springs, but as they prepared for retirement, a friend said they should look at Sun City. They did, settling in the Coachella Valley in 2011—and rediscovering a love of music.

Earl says he always knew he had a “decent” voice, all the way back to middle school, but he never had the courage to sing in public until he retired.

“My brother got me to join the choir, so I had to learn how to sing harmony, but being raised in a family with seven kids, I knew I had to be able to pay the bills,” he says. “I always said that when I retired, I was going to sing. It was easy for me to create lyrics, but I didn’t really know music.”

Recalls Sandra: “In high school, when he was courting me, he would make records for me. It was so sweet.”

Earl enrolled in voice classes at College of the Desert, and now bills himself as “a new voice in the desert,” crooning from the Great American Songbook with shows at Sun City.

 “I always made sure there was a piano in the house,” says Sandra, “but I really wasn’t doing music while I was teaching, other than being the accompanist for the holiday programs. However, I always did plan to go back to music someday.”

Sandra now also makes movies to commemorate special occasions—weddings, memorials and parties, for friends and family. “It allows me to lovingly and creatively commemorate treasured events for others,” she says. “Over the past five years, I’ve added over 100 of these movies to my collection.”

Earl and Sandra work as a team to put on shows in the community. “When we don’t have live music,” says Sandra, “I create the musical playlist and serve as the DJ and emcee. We contribute all proceeds from singing events to VELA Youth Fund, Inc., our nonprofit which provides financial assistance to deserving black youth in the United States, the Caribbean and Africa.”

VELA was conceived in 2016. It is named for Earl’s parents, Vessie and Leon (Mitchell), and Sandra’s parents, Elva and Aidsand (Riggins). “Our mission is to help black youth, especially during middle school years, when they are most at risk,” says Earl. “In Africa, it’s about survival, as well as education. It’s primarily education in the Caribbean, and in the U.S., it’s about youth development. Even here, there’s a need for safety nets. It’s too easy for kids to make wrong choices about what’s important in their communities, like joining gangs.”

VELA funds scholarships and partners with other charitable projects, with an eye toward eventually eliminating the need for such programs.

Earl and Sandra have three children, two sons and a daughter. Daughter Emily is also a singer whose career has taken her to Broadway.

“We always thought our kids should know how to play an instrument,” says Sandra. “One played the violin, and we considered getting an accordion, but the salesman took one look at us when we opened the door, said he left something in his car, and never came back.”

Earl adds, “You’d think someone selling an accordion would be more interested in a commission than what we looked like.”

After successful professional careers and during an active retirement, what advice do Earl and Sandra have?

Earl: “Work at having joy at all times. We’re happy when all is well and we feel good, but joy is to be happy when things don’t go well. A good habit to acquire is when something goes wrong, just say, ‘Thank you Lord,’ and reflect on the various blessings you’ve received.”

Sandra: “Recognize your God-given talents and abilities, and use them every chance you get. You may not succeed in every situation, but you sure as heck will accomplish a lot more than if you don’t try at all.”

Earl and Sandra Mitchell are two people who live their truth and are making the most of what they have accomplished to help others.

“After getting an education and having great careers, in retirement, we had to give back.” Earl says. And so they do.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Brayan Mendoza is only 24, but he has already experienced the American dream in some ways—through his immigrant parents and his own efforts to turn his love of movies into a career.

A resident of Desert Hot Springs for eight years, Mendoza was born in Palm Springs. He graduated from Desert Hot Springs High School and earned an associate’s degree from College of the Desert in English.

“I’d like to go back to school and study film,” he says. “Film did a lot for me. I was going through a rough patch and was close to the breaking point. I even thought about taking my own life. Then I found American Film Institute’s 100 Years …100 Movies and watched all 100 of them. I found so much happiness and joy in doing that. I credit film for saving my life and turning me on to that form of expression.”

Mendoza is currently hosting Flix and Picks on iHub Radio every Saturday afternoon from 1 to 2 p.m. (I also work at iHub Radio.) He not only discusses current films, including those on Netflix and Amazon Prime, but also comparisons to classic American and foreign films.

“It’s really important to me to know that people are listening,” he says, “but I don’t want compliments just for doing a show … or for being good looking! I’d rather get compliments for who I am and having something intelligent to say. I feel like I have something to contribute to the conversation, and I want to be able to move people. I want to be able to give meaning to various communities, not only as a movie critic, but as a social communicator as well.”

Mendoza’s dad is from Chapala, Mexico, and his mom is from Guadalajara. The family includes three siblings from his mom, and three from his dad. He is second-youngest in this blended family.

“I’d like to write a book about my parents’ story,” Mendoza says. “I want to be able to show what a positive difference immigrants make in the United States. My mom came to the United States to find her place in the world. She married and had kids, but had to go back to Mexico. My dad had to steal food and started working at age 11. My mom and dad had known each other as kids, and he was also out of his marriage. They came to America, and he’s now a citizen. My younger brother and I are the children of their marriage.”

Mendoza hopes to marry one day (“a man or a woman—I’m bisexual, and I’m happy to say my family is very supportive, very open-minded”) and have children.

“I want a stable career, maybe as a teacher, but I want to continue doing radio, even though I don’t have what I consider a ‘radio voice,’” he said with a laugh. “I try to make up for that through performance. I did once take a class in radio; I got a D. I just felt it was very limiting. I really only do voice work for my own projects.”

Does Mendoza want to be a filmmaker? In a way, he already is.

“I’ve worked as manager for my dad’s gardening company, and I’m a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, but I’ve also done intern work for a local LGBT comedian; edited and did a commercial for one of last year’s Oscar parties; and did a short film for the local Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast,” which supports gay-straight alliance clubs and LGBT youth programs in the Coachella Valley.

“My favorite genres are noir, fantasy, drama and horror movies, and I also like comedies. But film noir is my favorite—black and white, beautiful women, corrupt individuals, duplicitous motives, and villains not that different from the heroes. You watch a film from the ’40s with beautiful cinematography and a musical score—and there’s something really romantic about those movies. But, alas, I’m not sure they would work anymore.”

How does Mendoza prepare to see a film?

“I like to go into a movie blind, without reading other reviews or seeing film clips,” he says. “I like to have some knowledge of the film, just so I can anticipate more about what I’m going to see, but I don’t want to go in with expectations. You can see a great advertisement for a movie, and it turns out to be horrible—or it can be badly promoted but be a great movie. I want the audience to know that. Besides, most trailers for movies give away way too much.”

Mendoza’s influences include Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (“Great sense of humor!”), Richard Roper, and YouTube critics Lindsay Ellis and Grace Randolph.

“Some write or do really long pieces,” says Mendoza, “but I try to do it in shorter segments. I explore the writing and acting, and what it means for the audience. I think of myself like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, discovering new things, and I take a little bit of that world with me when I go to see a film.”

Any advice for other young people in the Coachella Valley who hope to live their American dream?

“I want to be a good influence for LGBTQ youth,” Mendoza says. “My advice is to do life like a resumé—always looking to learn a new skill to improve yourself. Take risks; at least it will give you experience to learn for next time. Stay faithful to your career choices, but keep an open mind to what might happen. And work hard and network; get out and meet people, because you never know who can give you an opportunity.”

Brayan Mendoza is from a family that found the American dream—and he is living it into a new generation.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

I sensed fragility when I first met Crystal Harrell, due to her slight frame, gentle beauty and shy smile.

I quickly learned I was wrong—and found out how strong and determined she is.

Harrell, 23, is a native of the Coachella Valley—born in Indio, and currently residing in La Quinta. She attended College of the Desert, and graduated with a degree in communication and film from the California State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus.

Harrell’s family sounds perfectly “normal”: Her mom was a homemaker, with her dad working at Lowe’s (“My dad has never had to hire anybody to do anything!”), and a brother two years younger who is pursuing creative and graphic arts.

Harrell found her calling as a writer through reading. “I was always very shy,” she says, “but reading was a big thing for me. Before I could even read them, I’d look at picture books and make up the stories myself. Reading gives me time to digest, and to wonder whether the ideas resonate. My favorite book when I was young is Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I also loved Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, and Michael Crichton.

“In high school, I was on the newspaper, and then I was editor at COD. I like that kind of writing—so different from creative writing. I like to write in a journal. I have a desire to always learn more, and it’s a great feeling to send something out into the world for others. I like writing about local stories and current events, especially to reach people who aren’t from the Coachella Valley, who don’t really know how much the Coachella Valley has to offer. We have a multi-city spectrum offering very different things.”

Harrell’s story seems to be very “normal” … until she talks about the illness that totally changed her life. Pemphigus vulgaris struck just as Harrell had completed her studies at COD. It manifested initially as a couple of blisters on her nose before moving to her mouth and gums. She consulted dentists and got no help. She began to experience open skin sores on her body and consulted dermatologists—and still got no help. Everyone had something they wanted to try, from creams to pills, but nobody knew exactly what the underlying condition was.

Pemphigus is a debilitating autoimmune disorder that affects perhaps 10,000 people annually in the United States. Cells literally become separated, and the body begins to attack itself. Harrell finally took matters into her own hands—when her skin was literally falling off, and she was in pain to even wear clothing.

“It was a real struggle,” she says. “I didn’t know what I had. It went from a few blisters on my face and body to my skin falling off. It took about six months to finally know what was wrong. I started researching and got myself to Loma Linda, where they diagnosed it. Before that, I really thought it was the end for my future. I was then in my first quarter at Cal State, and I was determined to continue toward my goals.

“I’m in remission now, but you never know when it might come back. My body may be at war with itself, but I know I’ll come out victorious in the end. I have goals and dreams that are bigger than what I was dealing with.”

Harrell is grateful for the support of her family during the agonizing months of her worst symptoms. “I had faith that gave me the strength to push forward,” she says. “I was so pleased to have an article about all that happened get accepted to be published online  so I can help others be able to get diagnosed.”

Harrell’s positive attitude is evident when you spend time with her, and she is quick to acknowledge the influence of her family and her longtime boyfriend.

“My mom and I were always very close,” she says. “She encouraged me to dream big. If not for her, I might never have found journalism, because when I really didn’t know what direction to go in, she suggested it. Nobody else in my family is a writer. She always gave me the room to blossom—and my dad has been very supportive of my desire to write. I remember reading with him, sitting in his lap when I was young.

“I met my boyfriend my freshman year of high school. We connected through writing, through a way with words. He’s an aspiring film director. It’s a very special relationship, not based on outward things, but based on thoughts and a mutual passion for writing. I can feel words physically.”

Harrell’s day job is as a report editor for a medical legal firm in Indio, but she also does freelance writing, covering local events like the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and submitting pieces to community newspapers. Although she has “dabbled” in novels and poetry, her goal is to work full-time for a major publication, and to write a book about her personal struggle.

“Someday, I’d like to travel to Europe. As much as I love it here, I want to get out and explore,” she says. “I want to go places and meet people and learn. There is so much we never dream we can do.”

Crystal Harrell has an inspiring story to tell. Her strength and determination in the face of a debilitating illness are an example to all of us, as are her words.

“You have to find what gives you joy and hold onto that feeling. Happiness is the strongest medicine.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

The sexual molestation began when she was 6. By 11, she was being raped. Her mother was largely absent; she was unsure who her father was; her 80-plus-year-old grandmother did her best to raise three grandchildren on Social Security. Their home was strictly Catholic, in a low-income, predominantly Hispanic community in San Diego.

“My mother ended up on her own with three children, perhaps from different fathers,” Borges says. “She had been the baby of her very large family, so my aunts or uncles were all much older with their own families. She left us with my grandmother. At one point, she returned to take my middle brother, leaving my oldest brother and me with Grandma.”

Borges’ oldest brother was a teenager. His sexual behavior toward her began when she was 6 and continued, including rape starting at 11, until she left for college at 17.

“My grandmother went to church almost every day,” Borges says. “She ruled with a heavy hand, but she didn’t know what was going in her own household. We knew that what happened at home stayed at home. Period.”

Borges never told anyone.

“I know I never felt guilty, but I was extremely introverted, and I looked so sad,” she says. “I was also very bright, and I escaped by spending lots of time at the library, looking for my way out. I had tested as gifted at a young age, so I had teachers—very strong female teachers—who opened doors for me. They taught me to think, to use those muscles, to read poetry, and that if I continued studying hard, today would just be the tip of the iceberg—that there was a big future out there for me.”

In 1997, Borges started a career in law enforcement as a correctional officer working in a protective-custody unit.

“I was around rapists and child molesters, and I began to read files about those crimes, and domestic violence, assaults, murders,” Borges says. “I became really good at figuring out the thought process of molesters—the components and characteristics. I thought about becoming a detective, but I was already a single mom, with a young son, who was hardly ever home. All he had was me. After 10 years in corrections, I opened my own business here in the desert.”

It took Borges 11 years to complete her college degree, with a double major in anthropology and theology from University of San Diego. She went on to earn a master’s degree in theology in 2000, at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a doctorate from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. She published her first book, Left Vulnerable, in 2017.

“Although I originally studied anthropology and culture, I pursued theology because it was interesting to me,” she says. “When you’re raised religious and sexually assaulted, you do ask, ‘Why would God let this happen to me?’ It can bring extraordinary recklessness to your life. I had walked that fine line.”

Borges, 49 and a resident of Palm Desert, counsels clients (non-licensed), particularly those who have been in traumatic situations. She also gives public presentations and preaches forgiveness.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How did you learn to forgive?’ I use empathy. I put myself in someone else’s shoes,” she says.

“My brother was only 15 when the molestation started. Our mother was basically absent. My grandmother was over 80, and he was her favorite. He had to quit playing baseball, which he loved, to go to work part-time while in school. His financial contribution made a big difference. How awful that must have been for him.

“People can act super-aggressive when they’re fearful. We default to anger and acting out. It takes a lot more effort to be kind and loving and understanding—and forgiving. As a society, with social media and the news, stories about love and generosity are few and far between. I do believe I see a shift, that people are seeing the need for kindness, and compassion. I think the pendulum is coming back in that direction.

“I get to talk to teachers and students about seeking out and learning how to forgive. It can help for handling volatile situations. Any healthy relationship is about empathy, understanding and tolerance.”

Borges’ son, 21, attends college in San Francisco, studying business and finance.

“I had to work to get through college, so I made sure my son got into college,” she says. “In a way, my mother was a very strong influence on me. When I got pregnant in my mid-20s, I decided to raise him on my own. He has always been very supportive of what I do, and believes that these discussions are necessary in order to lessen sexual assaults and keep the lines of communications open. He really pushes me to seek out speaking engagements. He feels that so much about sexual assault is hidden, and until we are comfortable discussing the topic, it runs the risk of staying hidden. I’m extremely blessed to be his mom.

“I think about how happy we are at times like Christmas, based on people giving to each other with love. I’ve learned it takes a very gentle person to be strong.”

Borges is currently in a 4-year relationship with a woman.

“I never realized I was gay until the first time I was asked out by a woman,” she says. “I didn’t see how that would work. Well, I never went back to dating men after that!”

 Borges’ current venture is her FWord Project.

“I want to collect stories about forgiveness—two or three paragraphs about a time you forgave, or someone forgave you, or things that are unforgivable. I want everything from Holocaust survivors to those in every walk of life. The goal is to incorporate all the stories about how we do or do not forgive. I want to get stories from all over the world to see if other countries are different in the ways they forgive. If we’re aware of stories about forgiveness in others, we can perhaps not fall back into the negative. It’s about coming to the table with love and understanding. I ask people, ‘What do you have to lose by reaching out?’ We have to move past things to get on with our lives, to reach the point where we ask ourselves, ‘Why didn’t I do that sooner?’

“I plan to collect the stories and pictures and publish them all online. People can submit stories or get more information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”

Danitza Borges has found peace despite circumstances that could easily have destroyed her. She has dedicated her life to helping others find the strength to forgive as she did.

“Knowing others’ experience can move us toward being able to learn forgiveness,” she says. “It’s hard work, but what we search for, we can find.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Barbara Fosse, 81, has been in the desert for more than 17 years. After selling pharmaceuticals for 30-plus years, the Sun City Palm Desert resident is now program coordinator for Tunes for the Memory, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Music Mends Minds, an orchestra and music program targeted to those with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, other dementia-related conditions, traumatic brain injury and stroke, as well as veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Carol Rosenstein, a Los Angeles resident and 2018 CNN Hero, founded Music Mends Minds after what she describes as a “freakish moment” in 2014 involving her husband, Irwin, a person living with Parkinson’s.

“I walked in and heard him sitting at the piano,” she recalls. “He had previously played piano and saxophone, but hadn’t made music for the eight years since his diagnosis. I noticed how he seemed to resurrect while playing, responding like a plant that had needed nourishment. A doctor told me that I was watching music change brain chemistry. It’s absolute magic. Playing the piano had caused him to release dopamine. I realized that no medications seemed to be more powerful than the music.

“I got a few of his buddies to come and jam to have fun musically, and I had a big banner made up that said ‘The 5th Dementia.’ We had about 30 people at our launch. Within just a few minutes, some of them were gathered around the piano and starting to also make music. We now have 17 bands nationwide along with five global groups, including many in affiliation with Rotary International groups. We have band kits for those who want to start their own band, and we offer mentoring, all free as a community service. We’re now looking for music therapists to be able to expand our help to those who want to participate.”

In spite of disease progression, the ability to play music and recollect lyrics is often maintained. Participation can increase a sense of self-worth, confidence and identity. People can feel whole again.

“Science does show us today that playing a musical instrument is like a full body workout for the brain,” says Rosenstein. “It pushes natural neurotransmitters. Until science gives us a cure, we have a kind of natural medication available by playing music.”

Music Mends Minds’ website indicates that music directly affects neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, repair and reorganize itself. It cites research studies showing that:

• Music improves mood by helping one feel happier and less anxious.

• Music may play a protective role against cognitive aging.

• Music improves pain control and reduces pain severity through activation of the brain’s reward centers and by lowering stress hormones such as cortisol.

• Patients with Alzheimer’s may forget certain melodic content of songs, but their ability to play their instrument seems to be unforgettable.

• Music can enhance cognitive functioning and neural processing more than any other art or hobby, allowing people to react and creatively process things more effectively.

Each Music Mends Minds location has its own band name: The aforementioned 5th Dementia in Los Angeles, the Band of Heroes in West Los Angeles, and the Beverly Hills Treble Makers, where Rosenstein says they get about 100 people every week.

Here in the Coachella Valley, Barbara Fosse saw an article in the paper about the Music Mends Minds program.

“I’m an organizer,” says Fosse, “so I called and asked, ‘Do you have anything for me to organize here?’ I had previously worked with Songshine Singers, a group targeted to Parkinson’s patients, and I always believed in the concept of how music can make a difference. But I felt it needed to go to memory issues as well.

“Music Mends Minds (started in) Sun City three years ago. … The Braille Institute in Rancho Mirage agreed to let us meet there. We call our group ‘Tunes for the Memory,’ and famed local pianist Bill Marx helped us kick it off. Now we meet every Friday afternoon from 1:30-3 p.m. from October through April. You’d be surprised how many people have backgrounds in making music. We have some really great musicians and singers.”

Fosse was born and raised In Illinois, and she graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in education, specializing in biology. Her first marriage to a high school sweetheart yielded two sons and a daughter. After living in Northern California for two years, they moved back to Illinois, where Fosse taught for three years and then “retired” to raise her children, working only part-time. After 17 years, the marriage ended, and Fosse began a new career.

“I took a job as education curator for the local zoo,” she says. “Then I became acting director, but when I applied for the director position, they hired a man. I thought, ‘What else can I do?’

“I became the first female sales rep for a pharmaceutical and veterinary medicine company. My by-word was, ‘If you don’t know more than the doctor, you’d better get out!’ I also became a trainer, teaching things like rape prevention.

“I loved working with the doctors … mostly. I do remember one office where one of the doctors asked me, ‘Why isn’t a man doing this job?’ And I said, ‘I’m a divorced mother with three children. Do you want me to go on welfare instead?’ That stopped him. He said, ‘By all means, keep on working.’”

Fosse’s affiliation with Tunes for the Memory has taken on an even more personal importance since one of her sons was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

“I’ve reviewed the literature about the impact of music on patients and their caregivers,” says Fosse. “They all benefit, and that also includes family, friends and the community. The musical environment not only lets people make music together, whether they tap, hum, sing or play an instrument, but it’s a way for them to express themselves, often when they don’t communicate in other ways.

“After participating in making the music, people are more connected, even more conversational. Their mood is elevated; functionality improves, and the impact can last for weeks.”

The impact of Barbara Fosse and Carol Rosenstein will last for a long time.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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