My dad couldn’t wait to retire.
He started working at 14 and had done whatever he could, without an education, to support his family. I remember when he worked three jobs a week: running a catering truck, collecting coins from vending machines, and working in a gas station on weekends.
He budgeted and saved to make sure he and my mother could have a comfortable lifestyle once he stopped working. He was proud to be able to retire—to do, in his view, “nothing.”
I can’t help but compare my dad’s notion of retirement with what I see playing out every day here in the Coachella Valley—particularly the women in second and third careers who make a difference for their neighbors.
The Democratic Women of the Desert recently presented their 2014 Women Honoring Women Awards. I was one of the recipients, given the Voice of Women’s Rights Award, partly for my Lovable Liberal radio persona, and for my many years of vocal advocacy on behalf of women’s equality. However, when I realized the accomplishments of the other women being honored, I became convinced a mistake had been made: I didn’t feel competent to be in their company.
Megan Beaman received the Civil Rights Award. An attorney advocating on behalf of those in our own East Valley who are least represented in the legal system, Beaman practiced law for years at a nonprofit legal-assistance corporation that served rural Californians, particularly farmworkers. She also challenged administrative, state and federal policies on behalf of her diverse clients.
Coming from a rural working-class family, Beaman recognized early the challenges facing workers, families and communities that are regularly excluded from the legal system. In her family, she was taught not only to recognize unfairness, but was instilled with the drive to act to rectify it.
Beaman founded Beaman Law in 2012 to expand her ability to service more clients. She also has a long history of volunteerism, working in partnership with nonprofit organizations and community leaders.
“It is not lost on me that I am receiving this award in response to the violation of the rights of others,” she says. “Civil rights stand for the basic principle that, regardless of our differences, all of us have the same inherent rights as human beings, and all of us are responsible to ensure that nobody tries to impinge on those rights.”
Sister Carol Nolan, named Volunteer of the Year, is a member of the Sisters of Providence. She is dedicated to helping students and adults in the East Valley learn English. With a master’s degree in music, Nolan taught music and English, and spent a sabbatical year studying Spanish in Mexico. She has been director of Providence in the Desert since 2002, and was responsible for bringing “Nuns on the Bus” to the Coachella facility in 2013.
Nolan is part of Guerin Outreach Ministries as “a reflection of the interest and zeal of the Sisters of Providence in manifesting God’s loving presence in the lives of the struggles of the poor.” Her favorite quote: “Love the children first, and then teach them.”
“English is a very difficult language to learn, especially for adults whose brains are already wired for another language,” says Nolan, “but I believe love and education can change the world. Only love has the power to transform.”
Honored with the Democratic Ideals Award, Sonja Martin is a life-long educator whose “retirement” is anything but. She was a classroom teacher, principal, district administrator and superintendent of schools, and worked as a consultant with the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Martin has authored books for parents and teachers, and worked with teachers around the world to improve student achievement. She has represented our area on the Riverside County Commission for Women, advocating for inclusion of women and women’s issues at all levels of policymaking; and the Riverside County Office on Aging, emphasizing programs like Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and spreading the word about free support services available through the county. She has been active in other community-service organizations, including California’s Senior Legislature.
“After I retired from my education career,” says Martin, “I had to ask myself: ‘What do I do now?’ People need someone to be out there for them. There’s work to be done.”
Philanthropist Eileen Stern came from a working-class family, was raised in public housing, attended public schools and went to a state university. She received the Humanitarian Award from DWD.
The first woman to hold a national marketing manager position with Sears, Stern moved on to entrepreneurial marketing and public relations work. She was motivated to get involved in the fight against breast cancer after the untimely death of her mother. “I felt compelled to try to do something to help find a cure.”
Stern’s efforts resulted in the HIKE4HOPE event that has raised more than $4 million to support cancer research at City of Hope. She also helped launch the first fundraiser for the FIND Food Bank, served as president of the Desert Women’s Council, worked with the Children’s Discovery Museum, and chaired the first fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Cathedral City.
“I learned to pay it forward,” said Stern upon receiving her award. “I share this award with all of you who work to make other’s lives better.”
The final DWD award was for Lifetime Achievement, presented to Rancho Mirage resident, Elle “Elle K” Kurpiewski. A flight attendant, Elle K came from an Air Force family that focused on patriotism and service. She has spent her life “walking the talk,” including union organizing and advocating for flight attendants; running as the Democratic candidate in the local 2002 congressional race; and serving as a delegate to the 2004 Democratic convention, president of Democrats of the Desert, and executive director of the Democratic Foundation of the Desert. She was largely responsible for establishing a local Democratic Party headquarters office in Cathedral City.
“I believe in the Democratic ideals of liberty and equality for all,” said Elle K upon receiving her award. “I’m consistently reminded that one person can make a difference. I share this with all of you. … Now let’s get back to work!”
What are you doing to work on behalf of your community?