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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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Anyone who met them always came away saying, “They’re the ideal couple!”

Donald Beck and Geoffrey Webb met in Monterey, Calif., in May 1992, at a religious conference.

“I would always go to Los Angeles to see Geoffrey,” says Beck, “and he had never been to Palm Springs. He finally came down on a day when it was 120 degrees, but when I want somebody, I want them. There’s no choice. By Thanksgiving that year, he had moved here.”

Beck, now 86, was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio.

“My real parents were Czechoslovakian. The family had come over in the late 1800s. I was what was known as a ‘change-of-life baby.’ The next older, my sister, was 16 when I was born. When my parents died, one of my older brothers became my legal guardian. I was about 5 when my mother died, and I have one strong memory about her. In those days, the dead were in the coffin at home, and I remember being raised up to see her. I remember a maroon veil with gold fringe.

“My brother and his wife had wanted children, and I became their child. They adopted me, and I totally think of them as my parents. They’re who I know as Mom and Dad. They were very loving—I could do no wrong. They gave me the confidence I have to this day.”

Beck attended Youngstown State University, and because he carried a “B” average, he was not subject to the draft during the Korean War. “Then I got into a fraternity,” he remembers, laughing, “and my grades dropped.

“I got drafted into the Army for two years, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, but I never did get to Korea. I volunteered to type reports, and they sent me to personnel school.

“When I got out of the service, I thought about living in Youngstown, but I decided to move to Los Angeles and go to beauty school. I used to brush my mom’s hair all the time. I had chipped teeth from opening bobby pins! She always went to a beauty shop in a woman’s home, and I’d watch her getting her hair done. By my last year of high school, I was cutting the hair of all my female relatives.

“I won first prize in a contest that was being judged by the Pagano brothers, who had a well-known salon. When they asked where I was going to go after school, I said, ‘With you!’ At that time, they had a salon at the racquet club in Cheviot Hills (in L.A.), and I was there for seven years.”

Beck came to Palm Springs in 1980 to escape what he describes as “too much of everything” in Los Angeles: “too much drugs, traffic and smog.” He spent three months looking for the right place, traveling around the country in a van. “When a friend who lived in Palm Springs had lost his partner and wanted some company, I came down. A friend of his needed somebody to house-sit, and I ended up living there for two years.”

Geoffrey Webb, from Keyworth in Nottinghamshire, England, was the youngest of 11 children, and was a performer from a young age. At 17, he joined a touring ballet company and danced his way through Europe for six years. He performed with London’s Festival Ballet Company and at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Beck describes him as a “triple threat performer, excelling in dance, song and acting.” Webb came to America in a British musical, stayed and appeared in major stage shows, and then portrayed the butler in the soap opera One Life to Live. He appeared in the Palm Springs Follies for nine years, and became a U.S. citizen in 2000.

Beck’s career in the desert as a stylist includes his role as wigmaster for the Follies. “Geoffrey was already in the Follies, and I crashed an opening party. Their hairdresser had just quit, so I took the job,” he said. “I started out doing 30 wigs, and at the end of eight years, I was doing about 156. I would alternately bring them home to wash and dried them hanging on trees in the backyard. It was a sight! When I left, they needed two people to do the job.”

Beck and Webb married in 2008. “It was when (Gavin) Newsom first allowed gay marriage in California,” recalls Beck. “We had fought for these rights, so I thought we might as well take advantage of them. … Geoffrey and I were together for 27 years.”

Webb was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and Beck believes the symptoms had been there for at least 10 years before he was diagnosed. Webb died in November, and Beck was not only his spouse, but also his full-time caregiver and best friend. I was lucky enough to attend the memorial service held in Webb’s honor, where Beck talked about their time together. His admiration for Webb’s talent and his sense of loss were palpable to all.

Webb was a poet, among his other pursuits, and Beck shared some of Webb’s poetic words: “Time passes. Time stands still. The time, oh where did it go?” Beck was poignant in talking about that which you give away, that which you cannot keep, and having that which you can never lose.

Beck’s tender care-giving for his beloved partner stood as an example to all who know them.

“I became facilitator of a group of caregivers for those with Parkinson’s,” says Beck, “and learned all the symptoms to be aware of: colorblindness, loss of sense of smell and swallowing ability, and ultimately dementia.” Beck and Webb were regular attendees at SongShine, where Webb’s voice was prized, and at the Dementia-Friendly Café, which I help organize; that is where I met them. Webb would often spontaneously stand and sing for the gathered group, in a sweet, clear sound that lifted everyone, and always with a special glint in his eye.

“There are so many wonderful memories,” says Beck. “We traveled a lot together, and it was so much fun to share the companionship and our impressions of favorite places like Venice, and Mo’orea (an island near Tahiti), where there’s a great story about a tarantula.”

At the memorial to his beloved partner, Beck quoted the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu: “What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

“I can’t beat myself up, or be angry or aggravated at his loss,” says Beck. “I just wanted him to be around as long as possible.”

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

At 69, Gina Bikales is the embodiment of the word “indefatigable”: She’s seemingly incapable of being tired out.

Gina leads Script2Stage2Screen (S2S2S), the theater company which presents staged readings of new works at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage. (Disclosure: I have acted with S2S2S before.)

“We (the Coachella Valley) have theater going on year-round now, (as opposed) to when I came to the desert in 2000,” Bikales says. “(We have) community theaters presenting ‘chestnuts’ (older hit plays that always attract an audience); professional companies doing edgier works; three great full-time companies; and S2S2S taking it a step further, doing only new, unpublished works. We want scripts that speak to current issues.”

Bikales came to her role with S2S2S—running the program as well as casting, directing and occasionally taking a role herself—with a lifetime of connection to the arts. Born in Topeka, Kan., and raised in Kansas City, Gina graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in theater education and language arts.

“I came from an artsy family,” she says. “My mom was a sculptor, and my dad, although a psychiatrist by profession, always designed and made jewelry. They provided an artistic education for all of us (an older brother, and a younger brother and sister). We started piano at 5, and by second-grade, we could choose a second instrument to learn.

“I’ve done theater since I was young. At 12, I signed up to go to the Midwest Music and Art Camp. Once there, I hurt my foot, and there was no way I could dance, so my dad talked to them and got me into the theater group. I was the youngest one, but they took me under their wings, and I fell in love with it.

“When I got to college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, because I loved science, but I hated math. When I realized how much math was required, I didn’t want to go forward. I now realize part of my feelings about math were associated with it not being a ‘feminine’ thing to be good at. Anyway, my college adviser literally stood in front of his office door and said, ‘You can’t leave until you declare a major,’ so I focused on theater education. After college, I left Kansas City for North Carolina to teach at a prep school.”

Bikales subsequently married and moved to Santa Clara in the Bay Area, and “put my husband through law school.” She later divorced and returned to Kansas City to raise her three sons, all of whom are now professional musicians.

“I worked as a teacher, but the arts were always an important part of my life,” she says. “At 16, my first summer job was teaching at the only performing-arts camp at that time in Kansas City, Camellot Academy. Just after college, they asked me to take over running it, and until about 2005, I went back to Kansas City and ran Camellot every summer.”

Bikales left Kansas City after marrying “a desert guy” and has been in the Coachella Valley since 2000, currently residing in Palm Desert.

“Much to my surprise, I fell in love with the desert and decided to stay after that marriage ended,” she says. “I was basically a retired lady, but one day, I went to a local meeting of the Coachella Valley Alumnae Panhellenic Association. I was seated with Jeanette Lyons and Lynn Talbot, who were doing a show at the Joslyn Center. I got cast, and from then on, I’ve been involved in theater here.

“Acting came easily for me, and I loved it. The first time I did it, I was hooked. I put acting on hold when my kids were young, but began doing community theater once they were old enough to be left at night.

“Once I left Kansas City and came to the desert, I still returned to the Camellot program, but I was ready to work with adults. Ron Celona had been running the theater at Joslyn Senior Center, and when he left, they asked me to take his place. I said, ‘Absolutely!’ Meanwhile, my divorce attorney was saying, ‘You need to get a job.’ His partner was development director with the Visiting Nurse Association, and he hired me as development manager to support the hospice program. You can’t get a better reason to be willing to ask people for money.”

Bikales’ experience as a teacher, actor and manager has influenced her ability to direct.

“When you’re acting, your primary focus is on character, and how that character relates to others on the stage,” she says. “When you direct, you have to pick up lots of other threads and concerns in a script: lighting, costuming and the ability to tie it all together with a bow so it works to communicate what the playwright intended. A show needs to look seamless and effortless to the audience. It’s both a creative and management kind of position.”

S2S2S began as a project to feature the work of gay Coachella Valley playwrights. Bikales began working with the group in its first season. After the two founders retired, she was asked to take over the program.

“We have so much talent here, from retired actors to accountants who’ve always wanted to act,” she says. “We have people who’ve never been onstage before, and some who’ve won awards for performing. Being in an S2S2S production only requires three weeks of evening rehearsals, and it’s fun.”

S2S2S, now in its 10th year, may be the most economical theater experience in the valley, at only $10 a ticket. Usually the playwright is in the audience to gauge reactions, as well as take questions and comments after the production. The number of shows presented each season depends on how many plays are submitted and considered worthy of a first outing. Play-submission information is at the website, www.script2stage2screen.com.

“It’s been my mission for the last few years to push women, especially women of color, into directing. For some reason, it’s difficult to find women who want to direct,” Bikales says.

“Because the plays we put on are new and unpublished, we can work with the playwright, something you can’t do with a published work. We get submissions from all over the country, and there are a lot of local writers who want to get an audience’s reactions to a work in progress. I’m in it from the submission phase to the final curtain call. I’ll do S2S2S as long as it’s a joy to do, and it is!”

S2S2S, under Bikales’ direction, has garnered 17 Desert Theatre League awards. She served as president of the DTL for eight years, and has been on the boards of other local organizations. Despite recent health issues, she directs individual plays, carefully casts local talent, scrounges costumes and props, and occasionally returns to the stage.

Gina Bikales is, indeed, indefatigable.

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Some people are heroes without meaning to be, and modestly claim afterward: “We got lucky!”

Robyne McCarthy Taylor was flying for Qantas, based in her native Australia. Born and raised in Victoria, Robyne, now 66, joined Qantas after trying a secretarial job in Melbourne after high school.

“I was 21 when I joined Qantas,” she recalls. “I trained with a group of really quality people—we were the youngest girls they had ever employed. We’ve remained really close throughout the years. It was when the (Boeing) 747s came in. I was one of three girls, ‘flight hostesses,’ who flew on each flight along with 12 male ‘stewards.’

“We had to sign a contract on our application about whether we wanted to retire at 35 or at 55. I was only 21, and thought that surely by 35, I’d be willing to go. But the stewards didn’t have to sign a contract. They also could get promoted into cushier jobs. We had the babies and toilets, and didn’t get counted for seniority that would lead to better positions and pay.”

Taylor was a member of the union specifically for the “girls,” while the “boys” had their own as well.

“I attended meetings, and we finally said, ‘Let’s go after them.’ We wanted equality, access to promotions, the chance to rise to be pursers and more money. Australian men were very chauvinistic, and they would say, ‘I’m not taking any orders from a Sheila!’ They didn’t think we’d win it.

“We got a female judge … and we got lucky!”

Taylor is a 25-year resident of The Springs in Rancho Mirage. She and her late husband, banker David Taylor, moved to the desert from Chicago after some friends convinced them to come and visit.

The couple met, naturally, on a plane.

“I had gotten fed up with flying and got a cushy job—I was kind of a flight spy,” she says. “I had been involved with a London-educated gentleman from Bahrain. … He wasn’t part of a royal family, but high up there. Anyway, I was sitting in first class on a Sydney-to-Singapore flight, heading to Bahrain. David was sitting in front of me heading to London. I thought, ‘What a nice-looking gentleman. Why can’t I meet someone like that?’ There was a magazine rack in front of him, so I got up to see if he had warts or anything like that. He didn’t. I said, ‘Didn’t I see you last week in Tahiti?’ He said, ‘No,’ and went back to his Wall Street Journal. At our stop, I stayed on board, but he was walking around and had time to think about it. When he came back … well, we were together for about 24 years, married for 20 of them.

“He was living in New York at the time, and he didn’t like me being away so much, so I asked for some leave-of-absence time. I told him he had to come to Australia to meet my mother. She actually said, ‘What are your intentions with my daughter?’ He was a total gentleman with such a good sense of humor. He said, ‘I intend to sleep with her as much as I can.’ Once his divorce came through, which had begun before me, I stayed in New York.

“After we were married, we were in London. Because I was still in the union, I said I wanted to go to Paris to help choose the new Qantas uniforms. For 12 years, we had worn lovely dresses designed by (Emilio) Pucci. I didn’t speak French, but I thought I had made it clear at Yves Saint Laurent that I didn’t want to see a single kangaroo anywhere! Three months later, when we opened the boxes, there were kangaroos all over. It was the worst moment of my life,” she says, before suddenly going quiet and serious. “Other than the death of my father. We were very close.”

Robyne and David traveled all over Europe while living in London, and after he retired, they took lots of cruises. “To be honest,” she smiles, “I never want to see another airplane as long as I live.”

Worst passenger ever? “David Frost,” she says without hesitation. “He insisted on sleeping on the floor.”

Best passenger ever? “Sammy Davis Jr. He was wonderful!”

Taylor’s involvement in the local community largely revolves around animals. “I was on the board of Guide Dogs of the Desert and with Loving All Animals, and I’ve supported the Cancer Center for Animals in Chicago. I’m also very lucky to have my little Lola (her dog) in my life. My husband died nine years ago, and Lola has been with me 7 1/2 years while I’m on my own.”

Taylor says she has tired of being charming since David’s death. “I had to be all my life. I’ve become a bit of a recluse,” she says. She hates computers, still sends handwritten notes, and stays in touch with a large group of good friends. Plastered to her garage’s inside walls are pictures, large and small, of key events in settings all over the world, surrounding her chic red convertible.

Taylor is not afraid to stand her ground and fight, no matter how blithely she waves off her accomplishments. She recalls when the settlement check from Qantas—after the case had finally been resolved six years later—arrived in the mail.

“I opened it, and you know those phony checks they send to rope you into something? I thought that’s what it was. David looked at it and said, ‘It’s a real check, for $50,000!’

“We were just lucky.”

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Doug Dean had no idea that a Woody Herman concert his concert-pianist mother took him to when he was 14 would change his life.

“My mom was an amazing woman,” says Dean, 78, a Palm Desert resident for 10 years. “She played on a radio station in Chicago and also taught piano. I remember hearing her on the radio when I was about 5. She started teaching me piano and how to read music. I played on and off until she took me to that concert—and I decided then and there that I wanted to study the drums.

“I was in the hospital at about 10 or 12 years old, and I remember listening to Daddy O Daylie,” the first African American with a syndicated jazz radio show in Chicago. “He used to say he was ‘the musical host who loves you the most’ and ‘I’m as nice as a mother’s advice.’ I never forget that, and I absorbed that music.

“In junior high in those days, there was always a music teacher. Mine was one of the best on the planet! I studied with him all through high school, and I learned to combine reading music with technique on the drums. A lot of drummers don’t really read music and only play the rhythm staffs, so I had an advantage that helped me get jobs.”

Dean and his older sister were born and raised in Winnetka, Ill. “My dad had played the saxophone in 1920s Chicago, but when he heard how good others played, he pawned all his instruments, because he realized he would never be as good as they were. For him, money was more important than anything, and he ultimately bought a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade and continued in that until he was almost 100.

“My dad never approved of anything I ever did, but he became an example of how not to be. I guess that’s what I learned from him.”

After getting an associate’s degree from Los Angeles Valley College, Dean went on to UCLA for a year—and then began drumming for a living.

“My first real work was when I was 27 with a group called The Sandpipers, an acoustic trio that had a hit with ‘Guantanamera.’ From there, I was lucky enough to go with a 35-piece orchestra with Anthony Newley on his first gig doing a nightclub act. (See the photo to the right.) When I auditioned for that, I got the job, because I could read. We were at the Waldorf Hotel in New York, and people like Barbra Streisand and Sidney Poitier would come in. It was probably the best job I ever had!”

Dean spent about 20 years working on cruise ships and has been all over the world, including the Caribbean, Mexico, and a world tour from San Francisco to Quebec, Hawaii, Australia, India, Singapore, Thailand and Burma.

“We were halfway across the Atlantic heading toward Nova Scotia when Sept. 11 happened,” he says. “There were 28 747s parked there in a row unable to take off. It was like the end of the world.

“Maybe my favorite place was Juneau, Alaska. When I was first there, it was 65 degrees, crystal clear, and snow on the mountains. The salmon was awesome—I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

Dean can drop names with the best of them: “Sarah Vaughan was once working in Reno, and I would go by about 2 a.m. every night for about two weeks. A couple of months later, I met her piano player, Chick Corea, before he went with Miles (Davis), and I remember he said to me, ‘There’s work out here.’

“I worked with Julie Andrews, Caterina Valente, Robert Goulet, Liberace, Florence Henderson, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca—that one was fun! I was blown away when working with Jackie Evancho. She was about 12 at the time, and it was a 45-piece orchestra. She is amazing.”

Dean was influenced by people like Papa Jo Jones, known for his use of brushes, and Philly Joe Jones, who played with Miles Davis.

“They are the two incredible jazz drummers on the planet. The brushes on a snare are felt with no rebound like sticks on the snare. And, of course, with rock ’n’ roll, it’s a thump,” he says with a laugh.

Does Dean ever plan to retire? “I play locally with Ted Herman’s 16-piece big band on Sunday nights (at the Indian Wells Resort Hotel), and I still get calls because I can read. For example, I was asked to do a benefit at Shadow Hills by Alexis Gershwin, George Gershwin’s niece. (I’ll play) as long as I have my health, and as long as somebody wants to hire me. I hate to admit that I actually enjoy it; musicians usually like to complain. I come alive when I start playing.”

There’s another skill that makes Dean come alive: flying. He got a commercial pilot’s license through the G.I. Bill (“I probably should have gone back to college, but I didn’t!”) and then got his glider license.

“I was in Las Vegas with Robert Goulet and was asked to fly the tow plane, which was the only time I actually got paid for flying,” he says. “I remember once I took a girlfriend up. She managed to hold it in until we landed—then she threw up.

“I once flew under the Golden Gate Bridge. That was really something!”

His mother’s influence is key to understanding how he found his passion. “My mom took me to hear classical artists, like Arthur Rubinstein, but she liked jazz and almost every album she bought that we listened to was jazz.”

The Woody Herman concert when he was 14 changed the course of Doug Dean’s life forever. What did it for you?

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays 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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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