A story about autism and acceptance
By John J. Muto, Los Angeles Harbor College Student
When I became a freshman at San Pedro High School, Kenny and I attended the same school for the first time in a long while. Kenny was a senior and he was autistic.
The disorders associated with autism are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Last year, the National Institute of Health merged all autism disorders
into one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
People with autism sometimes have communication problems which stems from tiny delays in the perception of speech, or from imprecise pairing of spoken words and gestures. In Kenny’s case, this resulted in him speaking fast–so fast that people had difficulty understanding him.
In high school, I had friends. I was on the school’s baseball team. I had a social life. I was embarrassed to be seen with him. So I avoided him, despite my mom’s instruction to say “hi” whenever I saw him.
I never spoke to him while we were at school. We were brothers and attended the same school, but our lives and our worlds were separate. Yet, I watched him. Whether it was during our late morning 20 minute nutrition break or our early afternoon lunch break, Kenny sat alone and no one said a word to him. Not even me, his own brother.
I felt convicted. When the school year ended, I thought a lot about his lonely lunch periods. There were a lot of nights I lied awake thinking about how terrible a brother I was to Kenny.
One night, tired from wrestling with my conscience, I resolved to be a better brother to Kenny. I began to spend my nutrition and lunch periods with him and began visiting him in his class which housed other special needs students.
As my relationship with Kenny deepened, my desire to befriend the other special needs students in his class deepened too.
I wanted to be their friend. I wanted to get to know all of them and hang out with them every chance I had. I treated them like I treated my friends. I wanted them to know that they are normal; they have autism but they are still regular human beings, like the rest of us.
Once I got to know all of them, I recognized that, like everyone else, they act and enjoy the same things that regular teenagers do. This was not for service hours for school or for having everyone think I was a nice person. This was for Kenny, who had never had a friend.
Several years ago, my mom and I decided to combine my passion for baseball with our desire to create a supportive community for families and their autistic members. We called it the “Challenge League Game.”
Every mid-April, we invite autistic students from throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District and San Pedro community to play a game of baseball with San Pedro and Mary Star high school student players and former players from the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.
The major leaguers usually acts as the pitcher for the game, but perhaps what’s more importantly gained is that high school students, autistic or not, gets to talk and interact with each other over the game of baseball.
Aside from the experience of playing baseball and making new friends, the students going up to bat get to hear the names announced by an announcer over loudspeakers and then go home with a “Challenge League Game” t-shirt.
This past year, former Dodger player, Maury Wills, donated $1,500 to the Challenge League baseball event.
My mother and I want to make jerseys for the autism kids that play in the game. We want their names to be on the back of the jersey.
This coming April, will be our seventh year hosting the Challenge.
Spending time with autistic students has changed my life. I love baseball, but I have no aspiration of becoming a baseball player in the major leagues. I do, however, aspire to join the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Community Relations Department.
Major League Baseball is a major supporter of Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization that sponsors autism research and conducts awareness and outreach activities aimed at families, governments, and the public.
Through Autism Speaks, I hope to combine my two greatest passions: baseball and serving the autism community.
I want to raise awareness for autism disorder during the season and provide special opportunities for families and individuals affected by autism. I want people that are affected by autism to participate in various baseball activities, including throwing out the first pitch, announcing “Play Ball!” and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
If I am able to get my dream job of working for the Dodgers; I would like to eventually have the autism baseball game be at Dodgers Stadium instead of having it at a recreation park like we always do. I would also like to have some of the Dodgers’ players go out to the community and socialize with autism kids all over the Los Angeles area. The impact they would have on these kids are unspeakable.
There are a lot of non-profit autism organizations all over the world that are raising millions of dollars trying to find a cure for autism. But something that I think that can be more beneficial for people who have autism right now is to engage them. Be a friend to them , and get to know them.
Strong and enduring friendships within the autistic community are rare. Kids who are not autistic take for granted the ability to form friendships and enjoying life with others on their own.
I’ve learned from spending time with Kenny and volunteering in special needs classes the power of a simple hello and act the act of remembering names in the autistic community. It’s a great feeling when a connection is made.
So I ask you, the next time you see someone that has autism, will you make a difference in their life?
If you’d like to learn more about the “Challenge League Game,” call (310) 874-1189.Read More
By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer
Angels Gate Cultural Center announced the selection of Amy Eriksen as its new executive director.
This fills the vacancy created by the departure of the previous Executive Director Deborah Lewis in March of this year. Amy was chosen from a very competitive field of candidates. Throughout the extensive search process she simultaneously served as director of education and interim executive director. The board of directors of the nonprofit organization made a decision to hire from within, which facilitates a smooth transfer of management.
“My commitment is to see Angels Gate expand and grow in a way that has a meaning to it,” Eriksen said. “We can always come in and add more classes and programming but this place needs a direction. I appreciate that [previous director] Deb gave us a view of that direction and she brought in the staff for the job.”
As previous director of education for three years, Eriksen’s vision for Angels Gate is deeply rooted in education and outreach to schools. The plan is for her to remain in that position for the time being.
“I am staying in the director of education role for a few months as we make this transition,” Eriksen said. ”I know that department very well and in order to accomplish our goals it only makes sense for me to stay in that role, with a little help from the staff”
On the day I visited, the center had a bus full of elementary school children touring the facility, which brought joy to Eriksen.
“My favorite days are school tour days,” Eriksen said.
One of her pet projects is the Artist’s in Classrooms program. The program provides in-depth instruction in visual and performing arts to students in the K through 12 range. Professional artists teach through ongoing classroom residencies. Angels Gate is in 88 elementary classrooms across the Harbor Area with this project. The program focuses on third third grade in order to train teachers in Visual and Performing Arts, or VAPA, standards.
“Last year, and now this year we have added a new component called the Model School Program,” she said. “We have fostered that program at Taper Avenue Elementary School. Every grade, from first to fifth grade, gets art in the classroom. My goal is to change our grants in order to have this program in all the Harbor Area schools in the next five to 10 years. [At Taper Avenue] first grade gets multi-arts, second grade gets dance, third grade gets our visual arts program, fourth grade gets music and fifth grade gets creative writing. So, there is a series of learning that is built around the arts. We had students that were in kindergarten [at Taper Ave] and they are now in fourth grade. Within the next two years we will be able to see what kind of impact this program has had on students coming out of elementary school and going into middle school.”
Angels Gate Cultural Center is one of the oldest cultural institutions in the Harbor Area. It is also one of the most hidden art spaces that we have. Eriksen is aware of the great divide that exists between the downtown area and the center at the top of the hill. With the small five-person staff at Angels Gate, marketing and public relations are high on the list of goals to improve connection within the community. Ericksen expressed a need for volunteer at the center. Their website lists opportunities available for people interested in becoming involved in the arts. Landscapers, office assistants and docents are all needed.
Most people are familiar with the Studio Artist’s program at Angels Gate and their annual Open Studio tours. Situated on the bluffs overlooking the Point Fermin area of San Pedro, Angles Gate Cultural Center has provided studio space to artists living in Los Angeles and Orange County for nearly 30 years. Guided by the mission to unite art, community and culture through creative discovery they offer studio space to artists of all disciplines. Filmmakers, playwrights, musicians, printmakers, photographers and ceramicists all occupy studios n this historic place.
Angels Gates compound has been in existence for more than 80 years. The buildings that house the studios were built by the military with the goal of lasting only five years during World War II. Long after the threat of invasion from across the Pacific has passed, the bunkers are dormant but the buildings continue to be used for artistic and community endeavors.
Eriksen’s resume includes more than 15 years of administration, communications and programming experience in the arts nonprofit sector throughout the West Coast. She earned a masters in organizational management. A lifelong Long Beach resident, she is a recent graduate of Leadership Long Beach’s 25th Anniversary Silver class.
“I look forward to continuing to serve and partner with our artists, students and the
community,” says Eriksen. “I am dedicated to Angels Gate Cultural Center because it provides cultural and artistic expression as a unifying force in our diverse community. We nurture art advocates and create a place for community members to re-imagine the San Pedro and Harbor Region. ”
Details: angelsgateart.org.Read More
By John Farrell
It’s an era long forgotten, an era when you took the bus and got to know the people around you, — sometimes more intimately than you cared to.
Now people, even on the local trains and buses, stare straight ahead, ear-buds connected to something in their pocket, occasionally nodding their head to the rhythm. Only old fogies and homeless folks talk anymore.
It used to be that a bus trip was an adventure, a liberation, a way to change your life and your outlook on life. Remember It Happened One Night?
Well, you can still go to the bus stop created by scenic designer Robert Young for Little Fish Theatre’s production of William Inge’s play Bus Stop. The play will be in San Pedro through Dec.13, when the bus leaves forever. Maybe those little town bus stop cafés are a thing of the past, but the one created for this play is a carefully, fully realized replica of several that this reviewer has memories of, right down to the soup cans stacked on display above the counter. (more…)Read More
By John Farrell
Usually you know who is playing the starring role in whatever play you are seeing.
Oh, yes, that’s whoever.
Of course, that’s another whoever.
But when you go to see Ubu the Sh*t (the elision is theirs, not ours), even with a program it is impossible to keep track of the players, because they are wearing masks and disguising costumes. Nine different people play the lead roles of Pa and Ma Ubu at various times.
The production, presented by the California State University Long Beach’s Theatre Department at the Studio Theatre on campus, is one play where individual performances are, intentionally, not important. The hilarious and scabrous action takes place with so many people running on and off stage that all you can do is sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
It is dapted and directed by Jeremy Aluma in collaboration with Four Clowns, of which Aluma is artistic director. The 1896 absurdist play by Alfred Jarry, which prefigured many 20th century plays (and which Aluma has adapted and directed before) is given a new twist this time around, a twist called, Twitter.
As part of the action, audience members are asked to fill in three Mad-Libs before the performance, and tweet their responses to a hashtag. The players agree on which three to use and include those as part of the performance. (A penguin was one of the answers opening night.)
Ubu the Sh*t originally was produced, for just one night, in Paris and caused a riot. (Parisians were serious theater-goers.) It is based, loosely, on a play created by Jarry and friends to satirize a hated physic professor. Ubu, the title character, is ugly and vulgar and a lot more words. Aluma has created an Ubu who is fat and scabrous, with his genitals exposed and his emotions on the same level. Ubu’s story uses a lot of Shakespeare, or at least can be compared to him, but Ubu himself is just disgusting and very funny as a result.
All nine Ubu’s use the Studio Theatre’s theater-in-the round to full effect: there is just a tangle of metal in the middle of the stage and the action comes at you from all sides, down the aisles and with so much energy it is hard to know what is happening next, and absolutely impossible to tell the actors apart.. Since this is a performance featuring clown techniques and a great deal of audience participation, the story is different, — hilariously different.
The tweeting which is a part of the evening brings evening more audience involvement, since not only are audience’s tweets used in the play but audience members whose suggestions have been accepted are singled out for attention. Sometimes that attention is a little embarrassing, if you are involved, but it is always funny if you aren’t the focus of attention.
Ubu does have a plot, a combination of the story used in Macbeth and many other classic works, but really Ubu is about Jarry’s view of life: he sees everyone as being a product of their inner emotions: sex and excretion and eating are all that matter. Pa Ubu and Ma Ubu (played by Rob Bergman, Tyler Bremer, Laurel Buck, Montana Bull, Jerry Campisi, Jamarr Love, Ammy Ontiveros, Quin Sheridan and Siri Tveter at various times) are poster children for violence, for sex and for everything indecent. The play opens with an obscene chorus set to music from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and closes the same way, and that sets the stage for the rest of the evening. Pa Ubu finally gets stabbed (in his genitals) but all nine personifications of him have deserved such a fate.
Four Clowns knows how to make these characters distinctive and lively. The audience has a great time as they are brought into the play again and again, sometimes a little against their wills. It’s a lively and entertaining evening, definitely not for children (there is a lot of obscenity, mostly gleefully and gratuitous) but Ubu is no longer likely to precipitate a riot (even in Long Beach.)
Tickets are $15, and $12 for seniors and students. Performances are at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 and 6, with matinees performances at 2 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7.
Venue: Studio Theatre
Address: 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach
The series, Cargoland, focuses on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the people and issues connected to them. It is set to start airing Dec. 1 and continue through that week. It will be broadcast across all of our programming, from “Morning Edition” and “Press Play” to “All Things Considered” and “Which Way L.A.?” A story featuring the San Pedro waterfront issues will air on Dec. 2, in both “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
Here’s a very short video trailer KCRW put together on the project.
Ports O’ Call Waterfront -‘Developer’s Initial Concept is not ﬁnancially feasible’
James Preston Allen, Publisher
Some years ago, I called Los Angeles the “Athens of the Pacific” and I’m sure John Papadakis and a few other Greeks liked this metaphor. With Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent trip to Asia, Los Angeles’ designation as the capital of Pacific Rim trade is only enhanced by the fact that President Barack Obama was there before him, committing this nation to the Pacific Rim market as he negotiated trade deals with China.
Most Angelenos are only vaguely aware that the city is connected to a port, let alone the Port of Los Angeles. For those who are aware, know that some 42 percent of all cargo entering this country comes via the Los Angeles or Long Beach industrial port complex making the twin ports the largest in the nation. Needless to say, they are acutely aware of the ports’ importance to the region and national economy.
As such, nothing connected to these two ports gets done without there being some “economic imperative” or expenditures driven by the mitigation of that imperative. The prime examples of this are the Alameda Corridor, the China Shipping Terminal and the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement.
If the Ports O’ Call waterfront development were an “infrastructure” to trade and commerce, it would have been built yesterday with bond money paid off sometime tomorrow. But it’s not. (more…)Read More
Exclusive Interview with Rachel Etherington, CEO of AltaSea
By James Preston Allen, Publisher and Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
Around this time a year ago, outgoing Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Geraldine Knatz presented AltaSea to the Harbor Commission. Her brainchild will take 50 years to realize its full potential.
When she departed, the port she bequeathed a 50-year lease on her dream, pledging a total of $210 million to be matched by a legal minimum of $408 million and a conceptual target of $549 million from AltaSea and its sub-tenants, which will be a mix of government, nonprofit and for-profit ventures.
From the very beginning, AltaSea was seen as a critical piece in the economic development of the Los Angeles Waterfront. The only question that remained was: “Who is fit enough to tackle the task of pulling together tenant research institutions and corporations beneath AltaSea’s umbrella while raising hundreds of millions of dollars while doing it?
Rachael Etherington, who made her debut as keynote speaker at the San Pedro Chamber’s annual Business Awards & Installation Luncheon in March, emerged as the answer, taking over the helm of AltaSea April 1, after transitioning from her duties as managing director of the Blue Marine Foundation in the United Kingdom.
In a recent interview with Random Lengths, Etherington discussed why she took on such a gargantuan job as AltaSea.
“I don’t scare that easily,” said Etherington from her seventh floor office in what is now called the Topaz building. From that vantage point, the future of AltaSea’s 35.6 acres site is visible. “Otherwise I would not have come out here.”
Etherington told Random Lengths that lots of people said she was mad for taking on the job.
“I personally never wanted to live a life inhibited by fear,” Etherington said. “I think AltaSea only comes along once in a lifetime and, for me, it was the most phenomenal opportunity …. I couldn’t say no.”
Etherington explained that she spent the past eight months listening to and learning from the people of the Los Angeles Harbor while building partnerships with education groups and corporations.
“How often is it an opportunity comes to you and enables you to do something for the life of a community or communities who seem, in the main, really excited about this,” Etherington said. “We are in discussion with several universities at the moment about hiring and creating new faculties and new disciplines. How often do you find a job with so many benefits?”
Seeds Planted by a Dream
“I was a member of Greenpeace at the age of 13,” Etherington said. “As a teenager railing against everything… I was really aware of the environment as an issue.”
Her parents were products of post-World War II England. The country was recovering from the devastation of German bombing raids and economic collapse. The collective memory of parents foregoing meals so that their children ate was still fresh in her mind, even after two generations.
“My dad was born in ’39, so he grew up during the war,” she said. “And so his mother used to forego eating to enable my dad and his sister to have her rations .… The reason I’m saying this is because we grew up in a household where we were really aware of food scarcity … my mom and dad had no money when they were growing up…. Those principles were kind of inbred into me.”
AltaSea is not Etherington’s first rodeo when it comes to leading conservation-minded organizations. Before coming to Los Angeles, she was the managing director at Blue Marine Foundation, a subsidiary of the Fauna and Flora International, the oldest and perhaps largest conservation organization in the world.
Etherington joined the nonprofit after a period of deep reflection about the direction of her life, both personal and professional.
“I no longer wanted to feel like I was just selling stuff to people who probably didn’t need it or couldn’t afford it. It didn’t fit with my values terribly,” Etherington explained. “So, I thought, not only is the environment important to me on [an] ethical basis. I think there are huge business opportunities in it.”
No longer the idealistic teenager railing against environmental villains, Etherington became an executive that saw opportunities to partner with those very same environmental bad actors.
“One can say hello Ms. Manager, please out of the kindness of your heart give us a few percentage points of your profits so that we can do this,” Etherington said, facetiously. “Yes, you will get lucky occasionally. But my point is [that we have to] frame it in terms of reputational risk and opportunity, operational risk and opportunity, compliance risk and opportunity.
“I’m talking about building a business case for conservation. I’m building the case for businesses to act as responsible corporate citizens across the board.
“My point about the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity or the business cases of conservation or whatever one wants to call it, bringing the two worlds together and demonstrating to people, as I said before, that economic growth and environmental sustainability doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
At the outset, AltaSea’s boosters have touted the private sector as being the primary source of marine science institution funding with little public financing. Etherington, however, suggests that there’s even a role for public financing in the future of AltaSea.
“What I’m not doing is relying on public money to generate phase one,” Etherington explained. “We would be remiss to not look at that and we would be remiss to not start these conversations. But my immediate fundraising targets does not include big amounts of public funding.
“Although I say that, there are conversations that we are having which are going very well, which gives a strong indication that we might get smaller, much smaller chunks of public monies.”
She wouldn’t elaborate further on the source of these funds.
Etherington is prickly at the suggestion that AltaSea does not do enough to take local community into account, whether in its fundraising efforts or its planning efforts for the next 20 to 30 years of its existence.
“This is being built with their support and with their impact,” she said. “Now, all of this stuff that we are doing (and the breakfast on Thursday is one of them), is one of the ways that the community can come talk to us and can say, ‘How can we get involved? What can we do?’
“I would love to get to a point where we got the community engaged in fundraising. But I think, quite frankly…the focus is on us to get some big wins before we start asking people to put hands in their pockets.
Etherington made it clear, her first priority is to raise $133 million by January 2017, a benchmark on the road to the $549 million by 2019.
“We have to get some big wins across the line first and I think we owe it to the community to do so. So money and engagement are wonderful, but I think that will come later.”
The money Etherington is raising will not only pay for the construction of the 35.6 acres on City Dock 1 but also some of the initial operational cost.
“What AltaSea will be doing… we will generate solutions to sustainability issues,” Etherington said. “In my view, the most pressing human issues are health, food security, energy security, etc. and etc.
“How we do that? How we have the biggest impact? I can’t even give you the precise detail about it. Because if you were to say to me, “what are your organizational priorities? I’d say three things: 1. Fundraising. I’ll raise lots of money. I would say the figures we’re dealing with aren’t easy to come by. I’m not going to walk into someone tomorrow who will sign a check for $133 million, but they are realistic and reasonable and I’m determined that we’ll get there. So fundraising is my No. 1 organizational priority.
“The second priority, you would imagine, is getting this built—the permitting, the design, and working with the port processes and making sure that everyone is working according to a tight timeline.
“And the third organizational priority … is strategic partnerships. Now, that means to enable AltaSea to have the biggest impact that it’s going to have. So if you look at a spectrum, AltaSea at one end would just be a landlord. Don’t really care who’s in it. We would just build it. And, as long as you fulfilled some broad, charitable like criteria and you can go in and do your thing. That wouldn’t make any sense to me because that would mean we have very little control over what people do and the impact we have. I don’t want another organization that pats itself on its back, ‘Oh, we’re doing a wonderful job with lots of busy people,’ but we’re not doing anything to stop energy prices from rocketing. We’re not doing anything to make sure that people are getting access to good food and all that kind of stuff.”
Though AltaSea is not fully up and running just yet, the little things they are doing presages how the institution will interact with local education groups in the future.
“We have allowed within this $217 million is not only our operational cost, but we’ve allowed a portion that would enable us to do some non-building dependent programs, just as we did at Cabrillo with the Discover Lecture series,” Etherington said. “There are all sorts of opportunities and partnerships with existing organizations to enable AltaSea to start helping others having an impact and raising our profile.”
She wouldn’t elaborate further on other local education groups AltaSea is financing, either in part or in-whole.
Though AltaSea may not pursue public financing very aggressively, the institution will pursue partnerships with certain government agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Game and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Etherington readily acknowledges her deficit as an outsider in American political circles, but despite that, she says she has had some “really great discussions with a number of people” closing that gap.
Even if you were born and bred in America, it’s a rabbit hole of working out where you need to get to, who you need to know, where the money is. You need a strategist. You need people with political understanding to get there.”
She said she sees innumerable opportunities with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and hopes that by phase 3 of AltaSea’s progression, they will be able to house a kind of NOAA satellite site on its campus, 15 or 20 years into the future.Read More