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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

When you move to a new area, there are a few services you must find: a good dry cleaner, someone who knows how to cut hair, perhaps a computer specialist, and a good mechanic.

As for that mechanic, there’s La Quinta resident Guy Allchin, who owns Cam Stone’s Automotive in Palm Desert.

It’s always refreshing to find native locals in the Coachella Valley who either stayed or came home to start businesses and raise their families. Allchin, 45, was born in Indio and raised on a “farm/ranch” with an older brother and sister. He graduated from Indio High School at 17—knowing exactly what he wanted to do.

“I had a Jeep that kept breaking down, so I learned how to do it all myself,” he says. “My dad was a mechanic who owned two gas stations and fixed everybody’s cars. I knew I wanted to own a two-bay repair shop, not just to fix cars, but also to run a small business dedicated to moral principles in dealing with customers.”

At 13, Allchin began working at a bowling alley, but moved to a pizza joint when he was able to make 50 cents more an hour. “At 15, they made me manager!” he says.

After high school, Allchiin went to Wyoming Technical Institute in Laramie, studied automotive repair and business management, and then returned to the Coachella Valley.

“I couldn’t get a job,” he says, “so I went back to the pizza joint, and they let me come back as manager. I kept asking around, got a job at an Indio repair shop, and finally ended up working with the original Cam Stone. I could have gone to work with a Honda dealership that included insurance benefits, but that meant working weekends, and by then, I had a baby at home.

“Eventually, I applied to the Small Business Administration to explore my options, because I always knew I wanted my own business. Although originally turned down, I kept working with the SBA on a six-year plan. I started working in the office at Cam Stone’s and got to understand that side of the business, as well as working the bays. I actually like the office part better than working with cars, so when Stone asked me if I wanted to buy him out, in 2008, that’s what I did.

“I had always envisioned having a shop with two bays; I ended up with nine!”

Allchin married his wife, Shelly, almost 20 years ago. They have two children, Karenna, 18, and Teryn, 14. Shelly was also born in Indio.

“Shelly committed to raising our kids,” says Allchin, “but she also worked with Marriott for 11 years, the city of Palm Desert’s Visitor Center, and is yard supervisor at an elementary school. We have a 10-year plan. I’d like to be done at 55; Shelly wants to see the country.

“The only one of my kids who might step into the business is my youngest daughter. She loved taking cars apart when she was a little kid, but I doubt it.”

Allchin’s parents had a big influence on him and how he does business.

“My mom always took us to church, and her bywords were to be honest, trustworthy and loyal. My dad always said, ‘If you’re going to do something, give it the best you’ve got.’ I still go out to their acreage in Thermal on weekends to drink a few, hang out, trim trees and fix cars.”

The business model Allchin follows is “to be able to sleep at night. I’m not into ripping people off. If someone can’t afford the repairs, I’ll work with them to do what they can afford, and be honest about what can wait.”

I can attest to that. When my car was making weird noises and needed serious front-end work, Allchin assured me it could wait a while until I could afford the repairs, and that my wheels weren’t going to fall off on the freeway. How many mechanics work that way?

“It’s a lot more difficult fixing cars these days,” says Allchin. “With computer-driven repairs, you can’t just open the hood and figure out what’s wrong. On the other hand, running the business is a lot easier now. I can pull up a car’s entire history on the computer. But management training isn’t enough; when you come in, you need to be able to talk to someone who understands what’s going on with your car. Too often, service writers are just pushing the business side.”

Cam Stone’s Automotive specializes in American and Asian cars. “I don’t do European cars, because so few mechanics really know how to work on them,” Allchin says. “It’s tough to get skilled repair technicians. You don’t always know if they’re good at what they do, and they have to know how to get along with each other. I’m a bit of a pushover. It’s hard for me to fire people, so I want anyone new to be able to get along with the guys who’ve been here for years.”

Allchin approaches his work with a strong sense of morality; he credits the way his parents raised him.

“I’m not perfect,” he says. “I have anxiety issues, and there are things I’m scared of, but I’ve found ways to handle them. I was raised to have morals, and I worry that a lot of younger people are headed down the wrong track.

“I believe you have to treat others the way you want to be treated. We have lots of long-term clients, and I care about making sure they’re taken care of.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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 service people you encounter every day, to most, are basically invisible: the clerk at the cleaners, the waitress at the café where you get your morning coffee, the plumber who comes to fix a clogged drain, the salesman at the pro shop, the person who checks you in for your doctor’s appointment.

Most of us never know who these people really are, or what their lives are like, until the moment one of them displays the kind of interpersonal skills that make them not only personal to you, but also highly effective representatives of the organizations with which they work.

One such individual is Carlos Castro Jr., property manager with Public Storage in Palm Desert on Fred Waring Drive.

Castro was born 44 years ago in Indio, where he still lives. He is the oldest of four children, who grew up with the understanding that as the oldest, he had a responsibility toward his younger siblings—Monica, Vanessa and Raymond.

“My mom had me at 18,” he says, “and I saw, after she and my father divorced, how, with no marketable experience, she moved from welfare and Section 8 housing to owning her own home and her own car and independence. I’ve always looked up to her. She’s really my hero.”

Castro’s mom, Dora Rodriguez, was born in Waco, Texas. She came to the Coachella Valley and met Castro’s father at Coachella Valley High School.

“It’s really some coincidence,” he says, “because I also met the woman in my life at CVHS, but our story took a lot longer to work out.”

Castro had a crush on Claudia Macias in school, but life took them in different directions.

“What got us back to each other about six years ago, after we were both divorced, was Facebook,” he recalls. “I came across a profile of her and sent a message: ‘This is Carlos, who sat behind you.’ She was blown away, because a friend of hers had read my father’s obituary. She responded, ‘Oh, my God, I thought you were dead!’ We talked a lot after that, and then she said we should get together some time. I told her, ‘I’m available right now. Let’s get a drink.’ Then we started seeing each other.

“Claudia reminds me of my mom in so many ways. She also grew up the product of a divorce and found a way to end up owning a house and a car, raising her kids, and making her own place in the world.”

Coming from an extended family that included relatives who got into trouble and even spent time in jail, “I really decided to be just the opposite,” says Castro. His father was a strong influence to stay clean and straight. “I was raised to be respectful, to have a sense of responsibility toward others, to always act with integrity, and be self-aware. And if I did something wrong, I had to pay the consequences, at a time when that went well beyond a time-out.

“My family was somewhat reserved, a pretty typical Mexican family, so I wasn’t really raised to show my emotions. I developed that on my own. I was always interested in knowing about other people. You have to find things you may have in common. I trust people until someone gives me a reason not to. Sometimes, that backfires, and it really hurts. People can try to manipulate you, but you have to be strong and true to yourself.”

When it comes to being an asset to a company with a job that requires constantly interacting with people who may be upset or are often unsure of what they want or need, Castro could teach others how it’s done.

“I love my job,” he says. “I love meeting people and learning their history and the different experiences they’ve had. I tend to share myself, and then others share themselves with me. And I love being able to help them.”

After high school, Castro continued his education at Mt. San Jacinto College, studying information technology. He then moved on to College of the Desert to study psychology. He plans to continue on to a bachelor’s degree and hopes to go into social work to help others as a counselor, perhaps focused on substance abuse.

Castro’s bucket list? “I want to travel to Australia. It’s a very unique place. I’d like to go to the Outback and see kangaroos and koalas. I’d also like to go south and see the Mayan ruins.”

What advice would Castro give to others? “Be yourself. Be proud of where you come from. There are always going to be obstacles in life, but whatever you do, you should never change who you are just because of the actions of others. That just gives them control over you. And, of course, it’s easier with someone there with you.

“My mom always took care of us. She’s always there. I probably don’t tell her often enough.”

The next time you’re running errands, take the time to notice who is helping you, and realize how little you know about who they are, where they came from, and what their hopes and dreams might be.

That person, like Carlos Castro, might be someone you should take the time to know.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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

It’s been more than four years since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., yet the bone-chilling horror of what happened should never be forgotten. We can never know what those lives might have contributed to America in the future, and we can only imagine the agony of their families.

I was overcome with emotion when I walked into the main hall of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage and saw the chairs on the stage, each with a T-shirt draped over it, bearing the name and age of a victim. Only one shirt was an adult size honoring one of the teachers killed; the rest were small—almost all of them showing age 6.

The event, marking the four-year anniversary of Sandy Hook, was co-sponsored by Moms Demand Action Coachella Valley, the local group affiliated with the national group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. Presenters included the Rev. Leisa Huyck of the Unitarian Universalist Church, attorney Frank Riela of Cathedral City, Lisa Middleton of Palm Springs, Joni Padduck of Indio, and Dori Smith of Palm Desert. It included a showing of the movie, Making a Killing: Guns, Greed and the NRA.

Similar events are being held around the country, sponsored by the Not One More Project. Children’s tees are brightly colored with names and ages. Adults, such as the teachers and administrators killed at Sandy Hook, are represented by white tees. Shooters/suicides get a black shirt with no name—the group believes even those lives should be counted as the loss of yet other human beings to gun violence.

What’s perhaps even more disturbing than the killings is what has happened to the families of those killed. A Feb. 3 report by Barbara Demick in the Los Angeles Times documented the harassment families have received from conspiracy theorists and their followers, who call themselves “Sandy Hook truthers.” Perhaps the worst is the infamous Alex Jones, whose “Infowars” programs claim the Sandy Hook killings were staged, using child actors, as a means of overturning Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

Noah Pozner’s father received death threats and was harassed with phone calls, including ethnic and racial slurs and profanities; he spent more than a year just trying to remove an online video that featured pictures of his son over a soundtrack of a porno film.

At a memorial in 2015 for Victoria Soto, one of the teachers slain, a man was arrested after demanding to know whether she had actually been killed, while shoving a picture at her younger sister.

The medical examiner who signed the coroner reports for Sandy Hook victims was bombarded with harassing phone calls to his home and office.

A man was convicted of stealing memorial signs put up in playgrounds that honored the dead children; he later called grieving parents and claimed their children had never even existed.

Most of the families connected with Sandy Hook have had to remove their social media accounts and unlist their telephone numbers. Many have moved to recover some sense of privacy and allow time to grieve.

Others connected to Sandy Hook have also been harassed: police, photographers, neighbors, government officials, witnesses and teachers who survived the horrific event.

According to Demick’s article, perhaps the worst conspiracy theorist is a 70-year-old Florida man who has spent his pension and more than $100,000 he raised online to “expose” the conspiracy which he claims includes 500-700 people, including President Obama. He believes President Trump’s election will bring a full investigation to expose what happened, since Trump has willingly accepted support from Alex Jones.

Meanwhile, Congress recently passed a bill that will allow guns to be purchased by people considered by the Social Security Administration as too mentally unstable to handle their own affairs. This would overturn a policy put in place by President Obama that allowed sharing background-check information to limit the ability of such individuals to purchase guns. ProPublica cites a study in Connecticut that found that adding more mental health records to the background-check system created a 53 percent drop in the likelihood of a person who had ever been involuntarily committed of later carrying out a violent gun-related crime. Meanwhile, the cost to American society of gun violence, including accidents and suicides, in public-health terms, is more than $5 billion each year.

Moms Demand Action works to prevent access to guns by children, calling for guns to be locked and kept separate from ammunition. They caution that children know where parents hide things and have an amazing ability to access even safes and codes. They also suggest never sending a child to someone else’s home without asking whether they have firearms, and how they are stored. Better safe than sorry.

According to Maggie Downs of Moms Demand Action Coachella Valley (paraphrasing Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times), “In the four decades between 1975 and 2015, terrorists born in the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban killed zero people in America. … In that same period guns claimed 1.34 million lives in America, including murders, suicides and accidents.”

The families of Sandy Hook and the local activists working to raise awareness want us to remember: Noah 6, Charlotte 6, Jack 6, Olivia 6, Dylan 6, Catherine 6, Avielle 6, Jessica 6, James 6, Josephine 7, Caroline 6, Benjamin 6, Chase 7, Ana 6, Jesse 6, Daniel 7, Grace 7, Emilie 6, Madeleine 6, Allison 6.

We should all say not one more.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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

After 30 years of working as a civilian employee with the Department of the Army, John Reece, 73, of Palm Springs, finally feels like he’s home.

“I spent 25 of those 30 years overseas, from Japan to South Korea to Saudi Arabia to Greenland,” says Reece. “I’m finally in a place where I feel I can be totally myself.”

Reece was born and raised in Missouri, to a minister father with strict religious standards.

“It took me a long time to get over that,” says Reece.

Reece was around church music throughout his childhood, with his father playing the organ and directing the choir. “My mom insisted we all take piano lessons when we were young,” he recalls, “and my older brother played trumpet and tuba and my younger sister was in the band.”

It’s not so strange, then, that Reece worked as an entertainment director with the Army throughout the world.

“I handled community theater and did logistics for USO shows and cultural tours,” he recalls. “I learned enough Japanese to get my job done while in Tokyo for six years, and knew basic conversational Korean to handle my four years in South Korea.”

After his years in Korea, Reece moved to Washington, D.C., and eventually moved on to Hawaii and then returned yet again to South Korea.

“I also spent three years in Saudi Arabia,” says Reece, “which was a wonderful experience. Working in a Muslim nation and learning to respect the country and their culture was terrific.”

Eventually, Reece landed in Greenland.

“I was six miles from the North Pole,” he recalls,” where it was sometimes 50 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 100-below. Of course, when it gets to below zero, it really doesn’t matter anymore. And it was dark from October to January.”

How did Reece handle being gay during such a long affiliation with the military?

“I knew all my life that I was gay,” he says. “Of course, back in those days, it was known as being ‘homosexual.’ With the church, it was a real guilt process. I would pray to be made ‘normal.’ My first experience was with gay bars, which at that time were all very underground. It just wasn’t an easy thing back in the 1960s and 1970s.

“While working with the Army, I was always very aware of looking over my shoulder. I didn’t want to do anything concrete that could have hurt my career. That’s a stressful way to live.”

Reece says he never came out to his family. “It was just never discussed, although I do remember my mom saying, ‘Son, you’re special. You may never be married, but there’s one thing worse: being married to the wrong one.’ We just didn’t talk about it.

“My sister knows through my Facebook page, and one day, she said, ‘I hope you can find a partner as wonderful as mine is.’ The only one I’ve really talked to openly about it is my niece.”

After finally finding a home base in Washington, D.C., and living in northern Virginia, Reece retired in 2002.

“I came to Palm Springs for a while from 2009 to 2013, and returned to live here full time in 2015. To be honest, I left in 2013 because I felt like Palm Springs was just too gay for me,” he laughs. “I had a hard time meeting straight people. I went back to D.C., but I got tired of the weather and decided to come back.”

Going back to that church choir during his childhood, Reece said music has always been a big part of his life. In fact, he studied music at Oklahoma Baptist University and the St. Louis Institute of Music. It’s not surprising that he finally found his place in the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus.

“I’m so glad to have such support now. Back in my day, there was nothing like counseling or support groups. I’m so glad for young people today who don’t have to live in the shadows,” he says.

Reece’s affiliation with the Gay Men’s Chorus has changed his life.

“Some of the best people I’ve met in my life are in the chorus. We can talk about anything and everything without worrying about offending anyone,” he says. “It’s not just a beautiful professional group, but it’s like being in a brotherhood. They care about you as a person. We even made history—imagine a gay group singing at a memorial service in a church!

“I don’t have anything to hide anymore,” he says. “I’m just me now. Here I am, finally at 73, and I can be openly proud with my head held high and happy.”

After traveling and living all around the world, John Reece has finally found a place to just be himself.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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 recently read an amazing story about the improbability of coincidence.

A French writer was once treated to a plum pudding by a stranger. Ten years later, the writer ordered a plum pudding while in a Paris restaurant, but was told the last one had just been served to another customer—who turned out to be that original stranger, sitting at another table. Many years after that, the writer was at a dinner with friends and again ordered a plum pudding, telling his companions the earlier story. At that moment, the same stranger entered the room.

“Coincidence” is defined as a remarkable concurrence of improbable events or circumstances which have no apparent causal connection with each other. Most of us write off such occurrences as merely accidental, but occasionally, we hear a story like the one told by the French writer, and we can find no way to explain the vagaries of fate.

This brings us to La Quinta resident DeAnn Lubell-Ames. At 18, while studying journalism in college, Lubell-Ames read about the 1902 eruption of Mount Pélée on the isle of Martinique, an overseas region of France located in the eastern Caribbean. In the space of about four minutes, about 30,000 people lost their lives. The port city of Saint-Pierre was destroyed.

Lubell-Ames became obsessed with the devastating event and decided she would one day write an historical novel about it.

“I’m a natural-born storyteller,” she says. “I think I came out of the womb with fingers looking for a typewriter. I actually tried to write a novel when I was 10. I was affiliated with journalism all through junior and senior high school. I was always fascinated with Nancy Drew investigation stories and with islands.

“While at college, I was reading a book that documented the eruption of Mount Pelée, and focused on the story of a man named Fernand Clerc. I was hooked and wanted to write about the event, but I swore I wouldn’t write about it until I had actually set foot on the island. Over the years, although I planned it many times, something always got in the way.”

Fast forward many years. Lubell-Ames and her husband were selling their home in Boca Raton, Fla. A man walked in, took a look around, and said he thought he had the perfect person for the house. He returned with Yves Clerc, grandson of the same Fernand Clerc in the story who had entranced DeAnn. “I fell to my knees,” she says. “They had to pick me up from the floor!”

When Clerc heard about Lubell-Ames’ intense interest in the story, he invited her to visit Martinique as his guest, staying at the old plantation grounds of his family.

“Because I was Yves’ guest, I wasn’t treated like a regular tourist, although the island natives were somewhat guarded,” she said. “I met the island historian ... and she helped me research and edit my book. I also met Marcel Clerc, Yves’ grand-uncle, who was 5 years old when the volcano erupted and was an eyewitness to what happened.”

Among the things Lubell-Ames learned and wrote about, in addition to the extraordinary natural beauty of Martinique, was the political corruption that existed at the time of the volcanic eruption in 1902.

“There was a lot of racial intolerance, and corrupt policies had been placed above the welfare of the people,” says Lubell-Ames. “The government actually prevented people from leaving Saint-Pierre, in spite of warnings that the volcano was becoming active, and kept telling the people that everything was OK. People were starving and diseased, and if they had just been evacuated, one of the most destructive natural events in history could have been avoided.”

Her historical novel, The Last Moon, has won several awards, including first place at the 2016 Amsterdam Book Festival.

“I claimed the story,” Lubell-Ames says. “I didn’t want to lose the history—95 percent of my story is based on fact, but I wanted to put my spin on it in creating and fleshing out the characters in the story.”

In addition to her writing, Lubell-Ames has been involved in many other creative activities.

“As strong as my urge to write was, I was also very involved in dance,” she says. “I taught dance and modeling while I was a full-time college student, and actually have not only staged ballets, but even wrote one myself!”

Lubell-Ames has also been involved in education projects, creating and distributing support materials for schools throughout the United States, and doing public relations for local organizations such as Angel View and the Rancho Mirage Library. She served for 10 years on the Auxiliary Board for the Eisenhower Medical Center and is a member of several other local organizations, including the Palm Springs Women in Film and Television and Palm Springs Writers Guild. Lubell-Ames is currently a publicist for the McCallum Theatre.

Originally raised in Denver, Lubell-Ames has lived in the Coachella Valley since 1991, when she and her husband, Joe, moved here. Her daughter lives in Los Angeles, and DeAnn revels in being grandma to 11-year old Jake. After Joe’s death in 2010, she met Lee Ames in 2012, and they married.

“We were the fairy-tale couple,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for anything, but you just never know what’s going to happen.” Lee died in October 2015.

Does Lubell-Ames have any advice for aspiring writers?

“Don’t ignore your gut. If you have a tendency to be interested in something, pursue it,” she said. “Whether it’s music, sports, politics, animals, even writing—if you have that nature, stay on track and be true to yourself. Concentrate on your own specialty; everyone has one. If you can find your talent, it will carry you through.”

And a belief in coincidence couldn’t hurt!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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

Whenever I mention Janet Newcomb to anyone who has met her, one word always comes up: “Nice.”

Newcomb believes she’s considered “nice” because she grew up with traditional Midwestern values.

“I don’t even really think about it,” Newcomb says. “It’s so embedded in me: ‘Be a lady.’ ‘Say thank you.’ ‘Remember to pat people on the back.’ It’s just who I am. I want everybody to be happy.”

Raised in Grosse Pointe, Mich., Newcomb graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in psychology.

“It interested me,” she says. “I got married to my first husband and went to Washington, D.C. I got a job there with a defense contractor who was doing psychological warfare research.”

Newcomb’s job later moved her to Los Angeles ,where she completed a master’s degree at Pepperdine University. She met her second husband, Don, and they married in Hawaii. Newcomb moved to the desert from Los Angeles after Don was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“Some friends had retired here,” says Newcomb, “so we decided to come down and settle.” Don died in 1990.

“When I decided to stay in the desert after my husband’s death,” she says, “I needed a job.”

Newcomb opened Siena, a shop in Indian Wells selling specialty Italian cookware.

“For about a year and a half, it was great—but then the recession hit, and people weren’t buying expensive cookware. My friend, Gayl Biondi, told me I should do public relations. By then, I had made a lot of friends, so that was the incentive that sent me in that direction.”

For more than two decades, Newcomb has been representing local businesses—specializing in restaurants.

“My passion was always cooking and eating,” Newcomb says, “and I especially like to support local family-operated businesses.”

Newcomb’s father had been a columnist for a local newspaper while she was growing up. “His column was called, ‘I’m Telling You,’” she says. “It was kind of a social column.” It’s no surprise, then, that Newcomb became society editor for Palm Springs Life magazine, covering fundraisers across the Coachella Valley for more than five years.

“I’m very curious about things,” says Newcomb. “I’m interested in what’s going on in life. I like people, and there are so many interesting people, especially in the local charity world.”

I first met Janet Newcomb when she was doing a live weekend show called Walking on Eggs at the same radio station where I work.

“Food wasn’t getting much attention,” says Newcomb, “so I thought it would be fun. I had guests and talked about local agriculture. People could call in, and I tried to always make it informative. People just cook and eat, but I think hearing about how others do it is interesting.”

Newcomb’s relationship to local charities has not been restricted only to writing about them. She served as president of the board of Shelter From the Storm; she was involved with the World Affairs Council of the Desert, a local group that focuses on international issues. She is currently a member of the Roar Foundation, actress Tippi Hedren’s big-cat rescue organization, and is a board member of the Cal State-San Bernardino Palm Desert University Associates, working to raise money for student scholarships.

Newcomb and I have the same manicurist, Paula Vaughn, who describes Janet as “warm, always with a smile. She’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever known. Be sure to ask her about the ballet and fencing.”

Ballet?

“Coming from a family with a history of heart disease, I’ve always been interested in health and exercise,” Newcomb says. “When I was a young girl, my mom insisted my sister and I take ballet lessons. I did ballet in D.C. just for the exercise. Then, when I was transferred to L.A., I went back to ballet again with a small company. I even had a couple of times onstage!”

Fencing?

“When I came down to the desert,” says Newcomb, “I met Leslie Taft, the fencing coach at College of the Desert, who has the Desert Fencing Academy in Palm Desert. It’s great exercise for coordination and balance, plus it’s aerobic. But it’s very tricky; you have to train your body to be alert so you don’t get stabbed!”

What’s next for this active woman? “I’m still doing some PR work, especially for restaurants,” says Newcomb, “but I’m definitely slowing down. I look back and think about my life and what it means to mature. In my 30s, there was always competition. In my 50s, I had enough experience to have calmed down and just be who I was.

“Now, I’ve mellowed. I don’t see any point in ever saying anything bad about anybody. Everybody’s doing the best they can with what they have. I’m not God; I can’t change you. You are who you are. Like me, or don’t like me—it’s your problem, not mine.”

Pattie Daly Caruso (yes, she’s Carson’s mom) is one of Newcomb’s closest friends.

“There are so many incredible things about her,” says Caruso. “Janet is one of the most special people I've ever met. She’s been warm and wonderful from the beginning of a friendship that began decades ago. The word ‘awesome’ is so overused, but it applies to her. She’s loyal, genuine, interesting and interested. I feel blessed to have known her!

“And she’s definitely nice.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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

Imagine coming to the desert to start a new small business, put down roots and make a mark—with no existing ties to the community.

That is the story of Nikhil Mehta, a native of New Delhi, India, who relocated to Rancho Mirage last year to start Home Care Assistance, supplying trained caregivers who offer innovative approaches—so badly needed in this aging retirement community.

Mehta, 59, came to the United States at age 24 with his wife, Kavita. They went to college together in India, and although she then came to the U.S. with her parents, she returned to India, where she and Nikhil married 35 years ago. Mehta attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a master’s degree in business. He and Kavita have two children: Arjun, 32, living in Los Angeles, and Jaya, 29, in residency at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

Mehta’s long and successful career includes 15 years at Xerox, where he was the vice president of finance for North America; he also had a stint at Citibank.

“I didn’t enjoy the banking culture,” he notes.

In 2000, Mehta moved to San Diego to be the chief financial officer of a biotech company. “We grew human skin for injuries,” says Mehta. “After Sept. 11, we sent a whole planeload of tissue out for victims of burns.”

Mehta moved back to Los Angeles and joined a company as a vice president for corporate development, and later took positions as a chief financial officer and chief execitive officer at a company in Ventura.

After riding out the Great Recession, he decided he needed to make a change.

“It just wasn’t a joy anymore,” says Mehta. “I got burned out. I was looking to do something on my own, specifically in the health-care industry,which had always resonated with me. In the corporate world, you’re not your own person. You have to answer to a board and shareholders. I wanted to be in a situation where I was my own boss.”

In 2014, Mehta began exploring small-business opportunities. “I asked a franchiser to show me some businesses in health care-related fields,” he says. “They presented a franchise with Health Care Assistance, so I went to Palo Alto and was blown away. I’ve been in many companies, large and small, and I know how to judge management talent. I was impressed.”

Mehta began to investigate the whole industry. “I realized that as society is growing older, especially with baby boomers retiring, this industry has only one way to go—up. So many people need this support, especially since 90 percent want to grow old in their own homes.”

He initially hoped to open a location in the western portion of the Los Angeles area. “I was so impressed with their business model. I told them I could help them expand their growth and raise money. They may have thought I was crazy,” he says.

The franchise company decided to keep that location under corporate ownership, but they offered Mehta the Palm Springs area.

“I felt so passionate about how we can help through this business that I decided to move away from the coast and come to the desert,” says Mehta. “This business approach goes so far beyond industry standards; I believe we are really unique in what we offer.”

How do you move to an area where you have no real contacts and start a new small business?

“It’s been a challenge,” says Mehta. “Gaining acceptance when you’re new to an area is tough. The Coachella Valley is very self-contained, especially in the health-care industry. Everybody knows everybody else. It takes time. I had one potential contract turned down with: ‘If you last a couple of years, we’ll take you seriously.’ It’s also hard finding good talent locally, and we won’t hire anybody without at least two to three years of experience. Then we put them through a training program so they can deliver our service professionally. Our standards are very high.”

With many established caregiving agencies already in the Coachella Valley, what does Mehta think sets Home Care Assistance apart? “We offer more than just routine caregiving,” says Mehta. “We have a cognitive therapeutic method that includes physical activities and brain-exercise routines that can actually re-establish brain connections and are designed to delay the onset of dementia or slow down cognitive decline.

“Caregivers work one-on-one in clients’ homes with a series of activities that go beyond just memory-training. We also focus on the executive functions of the brain relating to language, attention and visual/spatial perception.”

Despite high hopes for his business, Mehta sees challenges here in the Coachella Valley.

“I’m glad to see that there is now four-year higher education available locally,” he says. “Once this area is recognized for providing that kind of opportunity, more people will come here and want to stay when they finish school.

“From a business perspective, we need more investment in specialized training. The Coachella Valley is definitely growing, so we need to provide incentives for more businesses to locate here—and that requires having an educated and trained labor force.”

Like any new small businessperson, Nikhil Mehta is reaching out through chambers of commerce and social events to establish local connections to others in the local health-care community.

“It takes time and effort,” he says, “but it’s worth it for something you believe in. We’ve seen tremendous lifestyle improvements in our clients. Besides, our methods make it fun for the caregiver and the client.”

Nikhil Mehta is just one example of the talent and experience we have here in the Coachella Valley. We need to attract more people like him—people who are willing to make an investment in making a difference.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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

Born in the Coachella Valley toward the end of the Generation X demographic, Tizoc DeAztlan, at 37, is the embodiment of all of the best Gen X stereotypes: individualistic, entrepreneurial, tech savvy, goal oriented—and wanting to make a difference.

DeAztlan is a Coachella Valley native, born to Roberto, a lawyer, and Amalia, a social activist and feminist (and someone I’ve known for more than 25 years). He has two older sisters.

“Yes,” he acknowledges, “I was the baby in the family.”

DeAztlan says he was born into politics. “My mom instilled in me the need to see justice, and to not just settle for conditions in the community as they are, or for less than is fair.”

A graduate of La Quinta High School in its first graduating class, DeAztlan went on to graduate from Fordham University with a degree in communication. He lives in La Quinta with his wife, Briana, whom he met when they were both in high school.

DeAztlan has been actively involved in the world of politics, working on the campaigns of locals like Congressman Raul Ruiz, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez and former Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez. He remembers campaigning with his mom back when he was in the fifth-grade, and his dad driving him around before school to put door hangers on people’s homes.

“I’m involved in party campaign politics and in nonpartisan community organizing,” he said. “I see politics in everything. It’s up to each individual how much to engage. It doesn’t matter your position; there are so many ways to be who you are and play a role.”

DeAztlan’s first job, at the age of 19, was doing field research for the RAND Corporation in Los Angeles County, interviewing people about their lives, access to health care and other personal and community issues.

“It was the first time I saw issues on both a micro and macro level, and saw how research can affect people’s real lives,” he says.

DeAztlan’s latest venture—in coordination with Hugh Van Horn, former president of the Coachella Valley Young Republicans—is Perspectives, a nonpartisan discussion group that held its first meeting in Indio in June.

“Hugh and I are friends who always have discussions about lots of issues,” says DeAztlan. “It’s so easy to fall into ‘talking points’ that often miss the point. We realized people may have more in common with their neighbors than they realize, and wanted to provide a place for people to discuss and share information in a hopeful, compassionate and responsible manner with mutual respect.”

The first Perspectives meeting drew 30-40 people and a lively discussion. A few designated people shared their ideas or feelings on the topic, and then others volunteered to participate; this was followed by small group discussions involving everyone present.

“We want to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their own perspective,” says DeAztlan. “It’s important that if someone has something they want to say, they have a place to share it.”

DeAztlan hopes to tackle issues like income inequality, race, guns and the role of government.

“I think we have a responsibility to listen and learn others’ perspectives,” he says. “Groups like this happen more in urban areas, but here, we are so segregated by walls and geography. I’m confident people want an arena for discussion without restrictions. We want the questions to be open and give people the ability to learn more that will enable them to back up their opinions. It’s very sobering the effect that being around your peers in the community can have. It goes way beyond talking points. It’s worth much more than just reading about something or hearing it on television. You can’t eliminate the politics around lots of issues, but we want to eliminate ‘labels,’ and we want people to interpret for themselves.

”We’re often told to think a certain way about some issue, but our own lives can make us realize something completely different. You know, just because someone’s a Republican doesn’t mean they’re not a compassionate person. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you can’t be prejudiced against others. We all need to listen and learn from each other.”

No date has been set for the next Perspectives gathering, but they plan to announce a date and topic soon. Meanwhile, Tizoc and Briana have started an event production business that allows them to be involved in major events.

While Tizoc and Briana decided to return to the Coachella Valley after college, many young people do not, and yet others who do return have difficulty building their lives locally. Tizoc hopes to see a Coachella Valley future that includes more access to small-business loans, expansion of local education (like the four-year program now at Cal State’s campus in Palm Desert), more local development of technology, and access to jobs.

“Young people need to feel empowered that whatever their skill set is, there’s a local market for it,” says DeAztlan.

Tizoc DeAztlan is an excellent example of a generation that has felt the obligation to do something—and which is inheriting the power to get things done.

“Some choose to ignore, others feel the obligation to do something,” DeAztlan says. “I believe you have to want more than what is right in front of you.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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

Let me bring you into the world of Sharon Katz, a South African by birth, a music therapist by profession—and, in the words of musician Pete Seeger, “one of the people who is saving the world.”

She was born in Port Elizabeth (now called Nelson Mandela Bay) under apartheid—the rigid racial/social ideology system that required citizens to live by race designations (black, colored/mixed race, Indian, white) in segregated areas of the country, with restrictions about who could go where and when.

“We lived in a conspiracy of silence,” she says. “South Africa was a prison for everybody.”

As a young woman traveling with her family, Katz saw how others barely survived in their segregated communities, and she became obsessed with finding a way to support change. “How can this be my country?” she asked herself. “Seeing all of that changed me forever.”

In her teens, she would sneak out to the “blacks only” townships by hiding under blankets in the back seat of a friend’s car in order to get past identification checkpoints.

After getting her education as a music therapist, Katz began her mission to bridge the country’s artificially imposed racial barriers through music. After Nelson Mandela was released from prison, but before the promised national elections were held, Katz came up with a revolutionary idea: She would form an integrated children’s choir to bring together young people from across South Africa, to show that they were all the same when their voices were blended.

“I saw music as a way to transform the system,” says Katz. She traveled throughout the country teaching the same songs and dance routines to students in their individual segregated schools.

In 1992, Katz brought 500 children to Durban, where, for the first time, they were grouped by voice, regardless of race, and practiced together for their first concert. One of the student participants said, “Being in the group made me believe I could do anything with my life.”

Expecting a small audience response, Katz was overwhelmed when the hall was overflowing—and those attending somehow overcame traditions about integrating as an audience.

“There were so many people,” says Katz, “that they not only sat together, but people actually had to sit on other people’s laps. It was truly something to see.”

Enter Marilyn Cohen, executive producer of When Voices Meet, the film that documents Katz’s work. Cohen helped raise money to procure a train that became known as the Peace Train, which toured throughout South Africa in 1993 with the children’s choir, dancers and musicians. The government and protesters did not make it easy, but these remarkable women prevailed.

“It was music that brought the disparate groups together,” says Katz, “and the harmony of their voices became emblematic of the New South Africa.”

At each stop along the route, they performed their concert and encouraged people of all races, cultures, ages and political affiliations to put down their guns and hostilities, and to prepare for the country’s transition to a peaceful democracy. Mandela was elected president several months later.

Actress and filmmaker Shari Belafonte is on the advisory board of Palm Springs Women in Film and Television (PSWIFT). She saw the documentary at a film festival in Washington, D.C., and was so impressed—not just by the film, but by its subject matter and its “star”—that she encouraged PSWIFT to find a way to bring the film to Palm Springs.

I attended the PSWIFT-sponsored screening in the evening, shortly after 120 students from Palm Springs High School had seen it. The film, first released in 2015, is powerful and uplifting, and has won awards throughout the world. Its staff, crew and supporters represent an integrated coalition of cultures.

The local audience was spellbound, with many in tears. Both Katz and Cohen attended. Afterward, Katz brought her guitar on stage, answered questions and led us all in song.

Cohen spoke about their upcoming project, “The Peace Train 2016 Tour Across America: Diverse Voices Singing in Harmony,” which will begin on July 4 in Ferguson, Mo., where local youth, arts educators and police are working together to coordinate the kickoff events. It will then make its way to St. Louis, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and end with performances in Washington, D.C., on July 17 at the Washington Monument, and July 18 at the South African Embassy.

“We received impassioned calls from throughout the U.S.,” says Cohen. “The film has inspired people to re-examine the issues currently dividing Americans and to do something constructive about improving human relations and social justice.”

Many of the Palm Springs High School students hope to get on the train, and opportunities exist for chaperones and parents to accompany them. Katz and Cohen are traveling around the U.S. to show the film and garner support for the project. The cost per person is $1,800, which includes choral training before the tour, train fare, meals, hotels and performances. Tax-deductible support can be offered through the project’s website, www.GetOnThePeaceTrain.org. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for some of our local students if corporate sponsors came forward to help?

Cohen is reverent in describing Katz: “There are angels who walk among us. There are those who choose the selfless path for the good of those less fortunate, especially children, and who dedicate their time on this earth to doing that work.”

Katz is most eloquent when speaking about her fellow South Africans.

“It’s an incredible spirit, a spirit of optimism and love and openness to something new,” she said. “If we could infuse the whole world with the spirit of the South African people, we would be living in a wonderful place now.”

Every once in a while, I meet someone who revives my faith in the idealistic notion that one person can make a difference that changes the world. I now humbly add two names to that short list: Sharon Katz and Marilyn Cohen.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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

We live in a time when the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is being targeted by his own party (via the Republican Principles PAC) with a depressingly accurate TV advertisement that quotes the various derogatory expressions Donald Trump has used over the years to describe women.

It’s also a time when a Lane Bryant ad featuring “plus size” woman resulted in a backlash—including two major networks, ABC and NBC, refusing to run it.

This means it’s time to address an age-old issue: the objectification of women, and its resulting impact on women in particular, and society in general.

Sure, there are lots of examples of how badly some nations around the world treat half of the population—horrors like genital mutilation/female circumcision; burning women alive who are suspected of violating cultural norms like having extra-marital sex (including having been raped); the sex trafficking of young girls; and practices like arranged marriages of minor females, a lack of access to birth control, culturally accepted “domestic” violence, not allowing women to start businesses or work outside of their homes, a lack of education for girls, etc. etc. etc. While practices such as these make us wring our hands with a sense of outrage and frustration at not knowing how to begin to fix it all, we tend to overlook the objectification of women right here at home—and its impact as a violation of American principles of equality and dignity.

Issues like a lack of equal pay for equal work, and women being denied positions of power in major industries, are all too often met with sound-bites about women taking time off to have children (in an industrialized nation that still offers no mandated paid leave), or choosing careers that are about taking care of others rather than pursuing big money. We also often here how much progress has already been made, with claims that we can’t change too fast, or that women are surpassing men in getting higher education, so we’ll see much more of a payoff in the future.

I, for one, am tired of waiting. Women are still fighting sexism, objectification based on appearance and sexuality, and disparate standards for judging performance. (“She’s too pushy/loud/strident,” some say about Hillary Clinton, while when a male politician acts similarly, they say: “He’s a strong leader.”) I was someone who raised these issues more than 40 years ago, and it’s disheartening to see young women—assuming that equality would await them out in the “real world”—realizing that, in fact, little has really changed.

Let’s start with the networks turning down the ad from Lane Bryant, a women’s clothing retailer specifically catering to “plus size” women. The ad features a range of women of various sizes celebrating the female form. Each shares what makes her proud about her body, with tag lines like: “This body was made for being bold and powerful”; “This body proves them wrong”; “This body is made for life”; and a new mother saying, “This body was made for love,” while breastfeeding her infant.

NBC claimed the ad violated a “broadcast indecency guideline” standard. The Federal Communications Commission says indecency is “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium (my emphasis), sexual or excretory organs or activities.” According to TMZ, a 2010 ad from Lane Bryant was also turned down by ABC and Fox.

By comparison, networks have no problem with showing promos for the Victoria’s Secret annual “fashion show,” or beer ads featuring scantily clad women. We see women’s bodies used to sell everything from cars to tools to food. We have dolls in leather miniskirts with feather boas and thigh-high boots marketed specifically to girls, and thong panties for little girls with slogans like “eye candy.” We see Victoria’s Secret models dressed like angels strutting down the runway on primetime TV.

But we seldom see women’s bodies as they really are. According to WebMD, the average American woman today wears a size 14 and weighs between 140 and 150 pounds. By comparison, over the past 20 years, fashion model sizes have dropped from size 8 to size 0.

A new campaign, Stand Up, is specifically focusing on the way girls are constantly encouraged to be body-conscious, resort to elective plastic surgery, and flaunt themselves as if equality includes risking being labeled a slut. (Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.) The campaign launched an online petition that garnered thousands of signatures from people all over the world, and features men also “standing up” for the women in their lives—mothers, sisters, daughters, friends.

In part, the petition says: “Every day women are bombarded with advertisements aimed at making them feel insecure about their bodies, in the hope that they will spend money on products that will supposedly make them happier and more beautiful. All this does is perpetuate low self-esteem among women who are made to feel that their bodies are inadequate and unattractive because they do not fit into a narrow standard of beauty. It contributes to a culture that encourages serious health problems such as negative body image and eating disorders.”

Victoria’s Secret, which took heat for their “The Perfect Body” ad featuring typically skinny models, responded to the backlash by changing their tag line to “A Body for Everybody”—but they didn’t change the visual image.

The American Psychological Association released a report in 2007 addressing the “sexualization of girls in the media,” and the result was that women and girls are not seen as fully functioning individuals, but rather judged primarily as sexual objects. This has an impact on boys and how they see girls, and on men and how they view women in society. The APA report says, “The findings proved girls are portrayed in a sexual manner … that implies sexual readiness. … With these sexist, stereotypical models of femininity constantly being perpetuated in the media, the negative implications affecting the mental, emotional and physical wellness of girls are many.”

According to the APA, “Sexualization of women and girls can also have a negative impact on boys and men.” Objectifying girls and women, and even sex itself, has become integral to definitions of masculinity, and “these beliefs may jeopardize men’s ability to form and maintain intimate relationships with women.” This applies also to how men see women in the professional world.

A joke currently making the rounds is that Caitlin Jenner is the only person clamoring to be woman over the age of 50—a clear reference to the fact that women “of a certain age” are no longer considered desirable. Ray Moore, head of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament held in Indian Wells, publicly apologized and then resigned after saying the women of professional tennis are “very, very lucky” they “don’t make any decisions,” and should thank men for their success, despite all their years of hard work and outstanding athleticism. He describes these powerful women as “physically attractive and competitively attractive”—implying their looks are an integral element in their success on the court.

Which brings me to Donald Trump’s descriptions of women as quoted by the Republican Principles PAC ad. Trump’s actual quotes include his disparaging characterization of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina (“Who would vote for that face?”); comments about Rosie O’Donnell (“a fat pig” and “a dog”); his ongoing animosity toward Fox broadcaster Megyn Kelly (“blood coming out of her … wherever” and “a bimbo”), and general comments like: “For a person who is flat-chested, it’s hard to be a 10”; “It doesn’t matter what they write (about you) as long as you’ve got a beautiful piece of ass”; and my personal favorite, said to a contestant on The Apprentice, “That must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees.”

Trump’s response to CNN when asked about all this? “Some of my words are just show business … Nobody respects women more than I do.”

Yeah, and some of my best friends are (fill in the blank). This man could very well become president—proving that women will continue to be objectified until we all, women and men, speak out and stand up.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. 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