Local heroes

Local heroes

In honor of those who give back

By Daphne Khalida Kilea 07/03/2014



Photos by: T Christian Gapen



For the love of art: Tim Beyer

With $5,000 and hopes of making a difference, Tim Beyer of Ventura and his business partner, Lisbet Frey, launched Green Art People (GAP) five years ago in an old carriage barn on Ventura Avenue in Ventura.

GAP is a grassroots nonprofit whose mission is to build community and to nurture creativity through art, music and conservation; it caters to both children and adults.

After a long career in the insurance industry, art appraisal and event management, Beyer was drawn back to the arts; he was born into a family of professional artists and he is an accomplished guitarist.

“I have always believed that the value of creativity and community was lacking in our society in general because of the difficulty in quantifying their value in a monetary way. From the earliest of times, we as human beings have had a primal need to be creative and to be supported and inspired by our community,” he explained.

So GAP was established, giving the power to create to the community through the space and programs provided.

The nonprofit is more than just a business to Beyer, who serves as the chief operating officer.

The Short Attention Span Theater (SAST) is one of his favorites because it allows him to interact with scores of talented and inquisitive locals. SAST is held on Wednesday nights starting with an open mic session and continuing with live music and art, plus bands on the main stage and three large murals that the attendees paint on as they interact with each other.

 “It feels like a gathering of my extended family each Wednesday. I am re-energized when I see our community gather, if only for a few hours, to spend time with each other in a welcoming and supportive environment where they are not defined by their job, or what they do or do not have,” said Beyer.

To date, SAST has provided more than 200 free shows to the community and subscribers in 36 countries tune in weekly to the live streamed shows.

He also manages GAP’s art store, Upcycle Art Supply Store. The store’s green initiative has kept five tons of scrap out of landfills since 2009 and continues to encourage reduction of waste in landfills.  Upcycle also provides free supplies to public school teachers for art projects in the classroom. He sees the children’s program growing, building a recycled art supply store and having GAP’s programs integrated into the public school system.

More importantly, though, is doing what it takes to keep the doors open. Beyer and co-founder, Frey, often take odd jobs to pay the rent.

 “We’ve been here five years and we’ve shown the community what we can do without funding,” Beyer said. “Can’t wait to show them what we can do with funding.”

Since 2009, an estimated 65,000 people have been influenced in some way by GAP programs and in 2013 alone, Beyer, Frey and their volunteers donated more than 13,000 hours to creative efforts in the community.

For more information, visit www.greenartpeople.com.


Staying in tune: Christine Law

Christine Law of Santa Paula sings, plays a variety of instruments and works in the music industry. She loves music. Consequently, she does everything she can to help Ventura County’s youth with their musical aspirations, both independently and through several local youth programs.

When tragedy struck Law’s family in 2010, it gave her insight about music that still encourages her to carry on with her youth-related work.

“I lost a 22-year-old nephew suddenly. He was an amazingly kind soul, a hospice nurse who loved music. He made me realize that our youth and young adults are intensely aware with important messages that are often overlooked. Music is often the only platform youth have and I can help do something about that,” she said.

Currently, she is working with Xavier Montes’ music education for underprivileged youth in association with the Santa Paula Art Museum as well as the Santa Paula Boys & Girls Club, with whom she collaborates frequently.

“These programs expand the musical experience with culture and art and you should see what the children are creating. These are kids whose life stories can break your heart, yet they produce such beauty and love in their music.”
Law offers financial support but more importantly, she strives to serve as a mentor to each young artist.

Each year, she is involved with youth-oriented organizations and events around the county such as the Say No to Dope, Cool to School song competition and Ventura Music Week’s Rock Picnic.

Her main objective is to help the young with ambitions in music get their messages to an audience because she believes that the opportunity to perform on professionally run stages develops self-esteem, which is crucial.

Law owns a record label, AFIRMRecords, which she frequently uses to help support aspiring young artists. The label was started in 1998 as an imprint and has since expanded to a successful independent label.

“I enjoy recording the kids’ music and getting it airplay. It’s a great way of teaching them how the music business works,” she said.

For the previous Ventura Music Week Rock Picnics, the label produced a compilation CD of the participants and distributed it locally and internationally with positive results for the artists. For example, the band SKICK secured a performance at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and an appearance on a television show, and singer/guitar player Cole Citrenbaum went on to perform at an 8,000-person venue.

Also, Russell Kostner, a student whom Law met and assisted with a music video at Brooks Institute, is now a successful director currently in production for his feature film debut.

Music is important to Law but more so is the positive impact it has on the budding young artists she comes across.

“My favorite part about being involved with youth organizations is seeing young people become inspired. You’ll see self-confidence build in a child and that means more children smiling. The difficult part is that we need more funding for community youth music programs.”

For more information and to get involved, go to www.bgclubscv.org and www.santapaulaartmuseum.org.


Dedicated vet: Richard Camacho

Richard Camacho of Camarillo served his country with honor, fighting as a United States Marine in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart. Since then, he has been dedicated to serving his community.

In 1985, Camacho was among the founders of the Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County (VVVC) organization, originally known as Healing Bridges. Initially, it was a monthly meeting place for Vietnam veterans and their families to be able to share experiences and problems they were encountering. Nowadays, the organization offers several services, including counseling, assistance with repairs, housing placement for homeless veterans, VA claims and, most importantly, a listening ear.

And the organization is not limited to Vietnam veterans.

“The VVVC is a safe place for veterans of Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families to come and talk about what issues they’re having after their deployments,” Camacho explained.

In March, Camacho was elected as president of VVVC, a position he also held from 1987 to 1992. So far, he has held every officer and board-member position and his contributions have been unforgettable.

Camacho was instrumental in getting the Veterans Home in Ventura, raising funds for the Military Order of Purple Heart’s Purple Heart Trail, overseeing the campaign to have the Pacific Coast Highway running through Ventura County designated as Ventura County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway and the list goes on.

In 1986, his youngest son, who was attending Moorpark High School, came home and showed him his history book, which contained a paragraph about the war he had risked his life to fight in.

“He stated that it was an unpopular war. We discussed the fact that over 58,000 people died in Vietnam and that an estimated 150,000 had committed suicide since Vietnam,” said Camacho.

He was invited to speak to his son’s class in 1987 and thus far, he continues to inform high school students about the Vietnam War and the importance of registering and voting.

The VVVC also provides the annual James M. Ray scholarships to local high school seniors and college students, in honor of Ray, an American soldier who was captured in 1968 and is still unaccounted for.

Currently, Camacho is leading the VVVC in the annual POW/MIA Remembrance, providing a color guard or honor guard for special memorial and burial services within the county, maintenance of the Avenue of the Flags at Ivy Lawn Memorial Park and coordinating with the Ventura County Veterans Services Office, the Oxnard VA Clinic and Ventura Vet Center on behalf of Vietnam veterans and their families.

Of all his work, the Vietnam veterans Moving Wall holds a special place in Camacho’s heart. The Moving Wall is the original half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and Camacho played a significant role in bringing the Wall to Ventura County in 1985, 1989, 1991, 1994 and 2010.

“From the responses of family members whose loved ones are on that Wall and were not able to make it to Washington, D.C., to the reactions of those veterans that have found their comrades who were lost in Vietnam, that is a feeling I will never forget.”

For more information, go to www.vvvc.org.


The rescuers: Wilma Melville

Wilma Melville of Santa Paula is the founder of the national Search Dog Foundation (SDF), an organization devoted to rescuing and training dogs so they can, in turn, become rescuers. The SDF is located in Ojai and was formed after she and her dog, Murphy, were called to help find victims after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings.

After Melville’s retirement as a teacher, she pursued her goal of having Murphy undergo higher training. Thereafter, the team attained an Advanced Disaster Search Dog certification with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
When Melville and Murphy were deployed, there were only 15 certified search teams in the country.

“It helped me realize the need for an organization like the Search Dog Foundation that could provide the level of training and skills required to help rescue survivors of disasters quickly, efficiently and successfully,” she said.

Since its formation, the foundation has distinguished itself from other facilities in several ways, including its standard use of rescued dogs.

The few dogs that do not successfully complete the training program are admitted into a different field or lifetime care with the organization. Also, the handlers, usually firefighters, are trained by the foundation at no cost and the organization stays with the dog/handler throughout the life of the team, pays for the dog’s health care and maintains ownership.

Most importantly, the organization helps the team achieve deployment readiness after FEMA certification if granted. Teams have been deployed to many disasters, including the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2011 Japan tsunami.

Despite the growth of these teams since 1995, the service they provide is in great demand.

“Now the Search Dog Foundation is building a world-class, state-of-the-art training center, with facilities to house dogs, trainers, veterinary care, classes for SDF teams and FEMA teams nationwide to experience the most realistic situations they can encounter to be ready for when disaster strikes,” Melville explained.

The Department of Defense, the United States Army Reserve and the United States Navy have assisted with the design, planning and construction of the Disaster Training Zone where teams can train in reconfigurable and realistic sites such as derailed trains, collapsed freeways and demolished buildings.

For Melville, building a training center has also been a goal since her 1995 work in Oklahoma City.

Thanks to Ventura County’s McGrath family (Frank McGrath, Jr. Family Foundation), a $1.5 million donation to purchase the land moved the project forward. Sean McGrath, who has strong ties to the SDF insisted that the facility be located in the county.

“What started as my vision has become the vision of a broad network of staff, volunteers, and contributors who all work together to make the vision a reality,” Melville said.

Melville, McGrath and many others have made the 125-acre campus in Santa Paula, known as the National Training Center (NTC) possible, and without government funding or any cost to taxpayers. Upon completion, the center will provide unmatched resources for much-needed canine disaster search teams.

For more information, visit www.searchdogfoundation.org.


The gift of giving: Stacy Roscoe

Since his retirement from Procter & Gamble Company in 2002, Stacy Roscoe’s various philanthropic efforts have filled the time his demanding job occupied, yet he has no plans to slow down.

He first took an interest in Ventura County as a high school student from San Diego working in Oxnard for two summers. So when Procter & Gamble presented the business manager/public affairs executive with the opportunity to return to the area in 1975, he happily accepted.

“Ventura County is a fantastic place to live and work, and I want to do all that I can to keep it the special place it has been since I moved here,” he said.

Roscoe of Ventura has been actively involved with numerous nonprofit organizations and his most notable role is his 11-year service with the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF) Board, which will come to term in September. He also serves on the Investment Committee, Personnel Committee and as chairman on the VCCF Real Estate Committee.

It has been during this time that he helped spearhead the creation of the VCCF Nonprofit Center in Camarillo, a project that has had a monumental impact on the community.

“The tag line for VCCF is ‘For Good Forever.’ For years, a number of board members have felt that the ‘Forever’ element of the Foundation would be clearer and stronger if we really had a home of our own as opposed to working out of the rented substandard facility that we occupied for many years,” Roscoe said.

The VCCF Real Estate Committee was formed and the Center project was officially started in 2011, and Roscoe donated a majority of the next three years of his life to the cause.

For him, it was very much like a full-time job but the positive impact the Center would have and his love for real estate kept him motivated.

While continuing his duties with other nonprofits, he led the VCCF Real Estate Committee in transforming the idea of a nonprofit center into reality, from property search to construction to contract negotiation.

Roscoe also acted as the leasing agent for a building that now houses the VCCF and 15 nonprofits, four of which share VCCF space dedicated for small start-up organizations. 

Due to the Center, the 15 nonprofits have saved  more than $200,000 of their leasing budget each year.

“This means that these VCCF Nonprofit Center partners can provide $200,000 more service to the community than they could if they were in a traditional tenant situation,” he explained.

Two large conference rooms are also offered without charge to all nonprofits in Ventura County and so far, 85 organizations have utilized the space for their various needs. And although Roscoe said he believes that the Center exceeded expectations financially, the greatest impact is from the synergy and partnerships fostered by nonprofits due to their newfound proximity to one another.

Undoubtedly, this is one of Roscoe’s most rewarding achievements, and despite ending his term with VCCF in September, he will have plenty of philanthropic endeavors to keep him busy.

“I still have eight organizations I will be working with. I have a lot of energy; I love being creative and seeing the fruits of my labor.”

For more information, go to www.vccf.org.


Forever Young: Suz Montgomery

Growing up, Suz Montgomery of Ventura was affectionately known as “Suz of Arc” because of her curious nature and love for her community and politics.

She has been involved with Ventura County nonprofit organizations for more than 30 years, having spent 17 years as the Ventura City Parks and Recreation Commissioner and the last 11 years teaching older adult programs for the Ventura Unified School District (VUSD).

Judging by her typical day, Montgomery is still “Suz of Arc.”

She wakes up at 4 a.m., tackles numerous emails, creates lesson plans and fits in a workout, teaches various classes, visits people in care homes and hospitals and also manages to read 20 different newspapers. She is also kept busy with work on her long-running cable television talk show Schmooze with Suz, where her passion for current events and her community is evident through the open discussions with each guest.

Three years ago, the state reduced funding to the district’s older adult programs so Montgomery decided to take action.

She created the Extended Learning Academy (ELA) where she continued her role as an adult education teacher. A variety of classes are offered to seniors at the Silver Crest Salvation Army, The Californian and Coastal View Health Care.

A trained executive chef, she is especially known for her cooking classes; she helps her students nurture their “Victory Garden” then prepare their own food outside of the nursing home environment.

“When I first started doing it, I learned that seniors very much want to stay with what is going on in the world. They all think they’re around 30 years of age. The difference between me and my students is nothing. They want to be in the game and they participate by learning and sharing experiences and doing things you wouldn’t think they would.”

ELA’s average class size is 35 to 40 students (typical student is 90 years old) and the city of Ventura, which partnered with ELA last year, provided a grant that allowed teachers to be hired. Also, ELA is offering classes for all age groups due to the cancellation of Ventura College’s community enrichment program.

Montgomery believes that this interaction between seniors and the younger generation is a good thing and, in fact, she also hosts a popular annual Knowledge Bowl between her students and high school seniors.

Her hope is that eventually, ELA can expand into other communities in Ventura County and beyond. She would like to see everyone become more involved with seniors, even in the smallest way; the outcome, she insists, is rewarding.

“They’ve made me a nicer person. Seniors are almost invisible and it’s a tragedy because we don’t utilize their experience.”

Many of her students participate in class by recounting their own stories about wars or significant moments in history, and as the instructor, Montgomery admits to learning just as much as she teaches.

Actually, she lives by what she learned from her most memorable student, Bitsy, who passed away five years ago at the age of 107.

“Every day, she would teach me life lessons. She would always say to me ‘give to the world the best that you have and the best will come to you.’ ”

For more information, go to www.elaventura.org.

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