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A Step Beyond

 

n spite of the nightly news and reality TV stars, I believe that most people are essentially good. That for every Bernie Madoff there are a couple of Mother Teresas, a Gandhi or two for every O.J. or Adolph. Most people, I like to think, give a damn.

Of course, compassion doesn’t solve problems. It takes a rare breed of person to step beyond empathy and really confront issues. Sherry Cash (cover and page 28) is one of those people, a bona fide doer. You may have seen her around downtown Ventura in recent years, cleaning up cigarette butts and the assorted detritus that collects around homeless people. Or, better yet, helping those who can’t help themselves find housing or the services they need.

But even for someone as compassionate as Sherry, it generally takes a personal connection to spark a fire. The impetus in this case was her brother, one of the many good-hearted but homeless, alcoholic, mentally ill transients you see around west Ventura. In our interview, Cash tells how she’d see him “drunk in the afternoon, leaning against a lamppost.” Instead of wagging a finger, though, she’d invite him to lunch. And then she’d call mom to let her know how he’s doing.

It’s an effective, friction-free response: reading and assessing a situation, smoothly flowing with it rather than reacting out of blind emotion. Sherry Cash, you see, is a Moving Arts practitioner and educator. We found the connection between moving one’s body well (Aikido, Tai Chi, Feldenkrais Method) and moving well in the world intriguing. Enough so to put Sherry on the cover this month.

Pick a cause, any cause, anywhere, and you’ll likely find someone for whom it’s a passion. When it comes to birds of prey, Ventura County’s most passionate soul is Kim Stroud. Thankfully, she works at Patagonia, where huddling a wounded owl beneath your desk is standard office procedure.

As director of the Ojai Raptor Center (ORC), Stroud volunteers nearly all of her “free time” to caring for and teaching about birds. The ORC is in the process of expanding, including construction of a 260-foot, L-shaped flight cage, which, if they can complete funding and meet the bedeviling building codes and county requirements, will be the largest in California.

I’d heard of the Ojai Raptor Center but didn’t know the extent of their mission. It’s an identity issue many nonprofits face, so we opted to put together a roundup article spotlighting individuals who’ve benefitted from the work of some local groups. Seemed like a simple enough idea, a good feature in a Giving Thanks-themed issue.

Our first subject, though, couldn’t be photographed. Reasons of national security. We couldn’t even use his real name. Then there were the families (so much for individuals). And, thankfully, none of our neighbors had been pulled from the clutches of death by a search dog, but still we wanted to include our friends at the Ojai-based Search Dog Foundation, who’ve sniffed out survivors at catastrophe sites well beyond the county lines—like Ground Zero 9-11.

In the end, we gave up on the original idea. We did like Sherry Cash and just flowed with it. And it turned out fine. Things usually do, in spite of what we see on the nightly news.

Thanks again for tuning in, and thanks to everyone who takes a step beyond compassion and really makes a difference.

11-01-2009

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