Burbank Temporary Aid Center herded several hundred well-wishers into the Castaway corral last Friday night for its western-themed, annual fundraising gala. Blue jeans and bandannas made their way to the watering holes and otherwise grazed along the aisles of silent auction items and opportunity baskets. After a spell, emcee Barry Gussow rang the dinner bell. Good grub was waiting in the Starlight Room, and the spotlights were set to shine on this year’s recipients of BTAC’s “Burbank Top Award for Citizenship,” Mayor Will Rogers and the Burbank Association of Realtors.
Strong community support has allowed BTAC to be a safety net of last resort for those who are homeless (about 1,000 in Burbank at present) or in serious danger of becoming so (over 9,000.) For over 40 years, organizations like BAOR and folks like Mayor Rogers have enabled BTAC to provide sack lunches, groceries, hygiene kits, showers, clean clothes and utility bill assistance, among other services. The citizenship award is BTAC’s heartfelt way of saying, “much obliged.”
The appreciation runs both ways. “The burden of so many social services has fallen to nonprofits like BTAC. Thank goodness we have them for the underserved communities,” stated State Senator Anthony Portantino, one of several public officials attending the gala. Can BTAC be replicated throughout California? “BTAC is a good model for tight-knit communities where people are willing to help each other,” responded State Assembly Member and former Glendale Mayor Laura Friedman.
The “Volunteer Spotlight” segment, featuring the Burbank Chapter of the National Charity League, made clear that Burbank is indeed a community that cares. NCL was represented by Chapter president Cheryl Kisob, Vice president of Philanthropy Teresa Weeden, Class of 2018 Patroness Grade level Advisor Stephanie Yonkee, and Class of 2018 Ticktocker president Elise Jonke. (There are over 90 Ticktockers in six different grade levels, often functioning within mother-daughter teams.) Each month a class of NCL hosts a food drive outside of a local grocery store or supermarket to collect non-perishable food and personal hygiene items for BTAC. Ticktockers see first hand the generosity of the Burbank community. “It reminded me of the blessings in my own life,” remarked Elise Jonke. NCL members also provide BTAC with hundreds of hygiene kits and lunches each year, for direct distribution to the homeless.
Next came recognition of the citizenship award honorees, BAOR and Mayor Will Rogers.
Both as an organization and as a source of individual volunteers, BAOR had embraced BTAC from the beginning. “Community service and civic involvement have always been core tenets of our membership,” stated Courtney Korb, BAOR 2018 President. Through its Community Services Foundation, BAOR gives food drives for BTAC and provides other assistance as needed. (It has also raised money for local pet adoption services, partnered with Boys&Girls Club, and distinguished itself as the single largest donor of scholarships in Burbank.) At the gala, Korb presented BTAC with a $5,000 donation. “We are grateful to be able to continue to support all the work of BTAC,” said Korb. “We understand there is always a need for assistance and are so proud of our members’ willingness to jump right in and ask how they can help.” Joining her on stage were Cheritta Smith, BAOR Association Executive, and Chris Rizzotti, BAOR Community Service Foundation Past-President.
Shortly after joining the BTAC Board of Directors in 2005, Mayor Rogers staged a sold-out, one-man fundraising show for BTAC at the Colony Theatre. He made an impact on BTAC’s day-to-day operations as well, creating a thorough—and long-needed—manual of policies and procedures. He also personally assembled the tribute journal for BTAC’s annual gala. And he chaired BTAC’s annual Santa’s Room event and managed the extensive Santa’s Room inventory. “If Will said he would do something, it was done, and it was done well,” said BTAC Executive Director Barbara Howell. As a Board member, Mayor Rogers “was the conscience of BTAC, always asking the difficult questions, pointing the organization towards the best path for our clients,” stated fellow Board member Michael Walbrecht.
“I told my wife, ‘You look so beautiful in that outfit.’ My only regret is that I didn’t ask where she was going,” quipped Mayor Rogers to the guffawing crowd. In the tradition of his rope-spinning namesake of the previous century, he continued to regale everyone with self-deprecating humor—although he did cast blame on former Mayor Tim Murphy for getting him interested in BTAC to begin with. No doubt that’s because “in spite of being a sort of cynical person” the sight of BTAC helping people, especially around the holidays, “turns him around every year.” Perhaps having in mind the many young people who have done volunteer work for BTAC (like the Ticktockers), Mayor Rogers went on to observe that, whatever criticisms may be leveled at the millennials and post-millennials, “we have some really spectacular kids, at least in and around Burbank.”
Cynical or not, Will Roger forged a path from muckraking journalist to the mayor that was marked by a willingness to tackle problems and not merely decry them. And this was especially evident in his activities on behalf of BTAC and the people they serve.
At the conclusion of the event, Barbara Howell acknowledged her staff and volunteers. Then came a sobering statistic: There are some 10,000 people in Burbank (about 3,000 families) who are struggling to not be homeless. A woman who was about to be evicted contacted various organizations “and they told her to come back when she is homeless,” related Howell. In contrast, BTAC helped 20 people not to be evicted last year; usually, it was by paying the utility bills and donating food, freeing the family budget to cover the rent.
Over 60% of Americans do not have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit or car repair. That’s a disturbing level of financial vulnerability. Is our economy turning into a bone-dry forest, where any spark of trouble causes huge swaths of family fortunes to go up in flames? In Burbank there is, so to speak, at least one fire extinguisher on hand. Howell ended by quoting Jimmy Stewart from her favorite western, Shenandoah: “If you don’t try you don’t do, and if you don’t do, you wonder why you’re here.”
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