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Family Service Agency Carewalk Honoree Shows A Great Diel of Compassion

As the old Chinese saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In July of 1953, when three local educators fought to find the funding to launch Family Service Agency of Burbank, they could never have foreseen how far those first steps would take the tiny organization, at that time operating out of Assistance League offices in Hollywood.

But 65 years later, their dream of mental health care being recognized as “a community service for all” is a success story worthy of celebration and support.

This weekend, when FSA hosts their 11th Annual CAREWALK, the Burbank community will come together to help the agency take the next steps toward continuing and expanding their valuable work in Burbank

Janet Diel (Photo Courtesy Suzanne Weerts)

The 2018 CAREWALK will honor the commitment of one of Burbank’s most dedicated volunteers, Janet Diel. A strong believer in the value of community service,

Diel has been involved in the Burbank for 39 years. Not only does she talk the talk of kindness and the importance of giving to others, she walks the walk. Because Diel has struggled with health challenges for much of her adult life, she often walks that walk of service to others with a cane, and when need be, she rolls it in her wheelchair.

As the former oncology nurse says, “Disabilities make life more complicated, but not impossible.” And she expects more of herself not less. “I identify myself by what I can do, not what I can’t,” she explains. And in Burbank, Janet Diel has found a way to do a great deal.

“Janet is relentless, passionate, and tireless about a number of causes, all of which help folks who are less fortunate that she. Her enthusiasm is contagious and I catch it several times each year,” says Tim Murphy, who served on Burbank’s City Council from 1989-1993.

Diel considers herself a Burbank newcomer, having only lived in the city for four decades. In that time, she has built an extensive resume of service. She has been the cookie chair for 41 Burbank Girl Scout troops, she chaired both GATE and Special Education parent support groups, spearheaded the disabled-friendly playground at Bret Harte Elementary, and served on various Boards including Job’s Daughters and the Burbank Human Relations Council.

She has dedicated decades to service with the Burbank Transportation Commission, the local Optimist Club, Burbank’s Tournament of Roses Committee, Relay for Life and BUSD’s School Facilities Oversight Committee. She may be best known for her thirty-two years with the Burbank Coordinating Council where she has overseen Camperships and Holiday Baskets impacting countless children and families through her decades of tireless service.

Diel’s community service has been recognized with numerous awards including last month when State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman named her District 43’s 2018 Woman of the Year. In 2016 she was among Congressman Adam Schiff’s 2016 Women of The Year and in 2010 Burbank Council PTA awarded her the Golden Oak.

Dave Golonski discusses the Holiday Baskets program, as Janet Diel looks on. (Photo By Lisa Paredes)

Retired City Manager Mary Alvord has nothing but appreciation for Diel.

“I have known and worked with her for most of my 38 year career with the City of Burbank and continue to witness her incredible commitment and devotion to the Burbank community,” said Alvord.

“I first worked with Janet on issues related to access for disabled individuals and she has been an amazing advocate and leader for the rights of disabled individuals. Janet has helped make the Burbank community much more user-friendly for persons with disabilities in addition to countless other kind and loving acts of generosity in our city.”

Diel and her family are proponents of FSA’s services, having used them themselves.

“When my grandson was eight, he had a ‘safe person’. He knew he could ‘save some of his mad and some of his sad’ and share it with his counselor at FSA,” said Diel, “Laurie and her team made it possible for this young man to bravely stand up at a City Council meeting and share his experience, in the hopes that other children may be encouraged to talk to counselors when needed as well.”

For three decades, Diel has been a member of Burbank Coordinating Council, overseeing the Holiday Basket program and ensuring that hundreds of families in need receive food and gifts over the holidays. And in the summer, many children in those families get to go camping as well thanks to the Coordinating Council’s annual Campership program.

When preparing the list of children who could benefit from a summer camp experience, Diel reaches out to FSA to ensure that no child in need is left out. She and FSA’s office administrator, Pat Smola, compare lists of children to identify those in need of such an opportunity.

“Camp is good for the mental health of so many of these children,” says Diel, “It can be a salvation for kids who’ve dealt with abuse or neglect in their homes or children who are struggling with stress and anxiety but whose families can’t afford to give them the life-changing experiences that summer camp can provide.”

Diel has ensured that between 100-150 young people get to experience local day camps and overnight camps annually, having inherited the role from her dear friend Barbara Sykes, a community leader who passed away in 2016.

“Barbara was an inspiration for so much of what I do,” said Diel. “While the CAREWALK may be in honor of me, I’ll be walking in memory of her.”

“FSA is proud to shine a light on Janet Diel’s extensive community involvement at CAREWALK 2018,” said Laurie Bleick, Executive Director of Family Service Agency, “Janet has given countless hours of her time to further our work and is a great example of how one person can rise above her own challenges and make a difference in the lives of countless others.”

Diel’s family legacy is one of the noteworthy historical accomplishments. Her father worked with the National Science Foundation and was part of the team that helped develop the internet and her mother was a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director who worked with Walt Disney in the creation of the Haunted House attraction at Disneyland.

Diel’s stepmother, Kitty, survived three concentration camps during the holocaust.

“My dad was a navigator on a bomber while the woman who would one day become his second wife was in a concentration camp,” Diel explains. “Kitty had been a prima ballerina and knew several languages which earned her the position of Interpreter in the camps.”

That role gave her an extra half potato ration. Once the camp was liberated, she walked 1000 miles to Czechoslovakia and eventually came to America where she met Diel’s father.

Her knowledge of Kitty’s horrific experiences led Diel to say yes when given the opportunity to coordinate the BUSD holocaust speakers program for 7th and 10th graders.

“I know in my heart that when kids hear authentic speakers share their personal stories, they will understand and never forget,” says Diel. She recognizes that there are few survivors left to tell their stories (quote about her stepmother) and this is the last chance for a generation to hear from living survivors.

Diel grew up knowing that life is full of trials. “We all come into this world with our own set of challenges, but at some point ,we have to stop looking at what is wrong and instead look at how we can help others.”

She says her parents and stepmother all experienced difficult childhoods and were damaged emotionally, but they still left indelible marks in the world. Understanding and appreciating those marks connects her more deeply with the work of FSA.

“Regardless of your challenges, you have the capacity and responsibility to do something valuable with your life,” says Diel. “If we can all share a little of our time and a little of ourselves, we can make a better world.”

Diel appreciates that the counselors at FSA are ready to assist anyone who needs a little extra help navigating life’s challenges so they can take the steps needed to create a valuable life. And this weekend she will be there when the community comes together to take steps for FSA at the CAREWALK.

FSA Awards Michael and Caroline Cusamano With the Mary Alice O’Connor Vision Award

In early October the Family Service Agency awarded Michael and Caroline Cusumano in their 2017 Vision Awards ceremony. During the night, the FSA honored the Mary Alice O’Connor 2015 Vision Award Recipients and celebrated the emotional support, psychological, and social well-being of Burbank’s youth.

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

The Family Service Agency was founded in 1953 by a Burbank Unified School District School Psychologist and a group of community leaders. Currently, the FSA operates in 20 school campuses, including 19 BUSD schools and one private school.

The agency specializes in therapy, but also offers individual youth and adult therapy sessions, couples therapy, and family therapy. The agency also maintains a Veteran’s Group, a Depression and Anxiety Group, a Battered Women’s Survivor Group, and a Teen/Parent Substance Abuse group.

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

The agency also offers comprehensive free services for foster, homeless, and high-risk youth and their families. This includes a 24-hour comprehensive support program aimed at servicing adult and child survivors of domestic abuse. 99% of their staff holds 4-year degrees, with 92% holding advanced degrees, and 96% providing direct client care.

FSA currently operates 3 long-term transitional shelters for battered women and children, homeless families, and emancipated youth and young adults respectively. Their estimated value of care stands at $4.9 million dollars (2015-2016 fiscal year), regardless of their actual budget being $1.4 million dollars. The FSA has also served 4,794 clients.

After the ceremony, I had a chance to speak with Michael Cusmano about the award and the Family Service Agency.

Interview with Michael Cusmano

After the event, I had a chance to speak to Michael Cusmano about the award and what the public can do to help.

First off, congratulations to you and Caroline on your award. Obviously, the work put into maintaining emotional, psychological, and social well-being support never ends. Having impacted so many lives up until this point, what can you and Caroline say about what this award means to the both of you? 

This recognition is especially meaningful to us because it is in honor of Mary Alice O’Connor, and she was such inspirational leader for so many people here in Burbank. It is an honor to caring on her legacy.

How can citizens of Burbank, previously unaware of the FSA, help the FSA in pursuit of their mission in helping our citizens? 

The most direct way that people can help FSA execute their mission is by making donations directly to the organization; they are a 501c3 non-profit and all gifts are 100% tax deductible.

What inspired you and Caroline to start helping? And what continues to inspire the both of you? 

Caroline and I have been involved in charitable and community work for decades, and we were initially inspired by the community work and commitment that my parents and grandmother demonstrated as we were growing up;  After that, it’s the impact of the work that continues to inspire us. When you see how your participation in the community can make a difference, change lives, it inspires to do more, and more.

Proceeds from the event went to FSA’s Burbank School-Based Counseling Program and FSA’s Residential Youth Counseling Program.

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Charity Art Auction Benefits Family Service Agency Art Therapy Program

Cartoon Network hosted its fifth annual Charity Art Auction to benefit the Family Service Agency Art Therapy program. The event, held at the Burbank studio on the evening of June 2, raised more than $30,000.

“It was an honor to once again host the FSA Healing Arts event,” commented Brian Miller, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cartoon Network Studios. “If the number of people that attended is any indication, this year promises to be the most successful to date.”

family services agency art therapy

Mayor Will Rogers fights for the pen with Assemblymember Laura Friedman to make a bid on a political cartoon that Artist Chris Runco did of the Joint Powers Agreement. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Approximately 275 members of the Burbank community attended the art auction and reception and the pre-ticketed dinner was sold out for the planned 120 guests.

“Family Service Agency is a gift to Burbank and we are happy to be a part of something that brings attention to just one of the many services they offer,” added Miller, who currently serves as Treasurer for FSA. “My hope is that this will raise awareness throughout the community for this truly important organization and the many causes they support and serve.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“I encourage everyone to visit their website and to see all that they do,” he added.

More than 130 pieces of art were sold and included “a combination of studio and community art – truly representative of our Burbank community,” said Laurie Bleick, Executive Director of FSA. The evening “truly was magical!”

The Family Service Agency Art Therapy program is the “use of art making by our clients who are experiencing illness, effects of trauma, stress or challenges in living, and by our clients who are seeking personal growth,” according to the FSA website.

Peggy Flynn Burbank Schools Arts Coordinator looks at some of the art that was available for auction Friday evening at Cartoon Network (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Art Therapy is supervised by FSA professionals and most commonly used with youth, but also with the retired community, those with autism spectrum disorder, the chronically ill and those experiencing trauma or loss.

“In more than 60 years using art in therapy at FSA of Burbank, we have found it helps clients with everything from gaining awareness, increasing self-acceptance and processing difficult emotions.”

Family Service Agency, a Burbank community mental health and wellness center, was founded in 1953. In addition to counseling, education and advocate services, the FSA also provides mental health care to Burbank youth on 19 Burbank Unified School district campuses.

Tenth Annual Care Walk Returned to Johnny Carson Park This Year

     The 10th Annual Family Service Agency of Burbank’s (FSA) Care Walk was held April 1st at the beautifully renovated Johnny Carson Park. Approximately 350 participants walked the 5 K course around the park.

Participants included school teams, School Board Members, City Council Members, City Officials and numerous individuals of all ages enjoying a little physical fitness. After the walk, participants received a Care Walk tee shirt, a medal commemorating the event and a complimentary tasty breakfast provided by Command Performance Catering.

During the morning activities, walkers were entertained by Dr. John Whitener’s Jordan Jazz Band and the National Anthem was performed by student Elizabeth Kundibekian.

This year the honoree who received the Jeri Buliavac Award was long time community supporter, Ray Adams. Michael Hastings once again provided his talents as Master of Ceremonies and conducted numerous interviews with the participants. Ross Benson generously provided the public address system.

     The Principal of John Burroughs’ High School, Deborah Madrigal, presented a generous $5,300 check to FSA’s Care Walk.

Sponsors included: the Hollywood Burbank Airport; Nickelodeon; Tony’s Darts Away; Burbank Water and Power; Ray and Bonnie Adams; Burrtec; Sunrise Rotary; Tom and Diana Wong; Community Chevrolet; Elise Sterns-Niesen; Burbank Town Center; Captain Audio; the Reinke Family; the Vitamin Shoppe; and Supervisor Kathryn Barger of  L.A. County’s 5th District. Participants also were able to visit the exhibitor booths to obtain information and free gifts.

     Numerous volunteers assisted with making this event a great success. In addition to numerous individuals, volunteer groups from Providence High School, the Charity League, the Youth Board, the Community Day School and the South Keyclub provided valuable service insuring that the event ran smoothly.

     All the proceeds from this annual event go to help support the no-cost school on-site counseling programs, which last year served 2000 Burbank Unified School District students, providing 12,000 hours of mental health assistance. Laurie Bleick, Executive Director of FSA and the members of the Event Committee are very grateful for all of the support and participation this event received. A good time was had by all while supporting a great cause. 

Cartoon Network Thanks Community Partners

Cartoon Network’s Director of Operations and Community Relations Zita Lefebvre hosted several community partner representatives at a thank you luncheon at the animation studio’s offices in downtown Burbank on Friday, February 14.

Guests of Zita Lefebvre of Cartoons Networks Valentines Day Lunch include Burbank Police PIO Darin Ryburn and Bonnie Teaford Director of Burbank Public Works. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Guests of Zita Lefebvre and Cartoons Network’s Valentines Day lunch include Burbank Police PIO Sgt. Darin Ryburn and Bonnie Teaford, Director of Burbank Public Works. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Members of the community came out to enjoy the Zita’s hospitality, including Police Chief Scott LaChasse and Sgt. Darin Ryburn of the Burbank Police Department and Bonnie Teaford from Public Works.

Rick Madrid from Paramount, Chris Ramos from the Family Service Agency and Edna Karinski from the Foundation of the Verdugos made an appearance.

Representatives from the Boys and Girls Club, the Burbank Center for the Retarded, the Family Service Agency, Warner Bros. Studios and local Burbank public schools also attended, among others.

(Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Zita Lefebvre and Edna Karinski from the nonprofit Community Foundation of the Verdugos. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“I am honored to call them friends. The City has been so amazingly helpful to us and Bonnie Teaford is so responsive and supportive,” commented Lefebvre. “Both the Police and Fire Departments include us in trainings and are our best neighbors.”

“Chris Ramos was here to represent FSA and accepted a check from Edna Karinski from the Foundation of the Verdugos, for a grant I wrote before Christmas,” said Lefebvre.

Cartoon Network funds the Art Therapy Program at the Family Service Agency, which Lefebvre calls “powerful and heart wrenching all at once.”

Former Burbank Police Lt. Rick Madrid, a long time friend of Zita Lafebvre, stopped by to wish all a Happy Valentines Day. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Former Burbank Police Lt. Rick Madrid, a long time friend of Zita Lafebvre, stopped by to wish all a Happy Valentines Day. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Marilyn Collins of Cartoon Network is also a member of the Board of the Burbank Center for the Retarded.

Lefebvre noted the studio tries to “help them in any way we can. We hope to host an art show with drawings from their clients later this year.”

Sherry DeLizia and Brittany Vaughn from Boys and Girls Club worked on a PSA with Lefebvre recently, with help from myBurbank’s Vice President and Chief Photographer Ross Benson.

Cartoon Network volunteers are nearing completion of the PSA which will be screened for the young Boys and Girls Club attendees when finished.

Guests of Zita Lefebvre of Cartoons Networks Valentines Day Lunch. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Guests of Zita Lefebvre enjoy Cartoons Network’s Valentines Day luncheon. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Lefebvre also talked about some of the projects and programs she organizes with local public schools and the Burbank Arts For All Foundation, in which studio animators, artists and production personnel work with children in creating animated shorts and PSAs. Additionally, Cartoon Network reaches out to support local agencies and schools needs, such as the recent planter built for disabled children access at Stevenson Elementary in a partnership with Lowe’s Home Improvement store.