Archive for Causes’ Category



Hope for Hayden: Reflections and a community’s reaction

There are some people who grab our attention; pull us into their presence with their laugh, wit, peace, pain, or circumstance. As I perused through my Facebook timeline—catching up on dog videos, inspirational quotes, and updates from friends—the photo of a boy with striking blue eyes grabbed my attention. His face, his innocence, the softness of expression pulled me into his presence. And then I read the accompanying post: Hayden Jilka, age 7, undergoing cancer treatment. My heart plummeted to my toes, as though I’d nearly collided with another car on the road.10959409_10204209849538812_2391218010777871646_n

It’s been a strange several months for my family and me. We’ve seen a lot of illness, diagnosis, and death. We’ve delivered meals, prayed, grieved, felt a malaise hovering over an all-too-sunny winter. But this face, this boy—Hayden—I can’t explain it…I was so moved.

Through my friend Neal Pearlberg, who hosts KSCO’s Off The Lip Radio Show in Santa Cruz, California, I was able to contact the Hayden’s family. After a few emails and texts, we made a plan to meet. Over soup, salad, pizza fries, and a grilled cheese for Hayden’s little brother, Garrett, Samantha recounted Hayden’s journey.

“Hayden was diagnosed in October of 2014 when he was seven. He’d been experiencing pain in his cheek. We thought he had an infected salivary gland, and a growth inside of Hayden’s mouth was removed and biopsied,” Samantha says. She and her husband, Nate, got the call that changed their lives: Hayden had cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue. The good news is that the success rate is 90% with treatment. The bad news: radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the treatments.

As I listened to Samantha relay this information, I tried to imagine my child with this diagnosis; the worry, the anxiety, the pain of watching my child go through treatments that cause pain, nausea; how he would potentially miss out on “normal” kid stuff due to his treatment—school, parties, sports. Most of us will not experience first-hand what life is like with a child battling cancer. With that in mind, I asked questions that helped me gain a better understanding of daily life.

“He’s amazing. When he feels okay, he skateboards and surfs. He rarely complains. Recently, though, the pain got to be too much for him,” Samantha pauses, and tears up. “The medicines he was prescribed made him so nauseous, and all he did was sleep.”


The family sought out non-traditional medication, and Hayden has found tremendous relief from CBD, Cannabidiol, which is a cannabis compound that does not make people feel “stoned”, yet, according to Samantha, provides pain relief without sedation.

I was curious about the impact that cancer has on a school-aged child; how his peers were responding to Hayden’s diagnosis. Back in the 1970s, I had a classmate who had cancer, and none of this was discussed, which fueled a lot of anxiety, questions, and fear in a number of us.

Samantha shares, “The school did a great job. The teacher sat down with his class and explained that Hayden had cancer; that he may miss some days because of treatment; how he may lose his hair.” Samantha adds that Hayden’s friends have surrounded him, some shaving their heads to match the hair loss that Hayden has experienced from chemo.

“We also get a lot of support from our local church, Twin Lakes, and from Jacob’s Heart.”

This was not the first time that I’d heard of the generosity of Jacob’s Heart, a child’s cancer support service in Santa Cruz County. While writing GriefINK, a non-fiction book about memorial tattoos as a language of grief, one of the participants I interviewed stressed how critical Jacob’s Heart was in offering assistance to her family. For the Jilkas, the added cost of driving to and from Lucille Packard at Stanford and overnight stays were eased by the assistance from Jacob’s Heart.10676158_10204396192037137_6781313206354310526_n

With bills mounting up toward $100,000.00, I felt pride in my hometown that is wrapping its arms around this family. These businesses, individuals, and events have raised morale, money, and support for Hayden’s recovery:

Teddy Bear sales and baked goods at Pleasure Point, Neil Pearlberg’s Off The Lip Radio Show, Terry Campion and the Santa Cruz Boardroom, Ribsys Nickel Holiday Party at Bocci’s Cellar, Danny Keith and the Santa Cruz Warriors, Bud Freitas and Surf School Santa Cruz, Nikki Brooks & Shawn Dollar, Titans of Mavericks, Star Bene, Steve Periera “The Beach Guy”, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, Freeline Surf Shop, local authors, friends, neighbors, and classmates.

As Hayden’s treatment continues, new conditions arise. When I met with Samantha and Garrett two weeks ago, Hayden was supposed to join us. Unfortunately, he had become neutorpenic as a result of the chemotherapy, resulting in a reduction of a type of white blood cells, which increase his inability to fight off infections or bacteria. It’s not a permanent condition, but when this arises, he must remain at home, and avoid unnecessary contact with others.

During our lunch together, I got a real sense that ordinary life does not stand still for families who have a child with cancer. The siblings need attention; food must be bought and prepared; holidays come and go; bills continue; parents have to work. Garrett and I played “pass” with a piece of paper folded into the shape of a triangle. We laughed. We chatted. I wondered what was going on his young mind. And as we ended our lunch together, he slipped off a rubber bracelet that says Hope for Hayden. “This is for you!” he beamed.


As much as this family feels blessed by the support of others, I was the one who walked away feeling blessed. I was let in to a very private, sacred space: a mother revealing her innermost fears, hopes, worries, sources of strength, and prayers. I count it a privilege to hold the Jilka family in my prayers, to reach out to others on their behalf, and to observe the presence of hope and grace amidst illness. Thank you, Hayden, for touching my life and the life of others.

If you would like to help, here are the links to Hayden’s recovery, as well as links to Jacob’s Heart, and Teen Kitchen, which provide meals to families in crisis.

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Talk it Out: Grief, Peace Officers, and Post-Traumatic Stress

Today marks the two year anniversary of Butch Baker and Elizabeth Butler’s deaths. Both were detectives with Santa Cruz Police Department, and were killed on duty. It’s fitting that on this day, Garry Rodgers, a former peace officer in Canada, shares his insights on stress, grief, and the need to talk about on-duty trauma as a way to heal.

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Garry Rodgers is a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective and forensic coroner. He also served as a sniper on British SAS-trained Emergency Response Teams. He is currently an Amazon Top 10 Best-Selling Crime Writer for No Witnesses to Nothing, and Blogger at He has a wealth of knowledge regarding the stress that peace officers and their families experience, as well as first hand experience of what it is to lose a fellow officer on the job. I invited Garry to share his insights about post-traumatic stress, what helps survivors—both peace officer and civilians—after a traumatic loss, and his newfound success of writing fiction crime dramas.
What drew you to law enforcement?
I grew up in a small Canadian town in the 70’s where the Mounties were held in high esteem. I wanted to be part of a greater purpose, to contribute, and to experience life beyond the backward, routine of my sheltered world. I’ve always been a risk-taker and adventure junkie.
You shared with me that you were with your partner on the force—who was also your dearest friend—when he was killed. How did that affect you? What was the process of working through the grief, anger, guilt? Was there a formal way in which the department debriefed you?
It’s 30 years ago this March 19th that RCMP Constable Mike Buday was cold-bloodedly shot in the back by a deranged bushman. We were part of an Emergency Response Team (SWAT) operation sent to arrest a madman wanted for murder in the frozen wilds of the Canadian north. Long story short, he got the drop on us, murdered Mike, then pulled the trigger on me. His round failed to go off and I returned fire, killing him. It was over in two seconds.
Putting my best buddy in a body bag is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not only did I train with Mike from day one, but also he lived with me, and I had to go home to a house with all Mike’s stuff, but no Mike.
Going into his room, I broke into gut-heaving grief… guilt… remorse. I dehydrated from tears and suffocated from a black cloud of guilt. If only I’d been more alert. If only I reacted more quickly. If only I didn’t cheat Mike out of life. If only… if only… if only…
I drank. In drunkenness I’d talk to Mike, apologizing for not saving him and asking his direction, but he never answered. I had to move forward. My grief lasted weeks, then eased with months, and settled out after a few years where I could talk about it without breaking into shakes & sweats.
Guilt and remorse took longer to dissipate than grief. Eventually, I rationalized what went down at that frozen place. We were bloody lucky that it wasn’t a helluva lot worse. Where I saw myself as a loser for letting Mike get murdered, others saw me as a hero for ending the incident and saving other lives. I no longer have guilt or remorse about it, and anger was never a factor.
Aside from my personal black pit at the time, my team-mates and other of Mike’s friends were also in pieces. We were young and this was the first real shocking tragedy we’d experienced. I put on a brave face to help them, which helped me keep it together. The Police Force was so supportive. This was 1985, and PTSD was on the verge of being recognized. We had numerous professionally assisted psychological sessions with the officers involved, direct family members, peripheral colleagues, and anyone who wanted to talk. Talking it out, in my opinion, is the best therapy in dealing with grief. And time.
PTSD is a different animal than grief. PTSD is a very real, very dangerous disorder, whereas grief is a natural, dissipating reaction that eases with time. My feeling about dealing with grief is to have as many people around you as quickly as you can, talk about the good times, and then time will heal. Fortunately, I’ve never displayed the classic symptoms of PTSD, but I certainly know other who have. In fact, I wrote a piece about PTSD that can be found at
We hear of a great deal of marital/family stress in peace officers. Thoughts?
On-duty police officers are always under threat and that breeds an overly protective mentality. Most police officers spend way more time with their cop-family than their own. Their cop-family is always at immediate risk of danger. Being trained first responders, officers will naturally respond to the immediate threat, and leaving domestic issues to deal with later. It’s when they go home that domestic trouble starts.
Wife: “I had a hard day with the kids.”
Officer: “You have no idea what hard is.”
You transitioned to coroner later in life. Describe that decision. How did this job compare to being a peace officer?
I spent most of my policing career investigating homicides, so I had the background in death investigation, which made me ideal for being appointed as a coroner. In my jurisdiction, coroners contract out medical support services, such as autopsies and toxicology, whereas medical examiners contract out the field investigations. I found the science end of the job fascinating, but the emotional end of dealing with families took its toll.
Homicides are rare in a coroner’s workload. It’s the accidents, suicides, and the ordinary natural deaths that get emotional. Crime scenes are extremely protected before the coroner arrives, and then you’re guided in like some kind of savior. Suicides & accidents are less supported, but in natural deaths, there’s usually only the coroner and the distraught, grieving family present. That’s where you have to be part-priest and it’s tough.
There’s little stress in being a coroner as long as you keep it in check. For one thing, you’re never first on the scene. Secondly, you have total control over the scene once you arrive. So the tendency for emotions running away is minimized.
It’s nothing compared to being a cop. There’s virtually no danger to a coroner, whereas it’s the police job to diffuse and secure the situation before a coroner arrives. Coroners control death investigations and have immense powers of search, seizure, and forcing co-operation.
Compassion is another story. In my jurisdiction, coroners are appointed, not elected. The criteria are not only the ability to handle death scenes, but to compassionately deal with emotional, grief-stricken families. That’s the tough part.

What would be your recommendation to peace officers, paramedics, firefighters, counselors, emergency medicine physicians, and nurses, or anyone exposed to high stress on the job?
Talk. Talk as much as you can to family, peers, subordinates, superiors. Group therapy is as good as one-on-one. Bring on professional consultants. Don’t wait until a critical incident occurs. Don’t be reactive. Be proactive. Make psychological awareness part of your training program. And remember – it’s okay to talk about it.

Did you always want to write? Talk about this transition, and how life experience helped shape your writing.
For years I’ve read and written all sorts of things, not just legal, forensic, & technical stuff. Crime-fiction is my genre, and it’s so different from technical writing. For instance ‘suspension-of-disbelief’ devices are used in fiction such as dialogue, character development, and beats. It’s been a huge learning curve.
I went back to school, learned a new craft, and networked with other writers. I also built a blog, which has been really successful, both in polishing my writing voice and getting noticed.

Thank you, Garry, for your openness about grief and trauma amidst peace officers, and the importance of “talking it out.”









No Witnesses To Nothing


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Veteran’s Day Reflections: An interview with Jonathan Allen

This is no ordinary Veteran’s Day for me. Sure, I’ve been supportive to our military personnel in word, donations, and thought, but without an emotional connection. Something in me has changed, and it happened on a Thursday in Roseville, California.

I get to meet amazing individuals as I write my latest book GriefINK—a non-fiction pictorial and narrative about memorial tattoos, their meaning, the back story, and how we carry our lost loved ones through tattoo. On an ordinary Thursday, I had an extraordinary experience while interviewing Jonathan, a humble young man who served in Afghanistan.

Bomb Suit 1Jonathan’s tight-knit company was stationed in Mushan, Afghanistan; what he and his brothers call “Moosh”. He was part of an elite company of soldiers known as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians.

“We walked everywhere because the terrain was horrible. We were in amazing physical shape. We’d attach to an infantry unit, find an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), render it safe, and dispose of it. There were so many people around me who got hurt. We carried around 80 pounds on our back: food, water, robotics, IED/metal detectors, explosives, evidence collection equipment, clothes. We were constantly getting shot at. I believed I was untouchable; we had an invincibility complex over there; we couldn’t function without that. We couldn’t think or feel when others got hurt, or we would freeze up.”

During his 8th month, Jonathan and two other team members were severely injured while trying to clear an IED. Jonathan was thrown ten feet into a wall. He shattered his arm, suffered a fist-sized hole in his armpit, blew out his eardrum, lost tissue in one leg, and incurred a traumatic brain injury. He spent a month in a VA hospital. “EOD Warrior Foundation was good to me. They sent an iPad and other things to help pass the time in the hospital.”

It took thirteen surgeries to repair his injuries.

“I had a hard time being hurt, and felt very helpless. I wanted to go back. I lost the connection with my unit, couldn’t stay active, and suddenly I wasn’t able to shut out the worry and stress that served me in the field, especially when other guys got hurt. What I survived was not as hard as hearing about others getting hurt or killed over there. I was no longer invincible; I was broken.”

Life also looked and felt different for Jonathan once he left the hospital and returned home. At twenty-four, most of his friends were in college, working, or starting families, and he felt five years behind everyone. The trauma he experienced made it more difficult to relate to friends and family, and yet, Jonathan very much sees himself as a survivor, not a victim.

“My close friends know I’ve gotten hurt, and they are supportive, but I really don’t talk about what happened in Moosh. Some people treat me as if I’m fragile, and that’s annoying. Or, someone may go through a hard time, and while they’re telling me about it, they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s nothing like what you went through.’”

For veterans like Jonathan, reintegrating into civilian life can feel like dropping in to a foreign county; home is unfamiliar, and sometimes unsettling. Despite his injuries, Jonathan is creating new meaning in his life, with attendance at a four-year college on the horizon.

“I’m all right, but I was more than all right before I got injured.” And yet, he acknowledges that his life could be radically different; different like one of his closest military brothers who risked his safety; whose self-sacrifice resulted in a double amputation, and two years in a VA hospital.

Veteran’s Day: a day off of work, or school. The gift of meeting Jonathan spurs me to reflect on my freedom, and know that my rights aren’t free. Take a moment to whisper a prayer of thanks, make a donation, post something on Facebook, send an email, or pick up the phone, and thank a veteran who set aside his/her comfort and safety so that we have can have ours.

EOD Memorial

To donate to EOD Warrior Foundation and/or Wounded Warrior Project—non-profits dedicated to injured veterans and their families—visit the links below.

Photo is of the EOD memorial in Florida. It has a plaque with the names of every EOD tech who died in each of the four branches of the military. Every year there is a ceremony to add the names of the individuals who died that year.

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Anthony Ruffo: A New Life

Presumptions, precognitions, and preconceived notions: all a part of the human condition. They are rooted in our experience, prejudices, and what our culture tells us about a person, place or thing.

When you hear the word “addict”, what presumptions, precognitions, and preconceived notions come to mind?

We live in a culture where drug addiction, whether legal or illegal drugs, is rampant, and alcoholism abounds. The news focuses on the problem, the causes, which celebrity is in rehab, often capitalizing on others’ misfortune.

Less popular in our media-saturated culture is the focus on the solution; the stories of individuals battling addiction, maintaining their sobriety, and carrying a message of hope to their families and others still stuck in their disease. The story below is one of those stories: a man who battled his addiction for most of his life, and now stands humbly in his community, clean, and willing to share his story in hopes that someone still in the grips of addiction will find encouragement, hope, and gratitude. Meet former professional surfer, Anthony Ruffo.

Across the table of a local coffee shop in Santa Cruz, California, I listened to Anthony’s story. One hour was not enough. A few weeks prior, Anthony and I met at a fundraiser put on by Darryl a.k.a. “Flea” Virostko, for his sobriety project FleaHab. From the limited knowledge I had of Anthony’s past, I knew I wanted to learn more. As I listened to his chronology of addiction and recovery, I understood why his eyes and smile shine so bright. Anthony is a miracle.

314583_10150351451429456_8601811_nAnthony, thanks for meeting me, and for your willingness to share on my blog. Can you tell me about life growing up, and your experience as a surfer?

I grew up in Santa Cruz. I loved surfing. By the time I was fourteen, I’d already gotten into partying. Back then it was a lot of pot smoking, and later on cocaine. My main focus was surf, girls, and using. I got sponsored as a short board competitor, and took 1st place in Santa Cruz’s 1985 O’Neill Coldwater Classic, and 2nd place in ’97 and ‘02. In the 90’s, competing changed a lot, and more professional training and dieting were required to keep up.

What was the turning point in your life where addiction really held a grip on your life? 

I could feel that I was getting phased out of professional surfing in 2001. I had no plan, felt inadequate, low self esteem, and that’s when methamphetamines came into my life.  Meth changed those feelings, and took away my fear about life. But, it caught up with me, and created more problems—daily problems—especially when I started dealing it. At the time, I didn’t think about what I was doing to myself, kids, families, my community. I was caught. Being so high profile, it didn’t take long until my lifestyle caught up with me.

While I don’t want the focus of this interview to be on what went wrong, can you share the consequences? Then we’ll move on to what changed and what worked to move you into recovery.

I had my first brush with the law in ’06. I went to rehab, and had to do community service. But, the rehab part didn’t stick. I guess I wasn’t at my bottom yet. Then, in 2010, I was raided, and this time I had to go to jail. I served nine months in the Santa Cruz County Jail, and wore a monitor for five months with parole. This time was different, though…this time I was ready to take responsibility.

People in recovery talk about moments of clarity, hitting bottom, or a jumping off point in which they know they need help, and their denial is faced. What was that point for you?

A couple of things hit me. One was the loss of a close friend, Peter Davi. We were surfing together in Still Water Cove in Monterey. We hadn’t seen him in a while, and then spotted something floating in the water. I paddled over to him, and found him dead in the water.

The other was the death of world surf champion, Andy Irons, who died of heart failure due to a drug overdose. He was only thirty-two.

You had a unique recovery, in that you don’t practice a traditional 12-Step program, but something associated with breath. Can you tell us about your program of recovery?

I don’t think there’s one way for people to recover. If the 12-Step method works for someone, then great. It wasn’t for me. My recovery program began with Genie O’Malley. Her project at the time was called Clean Mind & Healthy Planet, and is now called Living Breath Project. She found me due to my being high profile, and asked me to come out to New York and stay for thirty days. It got me away from the drugs, my environment, and I learned to practice her three-part breath technique. It involves breathing and positive word sequences that cleanse negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are part of self-destructive behaviors. (For more information on Living Breath Project, see

When I finished her program, we both returned to Santa Cruz and she spent one week there helping others in their addiction.

I also attend a weekly therapy group with an addiction-trained psychologist who works on self-esteem, communication, and the balance between behavior, feelings, and thoughts.

A lot of what I’ve learned is that drug and alcohol isn’t the problem, I am the problem. I need to work on myself, build good relationships with others, let go of negative perceptions, and not focus on others’ perceptions of myself. People have a right to think and feel as they want, and I don’t have to agree with it or internalize it. This is a huge shift for me.

208746_217488958264691_3052015_nTalk about life now…the new Anthony Ruffo.

I feel more peaceful now. I’m less argumentative, and don’t have to be right. I feel gratitude (as demonstrated by the tattoo of the word “gratitude” tattooed on his neck).

I have positive relationships with my parents, the surf community, and friends. Giving back is important to me. I can show other addicts that it’s not hopeless—that they can move forward and get back up.

Part of my recovery involved going into juvenile hall and talking with kids about drugs, addiction, where I’ve been, and how I am now. They listen to me when they hear my story. That I can make a difference in somebody’s life after where I’ve been—it’s amazing.


If you or someone you love are caught in the trap of addiction, the following are some helpful links:

Narcotics Anonymous:

Alcoholics Anonymous:

Living Breath Project:

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Drug Free Surfers – John Solanoa


As a native of Santa Cruz, I have a deep attachment to nature, the beach, and love of surfing, albeit, from the beach or cliff as I admire this sport. Many of us are enamored with those who face walls of water that seem insane to ride.

There exists, however, an entangled relationship between surfing and drugs and alcohol: marijuana, alcohol, and methamphetamines take too many surfers out before their time. Dozens are left to battle their addiction, face jail time, and the damage to their families, friends, and own lives. Those left behind beg the question: how can one reach a culture where surfing and drugs and alcohol lay alongside one another?

John Solanoa, a local surfer in Southern California, who is a well-known writer and photographer in the surfing community, felt compelled to address this issue, resulting in an organization called DFS, Drug Free Surfers. Appealing to seasoned surfers and young alike, he rallied for them to take a stand, promoting a zero-tolerance for use of any drug. Members include Santa Cruz/Huntington Beach surfer Peter Mel, the winner of the past season’s Mavericks, his son John Mel, US Boys Champion, two-time Open Champion Brett Simpson of Long Beach, and San Clemente’s NSSA Champion Tia Blanco, to name a few.

johnmelDSF’s mission:

“…to promote and lift those who practice clean living within the extreme sports lifestyle. To build a vast network of professionals and amateur sports figures to help show the youth of our sports that there is another option to drugs, and to make aware those at risk kids that you can live that happy life you always wanted Drug Free.” 


out-of-breath-SMWhen I wrote my first novel, Out of Breath, which captures a surfer caught in the grip of addiction and its consequences, I had no idea how pervasive this topic was, although I later learned a great deal from Pro-Surfer Peter Mel and his father John Mel, owner of Freeline Surf Shop. Life flows in strange ways, and I was introduced to DFS when John Solanoa was on Santa Cruz’s radio station KSCO. On their show, Off The Lip Radio, co-hosts Neil Pearlberg and Terry Campion (owner of Santa Cruz Boardroom) interviewed John, spreading the word about DFS. Immediately, I knew I wanted to learn more and have John on my blog. Someone is daring to make an impact and a change that can save lives! Below is a snapshot of John’s and my time together, and his story of empowering the surf community to take the pledge to be drug free.


John, welcome to my blog, Can you share with my readers a bit about you and your life?

Hi Susan, thanks for having me. I am from Hawaii, but now live in Huntington Beach, Ca. I’ve been surfing the better part of my life, but have now turned into a weekend surfer that surfs about every third weekend, lol. I have been shooting as a professional freelance photographer for the past ten years, working with Quiksilver, Billabong, and Fox among others. I write editorials with Ghetto Juice Surf Mag, ESPN, O.C. Register, Surfline, Surfing Mag, Surfers Journal, and many others.   

What did you notice over the past twenty years in terms of drug use/abuse amongst the surf community?

In Hawaii and in California I have always seen drug use, but most of it was with the older guys. It wasn’t until the last two and a half years that I started to notice kids losing their way. 

On your website, you mention the death of twenty-year-old Chris Love, a grom (young surfer) whose life was cut short as a result of drugs. There’ve been others, as well, who’ve met early deaths due to the grips of addiction. Was this the impetus behind the creation of DFS?

Yeah, Chris was one of thirteen kids that I knew under the age of twenty-three who died as a result of overdose in the last twenty-six months. It’s been hard on so many people, and I just felt as a part of the surf community I needed to do something. I thought to myself, “Why are these kids dying like this? How does it all begin?” The only thing that kept popping up was peer pressure! These kids all want to be a part of something, they all want to climb that surf ladder of success and from a young age. They are exposed to this party culture that has imbedded itself into the surfing culture, so they think, “If I’m going to get ahead, I need to be a part of this party scene, and then my older peers will respect me not just for my surfing, but for my craziness as well.” So I came up with DFS, and to do nothing more than uplift those who live a DFS lifestyle. Positive peer pressure is born, and it seems to be working.  

What has the response been like amidst surfers, both young and veterans?

We’ve had a great response from so many big name surfers: Brett Simpson, Travis Logie, Nat Young—all on the World Tour. Nate Yeomans, Matt Pagan, Ezekiel Lau, Keanu Asing, Chris Waring and Kanoa Igarashi from the WQS Tour and Pro Junior Tour. And some of the most exciting groms to hit the water this year: Micky Clarke, Tia Blanco, John Mel, Nolan Rapoza, Daniel Glenn, Abby Brown, and Sebastian “Bash” Mendes among others.  We also have some of the most legendary names in the business: Peter Mel, Reef McIntosh, Jason Shibata, and South African Bill Sharp. 

dfs-squareHow can people support DFS?

If you would like to help support the movement you can go to the site and donate or fill out the form to become a DFS registered surfer. We have team stickers for team members and public stickers to help show your support. 

Thank you for not only your time with me, John, but for creating a powerful group of brave individuals who take a stand publically against drug use and abuse in the surf and extreme sport worlds. If this encourages even one person to not pick up that drink or drug, it’s an endeavor in saving lives.

Stay tuned for more interviews with drug-free surfers. Up next: Former professional surfer from Santa Cruz, Ca, Anthony Ruffo, and his story of addiction, recovery, and vision for the future!


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Let’s Grind Out Hunger

Grind Out HungerWhat would it be like to provide hunger relief to children in need, provide a stable and safe place for kids with a passion for skateboarding and surfing, and then in turn, create a desire in these kids to pay it forward?

This is the goal of Danny Keith and his team at the non-profit agency Grind Out Hunger in Santa Cruz, California. Summed up in their mission statement: Grind Out Hunger [desires to] empower the youth by utilizing the passion of skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, and music to take leadership in the fight against childhood hunger and malnutrition.

Inside a storefront on busy 41st Avenue, home to O’Neills Surf Shop, Freeline Design Surf Shop, Billabong, and RipCurl, Grind Out Hunger is the new haven for kids between the ages 8-14 who are surrounded by adults who want to take back the youth of our culture. Grind Out Hunger, which is 90% donation supported by local businesses such as Santa Cruz Warriors, Yogurtland, New Leaf, and Black China Bakery, received accolades from the City of Santa Cruz dedicating September 15th as Grind Out Hunger Day 2013, non-profit of the year by The Good Times magazine readers poll, and 2012 Aptos Chamber of Commerce Non-Profit of the Year. It is making a difference in the lives of hungry kids in Santa Cruz County via holiday food drives in schools, the empowerment of students to give back, and by connecting with the local food bank, Second Harvest.

When I walked into Grind Out Hunger, I was immediately met with a feeling of ease, fun, and support. A lounge where young people can hang out in chairs and sofas encompasses one area. Skateboard decks decorated in elaborate designs and colors line the walls. But, most eye-grabbing are the two giant, indoor skateboarding bowls (think X-games and those hilly skateboard ramps), where skateboarders donate a mere three dollars to skateboard, and all in a protective, positive environment.

I sat down with Danny Keith, the director of Grind Out Hunger, and with passion and energy, he described how this unique outreach to Santa Cruz youth came to fruition.
“I grew up in Salinas, where I saw a lot of poverty. My theory is that poverty sticks because it’s understandable and predictable. We need to empower the youth to prevent hunger in addition to feeding people.”

“Back in 2003, when I owned a local surf and skateboard shop, Christine Woodard with Second Harvest put a barrel to collect food for the local food bank. It didn’t mean much to me until I heard the statistic that 1 in 8 children in our community are going hungry. It hit me: if we empower the youth to solve a problem now, we get ahead of the curve and possibly they will not inherit a messed up community.”

With that knowledge, Danny began to work with Second Harvest and local schools, but saw that the problem only worsened.
“The more that I got into the schools and involved with the youth in Santa Cruz, the more that I saw challenges between administration, schools, and hungry kids. In 2009, I felt that I had to go to the frontline, and knew that I had to live life with purpose and passion, and not merely make money.”

He left his business, and soon approached the food bank to improve their social presence, and develop their website. From that point on, Danny succeeded in fulfilling the role of Chief Development and Technology Officer. There he worked with a team of individuals to bring awareness to the general public that 55,000 people a month were relying on Second Harvest’s resources to make ends meet. Continuing to engage the school system and with the youth driving the message, Grind Out Hunger has facilitated1.5 million healthy meals to Second Harvest to feed families. His dream was coming to fruition.

In time, the opportunity arose for Danny to become the Director of Corporate Sponsorships for the D-league basketball team, The Santa Cruz Warriors. He uses his business sense to connect with community members and creates an integrated experience for local organizations including other non-profits.

Grind Out Hunger recognizes local youth and celebrities/athletes who have a passion for fighting hunger, terming them Hunger Fighters. Local and national celebrities such as Top 40 artist Royalty, Chris Rene of The X-Factor, James Durbin of American Idol, and Cruzmatik, have joined in the cause, visiting local schools, and through their music, inspiring kids to raise their awareness in the fight against hunger. At New Brighton middle school, Danny helped the school organize their first food drive where they raised 200 meals. He challenged them to give bigger. The next year, they collected 2200 meals. Then in 2012 the school hit 9000 meals. Hunger Fighter Chris Rene performed at the school assembly to celebrate their valiant efforts and success, and sending the message to kids: you can help your community!

Danny isn’t satisfied with the status quo, though. In his words, “I’m not afraid to shake things up!” His vision for the storefront site is to give the 8-14 year olds of Santa Cruz a location where food literacy, nutrition, and food justice are priorities, and to offer positive role models to help them pursue their passions. In the works are Grind Out Hunger bucks where kids can earn currency for attending a lecture about healthy eating, donating time, or doing a good deed. Plans are also in the works for a media station where kids can use video cameras and technology to learn the art of videotaping skateboard stunts. “Not all children have the resources in their family to use technology, and we hope that through donations and people offering their time, we can develop their interests, and give them opportunities that they may want,” Danny shares.

Grind Out Hunger is making a statement in Santa Cruz County: that nurturing our youth, feeding the hungry, and paying it forward are priorities. “I want to reinforce positive decision making. Remember, you might need help some day.”

Want to donate?
Grind Out Hunger Location: 912 41st Avenue, Santa Cruz, California

Most of all, share this article with everyone you know, and help Grind Out Hunger one person at a time.

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Human Trafficking- No, it doesn’t happen here…does it?!

Last weekend, my husband, daughter, and I rented the movie Taken. The topic of human trafficking was not foreign to us, as our church brings it to the forefront, and recently an inspired twenty-something friend of mine did a huge awareness campaign about this awful reality at a local junior college. However, to sit with my lovely, young daughter, imagining that she could be the victim of such a crime, stirred something inside me. What got me ranting and raving was how Hollywood glossed over (spoiler alert to the movie’s end here) the traumatic effects of being a sex slave. When the character in the movie gets rescued, she seemingly returns to her life, emotionally unscathed. As a therapist who worked with sexual abuse victims, some ritualistically abused, this is SO unrealistic–the recovery is slow. Should a girl actually survive kidnapping, heroin addiction, and being sold into sex slavery…the trauma would be monumental!

What alarmed me was this: my daughter went to school the next Monday and talked about the topic of human trafficking with her high school friends. Most of them didn’t even know that this existed! Certainly not in the U.S.! Sadly, it does.

According to the UN, up to 4 million women and children worldwide are trafficked around the world, being forced into prostitution. It is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world, earning 32 billion dollars in the U.S. The average age of the victim: 12. TWELVE! What were you doing when you were twelve? I was learning the hustle, wearing satin blue shorts, and listening to the latest Bay City Rollers’ 8-Track. These twelve-year-old’s are drugged, beaten into submission, raped, tortured, starved, given forced abortions if they become pregnant, and then told that their families or friends will be tortured or killed if they run away. And yes, this IS happening in your state, as well as Africa, the Middle East, Western Europe, and South East Asia.

Some experts report that as many as 750,000 women and children have been trafficked INTO the United States. You know that massage parlor that has that “funny” feel to it?…See the articles below with the names the Polaris Project. They have targeted such “massage parlors” where Thai girls as young as 9 years old have been kidnapped from Thailand, trafficked, and sent to the U.S. to become sex slaves.

Other S.E. Asian gangs in California have focused on 11-14 year old girls in their own culture, beating them, raping them, then trafficking them within the U.S.

In my research about human trafficking, I stumbled upon one very startling and sad fact: women play a leading role in recruiting these precious young girls in the sex trade industry. What?! Doesn’t that go against every maternal instinct in a woman? Yet, think about it…where do these girls go once they’ve outlived their “careers” as sex slaves. Ever heard of identifying with your offender? It happens quite often. Victims become the victimizers. They see no way out, and this is their life. It’s twisted, it’s disturbing, and it is a reality.

So, why am I choosing to discuss this, of all things?

Three reasons:

(1) I am the mother of a teen girl and she has teen friends, and they are constantly pushing the envelope of independence. I don’t want to terrify them. I want them to be aware. When one of our cousins chose to travel Europe, she did it in a platonic, co-ed group: two guys, two girls. They stayed together, didn’t wander off one-on-one with locals, and made a pact to watch one another’s backs. Yes, things could have gone awry. However, being in a co-ed group may have kept them safe.

(2) To raise awareness. At the bottom of this article are websites directing you to more information about human trafficking, and who you can call if you suspect someone is being trafficked, or if something seems suspicious. The Polaris Project, funded by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, opened a hotline in ’07. By June of 2012, they had received over 54,000 calls. Their national number is 1-888-373-7888. On their website, they give examples of various types of sex trafficking, and how as a nation, we’ve turned a blind eye.

(3) I have an exciting interview coming up! A couple of months ago, I read Trafficked: The Diary of a Sex Slave, by Sibel Hodge, a novella which has been listed as one of the Top 40 books about human rights. Sibel will be on in the next couple of weeks. I wanted all of my readers to have an understanding of this important topic before our interview. I strongly urge you to grab a copy of her book, available on Amazon.

I know that this has been a heavy topic. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Sometimes we have to get “real” and talk about the “stuff” that isn’t pretty, or fun, or getting press. It’s too important to gloss over what should be headline news every day.

Remember being 12?…Yeah, let’s help every twelve-year-old girl have her memory untainted, and filled instead with the ordinary, the best friends, the catty-girl stuff, the fashion trouble, the gossip, the silliness, and everything else that made twelve a passage, not an end.

You CAN make a difference: share this post and boost awareness!

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Compassion, Comfort, Complaining, and Charity: An Author Challenge

Today is Saturday in California. Outside my office are acres of trees ablaze with Autumn colors. My dog is asleep in the warm afternoon sun. My children are safe. Our heat (if we have to turn it on) works. If I need gas in my car, I can drive to a multitude of gas stations with no lines (okay, maybe Costco has a line). The lull of Discovery T.V. drifts under my office door, as my husband learns something about Alaska. It’s an ordinary comfortable day…

Cut to New Jersey/New York: many people are confused, homeless, their pets missing, worried about an incoming winter storm where temperatures are expected to dip to 3-10 degrees. If a person can find a gas station, the lines are up to 2 miles long. At the very worst, some have lost loved ones. Thousands are waiting for aid to arrive, but it’s coming in slowly.

With a great deal of family over there, I was glued to the news for days. We were relieved and shocked to learn (particularly given two families locations) that their homes experienced minimal damage and that everyone is safe! I knew I’d give some financial support, but I wanted to do more.

I’ve watched our nation respond SO kindly to disasters around the world. Americans are a generous people, seeing the need, responding in kind. We are compassionate. But…if we are guilty of a few of things, they are these: time passes, the next big crisis comes along, we get comfortable with our lives, and while we vow to not complain about our lives because, hey, we have heat, running water, our pets, children, ya-da, ya-da, it is human nature to adjust, settle in, and not dwell in the misery. In fact, it would be unnatural and unhealthy if we all became martyrs. However, there must be a happy medium, because too often, the suffering country, state, or families affected by such a tragedy is WORSE off one year later. The aid stops coming in. The funds have run out. And yet, there is much work to be done. A classic example of this is Sendai, Japan.

This is why I’m asking a collective of us to take on a challenge: as authors, I would like us to consider donating a portion of our sales for a minimum of a month to a charity of your choice to help Hurricane Sandy survivors. How much you give is entirely up to you. You may just be starting out, and that feels too scary or risky. Then, just make a dollar amount donation. If, however, you’ve been strong on the charts, take a risk: be generous, just for the sake of helping someone. I hope that this becomes contagious, and encourages two authors to tell two authors, and so on, and so on, like that hair commercial in the ’70s.

Below, I’ve provided a couple of links. One is a story that recommends reputable organizations to donate. The other is a Christian organization that targets specific disaster zones. While I do not belong to a church in this denomination, I have a history with them, and am impressed with their giving history and lack of administrative fees eating up the dollars that people donate.

I thank you ahead of time for sharing this story on your Facebook page, your blog, Tweeting it, emailing it, pinning it on Pinterest, and all the other social media things we can do! Above all, I thank this wonderful author community for the power of compassion. Let’s set aside a slice of our comfort and complaining as we enter into a season of Thanksgiving. As we watch New Jersey, New York, and the surrounding areas rebuild, and witness families receive the aid they need, can you imagine the satisfaction you’ll feel, knowing that you had a little part in that? This is the best success of all…touching another person’s life.–how-to-help.html

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Hurray for our Troops and Tour de Troops

Welcome to Blog Tour de Troops. You should have joined me from Tracy Rozzlynn’s Blog.  The next stop on the tour will be at Alison DeLuca’s

11-11-11 through 11-14-11

50 authors.

Anyone is invited to comment on each of these 50 blogs.

Everyone who makes a comment gets that author’s ebook.


Too good to be true? Wait…it gets better. For every book that is gifted, a copy of that book is donated to one of our troops overseas! Oh, and did I mention that you and the troops are eligible to win a Kindle? Wow! This just keeps getting better!

Announcing Blog Tour de Troops 2011, Veterans Day Weekend. What an amazing way to honor our men and women who serve our country. Ask yourself: when was the last time that you were really, in truly uncomfortable? I mean dirt in your eyes, 114 degrees, 100 lb pack on your back, worried that a bomb might go off in your vicinity, uncomfortable. Outside of illness and personal tragedy, we are a nation of great comforts.

We are a nation that has much to be grateful. In our home, we teach our children that their freedoms would be compromised, if not lost, if our troops did not make those sacrifices.  As a grief specialist, I’m also well aware of the cost: Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder, Depression, Anger, and when the despair gets too great, suicide. That is why I never shy away from speaking or writing about grief and it’s effects. Writing about grief is my passion and is a theme in my novel, Out of Breath, a fictional account of parental bereavement, addiction, Compassion Fatigue and hope; it’s the prodigal story of grace undeserved.

Given that my step-father served in the Korean War years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to give back to the troops and also to partake of this exciting blog tour! I interviewed my step-father (here forward referred to as Dad) about his time in the Navy.

Tell me about yourself when you entered the Navy:

I was right out of high school. I’d been living at home, didn’t have the money to go to school, so the Navy was a good option. Also, I figured three years in the Navy would help me grow.

What helped you cope with the loneliness and the distance away from your family?

I formed some close friendships. We were all on the same ship. We worked together, played together, did everything together. We would share our feelings and laugh, joke around.

Did you lose any friends to death or illness in the war?

Nobody on my ship, but friends of my cousin on another ship got hit by a submarine. I was on the phones listening to all of this while it happened. I could hear the screams of people as compartments were shut off to keep the ship from sinking. These people were drowning. Twenty-seven of them died. (I can hear Dad get choked up…)

How did you cope with that? Do you see that people talk about their feelings now more than they used to?

Well, they made a chaplain available. We thought it was just part of it. I think guys didn’t talk about their feelings as much back then. They did some. They held a lot in. Some would drink their sorrows. It may not have been “right”, but not talking seemed the thing to do.

Share one of your more interesting memories: Keep it G-Rated please…your grandkids will read this!

I was on Midway Island in the South Pacific and climbed on top deck, put down a blanket, stripped, (hey now…), fell asleep. It was blazing hot. I woke up 4 hours later  and 90% of my body burned. On my chest was 3rd degree burns. I could take a pencil and peel skin from my shoulder and roll it all the way down to my toes. It wasn’t funny then, but in retrospect, it’s a good story. I never tire of hearing it :)

If you could say one thing to the troops today, what would it be?

Hang together. The friends you make there will be forever. Sixty years later, I still rehash with my Navy buddies; they are lifelong friends.

Thanks, Dad for your service to our country.

Don’t you want to do something special for our troops AND get a book for yourself while doing a good deed?

Here’s what you do to receive my book, Out of Breath, ensure that it gets to the troops, and enter the drawing for the Kindle:

*Comment on my blog. Let’s “tawk.” I love to get to know my readers.

*Write down your email in the body of your comment.

*I will be sending you my book in a PDF version after you leave me your email!

It’s THAT easy!

Thank you for giving to our troops and thanks for participating in Blog Tour de Troops!

Don’t forget to visit the NEXT STOP ON THE TOUR:  Alison DeLuca

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