Blair Webb wonderful writer and thinker wants to be known beyond her disability

Blair with actor and comedian Geri Jewell at RoboCamp fundraiser

Blair with actor and comedian Geri Jewell at RoboCamp fundraiser       photo by Michael Hansel



Blair Webb is a 24 year-old breath of fresh air with talents and plans. You know at first glance that you are in the presence of intelligence because it is clearly visible in her smile and reflected in her eyes. Her assistant, Megan Gill, who spends five days a week with Blair and accompanies her to school, says, “Blair is in a wheelchair and has cp and people have a hard time understanding her.  She is super-smart and witty.”

Megan is essentially a loving and meticulous simultaneous translator who found this job on the internet. In answer to how Megan understands everything Blair says so easily, Megan says rather casually, “Because we have talked a lot. It just takes time.” With Megan’s help you get the words, but even without Megan’s help you get the smile in Blair’s heart, and the enthusiasm in her every thought that reflect the depth of her abilities.

Blair is an exceptional writer, joyful, smooth and clear. In high school she says she “knew she could write but people did not believe in me like they do here at PASW” where she has attended classes for 5 years, and where, thanks to John Paizis, every talent can shine brightly. Blair is very clear that is “because it is about looking at the abilities and not the disabilities.” Listen to Blair talk about her acting, writing, college studies (sociology), and about her plans to create some sort of program for children with disabilities. And stay until the end when she pops back to share a fabulous business plan for American Girl.

Blair hopes to spend her life writing plays. “It has always been something I can do on my own.” What would she like people to know about her? What is the most important thing to her about life? No one has ever asked her that before but she is ready with an answer, “ For people not to judge me by my disability. And, to try to get to know me as a person.”

Her love letter? Maybe yes and maybe no, but she is thinking about it. A letter from this loving smart young woman would be something to keep forever in the treasure box!

Actor and acting coach Diana Elizabeth Jordan’s fated path to success

Diana on the day she received her MFA in acting

Diana on the day she received her MFA in acting

Choosing acting as a profession takes a special kind of person, someone who is not daunted by challenge upon challenge. Diana Elizabeth Jordan, now an actor and acting coach at Performing Arts Studio West, who says she came into this world wanting to act, is exactly that special kind of person. She was born to the challenge of her delivery team working for 45 minutes before she could breathe on her own and since then has taken challenges as a matter of course.

Growing up with cerebral palsy, she was sometimes teased by other children. But, no surprise considering her spark, talent, intelligence, diligence and loving nature, she had a lot of friends as well. She also had a big loving extended family as well as devoted and intelligent parents who made sure she was in mainstream classes. She was 6 when she saw Romeo kill Tybalt and she knew where her place in the world would be. When Diana was young, on her first completion of an oral presentation, her teacher asked students in the class to raise their hands if they understood her at all. Not one hand went up.  Diana was mortified. What came next is a practical lesson great teaching, true wisdom, helping a talented student reach potential and what determination can do for a student bent on success.

She went on to earn her BA and her MFA in acting and became an acting teacher, working actor, motivational speaker, and founder of some exceptional programs like Dare to Dream whose purpose it to pass on the strength to others for reaching their potential. She may have needed help taking that first breath, but every breath since has been directed at improving the world. The joy, intelligence, easy laughter, strength and triumph that has been hers, she readily gives to others.

Listen to her talk about her life, her teachers, her acting career and how the children who once teased her have found her on Facebook to become her close friends. Her love letter? Maybe to her aunt Rhoda an actor who died before Diana was born and for whom Diana has always had enormous affection.

Diana Elizabeth Jordan,Damien Hodge, Lindsay Martin

Diana Elizabeth Jordan,Damien Hodge, Lindsay Martin

John Paizis’s Performing Arts Studio West of Los Angeles lets talent shine

John Paizis as dialogue coach one of many roles at PASW

John Paizis as dialogue coach one of many roles at PASW

John Paizis, founder and director of the Performing Arts Studio West, is a man of many talents and a significant performance history. He was the lead singer in Kid Twist and World Affairs. He was an actor who studied in New York with Sandy Meisner. He was a dancer. He was a voice over artist. And, with all this he had a strong sense of what teaching could do, so in 1980 he moved to Los Angeles for a simultaneous career as a classroom instructor for autistic adults.

When that closed 17 years later and he found himself unemployed at the age of 44, John was in what turned out to be a rather enviable position. He could design his own, and as it turns out limitless, career that took into account myriad talents, generosity and generous sense of well being for everyone. Listen to John talk about the steps he took to found PASW, which has become an acting school, casting agency and performing center all in one that is geared to adults with disabilities.

John Paizis coaching Isaac Leyva on the set of the film Any Day Now also starring Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt

John Paizis coaching Isaac Leyva on the set of the film Any Day Now also starring Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt Photo by Isaac Levya

It seems that miracles come about when talent, diligence and commitment are bound together with love and respect. His love letter? He answered that very quickly. He plans one that is equal parts tribute, love and history.

John Paizis on the set of the FX comedy, Legit with PASW actor Nick Daley photo by John Paizis

John Paizis on the set of the FX comedy, Legit with PASW actor Nick Daley photo by John Paizis

Jeffrey Janis’s strong childhood sense of philanthropy still with him

Jeffrey Janis's strong childhood sense of philanthropy still with himJeffrey Janis works for Ronald McDonald House, and Ronald McDonald House works for the health of children with life threatening diseases by providing housing for families with children in treatment for the duration of that treatment and beyond. It is no surprise that Jeffrey is moved by seeing other lives strengthened, no surprise that he is drawn to the world of philanthropic organizations. As a child, he never cared about the candy, but did love Trick or Treat night for getting people to put money in the UNICEF cans. At the age of 44 he joined the peace corp and moved to the Ukraine where he became forever part of a family. Recently he found a Ukrainian branch of his American family tree. Listen to him talk about Ronald McDonald House and the miracles it enables, about his American family, his Ukrainian family with whom he learned to speak Russian, and his recollection of significant historical memories.

Jeffrey again with his host Ukrainian family

Jeffrey again with his host Ukrainian family

The Ukrainian Mama and Papa Jeffrey calls family

The Ukrainian Mama and Papa Jeffrey calls family

Hearing about his planned love letter is to look into the heart of a man whose calling in life is helping others. Fascinating and pure joy!

Caregiving guru Joan Gray with truths on how love works

Caregiving guru Joan Gray with truths on how love worksJoan Gray last spoke with us about caregiving that counts through strengthening people at a point that might be their weakest. As an afterthought she mentioned writing a love letter to people who are not at their most lovable through no fault of their own, so it seemed like a good idea to have Joan come back to talk about just that. And, was it ever! A good idea, that is.

You can bet that Joan knows how to get through the challenge of being assaulted by anger born of fear and illness. Queen of empathy that she is, because she knows hot to stop, assess and listen, she knows how to answer. Every sentence of hers is some effortless teaching that comes from her personal experience and earned wisdom.

Listen to her talk about having to love someone from a distance, herself included, because she knows everyone has his or her moments. She has a rare and authoritative handle on human behavior, amends, acceptance, pointing fingers at others. And she tells truths you may not hear elsewhere, like on California manners, racism, dating, romantic relationships, setting boundaries, expectations, personal growth, men, grief, common courtesy, her own marriage at the age of 51 and what made that work, and the passing of her mother and husband within 4 days of each other.

Following Joan through the connected moments of her life is to know how healing and fun the truth can be. She is, in her own three words, “not a pretender.” She is, in one word, great.

Robin Fryday San Francisco Bay Area documentarian captures great deeds on film

Robin Fryday San Francisco Bay Area documentarian captures great deeds on filmCapturing world changing moments is an art safe in the hands of photographer and documentarian Robin Fryday, who has a sense of when it is time to set the record straight.

James Armstrong, the owner of a barbershop in Birmingham Alabama, fought for the right to vote while carrying the American flag in the 1965 Bloody Sunday march from Selma to Montgomery. He was the first to integrate his children in an all-white Elementary School. As the 2008 presidential election loomed into view, Robin knew that American could be on the verge of a huge change and that Mr. Armstrong may be seeing a dream come true. She knew it was time to record his story of courage and what personal persistence can achieve. Robin’s own personal persistence was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for this historical biography.

Her most recent documentary, Riding My Way Back, tells the story of Staff Sergeant Aaron Heliker, who returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injury, third degree burns accompanied by nerve damage from a roadside bomb, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suffering the regimen of 42 medications. He was suicidal. It was the friendship of a horse named Fred that saved him.

Listen to Robin talk not only about Mr. Armstrong and Aaron Heliker, but what it took to get these films completed, the effect they have had

Woody Weingarten’s Rollercoaster now available to help men survive their wives’ breast cancer

Woody Weingarten author of Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer

Woody Weingarten author of Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer

Woody Weingarten's Rollercoaster now available to help men survive their wives' breast cancerWoody Weingarten is a survivor of his wife’s breast cancer. From the moment of her diagnosis, she had to struggle through the fear and confusion of what it meant, what to do first, what to do next and what were her options. So did he. Her goal became survival. So did his.

Not so recognized an issue is that for every married woman diagnosed with breast cancer, there is a husband who has to survive it as well. He has to conquer his inexperience and survive his own terror in order to be a strength to her. He needs patience and insight and practical information about cancer, resources, research and treatment options. He needs to be an emotional tower of strength who knows what his wife wants of him. This is a very tall and sad order. And, finding support for men who are not used to being reactive is hard. Hard to ask for help in a time of private anguish, hard even to put the questions into words, and, until now, hard to find the resource.

Now there is help. Woody’s book Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer is that help. The book began as Woody’s personal journal, but when he saw the information in it, he realized it belonged in the hands of other men who were on this same rollercoaster without assistance. Rollercoaster is a wonderful hybrid geared to guide men through what they may expect. It is a memoir, a love story, a research guide, a blueprint for some realities of chemotherapy and medications. It is emotional support, and on the whole, it is a story of survival and romance.

Woody and his wife Nancy today living and loving

Woody and his wife Nancy today living and loving

Woody talks about his own journey through his wife’s cancer, how he knew what she wanted of him, how she helped him through first her cancer and then his, and how they planned, event by event, for a positive treatment-free future. Woody not only developed the strength to lead his wife to safety but, as the facilitator of Marin Man to Man, to be the safe haven for other men who are facing the same challenge of a wife with breast cancer. His love letter? Many.

Singer Debbie Cucalon once an impersonator has a new show of her own music coming up

Singer Debbie Cucalon once an impersonator has a new show of her own music coming upDebbie Cucalon is a singer, a musician, and a lyricist with any eye for perfection and the ability to get not just to the heart of a song but to the heart of her audience. She has a smooth feel to her, a calm and powerful lilt that sinks right into your core.

Singing it out was always her natural way of speaking and of having a darned good time at it. She grew up the daughter of Panamanian parents in a house always filled with the popular music of two cultures, laughter, joking around and impersonating for the pure fun of it. So it is no surprise that her talent took that form for 10 years.  She has some very interesting things to say about that art and how she personally came to be Liza at parties and Academy Awards evenings all over town.

Debbie Cucalon of endless and surprising incarnations

Debbie Cucalon of endless and surprising incarnations

Now a songwriter and lyricist, she has moved on to do her own music with the goal of increasing happiness. The very sound of her does that. She cannot help herself as she is emotionally connected to displays of love, understands the healing properties of music and has such a good time at it herself that the glee is contagious.

Debbie has been, for over 20 years, a volunteer for Bread and Roses, a nonprofit organization through which she sings to the lovely seniors who no longer have the luxury of getting out and now live at various convalescent homes in the San Francisco Bay Area. She says, “To see the spark in their eyes when they recognize songs from their era, bringing back fond memories, warms my heart every time. I  feel humbled and blessed, being able to  bring joy & laughter to others through music and song that touches their soul. This has been such a large part of my life and touched me beyond measure! ”

Her show Catch the Rhythm of the Night is coming Thursday, April 2nd  a 7:30 dinner show (yummy on all counts) at Angelicas, 863 Main Street, Redwood City, CA.

Debbie photo by Irene Young

Debbie photo by Irene Young

Her love letter? So original and so much fun that I don’t want to be a spoiler here. Just listen to her for the sheer joy and ingenuity of her life, her insights, her memories and this letter that might end up in your hands.  So totally fresh it may you may actually squeal in delight. I did.

Cecile Puretz brings multi-cultural strength to her work in the world of accessibility

Cecil Puretz

Cecil Puretz

Cecile Puretz, a native born San Franciscan, is now working to make The  Contemporary Jewish Museum accessible to all people with disabilities. Yes, this goes interestingly and far beyond ramps, public transportation and ADA requirements to the very art itself. As there are many ways to see, might a musical interpretation of art be a way to share the visual with the visually impaired? What about sense of touch?

Programs that include everyone go a long way to repair the damage of isolation that comes from disability, and to hear Cecile talk about her hopes for museums without exclusion is to see that many disabilities need not be disabling.

Cecile, is the daughter of a Jewish father from New Jersey and a French Catholic mother from a very small medieval village in France. Who Cecile is today is very closely linked to her father’s sensibilities and so much that he taught her about life and compassion. Listen as she offers us a lovely look into her own family, surviving the sadness of her father’s passing, the strengths she got from him, and how certain music is still a message from him.

Her love letter and her own history of writing letters, some mailed and some not? Rather extensive and very interesting.

Actress Geri Jewell with the power of love letters to (and from) Carol Burnett

Geri Jewell, actress, comedienne, in a word, fabulous.

Geri Jewell, actress, comedienne, in a word, fabulous.

Geri Jewell, where to begin? A well-known accomplished actress who is a marvel of communication, success, honesty, wit, insight, courage and so much more. And how aptly named. She does, indeed, carry the glow of a brightly polished gem. How one step led to the next starting at the age of 12 with a Special Ed school visit from the clown Emmet Kelley Jr. is a lesson in paying attention to what you want out of life.

The start of Geri’s success may have been the love letter to Carol Burnett that Geri wrote at the age of 13, but real credit for success goes to Geri’s own courage in writing that letter, so much more than a fan letter. It was filled with Geri’s own hopes of being like Carol Burnett when she grew up. One more thing. Geri said she had cerebral palsy and wanted to know what Ms. Burnett thought. Listen to Geri talk about the letters so filled with admiration and trust and the letters she got back with advice that gave her the encouragement she needed to follow her own heart and sense of purpose, which led, one step to the next to meeting Norman Lear who knew she was funny but was ahead of her time, the role of Cousin Geri on the Facts of Life, and much more.

Geri with lifelong friend Carol Burnett

Geri with lifelong friend Carol Burnett

This is a complicated journey with so many wonderful twists and turns starting with parents who did not coddle her, her surviving Special Ed classes with their pros and cons, the courage it took to take to the stage for the first time when she was terrified but an accidental mistake came to her rescue.

What is the first thing Geri hopes people will see when they see her? Simple, really. She wants them to see the real Geri, the essence. And, that is a gift you are lucky to receive, the real Geri. Best advice here; just listen to this joyful, funny, serious, instructive interlude with Geri Jewell. Delicious.