August 25 2003 11:12AM ET
What a terrific story about people coming together to help someone in need.
Supporters rally around patient who needs them
August 7, 2003
IF YOU'RE having a bad day today, if the world seems cruel and you wonder if people even care about each other anymore, maybe you should talk to Steve Becker.
Regular visitors to this space may remember Becker, because when you hear his story, it tends to stay with you for a while.
Becker lies in a bed on the third floor of University Specialty Hospital downtown with serious complications caused by rickets, a childhood disease that results in the softening and weakening of the bones.
His joints are also riddled with painful arthritis. And since an operation two years ago to remove calcifications in his neck around the spinal column, he's been paralyzed from the neck down, except for a little movement in his right arm and hand.
If all that isn't enough, the 54-year-old Parkville man has also endured seizures, pneumonia, tracheotomies and bed sores the size of manhole covers.
Still think you're having a bad day?
Admit it: Your life is a month on the French Riviera compared to this man's.
Anyway, in a column last month, we reported that some of Steve's friends were trying to raise money for a special hospital bed - called an air-fluidized therapy bed - that would do much to relieve his suffering.
The bed costs $52,000, which is an absolutely ridiculous amount for such a thing. At that price, it better come with a 3.5-liter engine, leather bucket seats and a killer sound system.
But here is the part that should make your heart soar: Since that column appeared, readers have responded by contributing more than $62,000 to a fund for Steve Becker.
At a benefit concert for him at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Govans, starring renowned pianist Father Paul Maillet, a standing-room-only crowd of 600 donated more than $20,000 in one night alone.
And with the $14,000 that had already been raised by the Catholic Men's Fellowship - Becker is a devout Catholic - he now has more than $77,000 to use for a bed and other medical expenses.
So whenever you start thinking the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and people are just so heartless and indifferent to the suffering of others, remember this story.
"The people who responded - and continue to respond - have been phenomenal," said Bernie Antkowiak, co-chair of the Friends of Steve Becker committee. "It restores your faith in human nature."
The other day, I went over to visit Steve in the hospital to find out how he was doing.
He was doing a heck of a lot better than he was the last time I saw him, when he'd been up all night with nausea due to the massive amounts of painkillers they were pumping into him.
When I brought up the tremendous outpouring of love and support he'd received - the donations have come not just from Maryland, but from Texas, Ohio, Virginia and all over - he smiled and shook his head.
"I have to give it to the people, all the people who came out of the woodwork, for all they've done for me," he said. "I thank them all. It brings me such joy."
Becker said that as the envelopes and checks poured in last month, he received daily updates from his friends on how close they were to their goal of $52,000.
"It was so exciting," he said. "It was almost like you were running for president and the campaign manager is saying: 'We took Wisconsin! We only need three more votes to win!' "
In a cabinet near his bed were two huge stacks of mail, more than 700 letters and postcards in all.
"One day, they [brought in] 213 letters," he said.
With his permission, I went through some of them. If you could read them, you would never again doubt the innate goodness of people, or their boundless compassion.
The most touching letters came from others who were getting cuffed around in life: a woman wracked with pain from rheumatoid arthritis, a man taking care of a wife with multiple sclerosis, another woman whose husband had a stroke four years ago and is now bedridden.
The Susquehanna Hose Company in Havre de Grace sent a very nice letter - and a generous donation.
The volunteer firefighters had read that whenever Becker looked out his hospital window and saw the MedEvac helicopters making their way to the nearby Maryland Shock Trauma Center, he prayed for the victims on board.
"Please thank Mr. Becker for his prayers ... and let him know that in the future, we will remember him when we load the MedEvac," wrote firefighter Paul W. Ishak.
Life is still no day at the beach for Steve Becker, and it probably won't be for a long time.
Three weeks ago, they rushed him to Maryland General with a 106-degree fever. He was shaking uncontrollably, his body lapsing into septic shock.
"I should have died - literally," he said softly. "My brain should have fried. I know God definitely intervened and totally healed me from that."
But since then, even though the pain of arthritis is constantly with him, he's been free of infections.
Which means, Becker said: "I've been feeling pretty good. Halfway decent ... I want to thank all the people here at University Specialty Hospital that take good care of me."
Now, to the matter of this special bed that Steve Becker needs.
At the moment, because he still has bedsores, his insurance will pay for the rental of an air-fluidized bed. So he's currently in one at University Specialty Hospital.
But once the bedsores are gone, he'll be required to go back to a regular hospital bed, which plays havoc with his joint pain. And that's when the Friends of Steve Becker plan to step in and buy him his own special bed.
When I left him the other day, Becker was getting more good news. A nurse came by to tell him the wound from his recent tracheotomy was healing well.
It was nice to see him in a good mood. When I told him this, he nodded.
"It's important for every single person alive to know that there's somebody out there who needs them," Steve Becker said. "It might be someone in a nursing home, or in a hospital, or maybe in a funeral home. Someone who needs you to be there."
A whole lot of people were there for Steve Becker, that's for sure.
And that's the best part of his story.
August 20 2003 2:42PM ET
A nice man helping people in need.
Posted on Wed, Aug. 20, 2003
Hero in the spotlight: State program honors 'servant'
BY JERRY BERRIOS
SMILES IN THE KITCHEN: Jimmy Rotonno, center, is led into the kitchen for a proper ovation by volunteers, from left, Willie Pearl Paul, Dallas Miller, Jamie Colton and Diane Bynes. Rotonno, founder and head of Our Father's House Soup Kitchen in Pompano Beach, won the Governor's Points of Light award Tuesday. J. ALBERT DIAZ/HERALD STAFF
Jimmy Rotonno is an inspiration.
Now Gov. Jeb Bush has recognized that fact.
Rotonno, founder and head of Our Father's House Soup Kitchen in Pompano Beach, is one of the Governor's Points of Light. The program gives out a weekly award to organizations and individuals who serve their community.
Serving is what Rotonno does best. He started the soup kitchen about 12 years ago. Every week about 1,000 people, who are down on their luck, homeless, out of work or new to South Florida, eat at the soup kitchen at Pompano Beach.
''This is a loving and caring place,'' said Barry Quiñones Rojas, who is homeless and has visited the soup kitchen for four years. ``I have been all over Florida. Jimmy's soup kitchen is like a five-star restaurant.''
Tuesday's menu: chicken noodle soup, corn, mashed potatoes, meatloaf and onion rings. Visitors with a sweet tooth had cherry pie, cherry/cheesecake pie and pound cake to pick from.
Jamie Colton says Rotonno, who he describes as unselfish, giving and caring, is his hero.
'I told him, `When I grow up, I want to be just like you,' '' said Colton, who is on the soup kitchen's board of directors and the head chef on Tuesdays.
After a successful stint as a interior decorator, Rotonno changed his life after a divine call.
''I became a servant,'' Rotonno said.
He remembers a time when he put all of his bills in front of a statue of Jesus asking for help. Somehow they all got paid.
''If you worry, it means you don't trust God,'' Rotonno said.
Rotonno, 78, routinely gives out bus passes, gift certificates, clothes, food and lots of love. On Tuesday, he sped through the soup kitchen at his usual feverish pace.
''The place is a little lighthouse for the people,'' Rotonno said. ``No matter what their needs are they come to us.''
Volunteer Nancy Heise, of Parkland, nominated Rotonno for the state award earlier this year.
''He touches everybody's life,'' Heise said.
Alicia Joyner, coordinator of the Governor's Points of Light program, told Rotonno about the honor during a Tuesday phone call.
''Oh, my God,'' Rotonno said. ``Are you sure you aren't an angel? They usually come down every once in a while.''
Rotonno is one of 178 Points of Light selected since since the program started. He and his wife Phyllis are invited to Tallahassee for an Oct. 16 reception at the Governor's mansion. Bush will be in attendance with the First Lady, and the lieutenant governor, plus 51 other recipients selected during the year, and their guests.
After the call, Rotonno spun around and jokingly accused his volunteers of putting something in his drink. ''I don't believe it,'' he said.
Volunteers cheered as he stepped into the kitchen. The ever-humble Rotonno tried to escape the adulation by running toward a back room but volunteers pulled him back.
''He has a generous heart,'' said volunteer Linda Arnone, 83, of Coconut Creek. ``He loves people. He goes out of his way to help them. That's what makes him happy.''
When Gregory Jackson, 45, of Pompano Beach, heard about Rotonno's award, his first words were ``Thank God.''
''I think he deserves it,'' said Jackson, who has been eating at the soup kitchen for a couple of years. ``I think he needs to get one every week.''
Volunteers give rundown house new look
BY YVONNE CAREY
Special to The Herald
The Kiwanis Club of Miramar/Pembroke Pines brushed up on its painting skills by giving a new look to an old beloved canvas for widow Edith Davidson.
Davidson, 78, lives in eastern Pembroke Pines near North Perry Airport with her disabled daughter and grandson. She had been cited by code enforcement because her house needed a paint job and other work, but Davidson could not afford it.
The Kiwanis Club came to her rescue. By 8 a.m. on July 26, nine members of the club already had painted the home's exterior with a fresh coat of white. Kids from the Pembroke Pines Police Athletic League were stirring paint for the home's gray trim.
Davidson, a longtime city resident, remembers when there was nothing west of Perry Airport.
But her home brought more than memories after a routine code inspection earlier this year. The wood front door was rotten, and mold and mildew had grown out of control on exterior walls and awnings.
Davidson, concerned she would not be able to pay fines of up to $250 a day, called code enforcement officer David Kissinger for help.
She was stunned when Kissinger told her to rest easy. ''Can you believe he said he'd already found someone to help me?'' Davidson said.
Last weekend, Kiwanis members restored the exterior of Davidson's house in white with gray trim and added new doors, door frames, and thresholds. They had some help.
Officer David Fosman of the city's Police Community Affairs Unit called local businesses for supplies.
University Drive Chevron donated ice and beverages for the volunteers. Pembroke Pines' Home Depot donated a door, door frames, and thresholds, and Glidden Paint provided 10 gallons of exterior white.
It was just what Davidson wished for. The house looks exactly as it did more than four decades ago, when she and her late husband first moved in.
''All I can say is that I am very grateful to them for helping me keep it the same,'' Davidson said.
Kiwanis chapter president Ted Krysty said the club has ''eyes and ears'' in city halls and local police departments who can identify residents in need, based on physical or financial difficulty. Kissinger, the code enforcement officer, contacted Fosman for help.
The city reached out to the community through the Kiwanis, Kissinger said.
The Kiwanis Club meets at 7:30 a.m. every Wednesday at the Eastern Financial Florida Credit Union, 3700 Lakeside Dr., Miramar. Call 954-704-5181.
• A big rave for Denver at the Ellenton Post Office. I recently purchased a book of stamps at his window. He gave me choices, and I selected the Purple Heart, a new stamp. After a conversation regarding this stamp, I proceeded to the "outgoing letter box" and temporarily distracted by another friendly customer, mistakenly deposited my book of stamps with the letters. That evening, as I completed more correspondence, nowhere could I find my stamps. Surprise. The next day in my mailbox was an envelope with my book of stamps and a nice note from Denver telling me where they were found. Isn't it wonderful in today's world to have such honest and caring personnel to do our business with? I find all the clerks at Ellenton Post Office to be very friendly, courteous, helpful, respectful and honest. Denver is a perfect example. - Joyce R. Austin, Ellenton
July 28 2003 7:07PM ET
What a nice thing these people did for their co-worker.
Olive Garden staff extends saving branch to injured employee
Ahuge rave for Cheryl, Peggy, Lisa and all my fellow employees at the Bradenton Olive Garden. I fell and, as a result, had to have total hip replacement surgery. I'm off work for almost three months with no income, no insurance. A bake sale/fund-raising was organized for me to help with my mortgage and utilities. Otherwise, I would have lost my house. They have saved my house and my pride. They have gone above and beyond the call of co-worker camaraderie. I will never be able to find the words to express my appreciation. - Terry Love, Bradenton
Bikers showing softer side with program of donated teddy bears
BY CARLI TEPROFF
In the showroom of Peterson's Harley-Davidson, among the biker boots, chains and leather jackets, the dealership's softer side is revealed: a 3-foot-by-3-foot box wrapped in teddy bear paper, waiting to be filled with fuzzy friends.
The container is now nearly empty, but organizers of the WKIS-FM (99.9) Kiss Cares With Teddy Bears program hope it will soon be overflowing with donated teddy bears.
''Cops are human, too,'' explains Lt. Heriberto Aponte of the Miami-Dade Police Department's Domestic Violence Bureau, who is helping coordinate the program. ``When we arrive on the scene and see that there is a kid who has just witnessed something horrible, we need a way to make them feel at least a little better. And it helps the officer too.''
The Peterson's effort, which also includes a contest for a 100th anniversary edition of a Harley-Davidson Sportster with KISS Country, is part of a larger, ongoing effort. The national Teddy-Bear Cops program was created in 1997 to provide teddy bears to fire, police and other departments that deal with families in emergency situations. However, there aren't always enough bears to go around.
KISS Country got involved because, ''We wanted to do something different that would reach the kids directly,'' says Sandy Sloane, the radio station's director of marketing and promotions.
The teddy bear collection runs through Aug. 23, when the toys will be handed over to Miami-Dade Police and the Sportster drawing will take place. Free entry forms are available at Peterson's dealership locations in South Miami and North Dade. Or, for more information, log onto www.wkis.com .
''We know that it is not going to make everything better, but sometimes kids are just really scared and a teddy bear puts a smile on their face,'' Aponte says. ``Bottom line, it's for the kids.''
July 20 2003 7:38PM ET
An creative way to raise money for charity.
Employees dress down for charity
Wearing jeans aids children's programs
By GINGER MIKKELSEN
VIEW STAFF WRITER
The Clark County Clerk's office is not a casual workplace. Employees are expected to dress their best from head to toe. Slacks, dresses and ties are the norm. Panty hose or socks are required year round, even in Southern Nevada summers.
But four times a year, County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre lets her staff off the hook. For a $5 donation, they're welcome to wear their favorite blue jeans to work for Jeans Day for Charity.
Parraguirre's office picks a different charity for each jeans day. So far they've helped raise funds for Child Haven, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and Miracle Flights for Kids.
Right after September 11, the office combined efforts with the Clark County District Court's office to raise $3,700 for the Red Cross. The clerk's office's July 2 event benefitted the Clark County Public Education Foundation's Leave No Child Behind program.
Parraguirre said the quarterly jeans day is great for office morale. Since the Jeans Day for Charity event was started, the employees have raised more than $9,000.
"By the end of today (July 2) we will have raised upwards of $10,000 in almost two years," Parraguirre said.
The 270 employees in the clerk's office consider the jeans days a privilege. The staff gets to dress in business casual attire every Friday, but wearing jeans is special.
"We try to maintain a more professional appearance here and because of that they really welcome this four times a year," Parraguirre said. "If I said they had to pay $20 to wear jeans, I believe they would do it. They might even pay more."
"We'd pay extra for tennis shoes," court clerk Denise Husted suggested.
While Parraguirre isn't ready to see tennis shoes walking into the clerk's office, she did allow hats once. The office held a Hats on for Cancer Day in honor of several of the female employees who had lost their hair after cancer treatments. At the end of the day, all the hats were donated to an organization that collects hats for cancer patients.
The next Jeans Day for Charity is set for October. Parraguirre anticipates most of her staff will participate and said she would like to see the whole county jump on board.
"We have over 6,000 employees," she said. "Can you imagine what we could do if we just picked a project and went for it?"