Category Archives: Profiles

Single Mom Uses Facebook to Feed the Hungry

Denise Heller volunteers at Penny’s Pantry at a senior center near her home in Palm Desert, California. For four years, Heller has worked to source food for her fixed-income clients. She says they often talk about the difficult choices they have to make between paying for necessary medications or paying for food. “What kind of living is that after working your entire life?” Heller asked about the seniors who depend upon her pantry to get their basic food needs met. “I’ve been on the receiving line (of food stamps) as a single mother, so I know first hand how that is,” she said in a private Facebook message.

When Heller started “The 15 Can Challenge” in August of this year, she didn’t intend to use Facebook to create an online humanitarian movement, but that’s exactly what has happened. She made a Facebook page and sent links to 30 of her closest and dearest friends, asking them to set aside a can of food a week for each of 15 weeks and then get donations to her pantry on December 5. The idea was not entirely original. Heller had been following a “15 Can” challenge herself on Facebook. She found out that the challenge was based in Australia and that it was courting corporate sponsors. That didn’t feel right to Heller who envisioned a “People Helping People” challenge. “Ice Bucket took off, so why not this?” she reasoned.

With that humble beginning, “The 15 Can Challenge” went viral, surpassing anything Heller could have hoped for. “I never would have imagined it could get to something so big,” she wrote. She contacted local media, politicians, and even some celebrities to see if anyone would jump on the feed-the-hungry bandwagon. Crickets.

As a result of the Facebook page, however, the message has spread. To date, 300,000 people have pledged over 4.5 million nonperishable food items. Heller reports that support is coming in from all over the country. “It’s actually a global event,” she wrote, adding that one of the first people to join was from Canada. Since then, people from countries like Germany, Ireland, the U.K., and the Philippines have committed to providing 15 cans of food to a local pantry of choice. The single mom iis hearing accounts of friends challenging each other to double and triple the 15-can goal. In her area, local businesses have volunteered to act as drop points for the donations. Heller, her son, and his friends are trying to personally acknowledge every person who has joined them. She feels like this personal touch has helped to increase involvement. Heller says that seeing people work together to help other people in need has restored her faith in humanity.

In September the client load at Penny’s Pantry doubled. “That doesn’t usually happen until November (for Thanksgiving) so I was trying to figure out how to get food on my (pantry’s) shelves,” Heller wrote. According to Heller, pantries generally have food to cover the big holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the days preceding and immediately following those holidays find many shelves stripped of the basic staples that so many families depend upon for food. Anticipating the typical post-holiday food shortages and combining that with the doubling of demand facing her, Heller originally just hoped that the Facebook move would fill the shelves on her personal pantry. Now with the national spread of “The 15 Can Challenge,” she is delighted that pantries around the country will have food on their shelves to feed hungry families after Thanksgiving has passed.

Heller is not new to the challenges that food pantries face. Four years ago she saw an ad in the local paper for volunteers for the local food pantry. She answered the ad and has been going to Penny’s Pantry every Friday since. “These people have become like ‘family,’ Heller wrote. I’ve seen kids grow… Even at my darkest hour, someone else has it worse,” she said. She feels lucky when her pantry has two or three types of canned meats from which clients can choose.

In addition to handing out food to the families her pantry serves, Heller teachers her clients some of the money stretching tricks she uses to feed herself and her son. “Grocery stores – if you hit them right around 7am, the butcher is marking down all of date meats,” she offers. Her community has a local store where everything sells for 99 cents, groceries included. She sends her clients there.

Pantry facilities can have limited storage space and inadequate refrigeration, Heller says, challenges that contribute to often consistent inventories. As a result of her involvement with this challenge, she has seen people asking if nonperishable toiletries are also needed. Other people want to donate cash. Heller applies a practical philosophy to the well-meaning intentions, and restates that the primary function of food pantries is feeding people. Pantries are generally staffed by volunteers and facilities vary widely. She suggests that people contact local pantries and find out what their needs and storage capacities are before donating items other than nonperishable food.

Heller reports that some people in the Facebook group have suggested that people who want to help pantries could simply give them cash. “I get that,” Heller wrote, “but it is more economically feasible over 15 weeks for more people to participate,” emphasizing that the ideal situation would be for pantries to have food on the shelves without having to use cash donations to purchase them.

A link to “The 15 Can Challenge” Facebook page is included below. From the link, visitors will be able commit to the challenge and also invite their own friends. Heller vision is to fill the nation’s pantry shelves this winter with food to feed the nation’s most hungry. “Without Facebook, it wouldn’t have gotten this big,” Heller said.

By Kaley Perkins


Joslyn Center
Photo By: DowntowngalWikimedia Commons

Originally published here on Oct 31, 2014.

flattr this!

Local Parents Raise Second Child with Cystic Fibrosis

Sarah and Brad Jones have a one year old named Brynlee. Brynlee has cystic fibrosis, or “CF,” a disease which renders approximately 30,000 U.S. citizens vulnerable to life-threatening respiratory and digestive issues.

Brynlee Jones has an nasogastric tube attached that runs from her back through her nose, down to her stomach. Her parents hook formula up to the tube at night so that Brynlee can get the nutrition that she needs to feed her body. According to Jones, for patients of cystic fibrosis to have the best long-term quality of life, it is critical that they develop full lung capacity and get maximum nutritional benefit while they are young.

Brynlee Jones has an nasogastric tube attached that runs from her back through her nose, down to her stomach. Her parents hook formula up to the tube at night so that Brynlee can get the nutrition that she needs to feed her body. According to Jones, for patients of cystic fibrosis to have the best long-term quality of life, it is critical that they develop full lung capacity and get maximum nutritional benefit while they are young. (Photo by: Kaley Perkins / Independent Journalist)

In addition to the respiratory treatment in the video above, the family has a protocol to support Brynlee’s digestive health. Born with a blocked intestinal tract, their daughter has struggled to get adequate nutrition from birth. A nasogastric tube or “NG tube” inserted through Brynlee’s nose carries night-time nutrition to her stomach where she is able to receive it without the work normally associated with digestion.

The digestive enzymes which accompany every meal cost $600 per month, and the respiratory treatment costs $2,500 per month.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the national clearinghouse for information and the primary fund-raising arm of the community affected by cystic fibrosis, follows the development of new treatments. Current focus is on identifying and treating the underlying genetic mutations that cause the disease.

The foundation connects families to local support centers and resources for families struggling to find the finances that purchase the medications that keep their children breathing.

For a person to have Cystic Fibrosis, each parent needs to be a carrier of the gene mutation which creates the disease. If both parents are carriers, the child has a one in four chance of developing the disease.

For a person to have Cystic Fibrosis, each parent needs to be a carrier of the gene mutation which creates the disease. If both parents are carriers, the child has a one in four chance of developing the disease. (Created by Kaley Perkins)

For a person to get CF, each parent needs to be a carrier of the mutated gene. Of children born to those parents, one in four will develop the disease, two will be carriers themselves, and one will be unaffected.

But those odds, didn’t hold up in the case of the Jones family who have had two children affected by the disease. Three years ago, the family lost their first-born son, Conner, to the diseaase: Jones says that with Conner, instead of a single tote of medications, they had cupboards full.

Conner was seven.


Family friend, Tricia Rodman, is part of the church body that provided critical emotional and practical support to the Jones family as Conner’s disease became more critical. In a phone conversation, Rodman told stories about the family as Conner’s time was getting short.

The family had taken a trip to Hawaii as part of the Make A Wish Foundation. Rodman asked Conner to select his favorite pictures from his trip. “He loved Transformers and Super Grover and so of course we found pictures of those,” reported Rodman. “We traced his hand, and I had him write his name on some transferable paper.”


Orchestrated by family friends, Tricia Rodman, and Sonja Narvesen, this quilt displays Conner’s favorite family photos, his hand prints, and his signature. The central photo was taken during the family’s trip to Hawaii funded by the Make a Wish Foundation. (Photo used by permission from Sarah Jones.)

Conner had wanted a puppy whom he named Grover, in honor of the Sesame Street character. During one of Conner’s last visits to Doernbecher’s hospital, his parents and some family friends launched “Operation Grover,” according to Rodman, where they snuck the puppy up into Conner’s hospital room. Rodman spoke with joint sadness and fondness for the Jones family and the dedicated group that surrounded them in their darkest hours.

Rodman recounts the day when Conner passed away at home. “After Conner had passed, Grover was just beside himself. He could tell that something was wrong. I took Grover into Conner’s room and I laid him on Conner’s chest,” Rodman said. She was moved by how the puppy immediately calmed down and lay still.

“He was protecting his boy,” Rodman said, with a voice broken up by tears.

Mom Sarah is hopeful for Brynlee’s prognosis. She says her two unaffected boys, Hunter and Bradyn, don’t treat their sister differently until she gets sick and they become very concerned. You can read her family’s journey and see more pictures of the Jones children on her blog.

For more information about cystic fibrosis or to donate, visit

Note: Special thanks to Tricia Rodman for correcting some details that I got wrong in my initial writing of this article. An update on 10/17/2013 reflects this correction of the details “Operation Grover” and the situation surrounding Conner’s passing.


flattr this!

Concert and Swing Band Hits Many Right Notes

Community Ensemble Hits Many Right Notes from Kaley Perkins on Vimeo.

Bright and early Monday and Wednesday mornings is when Cary Pederson and his merry concert band meet upstairs in Beacock Music’s rehearsal studio to practice, laugh, and be together. Pederson took over the directorship of the band after the stores founder, Dale Beacock was killed in a tragic biking accident on the Oregon Coast. Russ Beacock, Dale’s son, asked Cary to take over when the band started to flounder with interim directors.

Pederson, a professional clarinetist and saxophonist, holds a Master’s degree from Portland State University in performance music. When the younger Beacock approached him, Pederson was just back from a stint in southern California where he tried to break into studio music and found the cost of living to be prohibitive.

While many of his fellow graduates have given up dreams of being professional musicians, Pederson has found a way to make it work. But not without cost. He credits his desire.

Pederson teaches over 50 students a week, directs the Concert and Swing Band and the jazz ensemble at Beacock’s, and keeps his own skills sharp by practicing at least two hours a day. He also volunteers at local high school bands and ensembles augment the band directors’ generalism with his woodwind expertise.

Talking about how he feels when friends tell him he is unbalanced and needs to introduce something else besides music into his life, Pederson responds, “Music is my ‘else’.”

Depression is a widespread condition that afflicts large numbers of us as we age. (Click the link ’10 Facts on Ageing’ toward the bottom of the article for a great slideshow factsheet.)

Studies show that some of the keys to maintaining physical and mental health as we age is to continue to contribute, keep learning, and incorporate creativity in areas that bring joy: it’s called active aging. And in Vancouver, this band is finding success.

For a podcast on Pederson’s thoughts on the plight of public school music educators, click here.

View Larger Map

flattr this!

‘Happy Improv Fun Time’ Founders See Robust Future for Portland’s Improv Scene

With a combined total of 42 years of stage performance between them, veteran improvisers Brad Fortier and Phil Incorvia actively evangelize a life of improv. According to the pair, the communication muscles developed in improv contribute to success in relationships, professional endeavors, and, more broadly, life.

‘Happy Improv Fun Time’ Founders Evangelize Improv, See Robust Future for Portland’s Improv Scene from Kaley Perkins on Vimeo.

The longtime friends met “before the turn of the century” as roommates when Incorvia relocated to become an active part of Portland’s improv community. Fortier, a new improv teacher at the time, lived in a house he terms “Planet Morrison,” where the newly-arrived Incorvia became one of a memorable cast of roommates. They’ve been fast friends since, performing and growing into men together.

Fortier and Incorvia founded “Happy Improv Fun Time,” their independent improv studio currently housed in the Willamette Cultural Resource Associates office building and warehouse in Portland, Ore., where Fortier contracts his archeology expertise. With a unique master’s degree in anthropology and theater arts from Portland State University, Fortier has traveled internationally to teach improv, the fine performance art that teaches people how to work together to make meaningful scenes in the moment.

Speaking about Portland’s improv scene, Fortier says, “It’s (Portland) starting to be a place where people are moving to to do improv and comedy which, like geez, five years ago I never would have imagined.”

Incorvia adds, “Yeah, it’s certainly… If you want to get in on what will appear in the not so distant future to be the ground floor… like now will be the ground floor.”

Fortier and Incorvia hold classes in Portland, and their schedule can be found online.

An in depth interview of Fortier and Incorvia discussing the how the lessons learned in improv apply to life in general can be found below:

Happy Improv Fun Time currently meets here:

View Larger Map

Fortier’s Books:

flattr this!

His Fathers’ Hair

Ten years ago, Michael Langley decided to grow his hair out.

His Fathers’ Hair from Kaley Perkins on Vimeo.

Langley is a member of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Grand Ronde, Oregon, a tribe that was established, terminated, and restored by the federal government. Already a conglomeration of multiple tribes and various languages throughout the northwest, the Tribe has struggled for an identity amidst a generation of elders who were so successfully assimilated that their traditions, ceremonies, and oral histories were largely lost - their generation-weaving voices silenced.

Langley grew up in Tillamook, Oregon where his grandfather moved to find work; he attended Portland State University and now serves as auditor of the Spirit Mountain Casino. He has returned to the reservation with the vision of seeing his people create a new identity for themselves: an identity both relevant and meaningful.

In this piece Langley explains the symbolic context that growing his hair has provided to both his personal and tribal identity as a modern Indian.


flattr this!