A really great tekiah gedolah (big shofar blast) ought to give the listener a little chill, but for the past few years, when I've heard Alan Schulkin render of that call to repentance, I've also gotten a little teary.
Alan's presence on the bima at Temple Beth Am in Seattle is a reminder that, not so long ago, some of us weren't sure if he'd be around to do it much longer.
Early in 2000, Alan was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Although that disease has a high cure rate, Alan failed to respond to the chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants that are the normal course of treatment. That's when Lance Armstrong rode to his rescue. Well, Armstrong's oncologist, actually.
Dr. Craig Nichols, now at Oregon Health Sciences University, devised the "rescue" chemotherapy that saved both Lance and Alan. Last year, in order to celebrate five cancer-free years and turning 50, Alan took part in the Puget Sound Blood Center's two-and-a-half mile donor awareness swim across Lake Washington (Medina to Madison Park). And he did it again this year.
The swim, which was started over 10 years ago by Scott Leopold as part of a Microsoft blood drive, had always been more about publicity than fundraising. With a single e-mail to "300 of his closest friends," Schulkin raised $10,000 each year for the center, changing the nature of the event.
A new member of the PSBC board, Alan calls the center "a fabulous organization on the cutting edge of research for blood diseases, transfusion technology, tissue typing and transplant research."
He made use of the center's "products" during his treatment, but ironically, had always been an avid blood donor, which he is able to do again.
Meanwhile, Scott Leopold, who still works for Microsoft, says, "Alan is my hero." Scott confirmed that he started the swim mainly to draw attention to the need for blood donors. "We called it the Donor Party," he quips. But now, "the [fundraising] bar has been raised immensely" with a goal of $30,000.
Steve Katz, supervisor of donor recruitment at the Blood Center, and one of the swimmers as well, corroborates this.
"It started as a publicity stunt," he says. "We always want more swimmers," but what the event really needs is more boats, including kayaks, that help swimmers stay on course.
Alan has been swimming since he was a child in Southern California. He was already swimming three times a week and only needed to step up practices a little before the event. However, extra practice may have contributed to a different personal best this year, a tekiah gedolah unofficially clocked at 35 seconds.
For information about the swim, contact Steve at 425-453-4523 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And please, make an appointment to donate blood today.
"There's no reason that the prospect of formal education has to stop at high school," asserts Julia Schechter. That's why she founded College Access Now (www.collegeaccessnow.org), which helps high school students who might not continue schooling, to apply to college.
"I've always been passionate about lack of access to higher education for minorities," explains Schechter, "where there is so much disparity based on income and family background."
Applying to college has become extremely complicated, she says, and at the very least requires an informed adult to help with the process. It also requires a computer and CAN's students often have none of these resources at home.
The fledgling organization, now in its second year, operates out of Seattle's Garfield High School, where Schechter observed that the PTSA was recruiting volunteers to help the overburdened counseling office.
"But the kids who weren't coming in were the ones who really needed help," says Julia. "There needed to be a program to reach out to these kids."
Schechter, who lives in Madison Park with her husband and three kids, doesn't have a student at Garfield, or even a child in high school (her kids are at The Bush School and McGilvra Elementary). She"s nurtured this passion since working on higher education issues for the California state legislature more than a decade ago.
The program was established after Schechter's proposal for a VISTA volunteer was granted and the Garfield PTSA agreed to funding and volunteer support. This year the PTSA sponsored an additional National Service Corps (AmeriCorps) position allowing the program to double and serve 60 students.
"It's not hard to convince people that this is a high need area," explains Schechter.
CAN gives participants after-school access to computers and help with applications. Staff and volunteers advocate for students, speak to teachers, monitor performance, help get recommendations and build peer support. They hope to monitor last year's graduates, all of whom are in four-year colleges.
Schechter grew up in California and moved to Seattle 12 years ago. She taught Sunday school at Temple Beth Am where her family belongs, but gave that up as CAN took up more time. She would rather talk about the organization than herself, she says, but I got her to admit to a few hobbies including gardening and swimming (she swam for the Blood Center, too).
CAN is based on a five-year-old Minnesota program, so Schechter is optimistic. In addition to the two staff, they use lots of volunteers to reduce the budget.
"There's an entrepreneurial spirit in this area," she observes, that helps keep programs like this one going.