I noticed I’ve done quite a few stories on charitable events and organizations for Downtownster lately. When Stan hired me, some months ago, I said that I wanted to cover people. I’m like a portrait artist, in that I depend on the inspiration I get from the people I choose to write about, to fill my articles with life. My writing goes where the people go, and the people I’m meeting lately are coincidentally all involved in philanthropic pursuits. This is new territory for me, and I am very happy to be learning more about how downtown Los Angeles citizens give back.
It was at the Bottega Louie grand opening party that Stan introduced me to Carmen Rodriguez, the Assistant Vice President for City Bank. I floated around lost in the mingling crowds until Carmen took me under her wing and together we set about exploring the event together. Right away it was obvious that this was a woman who has many friends, is involved in many aspects of the community, and radiates life in all directions, like a bright sun.
When I got a forward from Stan asking me to write a piece on the upcoming American Cancer Society Relay for Life event downtown, I was delighted to see that my contact for the story would be Carmen. We set up a meeting at Bottega again, this time for breakfast, at 9, and when I arrived Stan also happened to be there. He stood up to give me a peck on the cheek, a partially dissected newspaper on his café table. “I told them the stimulus package wouldn’t work!” He said, triumphantly. I nodded. Then remembering we had an interview to conduct, he said, “Pretend I’m not here,” and promptly went back to his paper.
Carmen and I went up to the counter to order croissants and quiche, coffees and smoothies, and then sat down to get to business.
When I asked Carmen Rodriguez how she came to be involved with the Relay for Life, she told me she was a cancer survivor of ten years now. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer at UCLA medical, and given a 20% chance of living. She said she looked at the doctor that day and said, “That chance—I’m taking it.”
Aha! I knew it. She was a cancer survivor. This explained the calm radiance, the positive attitude, and the high level of energy Carmen has. I’ve met other survivors who gave me a similar energetic feeling. I told her so. She beamed a little brighter.
After the diagnosis, Carmen’s life changed overnight. She found herself having to notify her employer, deal with disability, take care of her funeral arrangements, break the news to her family. One of the first resources she turned to was the ACS website, where she found information on the different types of cancers, medicines, and hospitals. It helped her enormously.
“I chose to be a part of the Relay for Life event because I wanted to make sure I was giving back, and being part of a resource for future victims. There will be a continuum until we find a cure. As we get more funding, we’ll find a cure faster.”
Carmen said she always knew she would survive and move forward. She took her chemo treatments alone, and battled her cancer the way someone would deal with a cold. As efficiently and with as little fuss as possible.
“There’s no sad story here,” she said. “I wanted to stay on this playground called earth a little bit longer, and so I did.”
When one of Carmen’s friends asked her to join the committee for the ACS Relay for Life event in Santa Monica four years ago, Carmen was too late to commit. Instead she agreed to MC the evening portion of the relay and stood on stage and told her story to the audience.
The following year she made sure she got on the committee. And now she’s a Downtownster; she’s helping orchestrate the downtown version of this event, which is in its second year. The first event held in the summer of 2008, was Chaired by Shaune Arnold, a downtown attorney. The event was successful by all accounts, and served to bring the community together.
This year the community elite are making a huge turn out. Cynthia Ruiz, Jan Perry, and Laura Diaz the news anchor will be there for the ribbon cutting ceremony. Hal Bastion, the Bid and other key people have been helping out. Jarritos beverages is donating all the sparkling water for the event. Ralph’s management team has been extremely generous. Sunday morning, the firemen from station 3 and 4 are cooking a pancake breakfast for everyone.
Speaking of community, the relay is still in need of help. Carmen urged me to let the downtown citizens know they should volunteer, or form teams, and the vendors and restaurants can still donate things like coffee, food, and ice.
The event begins on August 1st 9am and ends on August 2nd at 9am. The relay is a 24-hour walk. The teams can have as many members as they would like, and the walking is done tag-team style throughout the day and night. For instance, if you have 6 people on a team, you’d be walking every 6 hours. As for the volunteers, they specifically need people to help pick up and serve the food, clean the grounds, and work with the kids.
The relay will occupy the park at City Hall on Spring Street section, across the street from LA Times. So, heads up, the streets will be closed while the relay is being held.
People are welcome to drop by throughout the day to join in for the family oriented activities, such as exercise boot-camp, movies, music, yoga and tai chi. The Luminaria ceremony at 9pm will be well worth checking out, where they stop the relay for speeches and singers. Everyone lights a small paper bag decorated in memory of someone who didn’t survive. They light the walking field and everyone does one lap together, to the sound of bagpipes.
“We have about 500 anticipated participants. But you never know,” Carmen said. “A lot of people come and then leave, it’s like a festival. There’s tents and activities. A breast cancer tent decorated with bras, an ‘In Memory Of’ tent, a Cancer Survivor VIP tent, where survivors can get pampered by hairdressers and makeup artists and get goody bags.”
“So we welcome everyone to please come out to the event. It’s going to be a phenomenal.”
As a side note, I’m not only attending the event, but have jumped on board as a volunteer on the Relay for Life committee. There is nothing better than giving back to your community, and to paraphrase Carmen’s words here–Downtown isn’t another place to just stop by, you really have to get involved.
For more information on the upcoming Relay for Life event, please check out the ACS website: http://www.relayforlife.org/relay/
To volunteer, form a team, or donate, please contact Carmen Rodriguez at: Carmen.Rodriguez@cnb.com