One young woman’s dream of helping children with cancer and their parents began in 2002 on the floor of her apartment with papers and a laptop. She had no table or furniture and she was a waitress at night. But Nikki Katz’s dream came true and the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation was created. She told me that when she became the organization’s executive director, she “called home to tell my parents that I had just gotten my first check for five hundred dollars. They asked, ‘five hundred dollars a week?’ and I said proudly, ‘No, a month!’”

Luckily for Katz, she’s gained a bevy of friends and supporters throughout the years. During a recent event, the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel patio was filled with silent auction items to benefit Teddy Bear, while more than 100 eager ladies and gentlemen bid. As the bell rang we all filled the Loggia room for lunch, followed by the highlight of the day – an inspirational talk by Linda Armstrong Kelly, the mother of seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

Katz welcomed all with special thanks to the event committee: Janice Caesar, Karen Van Horn, Sandy Stahl, Betsey Moller, Nancy O’Connor, Rachel Steidl, Rosalind Amorteguy and Celeste Scheinberg. Celeste and husband, Rick, had hosted a cocktail party at their sumptuous home the evening before to say thank you to luncheon sponsors. I had a chance to chat with Linda and her new husband of four years, Ed Kelly. He’s a “keeper,” she told me, before joking, “I’m an overachiever in the married area with several marriages where issues were alcoholism, brutality and infidelity.”

Linda’s book “No Mountain High Enough: Raising Lance, Raising Me,” which came out a year ago, tells of her struggles. She was pregnant at 16 and gave birth at 17 with no parental support; she says her mother was raising three children alone since their father was an alcoholic and was never around. Linda only had a GED education. After starting as a supermarket checkout girl and working her way up the corporate ladder, she had to deal with the sudden sickness of her 25-year-old son Lance, who had stage 4 testicular cancer. It’s a miracle he’s alive but Linda’s life motto is “Never give up” and they didn’t. Lance is now training for the New York Marathon to be held November 5. Linda is on the lecture circuit and doing book signings.

During the luncheon, Mistress of Ceremonies Paula Lopez recalled, “There was one child called Olivia, whose mother had to take her on a bus from Santa Maria to Cottage Hospital for chemo treatments. The Teddy Bear Foundation was able to give them a used van. The mother was so grateful because, ‘now my daughter can lie down after chemo.’”

Teddy Bear’s goal is to ensure that children with cancer can have the undivided comfort of their parents during treatment and recovery. They provide low- to middle-income families with financial aid for rent, mortgage, utilities, car payments and more.

Before the event finished, 15-year-old Kelsey Goeres, who is undergoing cancer treatment, read a poem she had written for the audience. It concluded: “So when times get hard, just stay strong and smile. Because from the hospital to my bed, even I got home after a while.”

For more info on the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation at 962-7466.

A Trinity of Distinction

Every year for the last 13 years, the Girl Scouts of Tres Condados has honored Women of Distinction at a luncheon. The 2006 honorees were Jean Schuyler, Betty Hatch and Joyce Dudley. Past honorees, dignitaries, friends and former and current Girl Scouts gathered at the Fess Parker DoubleTree Resort to fête this year’s recipients. One of the guests, Leslie Hovey, told me, “I’m wearing my mom’s Girl Scout pin from eighty years ago, but I was a Campfire Girl.” The Girl Scouts have been around for nearly 94 years. Audrey Abbey, who is 96, was at the event and has been working with the Girls Scouts in various capacities for more than 70 years.

New CEO Lynda Fairly stated the Scouts’ goal: “We want everyone to be able to be a Girl Scout if they want.” You can sponsor a girl for $250. Local TV anchoress Debby Davison credits Girl Scouts for her success. Attendees were handed out Girl Scout cookies, to which another anchoress, Paula Lopez, said, “Thin Mints in September is like Christmas in July!”

Girl Scout Nikkita Walker introduced Betty Hatch and told the audience of Hatch’s many credits, among them being a Girl Scout. When Hatch took the podium she said, “I’ll use Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice, ‘Be sincere, be brief and be seated.’” She read to the audience some postcards she had written home from a Girl Scout Camp when she was six years old.

Scout Erika Alvarez introduced Jean Schuyler, who had been a co-leader for a Brownie troop in Vieja Valley. She was named Woman of the Year in 1997 by the Santa Barbara Foundation and KEYT. She and husband, Barry, were awarded the Santa Barbara News-Press Lifetime Achievement award in 2000.

Salida Arakelian told us Senior Deputy District Attorney Joyce Dudley had been a Girl Scout and her mother had been her leader. Dudley says she has always been a children’s advocate and even wrote a novel about child molestation, “Justice Served.” She told the audience, “Behind a Woman of Distinction is a Man of Distinction. This morning my husband went to our home near the Day Fire to secure the artwork of our children.” She said she learned much from her mom, who took one college course at a time while raising her family. It took her 17 years to graduate. She became a Girl Scout leader and from her meager earnings bought Dudley a Brownie uniform.

The honorees are selected in accordance to the values of Girl Scouting: leadership, courage and community. I loved the banner on the wall stating, “There is no couch potato badge!” Girl Scout Caitlin Ruscki told us, “I didn’t used to like to talk to people in public but after selling Girl Scout cookies, I’m not afraid. And I’m getting to be a good business woman.” Then she belted out a song, “The Greatest Love of All.”

Call 1-800-822-2427 or visit www.gstc.org.

Hearts & Horses

I saw a child who could only crawl mount a horse and sit up tall. Put it through degrees of paces and laugh at the wonder in our faces – John Anthony Davies

What is Hearts Adaptive Riding Center? A 21-year-old non-profit organization providing therapeutic horseback riding to children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Its location is atop a former County dump in Goleta with access to trails. Over the years, it’s gained a robust team of supporters who got together recently donning their favorite jeans and jewels at the Santa Barbara Polo Fields for a fundraiser called Denim and Diamonds.

Chatting with various people I heard great stories. Board President Jill Sandrich told how she was thrown off a horse at 12 and was terrified of the creatures. She went to Hearts, where they give horse riding lessons to able-bodied people also. “Soon I was leading a child who had never spoken,” Sandrich recalled. “At the end of the class, I heard him say ‘red/green.’ That was the color of the reins he was holding. It still gives me goosebumps.”

After a buffet lunch in front of the Polo Clubhouse, Executive Director Connie Weinsoff explained the “Therapeutic Riding Demo” we were watching. We saw how the riders mount from a platform that has a ramp for wheelchairs and how they learn to walk and trot the horses. Vice President Marie Geare and Jill Sandrich chaired the event with much help from M.Y. Mim, Angi Lawson, Sue Piozet, Penny Slade and Barbara Toumayan.

Nancy Rubino, director of community relations, said, “we have seven horses but we need more. They should be fifteen-point-two-hands high (ideal for mounting and leading), fifteen to twenty years old, walk, trot and canter and be able to take mixed signals from their rider without freaking out. Some people have leased us their horses for one dollar a year. They have to pass a thirty-day probation.”

Hearts is recognized as a Premier Center by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. All instructors are certified and must renew annually.

You can phone Hearts at 964-1519 for volunteer information.

For the Books

The 8th Annual Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival Board kicked off with a special reception for special people at the new addition to Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery, 7 East Anapamu (where the Book Den used to be). Invited were all the authors, volunteers and sponsors participating in the next day’s festival.

Festival founders Susan Gulbransen and Fred Klein greeted guests who sipped on wine and munched tidbits while chatting with longtime local writer friends such as Barnaby Conrad and wife, Mary. Larry Crandell told me, “These last fifteen months have been so special working with my son Steven on a book of my life.” Steven’s book, appropriately titled “Silver Tongue – Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara,” comes out in late November. Luis Leal, who was a professor at UCSB for 30 years in the Spanish department and just turned 99, was there. An award in his name is given every year to the best Chicano/Latino author – the only such award in the United States.

Susan told the audience, “This festival almost floundered last year because it had gotten too big for our one hundred fifty volunteers. We were saved by the Art Museum and the Chamber of Commerce becoming our partners. The Chamber’s gift to us was Marcia Reed, who became our managing director. Everyone is excited about the new venue at the City Library and the Art Museum.”