On the Town: New holiday 'tradition' benefits Burbank veterans

Every city in the United States has carved out a tradition for celebrating the nation's birth.

While some stage parades, hot-dog-eating contests or community barbecues, Burbank's tradition has been centered at the Starlight Bowl, where the country's independence is celebrated with an evening of picnicking, entertainment and fireworks.

With one tradition so firmly entrenched, some may think it would be difficult to attempt to introduce a new one.

That thought clearly never crossed the minds of Jim O'Neil, executive vice president of Crown Realty and Development who manages the Burbank Town Center, and Linda Maxwell, who handles the mall's marketing and public relations.

Realizing that many residents and visitors gather on the roof of the center's north parking structure to watch the fireworks, from both the Starlight Bowl and Universal Studios, O'Neil and Maxwell decided to make it an official community event to benefit the Family Service Agency of Burbank's Coming Home Project, a military outreach and counseling program for veterans.

"This is a great opportunity for you to enjoy an evening of food and entertainment while helping to make a difference in the lives of our former and current military personnel," Vietnam War veteran Mickey DePalo told the assemblage in his welcoming remarks.

"We are especially grateful to our local PF Chang's, [which] will be donating all of their proceeds from this event to the Family Service Agency's veterans program," DePalo said

For a requested donation of $5 — which included five food-tasting tickets — well over 1,000 folks gathered on the rooftop to take part in numerous activities for those of all ages. Called "A Taste of Burbank Town Center," the event offered food from various mall restaurants and entertainment by Ricky Rocks of RCL Entertainment.

Among the notables who enjoyed the evening hosted by actor Sam Horrigan, best-known for his role as Quentin Kelly on ABC's "Grace Under Fire," were Laurie Bleick, executive director of the Family Service Agency, Teri Stein and former Burbank Mayor Anja Reinke, who both serve on the agency's board, and Rena Scharch, who facilitates the agency's veterans program.

"At Family Service Agency, the mental health and well-being of our courageous men and women who have served our nation is one of our highest priorities," Scharch said. "Record numbers of soldiers are coming home fighting mental health and social issues and it is our mission to provide them, and anyone who has ever served, the help and support they deserve."

Along with low- or no-cost counseling for individuals, couples, groups and families, the agency provides counseling at no charge to any man or woman who has ever served in the armed forces.

For more information about the programs the agency offers, call (818) 845-7671.


DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

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