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On the Town: Evening remembers those who are homeless and have died on the streets

On the Town: Evening remembers those who are homeless and have died on the streets
At Forest Lawn in Glendale, Ascencia staff members read the names of twelve homeless people who passed away while on the streets last year. (Ruth Sowby Rands / Glendale News-Press)

“Lifting People Out of Homelessness” is Ascencia’s motto.

But “motto” hardly does justice to the good work of the staff and volunteers at the homeless services organization.

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This year, more than 900 volunteers each donated an estimated value of $10 per hour. That’s close to $50,000 saved to go toward homeless services.

This past Friday, on the longest night of the year, the winter solstice, Ascencia held a Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service.

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The candle-lit service took place at the museum plaza at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

Attending Ascencia's Homeless Person's Memorial Service were Glendale firefighters, from left, Capt. Brian Murphy, Cesar Medina, Engineer Brad Boyle, Capt. Jason Broussard and Capt. Zohrab Markosyan.
Attending Ascencia's Homeless Person's Memorial Service were Glendale firefighters, from left, Capt. Brian Murphy, Cesar Medina, Engineer Brad Boyle, Capt. Jason Broussard and Capt. Zohrab Markosyan. (Ruth Sowby Rands / Glendale News-Press)

The program opened with trumpeter Joey Ko, playing the plaintive “Oh, Danny Boy.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Ron Baker, Ascencia’s board president and deacon at Glendale’s Holy Family Church, welcomed the audience of several dozen supporters, including state Sen. Anthony Portantino, state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, Glendale City Councilwoman Paula Devine and Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes and Glendale firefighter Battalion Chief Jeff Ragusa.

Ko played “Amazing Grace” as candles held by each member of the audience lit up the descending twilight.

Laura Duncan, Ascencia’s new executive director, reminded those gathered that the night is dedicated to remembering the many homeless men, women and children who passed away while on the streets last year.

Twelve of those were remembered by name as 12 staff members stood on the stage and briefly spoke of each of them.

A somber moment catches State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, Glendale City Councilwoman Paula Devine, state Sen, Anthony Portantino and Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes.
A somber moment catches State Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, Glendale City Councilwoman Paula Devine, state Sen, Anthony Portantino and Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes. (Ruth Sowby Rands / Glendale News-Press)

Since Ascencia practices street outreach, the 12 were known by staffers and volunteers.

Five beds have recently been added to the organization’s shelter, now providing a total of 45 beds.

Ascencia works with about 1,200 people a year, while housing around 210 in the shelter annually. The organization’s goal is to connect the homeless in Glendale, Burbank and West Hollywood with permanent housing.

Tarry Kang, Ascencia’s development director, helped arrange for the coffee, tea and Porto’s baked goods audience members enjoyed.

Women-libbers of the 1960s, many of whom worked outside the home in professional careers, are now retired or nearing retirement age.

On Dec. 13, a hardy band of seven of them from the local chapter of Project Renewment gathered at Café Verde on Green Street in Pasadena.

The Christmas gathering marked the 10th year of the chapter’s existence.

Project Renewment members enjoying their holiday luncheon are, from left, Marnell Land, Barbara Lester, Eleanor Spaziano, Marcia Baldeschwieler, Sonia Thomas, Molly Kennington, and Margot Nenzell.
Project Renewment members enjoying their holiday luncheon are, from left, Marnell Land, Barbara Lester, Eleanor Spaziano, Marcia Baldeschwieler, Sonia Thomas, Molly Kennington, and Margot Nenzell. (Ruth Sowby Rands / Glendale News-Press)

Eleanor Spaziano, group facilitator and La Crescenta resident, played hostess with the mostest to Project Renewment members dressed in their holiday best.

Instead of a gift exchange, the group had a book exchange — new or used. The book had to be a favorite of the reader’s.

The only book to be exchanged twice was the nonfiction bestseller “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover. Another favorite was “The Twelfth Coin,” Burbank author Kimberly Erjavac’s debut novel.

Chapter members attending, besides Spaziano, were Marcia Baldeschwieler, Molly Kennington, Marnell Land, Barbara Lester, Margo Nenzell and Sonia Thomas.

Members meet on the second Thursday of each month for lunch at Baldeschwieler’s San Marino home. The afternoon features a topic of conversation based on the book “Project Renewment” by Bernice Bratter and Helen Dennis.

Ruth Sowby Rands may be reached at ruthasowby@gmail.com.

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