Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Filling the void through service

In 1963 I was the messenger boy for Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times. I bicycled throughout Manhattan running messages and packages, and prosecuting Sulzberger’s will. On any given day he would introduce me to the political elite of America. Regardless of whom I met, I always had lunch with Alban Vasquez.

Alban was the bookbinder for the Times. He had a unique philosophy expressed in an inscription hanging on the wall in the workroom: “What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” It was from Winston Churchill.

Alban was simple, poor, but learned. He taught me about service and encouraged me to use my skills as a street gang worker in the South Bronx. I found his words in my 1963 journal: “Life is making a decision to serve others with some absorbing task that makes another better. The world is a vacuum until we decided to do something.”

I take note of individuals who champion altruistic endeavors, thus filling the void. So it happened that while pecking away at the great American novel at Starbucks, I noticed Madelyn Merchant, Kendall Eberhardt and Ali Yoon, all La Cañada High teens, engrossed in conversation. I was drawn by their intensity and after a casual hello, I learned the girls were planning this year’s TACH Bash, a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.

Madelyn, Kendall, and Ali are ardent members of TACH (Teens for the Advancement of Children’s Hospital), supporting the needs of its Adolescent Center and the underprivileged served by the hospital. TACH was founded by the Flintridge Guild of Children’s Hospital. The guild, comprised of residents of La Cañada Flintridge, began serving the community in 1949 by providing funds and service to treat more than 360,000 children each year.

The girls explained that the TACH Bash is a celebration to raise funds for the hospital’s adolescent services. This year’s party is at Memorial Park on June 1 from 2 to 7 p.m. It’s great family fun and you should be there. There will be music, food, games and a silent auction. The Untouchables will bring their music and if you haven’t heard Nora Sagal sing, you don’t know what you’re missing. For a small donation you can play “Pie in the Face!” If you see me there, hit me with your best shot.

TACH has a long reach relative to philanthropy. Its 60 members volunteer as camp counselors, collect school supplies, orchestrate bake sales and rummage sales, Round Table pizza night, and collect toiletries. They spearhead a benefit drive for the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program. They are kids serving kids and they’re making a difference.

I spoke to Mayra del Valle from the Flintridge Guild. She explained that TACH has raised $25,000 in the past four years. “Everyone touches each activity; the kids are just so on it,” she said. “I am re-energized by watching them.”

I was captivated by the idealism and zeal of Madelyn, Kendall, and Ali. They were drawn to service by the subtleties of circumstance: parental example, a little girl’s speech at the American Doll fashion show, and first-hand experience at Children’s Hospital.

There is no gene that predisposes us to serve others. Alban Vasquez was right; it’s a decision that we make to serve and that is what fills the void.

Madelyn, Kendall and Ali represent what is best in this generation. They give credence to President John F. Kennedy’s last words of his inaugural address, “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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