New gig, new title, new website

After months of prepping, I have officially launched this month my new wildlife website, Southern California Wildlife, or SoCalWild for short.

The website is a mixture of news, information, resources and original content all about the diversity of wildlife we have here in the Greater Los Angeles area. From dolphins to desert tortoises, from falcons to mountain lions, the vast array of critters that will be explored is practically endless!

As editor, I am always looking for good wildlife news whether it’s from pr people, scientists or field researchers. I am also on the lookout for good writers who can contribute original posts and photos!

Stay tuned as SoCalWild grows!

In Memory of Jeff, The Tidings, March 31, 2011

Talking with Joe Domand about the loss of his 22-year-old son Jeff to a car accident was difficult — what parent doesn’t have such fears? Still, Joe and wife Rita, originally from Haiti, decided to turn their grief into a memorial of life for the people of their homeland by sponsoring a school in a rural area. The best turn: the school is located in the house where Joe and his 16 siblings grew up in. Talk about giving folk the “shirt off your own back…”

Here’s the story:

In memory of Jeff
A parents’ grief turns into helping hands for their Haiti homeland

By Brenda Rees

Having your child die tragically at a young age is a defining moment for a parent. Anger, sorrow and fear mix together into a personal sense of loss that is permanent, unyielding. The strength and determination to go on with life after such an emotionally painful devastation can evade some parents for weeks, months and even years; some may never find their way.

Joe and Rita Domond, parishioners at Our Lady of Assumption in Claremont, know those murky waters of grief all too well, but they eventually found a way to honor the memory of their eldest son Jeff, a graduate from Damien High School and a senior at Cal State Fullerton, who was killed at the age of 22 in a car accident.

“He died on Labor Day weekend in 2004,” says Joe about those difficult days. “It was so hard for us to cope with the loss, and after a while, we realized that the best way to handle this was to keep his name alive. We needed to find a way to make that happen.”

It took about a year for the Domonds to come up with the right platform to honor Jeff, turning their attention back to their native Haiti and the many forgotten children and citizens who reside in the rural areas of that Caribbean country.

Both Joe and Rita immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, and both kept strong ties with their native land. As one of 17 children, Joe grew up in Marbial, an area in southeastern Haiti known for its many rivers and farms. Growing up, he remembers the poverty of the area, but says he was fortunate to have received schooling with help from the local parish priest.  “The priest gave me opportunities and got me into the right schools,” he says. “He helped to change my life.”

Now, the Domonds are changing lives again in Joe’s old community. Organizing the Jeff Cherubin Domond Foundation as a non-profit in 2005, the Domonds have established and funded a parish school which originally welcomed 15 students, but now counts its enrollment at 84. They didn’t look too far to find the school building – they transformed Joe’s old house, the place he was born and raised, into classrooms that have been similarly transforming children into students of the world.

Every year since its inception, the school has added a new grade so students will progress together all the way through graduation. The Foundation pays for not only the teachers’ salaries, but also covers the cost of uniforms, books, papers and other necessities. In addition, the Foundation has built new classrooms to accommodate the growing numbers of students.

Establishing a school was only the first goal of the Foundation, says Joe. The Foundation also educates adults on basic life skills and four times a year brings doctors, nurses and dentists into the area. This June, Joe will return again to his homeland, accompanied by medical team. “There are no doctors in the area, and the only healthcare is done by the nuns, but they aren’t RNs,” explains Joe. Children and adults line up at the local church for routine physicals, dental work and simple medical supplies.

“I remember this one woman was so excited [about receiving treatment] she jumped up and gave me a big hug,” says Hugh Menton, a fellow parishioner who joined the Domands back to Haiti a few years ago as an assistant dental hygienist. “People were very pleasant to me and that even though they didn’t have much, they weren’t living in squalor or desperation. But you could tell they were living a hard life out there in the middle of nowhere.”

Indeed, one major problem living on the outskirts of civilization is the lack of potable water. And with last year’s earthquake nearly destroying Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince and the subsequent outbreak of cholera, Joe realized that Marbial needed a better supply of clean water. (That earthquake struck far enough away from Marbial so the community didn’t experience any destruction – but, like most rural areas, these communities are seeing more family members moving away from the rubble of the cities and back to reclaim their lives in a simpler locale.)

Now, the Foundation has another goal of clean water and Joe is working to bring sand water filters into every possible place in the Marbial area. He works collaboratively with the parish to install and maintain the filters which cost about $100 each. “We are first bringing them to the school, churches and then we will go to the family levels,” he says. “Everyone needs clean drinking water.”

When Joe is not in Haiti – he usually goes four times a year – he is back in Claremont as the only employee of the non-profit organization. He’s long retired from his previous life in finances and real estate, but today he works probably harder at this than any other endeavor.

“The Foundation has grown so fast and it takes so much time to put all of this together, especially the medical trips,” he says. (Medical personnel pay their own transportation.) “Our original idea was we would just start a kindergarten, but we have moved so far ahead of that in such a short time.”

Many fellow parishioners at OLA, like Menton, met Joe and learned about the Foundation through the “Just Faith” program. “It’s all about the church’s social teachings, especially about poverty in the world,” says Menton who recalls Joe talking about his work in Haiti, but in a very low-key manner. “He was very humble about it,” he says. After the 30-week program, many of the “Just Faith” participants decided to help Joe’s Foundation through contributions, hands-on assistance and fundraising. That continues to this day.

Once a year, a fellow parishioner opens up her home and has a fundraiser with dinner, dancing and a raffle. Joe shows slides and talks about the work that’s being done in Haiti. The faces of the people, his people, and the children give him hope for the future – and helps soothe the pain that still lives in his heart with his son’s early death.

“Jeff was a people person and he loved little children,” says Joe. “He loved it when nieces and nephews would come over to our house. They loved him, too. I know he would be pleased that his name is helping these children so far away.”

“I know Jeff is still with us and that his name is still alive to us,” he continues.” But the work we do is not about him, but it’s about how helping others achieve a better life is bringing Christ alive in the world. We are all called to this work every day of our lives.”

To find out more about the Jeff Cherubin Domond Foundation, visit

Remembering Scott and Jean Adam, The Tidings, March 4, 2011

An American couple on a dream trip — sail the world’s seas, meet new people, share their faith in a friendly not pushy manner, experience all that life has offer. In late February, 2011, this Santa Monica couple was found shot to death after U.S. forces boarded their hijacked vessel.

Here’s the emotional story that I did for the Catholic weekly publication, the Tidings: 


Remembering Scott and Jean Adam

Friends recall gentle, down-to-earth people who wanted to combine their love of sailing with their faith.

By Brenda Rees

Nearly two weeks since the death of Scott and Jean Adam, the memories and inspiration of this gregarious sailing couple is strong in the hearts and minds of those who consider the husband and wife as dear friends, fellow parishioners, and inspirational Christians.

The Adams, who for the past seven years have been on an around-the-world-boating adventure and acting as “friendship missionaries,” were taken hostage by pirates off the coast of Oman in the Indian Ocean; they were found shot to death after U.S. forces boarded their hijacked vessel. Traveling with them were friends Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle who were also killed.

Funeral services are pending at St. Monica Church in Santa Monica where the Adams were parishioners.

“There’s a definite emptiness here. When someone’s gone that’s when you realize how many people they touched by their presence,” says Ed Archer, who conducted the St. Monica’s choir that Jean sang at regularly for many years.

Many recall the gentle but outgoing Jean, a 66-year-old retired dentist and Scott, a 30-year veteran of the entertainment industry who, with a spiritual awakening late in life, took to studying at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena where he received two degrees: Masters of Divinity and Theology. Both had been previously married; both shared a love of sailing and both had a deep spiritual side.

Scott and Jean were married at St. Monica’s in the late 1990s and were, as Archer recalls, active participants: along with being in the choir, Jean was involved with small faith groups and Scott assisted with liturgies and even helped establish the fledging liturgical dance ministry group, Flight.

Archer remembers the generosity of the Adams who joined him and other adult chaperones in 2000 to bring 35 high-schoolers to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. “They really wanted the opportunity for the kids to travel and sing,” says Archer who added that personally, the Adams were financially responsible for eight students to make that trip. They also secured donations so six others could go as well.

When the word came down of the Adams’ deaths at the hands of the pirates, Archer and members of the choir gathered in prayer. “We were feeling all kinds of emotions, anger, sadness, devastation,” he says. “What was especially hard was to see all the idiotic things people were posting online about Jean and Scott, how they were trespassing or pushing religion on others. They couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

Indeed, the couple’s goal in traveling the world from aboard their 58-foot custom-built yacht, dubbed the Quest, was two-part: combine their love of adventure with their faith.  Jean’s postings on their website (, is a cheery colorful travelogue featuring photos, small stories, snippets of sailing experiences as well as their desire to distribute bibles – but only to those who ask for them. The couple started their six-month on and six-month off pattern of exotic travel followed by docking back in Los Angeles in 2005. Over the years, they visited hundreds of places including numerous tiny islands in the South Pacific, discovering small villages, churches, hospitals and schools.

Bibles weren’t the only things the couple handed out. In one instance, they gave up some of their gasoline so locals could fuel their lights for an evening soccer game. Someone requested crayons and pencils, so both Jean and Scott ransacked their boat to find every available writing instrument possible.  Sometimes they would speak at local Christian churches followed by dinner with the villagers and perhaps time enjoying local music, dance or other customs.

“What they were doing was ‘light evangelization,’” says Jim Muneno, St. Monica’s parishioner who, for 12 years, was in the same Faith Sharing Group with Jean. “Their intent was not to convert, but to spread the Word of God in whatever way they could.”

“It’s ironic because their mission was pretty low-key and only their friends and family knew what they were doing,” he continues. “Now, the whole world knows what they were doing. They never wanted to be famous or well-known but now, in a way, they are.”

For Muneno, the Adams’ deaths was particularly trying. “I had just written a song, ‘Thank You Jesus’ because our family has gone through some hard times and God had given us guidance and help along the way. On the day I went into the recording studio, I found out they [Jean and Scott] were killed. How could I record that song? We prayed for them but those prayers weren’t answered. It really is a challenge and we continue to struggle with it, but it hasn’t made us pull away from our faith.”

Muneno is not alone in his struggles. Dan Carlock sailed with the couple on two voyages, having met them originally at St. Monica’s, and he wonders how to reconcile the Christian ideal of forgiveness and yet demand that some sort of justice be done. “I don’t want people to sit back and not do anything about this; I don’t want what happened to Scott and Jean happen to any more people,” he says.

“I think of them as second parents,” he explains. “I admired how very low-key and in a down to earth way they supported the Catholic and Christian faith as they traveled from island to island,” he says. “I miss them terribly.”

Maureen Martorano counted Jean as one of her best friends, both met at St. Monica’s choir practices. “She was so much fun, great sense of humor and always upbeat,” she says. “[She and Scott] were the kind of people who took control of their lives and didn’t wait for things to happen. They went out and made things happen.”

Martorano said she last saw her friend at Christmastime when she came to visit her Faith Sharing Group. “She was so full of life and excited and some of us were worried for her because we knew the area they wanted to sail into.  She told us to ‘Just pray for me, OK?’ I really loved her as a friend and I’m sad to not have her around. But now, we have another saint in heaven.”

For many of the Adams’ friends who are grieving with loss, the reality of heaven after death – as well as memories of happier times – are what they turn to for comfort.

“I am extremely grateful to God that I could serve these two great people,” says Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson, pastor at St. Monica’s. “Jean was my dentist for many years and I have always found her to be a gracious woman. Scott was my friend and a blessing to our community. He was alive and joyful and wanted to continue his studies and gain a deeper appreciation for the life of Jesus Christ.”

“I really do believe they have won the crown for being good and faithful servants,” he continues. “They have given us an example of how to follow Jesus Christ. But I want to add, that to be people of peace, we must work to end violence in this world. Whenever that violence is.”

At the family’s request, anyone who would like to send cards may do so in care of St. Monica Church, 725 California Avenue, Santa Monica, CA, 90403.  Further, if anyone wishes to make a donation on behalf of Jean and Scott Adam, the family has asked that memorial gifts be given for the St. Monica Catholic Church Music Program.

Read at a recent prayer service at St. Monica’s for Scott and Jean Adams

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer