By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Nothing happened, except this squirrel stopped by. PFFFTTT. 'Are you OK little buddy?'" Then, with a scrunched, childlike face. "He's like, 'You almost killed me...And now I can talk.'"
After the show, Stogner does an interview. She talks about the hunger that's out there for comedy devoid of vulgarity. A middle-aged couple approaches. "That was really great. Really great," the woman says. "I was crying I was laughing so hard." --Paul Kix
HIGHLAND PARK BANK employee Ann Strain volunteered for the International Rescue Committee after seeing the acclaimed documentary Lost Boys of Sudan. "I walked out in tears," Strain says. "I felt I needed to be doing something."
Founded in 1933, the non-profit IRC (www.theirc.org) finds new homes for people fleeing persecution. After 9/11, refugees handled by the Dallas IRC plunged from 500 a year to 125. In recent months the numbers of émigrés has rebounded; the local office will resettle 450 this year.
"But even though arrivals are up," says regional director Lisa David, "we haven't been able to increase our staff." The IRC relies on volunteer mentors to bridge the gap.
Refugees come to Dallas from trouble spots around the world. But they all have one thing in common: culture shock. Refugees from less-developed countries must even adjust to novelties like indoor cooking and plumbing. "We're looking for people with patience," says David, who started as a volunteer.
For three months, Strain and grad student Erica Sewell have been mentoring the Fima family--Joseph, 44, Rozita, 34, and their two grade-schoolers. Sudanese, the Fimas spent three years in an Egyptian refugee camp. Their biggest problems: finances and transportation.
"I have been amazed at the myriad of things they need help with," Strain says, "like how to tell the difference between oven cleaner and spray starch, how we greet each other on the phone. All the little things we take for granted every day."
Sewell, who sees the Arabic-speaking Fimas almost daily, says the language barrier poses the biggest challenge. But the payback is a new look at her own country. "I see the States through their eyes when they run into problems with the system," Sewell says. "It's been an amazing experience."
When Allen's Carly Patterson won the gold medal in the women's gymnastics all-around in Athens, she became the first American to do so since Mary Lou Retton in the 1984 Olympic Games. As such, her legacy is assured. Just as the 16-year-old Patterson grew up wanting to be the next Mary Lou Retton, now girls all over the country want to be the next Carly Patterson.
They're all calling World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (or WOGA, as pretty much everyone refers to it), the 10-year-old gym in Plano where she trained to become a champion. Since the moment the medal was draped around Patterson's neck, the phones haven't stopped ringing. They want to train with WOGA owners Valeri Liukin (a gold medalist himself) and Evgeny Marchenko (Patterson's coach).
"It's crazy, but I mean, it's good crazy because, obviously, that's what you want," says LaNae Taylor. Taylor's daughter, Allison, competes alongside Patterson at the elite level, so she volunteers as the gym's media coordinator. "I know that class enrollment has gone up by--last time I heard, and that was a couple of days ago--500 new class students. Which means the very beginning kids, everything from 3 years old and up."
As Taylor says, it's a great way to celebrate WOGA's first decade in business. But some of the calls are starting to concern her. It's one thing when she fields a call from a mother in California with a daughter who competes at Level 7--gymnasts start competing at Level 4 and work their way up to Level 10, then make the jump to elite--wanting to know if she should move the family to Plano to train. It's quite another when she gets a call from the "psycho parents" of a 6-year-old in Georgia wanting to know the same thing.
"I forwarded it to the gym, but I wanted to go, 'She's only 6. You might wanna give it a little more time.' But you don't wanna respond that way, because this may be a kid with tons of talent. Maybe, maybe not. I always joke with Allison's coach, 'A lot of people think you walk through these doors and magic WOGA dust comes down and everybody's gonna be a champion.' That's not how it works. There are too many factors that go into it." --Zac Crain