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Alumni Notes
About the Participant
Who We Are

Our Dedication

Noah Rifkin ’75 and Delores Abdella Combs ’04 describe how valuing diversity and social responsibility has become a way of life.

The years I spent at Pitzer were packed with stimulating academics, personal interactions and close relationships with my amazing professors and friends. There is one class, however, that stands out. This is not because of what it taught me in the way of professional skills or training, but rather what it taught me about life; how it shaped my approach to future events and obstacles.

The class was a joint sociology and English literature course titled “Existentialism” taught by Ellin Ringler-Henderson and Glenn Goodwin. Two readings from the class that have guided me to this day are Albert Camus’ Essay on the Myth of Sisyphus and the story The Way of a Pilgrim.

The latter is the tale of a nineteenth-century Russian. It details his journey across the country. This story cajoles one to walk simply through life and when confronted with opportunities to seize them. On the other hand, a different perception is offered by Camus in his interpretation of the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, being punished by the gods for his sins, is sentenced to perform the monotonous task of pushing a gigantic boulder to the top of the same mountain for all eternity; every time he attains his goal, the rock descends. Camus’ interpretation of this story rests on the notion that Sisyphus ultimately outsmarted the gods; he learned to take joy and accomplishment not from reaching the top, but rather from the purity of the effort.

Oddly, and perhaps paradoxically, I have relied on these teachings in my professional career and personal endeavors. Along the way, I have had some amazing experiences and developed some incredible friendships. I would also like to think I have had a significant impact on those in my path. One fascinating person I have intersected with is Sister Mary Johnice. She is a Felician nun and director of Buffalo’s Response to Love Center located in Buffalo’s east side, a deeply impoverished area.

My wife Roberta was the first of us to meet Sister Johnice. She was conducting a site visit for Erie County’s Department of Social Services. When they met, Sister Johnice was deeply fearful of Roberta as the authority. Since their fateful meeting, Roberta and Sister Johnice found common ground in their commitments to serve the neglected segments of the population, and Roberta and I, along with my two children Shanna and Isaiah, have grown close to Sister Johnice.

After meeting Sister Johnice, I suggested to Roberta that we introduce her and the organization to Senator Hillary Clinton. Through my work with conducting legislative affairs for Veridian Corporation and later for General Dynamics, I was quite familiar with the senator’s staff. A meeting was arranged, and a spark was generated. Now, a wonderful project is being born. Since that original meeting, I have moved to a smaller but rapidly growing not-for-profit corporation, CUBRC, which is affiliated with the State University of New York at Buffalo. Roberta has since left the county and now manages governmental relations for a local health insurance provider, Independent Health.

Noah Rifkin

Together, Independent Health, Senator Clinton, the Response to Love Center and CUBRC have joined forces to develop a showcase program titled “Sister’s Care Center” for satisfying the health and nutritional needs of under-served populations. This is a shining example of the lessons I learned at Pitzer: Diversity cannot, and should not, be used as a wedge to isolate and generate fear and hostility. Diversity should not be used as a weapon to divide our social and political culture. Rather, this diversity should provide the opportunity to find common missions and goals. Certainly a more antithetical group of organizations as the ones involved in Sister’s Care Center could not be devised. Yet this collection of individuals and organizations is plodding together down the pilgrim’s path toward a common goal: helping our fellow citizens regardless of race, color, or creed. To me, this is indeed an implementation of our collective religious and patriotic beliefs and something for which I am honored to play a small part.

—Noah Rifkin ’75


My work as a poetic therapist began as an independent study while I was a New Resources student at Pitzer College. Dr. Sidney Lemelle of Pomona College was my adviser on the project. I decided to conduct weekly poetic therapy sessions with incarcerated youth in the California Youth Authority (now Department of Juvenile Justice). I found the experience to be immensely rewarding and noticed how well the boys responded to regularly meeting with someone who was genuinely concerned with their lives. Seeing its positive impact, I chose to continue the project well after the completion of my independent study requirement.

Dolores Combs
Dolores Combes and Alexandra Rutherford

My husband Clinton Combs, who set up his own contracting business to pay for his graduate study at Claremont Graduate University (CGU) suggested, “Why not turn your project into a nonprofit?” We thus began all the research, paperwork, and team building that was necessary. We decided to name the project “Forgotten Souls Redeemed” (FSR) since I noticed that society has largely turned its back on these youth, preferring, it seems, to forget their existence, and because we hold the undying hope that they can be redeemed.

For the past two years, FSR has been privileged to have a dedicated volunteer in Alexandra Rutherfurd ’06. Alex and I design our workshops to help our Forgotten Souls find a way to express themselves via means other than violence and abusive behavior. This is where the creative writing component comes in. By providing the young men with journals to write their thoughts, the platform for weekly dialogue, and an outlet for poetic expression, we have seen them slowly re-identify both a positive self-image and sense of morality. This is not something we preach; rather it is what they discover for themselves through their writing and self-expression.

Their writing often takes the form of reflection on issues that resulted in their incarceration. Sadly, much of their writing expresses a repeated theme of having suffered so much abuse at the hands of older family members that they came to feel powerless. In an all-too-common attempt to regain their sense of self, these boys chose to go down the one path that was demonstrated to them. They abused someone younger and more vulnerable. Tragically, many of these youth face going back to unhealthy environments upon their release from parole, sometimes to the same family members who abused them in the first place.

Professor of Education and Cultural Studies Lourdes Arguelles (now also an FSR executive advisory board member) at CGU, and Director of Pitzer’s Center for California Cultural and Social Issues (CCCSI) Susan Phillips have both shown interest in our project. Alex and I brought some of our program graduates to in-service workshops for both professors.

Thus far, FSR has operated on a small budget made possible through private donations. We are currently researching program evaluation methods so that we can clearly articulate a method for a thorough program evaluation. Our next step is to find outside evaluators who will conduct an assessment. Our desire behind this project is to be able to quantify our progress so that we can show proven results in grant applications.

—Delores Abdella Combs ’04

Who We Are

 

Our Message
Our Legacy
Our Individuality - Meet the Class of 2010
Our Activism

Our Creativity
• Lauren Dolgen '97
• Amy Kaufman '01
• Marjorie Light '06

Our Dedication

Our Traditions - Legacy Family Graduates
• Mother, daughter, son
• Aunt, nephew
• Mother, two daughters

Our Culture