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Monday, February 18, 2013

Camp Starlight - on its own and strong as ever

If you want the truth, it's important to go to the source. That's why I wanted to share this press release from Camp Starlight, a camp for kids affected by and infected with HIV.

My sister is a long-standing member of the camp's leadership team. And, last year, I was the camp's dance teacher. It was a life-changing experience.

Camp Starlight began as part of another organization that unfortunately went under. Shortly thereafter, camp found an organization to serve as a fiscal agent to process donations for one year while they figured out what to do. At that point, because they believed it was in the best interest of the kids, instead of becoming their own organization, they partnered with Cascade AIDS Project (CAP). 

Recently it became apparent that the partnership was no longer in the best interest of Camp Starlight or the kids they serve. So this year, by their own choice, Camp Starlight has parted ways with CAP and there is some confusion about what that means. Hence, this release.

The good news is - nothing will change for Camp Starlight! It's alive and well. The old gang running the show is still in place and hopefully all of the volunteers will be back as well. I know I will be. I can't wait to be back with the kids. For some of them, Camp is the highlight of the year for many of the kids.

Of course, same goes for many of the volunteers too.

Camp Starlight is a family and although CAP now has nothing to do with camp, nothing has really changed. Camp Starlight is still Camp Starlight. So don't be fooled by the rumor mill or other camp imitations, Nothing will dim the shine of Camp Starlight.


PORTLAND, OR (Feb. 18, 2013) – A thousand stars will shine again this August as Camp Starlight proudly announces our 15th year of providing a safe, secure, and fun summer camp experience for children in Oregon and Southwest Washington whose lives are affected by HIV/AIDS. We are excited to announce that Camp Starlight will once again take place the week before Labor Day – August 24 through August 30, 2013 – and with many of the same caring, dedicated and passionate team of volunteers that our campers and their families have come to know and trust.

“The week of Camp Starlight has always been a magical experience for everyone involved,” said Angie Raffaele, Camp Director and co-founder of Camp Starlight. “And the source of that magic has always been rooted in the long-term friendships and trusting relationships that have developed over the years between our campers and our community of volunteer camp counselors. Camp Starlight is in many ways like a family reunion that happens each and every summer.”

After 15 years of growth and successful operation of our summer camp, Camp Starlight recently incorporated as an Oregon nonprofit corporation and is in the process of applying for its own 501(c)(3) status.  We have also ended our 7-year relationship with Cascade AIDS Project (CAP), with whom Camp Starlight has partnered since 2005.  These changes will permit supporters of Camp Starlight to make donations directly to Camp Starlight and to ensure that any contributions made to Camp Starlight will be used exclusively for Camp Starlight and the children we serve.

Camp Starlight’s core group of knowledgeable, compassionate, and devoted volunteers – which includes medical, educational and mental health professionals – will continue Camp Starlight’s mission to provide children whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS the opportunity to enjoy a caring, safe, recreational, spiritual and fun week-long summer camp experience. Our leadership team will continue to include:

·       Angie Raffaele, Camp Director – A co-founder of Camp Starlight, Angie has served as Camp Starlight’s Camp Director since 1999.  She is certified by the American Camping Association, is a former camp director at Camp Howard, and also currently serves as camp director for Girl Scouts of Oregon & SW Washington.
·       Dr. Rebecca G. Block, Mental Health Director – An assistant professor at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute working in adolescent and young adult oncology, Rebecca has been part of the leadership at Camp Starlight since 2000.  She supervises the team of mental health professionals who are on-site throughout the week of Camp to assure that the health and safety of our campers remains our #1 priority.  Dr. Block is a licensed clinical social worker holding both her Masters and Ph.D. degrees in social work.
·       Melanie Smith-Wilusz, Programming Director – Melanie (or “Mel” as our campers call her) is also a co-founder of Camp Starlight and has served Camp since its earliest days.  A former Programming Director for Camp Howard, Mel has a Masters degree in special education with expert knowledge and training in behavior management.  She has years of experience working with children of all ages, and has been a special education teacher at Sweetbrier Elementary School in Troutdale, Oregon, since 2003.
·       Kit Noble, Operations Director – Another founder of Camp Starlight, Kit has over 20 years of experience overseeing the daily operating functions of summer camps on both coasts of the country. Since 1999, Kit has made sure that every meal at Camp Starlight is served on-time and that Camp runs like clockwork. She also maintains “Kit’s Kaboodle,” our on-site “store” where our campers can go “shopping” for free clothes, books, games and other items that have been donated to Camp.
Camp Starlight also maintains relationships with many of our long-serving volunteer camp counselors – individuals who have committed themselves for many years to being a part of the Camp Starlight experience and who are familiar faces to many of the children we serve. We are also happy to invite new volunteers to be part of our community. Anyone who is interested in volunteering at Camp Starlight again or who wants to volunteer for the first time, please contact Camp Starlight at 503-964-1513 or  More information is available at our website:

Camper applications for attending Camp Starlight this year will be available shortly and will be distributed at that time to the families of our previous campers, as well as to HIV/AIDS-related agencies and case workers throughout the region.  Just look for the familiar blue-and-yellow Camp Starlight logo!

We look forward to another terrific week of summer camp this year, as Camp Starlight shines on during its 15th year of swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, singing, playing and making friendships that last throughout the years.  For more information about Camp Starlight, or to help support our mission, please contact us at 503-964-1513 or

Catch Me If You Can at the Music Hall at Fair Park

The truth is I didn't know what to expect. Musicals created from movies can really go either way. And even with a good book and a good score, the wrong cast, designers, choreographer, costumer, and/or director and you've got a guaranteed flop.

Lucky for Catch Me If You Can, none of that is a problem. The book is very cute and the music fun, although you won't necessarily leave singing. The story, of course, is based on the film by the same name, which is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a fraud and con artist who managed to work as a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and a college teaching assistant. He was also known for kiting and forging checks.

It's a serious subject. But both the film and the musical take a mostly light-hearted view. Although the musical does have its dark moments as well.

The show begins at the end with Abagnale being caught and asking to be allowed to tell his story. The arresting officer says he won't allow Abagnale to put on a show, which of course, ends up being exactly what he does. Literally.

The show is great fun from the costumes, of which there are many, especially for the supporting cast, to the set and lighting design, which allows the stage to become everything from a police station to a hospital to an airport.

But what makes this show really tick is the cast. Both Stephen Anthony as Frank Abagnale, Jr. and Merritt David Janes as Carl Hanratty are nothing short of stellar. Anthony's singing voice will literally knock your socks off and Janes is impeccably convincing as the tough cop with a heart.

And the ensemble is amazing. They have more costume changes and dances to perform than seems possible. But they do it. And it's hard not to smile when they do. And the choreography is delightful to watch. Although it does make it a little tough to sit still!

It's equally tough not to be sad when Abagnale, Jr. is caught at the end. It's funny how a show can make you root for the "bad" guy. This is a clever, witty, light show that is definitely worth seeing. Word to the wise: it is a little bawdy for the younger set. But I sat next to a precocious sixth grader who loved it.

Just as an aside, the orchestra, which is also pitch perfect, is on-stage throughout the show. So, it's possible to get seats in the pit. Do it if you can. I thought it would be too close. But it was actually an amazing POV from which to watch the show.

An excellent start to the Dallas Summer Musicals season. Looking forward to what's to come!

Il Cane Rosso - Dallas

I love good pizza. And I wanted to like Il Cane Rosso. Many of my friends and colleagues are huge fans. It's in a super cool Deep Ellum location. It offers a zillion different pizzas, and has an inviting brunch menu. But I just didn't care for the place. Let me count the ways.

First, there's nowhere to park. We drove in circles to find an open meter space. You shouldn't have to pay to park in a lot in order to pay to eat somewhere.

Second, there was a long line and a long wait and plenty of tables open. The very sweet hostess explained that they were short on help. So get more help.

Third, as one might predict, the service was slow and spotty. The waitstaff was all racing around. You had to flag them down to get their attention. I do not like that. At all.

Fourth, the pizza was exceptionally mediocre. It didn't taste like much and it was limp. Not fold-over floppy. But bodiless limp. Granted I had very high expectations. Regardless, it was subpar.

Finally, it was freezing in there. The ceiling fans were whirring at top speed and our pizza turned to ice in an instant. I do not care for cold pizza. At all.

There are too many other good places to eat in Dallas to bother with this one, including great pizza places. I will go back once more however, because everyone deserves a second chance. But this time I will be going without the high hopes.