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Finding home: David Catalan finds community service niche in adopted hometown of Omaha

February 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Finding home: David Catalan finds community service niche in adopted hometown of Omaha

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon appearing in El Perico

David Catalan long searched for a place to call home before finding it in Omaha four decades ago.

Born in San Diego, Calif. and raised in Arizona, the former business executive turned consultant has served on many nonprofit boards. It’s hard to imagine this sophisticate who is so adroit in corporate and art circles once labored in the migrant fields with his Mexican immigrant parents. It’s surprising, too, someone so involved in community affairs once lived a rootless life.

“My whole life had been like a gypsy. I was a vagabond because traveling from place to place and never really having a fixed home – until I came to Omaha with Union Pacific in 1980.. I chose to stay even after I left U.P. because I really felt at home here and still do after all those years wandering around.”

Vagabundo, a book of his own free-style verse, describes his coming-of-age.

Catalan, 76, grew up in a Tucson barrio immediately after World War II. His father worked in the copper mines. When Catalan was about 13, his family began making the migrant worker circuit, leaving each spring-summer for Calif, to pick tomatoes, figs, peaches and grapes and then returning home for the fall-winter.

“I didn’t really feel I wanted to get stuck in that kind of a destiny,” he said. “Maybe escape is too rough a word, but I had to get away from that environment if I was going to do anything differently, and so I left and went to live with a sister in the Merced (Calif.) area.”

He finished high school there and received a scholarship to UCLA,

“I was the only one in the family that actually completed high school, let alone college.”

He’d long before fallen in love with books.

“That led me to realize there was more I could accomplish.”

While at UCLA, a U.S. Army recruiter sensed his wanderlust and got him to enlist. He served in Germany and France. He stayed-on two years in Paris, where an American couple introduced him to the arts.

“It was a big awakening for me,” he said.

Back in the U.S., he settled in Salt Lake City, where he was briefly married. Then he joined U.P., which paid for his MBA  studies at Pepperdine University. Then U.P. transferred him from Los Angeles to Omaha.

“I never had a sense of knowing my neighbors, having some continuity in terms of schools and experiences, so I felt like I had missed out by not having had that identity with place and community. When I came to Omaha, I loved it, and U.P. really promoted employees getting involved in community service.

“Doing community service, being on nonprofit boards  became an identity for myself.”

Upon taking early retirement, he worked at Metropolitan Community College, in the cabinet of Mayor Hal Daub and as executive director of the Omaha Press Club and the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands.

“I threw myself into the nonprofit world.”

He’s served on the Opera Omaha, Omaha Symphony and Nebraska Arts Council boards.

He cofounded SNAP! Productions, a small but mighty theater company originally formed to support the Nebraska AIDS Project.

“Omaha was the first place I saw a couple friends die of AIDS and that was a real revelation for me. That got me working to do some fundraising.”

SNAP! emerged from that work.

“I was the producer for almost every production the first few seasons. The audience base for SNAP! is a very accepting part of the community. It was gratifying. It’s been very successful.”

His interests led him to South Omaha, where he helped found El Museo Latino. More recently, he helped get the South Omaha Museum started. He also served as president of the South Omaha Business Association.

“I got involved with a lot of economic development.”

He wrote and published Rule of Thumb: A Guide to Small Business Marketing.

He’s “very proud” both SNAP! and El Museo Latino, whose vision of Magdalena Garcia he caught, “are still going strong and still serving the community.”

Each time he gets involved, he said, “it isn’t planned – the need arises and I’m there willing to help work to make it happen.”

“Doing all this work helps me feel I am a part of a dynamic community. That’s what really drives me, motivates me and makes me feel very positive.”

He’s involved in a new project that dreams of building a 300-foot tall Nebraska landmark destination to be called “Tower of Courage” at the intersection of 13th and I-80 across from the Henry Doorly Zoo.

“We’re in the process of trying to acquire the land. It’ll be a place for culture-history exhibits all focused on the rich cultural and historical history of Neb. and the region.”

Meanwhile Catalan has his own consulting company helping nonprofit and small business clients with strategic planning and grant-writing.

He’s also active in the Optimist Club.

“I’ve lived a full life. I’ve met so many wonderful people. I can navigate around many communities because of the the work I’ve done and the people I’ve met.”

He’s doing research for what may be his third book: weaving the story of a pioneering Jesuit priest from the same Sonora. Mexico hometown Catalan’s mother was born in and near where his father was from, with the history of area Indian tribes and his own family.

He’s traveling this winter to Sonora – not to escape his roots but to discover more about them.

He’s written about his family in Vagabundo and in poems published in the literary journal, Fine Lines.

“I think I’m creating a David Catalan space of my own I never had growing up.”

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BRAVO! Sing for the Cure


I recently found a trove of stories I have written and had publshed in pint but that I had never gotten around to posting on my social media platforms – until now. This is one. It is about a charitable Opera Omaha concert from 2010 that was staged as a fundraiser in support of breast cancer awareness and research. The moving personal stories of survivors were integrated into the concert. The program was called Sing for the Cure. I wrote about it for Metro Magazine.(http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/).

 

BRAVO! Sing for the Cure


It used to be the mere mention of cancer connoted a fatal prognosis.Thanks to medical science advances, however, many forms of the disease are highly treatable and survivable today. While it’s true the “Big C” doesn’t mean a sure death sentence anymore, it’s still a scary, serious, and often life-threatening condition. Indeed, cancer is so prevalent in America that almost everyone at some point is affected by it directly or indirectly. The diagnosis, even the word, still conjures feelings of anxiety, fear, resentment and other intense emotions.

Genetic and lifestyle factors play a role, but cancer is largely indiscriminate in who it attacks. Everyone close to a cancer patient is impacted in one way or another. Behind every cancer case is a human story of life, pain, hope, and healing.

Art is a powerful medium for honoring life and death experiences, which is why Opera Omaha and the Nebraska Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure have partnered to present Sing for the Cure: A Proclamation of Hope.

Sing for the Cure concerts, like the Opera for the Cure, help raise awareness and funds for breast cancer care and research. Five dollars of each purchased ticket benefits Nebraska Komen. The performances, which kick off Opera Omaha’s 53rd season, coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The dramatic, multimedia Opera for the Cure concerts are Omaha’s version of the Sing for the Cure programs. Sing for the Cure is a national program that has worked with the Komen foundation since 2000. “Opera for the Cure represents a great example of how two organizations, with completely different missions, can come together on a project that will have a powerful impact,” said Nebraska Komen Executive Director Lynette Farhart.

“While I have seen only a few of the pieces from the production, I am positive anyone who experiences Opera for the Cure will walk away inspired. It is a unique opportunity to further educate people about breast cancer as the production takes you through one woman’s journey. The production encapsulates the emotions experienced from diagnosis to treatment and recovery, and ends with a message of hope. You will walk away wanting to make a difference.”

“Throughout this emotional performance Opera Omaha will pay tribute to survivors and their families, as well as to those we have lost, through music, singing, photography and stories,” said Opera Omaha general director John Wehrle. “The performance itself is a journey, and it’s the journey of life that counts. This proclamation of hope will be uplifting and will leave the audience inspired.”

“Ultimately the message is: What are we going to do about this, and who is going to do it? It’s the community that’s going to make the difference and help each person get through it,” said Farhart.

This is why the public was invited to participate by submitting survivor and co-survivor stories and photos online at operaforthecure.org. The special website displays these inspirational tales and images through October 17. A few of the testimonies and snapshots will be variously projected on stage, exhibited in the Orpheum lobby and featured in concert promotional materials. What Angels in America did for AIDS, Sing for the Cure has done for cancer. Just as Angels used dramatic musical theater to express the searing emotions and experiences of AIDS, Sing for the Cure uses music and testimony as the prism for its cathartic look at cancer.

 

 

The concert program features classical and concert music by leading contemporary composers, including Joseph M. Martin and Michael Cox. The libretto speaks to the personal, family and communal impact of cancer, drawing on real-life stories in some cases. Professional and nonprofessional actors on stage will share various cancer stories. Dancers will help interpret the spoken and sung narrative.

Guest conductor Richard Buckley leads the Omaha Symphony, joined by the Opera Omaha Chorus and the Opera Omaha Valmont Voices in Residence, featuring: American baritone Kyle Albertson, tenor Neil Darling, mezzo soprano Jennifer Forte and soprano Alyssa Nance. Collaborating with Buckley are visiting artists Helena Binder, who directs, and Opera Omaha Chorus Master/Resident Music Director J. Gawf.

Dramatic lighting and an array of screens projecting video images will key music, words, emotions, and meanings. Musically, audiences can expect “a very accessible oratorio that speaks to the emotions of having cancer, dealing with it, how it affects all around you and the knowledge that many are there to support you in your personal journey,” said Buckley.

“The style of the music is quite popular and deals with ten different moments of a woman’s journey with breast cancer. But it is not all dark, because life isn’t. There is humor, compassion, farewells to loved ones. The music has full chorus numbers, solos both legit and jazzy.” Stage director Helena Binder worked hard to ensure the concert has a narrative flow, complete with peaks and valleys and a mix of poignancy and humor.

“I feel it’s my job to bring it to the audience in a way they can feel that range of emotions,” she said. The many expressive facets she has to play with remind her of working on operas. “It’s kind of the same thing where all these different artistic elements come together to tell a story to give an overall experience,” she said. “It’s really exciting to me because you have so many pieces and yet the idea is to weave it into a whole. It’s like a tapestry.”

She said the evening will conclude in a spirited way. “It has to be something that people walk away from with a feeling of urgency, of commitment, of hope.”

Performances are October 15th at 7:30 p.m. and October 17th at 2 p.m. For ticket information visit ticketomaha.com or call 345-0606.

 

 

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