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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin



DECEMBER AND GIVINGIt is December and the year is coming to an end. For me 2019 was a year of discovery and transition. I have discovered that I am getting old and creaky and I find myself transitioning from being cautious into becoming pretty predictable and boring. Maybe I need a jolt of purpose. I must seize every opportunity.It is December, and life gets harder for those who are without shelter and those who cannot provide for their families,while those all around them are shopping for gifts and holiday decorations.It is December and we all will have a chance to make things a little bit better for those around us. This time of year brings an abundance of opportunities, and regardless of our own situation we all have something to offer. I will witness simple acts of kindness all around me as we enter the holidays. We all benefit, as it turns out that giving to others turns out to be one of our best self enrichment programs.  Just ask those who have enrolled.It is December and your mailbox will be filled with requests for end of the tax year donations.It is December, and this could be the best part of our year for those who just have the habit of giving because that is who they are all year round.GRETCHEN, CHERYL AND HERBIE

Here are three people who came together this December to show us what the spirit of giving looks like.They all knew that there were some things that needed to be done, and they stood up because that is who they are.


I was sitting at the bar at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café when a friend nudged me on the back and whispered that she remembered her mother singing the soulful song that Alvin Waddles was playing. She said that when her mother sang I Cant Give You Anything But Love, Baby to her father in the 1930s, they would both cry. It was the height of the depression and this song struck home. It was a time in their life when love had to carry the day. Difficult times leave a deep impression on those who are starting out in life. The woman sitting next to me was a lucky kid who has a memory of loving parents, parents who demonstrated the positive effects of music and gentleness on their lives.

Music is still an important part of Gretchen Valade’s life, as is her desire to give back to those who may be struggling.

Three days later Gretchen and the Dirty Dog hosted two nights of music to bring attention to and help fund the community agency COTS.Taking credit is not something Gretchen is very good at doing. Gretchen has always shunned deserved attention for her good deeds. They are hard to hide. When she sees  a need, she acts.

Gretchen’s contributions to jazz in our community are well know and gives us a glimpse of her generosity.

In 2019, after 10 years of respecting everyone who comes in the door of the Dirty Dog Gretchen  has established a refuge for kindred spirits. Here in a posh neighborhood where they consider a 60 foot elevation a hill and most streets have British names sits a magnet for a very diverse audience for America’s music, jazz.  For two days it was filled with like minded patrons. Everyone wanted to help.

The Dirty Dog Jazz Café remains the home for good jazz and good ideas.


Last week the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe hosted two evenings with Herbie Russ, a soulful performer who wears many musical hats: singer, saxophonist, keyboardist, producer and songwriter. He was part of fundraising events for The Coalition on Temporary Shelters.

With a voice reminiscent of Joe Cocker Herbie delivers each song with passion and soulful emotion, which is fitting as his performances will benefit families served by COTS in Detroit.

Herbie Russ’s background is very public because he wants it to be.

Herbie dropped out of school in the 11th grade, and was then kicked out of his parent’s home for doing drugs. A very gifted saxophone player, Herbie would ride his bike 10 miles to play with bands in exchange for drugs or money. He would go on the road with a variety of acts where he had the benefit of staying in hotels. He spent years staying in hotels, couch-surfing, and living in a car. After years of drifting, homelessness, drugs, and being arrested, he eventually turned to God and said “You’ve given me this talent, I need some direction.”

At his darkest moment Herbie was led to a homeless shelter, where he offered to sing and play. He began to donate all the tips from his gigs to the homeless shelter. After donating thousands of dollars, Herbie continues to use his gifts to support shelters across the U.S.

In 2017 Herbie Russ performed on America’s Got Talent where he wowed the judges. 

He is doing well, and he appreciates all the help along the way. Herbie’s joy at being able to contribute along with his compassion and understanding carried the evenings. He gave us two great nights. Thanks to Herbie Russ and his band.


Cheryl P. Johnson Coalition On Temporary Shelter CEO


COTS exists to alleviate homelessness by enabling people to achieve self-sufficiency and obtain quality affordable housing. Started as a church project in 1982, today the organization manages multiple facilities with a staff of more than 90 people and an annual budget in excess of $7 million. Annually, COTS serves more than 2,000 Detroit-area homeless people in its emergency shelter and approximately 450 individuals and families in its transitional and permanent housing programs.

CEO Cheryl  P. Johnson has been at the helm of the Coalition On Temporary Shelter for 27 of its 35-year history.

Prior to coming to COTS, Cheryl was working with youth. She remembers when  a young man that was aging out of her program – when he turned 18, he would literally be homeless. When the staff bid him farewell, they sent him to COTS, and that was the first time she heard of the organization. Years later, she came to have a deeper understanding of the issues related to homelessness.

When she came to COTS in 1990 as the Shelter Director her intention was to stay for two years and go back to working with children – 27 years later, she is still at COTS.

Cheryl guided Cots from offering mostly emergency shelter to develop transitional housing, which is another form of shelter for the people we serve where they can stay up to two years. As we developed transitional housing, we started to learn more about permanent affordable housing and how to use Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to develop it. I started traveling around the country – San Francisco, Chicago, New York – to visit the locations that had the best developments in the country, and I honestly fell in love with the whole notion that we can end homelessness. That’s why she stayed so long.

Here is Cheryl’s take on COTS “One of the things that struck me was that many of the heads of homes who I met as children in the early 90s were coming back now as adults with their own children. The question that raised was: Why didn’t giving them housing break that pattern? What I realized was that we couldn’t focus solely on homelessness because homelessness is really a symptom of poverty. So if we don’t take on the issue of poverty, then we’re going to be in business forever – and that’s not what we want.

That’s when we decided to create a theory of change that could be a serious tool that helps families move out of poverty. The framework we created is called the Passport to Self-Sufficiency. It’s a coaching model centered on building really robust relationships with our families and coaching them through goal setting. We don’t just look at housing; we also look at health and wellbeing, education, career development, and economic mobility. We help them create goals in every one of those areas. And we don’t just help the head of household; we also look at the children so it’s a two-generation approach.

Our resources are aimed at impacting the next generation in the hopes to end the cycle of poverty and homelessness one family at a time.

Cheryl studied classical music, she still sings and she even  put out a CD a few years ago,  it’s another gift that she shares with others.

Here is Cheryl’s TED talk describing COTS 


I spend time around jazz musicians who seem to be completely reverse wired. Jazz musicians seldom deliberately do the right thing. It is just part of what music brings to their life when they sign up. The older they get the younger they play. They never seem to acknowledge that they should just fade away. Jazz musicians are also generally giving people who don’t expect huge rewards other than a chance to play their music. Jazz artists likely are not aware of what all the studies have shown, that giving and getting rewards as incentives does not lead to as good a result as a task done selflessly.

Here are some study results on giving that I stumbled on. 

Psychologists often distinguish between intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something for its own sake) and extrinsic motivation (for example, doing something in order to snag a goody). The first is the best predictor of high-quality achievement, and it can actually be undermined by the second. Moreover, when you promise people a reward, they often perform more poorly as a result.

Scores of studies and personal case histories point to the benefits of an attitude of extreme giving at work. The greatest source of motivation is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other people’s lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.

Being able to give and to do for others seems to be very rewarding for older people, and seems to reinforce their own sense of independence and well-being.

Most reports found that givers are happier and healthier and have a greater sense of purpose in life. This is not just in terms of giving money to formal charitable organizations but also extends to informal acts of kindness.

Gretchen, Herbie and Cheryl seem to have figured all this out all on their own.

John Osler


December 11 – 14


Known for his dual horn playing technique, recording artist Rayse Biggs is one of the most dynamic horn players today. Often referred to as Trumpeter Extraordinaire, Rayse has received local and national commendations for his contribution to music. He continues to be sought out to accompany other artists, including Kid Rock, Fred Hammond, Alexander Zonjic and Kem.

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