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This article was prepared for the December 19, 2001 edition of
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Helping Hands, Class of 2001
Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, and so do
the tasks they tackle. But their motivations are remarkably similar.
Whether the volunteers are responding to the tragedy on September
11 or demonstrating compassion on an ongoing basis, they are driven
by the same goal — to make a difference in someone’s life.
As is our custom in this yearend issue, U.S. 1 honors members of the
business community who give some of their time through no special
circumstances other than their own hard work — and to encourage
others to donate their time and talents.
Some volunteer in hands-on ways. George Mahlberg works for Bloomberg
Press by day but at night has been a hands-on Red Cross volunteer
at Ground Zero. Jo-Ann Hoffman, a former 4-H county agent, spends
one night a week on the Contact telephone hotline. Tom Florek is an
Educational Testing Service employee who mentors children from Anchor
House on the weekends.
Others turn their administrative skills to good use. Faith Bahadurian
has a job at Princeton University but chairs the Taste of the Nation
for Share our Strength, a feed-the-hungry program. Pat Demers directs
human resources at Dataram and also helps NAMI support those with
mental health problems and their families.
Another way to help a favorite cause is to leverage the experience
gained on a day job. Stephanie Chorney, a pediatrician, crusades for
the American Cancer Society’s anti-smoking campaigns. Susan Moss,
a librarian for CUH2A, organized other professional librarians to
make book donations to needy children.
A small task — or a big task. Every volunteer can make a
It’s easy to think of George Mahlberg as a kind of
Apart from his current job as a pre-press technician at Bloomberg,
he has worked as an air traffic controller, astronomer, movie actor,
astrophysicist and sound engineer. He is also the program director
for the New Jersey Astronomical Association, has hitchhiked across
the country exploring America, and, operating under the pseudonym
Dr. Cosmo, he has been the host of "Nocturnal Transmissions,"
a show on the Princeton University student radio station (WPRB, 103.3
FM) every Friday night from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. for the past 11 years.
"I’m not someone who likes to follow the accepted order of
says Mahlberg. "I’m very passionate about living."
But his penchant for casting his net as wide as possible has now
into something more. Up until a couple of weeks ago, Mahlberg was
managing the Red Cross Tri-State Volunteer Unit at ground zero in
lower Manhattan. "I was working at the respite center the Red
Cross had set up at the Marriott Marquis Financial Center Hotel on
West Street," says Mahlberg. "They closed the center down
at the beginning of December. The City of New York wanted the local
businesses to start to fill that particular need and they also want
to start bringing some money into the local economy." He has now
transferred back into the Princeton Red Cross chapter.
Mahlberg began working at ground zero on October 7, three and a half
weeks after the World Trade Center bombing. "It was like a war
zone when I first got there," says Mahlberg. "Bombed out
Everything along West Street, an area quite familiar to me, was alien.
There were emergency vehicles parked everywhere, people walking around
with CIA or FBI printed on the back of their jackets. It looked
to me, and dangerous."
"When I walked into the respite center the first time, I was
of those old World War II movies," says Mahlberg. "You know,
where the occupying army would take over the local hotel. There was
an American flag and a Red Cross flag hanging in the lobby, and all
these uniformed people going up and down the stairs. It was an
experience. I really got a feel for the enormity of what had
Initially, Mahlberg’s job was to operate the elevators at the Marriott
respite center because the elevator’s sensors were coated with dust
from the collapsed buildings. "They then sent me out on the task
of simply walking around the building and trying to find out just
where everything was," explains Mahlberg. "This then led me
to running the local volunteers. With three shifts and 30 local
per shift, it was my job to put them to task. Some would work in the
kitchen, some on the loading dock. Others would greet people at the
"Another part of my job, and everyone’s job, was to provide the
workers with a space away from the pile of rubble they were working
in where they wouldn’t have to think about the horrible job they were
facing," continues Mahlberg. "It was our chance to say, `hey,
we’re here for you.’ We had La-Z-boy chairs there where they could
relax a while. They could E-mail their folks back home or have a good
meal. For awhile we had chiropractic and medical massage therapists
on duty. These workers could get a real refreshing massage for five
or ten minutes before having to head back out."
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mahlberg grew up in Wisconsin and Idaho.
His father, who had worked as a pilot, a soil engineer, and a
for the Yellow Cab Company, died in 1961. "I was brought up by
my mom, who was a single parent," says Mahlberg. "She is six
foot one, and actually played professional basketball for a women’s
team in Milwaukee."
He received his bachelors degree in astrophysics from UCLA in 1974.
After auditing courses at the School of Design in Pasadena and Cal
Tech, Mahlberg worked as an air traffic controller in Palmdale, CA,
an astronomer at Mount Palomar, and eventually appeared in several
low budget action films, with titles like "Naked Vengeance,"
mostly filmed in the Philippines. Mahlberg moved to New Jersey with
his wife in 1988, working for Symedco, Merrill Lynch, and finally
Bloomberg, where he has been for the past seven years. He and his
wife live in Ewing, and they have a son who lives in Los Angeles.
It was through his work at Bloomberg that Mahlberg became involved
with the Red Cross. "After September 11, the Red Cross asked a
number of people here at Bloomberg if they wanted to work at ground
zero," says Mahlberg. "I felt driven to do something positive,
so I said yes."
Although Mahlberg initially was assigned to volunteer two days a week,
from 4 p.m. to midnight, it was often necessary to extend his schedule
— sometimes working an extra shift, sometimes working four days
straight. "Fortunately my supervisor at Bloomberg, Gerry Burke,
is very understanding," says Mahlberg. "I’d call and say they
need me to work extra time, and he’d say `Okay, we’ll cover you.’"
Mahlberg admits that his experiences have altered his outlook on life.
"The entire experience has been transformative for me,"
Mahlberg. "It really changed my life. Being able to contribute
something positive to a horrible situation, to say thanks to the men
and women who were doing the rescue work, to be able accept thanks
from them, all these experiences were valuable lessons to me."
Since the respite center at ground zero was closed, Mahlberg has
to put the same dedication into his work with the local Princeton
chapter. "I’m currently on the Disaster Action Team here,"
says Mahlberg. "We respond to fires, floods, hurricanes, any sort
of disaster. We’re the first line of defense. We recently worked at
the arson fires in the apartment houses in Union City."
With the nation at war and "USA, USA" being chanted at
events, Mahlberg has put his experiences at ground zero into a
context. "I’m not really a person to wave flags and sing
says Mahlberg. "But I do believe strongly in the principles of
this country. I believe, as a citizen, I have the responsibility to
help make this a safe environment, and to help those less fortunate.
The Red Cross has given me the opportunity to do just that. To aid
somebody in a disaster, to provide a measure of comfort, is to display
what I think are the best qualities of America — compassion and
— Jack Florek
Road, Suite 101, Princeton 08540-6331. Kevin Sullivan, chief executive
officer. 609-951-8550; fax, 609-951-9787. Home page:
Using gourmet foods to feed the hungry? That’s the
of "Taste of a Nation," an all-volunteer organization with
an annual event held in April or May all over the country, with more
than 100 events in 75 cities. American Express sponsors the event
"Here in Princeton," says Faith Bahadurian, "we have `A
Grand Gourmet Food and Wine Tasting,’ which is usually 20 to 25
all at once, each with a table, serving tastes of whatever dish they
prepared that night, and there are wine distributors offering wine
tasting. Sometimes beer, too." The restaurants participate by
invitation and donate their food, skill, and staff. Ticketholders
come and eat. "Taste" does a big mailing to past attendees
and to names provided by American Express. Some 700 people attend,
including volunteers, chefs, and staff, but there is room for 1,000.
Billy Shore, founder and director of Share Our Strength, the umbrella
organization for Taste of a Nation, thought that "to fight hunger,
let’s mobilize the food industry." Princeton’s event earns between
$50,000 and $60,000 annually.
"Every penny of ticket money goes to our beneficiary
says Bahadurian. She has been volunteering for Taste/Strength since
1996 and received honorable mention in the 2001 "Governor’s Award
for Volunteering" lineup.
Seventy percent of the ticket money goes to Mercer County
which include HomeFront, Isles Community Gardening Program, Mercer
Street Friends Food Cooperative, and TASK, the Trenton Area Soup
The rest is divided, 17 percent to international programs (Strength
has been active in Ethiopia), 10 percent to other New Jersey food
banks, and 3 percent to Operation Frontline, an inner city food and
nutrition education program.
For the past two years — 2000 and 2001 — Bahadurian has
the Princeton event. For 2002 she’s will once more be public relations
chair for "Taste." Her day job is an administrative assistant
in the Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, This
is not the stretch you may think. Both jobs use her organizational
skills. Previously she was events coordinator for Encore Books and
she also does freelance promotion and freelance writing.
Bahadurian got involved in "Taste of a Nation" by eating.
In the first few years, when tickets were a working-woman-affordable
$35, she would go to the event. "I’ve always been a foodie,"
she admits. "I love food." Now tickets cost $65 in advance
($75 at the door, if any are left), and for 2002 there’s "A Friend
of Taste" ticket for $125. This ticket carries a listing in the
program and a pre-event reception at Trepiani, just up the Forrestal
Village Street from the Marriott.
Truly a movable feast, the Princeton event began in ’92 at the
moved to Forsgate Country Club, then to the Doral, and for 2002 it’s
back at the Marriott.
While at Encore, Bahadurian discovered that "Share Our
had another event, a literary event, in the fall, called "Writers’
Harvest." She had three authors doing readings and charged
to a special section of the store. (The event still takes place at
bookstores and colleges around the country.) After "Harvest"
she stayed on the committee for "Taste of a Nation," each
year becoming more active.
Both Bahadurian and her parents were born and raised in Princeton.
She went to junior college in Massachusetts, and majored in philosophy
at Boston University but did not complete her degree. She got
in community and volunteering, mostly in the arts, when she lived
in Aspen. Back in Princeton since 1985, this foodie volunteers her
skills to help feed the hungry.
— Joan Crespi
Diane and Emil Efthimides, co-chairs. 609-924-3663. Home page:
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