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CAUSES : Team Player : Ojai clothier Mary Rynsoever extends the spirit of giving to such programs as DARE and to fellow business people.


This is going to be a tough one. This time there are three of them at my front door, miniature Willy Lomans with big, expectant eyes and a box of scented candles being sold for another good cause.

The little boy holding out a green candle, which smells like the dishwashing liquid I bought that made my hands break out in a rash, tells me the money will help a local youth group.

"It's so kids don't have to get into trouble and stuff," he says solemnly.

With my hand still on the doorknob, I debate whether I have the heart to send them away. Yesterday, it was chocolate bars to help needy children go to camp. The day before it was a student selling magazine subscriptions so he could go to college.

He had a winning smile, so I signed up for 12 issues of "Sea Bass Lovers Today." I'm still working off the chocolate I was forced to eat so it wouldn't go bad.

The problem, of course, isn't just the weird collection of useless items you can get in your home this way. It also goes beyond the dent that peeling off dollar bills, day after day, can make.

For me, it has more to do with a sense of disconnectedness. The issues and causes come knocking at your front door, you hear about the support that is needed, and then the issues and causes say thank you and go to the next house.

After awhile, digging into your wallet begins to feel like feeding your conscience's parking meter. There is a feeling that nothing of yourself is really going into the giving.

It is a feeling that mother and Ojai businesswoman Mary Rynsoever battles all the time.

"We have to help wherever we can," Rynsoever says. "The need is greater now than ever before."

Rynsoever hasn't been knocking on any doors--unless, of course, it's been to recruit people to give of their time. She hasn't been selling anything, either--except the idea that people can support important causes in their communities by just thinking creatively.

"This hasn't cost me a dime," she says.

"This" was a fashion show last Tuesday, held at the Arch Restaurant in Ojai, to benefit Ojai's DARE program (Drug Awareness Resistance Education). The show also coincided with the first day on the job for Ojai's new DARE officer, Janice Kennedy.

"When she called me and told me she wanted to do this, I was just really surprised," recalls Kennedy, who gave her first talk about drugs to a group of fifth-grade students at Oakview school two days ago.

"She just said she's a member of the community, and that it takes the community to stand up and say they want the good programs that are out there. She said you can't lay low and show that you support it at the same time."

All of the proceeds of the fashion show will go to paying for workbooks for the children, "incentives" such as stickers and T-shirts and other costs of maintaining the program.

Rynsoever, who for the last three years has owned a clothing store called "Ojai Woman," started planning the fashion show a year ago. She began by contacting manufacturers of the clothing lines she carries, asking if they would be willing to donate a few pieces to the benefit.

Encouraged by their responses, she then contacted employees of nearby stores and asked if they would be interested in modeling for fun. They were.

Picking a location was easy. The Arch Restaurant, a few doors down, opened recently. Rynsoever figured it would be the perfect way to let the community know they were there.

"We are lucky someone was willing to start a business now because it's very difficult times," Rynsoever says, the traces of her native Holland coming through in her accent and occasional Dutch syntax. "An empty building hurts everyone. We need to support it."

And support it she has. Bryan Dueysen, the restaurant's co-owner and chef, says that as soon as they opened for business, Rynsoever let them know she wanted to help any way she could.

"She even took it upon herself to pay for an advertisement for us," Dueysen says. "At first I wondered why, but she's just been really great. There's savvy behind it too, though. She knows it benefits all of us to work together."

That attitude very well began in Doorn, a Dutch town not far from the German border, where Rynsoever and her 11 brothers and sisters grew up. Her father, who sold vegetables to grocery stores, and her mother, "the general," impressed upon the children the importance of contributing wherever they could.

"We were each assigned to take care of people in the neighborhood," she says. "If we were bored, my father would say, 'Go over to so-and-so, and carry away the glass bottles.' Or, 'Go see if you can do shopping for so-and-so.' That's the custom there. That's the way the social thing works."

It is a lovely social thing, something our government should think about importing.

That, or candles.

After my most recent purchase, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a shortage.

* THE PREMISE: Attitudes is a column about a variety of current trends and issues.

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