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East Valley Focus

VAN NUYS : Valley Residents Respond to a Call for Help

November 12, 1994|JEFF SCHNAUFER

Glenn Gershan may no longer have a voice, but that has not stopped dozens of San Fernando Valley residents from responding to his call for help.

From the man who offered the use of his late wife's voice-activated computer to those who just want to send money, offers of aid poured in Friday for Gershan, a Valley College student with cerebral palsy whose electronic keyboard was recently stolen, depriving him of the tool he needs to communicate.

"My phone has not stopped ringing," said LAPD Officer Bob Mosley, who held a news conference with Gershan at Police Department headquarters. "I've got all kinds of cops wanting to donate. Even the camera crews wanted to donate."

Gershan, 31, who has the mental capacity of a 13-year-old, was in the Valley College cafeteria last month when the device was stolen. Friday, The Times ran an article on the theft, prompting dozens of calls to the newspaper and police.

"It's great to know that people care enough to want to do something for a handicapped person," Gershan said Friday, using a Telephone Device for the Deaf to conduct an interview.

"I'm overwhelmed," said Gershan's mother, Jan Toppel. "I never dreamt he was going to get this kind of response. Usually, I'm the fighter."

Working two jobs as a parking lot attendant, Gershan does not make enough to buy a new device, valued at $4,700. Friday, Gershan said his father had offered to buy him a new device, and Gershan hopes to pay him back with his own earnings and any donations. Mosley said a special bank account would be set up for Gershan on Monday.

"It really is important to him to pay back his father," Toppel said. "Somehow Glenn is going to have to find a way to pay. I think that's the part of him that makes him feel like a man."

In the meantime, Mosley has been searching for a temporary voice for Gershan. The stolen device, a 16-year-old prototype, is a 9-by-11-inch keyboard that weighs about 4.5 pounds. The voice machine uses 26 phonetic keys to allow Gershan to program and store phrases and words, spell out words and make new ones, which the machine then pronounces for him.

So far, Mosley said, the best offer has come from Ernest Goldenfeld, 74, of Brentwood, who wants to donate the voice-simulation computer he bought for his wife who was suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. Sherry Goldenfeld, 73, died Oct. 20, one day before Gershan's keyboard was stolen.

Without the device, Gershan was forced to communicate with his mother by grunting, tapping his fingers and handwriting. But on Friday, Detective Bill Jessup, who is investigating the theft, said Gershan sent a message to many others, even without his electronic voice.

The message is: "We take our voice for granted," Jessup said. "Until you look at what somebody else is going through, then you feel thankful."

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