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Front Pages

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In His Shoes

Tom WillisWITH A BASEBALL in the grip of his right foot, 49-year-old Tom Willis threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Padres game this past season. Today, he stands with a blue crayon wedged between his toes, showing an auditorium of giddy elementary-school kids his artistic side. Born without arms, Willis uses the perceived “disability” to spark a conversation about celebrating differences and exceeding expectations.

It’s Ability Awareness Day at Hill Creek Elementary School in Santee. Willis’ interactive presentation, titled “No Hands, No Arms, No Problem!” demonstrates how simple tasks——getting a drink of water and throwing a Frisbee——are done with his feet. The curious crowd of first through third graders giggles as they watch two students attempt to color a picture the way Willis does, using only their feet. A college graduate (with honors), Willis emphasizes the importance of education, proving success is possible even when one is faced with challenges.

A native of Washington, D.C., Willis moved to San Diego in 2000 for a job transfer with the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2002 he launched Tomsfeet Productions (tomsfeet.com), and he works as a motivational speaker and independent TV and video producer.

“If there’s something you really want, there’s always a way to achieve it,” he says. ——LAUREN RUEF

Feeding the Soul

Jacques MartinetJACQUES MARTINET has worked in some of the world’s finest culinary establishments. From Paris, Nice and Geneva to Brazil, Tahiti and Kenya (and other exotic locales in between), the Swiss-French-Algerian chef has always brought his passion for good food and superb culinary skills. Now he has a unique venue for plying his trade: the kitchen at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC). No lavish budget here——unlike the Bank of France’s private dining room, where Martinet was once sous-chef.

The nonprofit rehabilitation facility serves three meals a day to some 130 men and women recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction. Their needs are great; many have experienced life-changing traumas, homelessness and health problems. Martinet’s challenge is providing good, nourishing food——of a noninstitutional bent——on a tight budget.

ARC administrator Captain Grady Brown agreed the menu needed a major upgrade and overhaul. Martinet set about using his tricks of the trade——procuring better-quality ingredients and negotiating better prices with vendors, utilizing Food Bank resources and finding additional sources of donated food. He ages beef himself on the ARC premises to cut costs, and he devises dishes to take advantage of prevailing prices. He also trains people from the rehab center to be on his kitchen staff. He’s able to budget special menus for occasions such as graduations and holidays. Martinet, a former pastry chef at a ski resort in the French Alps, is renowned for his fabulous desserts.

“I think it’s safe to say there is no chef more qualified and gifted than our Jacques,” says Brown. “We are blessed to have him.”

Martinet, a father of two grown children, has great empathy for the people he serves. The rigors of the recovery process are well known. He’s been there himself. Martinet decided to enter the San Diego ARC when his life began to fall apart a few years ago. Since his graduation from the program and the start of a new, sober life, he’s undergone some profound changes. And he’s found his priorities have changed. “Helping people has become more important than living in high-stress situations,” he says.

By the Numbers

$1.8 billion: Estimated annual economic contribution of San Diego’s volunteers
92.1 million: Hours of volunteer time contributed by San Diego’s 609,000 volunteers
42: Average San Diego resident’s volunteer hours per year
15: San Diego’s ranking among the 50 largest U.S. cities for total volunteer hours

Source: Volunteer San Diego and the Corporation for National and Community Service. All figures represent the most recent findings (2007).