Opinion Columns & Blogs

Behold the power of a community to the rescue

I continue to stand in wonder and appreciation of those on the Central Coast who step up to lessen the pain of others. Case in point: Shirley Goetz.

Shirley’s story was told in this space Thursday. It was an account of a woman who continues to suffer through the effects of a near-deadly accident that happened more than 20 years ago, how during that time she neglected to pay two minor traffic tickets to the city of Phoenix, and who, 19 years later — while living on less than $900 a month in Social Security Insurance, with half of that going to subsidized housing — had her license suspended in lieu of paying $900 in fines for those tickets.

Her story related how despite one setback after another, the 50-year-old kept going, working to improve her lot, working to help others.

The kicker of her story was that if she paid the fines — in one lump sum, as demanded by Arizona — she wouldn’t have enough for rent, she’d lose her home, be relegated to living in her car with her wheelchair, unable to make doctor appointments to replace a worn-out artificial hip or meet post-cancer surgery appointments.

To further complicate things, Social Security Insurance rules are such that donating directly to Shirley was out of the question. Her frail health disqualified her from serving community service — or even jail time — in lieu of paying off the tickets.

Her despair was palpable, and it resonated with the empathetic angels who walk among us.

After suggesting in the column that perhaps an attorney could help her, pro bono, in setting up a trust of some sort, my phone began to ring, and emails began flying in. In all, almost a dozen lawyers and law firms answered the call.

Meanwhile, almost two-dozen members of the community called or emailed asking how they could help Shirley, a wonderful expression of compassion in every sense.

The bottom line is that Jennifer Alton of the San Luis Obispo law firm of Alton & Allen not only offered her firm’s services but paid the fines. By 11:15 a.m. Thursday, the state of Arizona had sent receipts back to Jennifer that her payments had been received and Shirley’s obligation had been paid in full.

Teary with emotion when she heard of the compassion shown her, words didn’t come easily for Shirley.

“Thank you, everyone who reached out with your hearts,” she said. “Good people make life worth living.”

As to why Alton and so many others stepped forward will be explored in another column. But for now, “blessings on you all” will have to do. Your empathy continues to be a revelation.

Bill Morem can be reached at 781-7852 or at bmorem@thetribunenews.com.