Sunny Day News

The ties between rock music and charity are as long as a stairway to heaven. Into that noble tradition steps
Empire Theory, an Orlando, Fla., band serving as philanthropic foot soldiers for a goal that assists others from the ground up, literally.

Empire Theory is leading a drive to collect 25,000 pairs of shoes for the charity Soles4Souls.org. From left to right, the band members are Sebastian Zaldibar, lead vocals and guitars, David Oakley, lead guitars and violin, Abel Aponte, bass guitar, and Matt Sparks, drums. Photo courtesy of ZERO DARK CINEMA.

Empire Theory is leading a drive to collect 25,000 pairs of shoes for the charity Soles4Souls.org. From left to right, the band members are Sebastian Zaldibar, lead vocals and guitars, David Oakley, lead guitars and violin, Abel Aponte, bass guitar, and Matt Sparks, drums.
Photo courtesy of ZERO DARK CINEMA.

Empire Theory is an indie, alt-rock band with a buoyant, melodic sound and a retro soul. With its contemplative lyrics, the band describes its music as “rock for activists.” That sounds edgy, yet the group’s four members aren’t exactly rebels. But they do have a cause. And a collective conscience. Earlier this year, Empire Theory put its words into action.

The band launched a campaign to collect 25,000 pairs of shoes for Soles4Souls, a global, not-for-profit charity that fights poverty through the distribution of shoes and clothing. The altruistic footwork is something the band takes as seriously as making music that has meaning. That music, available on iTunes, has been favorably reviewed as the band gains a regional following in the Southeast.

“As a band, when we heard that Soles4Souls works with the collection of shoes and donates them to poverty-stricken areas, we got so excited because it sparked in us the opportunity, the chance and the desire to start a campaign where we will collect 25,000 shoes,” said Sebastian Zaldibar, 37, Empire Theory’s lead vocalist.

Drummer Matt Sparks shows how easy it is to donate shoes at one of the Central Florida drop-box locations.

Drummer Matt Sparks shows how easy it is to donate shoes at one of the Central Florida drops.

The band has made it simple to donate new or lightly used shoes. More than 10 drop boxes are set up in locations throughout Central Florida, places such as D2 Cycling Center in Sanford and Orlando Central Church in downtown, and the list of new drop-off locations continues to grow daily.

Zaldibar said he is already “blown away” by the number of shoe donations and the strong response from the community this early in the drive toward 25,000 pairs. The band continues to enlist individuals, businesses and organizations to get involved. “We’ve become the voice of people who want to make a difference but really don’t know how,” Zaldibar said. “We’ve become the catalyst, the voice of those people.” 

The musicians’ growing fan base will be instrumental in the effort to support Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based group that holds a four-star rating with Charity Navigator. Empire Theory’s most dedicated followers are called “theory changers” (#theorychanger). These individuals step outside the norm to “make a difference in someone else’s world.” The band says the shoes campaign is a tangible way for a “#theorychanger” to get involved. “Our fans are our most powerful driving force,” Zaldibar said.

Also playing in the band are David Oakley, lead guitars and violin, Abel Aponte, bass guitar, and Matt Sparks, drums. Zaldibar plays guitar, too.

Empire Theory was formed less than three years ago, and the group toured clubs in the Southeast for the past year. It has twice played to a full house at Orlando’s House of Blues. It plays at the Georgia Theatre in Athens on July 11. The band released a five-song EP disc, “Colors,” in 2012 and will re-enter the studio this summer to produce a follow-up.

Empire Theory has played Orlando's House of Blues twice in the past year. Photo courtesy of GILMAR SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY.

Empire Theory has played Orlando's House of Blues twice in the past year. Photo courtesy of GILMAR SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY.

“Our main goal would be to write music that makes people think about why they are here, what their purpose is in life,” said Zaldibar, whose bandmates play an upbeat tempo that pairs perfectly with the lyrics.

For now, one of Empire Theory’s purposes is tied to the shoes.

“We cannot wait to see what’s going to happen when we all come together and make a huge difference for the lives of people around us,” Zaldibar said.

The guitarist Oakley said ultimately it’s about something larger than the band.

“You may have never heard of Empire Theory, and really that’s completely OK
with us because it’s not so much about us and the band. It’s about making a difference collectively, and collectively as a community,” Oakley said.

Sounds like a band in tune with humanity and putting its best foot forward.

David Oakley, Matt Sparks, Abel Aponte and Sebastian Zaldibar make up the Orlando-based Empire Theory. MUSIC: “Colors,” 2012, available on iTunes or listen here. (I will link here to the bandcamp site, and make links in all the others.) SITES: Empiretheory.com, Theorychanger.org FACEBOOK: facebook.com/empiretheory CHARITY: Soles4Souls.org. Photo courtesy of ZERO DARK CINEMA.

David Oakley, left to right, Matt Sparks, Abel Aponte and Sebastian Zaldibar comprise Orlando's Empire Theory.
MUSIC: “Colors,” 2012, available on iTunes or listen here.
SITES: Empiretheory.com, Theorychanger.org
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/empiretheory
TWITTER: twitter.com/empiretheory
INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/empiretheory
CHARITY: Soles4Souls.org
Photo courtesy of ZERO DARK CINEMA


Sunny Day News

When ambition turns into achievement, the satisfaction is sweet. Celebrating that achievement with your family, mentors and classmates makes the reward even better.

Amanda McCaffrey, 22, graduated from the Honors Program of Elizabethtown College.

Amanda McCaffrey, 22, graduated from the Honors Program of Elizabethtown College.

Amanda McCaffrey, 22, enjoyed that special feeling of accomplishment May 17 when she graduated from the Honors Program of Elizabethtown College with a bachelor of arts in sociology-anthropology, with a concentration in archaeology. Fifteen members of her family watched proudly as McCaffrey received her degree from the liberal arts college in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County.

“The whole week seemed surreal. My family, we’re a pretty close bunch. We all support each other in everything we do. So it’s not strange to think there were 15 people there for me,” said McCaffrey, who leaves Elizabethtown with minors in biology, history and international studies.

On hand at graduation were her parents, Kristin and Lance McCaffrey of Malaga, N.J., her younger brother, Ryan, three grandparents and a host of aunts, uncles and cousins.

“We are very proud of Amanda. She is a very driven young woman,” said her father, Lance. “It was a great weekend, and the four years went very quickly.”

Amanda’s mom, Kristin, had another reason to smile. She graduated from Elizabethtown College in 1988, making Amanda a proud legacy grad of “E-town,” as the school is known locally. Eight family members present for Amanda’s graduation were also on hand for Kristin’s ceremony 26 years ago.

Grandmother Doreen McCaffrey of Matawan, N.J., was filled with pride. “It was a beautiful ceremony, and everything went well,” said McCaffrey, who is impressed by Amanda’s ambition and enthusiasm. “She’s a good kid, a real nice young lady. Nothing is going to hold her back.”

In addition to her family cheering section, two memories from that day will stick with Amanda. They are the kind of moments that happen only at a small college such as Elizabethtown.

Amanda, with her proud parents, Kristin and Lance McCaffrey. Kristin graduated from E-town in 1988.

Amanda, with her proud parents, Kristin and Lance McCaffrey. Kristin graduated from E-town in 1988.

First, McCaffrey took part in an emotional procession that passed through the school’s faculty, who were dressed for commencement in impressive academic robes and graduation regalia. “We got to say our final goodbyes to our professors at that point,” she said.

Then, the president of the college, Carl J. Strikwerda, put an even bigger smile on McCaffrey’s face. He personally complimented her while conferring her degree. “I like your bling,” he said while handing off her diploma. “You’ll have to tell me what that all means when the ceremony is over.”

The president was referring to McCaffrey’s decorated gown, which was adorned with colorful cords, scarves and a medal to signify honors and programs in which she excelled during four busy years at E-town.

“It was a fun day, and it was a day to be proud of,” McCaffrey said.

She will take that pride, and her tireless ambition, straight into grad school. McCaffrey is already accepted into New York’s Binghamton University, where further accomplishments await. She will work this summer at a bank in south New Jersey, then she begins at Binghamton in August. The next targets on her educational journey include a master’s degree and, ultimately, a doctorate (Ph.D.), with a focus on biological anthropology.

Amanda, 22, with her grandmother Doreen McCaffrey, one of 15 family members who attended the ceremony.

Amanda, 22, with her grandmother Doreen McCaffrey, one of 15 family members who attended the ceremony.

“My goal would be – after getting my Ph.D. – I want to be doing research,” McCaffrey said. “But I’d like to be a professor some day. Whether that’s at a larger institution where I’m doing mostly research and less teaching, or if I were to be teaching classes at a school like E-town, I would enjoy all of that.”

Work-related travel is also high on McCaffrey’s list of goals. “I do know I want to spend time traveling,” said McCaffrey, who took study-related trips in college to Guatemala and Denmark. On the latter trip, she interned at the Museum of Copenhagen, helping clean, analyze and categorize skeletal remains unearthed during subway construction. It was her first field experience in forensic archaeology/anthropology.

“I really want a job where I have to travel, where I have to see the world, so I thought this was a good fit,” said McCaffrey, who hopes to make a research trip in grad school to Latin America, where she can use her diverse education and four semesters of Spanish. “The cultures there are absolutely fascinating.”

Her ambition will keep her moving. There’s no doubt McCaffrey is going places.

McCaffrey's graduation from Elizabethtown College was clearly a family affair.

McCaffrey's May 17 graduation from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania was clearly a family affair.


Sunny Day News

“Baseball teaches us ... how to deal with failure,” said former major-league commissioner Fay Vincent. “We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball.”

Nate Tomaszewski, 23, understands. Nothing has come easy for him in baseball: “I remember throwing my jersey in the trash on one occasion when I was in Little League, but my dad wouldn't let me quit.”

Nate Tomaszewski, 23, spent two seasons in independent leagues before signing a minor-league contract May 13 with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Nate Tomaszewski, 23, spent two seasons in independent leagues before signing a minor-league contract May 13 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It took Tomaszewski (pronounced Tom-UH-chev-ski) three tries to make his high school team in Orange County, Calif. He didn’t play varsity until his senior year, when he had a total of 18 at-bats. Disregarded by most colleges, he chose to play at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, a remote Division III school about 1,500 miles from home. He played well there for four years, but mostly in anonymity. He earned the nickname “Mr. Double,” for his school-record number of two-base hits.

The reward for Tomaszewski’s perseverance was more disregard.

He wasn’t selected in baseball’s 2012 amateur draft. Not ready to give up, he spent two seasons in independent leagues, the refuge of talented-but-undrafted players and one-time prospects released by professional teams. Tomaszewski struggled at the plate, vexed at first by the leap in pitching talent from Division III.

It wasn’t the fast track to pro baseball. But it was the right track.

Somewhere in the struggles, in the failures, a veteran baseball scout, Mal Fichman, saw potential – and size – in the 6-foot-4, 220-pound corner infielder from Laguna Hills, Calif.

On May 13, all the sacrifice and failure paid off. The jersey in the trash can. Sitting the bench in high school. The Texas heat. And more 0-for-4 games than Tomaszewski could remember. May 13 was Vindication Day. That day he signed a minor-league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

“Getting the phone call from the scout, Mal Fichman, was the coolest part,” said Tomaszewski, a left-handed hitter who also plays outfield. “I have been persevering for so long, wondering if continuing my career was the right thing to do. Frankly, I had gotten to the point where I never thought I would get this opportunity.”

Tomaszewski is at the Pirates' extended spring-training camp in Bradenton, Fla. He says it's 'nice not to have to pay for any bats.'

Tomaszewski is at the Pirates' extended spring-training camp in Bradenton, Fla. He says it's 'nice not to have to pay for any bats.'

Tomaszewski is now in the Pirates’ extended spring-training camp in Bradenton, Fla. He will remain there until the draft in early June, at which time he hopes to be assigned to a rookie league or short-season Class-A club. He would love to put on hold using the B.S. in marketing and MBA degrees he earned at LeTourneau.

“I am here to learn some new things and, hopefully, do enough to earn a spot somewhere by the time the draft is completed,” he said. “… I would be happy going anywhere except the airport.”

His mother, Sandi Draper, said it was unforgettable when her son revealed his invitation to the Pirates’ camp: “The smile on his face lit up the room and brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “I know there's no crying in baseball, but these were tears of joy.”

Draper said her son’s love for baseball often seemed unrequited.

“From my seat in the stands, it seemed like Nate's association with baseball had never rewarded him for the effort and dedication he poured into the game. There were highlights, to be sure, but there were also plenty of times when a less-focused player would have hung up the cleats.”

His father, Mark Tomaszewski, echoed that pride in his son’s dedication.

“In whatever career you are pursuing, I think you need to be a competitor to be successful,” said the elder Tomaszewski, Nate’s primary batting-practice pitcher over the years. “Through sports, he has learned how to compete; I am proud that he has figured that out. When he left for Bradenton, I told him his best days in baseball still were ahead of him. He said, ‘I know.’ “

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame of Tomaszewski helped catch a pro scout's eye.

Tomaszewski's 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame helped catch the eye of a professional scout. Check out video of his sweet swing here.

The efforts of his parents – and others – to pursue his dream are not lost on Nate Tomaszewski.

“I'm sure there are some parents who would never have let their child go all the way to Texas for school, or who would have told their child that it was time to stop playing and time to focus on things that will really help in life. But they were always encouraging,” he said. “And they always kept the pantry full.”

He also credits his college coaches: “Aaron Gentry and Robin Harriss at LeTourneau both helped me more than they know. I've never had coaches who made me want to win for them as much as they did.”

Those experiences behind him, new challenges await. He understands nothing is promised from the Pirates. Things only get more difficult from here. Yet, like a hitter behind in an 0-2 count, he’s ready to swing.

“So few people (get this opportunity), let alone players from the Division III level. When I got the call and was told I would be sent to extended spring training, it was an immediate feeling of fruition, satisfaction and gratitude 10 years in the making,” he said. “It’s also nice not to have to pay for any bats.”

Babe Ruth said, “Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back.”

No one holds back Tomaszewski. Throw him whatever curves you like. He’s seen the pitches before.


Sunny Day News

Tom Dietrich’s career has been devoted to the newspaper business. But on May 30, Dietrich will be delivered to a new life, free of deadlines, when he retires from the Orange County Register after 47 years with the large Southern California daily.

His retirement won’t make headlines in that newspaper, but his absence in its Santa Ana, Calif., building will be as apparent as missing answers to tomorrow’s crossword puzzle.

Tom Dietrich and his wife, Kim, have a long trip planned through California's Sierra Nevada. Tom is retiring after 47 years with the Orange County (Calif.) Register.

Tom Dietrich and his wife, Kim, have a long road trip planned through California's Sierra Nevada. Tom is retiring after 47 years with the Orange County (Calif.) Register newspaper.

Dietrich, 63, is Circulation Manager for the Register. Most of his 47 years at the newspaper were spent in distribution and circulation. He began at the Register in 1967, answering phones for customer service. The paper was owned then by the Hoiles family. It was a time when a call to a large local business was answered by a human voice. A different era.

“When it was a family-owned newspaper – that word ‘family’ – that’s what you felt like. The publisher knew almost everybody. … It was really a family. Everybody that worked here stayed here a long, long time,” said Dietrich, who lives in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., and whose own immediate family includes his wife, Kim, and their two faithful yellow Labrador retrievers.

When the Hoiles family owned the Register, Dietrich said, it was the most memorable and enjoyable period of his tenure. The patriarch of the Hoiles was the legendary R.C. Hoiles. Dietrich had been working at the Register for only a few weeks when he first met Hoiles, the paper’s publisher.

Dietrich, then 16, had strategically parked his Volkswagen near the paper’s loading dock, away from other vehicles. A large Chrysler pulled in next to him. An elderly driver he didn’t recognize flung open his door, dinging the passenger side of Dietrich’s prized teen-age ride.

The Dietrich's two yellow labs will also make the trip that ultimately takes them to Lake Tahoe.

The Dietrich's two yellow Labrador retrievers will also make the retirement trip that ultimately takes them to Lake Tahoe.

“What in the heck is wrong with you?” said an angry Dietrich. “I can’t believe you just did that!”

The old man apologized and took the kid’s name.

A few days later, Dietrich received in the mail a check for $150, along with a note of apology for the minor damage, signed personally from R.C. Hoiles.

Another note Dietrich got in the mail early in his Register tenure was less welcome. It was a draft notice from Uncle Sam. Dietrich spent three years serving his country in the Army, from 1970 to 1973. One of his three sons was born in Germany while he was stationed there. Dietrich’s retirement provides him the chance to spend more time with his sons,  Josh, Jason and Jeremiah.

“I want to spend quality time with my sons and their families and my (four) grandkids. This will give me the opportunity to do that,” said Dietrich, who also plans to do volunteer work to occupy free time.

But, first, there is some long-awaited travel planned!

He, Kim – and the two dogs – will happily launch their “Life is Good” retirement tour when they hit the road in their travel trailer June 1 for a nearly three-week journey through California’s Sierra Nevada.

“We are so excited, and the timing is great,” Kim Dietrich said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s the perfect time of year to go, and it will be beautiful there.”

In addition to scenic stops at Lone Pine, Mammoth Lakes and other small mountain towns, the Dietrichs will visit Lake Tahoe, where they were married 16 years ago.

Tom.Kim2

Plenty of time for umbrella drinks and relaxation await Dietrich.

“We got married in Lake Tahoe on June 15. And we’re going to be there on June 15 for our anniversary. That’s going to be really special,” Kim said.

It’s easy to see why Dietrich is counting down the days to his retirement. However, he said there are aspects of his Register career he will miss.

“The value we bring to the community and being a part of that process. We are definitely an asset to our community. We are the watchdogs. We also tie communities and people together with our reporting,” Dietrich said. “I’ll miss being the final person to make sure that this product gets to everyone.”

Of course, Dietrich said he will also miss his coworkers: “So many good, hard-working people … That will be what I miss the most.”

Social media allows him to remain somewhat in touch. Dietrich is just a Facebook or LinkedIn message away.

Just understand if he doesn’t respond right away. He’s no longer on deadline, and the next chapter is only now being written.

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