People and Projects
Thea Woodfin Reinhart ’57 is a forensic psychologist who provides expert testimony in child custody cases for California’s Orange County Superior Court. Her interest in psychology began at Skidmore, and she might have majored in the field, had her mother not objected. “She told me I would only be working with ‘crazy people,’” Reinhart says. “She presented such a convincing argument, that I chose instead to major in English.” (Not a bad alternative, given that she “truly respected the professors in the English department and enjoyed the psychological foundation of the characters and personalities we studied.”)
After college Reinhart moved to California, got married, and took various jobs in the business world. When her first child was born she earned her teaching credentials at Chapman College in Orange. She taught five years in the local school district and says, “I found myself drawn to helping children and families who required extra psychological help.”
In the late 1970s Reinhart went back to school again—this time earning a master’s in general psychology from Pepperdine University—and became a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Irvine. But she didn’t stop there: she earned a doctorate from the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara and passed the national exam for psychologists in 1986.
Four years later Reinhart was asked to do her first custody case in the family law court. Little by little her forensic cases began to outnumber her clinical ones, and today most involve child custody. Being “privy to all the information” in these cases means she can “make recommendations that [most] benefit the children,” Reinhart believes. Which doesn’t mean her job is easy. “The court system has an adversarial approach to many issues,” she says. Some family-law attorneys, for example, will “delay cases and take an aggressive approach of ‘win at any cost,’ even when it is detrimental to the child.” But Reinhart takes a firm stance when she testifies, always with the goal of setting up “the best custody arrangement” for the child—one that involves a “healthier adjustment” to “the challenges of one family becoming two families.” —MTS
Having a ball
When standout Thoroughbred pitcher Matt Rivers ’05 left Skidmore, he figured he was done with baseball and should join the working world. But one day last fall he came home from his job at a tree company to a message that “came out of nowhere,” he says. “Coach Plourde had called to say there was a team in Belgium that wanted me to pitch for them.”
Rivers admits he’d never heard of the Belgian Baseball League, part of the Confederation of European Baseball. But the Namur Angels had heard of him. Rivers, who helped the T’breds win the Liberty League championship in 2005, not only pitched but played both infield and outfield—a versatility that made the Angels take note. And when they offered him a contract, Rivers barely batted an eye before signing.
The Plattsburgh, N.Y., native is the first ballplayer to earn a pro deal in coach Ron Plourde’s seven years at Skidmore. Plourde, upon hearing the news, was plainly proud. “Matt has such passion for baseball; I couldn’t be happier to see him get this opportunity,” he said. “He’s going to be a fabulous representative of Skidmore and American baseball.”
Rivers arrived in Belgium for spring training in March and shares an apartment with his only American teammate. “So far I love it,” he says. “The country is beautiful, and the people are kind—and they’re funny, even though they speak French.” (He says he and his teammates are able to communicate “just enough to get their points across.”) By midspring, his only real frustration was the rain, which had fallen nearly every day for several weeks.
Rivers also coaches the Angels' youth team. While the practice structure is similar to that of the Babe Ruth leagues he’s coached in the US, the language barrier can make his job “extremely difficult,” he says. “I have to either have another coach translate or just plain show the kids what to do without explanation, except for a few French words I come up with. But when I see a kid succeed at something I showed him, it makes me feel like I’ve done my job well.”
He’s not sure if he’ll be back in Belgium next season, but for now Rivers is having the time of his life. For him, “playing ball is better than almost anything.” —MTS
Making a new home
As a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Rebecca Smith, UWW ’02, made her first trip to the Gulf Coast in winter 2005 and “fell in love with it,” she says. After Hurricane Katrina, Habitat invited volunteers to participate in the rebuilding effort. Smith had planned a two-week vacation last February, but instead spent the time volunteering in New Orleans.
A project manager for Skidmore’s facilities services department, she was not prepared for what she saw when she arrived in Louisiana. “I had no idea there was so much devastation yet to be addressed,” she says. “Pictures and stories cannot begin to capture what it’s really like. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would have never known.” She worked in St. Bernard Parish—a hard-hit area where only three of 25,000 houses were not damaged—gutting buildings down to the studs, to determine whether they should be demolished or remodeled.
“I immediately felt a connection to the people there,” Smith reports. “These were families like yours and mine, doing whatever they could to get their lives back together in the midst of complete chaos.” She came away inspired by those who “essentially lost everything but still maintained a great sense of humor and, most importantly, hope.” And it was satisfying to know her efforts were appreciated—especially in light of what she describes as a “lack of leadership, support, and organization by our federal government.”
“As a woman and a mother, I’ve learned that if you don’t take care of yourself you can’t be at your best to help others,” Smith says. She’s always been an advocate of “global support and neighboring, believing no one should live in substandard conditions. But I feel our country’s efforts at this point should be focused on helping our own neighbors in need,” she says. “The ‘pass it on’ theory only works if you first experience it.”
Spending her vacation volunteering on the Gulf Coast was “transforming” for Smith. She figured she would “help out and move on.” Instead, she left her fifteen-year job at Skidmore and took a one-year assignment as a construction manager for Habitat, overseeing the building of 100 new homes in and around New Orleans. —MTS
Man of hope
Wherever Rich Harwood ’82 goes, he finds hungry people—and he doesn’t mean they’re lacking food. Their appetite, he says, is “for new ways to create change in a society that seems resistant to change, and where trust is in short supply. People are looking for a sense of hope that, in our highly fragmented, consumer-driven, acrimonious society, change is possible.”
Harwood, the inspirational public speaker who founded the Harwood Institute when he was 27, believes “there are breaches in society that we must act to close (to ensure, for example, that all kids get a good education, that people can live in safe neighborhoods, and that we fight against hatred, bigotry, and prejudice).” His institute’s mission—to help people act for the public good—is especially relevant today, he says, given that so many Americans have “decided to retreat from public life and politics into close-knit circles of families and friends.”
But Harwood is keen on drawing people out, back into their communities where they can have some positive effect. There is “unfinished work to do,” he says. A better future begins with getting back to basics, he adds. In his book Hope Unraveled: The People’s Retreat and Our Way Back (see “Books” in this issue, and www.theharwoodinstitute.org) Harwood says we need to first understand why people have retreated from public life and what will bring them back. Second, “our task is to forgo engaging people as isolated consumers and re-instill a sense of purpose and meaning in our public affairs. Otherwise, we will be unable to address our common problems.” And finally, “we must affirm our commitment to hope—authentic hope. People do not want to endure more disappointment.” In touring the country to promote Hope Unraveled, Harwood believes he is “giving voice to something people already feel deeply in their hearts.”
He admits he’s preaching to the choir. “But the choir is much bigger and more vibrant and innately hopeful than most pundits and pollsters and politicians would ever believe,” he says. “I am convinced that most Americans want to be part of the so-called choir. We simply need to call people back to the public square, and do so in a way that creates a sense of possibility.” —MTS
Kidding on stage
As director of Saratoga Summer Stages, Mary Corinne Miller ’04 is often reminded of the big role that performing played in her development as a child. When she sees her young charges after a performance, “surrounded by glowing family members, they all look so genuinely happy and impressed with themselves.”
Miller started SSS during her senior year at Skidmore. She’d been teaching acting in a local elementary school and wanted to start a children’s theater program. The first year was “a bit of a struggle,” she admits. Although she was able to rent classroom space from the Saratoga Savoy dance center and have the plays performed on Skidmore’s campus, there were countless other details she’d barely considered. “I often thought that I would fail and all the money I put into the program would be lost,” she says. “But in the end it all worked out.”
Now in its third season, SSS involves children ages seven to fourteen. “We strive to give them a well-rounded education in theater,” says Miller. “They take classes in acting, music, dance, and production elements as well as preparation for the final performance.”
In music class, “we get a lot of children who have beautiful voices but don’t know how to use them correctly,” Miller states. “They try to scream the words and hurt their voices in the process; so we try to break them of bad habits.” In the production-elements class, they learn about set design and construction, costume design, makeup, directing, stage combat, and playwriting. “Not many children’s programs offer classes like these,” says Miller. “Students generally don’t get that opportunity until they’re at college level.”
SSS, which produces three plays a summer, typically enrolls about sixty students. “A lot of them have never been onstage or have only done a few shows at school.” It’s a thrill, Miller says, to see how much they “grow and develop their talent. At the beginning of the summer they’re so shy and quiet and scared of performing; but by the end it’s amazing—they’re proud and laughing with all of their new friends. I think this is one of the greatest gifts performing can give to children: self-confidence.” —MTS