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Burb's Eye View: Helping people work through change

April 03, 2012|By Bryan Mahoney

Everyone at the Joslyn Adult Center knows the gentleman who shows up on Tuesday afternoons as Barney, or Mr. Meskin. Not everyone knows what he's doing there.

He sets up in a little space and waits for his group to arrive. They just need a few chairs and an envelope to pass around later — a donation for the adult center that for the past 15 years has provided Meskin space for his work.

They trickle in, totaling 10 to 15 at any given time. If someone decides to stop coming, they'll be missed; but also replaced. There's a waiting list for “Barney's Group.” It has a more official name: Senior Support Group. While that describes its technical function for the adults ages 55 and over who attend, no one argues this is Barney's Group.

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With his guests in place, Meskin begins his weekly routine. He tries to focus on process, he says, to get at the root of why these adults feel the way they do about the big things. A lost spouse, or changing family dynamics, or retirement might all be talked out in a single session. There are rules to follow: everything said in the room cannot be shared at the dinner table afterward.

“We don't put anybody down,” Meskin said.

Through this simple philosophy, Meskin lifts them up. Now almost 90, he's had a lifetime of practice.

Meskin and his family arrived on Ellis Island in 1928 from Lithuania. His father's hay fever never meshed with the sinus-throttling seasons of New York, and on a suggestion from a family member, he visited Santa Monica, where his allergy evaporated. In 1946, the year Barney Meskin ended his service with the Navy, the clan piled into a 1942 Plymouth and drove to Southern California.

The five-day trip included a stop in Las Vegas.

“It was fun being there when the mafia still owned it,” Meskin said.

He made a living leasing, and eventually owning, hotels and billiard halls in Los Angeles, including the landmark Hotel Westminster on Main and 4th that was torn down in 1960. Though he carved himself a people-oriented career, it wasn't enough. Meskin wanted to do something that truly helped people.

That opportunity came in 1981 at American Jewish University in L.A. The Wagner Program, a two-year human services program that trains paraprofessional counselors, provided Meskin the training and outlet he was searching for. He quickly discovered he had an ability and desire to help people sort their problems.

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