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BFFs! Best Volunteer
Mel Zeldin, Retired nonprofit executive
Get a good look at this picture. It’s a rare sighting of Mel Zeldin, whose usual habitat is his home office, crunching numbers and poring over spreadsheets. He’s a much-sought-after volunteer whose work isn’t glamorous, but it’s indispensable. Zeldin helps local nonprofits keep their books in order, making sure they’re square with the IRS and on the up-and-up with grant-making institutions.
“The people who run these small nonprofits are really passionate about what they do. I take on the administrative and finance aspects to keep them out of trouble spots, so the principals can focus on what they really want to do,” says Zeldin, who most recently was executive director of the nonprofit California Air Pollution Control Officers Association before retiring in 2011. He moved to Las Vegas two years ago, and has since put on his volunteer resume organizations such as Green Chips and GREEN Alliance. He’s got a soft spot for lean and mean nonprofits focused on sustainability.
“He did our IRS forms, our polices and procedures, our board orientation manual — he knows all this stuff like the back of his hand,” says Greenview Global Principal Rick Van Diepen, who used Zeldin’s services when Van Diepen was executive director of Green Chips. “When I learned everything he could do, I was like, ‘Are you for real?’”
While the forms and spreadsheets may get complicated, the reason Zeldin does it is simple. “There’s no greater personal reward than to feel like you’re giving something back.” — Andrew Kiraly
BFFs! Best Bon Vivant
Jerry Metellus, Photographer
Known for his high-wattage smile and jokey charisma, photographer Jerry Metellus seems as hyperreal as a model in one of his signature shots. But not in a way that’s plastic or suspect. Rather, there’s a natural, earthy, congenial, attractive gravity to Metellus’ personality that — surprise — makes him the guy at the party who kicks up the smiles-and-laughter quotient. Metellus’ secret? A bit of pretend.
“It’s simple. I treat people as if I’ve known them for five years. I go deep immediately.” That sounds deceptively glib, networky; but make no mistake, it’s an approach to socializing and building meaningful relationships born of a long learning curve. Growing up, Metellus says, he was cripplingly insecure — chalk it up to strict parenting and the drizzle of psychodynamics that goes with it. He overcompensated.
“I called it the reverse turtle,” he says. “Instead of being introverted and choosing to hide, I was extremely extroverted, and it was a complete mask. I was pretending to be a giant until I became one. I came across as cocky, but on the inside I was freaked out by everybody and empty. It’s like I was borrowing someone else’s personality to make it through the day.”
It took some growing up to successfully merge the extrovert and the introvert, the bon vivant and boon companion. No masks here: When you see Jerry Metellus at a party, that’s Jerry Metellus. “When you’re being yourself, you give people permission to be themselves, and it leads to authentic moments people wish for,” he says. And those moments are what counts, whether it’s with someone you’ve known for 20 years or 20 minutes. He compares those moments to beads on a necklace. “The bigger the bead, the richer the moment,” he says. “Why be tentative and make tiny beads? I go for the big beads.” — Andrew Kiraly
BFFs! Best Consumer Reporter
Darcy Spears, KTNV Channel 13
Butterflies tamped down and cameraperson ready, boom, she’s into a Filipino fast-food joint that got 40 demerits on a recent inspection — just short of closure. People ought to know this, right? Video now rolling, Darcy Spears calmly asks the startled, befuddled woman behind the counter about the kitchen’s rampant issues. You can only see the back of her head, but Spears is cool and insistent, clearly an advocate of the eating public, but her demeanor is not without a tinge of restraint — there’s no showbizzy, gotcha bombast on this tape. She exhibits a morsel of sympathy — and perspective. “I try not to take myself too seriously,” she tells us later, of the station’s weekly “Dirty Dining” segments. She’ll zazz it up with a little sarcasm now and then. “It’s not the end of the world,” she says, “it’s cockroaches in the kitchen.”
It’s also consistent with her approach to consumer reporting. No investigation is too big — or too minor. So if you’re a mom having problems with an online retailer, Spears and her Contact 13 volunteers just might work the phones to get your money refunded — in time to save Christmas. (Real story!) Car dealer treating you badly? Homeowners association hassling you with nonsensical micromanaging? Folks like that get the same attention that, as the station’s chief investigative reporter, she pays to, say, some creep wasting taxpayer dough. “Our goal,” she says, “is making Las Vegas a better place to live.”
She’s been in Vegas for 20 years, digging up stories for Channel 13 for close to eight. Along with the kick of being on TV — “As early as childhood I was interested in being in front of people” — Spears appears to genuinely enjoy helping consumers. “I have the power to shed light on things, to force accountability, to get results,” she says. “The big payoff is to be able to help.” — Scott Dickensheets
BFFs! Best Public Artist
Jesse Carson Smigel, Artist
Hello, kitty! Part of a City of Las Vegas initiative to art up First Street, Jesse Carson Smigel's sculpture “Snowball in Vegas” — a giant cat head, its tongue curling out in ready-to-groom mode — commands the corner of First and Coolidge with the insouciant charisma, natural entitlement and sheer adorability of a real cat. The point here is, you stand under the tongue as if Snowball’s bathing you; a friend snaps your picture, uploads it, hashtag something cool and non-gambley in Vegas, and, borne along by a thousand lulz and the Internet's insatiable love of cat-oriented novelty, a bit of Smigel’s hometown pride circulates through the collective human consciousness that is social media. Even dog people are tickled.
“Their gut feeling should be enjoyment,” Smigel says of viewers. He hasn’t forgotten the lessons of his favorite public art when he was a kid: the giant water-squirting turtles at Jaycee Park. Pure fun! So any questions you have about highbrow vs. lowbrow public art — brainy, conceptual stuff (see Stephen Hendee’s “Monument to the Simulacrum” at the Fifth Street School) vs. the crowd-pleasing populism of giant cats — well, pose ’em to a professor of Turtleneck Studies. Smigel’s content to zap your pleasure receptors with work that’s pop-drenched (recall his oversize gnomes at City Hall a few years ago), inventively funny, shareable and, whenever possible, rah-rah about Vegas. (A discarded concept for this site: the giant head of local TV personality Count Cool Rider.) Pure fun, indeed. “However you might enjoy it,” Smigel says, “please do.” Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth. — Scott Dickensheets
BFFs! Best Coach
Bob Kryszczuk, Coach, Mountain Ridge Little League All-Star team
Any parent will attest that it’s hard to get 12- and 13-year olds to focus on anything, but the 14 kids on the Mountain Ridge Little League All-Star team were certainly focused: They wanted to take the Little League World Series title.
It was a big dream. No team from Nevada had ever been to the Series — that is, until August, when the Mountain Ridge team made it all the way to the championship game. Bob Kryszczuk was one of the three coaches who helped make that happen.
“It was unbelievable. So many millions of kids play ball and there are only 268 that go to the Little League World Series every year? And to be a team with 14 kids when 28 get to go to the U.S. Championship — it’s a feeling that will last a lifetime.”
Coaching is about more than crafting a practice regimen, analyzing game videos and making game plans — though the coaches did plenty of that. It’s also about managing the collective psychology and morale of a group of teens and pre-teens during the requisite road trips — totaling 38 days for the team. Good-natured pranks and joking? Lots. Homesickness? A little — for which Coach Kryszczuk always had a listening ear and encouraging hug. He believes a balance of strong playing and a healthy team mentality is what took them so far — and softened the disappointment of defeat. Even after their championship loss, the boys were playing and laughing within 45 minutes.
“If you get a team that doesn’t get along, that doesn’t gel, the friction will end up eating away at what people are able to do and then people start blaming each other,” says Kryszczuk. “If somebody dropped the ball, another one came in and said, ‘Hey, that’s all right. We’ll just move on from here.’ They didn’t hold it against anybody.” That’s the kind of teamwork few coaches can inspire. — Sage Leehey