Photo: Jeff Crider, left, interprets for Dr. Kenneth Chan during a mission trip to Estelí, Nicaragua.
Jeff Crider grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Palm Desert, Calif., but he is making an impact around the world.
He has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish as well as European studies. During his junior year of college, he lived in Madrid, Spain, where he became very fluent in Spanish and fell in love with the culture.
Jeff stayed in school to attain a double master’s degree in Spanish and Latin American studies. At the time, he was contemplating a career in the U.S. State Department because he wanted to put his education in Spanish and Latin American culture to work doing something positive and meaningful. However, because he disagreed with a lot of America’s foreign policy at the time, he thought it would be hypocritical of him to do that. So, he ventured into journalism instead.
“My mother actually wanted me to major in journalism from the beginning, and my paternal grandfather was a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and editor for the Boston Herald,” said Jeff.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I basically inherited his writing ability,” he added. “My grandfather was a much better editorial writer than I am, but I tend to write with more heart and prepare better human interest stories than he did.”
Jeff’s early writing generally consisted of penning letters to the editor blasting U.S. foreign policy in Central America back in the 1980s.
“My letters were being published not only by small town newspapers, but the Los Angeles Times, too,” said Jeff. “That made me reconsider that, perhaps, my mother was correct and that I could make a career as a writer. I joke with people that it only took me seven years to realize my mom was right and that I should have done this from the beginning.”
Gravitating to feature writing
During a break from college, Jeff took a backpacking trip with a friend to the base of Mount Everest in 1985. He wrote an article about the trip for the Monterey Herald’s Sunday magazine.
“That was my first, full-length feature story ever published in a newspaper. The feedback I got from that was enormous,” Jeff explained. “I was invited by a local Toastmasters group to give a talk. Afterward, the head of the International Studies Department at Monterey Institute of International Studies pulled me aside.
“He said, ‘Jeff, I think you’ve got real talent here with your writing,’“ Jeff explained. “It was funny because I listened to Dr. Garrett, but not my own mother. I began to believe that I could be a professional writer.”
He started looking for a job in journalism and was eventually hired by the Imperial Valley Press, which was located in southern California near the Mexican border.
“I was based in Calexico, which was right on the border. The paper hired me not so much because I could write, but because I could also speak Spanish and that’s what they needed the most,” he explained. “The neat thing about the job is they let me do whatever I wanted to do in Mexico. So, I basically became a foreign correspondent.
“I would literally go into Mexico during the day to do my interviews, and come across the U.S. border to sleep. I did that for almost four years and absolutely loved it,” said Jeff. “I had developed a network of reporters who were friends working at Mexican newspapers. They would call me whenever something big was going on and gave me tips on stories I should cover.
“I was only 25 when I started as a reporter. The other writers would mentor me and I also had some mentors working in Mexican academia as well as the Mexicali Industrial Development Commission,” said Jeff. “As a result, I could write about all sorts of topics even though I didn’t have as much background on Mexico as I did other countries.”
To help ensure his articles were accurate, Jeff would occasionally send some bigger stories to his mentors for their input, especially if it involved political analysis.
“I would ask them if I was on the right path, and to offer suggestions to make sure I didn’t sound like an idiot or appear naive about something,” Jeff explained. “They never urged me to change anything, which gave me a great deal of confidence that I was interpreting things properly.
“I was able to interview Ernesto Ruffo Appel, who was the first opposition party governor of Baja, California, Mexico” he added. “I used to go to the airport when Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari would arrive in the area. I got to do a lot of really neat things.”
In order for Jeff to grow as a journalist, he needed to move on to bigger publications with larger audiences. So, he accepted a job with The Desert Sun, a publication based in Palm Springs, Calif. It was a stint he enjoyed for three years.
From there, he went to The Press Enterprise, a daily newspaper based in Riverside, Calif. However, Jeff was based at the publication’s Temecula bureau.
“When I was at the Press Enterprise, I got to cover the RV industry as part of my business beat because there were a number of companies headquartered in Riverside and San Bernardino counties in what is commonly called the Inland Empire,” said Jeff.
“At the time, it was the largest concentration of RV manufacturing in the United States outside of Elkhart, Ind.,” he explained. “When I was hired at the Press Enterprise, my editor told me I would have some freelance opportunities within the RV industry because of this job, and he was right.”
That was good timing because the extra money certainly helped Jeff’s family, who welcomed their first child a short time after starting the job. Today, she is 29.
“That tells you how long I’ve been in this business,” said Jeff. “I figured I would only do freelancing for a little while, but it certainly helped by allowing my wife to be a stay-at-home mom. We were trying to do things the old-fashioned way. I didn’t make very much money as a newspaper reporter, so the freelancing really helped on the side.”
Jump to public relations
To make more money, Jeff eventually jumped from journalism into public relations and went to work for U.S. Filter, which was the largest manufacturer of water treatment systems for cities and industry.
“We had operations in 95 countries, employed 15,000 employees and had $3 billion in sales back in the late 1990s,” said Jeff. “I was in charge of producing and editing press releases globally. It was a fantastic job in that I was literally overseeing communications worldwide.”
That job required Jeff to work with an outside firm, Ketchum Public Relations, which became an excellent learning opportunity for him.
“The person in charge of our account actually schooled me in message development and public relations tactics,” he explained. “As a writer, I had no experience in working in public relations.”
Eventually, U.S. Filter was acquired by a firm in Paris and some of Jeff’s responsibilities were transferred overseas.
“I realized I needed to start looking for another job. The person I worked with at Ketchum ended up taking a different job at California’s largest independent PR firm,” he explained. “So, the guy who taught me how to do messaging and PR strategy later recruited me to join him at the new company where I worked as director of media relations.”
Jeff worked for that company for four years. Unfortunately, the firm had taken on too much business during the .com crisis and broke apart when many start-up firms got into financial trouble.
“That was the only time in my adult life when I had been let go from a job. It was my first real life crisis and I was in my late 30s when that happened,” said Jeff.
Forced into self-employment
Jeff was laid off on a Monday from his PR job, but three of his five clients immediately hired him to work independently for them.
“When one of the firms gave me a $60,000 retainer, I was literally forced into my own business. What I initially thought was a crisis by losing my job turned out to be a huge opportunity for me,” said Jeff. “I went from having to wear a suit, incurring a $50 weekly dry cleaning bill, and commuting an hour and a half each way every day, to working in an extra bedroom upstairs and being available for my kids.
“I remember being able to take my kids swimming every afternoon that summer. I felt like I was cheating,” he explained. “I would get up early in the morning, do my interviews on the east coast at 5 a.m. California time in order to keep up with my work.
“I was able to use all the time I used to spend commuting and spend it with my kids,” he added. “I remember telling my wife I was so sad when the kids had to go back to school because who was going to swim with me?”
Jeff said his family was living a COVID pandemic lifestyle 20 years before they were forced to do so. He became a home-based consultant and continued to freelance on the side for an RV industry publication.
“I loved it. I grew up RVing and camping with my parents. Those trips are some of the best memories I have as a child,” said Jeff.
“One of my assignments for RV Business magazine was to do a big package of articles on park model RVs, which are like tiny homes,” he explained. “Response from the industry was very, very positive. I got a call from the director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association, who asked me if I wanted to do public relations work for them, too.
“That PR assignment led to assignments with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds as well as several other state associations across the country,” said Jeff. “So, very quickly, my regular writing work for the campground and RV industries morphed into doing PR work for them as well.”
Starting a new life
Jeff’s life appeared to be chugging along quite well. He had developed quite a following in the RV industry, especially with campgrounds, and he was doing public relations consulting with cities and water agencies in California, too.
“In 2005, I wound up going through a divorce, and that was the roughest of all crises I’ve ever been through,” Jeff admitted. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but it set the stage for more opportunities than I could have imagined.
“Since I had been working from home, I was in a perfect situation to take care of my kids,” he added. “At that time, to work from home and continue being a stay-at-home dad was a situation that most men could never have. Yet, I was able to live this lifestyle.”
For economic reasons, Jeff moved his family from San Diego back to the Palm Desert area. It was there he joined a local Rotary Club at the invitation of a friend.
“It was through my involvement with Rotary Club that I met Ines and Tracy Allen, who had co-founded IMAHelps, which is a medical non-profit group committed to organizing medical missions all over Central and South America,” said Jeff.
“Initially, I started writing press releases for the organization to help recruit volunteers and raise money for their medical missions,” he added. “A friend suggested I needed to go on a mission to Ecuador to experience what it was all about.
“The organizers said they could really use me as a Spanish interpreter; however, it had been years since I had used Spanish for anything,” said Jeff. “I went on the mission and it was the most electrifying experience I had ever enjoyed.”
Jeff used his Spanish language skills to interpret for doctors and nurses, not just in routine conversations, but in medical emergencies, too.
“On my first day, I interpreted for an orthopedic surgeon by giving instructions to the ICU staff and nurses who were taking care of patients overnight,” he explained. “I was giving them specific instructions for each patient about what needed to be done.
“I had no medical background, so I had to learn medical terminology,” he added. “But, the staff were very patient with me.”
It took Jeff about four years to master all the Spanish medical terms he needed to know.
“I still don’t know it all, but I know enough to do what I need to do,” said Jeff. “I remember sitting in conferences with a dictionary on my lap as I was interpreting for doctors. It became a real passion for me.”
An eye-opening experience
One night, when the team was in a community at an elevation of 9,000 feet in the Andes Mountains, it was freezing cold in late June and early July. Jeff was interpreting for a prosthetist who was measuring children for artificial arms and legs.
“I remember being so cold that I grabbed a sheet off one of the hospital beds to use as a blanket,” said Jeff. “I was so cold my teeth were chattering like a little child. I don’t recall ever being that cold.
“Yet, at 10 p.m., there was a mother in the hospital with her little boy, who was around 6 years old. He was missing part of an arm,” Jeff explained. “He needed some other prosthetics as well. We asked the mother to take off the boy’s pants in order to measure his legs.
“We noticed the boy wasn’t wearing any underwear, nor did he have any shoes on,” he added. “I’m guessing the temperature was in the low 40s outside, and we were in a primitive cinder block hospital with no heat.”
The mother explained the boy never had any shoes, so Jeff and his team outfitted the lad with clothing and other supplies.
“I couldn’t help but think how my kids went through a lot with our divorce, but they had never been through anything like this,” said Jeff. “I remember thinking how grateful and lucky I should be because I had nothing to be angry about concerning the divorce.
“That medical mission healed me of all the trauma I went through,” he added. “I dropped the anger immediately and turned all that negative energy into positive energy.”
The missions also allowed Jeff to use his Spanish for something positive, which is why he went into journalism and rejected the idea of working for the U.S. State Department.
“I wanted to use my writing for something positive wherever I was,” he explained. “The medical mission work enabled me to do all that. I could use my writing to promote missions, solicit donations and seek volunteers. The group eventually started using me as a media spokesman.”
The mission was so life-changing that Jeff joined the organization’s board of directors and he became involved in setting up mission projects.
“I told the director that, when I retired, I saw myself doing this three or four times a year,” said Jeff. “That was in 2008, but by 2010, I had already completed four missions. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to wait until I was retired to do more medical mission work. I was going to do it now.”
In addition to helping in Latin America, Jeff and another volunteer took a trip to China. Ironically, he recruited his Mandarin interpreter, a medical doctor from China, to join the team in Nicaragua. The man enjoyed medical missions so much that he has been volunteering with IMAHelps for 13 years.
“During all these years, I’ve continued to do my freelance writing and public relations work. I spend half my time serving the RV and campground industries and the other half working for water agencies,” said Jeff. “My work also evolved into writing history books, which I really enjoy it because it involves investigative work.
“As a young reporter, I loved exposing fraud and corruption and shining the light on bad guys. Some of my articles resulted in FBI investigations and indictments by other agencies,” he added. “Now I use my investigative skills to write books and document history.”
Jeff Crider with children he met in a village he visited while biking with Lifewater International’s 2020 Ride for Clean Water Across Cambodia.
“A Vision of Hope”
Jeff wrote several books in recent years. One was for the city of Coachella, Calif., that focused on the city’s immigrant communities. That book was published in English and Spanish. He also wrote books on behalf of water agencies.
“During the pandemic, I wrote a book titled ‘A Vision of Hope,’ which documents the first 20 years of IMAHelps and the medical nonprofit agency I had been volunteering to support,” said Jeff. “I have been on the front lines of every medical mission since 2008, so I was in a great position to write a book because I was there.”
The book features quotes from patients and doctors as well as information gleaned from press releases Jeff wrote about the missions.
“I wrote my first book at age 51 and completed a total of nine books in the following 10 years,” said Jeff. “I’m doing things I love to do. One of our surgeons said, ‘If you love what you do, then it’s not work.’ That’s absolutely true.”
In addition to writing books, Jeff climbed Kilimanjaro at age 53 with his son, Max, to raise money for Lifewater International. He also ran the Los Angeles Marathon at age 54. When he was 58, Jeff bicycled 200 miles across southern Cambodia for Lifewater International to raise money for water, sanitation and hygiene projects in impoverished communities.
“We did that just as the COVID pandemic was breaking out. We were lucky to get back home,” he explained.
“Every crisis I have been through, when it seemed like the world was coming to an end, was actually a new beginning,” he added. “What seemed like a setback was really setting me up for something better, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
“Over the years, I learned to be patient with others when they don’t call me back or respond to an email right away,” said Jeff. “I figure there is probably a reason for it and something better usually comes along.”
Connecting with nature
When Jeff went through his divorce, it was personally devastating for him.
“I considered myself a failure and thought I had failed my kids, my former spouse and even myself,” Jeff explained. “In reality, there was nothing I could have done to prevent that situation from taking place.”
When he was consumed by the trauma of the divorce, Jeff’s mother came to visit and brought a few nature photos he had taken to display on his walls.
“It was so therapeutic because I love nature photography,” he explained. “You can be so consumed by the fire you’re going through at the moment that you can forget about things you love.
“A therapist encouraged me to take a hike, which I love to do,” he added. “Some time after the divorce, I took a hike in the mountains with a friend and remember feeling so good.
“It was a very healthy thing to do, too,” said Jeff. “When I went through that storm, I avoided drinking alcohol, except for a little with a meal on occasion. I also didn’t ask for medications of any kind because I wanted to remain alert and functioning.
“You need to focus on your core self and the essence of what makes you unique,” he added. “Do more of the things you most like to do. For me, that was hiking and photography.”
Jeff especially enjoys hearing bird sounds in nature and, one of these days, he plans to join the Audubon Society to go on walks to be able to identify various birdcalls.
“I know what a blue jay sounds like, as well as a crow and bald eagle. Beyond that, I’m hard pressed to tell anyone what the call is,” he explained. “All the sounds of nature are therapeutic, from listening to crickets, to hearing the wind and leaves.
“Just walking along a beach or on a desert trail is so peaceful and serene,” said Jeff. “We have so many things at our disposal that don’t cost us anything to enjoy. It is a real gift.”
Being in nature is good for the mind as well as the soul. Stress melts, but it promotes creative thinking, too.
“When you are outside, even just walking, your mind keeps working. You’ll get ideas that will inspire you, help you figure the way out of a storm or determine the next steps to take,” said Jeff.
“Every crisis has a beginning, a middle and an end. When you are going through it, you think it is going to last forever, and the ugliness you experienced on the worst days will be the defining experience of your life,” he explained. “But, that’s not true. You get to the point where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“The miraculous thing about my life now is that I am grateful for all those setbacks,” he added. “I know if I had stayed married, I would not have had all the incredible experiences I have enjoyed these past 16 years. Nor would I have been able to take my kids on the medical missions.
“My daughter, who is 29 today, went to Nicaragua with me on a medical mission and we later traveled to Costa Rica,” said Jeff. “We enjoyed the most incredible father-daughter time I’ve ever had with her. My son has been on three medical missions to Paraguay and two to El Salvador. He even accompanied me to Brazil for the Rotary International Convention in 2015.”
Supportive friends and family members are invaluable resources during a crisis to help people walk out of it and see the problem as a temporary setback, Jeff noted.
Volunteering with purpose
Many people over 50 who find themselves in a funk or going through a setback often withdraw into themselves. Life becomes little more than watching television and doomscrolling through new stories and social media.
To prevent that from happening, Jeff said it is essential that people change their focus toward something more positive. He found that in volunteer work.
“I never imagined I would find purpose in medical mission work. In fact, I didn’t even know that was a possibility for me,” Jeff explained.
After college, he briefly considered joining Amnesty International because he was drawn to what they were doing.
“But, I didn’t want to go someplace and be arrested,” he said. “What good would it have accomplished to go through grad school and get all that education, only to go to a protest in a foreign country and get locked up?” he asked.
Jeff also considered getting involved with the Peace Corps because several friends were committed to that. He even sent for an application.
“When I visited the base of Mount Everest, I got so sick on that hike that it scared me enough to dissuade me from joining the Peace Corps,” he explained. “I think I came down with E. coli or something like that from bad sanitary conditions. But, it made me realize what happens in the third world. What would I do if I went to Africa or some other place with the Peace Corps only to get sick and possibly die?”
Jeff has since talked to several Peace Corps directors and learned more about those opportunities. He may consider doing one of those missions at some point, but it would be closer to his 70th birthday.
“As you get older, you get less afraid of certain things happening because you’ve already been beaten up and survived,” he explained. “You realize that none of us get through life unscathed.
“We are all going to get hit with a challenge of some sort or even multiple challenges. We have to figure out how to dust ourselves off and keep going,” said Jeff. “The trick is to do what you love and feel good about doing it.
“When you give your best to help the least fortunate people in the world, you feel good about yourself,” he added. “You find your life has purpose as you challenge yourself and stimulate your mind at the same time.”
There are many ways people can get involved in the same type of medical missions Jeff has come to love. More information is available at imahelps.org. The organization really needs any type of trained medical professionals, whether a doctor, nurse, dentist, surgeon or even an emergency medical technician.
“Sometimes we will take extra interpreters with us, and we can always use people to help write grants,” said Jeff. “We need people who are good at fundraising who can write letters and make phone calls. There is a lot to be done here in the United States that doesn’t require traveling to Timbuktu to volunteer.
“For more than 23 years, IMA Helps has been going on these medical missions with no paid staff. We are all volunteers, which is something unusual about us,” he added. “But helping others just makes you feel good.
“Going on a medical mission is like doing 1,000 good deeds because we will see thousands of patients,” said Jeff. “It’s very uplifting and really helps take your mind off all the negativity in the world right now.
“If you are busy focusing on positive things, you don’t have time to focus so much on negative things,” he explained. “If you are navigating a crisis, even a midlife crisis, it’s important for you to set an example for your kids and others who are watching you. You set the example by taking care of yourself.”
Jeff has been approached by many people who were inspired by what he was doing, and that led to those folks making changes in their own lives.
“We all need inspiration,” he explained. “It’s nice to hear compliments and listen to people commending you for what you are doing.”
Jeff said he can’t see himself ever really retiring. There is always something he can do to remain active and contribute to help others.
In 2024, Jeff is planning to visit Patagonia to do some hiking with a friend and several medical mission volunteers. After that, he wants to go to Alaska.
“I have always wanted to get up to the Arctic Circle. I discovered a really remote lodge in Alaska that you can only get to if you fly there because there aren’t any roads,” he explained. “I love to travel to exotic places and I’d love to go back to Italy to enjoy the food and wine.
“I like to enjoy the scenery and not rush through to see every museum,” he added. “I enjoy soaking in the different cultures and the beauty of those places.”
Jeff also has a 4-year-old grandson with whom he wants to spend a lot of time. In fact, Jeff hopes he, his son and grandson will climb Kilimanjaro together someday.
“The last time I climbed that mountain, the oldest person on the hike was a woman named Shirley. She was 74 and beat us all to the top,” said Jeff.
Although he is in his 60s, Jeff still puts in 50 to 60 hours a week with his public relations consulting and freelance writing business. He does not feel threatened by advances artificial intelligence is making in creating content.
“I’ve used AI in the past, but it misses nuances and there are clear errors in information it provides,” said Jeff. “There is not much original thinking. It is mostly information cut from the internet and pasted into a chat thread. The creativity aspect is certainly lost.
“It frustrates me when I see more technology being dedicated to putting people out of work,” he added. “There is dignity to being employed, no matter what you do.”
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.