Good News Blog

Community

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008

One man’s dream keeps building and growing over time

Yes, one man can make a diference.

In what began in 1992 as one man’s dream and a heartfelt gesture, Worcester Wreath Co. initiated the Arlington National Cemetery project – donating more than 5,000 wreaths each year to adorn the headstones of our fallen veterans.

It begins with a hand-made wreath, but Worcester Wreath President Morrill Worcester is quick to remind everyone who will listen, that “it takes a lot of hands and a lot of hearts to make this happen each year.” “It is our way of giving something back,,” he said, “because without the sacrifices of our Veterans, and their families, we wouldn’t be in a position to do any of this.

The Arlington Project and Wreaths Across America is about the spirit of appreciation for what we have, and a determination to give something back.”

The Wreaths Across America story began over 16 years ago when Worcester Wreath Co. (a commercial business from Harrington, Maine) began a tradition of placing wreaths on the headstones of our nation’s fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.

Worcester Wreath and its involvement with the Arlington project was actually born in the heart of a 12 year-old boy. When as a Bangor Daily News paper boy, Morrill Worcester won a trip to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. It was a trip he would never forget. Arlington National Cemetery made an indelible impression. In later life, he recognized that his success as a businessman was in large part, because of the values of this nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

In 1992, the wreath company found itself with an excess of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Seeing an opportunity to make a boyhood dream a reality, efforts to do something special with those wreaths began in earnest. With the help of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery, a section which received fewer visitors with each passing year.

With plans underway, a number of other participants began their support for the project. James Prout, owner of Blue Bird Ranch, Inc. generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with signature red, hand-tied bows. Member of the Maine State Society of Washington, DC and John Metzler Jr. Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery worked to organize the wreath-laying, including the incorporation of a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Now 16 years and more than 70,000 wreaths later, the original group has been joined by many others who participate in the project each year. After learning of the annual trek to Arlington to honor the nation’s fallen heroes, Larry Ross, an elementary school teacher from Canaan, Maine, has taken several groups ofhis students to help with the wreath-laying.

The Maine Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, under the guidance and leadership of Majs. Wayne Merritt and Dennis Murray, also participated in the annual event during the past several years. Each student group conducts fundraising events throughout the year to make the trip.

During the past 16 years, Worcester Wreath has donated 75,000 wreaths that were placed by volunteers in a wreath-laying ceremony each December. This year, Worcester Wreath Co. did even more to show its respect and appreciation for those who serve, by doing the following:

• Doubling its annual donation to 10,000 wreaths destined for Arlington National Cemetery.

• In addition to the Arlington Wreath Project, Worcester Wreath donated 2,500 wreaths to the Maine Veterans Cemetery at Togus, and more than 1,800 ceremonial wreaths, representing all branches of the armed forces, were sent to more than 200 other state and national veterans cemeteries across the country.

• For the first time in 2007, ceremonial wreaths were also donated to 24 veterans cemeteries on foreign soil, and aboard U.S. ships sailing in all seven seas.

• All wreath-laying ceremonies were held concurrently on Saturday, Dec. 15 at 11 a.m. CST.

• And lastly, 51 wreaths were donated for a special wreath-laying ceremony at each state Capitol and a 36-inch ceremonial wreath for our nation’s capital on Monday, Dec. 10.

Worcester Wreath Co. is by far the largest donor to the Wreaths Across America project. It is a vision that we, as a nation, will one day honor every veterans’ memory for the holidays, as a way to show gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifices made to preserve our freedoms.

Note: the editor is not a US citizen or inhabitant but remains grateful for the liberation by allied forces

Friday, Dec. 14, 2007

Making a difference one wreath at a time

In a stressful world at a stressful time of year, it’s nice to see something that is so positive that it just makes everyone feel good about it.

We had an example of that this week when the Wreaths Across America motorcade made its way through Maine toward Arlington National Cemetery. That program was started in 1992 by the Worcester family from Washington County to honor veterans by making wreaths at Christmas time and putting them on their graves. It was a small way to say thank you for the great sacrifice so many have made for us in the wars we’ve had to fight. From its beginnings in Washington County, the program has grown into its own organization and attracted the support of wreath-makers throughout the United States.

On the way to Arlington National on Monday, the police escorted motorcade stopped at Wells Junior High School, one of several they made during the trip. The junior high turned out in force and gave a reception to the wreath makers and veterans in attendance that made the school and the town proud.

You couldn’t help but be uplifted by seeing the enthusiastic way the kids greeted the veterans or the pride the veterans showed in this acknowledgment.

It showed how one small act done 15 years ago can cause an avalanche of positive repercussions.

Congratulations to the Worcesters, the junior high students and staff, and all the wreath makers out there.

And to the veterans past and present, our most profound thank you.

Monday, Nov. 12, 2007

A guardian angel for the elderly

For the homebound and elderly, YANA is a guardian angel.

YANA stands for You Are Never Alone, a program established about a year and a half ago in Spring Valley Lake. It has since expanded to other cities of the High Desert for some time.

Volunteers work under direction of Citizens On Patrol, or COPs, and call the elderly or shut-ins at a specified time each day to make wellness checks — making sure the person called is alert and well.

If there is no answer or the client doesn’t sound right, a COP volunteer, who has been trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is sent.

When the COP volunteer arrives, the sheriff’s station will be notified if there is a problem and an ambulance can be dispatched.

Recently, Hank McGill, the COP commander at Spring Valley Lake, made a call on Reba who had insisted she was OK when a volunteer called.

Reba said she had fallen while filling a bird feeder in her backyard but said she was fine even though she had to crawl to the telephone.

When McGill arrived at her home, Reba was in a lot of pain and badly bruised. McGill notified the sheriff’s station and an ambulance was dispatched.

“She was in the hospital for several days,” said McGill. “In spite of having a neighbor next door, who checked on her often, and a sister across the street who did the same, it was YANA that got her the help and care she needed,” McGill said.

The elderly may sign up for this free service by contacting their local sheriff’s office. These well-check calls are made by volunteers, who are not necessarily COPs.

The same person makes the calls each day so the client called gets to know the volunteer and expects the call of a “friend.”

Monday, Oct. 29, 2007

Neighbor credited with fire rescue

A West Side man helped save his downstairs neighbor from a fire in their duplex late Sunday and vainly tried to put out the blaze on his own before calling the Buffalo Fire Department, according to fire officials.

The fire in a 2-story wood frame house, was reported at 8 p.m. Sunday.

The blaze started in the couch of the lower apartment, said Division Chief George Coates.

The upstairs tenant, after noticing the intense fire, went downstairs and managed to get into the lower apartment and helped get his neighbor safely out of the house, Coates said.

The upstairs tenant then tried to put out the fire on his own … apparently using a garden hose … before giving up and calling 911, the division chief said.

No injuries were reported. Damage is estimated at $40,000 to the structure and $10,000 to the contents. An investigation into the cause is continuing.

Monday, Sep. 24, 2007

Philanthropist buys building for needy children’s group

A New Hampshire businessman and philanthropist has stepped in and provided a home for a charity that provides food, clothing and holiday gifts to needy families.

Robert Finlay learned last year that the Friends of Forgotten Children was being evicted and would have to close. He contacted the group’s lawyer and set in motion plans to buy the charity a building.

On Saturday, the Friends held an open house at its new facility, a former daycare center on Bog Road.

Sponsored by Southern New Hampshire University, Finlay’s alma mater, the event featured children’s games, a magician, a city fire truck, music and plenty of food.

Finlay joked about cutting short his speech during a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony: “There’s a bouncy castle with my name on it waiting.”

The charity is run by volunteers and depends on donations from local residents and merchants.

“When you give money, you want to make sure it goes to the cause,” Finlay said. “Here, you can see where the dollars go.”

After a successful stint on Wall Street, Finlay now runs his own private investment company, Hillcrest Management LLC. He is a trustee and supporter of SNHU, which was called New Hampshire College when Finlay graduated in 1992 with a degree in economics and finance.

Finlay, 37, and his wife, Karin, live in Peterborough with their four children and run their own philanthropic foundation. Among the many charities they support are the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Peterborough Fire and Rescue Squad.

Friends of Forgotten Children was started 30 years ago by Eleanor Still out of her Concord home. She died in 2004 and the Concord Moose lodge let the Friends operate out of their building, until the international organization decided its bylaws prohibited that.

“We were going to have to close up,” said Alice Blodgett, the group’s president.

Then came Finlay’s offer.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” Blodgett said.

“He was an angel on wings who came and saved us,” volunteer Pat Kraft said.

Monday, Aug. 27, 2007

Tramp becomes facebook hero

You imagine celebrities to be living in the biggest houses with the fanciest cars and the latest clothes but in Bournemouth, the local star lives on the street, has no possessions except a dirty old coat and is a tramp.

Gordon Roberts, 78 known locally as Gordon the Tramp has become a local hero because of his amazing time-telling skills.

Despite not owning a watch, Gordon is always able to accurately predict the time. This talent has earned him his own catchphrase, “What’s the time Gordon?”

His popularity has rocketed since university student, Chris Kimber, 24 set up a Facebook page to pay homage to him.

The description reads: “Gordon the Tramp, possibly the most famous person in all of Bournemouth. “This is a fan club for Gordon, share with us your memories of him, and stories alike.”

In just over two months over 5000 members from all over the world including Canada, Australia and Qatar have joined up.

Site creator Chris said: “I thought it would be a bit of fun to set up a Facebook group for my friends.

“But within a week or so I was getting 100 people signing up a day and then it rose to 200 a day.

“I couldn’t believe how many people knew him.

“There are even people from Australia and America who have joined – they have never even met him.

“I never expected it to get this big, it’s incredible.”

Fans have uploaded dozens of photographs of them posing with Gordon and have posted more than 500 comments with their stories of the eccentric tramp.

James Horton, from Plymouth, said: “He should run for mayor of Bournemouth. I would vote.”

Kiran Morjaria, from Portsmouth said: ” To this day I can still seriously not work out how he knows the time whenever you ask him and there isn’t a clock nearby…..the man doesn’t even own a watch!”

And Tim Stewart said: “Gordon…what a time-telling legend.”

Gordon, who has lived in Bournemouth for 20 years is even helping boost the tourist industry in the seaside town with people from London, Nottingham and Ireland all travelling down to meet the town’s most famous resident.

Curtis Allen, 19 who lives in Bournemouth said: “He is a local star, everyone knows Gordon.

“He just wanders around the town and when people ask him the time, he tells them it and it’s always spot on. It’s strange because he just looks at his arm where a watch should be and just knows the time. No one can figure out how he does it.”

But the new stardom has not affected Gordon. He is overwhelmed by the support he has received on facebook despite not owning a computer to see it first hand.

When asked about his new found fame, Gordon said: “I heard about it, but I don’t know much about it.

“I tell the time but sometimes I get it wrong.”

He also told Facebook page creator, Chris Kimber that he was “well chuffed” and sends everyone on the site his best wishes.

Friday, Aug. 17, 2007

Charity helps kids lose the training wheels

Easter Seals is helping children lose their training wheels.

Thirty five local children with disabilities are taking part in a bike riding workshop this week. The kids use a series of specially adapted bikes that help them develop balance and coordination.

Delaware Elementary School teacher, Mary Anne Feller, is bringing one of her students with cerebral palsy to the workshop. She’s says she’s thankful for organizations like Easter Seals, “In many cases, the opportunity is not there, unless it is provided through community support, and that’s where Easter Seals come in. This is just a really good opportunity for him, and I’m glad that he gets to do that.”

Participants also get a new bike helmet and T-shirt.

Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007

Angels help couple after van stalls

We were pulling out of the Freedom gas station at the foot of Creve Coeur Hill when we heard a loud noise coming from our van.

We pulled into the turn lane. The van decided to start again, so we began pulling into the gas station again. As we did, the van stopped right in the middle of the lane of traffic. We got out and told drivers coming toward us that it wouldn’t start and to go around us. It just happened to be the very busiest time of day and many cars had to stop and take their turn to go around us.

Then, four of God’s angels came to our rescue. One young man was named Cody. One young lady was named Chrissy, I think, who was with the young man. They went out and began to push the van toward the station. Then, a third angel, a young man in a white car, stopped as well. A little later, another angel stopped and asked if she could please take us into East Peoria, if we needed a ride. We told her we had called a tow truck and that our daughter would let us use her car, as she worked at the station.

The four of you will never know how very much we appreciated all you did that day to help us. Being in our 70s, I am afraid our pushing a van days are behind us. We could not stop praising all of you to our daughter and our other family members when we got home. We also asked our Lord to especially bless each one of you for your kindness to us. Please accept our gratitude and know we will pass along your kindness in a way we can do so. You and your families have every right to be proud!

Thank you so much!

M & D

East Peoria

Tuesday, Jul. 10, 2007

Community leader hailed a hero

A COMMUNITY leader has been hailed a hero after his quick thinking helped save his neighbour.

Former Nunnery Lane Residents Association chairman Keith Chapman realised his frail 82-year-old neighbour had suffered a bad fall at her home after seeing her lying on the floor through a window.

But the campaigning 60-year-old wants the episode to be used to highlight the importance of the council’s warden call system for old people living alone.

On this occasion, Mr Chapman called for paramedics and the wardens of the sheltered housing in Gascoigne Walk.

The paramedics arrived within ten minutes but because it was 5pm, and the wardens were coming from Clifton, it took half an hour for them to arrive with a spare key to open the door of the house in Nunnery Lane.

The 82-year-old widow, who did not want to be named, was taken to York Hospital suffering from two black eyes and a broken nose after she fell against a table and was left lying unconscious on the floor.

The incident happened last Thursday at around 5pm and the injured widow spent a day in hospital afterwards, recovering from her injuries. She is still very badly bruised.

She said: “I’m really thankful to Keith, if he hadn’t come along I could have been laid there all night. He’s a great help to a lot of people who live around here and a good neighbour to have.”

Now Mr Chapman says he’d like to see the wardens being allowed to use flashing green lights similar to the ones doctors use in their cars in an emergency, to help cut through the traffic when necessary.

Mr Chapman, of Custance Walk, said: “In this case the lady was wearing her pendant button but could not call the warden because she was knocked unconscious.

“It goes to show though how valuable warden call is to older people and that we should fight tooth and nail if the council ever tries to take it away.

“Here the ambulance crew were reluctant to break down the door unless it was absolutely necessary and had to wait for the key to come half way across the city.

“I’d like to see the wardens given green lights for use in such emergencies so they don’t have to sit in traffic queues.”

A City of York Council spokesperson said: “We are very proud of the out-of-hours service that we provide and thank Mr Chapman for his comments.

“It is not classed as an emergency service so we have to negotiate the traffic and abide by the same rules as any other motorists, although we do, of course, try to respond as quickly as possible.”

Monday, Jul. 2, 2007

Work with kids makes cop a hero

Paul Deppi started helping kids with an eye toward becoming a cop.

More than 15 years ago, when Deppi told Newtown Township police Chief Martin Duffy he wanted to become a police officer, he was advised to get involved with the community first.

In the 14 years since he declared his career choice, Deppi’s community has been some 350-plus kids in the Lower Bucks Lacrosse League. And the Newtown Township resident is a cop in his hometown, on the beat since 1998.

For his “extraordinary work and influence in the lives” of his players, Deppi, 35, was one of 13 hailed as “Real Heroes” by the Lower Bucks chapter of the American Red Cross at a breakfast last week.

Deppi, a coach and former president of the lacrosse league, said he took Duffy’s advice and combined it with something he knew — lacrosse. But, according to Deppi, the sport shouldn’t be at the top of the players’ list.

“I tell them there’s three things that come before lacrosse: family, faith and education,” Deppi said.

And it’s not just talk. Deppi tells his kids to pick attending family birthdays and funerals over practice or games if there’s a conflict. And Deppi, a Lutheran, encourages his players to attend CCD, Bible or Hebrew classes, depending upon their faith. He said he’s been to several of his players’ bar mitzvahs, including an Orthodox celebration that featured a lacrosse theme.

And if one of his kids is having trouble in school, the player might find himself doing homework during practice. Deppi said he’s even sat down on the tailgate of his pickup after practice to talk to the kids about school or family problems.

“It’s what my parents taught me: family, faith and school,” Deppi said. “I want my players to be good, gentlemen, scholar athletes. If they leave and never play lacrosse again, that’s fine. I just want them to be a better person [for having participated].”

He said when his parents learned he planned to coach, they advised him to take the best of the coaches he liked and avoid the worst of the coaches he didn’t like.

Deppi said all his players participate in games and he uses lacrosse to provide them with life lessons, about self respect, self discipline and self motivation.

His first contact with a majority of the kids is with lacrosse, he said. But it’s not always the case.

About six summers ago, Deppi said, he got involved in the case of a sixth-grader who’d sent a derogatory e-mail to a classmate. The boy had just moved into the area, didn’t have a father figure, had no friends and Deppi said he needed guidance more than punishment. The boy went before the local Youth Aid Panel and was given community service work. But Deppi also directed him to meet up with some of his other lacrosse players and make friends when school started. Deppi also helped the Youth Aid Panel buy the kid lacrosse equipment and sign up for the Lower Bucks league.

In a few months that kid will be headed to college, Deppi said.

He said he just loves working with kids, teaching a game he loves. On a permanent midnight cop shift, Deppi said sometimes he gets home from work in the morning and can’t wait to get on the cleats, grab a clipboard and coach.

Friday, Jun. 29, 2007

Ministry provides food for the body and soul

Every community wants something to benefit its citizens help them grow. That is just what Angel Food Ministries at First Baptist Church of Trumann is doing.

Angel Food Ministries has existed for about 11 years. The ministry started with a husband and wife team in Good Hope, Ga. The couple just wanted to create a type of supplement grocery program to help families. Since that time, it has become nationwide. Trumann’s First Baptist Church has been doing this program since December of last year.

“The only requirement you must have is that you eat,” said Peggy Rathbun, one of the coordinators of the ministry in Trumann. “You eat, you qualify!”

Rathbun said the program is non-denominational and everyone is welcome to participate. Things such as income and number of children are not considered. Participants are not required to attend a church to join either.

The program is simple. Participants order a box of food for $25. Each box is filled with a variety of foods valued at $50 – $75. All orders are pre-paid.

“You are not locked in,” Rathbun said. “You can come in and order every month or just do it ever so often.”

A sample menu includes one package of chicken nuggets, four eight-ounce hamburger steaks, four six-ounce pork chops, one and half pound of thick bacon, one dozen eggs, two pound bag of frozen French fries, five bagels, two pound bag of onions, four apples, five bananas and one gourmet pie.

In addition to help families save on grocery costs, participants are also able to bless others. For every 50 boxes of food the ministry sells, one box of foods is given away free to someone in need. This is what they call a “Blessing Box.” The volunteers ask different churches to see what families are in need at that time, and the families in need receive a “Blessing Box.”

Because the ministry utilizes volunteers, Trumann First Baptist is always looking for more people to join the 30 volunteers already in place. Volunteers go to Jonesboro pick up food and then help sort it out to the families.

“All volunteers are welcomed,” Rathbun said. “You do not have to be a member of the church or of the Trumann community.”

Since it began, Angel Food Ministries ahs reached over one million families nationwide. Now, it is reaching residents of Trumann and Poinsett County who will benefit from the program in great ways.

“We are just hoping to bless the county and allow them to see God working through us,” said Rathbun.

Field of Dreams

Karen Pusey’s vision for a field of dreams will finally become a reality this weekend when she and others break ground on a new baseball field specially designed for children with physical handicaps.

Through a partnership with Chesterfield Youth Softball Association (CYSA), Chesterfield County Department of Parks and Recreation, the Richmond Braves, dozens of local business and hundreds of contributors, the Miracle League field has been fast-tracked with a fall completion date.

Construction on the cushioned, synthetic turf, water-permeable field with painted lines and bases will begin at the end of May. Pusey and Gregory Curtis, CYSA president and now Miracle League president, are optimistic handicapped youngsters will play “fall ball” on the new field in September.

Currently, standard grass and clay Little League fields with raised bases are available for children with special needs through the Challenger League program. However, standard fields are not suitable for wheelchairs, walkers or crutches, and wet conditions make them virtually unusable for handicapped youngsters. The new Miracle League field will eliminate those barriers.

The national Miracle League Association provided the basic design for the field, but funds had to be raised – a responsibility Pusey took on herself. Starting with the Miracle Live Auction and Gala last February, the Miracle League’s funds have grown to $160,000.

The original cost estimate for the field of $300,000 has now been revised downward to $209,000. In order to get the project up and running to have the needs of this special group of children served as quickly as possible, some amenities have been delayed. Permanent restroom facilities and brickwork around both the dugouts and score board were put on hold.

“We cut some things back in order to get it up and going. We’ll add those other things later,” Pusey said.

There are more than 7,000 special needs kids in Chesterfield County who could enjoy and benefit from the Miracle League field, and businesses and civic groups as well as private citizens have recognized and responded to that need.

With Chesterfield’s parks and recreation department on board as a co-sponsor, the Miracle League will be included in the department’s course catalogues and other marketing efforts.

Thanks to neighbors and other good teens

In our current environment, when we read weekly about underage drinking and illegal drug usage, it is rare to read about unheralded good deeds of everyday, neighborhood teenagers.

This letter is to recognize two such teenagers: Peter Schiller and EJ Schiller, teenage sons of Gene and Maureen Schiller of Bloomington.

The Schillers found out that I had fallen and broken my shoulder and foot, and that my husband had gone out of town. On the freezing Saturday afternoon before Easter, I looked out my window to see these boys mowing our lawn!

Instead of watching games on TV, listening to music or being with friends, they, instead, were out mowing their neighbor’s yard!

There are some great teenagers out there – and parents! Thank you to EJ and Peter, and all the other good kids who are daily performing good deeds – under the radar!

Joan Styczynski

Wednesday, Jun. 27, 2007

Efforts in classroom honored

Education is a demanding profession made even more difficult by new state testing standards. But some Columbia High School teachers say it is all worth it.

Five teachers at the school received awards from various community groups last week. As a group they insisted they are nothing special. They believe success in their profession is more than just pushing students to get high grades and looking to get awards for themselves.

“We get to see the kids grow right in front of us year to year,” said Tara Maney. “For us that is such a high. That’s our real satisfaction, an incredible satisfaction.”

Maney teaches special education and was recognized by the YMCA in part for her work with students doing memorial tributes to Nick Pablo. Pablo was a Goff Middle School student when he was hit and killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bike in August 2001 in Clinton County. He would have graduated from Columbia High School this year.

“Kids naturally want to help other people, and all you have to do is open the doors for them,” Maney said.

Peter Zilgme teaches social studies. He was recognized by the district’s teachers union for leadership and motivating the most resistant kids.

“You come in here and perform the best you can and help the difficult kids, but then you realize the energy to make everything work comes from them,” Zilgme said. “There are no bad kids, just unacceptable behaviors. Kids are no different today than they have always been. The distractions are just different.”

The teachers, who gathered at the school for a chat one recent day, said teaching has been made more difficult by new state testing mandates they believe have taken the wonder out of school and made it more about passing tests.

“It has made the job more difficult than it has ever been,” said Tom Amello who has been teaching English at the suburban school of about 1,600 students for 27 years. He received the Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno Award for Excellence.

“They don’t have time to just be a kid anymore,” Zilgme said.

“It’s like setting up a rule that kids all have to learn to tie their shoes by the end of age 2,” Amello said. “You just end up with more Velcro.’

Gregg Weinlein, who teaches English and heads up the school’s Columbia Alternative Program for at-risk kids, said he learned a life lesson from his first job.

“When I first started, I went to a conference and a grandmotherly teacher told the attendees something that I will always remember, ‘Just maintain them through adolescence,’ ” said Weinlein, a 27-year veteran who won the New York State English Council Educator of Excellence Award. “The school system is the last sanctuary. In many ways we are the most stable thing a lot of these kids have growing up.”

The educators said their greatest satisfaction is bumping into former students years later.

“I was walking in the community the other day and saw this guy glaring at me and realized he was a former student who had a lot of problems and was a substance abuser,” Weinlein said. “But he came right up and said ‘Hi,’ and said, ‘Mr. Weinlein it’s been really hard.’ But he was really telling me in his own way that he had made it.”

Also honored was Tracy Farrell, a business teacher who was named Educator of the Year by the Rotary Club of Renssalear County.

Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2007

Ohio Teacher Named 2007 National Big Sister of the Year

Crystal Rivera, 26, a special needs teacher from Lorain, Ohio (near Cleveland), has been named 2007 National Big Sister of the Year, the top volunteer honor that the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) organization confers.

The youngest of seven children, Rivera has been matched for three years with Ariana Melendez, 13, the third youngest in a family of eight children.

“Ariana has made great strides since we met,” said Rivera. “When we were first matched three years ago, Ariana was getting into a lot of fights at school. Since our first couple of months together, she has not been in a fight with her peers. In addition, her grades have improved tremendously from D’s and F’s to honor roll and merit roll,” said Rivera.

These changes came even though Rivera and Ariana’s match has two inherent obstacles. Although Rivera is Hispanic, she was born in the United States and speaks very little Spanish. Ariana’s mom speaks Spanish and very little English, so Ariana is the translator. In addition, Ariana’s family has no phone so the simple pleasure of calling to set up a spontaneous meeting is not possible. Not showing up or not being there is out of the question because there’s no easy way to communicate. So, the duo has worked out a system whereby every Saturday at 2 p.m. Rivera arrives at Ariana’s house. And in three years of their relationship, the system has never failed.

“All of our volunteers are like stars that shine brightly in the night but, as we all know, some stars shine more brightly than others,” said Giovana Cruz, the match support person at BBBS of Lorain County who nominated Rivera for the award.

Ariana’s mom approached Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County several years ago because she wanted her children to have the extra one-on-one attention she knew she couldn’t provide due to the size of her family. Ariana was also acting out at school at the time and Mrs. Melendez thought a Big Sister could be a good influence. Rivera says that she and Ariana spend a lot of time with her family. “We are able to do things that most sisters do like shopping, dinner, movies and simply having fun,” said Rivera. “She has not only become close with me, but also with many other members of my family, including my baby.” Rivera’s son, Julian, is ten-months old.

“Also,” said Rivera, “two of my sisters and my brother-in-law have recently become Bigs because they saw the wonderful relationship that Ariana and I have. They have seen first-hand how being a Big Sister helped Ariana and me become better people.

“I wanted to become a Big Sister because I was looking for a way to help out my community,” continued Rivera. “In my search, I found out about the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. It seemed like becoming a Big Sister was the best choice for me since I really love working with children. Also, being an educator, I know how much the children of Lorain need a positive role model in their lives,” Rivera explained.

Monday, Jun. 18, 2007

Church makes prayer bears for needy children

For a church that’s involved in mission work, it seemed a natural extension for its Vacation Bible School to carry the same philosophy.

That’s why the children of the Vacation Bible School operated by St. Peter’s Church in Uniontown recently made Prayer Bears – cute, cuddly and colorful stuffed animals just waiting to be loved by a child. With the help of volunteers, the church plans to make about 1,100 Prayer Bears by the time the project is completed.

“It’s a really nice thing to do because it helps kids learn about God and how good he is to us,” said Rachel Dileo, 11.

Debra Rhodes, director, said the Vacation Bible School has done mission projects since starting in 1999, but last year, they began doing projects on a big scale.

“Usually every child made one item or a group made an item. But last year, we made Friendship Blankets,” Rhodes said, later showing off a couple of these no-sew, fleece blankets that say “Jesus Loves Me.”

“It started with my VBS crew saying we can make more than the 13 we’re supposed to. We had the idea of doing 450 but we went to the congregation and the community for donations,” Rhodes said. “The congregation and community gave us support.”

So between the Vacation Bible School youths, volunteers and the congregation, St. Peter’s Church produced 450 Friendship Blankets in 2006. Rhodes is proud of this accomplishment coming “from a church the size of ours. Our attendance between two services is between 90 and 100. We usually have six to eight kids in Sunday school but our Vacation Bible School enrollment is 87. We have 65 today but we’ll have more towards the end of the week.”

Rhodes spoke Wednesday during the recent Vacation Bible School called “Avalanche Ranch: A Wild Ride Through God’s Word” on the night the youths were making the Prayer Bears.

Each child was to make one to keep and one to give to another child. They worked diligently in the basement in a section decorated to look like a general store in a Western town. Their table was covered with a black-and-white Holstein-looking tablecloth. The children stood around the table as they worked with green and purple fabrics that said “Jesus” cut into bear shapes. They filled them with stuffing and placed a heart-shaped paper in a pocket on the tummy with a special note. They place the bears in a barrel when finished.

Over the summer, children and other volunteers will make the remaining bears.

Last year’s Friendship Blankets were distributed to local children through Fayette County Children and Youth Services and Domestic Violence Services of Fayette County. Others were sent to a missionary in Honduras and the remaining went to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“We learned that a third of the kids in Central Elementary School in New Orleans are still homeless,” said Rhodes. “We were so glad they were able to make use of our blankets.”

This year’s Prayer Bears also will be distributed to local children and also sent to the missionary in Honduras who works with a hospital that has a cancer ward for children. Rhodes said the missionary would like to start his own Vacation Bible School and is excited about the possibility of the children creating their own Prayer Bears – one to keep and one to give away. St. Peter’s is working to send a mission team there next year to teach them to do their own Vacation Bible School.

Rhodes said St. Peter’s is able to make 1,100 of these Prayer Bears after receiving donations to help offset the cost from members of the congregation as well as businesses, such as Wal-Mart, which donated most of the stuffing.

More than 70 volunteers have been involved in this project with work beginning in March. Thirty-six volunteers have been on site at VBS with one couple came from to spend the week. Additional volunteers will help to complete the Prayer Bears.

Why tackle mission projects during Vacation Bible School? Rhodes said the church believes it’s important for the children to learn about giving of themselves.

“A lot of times, children will run to the store and get something or give mom and dad’s money, but it’s not something of themselves. We wanted to teach an attitude of servanthood,” she said.

The children seemed to have fun while learning this lesson.

“I think it’s good that they have a bear and it tells them about Jesus,” said Micah Sickles, 14. “If you’re in a bad mood, you can hug it and it makes you feel better.”

“I like that it’s going to go to needy people,” said Katryna Rhodes, 9, daughter of Debra Rhodes. “It gives somebody something to hug when they go to sleep. I still hug a teddy bear.”

Baron Hatalowich, 7, said the bears “are fun” and that the children will like to “play with them.”

Cody Fairbee, 9, said he wants to “give them to children to play with them.”

Volunteer Carolina Buddemeyer said she likes the project.

“I think it is great, especially in countries where children have nothing,” she said.

She also thinks the project is special to the youths because “it’s something they have made and something they can give.”

Thursday, May. 24, 2007

New Orleans Neighborhood Rescues Itself

Paul Pablovich was the very picture of a good neighbor as he shoveled debris off the curb and mowed other people’s lawns in Lakeview, a middle-class section of town that was swamped with 15 feet of water during Hurricane Katrina and is now a patchwork of gutted and newly built homes.

But he wasn’t doing it entirely out of the goodness of his heart. He was protecting his investment.

Pablovich, an entrepreneur who lived in a different part of New Orleans before Katrina, bought a bungalow on the street from an elderly resident after the storm, renovated it and plans to live there with his fiancee. He purchased a second abandoned house for $107,000, fixed it up and hopes to resell it for $214,000. He would like to “flip” several other properties on the block, too.

The way he sees it, capitalism is the road to recovery for Lakeview.

“It’s how the country was built,” Pablovich, 38, said of the $600,000 he has pumped into the real estate market. “Free-market economics will kick in.”

Lakeview, a 7,000-home mostly white enclave in a city that is predominantly black, has emerged as a success story in the reconstruction of New Orleans through entrepreneurs like Pablovich and strong civic organization that existed long before the storm.

In contrast, hard-hit black middle-class neighborhoods in eastern New Orleans do not have the same financial means and civic organization, and are not drawing nearly as much private investment. As a result, their recovery is crawling.

“If you’re going to speculate, you’re much more likely to speculate in Lakeview than you would in the east,” said Louisiana State University sociology professor Jeanne Hulbert. “But you could end up, potentially, with a social and economic structure in the city that really carves out the black middle class.”

Nearly 21 months after Katrina, Lakeview has lights and other utilities, but still has no firehouse and no public school.

But it is a community so fiercely independent it tried in the 1990s to secede from the city. And its residents – who include business executives and other professionals – have considerable organizational skills.

Lakeview’s churches arranged for volunteers around the country to plant trees along Canal Boulevard, the main drag. And recently, nearly 1,000 original and potential new residents came to a civic association tutorial on how to navigate the city’s bureaucracy and find a reputable contractor.

In fact, the civic association drew up a list of recommended contractors by running credit checks on them and consulting the Better Business Bureau.

The group is so organized it has compiled its own data on rebuilding, finding in a February survey that 67 percent of Lakeview’s lots were in some stage of transformation. Seventeen percent were newly inhabited, just over 26 percent were under repair, and 23 percent had been demolished to pave the way for rebuilding.

In contrast, neighborhood leaders in eastern New Orleans, which encompasses four ZIP codes to Lakeview’s one, are just now undertaking a house-to-house count.

Independent research, at first glance, suggests Lakeview and eastern New Orleans have rebuilt at similar rates. GCR and Associates Inc. found last week that based on utility hookups, close to 36 percent of residents in the Lakeview ZIP code were back, versus 33 percent in the eastern New Orleans ZIP codes.

However, Richard Campanella, associate director of Tulane and Xavier universities’ Center for Biomedical Research, found that the flooding in Lakeview was, by some measures, far more severe. For example, nearly 22 percent of homes in Lakeview got more than 8 feet of water, compared with 3.5 percent in eastern New Orleans.

Lakeview has eclipsed eastern New Orleans in real estate sales since Katrina. Sixty-nine houses were sold there nine months before the disaster, compared with 147 during the past nine months of recovery, a 113 percent jump. In eastern New Orleans, 215 single-family homes were sold in the nine months before Katrina, and 287 during the past nine months, a 33 percent increase.

As he painted over the rust on an iron fence that ringed his family’s home in eastern New Orleans, Hank Long said it was obvious to him that his part of town was rebuilding with sweat equity more often than financial equity.

“In Lakeview, many of those houses were already paid for. A lot of people are still paying their mortgages here,” said Long, a 60-year-old black man. “Nobody has big money here. They gutted out their house, and that’s as far as they got. Whatever they could do, they did on their own.”

Hulbert of LSU said: “You have to remember the black middle class only took hold in the 1960s. That is different from several generations of middle-class life. Many middle-class blacks in New Orleans were the first in their families to go to college, and it appears many had their entire savings tied up in their homes.”

David Bell, president of the East New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission, which formed in March to bind together 15 area groups, said a lack of private investment means eastern New Orleans is much more dependent on government recovery aid, with all the bureaucracy and politics that entails.

For example, a centerpiece of the eastern New Orleans redevelopment plan is a proposed $100 million shopping strip. But federal grants for the project will not be fully released until the city comes up with 10 percent.

Back in Lakeview, residents like to say that they ask mostly one thing of the city: for it to get out of the way.

TKTMJ Inc., a builder that is selling modular homes in the neighborhood, found the area so profitable that it established an office in Lakeview and has dubbed one of its designs “The Lakeview.”

Tommy Callia, a sales representative with the company, noted that most of those able to rebuild are middle class and white.

“I think we’re not going to be as diverse as we once were, and that’s going to be sad,” he said. “You can say it’s a little like a gumbo: If you don’t have all the ingredients, something is missing in the taste.”

Monday, May. 21, 2007

Project rescues good stuff from garbage bins

An old saying claims one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Years ago residence hall officials at Chico State University recognized a lot of what students threw away absolutely was treasure.

Before 2000, university staff working in the campus dorms discovered students leaving for home at the end of spring semester were dumping an astonishing array of useful and even valuable items in the trash.

Luisa Garza, lead groundsworker in the Chico State residence halls, said her staff was seeing “good computers, working stereos, working televisions” as well as clothing, bedding, nonperishable food, and a host of toys, stuffed animals and other electronic gadgets, end up in garbage bins at the end of the semester.

The students were dumping the stuff, not because they thought it was worthless, but because they were headed home, often several in a single car, and there was just no room for all their possessions, she explained.

In 2000, the residence halls staff and the Chico State Associated Students Recycling launched a joint project dubbed the “Diversion Excursion.”

The goal, according to AS Recycling Director Robin DiFalco, was to divert as much as possible of this “mountain of stuff” away from the Neal Road Landfill and into the hands of people who can use it.

The phrase “mountain of stuff” is no exaggeration. Up to 2005, according to DiFalco, she and Garza were estimating the annual collection at about 10,000 pounds.

However, last year Garza arranged with a local business to have the truckloads accurately weighed. The total came to an astonishing 15,145 pounds.

The collected items are sorted and then distributed to five different charities. Computers, for example, are handed off to Computers in the Classroom, which refurbishes or recycles the machines for parts, and then the computers are placed in local schools.

Nonperishable foods, as well as household cleaning products, bottles of shampoo and other such items, are made available to homeless shelters.

Garza said about 100 student volunteers work collection tables at 13 different locations at the various residence halls.

The real value of the electronics, computers, televisions and other items is a powerful temptation for the volunteers.

However, it is a temptation they have to overcome, at least mostly.

“They take a small percentage, a little bit of food, or some soap, or a little trinket,” explained Garza.

“We do have limits on it,” she continued.

Nobody can take anything with a value of $20 or more, but a backpack full of food, a small toy or electronic gadget is allowed.

Despite the success of the program and the much increased awareness of the need to reuse and recycle, Garza said there are still students who will carry things right by the collection tables, to chuck the valuables into the trash.

DiFalco said the recognition of what is being dumped has an impact on the student volunteers.

“It hits home. This stuff is good. Why throw it away?” she said.

Not everything that is turned in leaves campus.

Binders and partially used notebooks are collected, according DiFalco. Then a group of developmentally disabled high school kids rip out the used pages. The notebooks and binders are then made available in the fall on a “free stuff” table outside of the AS Recycling Office in the basement of the Bell Memorial Union.

Bikes that come in during the Diversion Excursion are collected by the Associated Students Adventure Outings.

Adventure Outings runs and organizes outdoor of trips and activities for students. The organization refurbishes the collected bicycles, which it then auctions, and proceeds are used to cover the costs of trips for Chico State students who couldn’t otherwise afford to take part.

Garza expects this year’s installment of the collection, which began Thursday and will run through today will be the biggest ever.

She said the advertising for Diversion Excursion has been so effective this year that, “I’m reaching for 20,000 (pounds).”

Besides the benefit of collecting reusable items for charity, the annual campus project also helps the university conform to a state mandate to reduce its total trash output. Each pound of items that is recovered is deducted from the rest of the campus waste stream total, according to DiFalco.

Wednesday, May. 16, 2007

Hero loan helps veterans buy home

After more than nine years in the military, Scott Ziegenhorn, his wife, Janel, and their five young children are looking forward to buying their first home.

The couple has been rebuilding its credit, talking with various financiers, as well as looking over the housing market – all the while renting a small apartment.

“We figured we wouldn’t be able to afford this,” Scott Ziegenhorn said Tuesday of a four-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch-style home with a swimming pool in Roanoke.

But thanks to a new $15 million state pilot program unveiled on Tuesday, the Ziegenhorns are getting help and hope to be into that new house this summer.

The mortgage program, called the G-I Loan for Heroes, targets veterans and active military personnel, offering them the chance to secure low-interest mortgage loans and giving them help with closing costs.

For the Ziegenhorns, that’s translating into a 4.75 percent interest rate on 80 percent of the mortgage loan and an interest-free second loan on the remaining 20 percent. As for the closing costs, they’ll get a grant of up to $2,500 to pay for that.

That’s compared to about a 7 percent interest rate, said Ziegenhorn, a sergeant in the Marine Corps stationed in North Carolina.

“Hundreds of veterans a year visit our agency’s field offices to apply for a certificate of eligibility for a home loan, indicating a real demand for home ownership among veterans,” said Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. “Our veterans and active duty service personnel deserve more options.”

Applicants must contribute $1,000 of their own money toward the down payment. Income limits vary from county to county, but in Peoria County a family of three or more cannot make more than $76,590 and the purchase price of the home can not exceed $237,000. Free home ownership counseling also is required. Loans are provided through private banks.

Monday, May. 7, 2007

Baseball season kicks off for children with disabilities

Evan Sussman was more than ready to play some baseball yesterday at Ridge Road Park.

With a cap on his head and a mitt on his hand, the 7-year-old sports fanatic had been waiting all winter for a chance to take a crack at the ball and then sprint around the bases – and he wasn’t going to let the fact that he was in a wheelchair stop him.

He wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

More than 100 children with disabilities kicked off the opening day of the Miracle League baseball season with smiles so radiant that they brought tears to the eyes of parents and spectators.

Made possible through donations and grants, the Miracle League aims to bring the nation’s pastime to every child, regardless of disability. Participation is free.

“All week long, all he talks about is playing baseball on the weekend,” said an emotional Karen Kushnir, Evan’s mother of Brewster. “This has been a dream come true for us. As you can see, I’ll just keep crying.”

The Miracle League of Westchester County is one of the newest chapters of the national organization founded in Atlanta about a decade ago. There are now more than 140 local chapters.

Games are played on a specially designed rubberized field that is painted with all the features of a regular baseball diamond.

So far, the Miracle Field in Hartsdale is the only such field built entirely with county funds, according to organizers. Westchester spent $525,000 to create the field, which opened last year.

“Every child should have the same opportunity as a typically developed child,” said Stephen Madey, executive director of the Westchester chapter. “This means the world to me. I don’t think words can explain it.”

The opening-day festivities yesterday began with a parade around the parking lot, led by the Westchester County Emerald Society band of bagpipes and drums.

Giuliana Ficuciello was the first to wheel herself up to the plate. The 7-year-old Eastchester girl smacked the ball off the tee and beamed as her volunteer “buddy” Adriana Cocucci, also 7, pushed her around the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

“I was a little nervous at first,” said Giuliana, who has cerebral palsy. “But then, once I hit the home run, I felt better because my friend Adriana here was supporting me a lot and we are friends for life.”

Proud parents watched from the sidelines as the children took turns batting or playing the field.

Saying it was indescribable to watch their children having so much fun, parents wished more programs like the Miracle League were available throughout the region.

“There’s nothing for my boys to do otherwise,” said Rosa Metz of Mount Vernon, the mother of two disabled boys. “These children deserve a better quality of life.”

Thursday, May. 3, 2007

Field of dreams

With his tiny shovel in hand, Colt Stillwell made a dent in the mountain of dirt before him that would soon turn to turf as the Billy Hitchcock Miracle Field moves closer to field formation at West Ridge Baseball Complex.

“Isn’t that something … that’s worth it all isn’t it,” said Councilman Dr. William Lazenby as he clapped for the boy. “If you leave him that shovel, I bet he’d try to move that whole pile.”

Fortunately Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller and Auburn Mayor Bill Ham Jr. gave him a hand. At a glance, Stillwell looked to be maybe 6-years-old but was in fact 14 and a half. He is 42 inches tall and weighs 42 pounds and will remain so. His parents, Benjie and Karen of Opelika, say he was born with a rare genetic gene. Cockayne Syndrome has stunted Colt’s growth and shortened his life span. Karen Stillwell says her son is expected to live to be 20 and could die sooner.

The Stillwells say there are no words to express how grateful they are for the miracle field and what it will mean to their son, Colt, and other area children and adults faced with day-to-day challenges.

“This means he can feel like one of the guys,” Karen Stillwell said. “He’ll ask us now, ‘Am I going to get a Jeep so I can drive my friends around?’ How do you tell him he’ll never get to drive a car?”

Wednesday was an emotional day for the miracle-minded, who had come so far, prayed so hard and worked so long to make a field of dreams possible. It seems like only yesterday when the lights dimmed low and a roomful of Opelika Lions viewed, for the first time, heart-tugging images of special needs children and adults rounding bases and hitting balls. They could have just turned the lights back on, got in their cars, gone home and forgot about it. But that’s not the Lion way. They wasted no time hitting the pavement and asked anyone and everyone within earshot, “Don’t you want to watch this Miracle League video?” Lion presentations were met with unanimous approval from the Opelika City Council, Auburn City Council and Envision Opelika. Soon fundraising events started popping up left and right, and a community responded. Support streamed in from local businesses, civic clubs, churches and individuals.

Councilman Eddie Smith looked out across the field and said the Billy Hitchcock Miracle Field was a culmination of two years of planning, fundraising and meetings.

“This is a beautiful day, a beautiful event,” Smith said.

And it was. Rising star Garrett Miles, a senior at Smiths Station High School, held the miracle audience spellbound Wednesday with his powerful rendition of the National Anthem. His deep country voice felt like the Grand Ole Opry. Black cowboy boots tipped in silver completed the star-studded picture as Scout Troop No. 7 held the American Flag high. Miles, who was born legally blind, might not have seen the obvious awe on people’s faces but surely he felt it.

And later a prayer led by Miracle Vice-Chair Jim Allen seemed to capture the spirit of the miracle field.

“It’s great to be involved in something bigger than yourself – this was certainly bigger than all of us,” Allen said.

Once complete, the Billy Hitchcock Miracle Field will be the largest miracle field in the world.

As folks walked off the field and headed home, Miracle Chair Jim Rew could be seen silhouetted in the dug out staring out at an empty field. He raised his arms high over his head and yelled out, “It’s over the fence!”

And it was.

Wednesday, May. 2, 2007

‘Miracle’ project is about community

The idea behind “Miracle League” fields for disabled children is simple: Give a chance to play baseball to kids who otherwise probably never would have the opportunity.

Since the Rotary Clubs of Rockdale County, Ga., launched a project in their backyard 10 years ago, the concept has taken off. As of a year ago, there were 41 specially constructed rubberized fields across the country and another 61 under construction.

Now Tallahassee is on deck, with both of our local governments stepping up to the plate.

The fields enable children in wheelchairs and other disabled kids to play ball. That’s no small thing: Disabled people frequently find that access to a wide range of recreational activity is extremely limited to them.

Here in Tallahassee, it’s not a done deal yet. The county has committed $75,000 to the project, and the city has pledged the use of Field No. 3 at the Messer North Softball Complex, as well as utilities and maintenance services.

The Tallahassee Kiwanis Club, which is coordinating local fundraising for the $250,000 project, still needs another $150,000 to make this “Miracle” for special-needs children happen.

But Tallahasseeans frequently remind themselves that this is a special community. Here’s a chance to make it even more so.

Thursday, Apr. 19, 2007

School honors local officer as ‘hero’

On March 29, the first grade Gifted and Talented students at Salazar Elementary got the opportunity to meet a real hero up close and personal.

Officer Ira Herrero, with the Corpus Christi Police Department, was invited to Salazar so that students could learn about his job and to honor him as a hometown hero, said Norma Longoria, a teacher with the gifted and talented program at Salazar Elementary. In their in depth study of Heroes in G.T. class, the students learned the characteristics of being a true hero.

“Heroes display characteristics of being responsible, loyal, brave, helpful, caring, solving problems, risk takers, and being great thinkers,” Longoria said.

After learning all about police officers and their duties to the community the students realized policemen display all the hero characteristics, Longoria said.

Indira Herrero, a student in Longoria’s class, had informed her classmates that her dad, Herrero, was a police officer for C.C.P.D. That’s when the class decided that he needed to make an appearance at Salazar, Longoria said. When Herrero, who is also a resident of Robstown, came on campus the students read special essays that they had written just for him. They also created banners and presented them to him as well as singing a song for him, Longoria said.

Herrero explained his job as a canine officer and a member of the S.W.A.T. Team for C.C.P.D. He explained how he was chosen out of 300 officers for the 15 man S.W.A.T. Team.

As a canine officer, Herrero handles his German Shephard dog, Raven, who is also part of his family, Longoria said. Herrero demonstrated how Raven is able to sniff out drugs and how he is rewarded after a successful seizure. He also showed the students some of his gear as a SWAT member.

Tuesday, Mar. 27, 2007

Teddies cured at Teddy Bear Hospital

The Medical Student Association in Iceland launched a project this week by opening a “Teddy Bear Hospital” in Reykjavík suburb Kópavogur with the aim of making children less frightened of doctors and hospital staff.

“Children can bring their teddies to us […] after they’ve made up a disease or injuries that they’re suffering from. We will use […] all the necessary equipment so the teddies can return to their home in good health,” Stefán Ágúst Hafsteinsson, one of the project’s organizers, told Fréttabladid.

This is the first time a teddy bear hospital opens in Iceland, but similar projects have been organized among medical students in other countries.

“Children who get to know health service staff in this way are less hesitant about using health services when they need them later in life,” Hafsteinsson said.

The Fruit Truck will offer children who visit the medical students with their teddies fresh fruit.

Monday, Mar. 19, 2007

Church members provide wheelchair ramp for child with cerebral palsy

When Neeses resident Toni Hydrick read the story in The Times and Democrat about Katelyn Vest, the 6-year-old girl from Blackville with cerebral palsy who donated her hair to Locks of Love, Hydrick was moved to reach out to the child who can’t talk or walk. Locks of Love uses donated hair to provide hairpieces to children under age 18 who are suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

Hydrick was touched that Katelyn, who is battling her own medical problems, wanted to do something to help others. That’s what prompted her to call Katelyn’s mother, Suzanne, to find out what she could do to help.

“At first, she was just dumbfounded that someone had even called and asked if they could help,” Hydrick said. “She said the one thing they needed most of all was a wheelchair ramp.”

Hydrick talked to members of the Women On Mission at Calvary Baptist Church of Neeses and told them, “I would like for us as a group to do something for them.”

The Women On Mission took the project idea to the men’s ministry of the church, and the men’s ministry paid for the building supplies, Hydrick said.

Her husband, Jack, got the wood together, and began working. Sections of the ramp were constructed in advance so that it just needed to be assembled this past Saturday morning when the men’s group and church pastor Benjamin Smoak went to Katelyn’s home to complete the project.

“We won’t get anything out of this. They won’t come to our church. But it’s doing something for someone who has a need,” Jack Hydrick said. “We’re just trying to do something nice in this messed up world. I don’t know how we ended up in Blackville helping someone, but it doesn’t matter where they are. We need to help them.”

Mrs. Hydrick noted that other church and community members donated money, music tapes and videos for Katelyn and gifts for the family, which also has a two-month-old child. Some of Hydrick’s coworkers donated a pole bird feeder and other lawn decorations. While the men were assembling the wheelchair ramp, Mrs. Hydrick, her daughter Stacie Rutland and several children put up the bird feeder and other lawn accessories.

Thanks to these good neighbors, Suzanne Vest and her daughters will return from visiting Katelyn’s father, who is working out of state, and find a brand new wheelchair ramp which will make transporting Katelyn in and out of the house much easier.

Thursday, Mar. 15, 2007

Pub patrons help hero’s son

Seventy pounds of corned beef, 30 pounds of potatoes, a case of cabbage and six pints of beer will help buy a little boy-the son of a fallen hero-a college education.

Mick Kelly’s Irish Pub in downtown Burien served their traditional corned beef dinner along with Guinness beef stew, bangers and mash, fish and chips and Reuben sandwiches to around 300 guests at a March 1 fundraiser for Bronson Cox.

Bronson is the one-year-old son of King County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Cox, who was killed in the line of duty Dec. 2 while investigating a shooting in White Center.

Vacant tables were hard to find for several hours on March 1 as a steady stream of customers came into Mick Kelly’s and enjoyed dinners and drinks-with all profits from 6 p.m. to closing plus a $5 per person cover charge going to Bronson’s college fund.

Proceeds from a raffle also were donated, and restaurant staff members donated their time to boost the amount of money raised.

“The kid is left without a father and the man put in a lot of time for what he did for the city, so it’s the least we could do,” Eamaer McGuigan, an employee at the pub, told a KOMO-TV reporter.

The evening netted almost $10,000 for Bronson, Mick Purdy, a co-owner of Mick Kelly’s and an organizer of the event, said the next day.

“It was a good night. It was fun,” Purdy said. “It was an opportunity to give something back to a gentleman who gave a lot to this community.”

He also thanked Kevin Fitz, who owned the now-closed Meal Makers restaurant, for volunteering to seat guests throughout the evening.

Deputy Cox, once a prosecuting attorney who went into law enforcement to make a greater impact on the community, grew up in the White Center area and returned there to work for the sheriff’s office.

He also was president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council at the time of his death.

“It’s just wonderful. I can’t express my feelings for it to tell you the truth,” his father, Ron Cox, told KOMO-TV.

As the fundraiser started, his mother, JoAn Cox, was collecting signatures for her petition drive to ask the county council to fund a gang unit for the sheriff’s office in southwest King County.

Mrs. Cox, who called the large turnout both touching and overwhelming, added that she had no idea her son was so well loved in the community he served before his death.

Teachers, neighbors come to rescue in fire

The cry for help went out Monday morning, and people came running.

When fire erupted at 3116 38th St. NW, Marissa Robinson found herself on the roof of the garage, calling for help. Teachers and staff at William R. Day Little Eagle Kindergarten Center heard her shouting, as did neighbors.

Robinson, 20, wasn’t on the roof for long.

At first, Jane Shem, a teacher arriving for work at 7:45 a.m., thought kids were playing. When the cries for help became more intense, she wondered if a child had been hurt at a nearby bus stop.

Then, she saw Robinson.

HELP ON THE WAY

Shem dropped her school books and ran toward the house. She called for help on her cell phone as she ran. Fellow teachers Chris Perillo, Debbie Rainieri and Terry Hartley followed.

They opened the garage door, but too much smoke kept them from going inside. They called the school and asked Pat House to have custodian Bob Clubb bring a ladder.

A neighbor, meanwhile, climbed up on the garage roof with Robinson and gave her his coat.

Clubb arrived with the ladder and got Robinson down. But the rescue wasn’t finished.

Plain firefighter Jack Patterson, who was off-duty, was driving past and stopped to help. He was told that a dog and cat were in the house, so he went looking.

Patterson opened a door and the dog ran out of the house. The cat was lying on the landing at the door. Patterson scooped it up, but had to revive the animal by giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Shem called the rescue a team effort. “It worked out so well, because everyone jumped in and helped.”

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

When kindergartners arrived, a multitude of fire trucks and emergency vehicles greeted them. The fire became a learning experience for the children, Shem said.

“We were able to explain what happened and that everyone was OK,” Shem said. “They were happy no one was hurt.”

Robinson did have to go to Mercy Medical Center to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Investigators determined the fire started in the kitchen, but still hadn’t figured out the exact cause. Damage to the house was estimated at $3,000.

Fire Chief John A. Sabo noted that the house had three smoke detectors, but all had battery problems and weren’t working when the fire broke out.

Sabo praised the quick action by civilians and said that Robinson was fortunate to get out to the roof. But he added, “early notification from working smoke detectors would have allowed her to go out the front door to safety.”

Tuesday, Mar. 13, 2007

Making America’s pastime accessible to all

It’s been said that for many, the game of baseball is more than just a game. It provides an opportunity to be special.

For some, though, it’s just an opportunity to be normal — to be just another kid.

That’s why Todd Mooney was excited to enter his son Keegan into the Miracle League last summer –– a baseball league for children with special needs –– despite the fact he’d be traveling from Lakeville to Blaine on game-day.

“We’re always looking for sports that are adaptive to our son,” said Mooney, “we just wanted him to participate as any typical child would.”

Soon, Keegan will be able to play baseball closer to home. On Feb. 5, the Lakeville City Council endorsed a plan to build a Miracle Field at King’s Park where children with disabilities will be able to safely play baseball.

The City Council approved the donation of four acres of land at the youth baseball complex, which currently has eight regular baseball fields at Dodd Road and 185th Street.
Realizing a need

On a sun drenched, summer day two years ago, Brian Roseen and his 13-year-old son were playing catch at Quigley-Sime Park in Lakeville.

While playing, a young boy in a wheelchair rolled up to their field.

“We tried to find a way for him to play with us,” Roseen said. “The field, though, just wasn’t made for it. My son said, ‘That’s not fair.’ I agreed.”

That experience prompted Roseen, who was already active with the Lakeville Baseball Association, to begin searching for information about baseball fields for children with disabilities.

He soon stumbled upon the Miracle League of Minnesota, a nonprofit group providing opportunities for children with disabilities ages 3 to 19 to play baseball.

“I wondered what it’d be like to have a league and field like that in Lakeville,” Roseen said. “So I made some phone calls.”
Spreading a dream

Kevin Thoresen was lounging in a hotel room in Arizona two-years ago when he was struck with an epiphany.

“I was laying there watching TV when I saw a special on the Miracle League,” he said. “I’ve got children with special needs so it struck me real hard.”

It didn’t take long for Thoresen to launch the Miracle League of Minnesota, an off-shoot from the national Miracle League organization.

Miracle Fields are different than a regular baseball fields because they’re designed with a cushioned, rubberized surface, wheelchair access to the field and dugouts, and a flat, barrier free surface to help visually impaired players or players in wheelchairs.

The Miracle League utilizes the special fields and provides children with mental and/or physical challenges an opportunity to play baseball as a team member in an organized league.

“Children with disabilities don’t typically get to play organized sports,” Thoresen said. “This just seemed like a wonderful opportunity and something we needed in Minnesota.”

Each child in the league is paired with a volunteer who then helps them play the game. Thoresen calls it a buddy system.

Thoresen now serves as executive director for the Miracle League of Minnesota, and was the man whom Roseen contacted last year about bringing a Miracle League to Lakeville.

“We had just launched our first league in Blaine when [Roseen] called,” Thoresen said. “I told him, ‘We’ve been waiting for your phone call.”

The Miracle League, under Thoresen’s leadership had just spearheaded the construction of a Miracle Field and league in Blaine and were looking for other places in Minnesota to set up leagues.

“The fields and the leagues are funded through donations,” Thoresen said. “We can’t just go around soliciting fields. We wait for communities to contact us.”

Lakeville, it turns out, is just one of a few communities who have jumped on board the Miracle League band wagon.

Mankato, Rochester and Minnetonka have all begun construction or have target dates for completion for Miracle Fields, and Thoresen said that he’s been working with Duluth and Sioux Falls, South Dakota to bring fields to those communities.
Bringing a miracle to Lakeville

Lakeville’s parks and Recreation Director Steve Michaud said that the Miracle Field at King’s park will serve most of the communities south of the river.

“There are a lot of special needs children in the community,” he said. “This is just another way for the city to meet the needs of a very progressive and diverse population base.”

The Lakeville Baseball Association is not only in charge of soliciting donations for the project, but will ultimately run the Miracle League that calls the field home. The city will be in charge of maintaining the field.

Actual construction of the filed will be a two phase project. The first phase will encompass construction of the field at an estimated cost of $400,000; the second will improve seating, the entrance and landscaping and cost and additional $400,000.

Phase one, Michaud said, could be completed this fall, but nothing is set in stone.

In addition to baseball, the fields could be used for other sports such as soccer and basketball, Michaud said.

Roseen said that while working on this project he has been blown away by the cooperation and commitment to the project exhibited by both the city of Lakeville and the Miracle League of Minnesota.

“I’ve never heard the word ‘No,” Roseen said. “Never a ‘I don’t think so,’ or ‘We can’t do that.’ It’s been the coolest thing.”

Mayor Holly Dahl was enthusiastic about the project at the Feb. 5 Council meeting.

“Kids are near and dear to my heart,” she said. “It’s wonderful and it’s something that parents in our community have asked for.”

Heather Thelen’s 9-year-old son Ben played in Blaine last year, but she admits the prospects of watching him play close to home in their community excites her.

“This is another way for him to be accepted,” she said. “Now he can make some friends here in Lakeville. My heart is just filled with warmth.”

Mooney said that his son Keegan will be playing ball in Blaine again this year but he is also looking forward to the opportunity for his son to play baseball closer to home.

Tuesday, Mar. 6, 2007

Man’s hospitality, help earn hometown hero honor

“I had a Utopian childhood in North Aurora,” said Genevan Paul Ruby. “Everybody knew everybody.”

His parents were schoolteachers. Eventually, his father became mayor.

Ruby’s mother died when he was 10.

“But we were very fortunate in the stepmother my father married a couple of years later,” Ruby said.

Ruby loved camping, hiking and animals.

In first grade, he and a friend started a pet mail-order business. They put an ad in the newspaper, and when orders came in, obtained the animals from a catalog.

Their first call was from a parent who wanted to rent an elephant for her child’s birthday party.

The family often took train excursions into Chicago, eating lunch at the Berghoff on the way to Marshall Field.

“We’d stop at the Palmer House to use the bathroom,” Ruby recalled. “The same attendant was there forever, handing me a towel, always saying ‘Have a good day, governor.’”

Ruby played tennis all through high school and played the trombone. He played in the jazz band, the marching band and the concert band.

His godfather, Mike Adolph, was chess coach at the high school, and Ruby learned the game when he was 10 and soon became an accomplished chess player. Ruby feels the qualities that made him successful were patience and the ability to think ahead – qualities he still calls on.

He enrolled at Iowa State University to study wildlife conservation, but he couldn’t forget his memories of the Palmer House and the loyal attendant. He changed to hotel and restaurant management.

One summer, he worked on a farm in a remote village on a fjord in Norway. “Had my fill of reindeer meat and fish. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and the hardest labor I’ve ever done.”

After graduation, his first job was at the Palmer House. “Telling that story helped me get the job,” he said. He managed the front desk for the 1,700-room hotel. Ruby recalls one convention when the hotel overbooked by 300 rooms.

“Guests were arriving tired and travel worn from O’Hare. They had to wait 45 minutes to find out they were being sent back to the O’Hare Hilton because we didn’t have space. One guest jumped up on the front desk and yelled to the people at the end of the line, ‘Don’t bother to wait. There aren’t any rooms!”

After two years, Ruby took the job of evening manager at the Drake Oakbrook, moving up to general manager. At the age of 26, he was managing department heads who had been there for 30 years.

He loved the week of the Western Open Golf Tournament each year, played at the Butler National Golf Club across the street. “I got to make friends with a lot of professional golfers,” he said. “That’s when I started playing golf.”

His favorite picture on his office wall shows Ruby with Sam Snead and Kathy Whitworth, the winningest men’s and women’s golfers in history.

While at the Drake, Ruby met Linda Bairdm Director of Sales. “We didn’t always get along,” he recalled, “but we remained friends after I left the Drake.” They were married three years later.

Ruby decided to open his own restaurant, Ruby’s on the Park, in Lincoln Park across from the zoo. “I learned the hard way what not to do. The biggest lesson was that, in order to be successful, you have to be involved in every aspect of the business at all times. There is no such thing as a vacation.”

After three years with three days off, Ruby accepted a job as clubhouse manager at Lake Shore Country Club in Glencoe. He was responsible for the dining room, banquets, hotel, pool, cabana, grill room, and golf outings. He was called on to manage weddings that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. “I learned to be very detail-oriented, choreographing who was doing what, how many it would take to do it, etc.”

The couple’s first son was born, and Ruby found that working evenings and weekends was not family friendly, so after three years he went to manage a dining and athletic club on Wacker Drive, increasing its membership from 600 to 1,100.

Two years after the Rubys moved to Geneva in 1999, Paul Ruby was drawn by an opportunity to manage the Herrington Inn. “The banquet facility was about to open, and there were plans to expand the hotel from 40 to 63 rooms.” Soon he had the idea of opening a spa to help make the inn more of a destination. “I thought it could bring a whole new market to the hotel,” he said. “It did.”

He has played host to numerous famous comedians, movie stars and musicians and even the President of Rwanda. Some, like Bob Dylan, prefer to remain invisible. Others, like Jerry Lewis, enjoy the spotlight. Paul was invited to meet and greet President Clinton, and he even took a spin on the President’s desk chair on Air Force One.

Ruby was very involved in his sons’ sports activities, coaching baseball for four years. Wesley is now 11, and Logan is 8.

In 2004, Ruby opened T. F. Boonie’s Saloon and Eatery in Mill Creek where he lives. Last summer, he opened Mill Creek Swim Club. Planned for this summer is Mill Creek Market, a full service market with deli, liquor store, and coffee shop.

Ruby, with his brother Mike and Steve Warrenfeltz, was recently honored by the American Red Cross as a Hometown Hero for the Bash for the Bayou fundraiser they arranged after Hurricane Katrina. “We felt it was important to keep it timely, so we organized the all-day music festival within three weeks of Katrina.. We raised $43,000 for the Red Cross.”

Last summer, Ruby was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He finds working out at Pilates helps reduce symptoms. In typical Paul Ruby mode, he is planning to host a golf outing next August 17 at Mill Creek Golf Club to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “We want to increase awareness as well as raise money,” he said.

Police credit prayer walks

Residents and church and city leaders plan once again to take their message against crime to the streets during the Reclaim Longview Prayer Walk, but already that collective voice is working to reduce violent crime.

Scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 10, at Mount Olive Baptist Church, 306 S. MLK Blvd., the peaceful and prayerful march is designed to give the community a pro-active voice when it comes to protecting their neighborhood from crime.

The early spring event will be the third prayer walk sponsored by the city and the Longview Area Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

Although violent crime occurs in all areas of the city, the latest walk will target the Oden/Timpson Street area in South Longview.

The six-month old Unity in the Community movement sponsored two prayer walks last year through neighborhoods where homicides happened.

The walk in March is planned along a similar route where two people were killed, one in 2005 and another in

2006.

Longview Police Chief J.B. McCaleb said since the first walk, the number of police calls from residents has gone up, indicating an increased participation between the residents and peace officers.

“Walks like these give people hope,” McCaleb said. “It shows people in the neighborhood we are concerned and encourages people to work with police in the neighborhoods to report suspicious activity or crime.”

During the March walk, participants plan to step up their efforts to fight crime by stopping to meet people they pass on the street.

The Rev. Keven Johnson, pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Longview, said this year the ministerial alliance plans to attack crime with a one-two punch: giving out tracts on salvation and providing information about police sub-stations.

“This is an opportunity for us to go out in mass numbers and win people over for God, and to let citizens know the police are here to help them take back their neighborhoods,” Johnson said.

Longview Mayor Jay Dean, who marched in the two previous prayer walks and plans to walk in this one, said typically many people in the neighborhood join in.

“We want to develop relations with the citizens so that when they see crime or suspicious things going on in their neighborhoods, they can let the police know,” Dean said.

Walk organizers hope to encourage people in their neighborhoods to take their neighborhoods back, Dean said.

Prompted by escalating violence last spring, including drive-by shootings, the then newly elected mayor asked the City Council to include funding for Citizens on Patrol and a revitalized Police Area Representative program. The community police program unites law enforcement with neighborhood citizens to fight crime.

In 1993, when the PAR program was created, six community officers were on staff. A subsequent administration, in 2001, decreased the number of officers from six to three. Now, with the City Council’s blessing, plans are to expand the number once again to six — one officer in each patrol beat, McCaleb said.

During 2005 and 2006, there were 17 murders in Longview. One of those occurred on Open Street, and a second occurred nearby. Six murders were solved.

“These were not stranger crimes. The victims knew their assailants,” McCaleb said.

This year, it looks as if the increased number of officers combined with resident participation is helping to curb the violence.

In 2005, 63,503 calls for police service were logged. In 2006, 66,412 calls were recorded for a 4.6 percent increase.

Crime occurs because of opportunity, desire and ability. When you take away any one of those, crime decreases, Mccabe said.

“In this case, with the citizens working with the police, the opportunity for crime has decreased,” McCaleb said. “We are very appreciative of working with the ministerial alliance, the City Council and the mayor, but the majority of the credit goes to the citizens.”

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