Good News Blog


Thursday, Mar. 19, 2009

Heroes of the Economy Paying it Forward

CNNMoney is running a wonderful story on 8 people, heroes of a kind really, who try to help others out of the economic misery — and do so at a personal cost, making their own sacrifices.

Marilyn Mock

At a foreclosure auction she met the woman whose house was being sold. Before she fully realized what she was doing she’d bid and won the auction at $30,000

Not only did she make a deal with the woman that she could stay there while paying monthly until the debt was paid — she set up the Foreclosure Angel Foundation, funding it with her own savings and business income.

Rob Katz

Vail Resorts runs ski and snowboard slopes in Colorado. Although things are still going good, trouble is probably ahead.

To keep the company healthy seasonal employees were asked to take a 2.5% pay cut; executives a 10%; board of directors cut their cash retainer by 20%.

Rob Katz’ take-home salary as CEO of the company was $840,000 in 2008. In 2009 it’s $0.

“If I was going to ask someone making $8 an hour to take a pay cut, they needed to know I was doing something that would really affect me. No one wants to see their salary reduced, but at least in this case those at the top are making the biggest sacrifice.

I’m making changes, but you can’t compare the challenges I go through to some of our folks.
I’ve saved money because I’ve made more over my time. They need to find a way to put food on the table.

People here would rather take a pay cut than see their colleague lose their job.

Everyone at the company is a hero.”
— Rob Katz, CEO, Vail Resorts

Pam Koner, Jaime Raskulinecz and Linda Varas

Pam runs Family-to-Family: matching families in need with good Samaritans. The good Samaritans shop for a foster family once a month, getting them much needed groceries.

But as the economic crisis crept forward, Pam had to start work on her own community as well.

“I never expected it would be Hastings.

I visited a family in Pembroke, Ill., and the house was dirty and moldy, with a single light bulb. You never think it’ll be your backyard.”
— Pam Koner

Her idea has inspired her friends Jame and Linda to organize similar acts of kindness.

Families accepting help are kept anonymous so no “shame” needs to come to the community.

Rich Salon

When Circuit City went belly-up, Rich had been working there for just three year but knew a lot of folks going on three decades.

He wanted to help.

He planned a career fair.

With the company winding down, communication was nearly impossible, so he turned to the professional online networking web site LinkedIn to contact former employees.

He asked Home Depot, BJ’s Wholesale Club and others to come. 80 companies, some of them flying in from out of state, came to the fair attended by 1000 ex-Circuit City employees.

Mike Heritage

He was inspired by what he says is a common occurrence in Colorado Springs: someone in front of him had already paid for Mike’s coffee.

It made him want to do something too.

He only uses about 70% of the office space his company rents. He’s now giving away the remaining space to local small businesses: no charge, no strings attached.

“We’ve done well through our 20 years of business, and we thought this was a good way to give back to our community. Sometimes people need a break to help get them off the ground or out of debt.

We want to sit down with folks and partner with some businesses that hopefully will be successful and help the community.

Whether it’s Bush, Obama, or community leaders, those in charge have made it clear we all need to give something back in whatever way we can.

I may not have cash to hand to people, but I have vacant space. I can give that for a while.

I’d ask everyone in the country: Do something that fits you in order to help,.

If everyone does something good for someone else, we can start to turn this economy around.”
— Mike Heritage

Scott Haag

“Like others, I was looking for ways to cut back,.

But I realized: If everyone is pulling back on spending, that’s not going to help the economy. By buying a car, you generate sales tax and, hopefully, keep people employed.

It’s about changing the attitude. It’s been a hard time for people. But if we can thaw that freezing, and spark purchasing, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

That’s how Scott explains his way of helping. Every employee of his oil-supply company can get $2,000 in cash when buying a new car, or $1,000 in cash for buying a used car.

Thursday, Mar. 1, 2007

Neighbours to the rescue in baby drama

Neighbors can usually be relied upon for sugar, tea bags and the odd friendly word. But in Great Cornard, near Sudbury, they went a lot further – and ended up helping delivering a neighbour’s baby.

Kay Kellaway went into labour on Thursday, but her partner Chris Starkey was told by the delivery team at West Suffolk Hospital to wait a little longer before taking her in.

But while Mr Starkey, 58, popped out to get the necessary supplies for the imminent arrival, 40-year-old Kay’s labour advanced rapidly.

Her waters broke and the baby’s head emerged while she was in the bathroom.

She called her Minsmere Way neighbours Ann Ross and Tina Whiting for help and they rushed to her aid.

Without time to take Kay to hospital, they found themselves delivering the baby themselves, with Ann being talked through the drama by paramedics who were en route to the delivery.

Albert James was born just minutes later.

At first there were fears for the baby boy’s wellbeing because he arrived with his umbilical cord caught around his neck and turned blue.

But, with the calming advice of paramedics over the telephone, the two neighbours managed to free the 8lb 6oz baby and he turned a healthy pink and began to cough and cry.

Describing the delivery, Ann said: “Her waters had broken and the baby’s head was coming out. From then on it was all panic as the baby’s cord was stuck.

“We rang the ambulance and they told me what to do over the telephone. It seemed like it was going on for hours but it was actually minutes.”

Chris arrived home mid-delivery. He said: “When I got back it was all in full swing. He had gone blue with the cord around his neck. Then he coughed, went pink and started screaming. The paramedics and midwives were excellent but so were our neighbours.”

Now a mother-of-two, Kay spoke of her immense gratitude to her neighbours.

She added: “I went to the toilet and my waters broke. I never event got to the front room. After that, I don’t really remember much – it was all a blur. But we are alright now.”

Monday, Nov. 20, 2006

Stingray victim is medical miracle

Doctors say retired Metro businessman is a ‘phenomenon’ after barb punctured lung, heart.

A retired Metro Detroit businessman who survived a stingray barb to his heart has left his hospital bed, hailed by doctors as a medical miracle. [Real Miracles: Indisputable Medical Evidence That God Heals]

James M. Bertakis, 81, has been moved out of the intensive care unit at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and took his first steps this week.

“He’s a phenomenon,” said Dr. Eugene Costantini, who performed heart surgery on Bertakis to remove a barb about 3 inches long and half a centimeter wide.

Bertakis was boating near his Florida home at Lighthouse Point, south of Boca Raton, on Oct. 18 when a stingray jumped from the ocean, landed in his lap and whipped its tail at him, thrusting a venomous barb that broke off into his chest.

The barb punctured Bertakis’ lung and later migrated to his heart.

Costantini said Bertakis is only the third known survivor of such an injury, and the other two survivors were both younger than 35.

If the barb had struck the aorta or one of the coronary arteries, Bertakis would almost certainly be dead, the doctor said.

Renowned “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, killed in Australia in September, was struck in the heart by a larger barb and made the mistake of pulling the barb from his chest, Costantini said.

In contrast, Bertakis’ barb migrated right through his heart before surgeons extracted it from the other side, he said.

After he gains more strength, Bertakis will likely be moved to a rehabilitation center and ultimately sent home, the doctor said. He should suffer no significant permanent effects from the injury, Costantini said.

Bertakis, who founded the Roseville manufactured home company Bertakis Development Inc. in 1972 before retiring to Florida, is divorced with four sons and eight grandchildren. He will celebrate his 82nd birthday Dec. 19.

“He’s got all his faculties, and he’s talking up a storm,” said Bertakis’ son Jim. “He has amazed the doctors since Day One.”

Jim Bertakis praised the hospital staff and the public for the support they have given his father throughout the ordeal.

Wednesday, Apr. 12, 2006

One-man rescue operation keeps firm going and saves jobs

WIRRAL man Steve Owens has stepped in to rescue the firm he worked for and safeguarded seven jobs in the process.

Mr Owens was a marketing manager for Birkenhead-based Huntington Marine Engineering Services when it collapsed in September with debts of more than £100,000.

He was convinced the business, which makes aluminium and stainless steel products for clients ranging from the Ministry of Defence to construction firms, had a future and has now completed a £200,000 one-man management buy-out.

Mr Owens said: “I’d been here for two years, working mostly on the marketing side and I was convinced that there was huge potential.

“So I took it over and my investment up to now comes to almost £200,000. And I haven’t been paid since September either!”

The buy-out, helped by support from Wirral Direct, has ensured the company is in place to do more than just survive.

“We’re developing a new product for the healthcare market,” added Mr Owens.

“We’re working with a Yorkshire firm which has designed a new breed of rapid-response vehicle.”

The Merseyside Manufacturing and Automotive Group (MAG) is providing mentoring support for the company’s development over the coming months.

The company expects increased business from the MoD as the Iraq conflict winds down and Royal Navy ships come home for refurbishment. Huntington has supplied guard rails for naval vessels for several years.

Wednesday, Mar. 8, 2006

Pope tells business owners: do justice, not just charity

Business owners must avoid every form of worker exploitation, and they must adhere to the church’s teachings about social justice in the workplace, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of Italian entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Upholding the importance of people in the workplace and in the world of business and respecting their needs and talents are values that “often risk not being pursued by business owners who lack solid moral inspiration,” especially in the current climate of “economic difficulties,” he said.

The pope also praised an initiative by a group of young entrepreneurs to meld their business acumen with Catholic Social Teaching.

Pope Benedict made his comments during an audience at the Vatican with some 8,000 members of Italy’s Union of Christian Entrepreneurs and Business Executives.

Citing his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God Is Love”), the pope told his audience that justice and charity are “two inseparable facets of a Christian’s social duty” and that the lay faithful must work for a just ordering of society.

He said the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is a useful and educational tool for all people who “intend to let themselves be guided by the Gospel in their professional and work-related activities.”

So as to better adhere to what the church teaches about social justice in the workplace, it is crucial that business owners “nurture and renew” their Christian formation and education, the pope said.

Sunday, Mar. 5, 2006

New bank to give 10% of profits to charity

Pacific Rim Bank, the first commercial bank to open in Hawaii since statehood, plans to pursue a broad client base, give 10 percent of its profits to nonprofit organizations and rely on an ATM network for most customer transactions.

The bank, which officially opened yesterday in Restaurant Row after a Hawaiian blessing, should be profitable in its second year, said Austin Imamura, the bank’s chairman and chief executive.

“There’s a financial component, but there’s also a cultural component, and it was the lure of starting something on your own and also establishing a culture that I believe in,” said Imamura in explaining why he started the bank.

Imamura, a former Central Pacific Bank executive and City Bank consultant, said there was a time when few Hawaii banks would lend money to churches and nonprofits. Although such lending is more prevalent now, he wanted to expand that philosophy.

“All of our board members are unanimous in our culture, which is to give significantly to nonprofits,” he said. “We’ve set aside 10 percent of our profits for that in both direct giving, as well as special programs we’re planning to establish.”

Imamura also said the bank will offer one of the highest passbook savings account interest rates in Hawaii, a 3.04 annual percentage yield.

Mark Southwick, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Pacific Rim, said Pacific Rim won’t charge its customers a fee for using other banks’ ATMs, but customers could be assessed fees by the other banks. Non-customer ATM fees at First Hawaiian Bank and Bank of Hawaii, for example, range from $1.75 to $2.50 depending on location, spokesmen for those banks said yesterday.

Imamura said Pacific Rim is still discussing whether to absorb other banks’ ATM fees for a limited number of transactions if the customer holds a certain balance in a check or savings account.

Pacific Rim, which will be linked with the Pulse and Plus networks, plans to install one ATM at its 7,683-square-foot location in Restaurant Row that will be available in mid-April. ATM cards will be issued later this month.

Customers will be able to use Bank of Hawaii’s ATMs, which are on the Plus network, but the availability of First Hawaiian’s ATMs depends on that bank’s network arrangement.

Southwick also said Pacific Rim customers will be able to apply for Visa debit cards.

Alan Pflueger, president of Pflueger Auto dealerships and a major investor in the new bank, said Imamura’s leadership and planning will enable Pacific Rim to be successful.

“I think it will start through relationships, and there’s a lot of senior management people who have left other organizations and are working here now who bring with them many years of relationships of working in Hawaii,” Pflueger said. “Hawaii is about people, and people form a strong bond in working with close relationships in Hawaii. I think that’s going to be a cornerstone to really hitting the ground running.”

Kelvin Bloom, who is president of Aston Hotels & Resorts and helped contribute part of the $12 million that was raised by the bank’s local investors, is excited to be a part of the new venture.

“I think it fills a niche in the market that is currently underserved and we intend to serve that niche very well,” he said.

Imamura said individuals, small businesses and the commercial real estate sector would be the normal focus for a small bank but that Pacific Rim has staff members who are more accustomed to being with larger banks and working with larger clientele.

“So we’re going to be targeting small, middle-size, as well as large (businesses), but we have certain approaches to approaching large (businesses) and that is to ask for a part of their business, not the entire thing,” Imamura said. “That establishes a relationship with them for future growth of the bank.”

Pacific Rim, which signed a 10-year lease at Restaurant Row, will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. It becomes the fourth state-chartered bank along with First Hawaiian, Bank of Hawaii and Central Pacific.

Other locally based financial institutions are Finance Factors, American Savings Bank, Territorial Savings Bank and Hawaii National Bank.

Imamura said he had been envisioning opening a bank for eight or nine years and still thinks there’s room for more. Another startup, Ohana Pacific Bank, is awaiting federal and state regulatory approvals and hopes to open in the middle of this year.

Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005

Community Investment Rescues a Bookstore

Kepler’s Books and Magazines, an independent bookstore and Silicon Valley institution that went out of business Aug. 31, plans to reopen Saturday thanks to investment from area residents and executives.

he bookstore, in Menlo Park, Calif., near Stanford University, opened in 1955, and became known for its broad selection of literature and periodicals and its regular author readings. But it was undone, like some other independent booksellers, by chain bookstores and Internet sales, said Anne Banta, new chief marketing officer for Kepler’s.

The store’s closure prompted an outpouring of support from the community that included a rally in September and an effort to work with the Menlo Park City Council to create a revival plan. Ms. Banta said that some local entrepreneurs developed a business plan to improve the store’s long-term standing and also invested cash. She said that at least $500,000 was raised from 17 individuals, who each pledged at least $25,000 to become shareholders. About 370 local residents also signed up to volunteer time to help the store, Ms. Banta said.

Kepler’s “was more than a bookstore,” she said; it was a place to hang out. Visiting the store, she added, “was like going to the movies.”

Ms. Banta, who is volunteering her time as Kepler’s marketing officer, said the bookstore’s new long-term business plan entails working to sell more books to schools, holding book fairs at area companies like Google, and increasing its online presence.

Geoff Ralston, the chief product officer for Yahoo and a new investor in Kepler’s, said he felt that, although technology provides conveniences like online shopping, it should not be seen as a replacement for great experiences, like browsing a bookstore.

“The world is changing, but there are things we want to hang on to, and this is one of those things,” Mr. Ralston said of Kepler’s. “People are going to hold on with all their might to experiences that mean something to them, even if they have to pay more for it.”

Friday, Sep. 16, 2005

Support for new UN emergency fund

Six countries have pledged almost US$150m (£80m) to a proposed new United Nations emergency fund.

The fund would allow the UN to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies within a matter of days rather than weeks it can take now.

The British government has promised almost half of the total sum.

The pledges came during the World Summit in New York, and the proposed fund will be debated by the United Nations later in the year.

Fighting ‘fires’

“When a crisis comes, it is to the United Nations that we look,” the UK’s International Development Secretary Hilary Benn told reporters.

“The UN presses the fire alarm; but in order to get the engine out of the station, it has to pass round the hat to put petrol in the tank and water in the hoses.”

The proposed new fund, known as the Central Emergency Response Fund, would replace a current arrangement under which the UN can give loans for emergency operations with one which disburses grants.

The total envisaged is US$500m (£280m) per year, 10 times the sum available now.

At the World Summit, six countries pledged a total of US$145m to the fund’s first year; Britain’s share is US$70m (£40m), and Sweden’s US$40m (£20m).

The other partners are Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Swift and certain

Jan Egeland, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, welcomed the move.

“Our responses are very uneven,” he said, “and it often takes time for us to get money to teams in Niger, to anti-locust teams, to Darfur before mortality goes up.

“Now we will be able to say ‘let’s go’ in three to four days rather than three to four weeks.”

Mr Egeland also said it would enable the UN to deal with crises which are currently beyond its capabilities.

The six countries anticipate further pledges of support before the end of the World Summit, possibly from African nations.

The proposal, which relates to a clause in the World Summit draft outcome document to improve “the timeliness and predictability of humanitarian funding”, will go to the UN General Assembly for approval in November.

Friday, Aug. 5, 2005

Mayor rescues lemonade stand from sour foes

Here’s a lemon law with a sweet taste to it.

Salem Mayor Stanley J. Usovicz, together with Ryan Decker, 8, Dominic Serino, 11, and the owner of Classy Chassis sausage stand, signed a resolution yesterday that would allow the two boys to operate a lemonade stand at Salem Common.

“First and foremost, it seems to me that it is an American right for a kid to open up a lemonade stand and there was a way that common sense could in fact prevail in this situation,” Usovicz said yesterday.

Decker and Serino were ordered by police Saturday to shut down their lemonade stand for lack of a sales permit, after an employee of Classy Chassis complained the two were infringing upon his customer base.

Under the new resolution, the boys became subcontractors for the sausage vendor and will operate their stand with a legal permit.

“It wasn’t so much a compromise as it was a corporate merger. I think there were a number of hurt feelings on both sides, but the boys were completely thrilled,” Usovicz said.

A clause within the permit states that it is only applicable during the months of July and August, so as not to interfere with school hours that will resume in the fall.

“I think this really represents Salem’s commitment to small business at any level,” Usovicz added.

Wednesday, Jun. 15, 2005

School Makes Good Use Of Confiscated Pot Growing Equipment

A high school science class recently got a lesson in civics thanks to some police officers.

Budget constraints have made it hard to find money to buy the latest equipment for Shirley Tautolo’s horticulture class, according to the teacher at Huron High School.

But now her students have new pots and heat lamps to cultivate plants. The gear was seized from the apartment of a man busted for growing marijuana.

Police donated the indoor gardening equipment to the school earlier this month. The suspect was arrested in November after a neighbor smelled smoke. He pleaded guilty to possessing marijuana and was sentenced to probation and a $500 fine.

Police seized a scale, two lamp bulbs, a high-intensity light, two fluorescent lamps, nine pots with marijuana plants and 23 empty pots.

“It’s a shame to throw this stuff away,” Lt. Greg Plagens said. “You want to use it for something positive.”

The pots will be used to grow vegetables and herbs in the fall after a thorough cleaning.

“Something that was used for bad will be used for good,” said Tautolo, whose classes help prepare students for jobs in farming, landscaping and gardening, or for college study.

Friday, May. 13, 2005

1,000 bakery jobs saved

Around 1,000 jobs were saved today after administrators sold the four remaining sites of collapsed bakery business Rathbones.

The deal struck by KPMG Corporate Recovery will see bakeries at Walsall, Leicester and Peterborough, plus a distribution centre at Carlisle, sold to a new company set up by two directors of the Walsall operation.

Earlier this month, Morrisons paid £15.5 million for three other sites at Wigan, Wakefield and Middlesbrough in a move that saved 400 jobs.

Rathbones, which provided bread to major supermarkets and featured the Harvestime and Fresha brands, went into administration in April, putting 1,550 jobs at risk. It failed after experiencing tough trading conditions and a fire at its factory in Carlisle.

Today’s latest sale includes the Harvestime division of Rathbones at Walsall – employing 444 people – and its Fresha site at Leicester, where 409 people work. The Peterborough site employed 85 people while 41 staff worked at Carlisle.

Myles Halley, of KPMG Corporate Recovery, said he was delighted to sell the remaining bakeries as going concerns.

He added: “Not only has this saved nearly 1,000 jobs, but the sale also ensures that customers will continue to be serviced and that suppliers will have ongoing business.”

The rescued business will be known as Harvestime and has been established by John Bridson and Phil Taylor, former directors of Harvestime in Walsall.

Morrisons acquired the Rathbones bakeries and assets in partnership with a newly-created company, Rathbone Kear, in which it had taken a majority stake.

Rathbones was bought from Irish-based Greencore by Finedon Mill for 30 million euros (£20.6 million) in April of last year, alongside a separate deal for Harvestime and Fresha Bakeries from William Price & Sons.

The company captured around 15 per cent of the market for private label bread to UK supermarkets.

Wednesday, May. 4, 2005

Supermarket helps safe 175 jobs

Supermarket chain Morrisons has rescued 175 jobs at the Wigan plant of collapsed Rathbones Bakeries.

Morrisons – and a new company in which it has a majority share, Rathbone Kear – has acquired some of the bakeries and equipment of Rathbones, in a £15.5m deal. It secures around 400 of the 1,550 jobs at risk since Rathbones went into administration last month.

Bakeries in Wigan, Wakefield, Middlesborough and Lydney, near Hereford, have been acquired under the deal. It also secures continuity of supply from Rathbones which had a £100m turnover last year, but put the blame for its problems on tough trading conditions and a fire which forced the closure of its Carlisle factory.

Rathbone Kear is a joint venture company owned by Morrisons and Harry Kear, who owned and successfully ran Rathbones prior to its sale to Greencore in 1997.

A spokeswoman for Morrisons said Rathbones had been a bread supplier for many years and it was keen to maintain supply of its products.

Administrators KPMG said today that talks were underway with another potential buyer for the rest of the businesses, with plants in Walsall, Leicester and Peterborough.

Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2004

School with Two Pupils Saved

A school which has only two pupils will be allowed to stay open, it was announced today.

Shetland Council threw out proposals to close five rural primary schools and one secondary school at a meeting in Lerwick today.

Among those was Scotland’s smallest secondary school which sits on one of the islands of Skerries.

Parents and children gathered at Lerwick Town Hall this morning to state their opposition to the school closure plans.

The islands of Skerries lie 24 miles north east of Lerwick and represent a fishing community with a population of 70.

Shetland councillor Drew Ratter said: “There was a proposal to stop providing secondary education at Skerries School and they decided on a narrow vote to carry on providing secondary education at Skerries.”

He said that although the provision of secondary education at Skerries had hung in the balance, at no time was the primary part of the school ever under threat of closure.

The local authority currently delivers its education service through a network of 34 schools but said this is no longer financially viable.

Ms. Aidoo helps Out “Miracle Student “

A 19-year-old African immigrant who camped out in front of the New York Stock Exchange two months ago in a desperate attempt to raise money for college will share her story with her longtime idol, Oprah Winfrey, on national television this week.

In August, a week before she was supposed to start Barnard College, Mary Shodiya stood on Wall Street with a sign that read “Hello! I’m Mary. I’m brilliant. Columbia University agrees. All I need is a loan. Name your interest rate.”

Miraculously, her sign worked. A Wall Street veteran helped her raise the $40,000 she needed for the first year’s tuition to Barnard, a women’s college affiliated with Columbia.

Tomorrow Ms. Shodiya’s story, which was first reported by The New York Sun, will be featured on an episode about “Believing” with the queen of daytime talk.

“If you had told me while I was standing there with that sign that I would be on ‘Oprah’ I never would have believed you,” Ms. Shodiya said yesterday during a phone interview. “I have literally watched her for years. I used to come home from school, make my lunch, and sit down to watch her on TV. When I saw her last week I was just thinking ‘Oh my gosh, she’s real!'”

The hand-written sign Ms. Shodiya was holding on that fated August afternoon caught the attention of Judith Aidoo, a Harvard Law School graduate with a vast network of contacts who took on Ms. Shodiya’s cause and has since become her mentor. Ms. Aidoo, 41, has spent the last two months tapping her influential colleagues and friends for donations.

Ms. Aidoo e-mailed out a three-page memo yesterday updating friends on the latest fund-raising figures and announcing that she and Ms. Shodiya would be on “Oprah” opposite Tom Hanks.

“Mary got her first introduction to the big time: stretch limo, great hotel suite, VIP treatment for a day, and a brief meeting with Oprah, Tom Hanks, and Josh Groban on the studio set,” Ms. Aidoo wrote. Much of the segment was shot in Ms. Shodiya’s Morningside Heights dormitory and outside the New York Stock Exchange.

Ms. Aidoo, who lived in Ghana as a child and is involved with many African organizations, is now trying to buoy the fund-raising base she rallied for Ms. Shodiya to help educate children in Africa.

Ms. Shodiya was born in Nigeria and moved to Maryland at age 11 to live with relatives and attend school. She was a top student, earning 1,370 on her SATs. She was adopted by an uncle and was accepted by Barnard last year but was not eligible for financial aid because she does not yet have a Green Card. She lived with an aunt at Brooklyn and worked in a store, trying to save the necessary tuition money.

Ms. Aidoo, whose friends say it was no surprise that she stopped to inquire about Ms. Shodiya as hundreds of others passed by, has already met with two organizations that invest in African causes.

“We could send 2,000 children to school in Africa for the cost of sending Mary to Barnard for a year,” Ms. Aidoo told the Sun yesterday. “We are delighted that Mary is living her dream, but for every Mary we’ve got to help 2,000 kids there. That is the ratio we are working with.” When asked how she explains the sequence of events, Ms. Aidoo said: “I just assume it was God. She was in the right place at the right time. I never viewed her as a risk. She’s an investment. We need people like her to be in a position to help the next generation when the time comes.”

Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004

Disaster relief approved for farmers hammered by drought, floods

In a fighting Life rays of hope are countables.

Today I will count my Rays of Hope.

Congress approved $14.4 billion in disaster relief for farmers and others who suffered losses from this year’s hurricanes and for farmers hurt by drought, floods or natural disasters in 2003 or 2004.

The legislation, which was attached to the annual military construction bill, sends $11.5 billion in aid to businesses, farms, individuals and government installations damaged by hurricanes and storms in Florida and other East Coast states. It also provides $2.9 billion for farmers hurt by droughts, floods and other weather-related problems in other areas.

Like the disaster bill passed in 2003, farmers must have lost at least 35 percent of their crop to drought, flood or other natural disaster either in 2003 or 2004. Benefits will be in addition to proceeds from federal crop insurance claims.

Funding will be provided through the Crop Disaster Program, Quality Loss Program and Livestock Assistance Program. Growers cannot collect more than 95 percent of what they would have earned from an average crop on the payments, which are expected to being reaching farmers by the end of the year.

Seven children rescued, kidnappers arrested

If Nobody loves, Nobody helps – be Nobody.

Seven children kidnapped from different states were rescued in the national capital following the arrest of two men, police said Wednesday.

The men, who had allegedly kidnapped the children from Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, were arrested Tuesday evening while trying to escape to Bahadurgarh in Haryana after one of the children Nissar had been traced to them.

Om Singh and his brother Mukesh Kumar, who kidnapped the children, kept them in Haridwar in Uttaranchal, where they had been made to work in fields, construction sites and automobile repair shops, a press statement said.

“Some of the kids had been in their custody for over five years. They were paid nothing and were not even given enough to eat,” said an official.

On Oct 3, police traced Nissar, 13, who had gone missing from north Delhi, to a village in Haridwar.

He had been kidnapped from Seemapuri in west Delhi on his way back home from Madrassa on July 18, 2001.

On his tip off, police reached the house where the children were kept in Haridwar but the two men had already escaped with the other six children.

Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2004

Hilton hotels signs up with disability charity to woo disabled workers

A small step? Well, that is what it takes: steps. Empowering individuals to have and hold a job, and ensuring it becomes so common we all expect it everywhere, any time.

The Hilton hotel chain has signed up with a leading provider of employment services for people with disabilities to push its diversity agenda.

Hilton UK & Ireland, which employs more than 15,000 people in 77 hotels in the region, has signed a contract with the Shaw Trust charity to offer thousands of people with disabilities easy access to its job vacancies.

At present only 49 per cent of disabled people are in work compared to 81 per cent of non-disabled people, according to the Shaw Trust.

Wolfgang Neumann, area president for the Hilton chain, said: “Hilton UK & Ireland is committed to doing business in a responsible way and this agreement absolutely defines our belief in providing the best job opportunities for those who are best equipped to serve our guests whatever their circumstances.”

Shaw Trust’s director of employment Malcolm Goldsby said: “It’s always great news when a major employer recognises the contribution that people with disabilities can make to their business.”

Monday, Oct. 4, 2004

Tax relief for America’s families

Recently, the House passed the Working Families Tax Relief Act, legislation that ensures that 93 million American taxpayers and their families don’t wake up to a major tax hike on Jan. 1, 2005, as a result of a sunset provision in previous tax legislation.

The legislation that we approved extends family-friendly tax provisions previously passed by Congress. The marriage-penalty relief is extended through 2010, preventing a tax hike on the approximately 27 million taxpaying couples; the expanded 10 percent income tax bracket is extended; and the $1,000 child tax credit is also extended. Without action, America’s families will face a $109 billion tax increase over the next 10 years – an average increase of $565 per person next year.

The legislation also provides critical assistance to military families in combat zones – a particularly appropriate measure given the times in which we live. The bill increases the child credit for military families and increases the Earned Income Credit, giving them the option to include combat pay.

This legislation also provides long-overdue uniformity in the definition of child for tax purposes – something that is critical for many elements of the code, among them the child credit, dependency exemption and head of household filing status.

The bill also extends relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax through 2005 – without this provision, more middle-income folks will be pushed into paying this tax.

Finally, this bill extends several other annual expiring tax provisions, including things like the research and development tax credit, thereby providing $13 billion of tax relief over the next 10 years.

Any time we can establish fairer and lower taxes on working families, then we are assisting the national economy, creating jobs and increasing opportunity across the country. The recent announcement that America’s Gross Domestic Product, which measures the rate of production in the United States, rose at an annual rate of 3.3 percent for the second quarter is a solid indicator of economic health, and further evidence that previous tax relief measures are working.

When we lower the tax burden on America’s families, it encourages investment, savings and general entrepreneurship, rather than exacting a price on productivity. It is both unwise and unfair to punish hard-working Americans for their industriousness.

Following House passage, this legislation moves to the Senate, which is expected to take up the measure in the near future. President Bush has already indicated that he will sign it into law, which is good news for America’s families.

Friday, Oct. 1, 2004

IMF extends HIPC debt relief scheme for poor nations

The International Monetary Fund agreed to extend the global debt relief program for poor countries by two years to 2006, the global lender said late on Thursday.

The move increases momentum for erasing debts that are blamed for stifling development in impoverished nations, most of them in Africa. It also comes as rich industrialized nations like the United States and Britain look at ways of possibly writing off all of the debt of some nations.

The IMF’s board of shareholder governments said in a statement it agreed to prolong the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative, launched by the IMF and World Bank in 1996, to give more countries time to qualify for the scheme.

“(IMF) directors agreed with the objective of bringing within the HIPC initiative all poor countries with current unsustainable debts, while preventing the initiative from becoming a permanent facility,” the IMF said in a statement.

Twenty-seven countries have qualified for HIPC, of which 14 have received maximum permitted debt relief and 13 others have started to receive some debt write-off.

Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow proposed up to 100 percent forgiveness of some debts, the first time a Bush administration official has suggested writing off all the debts of some countries.

IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato also said on Thursday more aid was needed for poor countries, including debt relief.

He also said he was willing to analyze a British proposal to revalue the IMF’s huge gold stocks as a means to raise money for added debt relief.

The IMF board expressed concern about keeping open the list of countries eligible for HIPC debt relief, given the limits on financing.

Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2004

City Council creates relief fund for businesses

Richmond businesses still struggling because of damage inflicted by the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston are now eligible for city grants of up to $10,000 each.

City Council created a $300,000 Gaston relief fund Monday night.

To get the money, businesses must be located in the city’s enterprise zones and meet certain criteria.

They will be able to spend the money on repairing or replacing equipment, removing debris and rehabilitating buildings. Businesses will also be eligible for up to $3,000 to relocate within the city.

The city’s economic-development department will accept grant applications until Oct. 4 at 5 p.m.

Council members also discussed the possibility of creating an additional $2 million relief fund for Shockoe Bottom, which bore the brunt of storm damage.

Saturday, Sep. 25, 2004

Brown outlines debt relief for world’s poorest

Britain plans to spend an extra 100 million pounds a year on debt relief for some of the world’s poorest countries, the Guardian has reported.

The government says the money will go to more than 30 countries to help them repay debts to the World Bank and African Development Bank.

“We intend to lead by example,” Chancellor Gordon Brown will say in a speech on Sunday, the Guardian has reported.

Brown will call on the world’s biggest donors to do the same when he attends the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) next month.

Brown, who chairs the IMF’s top policy-setting group, will repeat his longstanding call for IMF gold reserves to be revalued to release cash for debt relief.

Under a 1971 agreement, most IMF gold is valued at just $40 an ounce, or one-tenth of current market prices.

The IMF holds 103.4 million ounces of gold, one of the biggest gold stocks in the world, which is valued on its balance sheet at $8.5 billion (4.7 billion pounds).

“We cannot bury the hopes of half of humanity in the lifeless vaults of gold,” Brown will say ahead of the Labour Party’s annual conference, which opens on Sunday.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn said on Friday the U.S. government had discussed with him a plan to cancel poor countries’ debt to global institutions.

According to one estimate by the Jubilee Debt Campaign, a London-based pressure group, poor countries around the world owe more than $200 billion.

Friday, Sep. 24, 2004

Good acts rewarded at Ulster’s ‘Charity Oscars’ night

Businesses and community groups in the North were rewarded for their good works last night at a “Charity Oscars” ceremony.

The Northern Ireland Council for Civil Action (NICVA) Links Awards have established themselves over the past 18 years as the longest-running and most successful awards in the North.

The top prize, announced in Belfast last night, went to Childline Northern Ireland and First Trust Bank for their partnership in raising money for an extra phone line for children who have suffered abuse.

Their original fundraising target was £52,000 but the final figure raised was more than double that. The two lines the partnership created meant that 2,000 extra children in the North could receive counselling and support.

In the small charity category, Coca Cola (Ulster) came out on top for organising a football tournament involving 80 celebrities last March. Northern Bank picked up the top award in the medium charity section for its Money Talk programme which promotes financial literacy in schools.

Thursday, Sep. 23, 2004

Global fund shrinks technology gap

A global fund designed to shrink the technology gap between rich and poor nations is to be launched in November, said one of its key advocates.

President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal said it would seek voluntary donations.

Technology is seen by many as a way of helping developing nations educate their people, make them healthier and escape poverty.

But richer countries rejected the idea of compulsory donations at a UN summit in Geneva in December 2003.

Hi-tech contributions

President Wade has been one of the chief proponents of a so-called digital solidarity fund for developing nations.

He led efforts at the Geneva summit for firm financial commitments from the industrialised nations.

But there were no pledges for cash to bankroll technology-related projects at the meeting.

The fund announced by President Wade at a news conference in Geneva is a far cry from the original idea.

It is due to be launched in Geneva on 17 November.

The Senegalese leader said it would be based on voluntary contributions from the buyers of hi-tech goods in wealthy nations.

Exactly how this would work has yet to be explained.

But President Wade argued the fund would benefit industrialised countries, as millions of dollars would be used to buy computers, mobiles and other equipment from them.

2005 follow-up

Nations like Senegal see technology as a way of promoting economic growth and improve the life of its people.

The World Summit on the Information Society held in December was the first UN summit which looked at the impact of technologies like the internet and mobile phones.

It brought together more than 10,000 politicians, business representatives, development workers and technology experts for three days in Geneva.

The summit ended with agreement on the great potential of technologies like the internet and the need to extend its benefits to all, without going into specifics.

A follow-up summit is due to be held in Tunisia in 2005.

Thursday, Sep. 4, 2003

2000 jobs safe as PowerHouse sold

More than 2000 jobs at electricals retailer, PowerHouse, have been saved after the company was sold to New Zealand-based Pacific Retail Group (PRG).

PRG has taken over 142 sites, a majority of the company’s operating infrastructure and staff. It also intends to retain the PowerHouse brand.

The announcement comes a fortnight after PowerHouse – the UK’s largest independent electrical retailer – called in the receivers, deciding immediately to close 93 of its 223 stores with the loss of 813 jobs.

At the time receivers Nick Dargan and Neville Kahn of Deloitte & Touche said they wanted to sell the company as a going concern.

In a statement yesterday Dargan said: “We are exceptionally pleased to have sold this business as a going concern, which was our prime objective, and to have preserved over 2,000 jobs. Most commentators believed a break-up of the business was the most likely scenario, which would have generated less value for creditors.”

Publicly-listed PRG runs the largest appliance retail group in New Zealand trading under the brands Noel Leeming, Bond and Bond, Big Byte.

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