Friday, Nov. 17, 2006

Bicycling adventure-seeker is a hero to us all

A few days ago I told you about Jason Hill, a 35-year-old guy from Anchorage, Alaska, who is on a two-year bicycle jaunt that will take him across much of America and then to Argentina. [The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling: Build the Strength, Skills, and Confidence to Ride as Far as You Want]

He’s ridden more than 15,000 miles since starting out in June 2005. Despite packing more than 70 pounds of gear, he averages around 20 miles per hour.

This fellow is hard-core. He camps out most nights and rides off-road whenever possible. In Colorado, he got the hankering to go mountain-climbing, so he parked his ride and conquered a 14,000-foot peak.

Jason told me he doesn’t have much of a master plan, that he “makes the route up as he goes along.”

He’ll spend the winter with friends in Cincinnati, and pick up some paychecks as a landscaper and bartender before heading out again in March.

And get this. After returning to Alaska to relight the home fires, he might ride across Africa.

I flagged him down near Montgomery, Ind. It was almost a shame. He had a better pace than some cars I’ve owned.

He talked about purifying his drinking water, repairing his drive train and eating wild mushrooms.

Jason said he’s in no hurry to find a real job, and that he’d much rather pedal the ridgelines of Colorado.

I gave him the name of a good place to eat in Loogootee, and hoped the gypsum trucks outside Shoals don’t get as close to his hind parts as they did mine when I biked across Indiana on U.S. 50.

And he was off, possibly the most self-sufficient human being since Mr. Lewis and Mr. Clark.

Admit it. You’ve thought about leaving the work-a-day world behind and heading into the horizon, free as the tooth fairy.

But you don’t get any farther than the end of the driveway. There’s the mortgage to think about. And the moles that are threatening to plant their victory flag in your backyard. And who’s going to watch the dog while you’re in Costa Rica?

So you stay, your roots sinking yet another inch.

When it comes to adventure-seeking, Jason Hill is our elected official without the vote-counting and swearing-in ceremony.

We’re not quite willing to take off for two years with nothing for certain other than we’ll need a boatload of water-purifying tablets.

We’re not quite willing to pedal in the driving rain for 10 hours, sleep on a bed of pine cones and wake up the next morning with creepy things on our carcass.

So we let guys like this Mr. Pistons For Legs represent us.

When he dips his bike in Prudhoe Bay in upstate Alaska, he’s doing it for us.

When he’s pumping up the Andes Mountains, he has our dreams in his saddlebags.

Happy trails, Jason.

We’ve got to stay behind to pay into our health plan, but we’re with you in spirit.

May the wind always be at your back and may no mushroom give you gastric distress.

You’re the champ in my eyes, pal.

Lewis and Clark were good … as far as they went.

Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006

Missing girl reunited with father in Ohio

A 7-year-old Washington state girl who disappeared six months ago has been reunited with her father, police said.

Charles Ard, of Clark County, Wash., picked up his daughter, Brittany Ard, on Friday.

Police said the girl’s mother interfered with custody arrangements and moved the girl to the Cincinnati area. Regina Tiel and her husband, Kary Tiel, have been charged with felony interference in custody.

The Tiels used a false name to enroll the girl last month at the Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy in Symmes Township, authorities said.

Kathy Gims, the child’s first-grade teacher, said she became suspicious for several reasons, including that the girl’s hair looked dyed. An admissions counselor at the school also had difficulty tracking down the girl’s records, including a permanent address.

Gims and the counselor went to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Web site, where they found a photo of the girl.

The center contacted Vancouver, Wash., detectives, and police arrested the Tiels on Thursday.

Soldier becomes instant millionaire

Lottery winner Bill Rivenburgh said, “It’s going to be a little easier. I won’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.”

The 38-year-old’s fortune changed for the better on October 25th in the parking lot of Stewart’s on Brandywine Avenue in Schenectady. That’s when he scratched off his winning “Be An Instant Millionaire” ticket on his way home from work.

“I called my wife and told her about it. She thought I was lying and that was that,” said Rivenburgh.

He said once he scratched it, he had to look at it more than once before he realized how much he had won.

Rivenburgh said, “Oh, I had to look at it five times. My wife thought I was lying. I told her I was as serious as a heart attack.”

A veteran of the war in Iraq, Rivenburgh was sent overseas one day after his Valentine’s Day wedding to his wife Lisa in 2004. But instead of taking that honeymoon they never had, Rivenburgh instead plans to invest in his kids’ future.

“I’m going to invest some of it in CDs for my nieces and nephews, my kids, my stepson. That way they have something when they’re old enough,” Rivenburgh said.

The Rivenburghs haven’t had it easy. Lisa spent some time in rehab while her husband was overseas and the couple has taken in Bill’s sister’s three kids in addition to their own.

Lisa Rivenburgh said, “We don’t have to wonder where your Christmas presents are coming from every year. That’s how I’m looking at it. We’re not rich. We’re just more comfortable.”

Rivenburgh also plans to renovate his house and take the kids to Disney World. He’ll receive $50,000 a year for the next 20 years.

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006

Charity fixes 1,000th hurricane-damaged home

Today a group of Dubuque Catholic Charities volunteers from Dubuque will tear into the wreckage of Isaac Bolden’s home in the Gentilly quarter of New Orleans.

The structure is the 1,000th home Catholic Charities volunteers have rescued in the year since Hurricane Katrina inundated the city and sent tens of thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives. [Unnatural Disaster: The Nation on Hurricane Katrina]

The 10-member demolition crew, led by the Rev. Jack Paisley of Dubuque, is made up of members of Resurrection Catholic parish in Dubuque.

“We have two more groups who are going in February,” said Sister Francine Quillin, pastoral associate. “We have a very active social justice committee in our parish. ”

For the most part, the Catholic Charities crews have focused their efforts on helping elderly and disabled homeowners begin the clean-up process. The Bolden home was inundated by 10 feet of water. Bolden did not have flood insurance and he has experienced major health problems.

Bolden is currently living in an apartment in Atlanta. He is traveling by train to thank the volunteers, according to Corinne Knight, spokesperson for Catholic Charities in the New Orleans archdiocese.

“A lot of people are so moved by the experience that they want to do more,” Knight said. “They want to continue their relationship with the community, something we are so grateful for.” [Rebuilding Your Broken World]

Operation Helping Hands began over Thanksgiving weekend last year and has taken off largely by way of word-of-mouth organizing, organizers said.

“A thousand homes gutted means that 1,000 families have started to rebuild not only their homes, but also their lives,” said Joan Diaz, project manager.

To date, 6,848 volunteers participating in Operation Helping Hands have gutted 999 homes and given 178,641 hours of service valued at more than $5.4 million, Knight said. More than 3,000 volunteers from across the United States are scheduled to participate in the project through March 2007. About 1,000 homes remain on the waiting list.

Monday, Nov. 13, 2006

Stolen camera returned to family

A STOLEN video camera containing family pictures has been returned to its owners.

Police believe it was stolen during a string of thefts from cars in Kearsley.

The Sony video camera was left at the scene of a car break-in in Teak Drive, Kearsley, on Monday, October 16, when a car owner said he had disturbed thieves who had broken into his car.

The man found the camera beside the car and it was thought to have been stolen earlier and left behind by the thieves.

Police released pictures taken from a video in the camera in a bid to trace the family and return the camera to them.

The pictures appeared in The Bolton News and the family got in touch with police.

PC Dave Carlisle, of Bolton police, said: “The victims believe the camera was taken from their car while they were visiting family close to the scene of other attempted car thefts.

“The family did not even notice the camera was gone until recently, which is why they did not report it missing.”

Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006

Boy shot in the head is ‘a miracle’

Six-year-old Shawn Rulo was near death when he was airlifted to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center with a gunshot wound in his head.

Now, about a month later, the boy from Washington County who was shot when his father’s rifle accidentally discharged is making an amazing recovery. [Cheap Shots, Ambushes, And Other Lessons: A Down And Dirty Book On Streetfighting & Survival]

His mom calls it a miracle.

Shawn is now walking, talking and eating solid food, his mother and doctor said Friday.

Shawn’s mother, Gena Aubuchon, 25, of Caledonia in Washington County, spoke with reporters Friday at a hospital news conference for the first time since Shawn was shot on Oct. 10.

“He says his ABCs,” Aubuchon said. “He counts. He’s writing his name. He’s just a miracle.”

That’s a vast improvement from Shawn’s condition when he was brought to the hospital on the day of the shooting, said Dr. Adrienne Tilbor, medical director of the rehabilitation unit at Cardinal Glennon.

“He arrived in our emergency room near death,” Tilbor said. “His heart and lungs were working, but there were limited other signs of life at that time.

“His recovery so far is amazing, and he’s made tremendous progress,” she added.

Shawn was in a medically induced coma for several days after the shooting to allow brain swelling to subside, Tilbor said. He gradually regained consciousness and some abilities late last month after being brought out of the coma, the doctor said.

Tilbor declined to make a long-term prognosis for Shawn’s mental abilities but said he probably could make a full physical recovery. He’s already walking with some assistance, talking slowly and eating solid food, the doctor said.

Shawn also is taking only half the medications he needed immediately after brain surgery on Oct. 10 to remove bullet and bone fragments, Tilbor said.

Shawn was moved early this week to Cardinal Glennon’s pediatric rehabilitation unit from a regular hospital room.

Tilbor said she was unsure how much longer Shawn would be in the hospital.

She said Shawn would have more surgery Friday to replace part of his skull that had been temporarily removed to accommodate brain swelling.

She also said it was too soon to tell how much of Shawn’s brain might have been permanently damaged.

“We don’t know at this point how it’s going to affect him intellectually, but young brains are very plastic, so I think there’s a lot of progress that can be made,” Tilbor said.

Shawn’s father, Ricky Rulo Jr., 29, of Cadet in Washington County, is being held in the Washington County Jail at Potosi on a drug-related charge and also on an earlier charge of violating his probation from a previous conviction by possessing the rifle that discharged, wounding Shawn.

Authorities contend that Rulo was impaired by marijuana use when his deer rifle discharged. His bail has been set at $50,000.

Cadet is about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Shawn’s stepfather, Patrick Aubuchon, 30, of Caledonia, said he was in Shawn’s hospital room a week ago when Shawn suddenly started speaking in short sentences after only uttering a word or two for a few days after coming out of the coma.

“I was shocked,” Aubuchon said. “I didn’t know what to think. He’s been making so much progress.”

Gena Aubuchon said the family continued to need help with Shawn’s medical bills, and she noted that donations may be made to the Shawn Michael Rulo Fund at any U.S. Bank branch in St. Louis and nearby counties.

“I’d also like to say thanks to everybody who’s been helping us,” she said. “Everyone’s been so helpful.”

‘He gave me life twice’

Andy Holcomb shares his near-death experience in hopes of helping others with the problems they face in life. [Complete Idiot’s Guide to Near-Death Experiences]

His body broken and battered, Andy Holcomb’s spirit has never been more alive.

The Akron man was nearly killed in early 2005 when an industrial accident claimed the entire lower half of his body. Doctors believe Holcomb should have died that day, but he survived as a medical miracle.

For the first time, Holcomb is talking publicly about the journey he said he took during those moments while trapped in an industrial machine.

“Last thing I saw was the light before that happened,” Holcomb said. “First thing I thought to do was to say the Lord’s Prayer. There’s a real comforting presence the whole time It was there. It was almost as if like, God had taken me from my body, because I could like see me.

“As soon as I closed my eyes, I opened them and I was in this train. I had no legs and I was searching around me frantically looking for my phone. So I could call my family and tell them goodbye.”

At one point, rescuers believed Holcomb was gone, but he says his journey was just beginning.

“This angel stopped me and she looked at me. She wore a white gown and she told me that I couldn’t go where everyone else was going and I said ‘well why not?’ and she said ‘because you’re not dead yet.

“I asked her if I could keep my legs and she was like ‘Well I talked to Him (God), and He said you can’t keep your legs but you’ll have something much better than that when you get back.'”

Holcomb says he was swept away by the amazing sounds of an angelic choir. [Grace Plus Nothing]

“It’s indescribable,” he said. “Hearing it as loud and as graceful and as peaceful as it was. That’s kind of the sound when no one else is around. That kind of sound in the background.”

Holcomb is hopeful that military surgeons can help him with a special prosthetic, similar to what American troops injured in battle can receive. He struggles with daily pain, but says his new mission in life is sharing his faith.

“He gave me life twice,” Holcomb said. “I want to help other people like myself. Those people who are one in a million.”

My guardian angel

NEVER have there been such devoted neighbours.

And this week Mrs Ada Pilling, of Christie Avenue, Morecambe, was officially named the best neighbour in the Lancaster district. [The Perfect Neighbor]

The 68-year-old, who lives with her husband Fraser, was nominated for giving endless care and support to neighbour Pamela Bennett during her most stressful times. Pamela said: “If it wasn’t for Ada’s help and support, I’d have topped myself a long time ago.

“She’s been my rock and my guardian angel and deserves this award so much.”

The 53-year-old said: “When my husband was seriously ill it was such a difficult time but Ada would come and sit with him until all the hours of the day and night, change his dressings and generally try and help out as much as she could.

“Then when he died I wanted to commit suicide but she stopped me and helped me out.

“She’d do my shopping and hang my washing out on the line.

“Now we’ve even been working together to lose weight. I’ve lost nearly eight stones and Ada’s lost about seven stones.”

Ada was surprised but delighted to win Lancaster City Council’s Good Neighbour Award. [Neighbor Power: Building Community The Seattle Way]

“I was so shocked and nearly collapsed when they told me I’d won. I’m the sort of person who would help anyone out and I don’t like to see anybody in trouble so if I can do anything then I will.”

The two runners-up were Maureen Knowles of Laburnum Grove, Marsh, and Barbara Arkwright of Highfield Road, Carnforth. Mrs Knowles was nominated by Sally Ann Dooke of Lime Grove while Mrs Arkwright was nominated by Pat Lovering of Highfield Road.

Monday, Nov. 6, 2006

Blankets of Hope: She’s a true ‘Soldier’s Angel’

You’d expect a Swampscott mom whose son and daughter-in-law are both in the Army to support American troops.

But you might not expect this much support; Dorothy Stemniski has made not one, not a few, but dozens of “Blankets of Hope” to comfort wounded soldiers during their recuperation at Landstuhl, Germany. Some of them even return to duty in Iraq and Afghanistan but never without their Blankets of Hope. [A Soldiers Hope: A First-Hand Account of it]

She says her active support for the troops, including son Capt. Peter Stemniski (three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan) and daughter-in-law Maj. Kerrie Stemniski (one in Afghanistan), began when she became aware of an organization called Soldier’s Angels while she was visiting her mom in Pennsylvania. The organization, she says, was selling magnetic ribbons for the back of cars earlier than just about anyone else.

Steminiski kept in touch with Soldier’s Angels, organized by Patti Patton Bader, great-niece of Gen George Patton of World War II and North Shore homestead fame. The organization, aware of summer temperature in Iraq and Afghanistan, soon began providing cooling tubes for soldiers to wear about their necks.

“It’s 130 degrees over there in the summer and the troops are carrying 80 or 100 pounds of equipment on their backs,” Stemniski says with amazement. “The group also provides sand scarves to be worn under goggles and over the soldiers’ ears, keeping the sand out.”

Other volunteers in Soldiers’ Angels don’t do anything but write letters to troops because, as Stemniski says, some get very few if any letters – or e-mails – from home.

“Some volunteers even kind of adopt the parents of the soldier they write to,” she says. “Others actually ship bread machines to the troops because, believe me, they are anxious for good bread.”

Still other volunteers make mittens and booties for wounded troops.

“Did you know those big transport planes they use to take wounded soldiers to Germany are not heated?” she asks about Air Force C-130 planes. “Many of the injured troops get cold along the way way – and a few of them are naked because their uniforms have been cut off them to dress their wounds.” [The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan]

That’s where the “Blankets of Hope” comes in. While Soldiers’ Angels has many areas for individuals and groups to volunteer, Stemniski chose the Blankets portion of the project because of her lifelong love of sewing. (Swampscott people might well be familiar with her works because of her quilt donations to St. John’s Church.)

Blankets of Hope, each rolled up and placed in a plastic bag along with a tag placed by the maker, are then put in backpacks for wounded troops arriving at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

“The wounded are stabilized on the battlefield and flown to Germany,” Stemniski says. “Often, they arrive with none of their personal possession, which may take months to catch up with them. In the interim, they get our Soldiers’ Angels backpacks in the hospital.”

The backpacks contain not only blankets and quilts, but a toothbrush, underwear (gender-appropriate, Stemniski laughs), and sweatshirts and sweatpants, all not necessarily in stock at the hospital from Army issue.

Stories produced from the effort are heart-warming.

“A woman from Westfield, Ind., wrote me. Her husband had been injured and then sent back to Iraq, but she wrote and said she and her husband, who had received a backpack, decided to continue the act of kindness. They gave it to a struggling local family with five children.” [Boots on the Ground: Stories of American Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan]

The newest effort of Soldiers’ Angels is to get volunteers to send holiday cards to the military and medical staff at the hospital in Landstuhl.

“Sometimes, in our efforts to encourage the troops, we forget the civilian staff supporting them,” Stemniski says.

Money doesn’t hurt either and Stemniski points with pride to Marshall University in West Virginia, where students voted to send all proceeds of “Greek Week” this fall to Soldiers’ Angels.

Stemniski herself sent 24 Blankets of Hope this summer, each of them different – she says the dollar table at Wal-Mart is a great place to buy both crib-size blanket batting and fabric to cover it with – and will send many more this month.

Sewing runs in the family, she adds. Her mother was still sewing full-size quilts when she was 90 years old.

“My family always made clothing for all the children. I learned embroidery at age 4, doing Mickey Mouse, and my family taught all the girls how to sew. I think they figured that it was how they kept the girls out of trouble.”

What can other people do to support the troops, regardless of their views of the war? Stemniski says anyone can find something to do through Soldiers’ Angels ( if they just look.

“You can write letters, make things, get others involved. All it takes is some of your time,” she says. “And the rewards are great. The mother of one man, moved from Germany to an Air Force hospital in Texas, said the only thing her son took with him from place to place was his Blanket of Hope.”

Brothers reunited after 66 years apart

The tears welled up in the eyes of Alfred Klipping, much as they did on that day so long ago when he left behind his brother to come to North Iowa and live with his adoptive parents.

“They tell me that the first night I was adopted, I cried myself to sleep saying ‘where’s Dale?’ And to think, after all these years, I found him.”

Klipping paused, removed his glasses and wiped away the tears. The Corwith man who works part-time at the Forest City Ace Hardware store had indeed found Dale.

“It’s unbelievable. … God was with us, wasn’t He?”

The two brothers – who had last seen each other in 1939 when they both lived in an orphanage in Toledo – met on Oct. 21 at an aunt’s house in Washington, their hometown so long ago. And almost immediately, they began bridging a 66-year gap.

“Oh boy, was it a long time coming,” Jacobs said in a phone interview from his Ottumwa home. “I wish we lived closer to each other, but right now, just to know he’s alive and well … it’s just great.”

The separation

George was 5 and Dale was 7 when they were taken from their home in Washington to the orphanage in Toledo.

“We still don’t know why we ended up there,” Klipping said, “but I remember it was kind of scary and I remember being real glad that my big brother was there with me.”

But in the 1930s and 1940s, adopting just one sibling was a common practice, and in early 1940, George and Lillian Klipping came to Toldeo to adopt Alfred and bring him back to the Forest City area.

Dale, meanwhile, stayed in Toledo, and in the early 1940s, his mother and stepfather came back for him.

“Mom never really did say what happened,” Jacobs said. “I’d ask her but she’d get real emotional. After a while, I realized she just didn’t want to or couldn’t talk about it.”

The two brothers grew up, eventually married and had children.

Alfred and his wife, Doris, had four children and farmed in the Thompson-Buffalo Center area until 1985. He then went to work at Southtown Lumber in Forest City until he semi-retired a few years ago. Dale, meanwhile, had four daughters and a son, and he worked as an electric-motor repairman.

Dale and his second wife, Margaret, moved to Arizona in 1969, but when Margaret passed away, Dale moved back to Iowa a year ago so he could be closer to his children.

“It makes you wonder, doesn’t it,” Klipping said. “If we had started looking earlier, we probably wouldn’t have found him. And then who knows? Maybe we would have given up. God must have decided now was the time.”

The search

For years, Jacobs wondered what happened to his brother. He wanted to find him, but he admits he didn’t have a clue where to start.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, but [the adoption] happened so long, I just couldn’t remember anything. A lot happened and it was in the 1930s and I was just a little kid. Not knowing … that’s what was so hard.”

About a month ago, Klipping decided the time was at hand to find his brother. He and his wife went to a grandson’s birthday party in southern Iowa but left a day early to begin the search.

A daughter, Jennifer, picked up the proverbial ball from there. She drove to Washington, found Dale’s birth certificate and then by chance, searched for Dale Jacobs on the Internet.

She found him in Ottumwa and placed the call to the uncle she never knew. A few minutes later, she dialed her father.

“She said, ‘I think I found him’ and I didn’t say anything,” Klipping said. “So she said it again. ‘I think I found him.’ … And I just cried.”

As he talked, the tears of joy returned. Sixty-six years later, the search had ended.

Reunion day

They met at their Aunt Velma’s house in Washington, and the embrace was long and tight.

“It was wonderful,” Jacobs said, “and I’ll tell you, I’m not ashamed to say it but the tears came.”

“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Klipping said, once again trying to hold back the emotions, “but God looked after us all these years. You know, at our age, one of us could have been gone, but He kept us here so we could find each other.”

Dale Jacobs turned 74 on Sunday. And for the first time, Al Klipping can send his big brother a birthday card.

“It’s a little thing maybe to some people,” Klipping said, “but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time.”

Many questions remain unanswered, but the brothers find comfort in the one that has been answered. Where is my brother? They now know.

Teen hailed as a hero for teddy bear project

Since the fourth grade, Taylor Crabtree’s nonprofit has raised more than $100,000 to purchase teddy bears for 23,000 young cancer patients at 300 hospitals throughout the nation.

This week, the Rancho Buena Vista High School junior was honored for her good deeds through her TayBear Co., when People magazine named her one of its top five heroes of 2006. She was featured on “The Early Show” on CBS and has been contacted by “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Taylor’s nonprofit raises money by recruiting youth volunteers to paint hair clips. Taylor then sells the clips and uses the profits to pay for the bears. She has been doing this since age 7, when she was inspired after her grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer, from which she recovered.

Taylor, 16, said she’s unsure whether she’s deserving of the hero title, but is excited about the recognition.

“TayBear has just become a part of who I am,” she said. “If I didn’t have TayBear I’d feel like I was letting our society down. Starting at a young age has made me less self-centered, and I think it would be great if everyone was a little more that way.”

Taylor has recruited about 1,300 young volunteers during the years from churches, schools and youth groups such as the Girl Scouts. They paint the hair clips, put the TayBear tags on the stuffed animals and give each bear a hug.

During the years, Taylor has sold the hair clips online, in front of supermarkets and at school for $2.50 a pair. Today, she sells them after giving speeches about her organization to churches and community groups. She has spoken twice before the Million Dollar Round Table, an international association of financial professionals. Taylor also accepts donations online.

“TayBear is so much a part of who she is, it’s almost like honoring her for walking,” said her mother, Tricia Crabtree.

According to People magazine, the heroes selected were ordinary citizens who donated their time to charitable causes. On “The Morning Show” on CBS, those who knew Taylor praised how long she had stuck with her cause. This was no passing hobby or summer project.

At school, Taylor earns A’s and B’s and has a schedule packed with advanced placement and honors classes. She is also passionate about volleyball and plays on her school’s varsity girls team and for a selective Southern California girls team, on which she has been nationally ranked.

Joanne Pastula, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of San Diego, in which Taylor was active when she was younger, said Taylor is a role model for other children.

“They learn from her that anything’s possible,” Pastula said. “If they have something they want to do, they can do it as long as they have a goal and drive.”

The biggest challenge with TayBear is raising money for shipping costs, which are paid for through cash gifts and business donations. Taylor has about 2,500 bears in her home office, which is the garage, waiting to be shipped out, but doesn’t have the money to send them.

Friday, Nov. 3, 2006

City firefighter rescues lost swan

A BRAVE bird was stopped in its tracks by one of Worcester’s retained firefighters

Keith Sheppard, a technician at Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service’s Transport and Stores on Hylton Road, rescued a swan as it wandered away from the river

The 49-year-old said he was coming off a break when he saw the swan walking up the side of the Worcester News building and up the alleyway towards Henwick Road

“We phoned Swan Rescue but they said it would be three hours before they could get anyone there, and if it was OK I could pick it up,” he said

“I picked it up by its neck

I knew how to do it because I’m a retained firefighter and I have seen Swan Rescue do it.

“I took it back to the river, and it swam off quite happily.”

Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006

Lawyer named adoption angel

When Monica Farris Linkner and her husband adopted a son in 1988, they went to Kansas to do so.

That’s because at the time, people in Michigan could not work directly with their attorney and a birth mother to arrange an adoption.

The experience of adopting a child, and the knowledge that not everyone had the time, money or ability to go to another state to adopt, led Linkner to begin working on changing Michigan’s adoption laws.

“I became very passionate about adoption in general and about getting Michigan laws to be more adoption friendly,” said Linkner, an Ann Arbor lawyer.

Because of her work on adoption issues, this fall she was named an “Angel of Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, an organization composed of 196 members of Congress. Linkner was nominated for the honor by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and honored at a ceremony in Washington.

For Linkner, who also had a biological son 17 years before she adopted, the effort to change Michigan’s laws began about three years after her adopted son, Matt, was born.

Linkner, who lived in Lathrup Village in Oakland County at the time, contacted state Rep. David Gubow of Huntington Woods, who was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Gubow became interested and held hearings around the state, Linkner said. She testified at several of those hearings, wrote position papers, talked to legislators, and brought in experts to promote reform.

In 1994, the Legislature enacted a set of 17 bills that took effect in January 1995. The new laws allowed direct placement adoptions, meaning prospective parents, working with an attorney, could be chosen by a birth mother. The laws effectively reduced the time it took to adopt a child, from four to six years down to a year or 18 months. The laws allowed the birth mother and adoptive parents to decide on the degree of openness in the adoption, such as whether there would be any contact between the birth family and adoptive family.

“It allowed people to really fashion their adoptions more flexibly,” Linkner said. “At the time, birth mothers weren’t picking the adoptive families at all.”

The new laws also effectively forced adoption agencies, which had been the gatekeepers for adoption, to change their rigid practices and open up to the new ways of adoption, Linkner said.

Mark McDermott, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and adoption expert, came in to help Linkner with her reform campaign.

“As far as Michigan was concerned, (Linkner) was the primary person who spearheaded (the reform),” McDermott said.

Diane Michelsen, an adoption attorney in Lafayette, Calif., who has worked with Linkner on interstate adoptions and who also was named an “Angel of Adoption” this year, said Linkner brings many strong personal qualities to her work.

“She brings a caring from her heart and she brings broad-based legal insights and intellect,” Michelsen said. “She is persistent and clear thinking.”

Her adoption experience, and her work on adoption reform, changed not only Michigan law but also Linkner’s career. After the reform, she focused her law practice exclusively on adoption and assisted reproductive technology cases dealing with procedures such as surogacy, gestational carriers and embryo donors.

During the campaign for adoption reform, Linkner also helped form an adoption support group, the Family Tree, which lasted for about 10 years and involved about 125 people at its height.

Linkner, 58, was born and raised in Detroit. She graduated from Mumford High School in 1965, attended the University of Michigan for two years, then finished her bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Wayne State University in 1972.

She had been married and divorced and already had her first child when she entered law school at Wayne State University in 1974. Involved during her youth in the civil rights and women’s movements, she decided to go to law school after meeting a woman who was a lawyer.

“It never occurred to me that a woman could become a lawyer back then,” she said. “I met a woman lawyer and thought maybe I could be more effective working through the legal system to bring about social change than by carrying a picket sign.”

She says her parents, two aunts and the Jewish belief in “repairing the world” were responsible for her desire to help others.

Linkner moved to the Ann Arbor area in 2003; she lives in Webster Township.

Looking ahead, Linkner said Michigan still needs reform in the openness of adoption and access to adoption records. The state also needs a “putative father” registry where men who believe they are fathers of children and who want to claim parental rights would be required to register or give up those rights, she said. Such a registry would save much time now needed to track down putative fathers before adoptions take place, she said.

The state also needs to find a way to get more foster children into adoptive homes, she said.

Linkner said she is happy with her work and wants to continue it.

“I want to keep doing what I’m doing because I love it,” she said. “How many other people get to help put families together?”

Monday, Oct. 30, 2006

Hero cop ‘took bullet meant for the other guy’

The hero cop sprayed with bullets while stopping an execution-style slaying in Brooklyn has no regrets about leaping into danger, relatives said yesterday.

Sgt. James Rector “took the bullet that was meant for the other guy,” his proud father told the Daily News. “He did what he had to do.”

“He’s glad he came out safe and alive, thank the Lord,” added James Rector Sr., 54, of Atlanta. “He doesn’t run from trouble.”

The cop’s quick action Thursday saved the life of Rishon Decoursey-Bliss, 26, who was kneeling and pleading for his life outside the Walt Whitman Houses in Fort Greene as teen gunman Eric Hines aimed a .40-caliber handgun at his head, police said.

Hines shot Rector in the ankle and the rear after hearing the cop yell, “Freeze!” police said.

Still, Rector returned fire, shooting 11 times and mortally wounding the 17-year-old triggerman.

Speaking from his hospital bed in Lutheran Medical Center yesterday, Decoursey-Bliss said he’d like to meet the officer who saved his life.

“Tell him he can come and visit me,” he said, wincing in pain from a leg wound.

Rector, a 34-year-old father of three, has been recuperating at his Flushing apartment with his family, relatives said.

Loved ones described the 11-year NYPD veteran as a devoted cop who knew he wanted a future in law enforcement from a young age. He attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice and signed up for the NYPD immediately afterward, his father said.

Rector took pride in his most recent position as supervisor at the NYPD recruiting station in the Walt Whitman Houses in Fort Greene.

He’s also devoted to his wife and three children – and loves to work out with his oldest son, an avid football and basketball player, relatives said.

Now, as he recovers, the cop will have to decide whether to return to the job that he loves.

“I told him, it’s up to him to make his decision. I just said, ‘Take some time off, heal, then make up your mind,'” Rector Sr. said.

“I know they’d love to have him back. He’s a good man.”

Friday, Oct. 27, 2006

Brother And Sister Reunited After Separate Adoptions 10 Years Earlier

While waiting in line at a temporary employment agency in Mt. Pleasant, Jerry Marks, 22, looked at a girl also standing in the line and got what he told the Morning Sun newspaper was “an eerie feeling.”

“As I looked at her I just said, ‘you know, you look just like my sister, who I have been looking for years,'” Marks said.

Tressa Norris, 23, of Mt. Pleasant, began talking to Marks, of Remus, as they waited outside the Labor Ready office on Mission Road.

As they recited names of relatives, the two simultaneously said, “Joyce Matthews.”

That’s when they realized that they had reunited for the first time since they and their six brothers and sisters had been taken from their mother by authorities and placed for adoption.

Joyce Matthews had reportedly been an abuser of drugs and alcohol as well as a prostitute.

The children had been in and out of foster homes until they were finally removed for good about ten years ago.

The last time the brother and sister had seen each other was at a supervised visit when they were both pre-teens and living in separate foster homes.

“We didn’t know whether to hug each other, kiss each other or cry,” Norris said.

The pair say they would like to reunite with their other brothers and sisters, if possible. They don’t know their current last names, but the first names are Tracy, April, Jason Lee, Rachael, Michael and Bruce.

Teacher Reunited With 9-Year-Old Who Helped Save Her

A teacher who suffered a stroke while in a day-care classroom got to thank the student who called 911 and helped save her.

Renee Thompson has been through a lot.

“It was really rough I have to say,” Thompson said.

She has to learn to do everything all over again, things such as walking, talking, reading and writing.

But she said she is just thankful she is even alive to face these challenges.

“My hero. Yeah, I consider him my hero,” Thompson said.

That hero is 9-year-old student Jerry Richards. He stopped by Monday for a surprise visit.

“How you been doing?” Thompson asked.

I’ve been doing good,” Jerry said.

Thompson worked at a day-care center. In August, she was the only adult in a room full of children when she had a stroke, collapsed and Jerry took over. He kept the children calm, called 911 and comforted his teacher.

“He had me by the arm and said, ‘Miss Renee, just be good. When they come, it’s going to be all right,’ and that made me feel good,” Thompson said.

“I’m really proud that I reacted so fast to save her life,” Jerry said.

He gave her a second chance, and although she still has a long way to go, her hero will be there for her every step of the way.

Thompson spent more than a month recovering in the hospital.

She still has to go through physical, speech and occupational therapy several times a week.

Her doctors said it would be about one year before she can go back work at the day-care center.

3,000 Year Old Drawings Returned To Passamaquoddy Tribe

A piece of history, more than 3,000 years old, is back in the hands of its owners. The Maine Coast Heritage Trust exchanged a five and a half acre piece of land for an easement on coastal tribal land in Washington County Monday.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe celebrated the deal with song and ceremony. The land, called “Picture Rock” on Machias Bay is sacred to the Passamaquoddys. Thousands of years ago, native people told stories there, by carving pictures into the rocks called petroglphys.

For decades, Ann Thompson’s family owned the land and took great care to keep it from being developed. Now, Thompson and her husband have sold the five and half acres of land to the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which it then traded with the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

“The property we will have a conservation easement on will be added to other land already protected, creating about 1000 acres in one of the most important wildlife areas in the entire state,” says Jay Espy, President of Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

“We think it’s a day of friendship between Maine people who are native and non-native,” says Rick Doyle, Tribal Chief.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust paid $450,000 dollars for the land at “Picture Rock,” the president of the trust called the petroglyphs priceless pieces of history.

A Closer Look: On the value of a hometown newspaper

It has been almost two years since I began my job as public safety reporter for the Oroville Mercury-Register. Some people have wondered why I remain in this job after I worked so hard in college and earned two bachelor’s degrees with honors, a social science teaching credential, and earned a 4.0 grade point average during two years in graduate school. How can I describe how incredibly rewarding this job has been over the last two years? Yes, it can be stressful at times, but the intangible rewards are truly momentous.

Let me briefly share a tiny glimpse of why I love being a reporter for the Oroville Mercury-Register.

It provides infinite opportunities to help people. I cannot tell you all of the times this newspaper played a positive role in bringing people together and building community. Well, I could just share with you some most memorable moments.

• I remember covering the Oroville Police “Shop with a Cop” day when officers gave young children in need $50 to spend in Wal-Mart during the holidays. When one of our subscribers read in the OMR how a little girl wished she could buy her mother a sewing machine, she called the newspaper to find out how she could donate her old sewing machine to the little girl’s mother.

• I’ve covered numerous heartbreaking stories about house fires that left parents and children homeless and in need of clothing, furniture, cooking appliances, utensils, toothbrush, soap, and everything else you can imagine a family would need. Many times we have run the shirt, pant, and shoe sizes of all family members and the locations where people could drop off donated items to help the family. Our newspaper also informs people where to send money to a trust fund set up at a local bank to help fire victims or other victims of unexpected tragedies. This is another example of how this newspaper has helped to bring people together to help make a difference.

• When the Sheriff’s Captain Bob Pancake Wagon was damaged in a fire, and the sheriff needed to raise $30,000 to repair the wagon, our newspaper put out the word and let people know the wagon’s historic significance and how it raises money for non-profits and funds Little League, soccer, Boy and Girl Scouts, veteran’s groups, among other worthy causes. Many non-profits groups and citizens rallied the cause of the pancake wagon and learned about its need for restoration after reading about it in the OMR.

• Our community has learned about many fatal, tragic accidents and the precious lives lost by reading about them in our local newspaper. Hundreds have turned out for funerals and there have been numerous times people told me they read about the deceased person’s life in the newspaper and felt moved to honor the deceased and their family by attending funeral services or by donating to a charity in his or her name. Oroville is still a “small town” at heart and when a young person dies, the community mourns. And, it is the newspaper that informs the public about these events. I remember a high school principal thanked the Mercury-Register for reporting on the fatal collision that claimed two teens’ lives. She said the article greatly helped to dispel the rumors that had started to circulate about the deaths. The OMR articles also remembered the teens’ lives and helped bring the community together to remember them and mourn.

• When the owners of a local market had one of their beloved relatives drown in Lake Oroville, the community came out in support of this family after reading about it in the newspaper. Neighbors, friends, and customers came to their store to express their sympathy and support. Some even offered to loan them a boat to search for their relative’s body in the lake. The family expressed their appreciation to the Oroville Mercury-Register and said even their relatives who lived out of the country were able to learn more about what happened on the OMR’s online edition of the newspaper.

• When an Oroville Police officer suffered major injuries in a motorcycle accident, the community turned out to support him after reading about it in the newspaper. The officer said it made such a big difference to receive so much support in the form of cards and letters from well-wishers and also donations to help with expenses.

• When the local fire departments needed support for their fund-raisers, the local newspaper spread the word. The first disc golf tourney was successful and the newspaper played a role in publicizing the event. When El Medio Fire’s water tender broke down and they needed support, there was an in-depth report about the tender and one generous person gave them $1,100 check after reading the newspaper.

• The public health department expressed their gratitude to the newspaper for the story about their upcoming seminar on obsessive compulsive hoarding. A nursing supervisor said the response from the article was overwhelming as many people called to say they knew someone with the disorder who needed help.

• The sheriff wrote a letter of thanks for the OMR’s three part series on the severe methamphetamine problem facing our community.

• Members of the Oroville Rescue Mission also expressed thanks to this newspaper for covering their annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. We helped spread the word they needed more volunteers and donations, and the dinners were a great success with feeding over a thousand people at the Municipal Auditorium and giving out toys to every child.

• There were countless times when the Oroville Police Department and Butte County Sheriff’s Office have been helped by this newspaper in getting out information to the public, such as warning people to “be on the look-out” for armed robbers or missing persons. The newspaper also publicizing their fund raising events like Shoes-That-Fit and the Bike-Give-Away every year. The newspaper also educates people on how to protect themselves and their property by practicing safety habits. We also publish the Butte County’s Most Wanted every Friday.

• When locals were having fund-raisers to start up a horse rescue ranch, they later said the newspaper was an enormous help in their succeeding to raise the required funds. We’ve also covered many stories about the local SPCA.

• I’ve had a number of people express their appreciation for my weekly “A Closer Look” column. One woman said the column about “care of the soul” and learning to love yourself “changed her life.”

There are so many other examples I could share with you. (I cannot even begin to address them all in this small space.) These are only some of the ways this hometown newspaper has made a difference and helped people in our beloved Oroville.

There are so many good, caring people who live in Oroville and who work hard to build a wonderful community and place we are proud and delighted to call home. And, the Oroville Mercury-Register has a special place in the history of this community and has an invaluable role to play in continuing to bring the community together and make a positive difference in people’s lives.

And, experiencing being a part of building community and helping people (and, of course, animals too) is extremely rewarding.

As a battalion chief at a local fire department once said, “When I first started out as a firefighter, I thought my job was all about fighting fires. But when I got older and gained some experience, I realized it was really all about the people.”

Monday, Oct. 16, 2006

Hymn book returned 60 years late

A former pupil returned her hymn book to the Black Country school she borrowed it from – 60 years later.

Shirley Davies popped back to Alexandra High School in Tipton at the grand age of 71.

She had been given the hymn book when she started at the school in 1946, on the condition she returned it when she left.

But the pensioner has admitted she kept hold of the old book, with its beautifully embroidered cover and faded brown pages, and forgot to return it when she left in 1953.

Mrs Davies, went back to the school yesterday along with her husband Keith, who she met at the school, and seven other ex-pupils, now all aged in their 70s.

Mrs Davies, who now lives in Wootton Wawen, near Henley-in-Arden, said: “We all had to embroider the front of the books when we arrived and we were supposed to return them when we left.

“I think I must have forgotten, but I’ve still got it now. I just borrowed the book for 60 years.”

Mrs Davies met her husband Keith shortly after joining the school in 1946, the first intake of pupils when the school became a grammar and changed its name from Tipton Central School.

In those days, the school had separate boys and girls sections, but the couple continued to walk to and from school together and finally married in 1958.

The nine friends met up for a reunion in 2001 and have held regular meetings ever since.

Thursday, Oct. 12, 2006

Lost Parrot Reunited With Owner

A pet Amazon parrot who flew away from his owner in Johnson City has been found in Long Island, N.Y. Owner Kim Kendrick lost her 47-year-old parrot named Buzzy nearly two months ago while she was walking outside with him.

But Kendrick got an unexpected phone call on Tuesday from a New Yorker named Josh Ruderman, who said he found Buzzy.

“When I heard he was in New York I was skeptical at first,” Kendrick said, “but then I talked with Buzzy on the phone and Josh sent my photos and it’s no doubt that it’s him.”

The bird, however, didn’t fly to New York. Ruderman, who was visiting East Tennessee for two months, found Buzzy in Johnson City four days after Kendrick lost him on Aug. 14.

“I could see that he was obviously a pet bird and not a strong flier,” Ruderman said. “Pretty soon he came back to me and landed on my finger. I put him in the car and took him back to my friend’s house in Elizabethton.”

Ruderman said he searched the papers during the last three weeks of his visit, but couldn’t find Buzzy’s owner. So Ruderman took him home to Long Island.

Ruderman finally found Buzzy’s grateful owner after reading a Sept. 20 article in the Johnson City Press about the missing parrot and e-mailed her Tuesday.

“It really is nice when a story comes together with a happy ending, but for me I will miss Buzzy very much,” Ruderman said.

Kendrick said she’s planning on driving up from Tennessee to Long Island next week to pick up Buzzy.

Crash dad makes miracle recovery

A FATHER of two who suffered horrendous injuries when his car went through the wall of a primary school earlier this year is well on his way to recovery – and has even got married.

Kelvin McIlwain, who lives in Beaufort Close, Elborough Village, had serious head injuries, a dislocated ankle, a bruised lung, split spleen and dislocated hip and had to be cut free from his blue Rover 25 outside Hutton Primary School in March.

At one point doctors didn’t think he would be able to walk again.

But the 26-year-old, who spent three months in hospital, at Frenchay and at the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit in Bristol, is back at work part-time at the BIFFA recycling centre in Winterstoke Road, and is driving again.

The former Broadoak Community School pupil, who married his long term partner Carley at The Royal Hotel in Weston last month, said: “The last thing I remember before the accident was being in the pub but police have confirmed I wasn’t over the limit.

“It was then three weeks after being in hospital that I started to come round.

“I still have some problems with my ankle and hip but the doctors have said my brain injury should clear up completely within two years.

“Every doctor I have seen has said how surprised they are at the speed of my recovery. At one point they didn’t even think I would be able to walk again.

“I was in a wheelchair for the first two months and then a zimmer frame but now I don’t need any help to get around.”

Kelvin’s wife Carley, who together have two children, Ronnie aged three and Charlie aged one, said she was told by doctors at one point that Kelvin could die.

The 23-year-old full-time mum, said: “It took 50 minutes to cut Kelvin out of the car and he stopped breathing three times.

“When he was first admitted to Weston General Hospital they told me the brain damage could be permanent and that they were worried about transferring him to Frenchay in case his spleen ruptured and he bled to death.

“They said I could lose him.”

Kelvin, who used to play for South Park Rangers football team before the accident, is hoping to start playing for Weston United as soon as possible.

Every time his son Ronnie, who attends Hutton nursery, walks past the hole in the wall he tells his friends ‘my dad did that!’

Little Miss Miracle is one

A MIRACLE baby who was once given just 24 hours to live is now thriving and about to celebrate her first birthday.

Little Evie Onley was born with a Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH), a very serious condition that required her to have surgery when she was just two weeks old.

CDH affects about one in 2,500 births and means that there is a hole in the diaphragm, which causes essential organs to move up into the chest.

And this week Evie’s mum Nicola Crosby, aged 26, of Nowell Road, told the Guardian about how her brave little girl overcame the odds.

Evie is Nicola’s fourth child but the first child of Nicola’s partner Stuart Onley, a builder.

Nicola said: “We always knew we wanted a child together, even though our family was already big. We went for the 20 week scan at North Manchester General where they discovered Evie’s condition.

“It came as a major shock to us when they told us she had CDH. Neither of us had ever heard of it.

“We were absolutely devastated, and the only information we were given was an explanation of how it would affect the baby, along with the fact that babies with this condition either don’t survive or aren’t always able to lead a ‘normal life’.

“We were also told that we could consider terminating the pregnancy, but for us that was never an option.

“This was Stuart’ first child and the love we felt for her already meant that we didn’t ever have to ask the question. Whatever happened she was already part of our lives and part of our family.”

Nicola and Stuart then went on to find out as much as they could about the condition. They knew that Evie would need major surgery as soon as she was born and asked for more information with every scan.

Nicola, who works for Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale PCT, said: “I was scanned regularly to check whether any more of Evie’s bowel had moved up into her chest. We needed to try and prepare ourselves for what was ahead.

“We also had an amino test which showed that the condition had developed naturally and was not in either mine or Stuart’s genes – it could literally happen to anyone.”

When Evie was born, on 9 November last year, Nicola didn’t even get to hold her before she was transferred to the special care baby unit at St Mary’s Hospital.

The day was especially stressful for the young mum as her own grandmother had died just hours previously.

Nicola said: “It was all a bit of a blur after the birth and I remember Stuart shielding me from the bed where the doctors were working on her as he could see how distressed I was.

“Looking back he was just as upset as I was, but always put on a brave face for my sake. The thought of giving birth to my daughter and not being able to hold her was unbearable, and in fact she would be five weeks old before I got my first cuddle.”

After six weeks, doctors thought Evie may be well enough for surgery – but she developed an infection and had deteriorated quickly.

Nicola and Stuart were told that she may not survive the day, let alone an operation. But two weeks later Evie had improved enough to have the hole in her diaphragm repaired.

Nicola said: “It was then a waiting game to see how her lungs developed and each day they would wean down her oxygen in an attempt to get her breathing for herself.

“Finally, after a three month stay in the unit and many sleepless nights, she was allowed to come home. We were elated. We felt like we’d missed so much time with her, even though we visited the hospital every day and stayed for sometimes 12 hours a time.

“It seemed that when she came home she just thrived. She gained weight and loved being around her brother and sisters.

“Evie will not need any treatment when she’s older, although they have said it could take up to two years for her other lung to be the size it should be. Other than that she has made a full recovery and we have always treated her like we would any other baby.”

The little fighter is now healthy and lively and loves playing with her older siblings Molly, aged 10, Phoebe, aged five, and Max, aged three.

Nicola said: “The doctors and nurses in the neo natal Unit at St Mary’s are miracle workers and without them there were times when we didn’t know if she would make it.

“Evie is definitely a fighter and to us she is our little miracle – or our little princess.”

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006

Baseball program brings children with special needs together

Gerardo Rojas let everyone know he’d be pitching as soon as he walked onto the grounds of Harlingen Field.

“You’ll finally see me on the pitcher’s mound,” Rojas, 12, said.

Rojas, who is autistic, joined about 25 other children with disabilities Saturday in the Miracle Kids Super Baseball Event sponsored by Valley Baptist Health System.

Waiting for the Little Astros vs. Little Rangers game to start, Rojas got a little antsy.

“I’ve already waited,” he said to his buddy for the day, a Texas Youth Commission volunteer.

Rojas’ mother, Leticia Padilla, said her son was reacting more positively than the last time he participated in the baseball event.

“He was really upset about not being able to pitch,” she said. “He just walked right off the field. But he looks super excited today, he used to be afraid of everyone.”

Rojas, of La Feria, is a big fan of baseball and told his mother how excited he was about participating in the Miracle Kids of South Texas game, she said.

“He just loves to be on that mound,” Padilla said. “He wanted to wear a uniform today.”

The first Miracle League baseball program was formed in Atlanta in 1998. The Valley Baptist Outpatient Rehabilitation Program — which treats special-needs children — brought the idea to the Rio Grande Valley in 2002 and the Miracle Kids of South Texas was formed.

The organization has been sponsoring sporting events for special-needs children since then.

Once Saturday’s game began, with boys and girls on each team, Gabby Torres made the day’s first homerun.

“Go Gabby! Go!” her mother and brothers shouted.

Torres, 10, was one of the first participants to join the baseball game when the program was brought to Harlingen, according to her mother, Norma Torres.

“We’re very grateful they have this for the children with special needs,” Torres said. “Gabby really enjoys it.”

After running across home plate, Torres, who has Down syndrome, danced along with the music played over the speakers.

“She knew what we were coming for because she got her baseballs ready to have the players sign,” Torres said. “This is their day and there’s no loser, everyone’s a winner.”

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.R. Richard and Rafael Santana, the shortstop for the New York Mets’ 1986 World Series championship team, greeted the children and signed autographs. The former professional baseball players were in Harlingen to participate in a youth baseball clinic that was at Harlingen Field on Saturday.

Seven-year-old Nathaniel Bridgeman of Harlingen got the greatest gift for his birthday, his parents said: the chance to play this favorite sport.

“He’s super excited about getting the opportunity to play and meet the professional players,” Angie Bridgeman said. “This is just too special of an opportunity for him.”

Activities like these keep Coakley Middle School sixth-grader Eric Factor’s spirits high, his mother Liana Soliz said.

“There’s not many things for these kids to do,” she said. “It’s a great organization and I couldn’t wait until Eric could get involved.”

Factor, who is in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, was led by one of the Texas Youth Commission teenagers who acted as “buddies” to the players who couldn’t throw a ball or swing a baseball bat, said Brian Borchardt, VBHS senior director of development.

Running toward home base with his buddy for the third time, Rojas shouted, “I love this game of baseball!”

Players were given medals for their participation and treated to a meet-and-greet with the former professional baseball players.

“I enjoy sharing my time with these people who need our support,” Santana said in-between posing for photos and signing baseballs. “Every time I get a chance to give my support I do.”

Elderly Holocaust survivors reunited via internet

A brother and sister from Romania who were separated in the Holocaust and thought each other dead were reunited after 65 years.

Hilda Shlick, who now lives in Ashdod, Israel, always believed that her entire family, except for one sister, was killed in the Holocaust.

Earlier this year, her grandchildren conducted a search on Yad Vashem’s online Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names for information on their grandmother, and were surprised to find a Page of Testimony filled out in Hilda’s memory by someone who wrote that he was her brother. They were then able to track down their grandmother’s two brothers who still live in Canada.

One, Simon Glasberg flew to Israel to meet his sister last month.

Chance finding

he story began when, during the course of a family discussion several months ago, Hilda’s grandchildren, Benny and David Shlick, learned that their grandmother’s maiden name was Glasberg. In light of the new information, they conducted a search online on the Central Database of Shoah Victims Names’ (, in order to find out more about their grandmother’s family.

They learned that Karol Weiner was the person who submitted the Page of Testimony in 1999, where he stated that Hilda was his sister who had perished. They also found out that the name of their grandmother’s mother was Henia Weiner.

David began to conduct additional, more extensive searches. Through the Website of the Montreal Burial Society and online forums of survivors of Chernowitz, he was able to track down Karol Weiner’s son, Dr. Eric Weiner. Karol died in 1999, (the same year that he submitted the Page of Testimony).

As a result of subsequent correspondence between David Shlick and Dr. Eric Weiner the entire picture became clear: Hilda Shlick’s (nee Glasberg) immediate family, including her parents and siblings, that remained in Romania survived the Holocaust.

Emotional reunion

The long lost brother, Simon Glasberg, of Ottawa, Canada traveled to Israel in September to reunite with his sister and they spent Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year, together. Their brother Mark lives in Montreal, but was too ill to travel to Israel.

Glasberg said he was without words when he saw his sister for the first time since 1941.

“I felt I couldn’t talk. I just cried,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “You don’t understand, 65 years.”

Shlick also said she was overwhelmed. “For 65 years, I lived thinking I had no family besides one sister,” she said.

The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names contains some three million names of Holocaust victims, two million of the names come from Pages of Testimony, and the remainder are from archival lists.

Available at, over 10 million people have visited the website since the Database went online in November 2004.

Friday, Oct. 6, 2006

Volunteer firefighter reunited with family he saved from burning car

THE raging fire inside her flat did not deter the plucky grandmother.

The 70-year-old only had thoughts of saving her mentally- unsound son as she braved the heat and flames and dashed right into the inferno.

The fire happened yesterday morning at an apartment block in Hong Kong.

Apple Daily reported that the grandmother, identified as Madam Guan, had gone for Mandarin lessons at her local community centre.

When she returned home at around 10am, she heard her neighbours calling for the fire brigade the moment she stepped out of the lift.


When Madam Guan realised it was her flat that was on fire, she panicked.

Inside the flat was her reclusive second son Mr Feng, 40, who was diagnosed with depression when he was 15.

Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily reported that Mr Feng also has problems with his vision, as he has been refusing to wear glasses even though he has astigmatism.

Guessing that her son was probably trapped in the fire, Madam Guan barged into the flat even though it was already covered in smoke.

She found Mr Feng crawling on the floor of his room, with his face and hands badly burnt.

She quickly helped her son up and half-carried him as they made their escape.

The fire brigade arrived soon after and put out the blaze.

Mr Feng was later sent to the hospital, with 20 per cent burns on his body.

He is in critical condition.

Madam Guan, who has three other children, was unhurt.

Mr Feng is the only child still living with her since her husband died more than 10 years ago.

Mr Feng is jobless and only left the flat on rare occasions, preferring to coop himself up in his room.

He and his mother survive on Mr Feng’s monthly HK$1,100 ($225) handout from the disabled scheme, as well as contributions from his other siblings.


Madam Guan’s flat was utterly devastated by the fire.

After the fire was put out, she was reportedly so distraught upon seeing the aftermath that she cried out in anguish:

‘I’ve really lost everything this time.’

The fire at her flat is believed to have been caused by a short circuit.

Mom, daughter reunited after 16 years

After 16 years, Kerrie Martin was anxiously only minutes away from seeing her daughter descend back into her life as she waited at the airport.

Martin said she long ago stopped letting herself believe she would ever see her child again. In July 1990, Martin’s estranged husband abducted their 2-year-old daughter, Katie Jo Reyes, to Mexico.

But in late September, Martin got a call from her daughter, which led her to an airport to finally reunite.

As Martin stood in the airport, the plane made her wait just a tad bit longer after arriving 13 minutes late.

“Hi momma, this is driving me crazy,” she said while talking to her own mother on a cell phone.

Reyes, now 18, moved from Mexico to Atlanta to go to school and search for her mother about a year and a half ago. But it was a minor scrape with the law that actually got her to reach her second goal.

After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass, Reyes was fingerprinted and Georgia police made a call to Texas detectives.

Finally, Reyes got off the plane and the tears began to flow.

“You ok?” Martin asked her daughter. “…You’re so pretty.”

Despite Katie’s lack of English, they were able to communicate with their smiles and an embrace.

“I love you,” Martin said as she held her daughter’s face. “You know that right?”

Friday, Sep. 29, 2006

Stolen soccer nets returned, along with note and money

They’re back.

Just as mysteriously as they disappeared, the nets cut from the soccer goal posts earlier this week at the Youth Sports Complex showed up early Thursday morning stuffed in a garbage bag on the front lawn of Pat Lindeman, equipment coordinator for Kaw Valley Soccer Assn.

Along with the nets was an envelope containing a note of apology and $50 in cash.

“It said, ‘I’m sorry. I intended to return these from the start,’” Lindeman said, reading from the note. “‘I didn’t know the complications that would follow. Please accept this $50 donation for repairs.’”

The nets were stolen overnight Monday from the YSI soccer fields. The thefts initially put this weekend’s KVSA games in jeopardy and led to an order for speedy delivery of replacement nets. The Lawrence Luncheon Optimists donated $1,000 to help pay for the new nets.

“Now it’s feast or famine all of a sudden,” said Gunar Harmon, KVSA office administrator.

The new nets will be kept as future replacements, but the Optimists will have the opportunity to take their money back, said Brad Williams, vice president of the soccer association.

This weekend’s soccer games, typically involving players ages 4 through 10, will go on.

The incident still has Williams and Harmon wondering what was behind the thefts. They noted that somebody went to a lot of time and effort to take the nets. They think the publicity and the Lawrence community’s uproar over the incident made an impression on the culprit or culprits.

“It was obviously someone who didn’t realize the impact that it would have on those kids and those fields,” Williams said.

Harmon agreed.

“At the very least, somebody had a very narrow view of the consequences of their behavior,” Harmon said. “Somebody recognized the error of their ways, and for that we are grateful.”

The returned nets are to be put back on the goals today, Harmon said.

School honored for success

Mendota Elementary principal Steve Goldade said his school has experienced a barrage of positive changes: a new superintendent, million-dollar construction projects and now a federal 2006 No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools Program award.

The prekindergarten-through-fourth- grade elementary in Mendota Heights last week became the first school in the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district and the third school in Dakota County to be awarded a Blue Ribbon.

The award recognizes 250 schools, public and private, across the country. The winning schools either had at least 40 percent of their students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds showing “dramatic” improvements on state tests or public schools scoring in the top 10 percent in their state. Mendota was included in the latter category.

“We’ve always known we were a quality school,” Goldade said. “But frankly, most educators aren’t concerned about awards. We care about students first and foremost.”

In a district facing declining enrollment and a growing minority population, the award signals the district is headed in the right direction, said Superintendent Jay Haugen.

“We’re all thrilled about the award,” Haugen said. “Good things are happening at all our schools. It’s a hint of great things to come.”

Of the five elementary schools in the district, however, Mendota has the fewest number of minority students. Last year’s class of 359 students was 94 percent white, according to state data. In the same year, another district elementary school had a minority population of 66 percent and two-thirds of students on free or reduced lunch.

Goldade and Haugen agreed that Mendota’s high test scores aren’t a surprise given the demographics of the student body. But they also said the curriculum alignment in the district, instituted several years ago, is making a difference for all students.

First-grade teacher Cate McDonald began teaching at Mendota 10 years ago. When the curriculum was revamped, more students learned how to read in small groups in her class. That created opportunities to work with students one-on-one with reading comprehension or any other challenges they faced, she said.

Still, the array of students from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in the classroom is more noticeable than ever at Mendota, McDonald said.

A Spanish-speaking teacher has put in extra time to work with Latino students enrolled at the school and a bilingual family offered to help other Latino families, McDonald said.

The student success and high achievement at Mendota can be credited to parental involvement, Goldade added.

“Any school will be more successful with parent involvement,” Goldade said.

Victor Smith’s son is in first grade at Mendota. He said the award confirmed his decision in choosing a public school over home-schooling or private schools.

“It makes you have confidence in the school and that school system,” Smith said. “They know they’ve got a first-rate school.”

The district spent more than $3 million from a bond referendum to renovate Mendota Elementary in the past year. There is a new library and office, and the last phase will include general improvements to the building.

Nine Minnesota schools, including St. Paul’s Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet School, received a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools Program award. Two elementary schools in Plymouth were the only other winning metro area applicants.

Since 2003, the U.S. Department of Education has handed out the Blue Ribbons in an era of high-stakes testing under the federal No Child Left Behind legislation that holds schools accountable for student success.

Fishermen with disabilities catch some recreation

The fishing trip was extraordinary and exhilarating, said Ray Leight:

“I was next to a man who is visually impaired. It was his first time fishing and he caught three fish. He became so excited you would have thought he won the lottery. I got something out of it just watching him; I wanted to cry because it was such a warm feeling.”

Leight, 35, had traveled from the Philadelphia suburb of Bala Cynwyd to be among 15 people, many in wheelchairs, boarding the Carolyn Ann III in Barnegat Light last week for a half-day of fishing off Long Beach Island.

The trip was organized by Richard West, Tuckerton, a disability activist who also runs annual races on the island for wheelchair athletes. The group included double-amputees, people with paraplegia, prosthetic limbs and visual impairments.

Once aboard the boat, all were simply fisherman enjoying the sport.

“We had a wonderful time and everybody caught something,” said Leight, a paraplegic since 1991 when his back was broken in an auto accident. “I caught nine sea bass and one fluke so I had a nice bag of fish to take home.”

Leight enjoys fishing for tuna several times a year, but said many boat captains are afraid to accommodate people in wheelchairs because of safety concerns. “I swim, and I would probably do better than most able-bodied people if the boat went down,” Leight said.

Economics also are a factor since wheelchairs take up more space on the boat, Leight said. “They could have two people for every person in a wheelchair.”

And Leight called the fishing trip “a great outlet for showing what people of all abilities can do. If not for Richard (West), we would still be hidden in a closet like we were years ago.”

“The neatest part of the whole day,” West said, “was when people coming off the boat after fishing in the morning saw our chairs and asked (incredulously), “Are you guys gonna fish?’ Then one of them told me he has an 11-year-old daughter with muscular dystrophy. It hadn’t dawned on him that she could go fishing with him. That’s the whole purpose of being out there, so people can see what we can do.”

Socialization, too, was an integral part of the event. After the trip, the group gathered in the 18th Street parking lot, sharing peaches, cake and conversation about the experience.

Many in the group were from the Philadelphia area and already acquainted through other wheelchair activities, such as basketball. And some recognized Leight from his accomplishments as the current American DanceWheels world champion.

Leight performs in a “comby,” a couple combining a disabled person with nondisabled person. Their repertoire ranges from the fox trot and waltz to Latin dances; they are scheduled to represent the United States in the international paralympic events on Oct. 13 and 14 in the Netherlands.

The size of the group on Long Beach Island’s first fishing trip for people with disabilities was somewhat diminished after the vestiges of Hurricane Florence created choppy seas offshore and forced postponement of the event for a week. Originally, 28 people had signed up for the Sept. 11 trip but nearly half were unable to attend on the rain date.

“People couldn’t take off work two Mondays in a row,” West said, “and Voorhees Pediatric Rehabilitation Hospital couldn’t get transportation two Mondays in a row (that) meant four teens in wheelchairs were knocked off the trip.

“Also, the trip should be scheduled in August or on a weekend because some people are in school,” he added, looking ahead to next year’s fishing trip. “It’ll be better next year.”

Although he set up the trip, West was unable to accompany the group this year because he has a progressive form of muscular dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair and ventilator. The gangplanks and size of the opening on a boat usually aren’t wide enough to accommodate power chairs, he said, and the need for backup for the battery-powered equipment is another issue boat captains aren’t always prepared to address.

West said Carolyn Ann III’s captain, William Hammarstrom, has since assured him electrical back-up and accessible space for electric as well as manual wheelchairs is available on the 85-foot boat.

West also is planning a separate trip for next year — a pontoon boat excursion in the bay — he said, for people with a wide range of disabilities.

Thursday, Sep. 28, 2006

Staying afloat with prayer

Three Florida Gulf Coast residents who were diving 25 miles offshore surfaced to find their boat had drifted two miles away from them. They thought they were doomed.

John Gerhardt, a father of two and a chaplain at a local hospital, says he improvised his diving gear into a flotation device and began to pray.

Speaking to a religious radio station on Tuesday, Gerhardt says he began to speak the words he remembered from Isaiah 40, even adding his own prayer for strength to the verses. Isaiah 40 says, “The Lord gives strength to those who are weary. Even young people get tired, then stumble and fall. But those who trust the Lord will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings. They will walk and run without getting tired.”

Gerhardt said he added, “They shall swim and not get weary,” to his recitation of the Bible passage as he fought to stay afloat. Gerhardt was bleeding from his arms chafing on the equipment. Soon, fins began to pop up in the water near the men. The men didn’t know if the fins were from dolphins or sharks. Gerhardt spotted their boat two miles away and began to swim toward it, praying as he swam. Two hours later, an exhausted Gerhardt miraculously reached the boat. He radioed the Coast Guard and then called his own wife and asked her to pray. The three divers were soon rescued by the Coast Guard.

Phillip Brooks said: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be the miracle.”

Martin Luther King said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

When push came to shove, John Gerhardt’s true religion came to light. He refused to give in to circumstances and hopelessness. He turned to the Bible passages that he’d already hidden in his heart. He prayed to his God for strength to meet the challenge.

Let’s try to meet our challenges in this same faithful way. Let’s pray that God will help us “swim and not get weary.”

Inside Good News Blog