31 October 2013

Good Neigh-bors

Happy Halloween! 
When I talked to my dad today, I asked him if any trick-or-treaters had come through the assisted living facility where he lives today and he said he’d had three very special visitors: Sid, Tootsie and Carmen, two of whom had been sporting fancy hats. 
But they weren’t little kids, they were miniature horses. Once a quarter or so, North Carolina-based charity Horse Hugs brings a few little horses around to visit the residents. The horses, most of them rescued from bad situations, gently nuzzle the residents and generally like to be patted and hugged. Sid was convinced that my Dad had some sugar in his sweater pocket today so he and Sid got especially close. None of the trio coming to see Dad today were as tricked out at Jay Jay below, but they were still festive.

I love these lines from Horse Hugs’ website: “Miniature horses are the perfect size to put their little noses over the bedrail of bedridden patients or into the lap of a patient in a wheelchair...Miniature horses, with their wonderful personalities and small size are perfect as therapy animals. Visits with these adorable little horses can help a patient feel less lonely and less depressed.” I know they were the highlight of my Dad’s day. I’m just bummed that I’ve never managed to coordinate one of my trips home with one of their visits. 
Look! They are the perfect height!

In addition to going to nursing homes, the horses work with special needs children and at risk teens. They also make house calls to very sick children. Sounds like they are very good neigh-bors. ; )
Oct. 31: Horse Hugs
(Sandy Spooner, Horse Hugs, 3813 Sparrow Pond Lane, Raleigh, N.C. , 27606)
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30 October 2013

We Found the Wicked Witch

She’s not even in costume and we already found the Wicked Witch of the West...West Fargo, N.D. that is.
Did you see this letter circulating around today from the woman in a West Fargo neighborhood who has decided that instead of giving candy to overweight children when they come to her door to Trick or Treat, she will hand them a letter for their parents explaining that Little Jack or Little Jill didn’t get candy because he or she is apparently not so little.
Read the letter below while I come up with 500 more reasons why it is one of the meanest things I’ve ever heard of. 

So if this woman is so concerned about childhood obesity why doesn’t she give out apples (I know, too risky, most parents don’t let their kids eat something like that for fear of razorblades) or then what about little packages of raisins? Those are nice and healthy and sealed in tamper-proof plastic.  
But better yet, why doesn’t she mind her own damn business? The thought of getting that letter if I were a little kid trick-or-treating is unbearably cruel, especially as she will presumably by giving out candy to those who meant her weight requirements. Hey, if she really wants to get her point across, why doesn’t she hand out Thin Mints to the kids who are slender and Chunky Bars to the kids who need to lose weight. And, by the way, how qualified is she to make that decision since she says it’s her opinion. Will she have calipers that she’ll pinch a kid’s belly with? Is she going to make them step on a scale? Take their height and weight and calculate their BMI right then and there? 
I’m not really sure how we got to this point where anyone thinks that’s acceptable behavior. If a child has a weight problem, I’m pretty sure he or she didn’t get that way from eating healthfully the other 364 days of the year and gorging on Halloween candy for one day. 
In a local interview, this woman said “I just want to send a message to the parents of kids that are really overweight... I think it’s just really irresponsible of parents to send them out looking for free candy just ‘cause all the other kids are doing it.”
That’s helpful, isn’t it? No one is denying that childhood obesity is a problem. It’s a drastic one in the U.S. and it needs to be addressed more effectively, but I don’t think Halloween is the time for this woman (who needs a grammar lesson, by the way) to go on a one-woman campaign. 
I fear some of the kids leaving her house without treats tomorrow may have a few tricks up their sleeves.  
Today's $10 goes to Kid-Fit, an organization that promotes preschool health and fitness. Afterall, you're never too young to get in good enough shape to egg someone's house or toilet paper their yard -- not that we'd ever suggest that ; )

Oct. 30: Kid Fit

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29 October 2013

Hurricane Sandy – One Year Later

(God bless my sister, Jeannie, for once again stepping in at the last minute to write the blog when I got totally overwhelmed and knew I'd barely make it home before midnight to post. She came up with this post and from it I learned two things I did not know: that Sandy affected 24 states and that my sister worked for the company that  processed federal payments for Katrina. You think you know someone... Melinda)
It’s hard to believe that Hurricane Sandy hit a year ago today. While most of the focus, understandably, was on how hard hit the New York/New Jersey area was, Sandy packed quite a formidable wallop.  It affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard and as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin. 
Not only did so many people lose their homes and livelihoods, but much of the struggle had just begun. As many of us know, bureaucracy is another storm unto itself, and, apparently, dealing with insurance companies, permits, and emergency grants and loans was no different. My heart ached for one survivor of the fires that also broke out during the storm (and which, ironically, no one could get to because of the flooding) who said, "I was here as the fire progressed. And to be quite honest, the experience of dealing with trying to get permits and the insurance was ten times worse than any of that.” Many of the survivors are still waiting for their insurance checks. Money is still the major barrier to getting home and to rebuilding the businesses that hire people. While FEMA has provided more than $1.4 billion in assistance to more than 182,000 disaster survivors in five states, states have been slower to supply key $150,000 to $300,000 federal grants to individual homeowners facing funding shortages as they rebuild.  And let us not forget that Congress also contributed to the delay by waiting three months to approve the $60 billion Sandy aid program.
Having worked for a company that led the process to get federal payments to Katrina survivors, and which worked very hard to be as responsive to the survivors as possible, I know it is difficult to walk that fine line of meeting their needs while still being accountable for every penny and on guard for rampant fraud. In fact, many of the rules are in place largely in response to concerns arising from abuse and fraud in the Hurricane Katrina recovery. But there has to be a better way so that survivors of catastrophes are not victimized twice. Apparently a lot was learned from Katrina re: how to prepare for the storm for evacuations and shelters, but I’m not sure that much has been learned that improves the processing of legitimate payments to the survivors in a fairly easy and quick way.
AmeriCares  has provided more than $6.5 million in aid benefiting more than 450,000 people, including medicines, mobile medical units, and relief supplies; funding to organizations to care for the poor and uninsured patients in hard-hit areas; and grants for emergency warmth and disaster cleanup, mental health counseling for storm-affected children, and help for elderly and disabled survivors stranded in high-rise buildings.

-Jeannie Newman

Oct. 29:  AmeriCares

28 October 2013

A Beastie Boy Comes to Rockaway Beach

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy.  I’ve been reading so many stories today about how a number of outlets that raised money to help victims rebuild are still sitting on the money. This ranges from government organizations to private non-profits. 
That just seems shameful to me that a full year later, there are still people in need and there are billions (yes, with a B) in aid that could help them and the money is held up in red tape. 
But some non-profits rushed in and just started helping and didn’t worry too much about where the money was going to come from or if donations would cover their outlay. They saw people in crisis and knew postponing aid wasn’t an option. 
Or in other cases, they were people who didn’t have a formal structure, they just responded to a need. Such was the case with the Beastie Boys’ Mike D, celebrity chef Sam Talbot and restauranteur Rob McKinley. Immediately-- as in within three days-- of the storm, while grocery stores and restaurants were still shuttered from the hurricane, they started a traveling food truck that traveled to the decimated Rockaway Beach and fed 500 people every day. They used all their connections and tied in with local Manhattan restaurants and for several months provided a hot meal for free every day. 
Now, with the immediate crisis over, but with Rockaway Beach far from recovered economically, they have converted the food truck from a charitable endeavor into a sustainable business run by locals. This summer, the food truck began serving the beach community. Even better, it is staffed by Rockaway locals, so it creates jobs. The plan now is to start a community garden in Rockaway that uses compost from the food truck and food from the garden will be used on the truck. 
I did a story on the food truck for Entrepreneur magazine, but had refrained from giving until after the article ran. It’s a wonderful example of not waiting to dive in and realizing you have so many resources at your disposal to help when your desire is strong enough and the need dire enough. 

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27 October 2013


300! How did we get here? In some ways I can’t believe I’m already at my 300th post and in other ways, it’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t doing this...and I will add that I would not recommend that someone not have a chance to be off their computer for 365 days straight.  
As I approach the final stretch, I find myself simultaneously ready for it to be over and sad that the year is coming to an end. But most of all, I want to make sure that the positive changes my experiment has brought in me continue after I’m spending time blogging every day. I have to figure out how to keep an open and kind heart even when I’m not actively looking for people to honor who are out there slaying dragons on a daily basis. 
I spent a lot of my time today writing about Lou Reed, who died today a 71. I interviewed him in 1996 for Billboard and it remains one of my favorite memories of my time there, simply because interviewing Reed for a journalist was a bit like getting into the ring with a bear. It felt like a rite of passage and many of us have our stories about tangling with him. Today, as I read a number of other pieces about him, I realized how much more I had to learn about his and the Velvet Underground’s music and am thankful that even when a great artist leaves us, his or her work lives forever for us to discover anew. 
New York’s Lower East Side and Reed are synonymous, so today I’m giving to the Henry Street Settlement, a wonderful organization that serves Lower East Side residents through health care, social services and arts programs. It is a part of the neighborhood for 120 years and has made a real difference to those who use their services. It has expanded its programs to adjust to the changes in the LES over the decades with compassion and an understanding that serving the whole person —through feeding their soul and heart and dreams as much as their hunger— is vital. 

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26 October 2013

Horse and Buddy

(My friend Debbie and I met in second grade, although we didn't become best buddies until sixth grade. If you're lucky, you have a friend that you know you can call at any time of the day or night and she will be right there if you need her. Though we live 2,500 miles apart, I feel like Debbie is by my side every step of the way and I by hers. I love that she mentioned Josie, who I loved almost as much as Cindy,  my own dog, growing up. One of the best things about the guest blogs is that I find out about fantastic organizations that I had no idea existed and this is certainly one of them. -Melinda)

 I’m sure most of us have good memories of animals from our childhood – whether it was a favorite pet (mine was my dog Josie) or a memory of animals we saw at the zoo or circus.  
But imagine if you had a loved one who was developmentally challenged and the joy that riding a horse could bring.  That is exactly how it is for my friend Linda and her grandson. Griff is a 3 1/2-year-old little boy who is developmentally challenged and was born with hypotonia, which is a state of low muscle tone.  He also has delayed speech.
About a year ago his physical therapist suggested he go to an organization called Horse And Buddy, located in New Hill, N.C ., which is a non-profit that assists all ages with special needs to improve balance, muscle tone, motor skills and self-esteem.  Most of the teachers are certified Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) instructors.  Horse and Buddy also uses hippotherapy which uses the movement of the horse to provide sensory and motor input. The horse’s variable, rhythmic and repetitive gait is similar to a human’s and helps the rider build core strength and coordination.
When Griff first started at Horse and Buddy, he needed help holding himself up in the saddle.  He goes one day a week and now almost a year later he can sit up by himself and can also sit side saddle, which is more difficult and uses more core strength.  Horse and Buddy also uses rings, chimes and other items hanging from trees to help with sensory issues. When Griff first started a year ago, he wasn’t interested in grabbing for any of the items hanging from the trees. Now he grabs the rings and really likes to make the chimes ring.  
Horse and Buddy has helped children with Down Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and cognitive delays improve motor skills, strengthen their torso, legs and upper body, improve balance and posture, build confidence and socialization, and provide a sense of pride and accomplishment.

-Debbie Strickland Lisk

Oct. 26: Horse and Buddy

25 October 2013

“My mama always told me God was a good person,” says Mark, pulling out the cross around his neck from underneath his shirt. “My name is in the Bible.”
Mark presides over the parking lot at the 7/11 near where I live. He shares his time there with two other homeless gentlemen, one in a wheelchair, and one who spends most of this time up the street at the Carls Jr. When any of the threesome hits pay dirt—meaning $10 or more— they help each other out. “We share a meal,” he says. “If I get some food I give it to them and they do the same. We take care of each other.” 
Mark also takes car of the night manager’s car and keeps ne'er-do-wells out of the parking lot. As he proudly notes to me and my friend, the cops don’t bother him. And indeed, as we pull up, two policement are coming out of the 7/11 and don’t question his presence. He keeps an eye out on the night manager’s car and cleans it, as well as makes sure no punks steal anything off the delivery trucks in the night. In exchange the manager and the drivers often give him sandwiches they have just passed their sell-by date but are still good to eat. 
He found himself homeless, he tells us, after his ex-girlfriend alleged that he abused her. “She put a spousal abuse charge on me,” he says. “Then she never showed up in court,” so the case was dropped. “I never put my hands on females,” he swears. 
Mark seemed bright, well-spoken and very cogent, albeit dressed in pajama pants, but he made it clear he was concerned about the chill that invades Los Angeles every year around this time. He sleeps anywhere he can find in the neighborhood. “I have a blanket,” he says, suggesting that he had an unseen stash somewhere. 
Tonight’s $10 goes to Mark. I hope the warm weather remains just a little bit longer for his sake. 
Oct. 25: Mark

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24 October 2013

A Girl Named Melinda

Today is my birthday. I always like to spend part of the day in reflection...thinking back over the past year and thinking ahead to my goals for the next 12 months. Sort of like New Year’s Eve, but without all the pressure. 
With each passing year, I feel a little shocked that I’m as old as I am because I feel like I’m 25. I also remember 25 like it was yesterday. And 18 and 30...I can’t believe it goes so fast.  I find myself solidly in the middle of my life and I feel like I’ve just begun and my “to-do” list just keeps getting longer. 
But mainly I find myself filled with overwhelming gratitude for the blessings I’ve received. Not everything has gone as planned, but my plan probably wasn’t the best one anyway. And in almost every way, my life has surpassed every expectation I ever had. I dream pretty big and my reality has in so many ways been better than anything I could have dreamt. By a far measure.
One good thing about getting older is you appreciate things more. I have friends and family who enrich my life every day and who surround me and support me and, above all, love me....even when I’m not very lovable. And they’ve proven that over and over. I try to be as supportive back, even though sometimes I think I’ve failed miserably and then I try to mirror the support they’ve given me so I do better the next time. 
I have my health, which I don’t take for granted. It’s a precious thing to be able to move freely and have my body do whatever I need it to do.
I talked to my Dad today and, as we usually do, we talk about the day I was born. I asked him why he and mom named me Melinda (and couldn’t believe I’d never asked before) and he said he couldn’t remember.  I know I’m not named after anyone and Melinda wasn’t a very common name back then--still isn’t. So that is just one of life’s mysteries that will go unsolved. But I’m glad that’s the name they chose. I’ve always loved my name and it makes for a great-looking byline, if I do say so myself. 
Since I wouldn’t be here without them, I want to honor my mom and dad today. As I may have written before, my mom started the Presbyterian church I was raised in. My father, although not a founder like mom, was a charter member, and over the decades, both he and mom provided thousands of hours in service to that church, as deacons and elders, Stephen Ministers, ushers, clerk of the session, treasurer and many other ways. They set a wise and generous example of giving back that still inspires me to this day. Being of service mattered and from an early age, my sister and I helped, even if it was just picking up the programs left behind after church or cleaning out the wine glasses from communion. 
So today, in honor of Charlotte Newman (I miss you, Mom) and Walter R. Newman (Hi, Dad!), my donation goes to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C. 
Thank you for having me, thank you for loving me, thank you for supporting every one of my dreams (except to become a go-go dancer when I was six), and thank you for naming me Melinda.

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23 October 2013

A few weeks ago, I spoke to the journalism class at Malibu High School. I talked, in part, about how being a journalist is the best job in the world. It gets you into rooms you’d never be able to walk into ordinarily. It takes you to places in the world you’ve likely never get to see otherwise.  The fact that I have been able to work my entire adult life as a journalist is a blessing beyond compare.  It certainly hasn’t made me rich, at least not monetarily, but there has never been a moment when I have wanted to change professions and it is still a thrill to have a great interview, break a story, or put another deadline behind me. 
This past 24 hours only reinforced that for me.  Last night, I hosted a panel of top female songwriters at a Songwriters Hall of Fame event at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theater.  I got to share a stage with women who had written huge hits for Ricky Martin, Kenny Chesney, Beyonce, Rihanna, Avril Lavigne and many more and ask them about how they create songs that we’ve all come to love. After all these years of covering music, songwriters remain the Holy Grail to me. I am fascinated that someone can create something out of thin air and then that song becomes part of our lives. 
Speaking of touching all our lives, this morning I hosted the book release party for Ringo Starr’s “Photograph,” a limited edition, very high end book of his photographs through his entire life. It really serves, as he said, as his autobiography. In front of around 350 people, I got to interview legendary rock and roll photographer Henry Diltz about his work and what he thought of Ringo’s photography style,  then Dave Grohl from Nirvana/Foo Fighters and The Black Crowes’ Steve Gorman about how Ringo had influenced them as musicians and drummers, and then, Ringo himself. In fact, I can still smell his cologne on me from when he hugged me. He was very funny and gracious and told great stories. One of his photographs is of him and Paul McCartney that looks very staged because they were using a self-timer. It was taken in a hotel room during one of their trips to America. In the book he talks about how the Beatles, no matter how famous, continued to share hotel rooms. I asked him about that and he said that’s how you really get to know your bandmates. They always had two rooms and bunked with each other and they always rode in the same car/van together...quite a far cry to how members of huge bands now travel by sometimes not even riding on the same tour bus. He then added that the only rule was if you were in the car and you farted, you had to admit it. Now that’s a Beatles story I’d never heard before! 
Of course, not every 24 hours is like this... in fact, I’ve never had a 24 hours like that before. But that’s another great thing about being a reporter. No two days are ever alike. And I can safely say that only about .000000000000001% of my days include a Beatle, but my point is that to love what you do is a gift and I know that. The same job that gives me immense amounts of pleasure most days is the same one that puts a roof over my head and food on my table. 
I knew I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was in fifth grade and that desire never wavered. Even though I didn’t major in journalism in college, I was lucky to have a great high school journalism teacher named Sara Houck who gave me great training (and whom I’ve been trying to find for a long time to thank her) and outlets to write for. 
Not everyone is as fortunate. The International Center for Journalists trains citizen journalists and media managers in more than 180 countries. In places where asking questions can get you killed, ICFJ works with reporters to give them best practices by starting journalism schools they can attend and giving them the tools of the trade. 

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22 October 2013

(My friend Steve Hochman is a fellow journalist and a wonderful cheerleader for Causes and Effects. Steve and I knew of each other for years (or at least I knew of him and his stellar reputation), but our friendship has very nicely grown only over the last few. I'm always happy to see him. - Melinda)

Things are a bit different today than when I had my bar mitzvah mumble-mumble years ago. (Okay, it was Dec. 12, 1969. So there.) 

At least it was different at Temple B’Nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, at what may have been the most reformed time of the Reform Judaism movement. I mean, a few years later I’d go to dinner with the rabbi before confirmation class and watch him eat a bacon cheeseburger. That’s just a shrimp cocktail shy of a treyf trifecta.

The bar mitzvah prep process was relatively trauma-free. I memorized the various blessings and did the Torah and haftorah readings from transliterations, barely versed in the Hebrew alphabet. I wrote up a sermon from the Torah portion — Solomon, an easy one. Baruch-atah-something-or-other, now you’re a man.

Well, these days I’ve got a ringside seat to a girl in the homestretch countdown to her bat mitzvah. Or, more like I’m in her corner, on her team. And frankly I’m impressed, awed, and a bit intimidated by what’s expected of her and how she’s handling it. Not only is she learning to chant the blessings and passages from the real Hebrew, but also the larger contexts of what it all means. 

There’s a series of seminars with the Wilshire Boulevard Temple rabbinical staff, not just for the kids but families of impending b’nei mitzvahs (Rabbi Steven Leder on that little matter of God — Do you believe? What do you believe? No “right” or “wrong” answers, we are assured). And following that has been a detailed look into the designated Torah portion, in this case the Vayetze — you know, Jacob’s Dream and the soap-opera saga it engenders, replete with intra-familial polygamy, stolen household gods and duplicitous sheep shenanigans. 

And the writing of the sermon to be delivered by the bat mitzvah girl is involving a lot of back and forth and multiple drafts, critiqued and edited by the rabbis before it’s show time. (The extent of the “editing” process for mine was my dad feeling the necessity of adding an arcane “alas” to my text when he typed it up from my longhand.)

Most impressive, though, is that there’s a built-in community service component — the practice of tikkun olam, which means “healing the world.” There were numerous choices, based on what other kids have done. Working with the temple’s staff she settled on volunteering at the Jewish Home for the Aging, where she has been spending some weekend days helping take wheelchair bound residents to and from concert programs on the small campus. 

And then, taking the world part literally, there’s the Twinning Program. In this optional venture, the b’nei mitzvah kids are matched up with counterparts among the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel. The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, on its website, explains that the Jewish community in Ethiopia, with roots back to Biblical times, was imperiled by famine and disease in the 1980s. The organization sent 18 missions to Jewish villages there to help with the needs. This continued as the Israeli government in 1991 mounted the covert Operation Solomon to bring Jews from Ethiopia to Israel, soon followed by Operation Moses, which among other things took a record 1,122 people in one El Al 747. 

“In Israel today, the Ethiopian-Jewish community is an important part of society,” the NACOEJ explains on its web site. “However, their struggles are not yet over. Many Ethiopian-Israeli families live below the poverty line and cannot give their children the tools they need to do well in school. They strive to build a future, despite the obstacles.

In the Twinning Program, U.S. kids approaching their bar/bat mitzvah and their families make donations to NACOEJ education programs in that community, and are assigned a “twin,” an Ethiopian child also on the bat/bar mitzvah track, with the two able to correspond and share their experiences. 

Given the state of our world, the destructive suspicions and misinformation that seems to infect so much of our conversation, simply being aware that there are Ethiopian Jews, with a noble legacy, is itself crucial if we are to have any hope — ditto for awareness of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community, which extends back to shortly after the time of Christ and that many scholars argue is the closest in practice to that of the original Christians. 

-Steve Hochman

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21 October 2013

Science and the Human Heart-There Is No Limit

(I love my big sister for so many reasons, including her desire to always take care of me. Today was one of those days where I had moving from one thing to the next without any break. I checked in with her while rushing from one meeting to an evening class and lamented that I still had hours of writing once I got home and I also had no idea what I was writing the blog about tonight. She piped up that she'd find something and it would be waiting for me when I got home. And it was! Thank you, Jeannie! I love you!-- Melinda)
For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated by those children dealing with progeria, the genetic disease that ages them rapidly. We all have this particular protein that causes us to age, but those with progeria have this protein in overabundance. It makes me think of the literary and movie character, Benjamin Button (the movie was loosely based upon a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, yes, I was an English major), but in reverse. 
Progeria is very rare, with currently only 100 cases worldwide at present and a total of 250 at any one time.  Its name is derived from Greek and means "prematurely old.” The normal life span is 13 years, but some have lived to at least 20…which brings me to Sam. Tonight on HBO, the documentary on his life, "Life According to Sam," premieres. A hit at many film festivals, including Sundance, it follows the personal story of Sam Berns and his family, who have dedicated their lives to find a cure for progeria.  His parents are doctors who started the Progeria Research Foundation. Already , the foundation has led to the discovery of the “progeria gene” the creation of a drug that aims to slow the progression of the illness. 
The film also reveals Sam and his family’s commitment to making the most of their time together.  As his mother says, “You are handed something and what you do with it is what matters and that’s what Sam is doing,'” As the filmmakers discuss: “It is easy to think that if your child was given a fatal diagnosis of probable of death by age thirteen, you would fight and be resilient. But would you? And if you did throw every waking hour into finding a scientific breakthrough, how would you balance the time you spend with the son you are trying to save? Boiled down, these are the same quality of life and love decisions that we all are making in our lives. And the kinds of decisions that we ultimately know we will judge our own life by when we reach its end. Sam’s life is really the path of all our lives. Even on a scientific level, the same abnormal protein in Sam’s body is actually at work in all of our own, aging us day by day. Perhaps one day we will look back at this remarkable boy and know that what cracked the code to aging all started with a boy named Sam."
Sam turns 17 next week.
BREAKING NEWS! YOUR GIFT IS GOING TO BE DOUBLED!  (From Sam's parents): After seeing Life According to Sam, Robert Kraft has issued a Matching Gift Challenge to help Sam and his friends. The gift you send will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $500,000, from now through October 23rd so we can put $1 million to work and give every child with Progeria access to possibly life-saving drugs. LET’S DO THIS!
-Jeannie Newman

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20 October 2013

This is What Love Looks Like

There are times when writing this blog makes me despair- at least momentarily- because I’ll pick a cause where the need seems overwhelming. For example, when I write about domestic abuse or animal abuse or almost any situation dealing with children who are not having their needs met. Even though I’m always pointing toward an organization that is dedicated to making the situation better, it still gets me down sometimes that it feels like such an uphill climb on so many fronts. 
I know the gay rights battle is far from over, but it is one of the few examples I can think of from this year where light has absolutely triumphed over the dark. We still have people like Tea Party Unity founder Rick Scarborough talking about a class action suit against homosexuality, but voices like his and like those of the Westboro Baptist Church are increasingly growing fainter and fainter.
The most delightful thing I saw today was this video from the New York Times of two gay men, who after being together for 46 years,  raising a child and becoming grandparents, finally got hitched in New York City. 

The video is beautifully moving. We’ve gone from a time when Lewis Duckett and Billy Jones wrote love letters to each other changing genders to keep from getting caught while Jones was in the Army in Vietnam  to where they are lovingly and joyously celebrated as they exchange vows at The Riverside Church, as their son walks them down the aisle.
Your heart will soar with happiness while you watch this video. Married now for three months, they only have 3 1/2 more years to go to hit their golden anniversary.
Lambda Legal, founded in 1973, was the nation’s first legal organization devoted to fighting for full equality for the LBGT community and while Lambda has been joined by many other non-profits in the first, they remain one of the leaders. It’s most recent victory came last week when the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling denying the State of New Jersey’s request to postpone allowing same-sex marriages. 
Oct. 20: Lambda Legal

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19 October 2013

Here’s an upsetting stat. According to the Southern Education Foundation, the number of public school students classified as low income has surpassed the 50% mark in the South and West for the first time in four decades. 
This information is based on the number of students through 12th grade who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. 
In an Oct. 16 story in the Washington Post, the stats are interpreted to mean that these children are living in poverty or near poverty since to qualify for free lunches, a family of four has a household income of less than $40,793.
A decade ago, only four states in the country registered poor children as the majority of the student population. Now, there are 17 states that meet that criteria-- all in the south and the west. 
Studies already show that low-income children often begin school at a disadvantage educationally because they may lack the parental support at home. This leads to higher drop out rates. 
It’s not so hard to connect the dots here: children who are hungry do worse in school. It’s not an indictment of their parents, many of whom are struggling and working multiple jobs and are still below the $40,000 threshold.
Studies show that more children are living at poverty levels now than in the past decade, but what the story doesn’t address if higher-income students are switching to private schools, being home schooled, or going to their beloved charter schools. Tell me again why school vouchers are a good idea and are fair and equitable? As a graduate of public schools in the south, this is a disheartening fact. I see more and more of my friends, many of whom went to public schools, feeling that their children can not get a quality education in them any more. They wrestle with if they should stay and try to improve the school, but that often feels like they are sacrificing their child's education to make a point. It's a tough question. 
I’m simplifying the issue by taking that swipe at school vouchers and this is a tremendously complicated issue that also includes a lack of  health care for the lower-income children, the lingering effects of the 2008 recession, and according to the study, immigration and a higher birth rate for low-income families vs. high-income families. I’d add the growing disparity between the upper class and the lower class and the eradication of the middle class as a contributing factor as well. 
Now, the question is what do we do about it? 

18 October 2013

America seldom seems so insular as when a tragedy happens elsewhere in the world. Stories that would be front page news or would dominate headlines around the world if they happened here seem to get a mere blip because they aren’t happening to us...as if that makes it any less tragic. 
While we were waiting for the government to reopen, in India they were dealing with Cyclone Phailin, which come on shore as the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. 
In addition to at nearly 30 lives lost, close to one million people were evacuated, tens of thousands of houses were destroyed and a tremendous number of crops (and, therefore, people’s livelihoods) were ruined. It was one of the largest evacuations in India’s history. 
The loss of life would have been much worse except for that even the smallest and poorest villages in India now have 24-hour news stations, according to the New York Times, and many people have mobile phones.  
With hundreds of thousands still reeling from the destruction, disaster relief organizations have come in to help. Among the leaders is Global Giving, which is on the ground providing emergency and long-term assistance. 
Oct. 18: Global Giving  
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17 October 2013

Gunter glieben glauchen globen...

(Paula Erickson, my most loyal guest blogger, comes back with another strong one today.  I love this one because, unbeknownst to Paula, I LOVE Def Leppard. I don't believe in guilty pleasures- you should be able to love whatever kind of music you want with no reservations- but if I did, Def Leppard would be at the top of the list.-Melinda)

“All right, I got something to say.
It's better to burn out, than fade away.
All right, gonna start a fire.
Rise up! gather round,
Rock this place to the ground.”

You know you know it, and you pretty much undoubtedly sing along when you hear it, whether you admit it or not. Classic lyrics from Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages.” Def Leppard was one of, if not THE biggest band of the hair-metal ‘80s, and one of the very few that survived and still thrive today. 

Rick Allen is the drummer. He joined the band when he was 15 -- he’s been a rock star pretty much his entire life -- and if you give it a little bit of thought, he probably is (or should be) one of the most inspirational people on the planet. Rick was 21 when, on New Year’s Eve of 1984, more than a year after the release of the breakthrough, 10-million selling Pyromania album, he lost his left arm in a car accident. Imagine that…losing your arm. Then think about losing your arm if you’re the drummer of the biggest rock band in the world. Most people would have given up – at the very least on playing drums, but quite probably on everything. How easy to just burn out or fade away. 

Not Rick. He so was thrown into the ultimate deep end and he swam. He said from the outset that he would play again. He met with engineers and figured out a design for a custom, specially adapted semi-electronic drum kit that utilized his right arm and his feet. He worked on his physicality, and on his kit, and on his technique. And he worked, and he worked. He returned to Def Leppard full-time in 1986, in time for the European Monsters of Rock Tour. 

If you’ve ever seen the band live, you know it’s a percussion- and guitar-driven, all-out rock show. If you couldn’t see the one-sided drum kit on the stage right in front of you, you would never believe that the incredible beat was driven by a dude with one arm. Watching and hearing Rick play, and thinking about what it took to not only overcome, but overtake, what happened to him, is way up there on my list of the most inspirational things I’ve witnessed. 

Overcoming adversity must be in the very fiber of Rick’s being. In 2001, he established the Raven Drum Foundation, which “helps people overcome the emotional and physical pain resulting from traumatic events, with a special focus on veterans of war.” 

-Paula Erickson

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16 October 2013

Will Davion Get a Happy Ending?

Some stories break your heart more than others. A few weeks ago, 15-year old Davion Only went to St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Fla., and asked if anyone, anyone at all, would adopt him. Can you imagine having the courage to do that...after a lifetime of rejection.

He’s lived his whole life in foster homes and group residences. He was born to a mom who was in jail and since then, he’s been shuttled from one place to the next with no permanent home. Part of him always felt that his birth mother would come and find him. In June, he got up the nerve to look for her, only to find that she had died a few weeks earlier. 

So he and his caseworker went to the church and he stood up and asked if someone would take him in. As the story in the Naples News so beautifully put it: “Davion wants to play football, but there's no one to drive him to practice. He wants to use the bathroom without having to ask someone to unlock the door. More than anything, he wants someone to tell him he matters. To understand when he begs to leave the light on.”

Davion had some behavioral issues, but after he found out his mother had died, he decided to straighten himself out and make himself more appealing to potential families. He approached the altar at the church and said, “I know God hasn’t given up on me. So I’m not giving up either.” 
So far, no one has adopted Davion, but two couples have asked about him. He deserves a happy ending. He deserves someone who will leave the light on and, more than anything, he needs to hear someone say that he matters. Because he does. We all do.
Today’s $10 goes to Hope Children’s Home in Tampa, Fla. The 45-year old home has taken in nearly 5,000 children, between the ages of 2 and 18, who have been orphaned, abused or discarded. With dorms housing up to 80 children, Hope has its own schooling through 12th grade. Hope Children’s Home receives no government funding and instead relies on donations from churches, organizations and individuals. 

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15 October 2013

Betcha By Golly Wow...

Yesterday I did something I almost never do during the day: I turned on the TV. I just needed to clear my head for a few minutes while I ate a late lunch. Katie Couric’s show was on and I tuned in just in time to see her interview with Cate Edwards, daughter of John and Elizabeth Edwards.

Cate was tremendously poised as she talked about her mom’s fight with breast cancer. It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly 3 years since Elizabeth died. The Edwards lived in Chapel Hill, N.C. which is right down the road from where I grew up in Raleigh. The Westboro Baptist Church decided to protest at her funeral for God knows what... maybe because she supported gay rights or maybe because her husband had committed adultery. At this point, they don’t really need a reason to send out a press release and say they’re showing up, do they?  Her funeral was at Edenton Street Methodist, one of Raleigh’s most stately and oldest churches. 

You know what happened? More than 300 proud North Carolinians showed up to meet the protesters and linked arms to form a circle to keep the Westboro Baptist Church protesters out and away from those attending the funeral, including John, Cate and her siblings.
Cate talked primarily about the Count Us, Know Us, Join Us initiative, whose mission it is to honor those living with advanced breast cancer, since each stage of cancer has different needs than the other stages. It also seeks to recognize those taking care of loved ones with advanced stage breast cancer. It offers the latest news on treatments and links to resources. It also serves as a way to keep people going through advanced cancer from feeling less alone. 
Count Us, Know Us, Join Us doesn’t take donations (because it’s funded by a pharmaceutical company), but a number of the organizations that it links to do, so I picked the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation. 

Linda Creed was a songwriter who died of breast cancer when she was 37. Among the songs she co-wrote include a whole lot of the Stylistics’ hits, including “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” “I’m Stone In Love With You” and “Break Up To Make Up,” as well as The Spinners’ “The Rubberband Man.” 

Founded shortly after her death 24 years ago, the Linda Creed Breast Cancer Foundation is dedicated to helping women in the Delaware Valley (where Linda lived) fight breast cancer. Among its initiatives is stressing early detection. Now, more than 15 area hospitals participate in free mammography screenings for the uninsured and underinsured. The Foundation’s $500,000 annual budget comes directly from private sources and grants. 

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14 October 2013

Boys will be boys, right?

On Friday, the Kansas City Star ran a long piece about a 14-year old girl, Daisy, in Maryville, Mo., who, while drunk and not able to consent, had sex with a high school senior, while another boy video taped the act. 

 The boy and his friends, who also assaulted Daisy’s 13-year-old friend, dumped Daisy on her front lawn, where she remained, passed out, in below-freezing weather, for several hours until her mother found her. She also had abrasions around her genitals. With the video and a number of accounts and other evidence, the boy was charged with sexual assault.

Unbelievably, over the next few weeks, threats were made against Daisy’s family and many people rallied around the football player, who claimed the sex was consensual. Daisy’s mother, a veterinarian who had moved her family to Maryville after her husband was killed in a car accident, lost her job because her boss said if she pursued civil charges, it would unduly stress out her fellow staffers. 

After two months, the assault charge against the football player was dropped, even though Missouri felony law states if someone is incapacitated from alcohol, then the sex is non-consensual. Daisy had a blood alcohol level of .13  several hours after her last drink--served to her by the boy who had sex with her. Additionally, a sexual exploitation of a minor charge against the boy who video taped the sex act was also dropped. Even a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a minor by leaving her in freezing temperatures was dropped. 

Maryville is a small town with a few prominent families who run the town and the football player just happened to be in one of them. Plus, as newcomers, Daisy and her family had no clout in the town. They had no one to advocate for them, even though the sheriff and the doctor who treated Daisy felt her case was legitimate.

After the dismissal, life didn’t get any easier for Daisy.  She continued to be called a “skank” in tweets. She transferred to a different school, and eventually the family moved out of Maryville and back to their hometown.  But the story doesn’t end there. The Maryville house Daisy’s mother put up for sale was torched. Daisy had tried to kill herself two times. 

The boy who raped her? He’s at college and seems to be carrying on just fine. The Kansas City Star reprinted one of his recent retweets: “If her name begins with A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z, she wants the D.”

What do we teach our young girls? Do we teach them that they can never have too much to drink and let down their guard because there may be someone there who will take advantage of them (obviously, the best message to 13- and 14-year old girls and boys is not to be drinking at all, but what about to college girls who may be of legal age? Is the advice the same to all of them?) What a scary world to think that if a girl willingly—or unwillingly—drinks too much, there are boys, her peers, who then see it as perfectly acceptable to have sex with her. 

Where are boys getting that idea and why does it seem like we’re hearing these stories weekly now?  I don’t have any answers. I also don’t have any friends who have raised young men to think this is appropriate behavior-- or at least I don’t think I have. All I know is it seems like the girl never stops paying the price and the boys seem to just skate on with their lives, with the lack of charges only reinforcing in their minds that the behavior is not only OK, but condoned. 

Today’s $10 goes to Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, a Kansas City-area coalition that assists victimes of sexual assault and their families.