Andrew For Oklahoma

Helping people with real information.

14 Oct

Fighting Hunger Today!

Posted in Uncategorized on 14.10.14 by Merlyn

fhtWhen we think of hungry people, we tend to picture starving children in Third World countries with distended bellies and sticklike bodies. For most of us, it is hard to realize that right here in the United States nearly 32 million Americans go to bed hungry. Nearly 5.5 million of these are children under the age of 12.

Why, in a land that produces enough food to feed its people as well as people in many other countries, are we faced with the reality of hungry Americans?

The causes of hunger in today’s America are very different from those of a decade ago. While agricultural technology (the ability to plant, grow, and harvest stronger, more nourishing, and more abundant crops) has advanced, hunger persists because of poverty.

The ability to produce a sufficient food supply does not mean a nation will eliminate hunger, according to Peter Hendry, former editor of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s journal. In the United States, for example, where surpluses are so large that farmers are paid to produce less, the government must provide food stamps each month to more than 19 million people so they can get food.

When we think of the hungry in America, we may picture a homeless person rummaging through garbage cans for food. Do people go hungry because they are out of work and can’t afford to buy food? Mike Firman, executive director of the Golden Harvest Food Bank, says that’s not accurate. Hungry people are usually not those who are on welfare. They are the working poor.

Who Are the Working Poor?

“A working-poor family can be described as a family that earns a little more than $10,000 a year,” says Firman. “About half of this money will go for rent. The working poor have jobs that do not provide health insurance, and a good portion of the remainder of the paycheck goes for utilities and living expenses such as gas for the car and medical bills.”

Sandra is one of the working poor. A single mother of two small children, Sandra works as a waitress. Her salary is less than minimum wage. Part of her paycheck goes for rent, electricity, and heat. She has no car and depends on city buses to get to and from work. The rest of her paycheck goes for day care for her children so she can work. There is very little money left for food.

“At the beginning of the month, I can usually buy milk for the children,” says Sandra. “But by the last week, we’re down to drinking water or Kool-Aid with meals. I usually try to serve meat two or three times a week, but I have to make my food dollars stretch with dried beans and peas, rice and gravy, and hot dogs and bologna. Fresh fruit is out as are most desserts….”

Sandra regrets not being able to give her children an occasional treat to eat. Like all children, they have favorite foods, which are usually too expensive for her to buy. “It’s tough living on such a tight budget that you can’t ever afford treats.”

Stretching the Food Dollar

Sandra, like many of the working poor, is finding stretching the food dollar even tougher these days. As a waitress, she relies on tips for some of her income. As times become tougher, tips become smaller. Recently she has had to start depending on food banks to get her family through the month.

Firman has seen a large increase in the numbers of families becoming dependent on food banks and soup kitchens. His organization saw a 59 percent increase in the numbers of individuals served by food banks in one year.

How Can You Help?

For a long time, many Americans thought that it was someone else’s responsibility to feed the hungry. No longer. Now there are many groups that are addressing the needs of the hungry in the United States. As needs have increased, so have the numbers of volunteers working to combat hunger. Here are some ways you help:

1. Start a food drive in your neighborhood. Firman’s children (ages 6 and 7) spent a weekend collecting food donated by their neighbors. The children went door-to-door and collected about 25 pounds of canned goods to give to their local food bank.

2. Start an emergency food pantry through your church, social club, or civic group.

3. Work with other groups such as youth clubs to collect food for local food banks.

4. Volunteer your time to help label and sort cans for distribution to the hungry.

5. Talk to local food companies to see what they do with the food they don’t use. Sometimes canned food that simply has a crooked label will be discarded. Encourage food companies to donate these cans to local food banks, and volunteer to pick up and deliver this food.

6. Many food banks have summer programs in which young people work in teams to sort, label, and distribute food that has been donated by food companies.

7. Check with local restaurants to see if they will give leftover food to soup kitchens.

8. Work with local chefs to develop charity events to collect donated money for food banks.

9. Some food banks have a garden club. If you harvest extra food from your garden, they will pick it up.

There are lots of creative thinkers out there. Here are some fund-raising projects that have been successful:

1. Dine Out — The Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association of Memphis, Tennessee, held a Dining Dividends Day. Sixty-eight restaurants agreed to donate 10 percent of their profits to the group’s meals-for-seniors program. When people heard about the program, restaurants were filled with patrons, some of whom waited more than an hour. The program made $20,000.

2. Go Cookin’ — Meals on Wheels of Elberton, Georgia, developed a “Remember When” cookbook that featured more than 500 recipes. In the first two months of the project, 350 cookbooks were sold at $9 each. Half of this money went to buy food for the Meals on Wheels Program.

Many Americans now realize that to feed the hungry requires effort. And many are willing to volunteer to do just that. The feeling of satisfaction that comes from helping others is also nourishing.

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05 Oct

Is “Ice” Still An Issue?

Posted in Issues on 05.10.14 by Merlyn

iisaiTwenty years ago, it was “speed.” Today, there’s “ice.” What are they? What is the difference? Is “ice” safer, more dangerous, or just different?

Both are methamphetamines. First, let’s look at what the drug is, chemically. Methamphetamine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It acts on the brain, causing feelings of alertness and well-being. These feelings are the “high,” the reason some start taking this type of drug and become addicted to it. In addition, methamphetamine can cause a physical dependence, which is why people continue to take it to prevent withdrawal from the drug.

The feelings from “ice” are very much the same as those from crack cocaine, another CNS stimulant. But how those feelings come about is different. When a nerve acts, chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are released from one nerve cell and move to the next cell. The neurotransmitters transfer the message. If no neurotransmitters are released, no message is transferred. Methamphetamine causes the chemicals to be released in large amounts. The result is an intense feeling–“euphoria.” Cocaine, on the other hand, keeps the chemicals from being removed. For both cocaine and amphetamines, the nerve is still kept “on,” by different means.

“Ice” is essentially a crystalline form of methamphetamine that is smoked, much like the crack form of cocaine. The effects of “ice” are much stronger than the effects of the same amount of “speed.” The higher potency is one thing that is making “ice” a popular drug of abuse today.

The effects of “ice” also last much longer than methamphetamine, which makes it attractive to people who would use drugs. Since “ice” is more potent and lasts longer than the older form of methamphetamine, the potential for having a dangerous or toxic reaction from the drug is very real.

Symptoms of Overdose

Violence is often connected to methamphetamine use. Symptoms of “ice” overdose include restlessness, confusion, violent behavior, or hallucinations. Since the drug is long-lasting, overdose may not always mean using a single large dose, but could also be from using the drug too often.

To add to the danger of overdose, methamphetamine is often used repeatedly, over a long period of time. Methamphetamine is highly addictive. When the high from “ice” begins to disappear, the user takes more. This may continue for hours. Oftentimes when the person stops using the drug, a depression sets in. To get rid of the depression, more drug is used. The user is not likely to be aware of how much drug he or she has taken. The violence and confusion of an overdose is a fairly frequent result.

Serious Health Effect

In addition to addiction and risk of overdose, methamphetamine use has other serious medical problems associated with it.

Methamphetamine users feel a rush of energy. At the same time, the bronchi of their lungs enlarge to let in more air. Blood pressure increases, as does heart rate. Any potential heart problem, not yet diagnosed, may show up suddenly as a heart attack.

Doctors are beginning to seriously look at methamphetamine use as a cause of heart attacks in younger patients with no history of heart disease. The heart is a muscle. To keep working, the heart muscle needs a constant supply of blood. Methamphetamine may make the blood vessels in the heart contract suddenly (go into a spasm). This can reduce the blood flow to the heart muscle itself. When part of the heart muscle stops getting blood and starts to die, we say the person has had a heart attack.

The increased blood pressure can put stress on a weak blood vessel, causing it to burst. If this happens in the brain, the person suffers a stroke. A stroke may have slight effects, or may mean loss of the use of an arm or leg. The victim may be unable to speak or to read or to communicate with others. The person may die.

These effects can occur with stimulants. “Ice” is, if anything, less predictable and more dangerous than other stimulants. “Ice” can be almost 100 percent pure, or as little as half active. Often the user has no way of knowing how powerful a batch of illegal drug is until it is used.

Because the drug stays in the body, even a small increase in drug levels may be enough to produce serious health effects. If the drug used was partially pure, but is now replaced with a stronger batch, over-dose or serious medical problems are likely.

“Ice” has become popular among drug abusers. Since it is smoked, some users who fear the dangers of contracting hepatitis or AIDS from needles are not worried.

The effects of “ice” last up to 60 times longer than those of cocaine. Drug users prefer the long-lasting high of “ice” to the short peak felt with cocaine or crack.

“Ice” can be synthesized in a laboratory, so smuggling is not a factor. Of course, the drug is not made in commercial laboratories; “ice” has no medical use. Manufacture of the drug takes place wherever a “lab” can be set up.


* There is no quality control.

* Purity and strength of the drug vary from one batch to the next.

* The chance of drug contamination is always possible and harmful.

* Variable strength may also lead to increased risk of overdose.

“Ice” is dangerous. Its effects are potentially lethal. Once a person uses the drug, the cycle of addiction starts. Stopping is not easy. Not starting may save a life.

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28 Sep

Are Twins Freaky? Maybe Not!

Posted in Uncategorized on 28.09.14 by Merlyn

atfmbHave you ever noticed that identical twins attract strange reactions from people? They’re often asked goofy questions, like: “How do you really know you’re you?” And some people think it’s fun to bring pairs of twins together, sometimes to stare at them like zoo specimens.

Where do people get such ideas? They exist far back in literature. And television’s good twin/evil twin dramas don’t help. Neither do its portrayals of twins as pranksters who love creating confusion.

In real life, twins rarely impersonate each other. In fact, identical twins are the exception; most twins don’t even look alike. They generally think about their twinship only when reminded of it.

Twins are simply siblings who happened to be womb-mates. It’s no more mysterious than that.

Twin Perks

Growing up as twins has its perks. A twin has a handy playmate and confidant. Twins can help each other. Same-sex, same-size twins, if so inclined, can share clothes.

Because twins may require additional care from birth, parents occasionally spoil them. Bob and Bill’s mother fussed over their wardrobes. Sometimes she even drove out of state to buy their clothing.

Sheltered Childhoods

Twins often get more attention than they’d like. Many feel their parents worry about them too much.

Whenever Dan or Dave as teens returned home late, Dad was waiting. When they were little, he fretted constantly about their whereabouts and activities.

Multiple births can make any parent a worrier. Dave barely survived his birth in 1942. When Alice and Nathaniel were born in the ’70s, Alice nearly died. Carol and Christine’s birth left Carol partially paralyzed.

Twins often arrive prematurely and underweight. But today’s medical advances help more of them make it.

Multiple Choice

What causes twins? Identical twins occur if their mother’s egg divides after fertilization. If it divides more than once, triplets and higher multiples occur.

Coming from a single egg, identicals share the same genes. They have similar builds and (almost) identical faces.

Sometimes Mom has more than one egg ready for fertilization. If two eggs are fertilized at one time by two different sperm, fraternal twins result. Fraternals share only half the same genes, so they rarely resemble each other closely.

Two-thirds of twins born in the United States are fraternals. While identicals must be the same sex, fraternals can be the same or the opposite sex.

Different Expectations

Because he nearly died at birth, Dave feels his parents always worried about his health. He thinks they gently steered him away from sports. Dave became quite a student. While Dan played sports and enjoyed lots of physical activities, Dave studied hard.

Betty and Laura, on the other hand, both enjoyed perfect health. They climbed trees, raced bikes on dirt roads, and explored clay pits and the woods with neighboring cousins. Yet their parents didn’t worry about such goings-on.

Still adventurous at 19, Betty and Laura like foreign travel.

Heredity vs. Environment

Dan and Dave’s parents expected different things from their sons, so they treated them somewhat differently. Does that account for their differences?

Not for the most part. Recent research has led scientists to believe that genes beat out environment in the finished product.

Dave and Dan are fraternals. Scientists would say that their different genes largely account for the brothers’ differences. Similarly, identical genes account for identicals’ many similarities.

Studies of identicals separated at birth prompted these conclusions. When reunited after entirely different upbringings, identicals find they share marked similarities. Their weights, aptitudes, and tastes match closely.

Genes don’t seem to affect personalities, however. Identical twins’ personalities can differ as much as fraternals’.

Betty and Laura are identicals. Yet Betty’s more outgoing, independent, and outspoken than her sister. She also got in trouble more often.

Today Betty has long hair and likes dressing up, even for class. Laura’s much more casual, and has short hair. It annoys her when people assume she cut her hair short to look different from Betty. Laura just prefers short hair.

Pulling Away

The teen years are especially hard on twins. With identicals, being mistaken for one’s twin can heighten a teen’s insecurities. As twins grow more independent, they may reject each other’s company. Each may develop separate friends and activities.

Alice and Nathaniel’s separation began in junior high. In order to escape teasing, they pretended to hate one another. They now celebrate their birthday separately. They’re still close at 15, but avoid each other in school.


With twins competing for the same things, one usually becomes more assertive. Dan tried different things earlier than Dave because he wanted them more. He learned to drive first and got the car more often than Dave did.

Twins sometimes compete over parents and friends. Christine envied the extra attention her parents gave Carol because of her disability. Carol, in turn, envied Christine’s friends and outside activities.


College gives many same-sex twins their first chance to room apart. Dave and Dan even attended rival universities. But like many twins, each found the adjustment to suddenly being alone very difficult.

For instance, Betty admits she likes dorm living because she wouldn’t be happy sleeping in a room by herself. (Most dorm rooms are doubles.) She and Laura attend the same college, as do Carol and Christine. All plan to go separate ways after graduation.


Reuniting is what Dan and Dave did. After years of living in different states, they’re neighbors again. Now living in the same city, they see each other whenever they can. Closer at age 50 then ever before, they don’t even argue anymore.

That’s the pattern with many twins: closeness, separation, then renewed closeness. Sometimes it takes them a lifetime to really appreciate each other.

Unlike most siblings, Dave and Dan are completely comfortable with each other. Observing them can leave a nontwin feeling envious, and thinking that the twin bond is the one thing that really sets twins apart from the rest of us.


25 Sep

The Reasons Why An Individual Experience IRS Problems

Posted in Uncategorized on 25.09.14 by Merlyn

trwaiThere are a lot of reasons why an individual experience IRS problems. This may be due to the failure of paying the taxes on time and in full, or it can be an error committed by the Internal Revenue Service itself. Whatever it may be, IRS problems should be fixed as soon as possible in order to avoid the corresponding consequences of it. Whenever this is encountered, individuals are advised to make an appointment with the Internal Revenue Service right away. This is to ensure that all questions or concerns are addressed well and any unclear information is revealed. It is also important to bring all the necessary documents so that any missed information will be discussed right away.

However, in case if the Internal Revenue Service is difficult to contact, it can be a lot of help to approach the Taxpayer Advocate Service. The office has several representatives who can discuss to you the right ways to settle your tax disputes. They will compare all the information you provide and give you the options suitable for your financial status. Just make sure to record all the step by step actions that you will be doing so that your IRS problems will not exist anymore.

Getting The Best Tax Relief Help

There are a lot of ways to solve your IRS problems. The first one is by seeking tax relief help from a tax professional. The good thing about this is you do not have to worry on how you are going to settle your tax debts. The tax professional will handle and negotiate all your problems with the Internal Revenue Service so you will not be filed with any lawsuits from the government. The second one is by doing the process of tax settlement by yourself. You can visit the IRS office for the tax relief help that you can obtain from them. You just have to be patient in dealing with the IRS because they have a number of people being catered every day.

Always take into account that when you get the best tax relief services, you should prepare your finances well because the tax professionals will charge a certain amount as their fees. You can seek the opinion of others or you can use the internet to know where to find the best tax professional who offers an affordable tax relief help services. Just ensure that your tax debts are settled right away and the IRS will not chase you for all of these.

Find A Tax Relief Company That Has The Best Lawyer

If ever you have availed the services of a tax relief company, it is important that you handle it well so that things will go smoothly. The first thing that you have to do is to know the amount of your tax debts. Of course, you cannot make an appeal with the IRS if you do not know anything about your debts so; you have to make sure that you have the necessary details about this. Secure a copy of the notice that the IRS provides. This also includes the documents on your tax payments and many others. As soon as you have these, find a tax relief company that has the best lawyer or accountant. Tell all your concerns and discuss it with the tax professional. Be open for suggestions and do not jump into a conclusion right away.

Moreover, make sure also that you know the possible actions that the tax professional will do. Do not just let him negotiate with the IRS if you are not informed about it. Hence, you have to coordinate well with you lawyer or accountant so that everything will fall into place. Lastly, you can always find the best tax relief company if you research and do not settle for less.

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20 Sep

Is Your Personal Space Being Abused?

Posted in Uncategorized on 20.09.14 by Merlyn

iypsbaMary and Steve had been dating regularly. Mary didn’t appreciate it when Sally, the head cheerleader, snuggled close to Steve and asked for his history notes.

Tom and his brother, Ernie, share a room. One day as Tom was reading a letter from his girlfriend, Ernie came over to Tom’s side of the room and made like he was reading over his brother’s shoulder.

“Get out of my face,” Tom shouted as he pushed Ernie away.

Most people need space around them to feel comfortable. The amount of space needed depends on many things, including what culture they were raised in, what relationship they have with the person who is near them, and what their own personality is like.


According to sociologist Erving Goffman, there are three types of space settings or territories: public, home, and body.

There are differences among the three territories: In public territories, people can come and go at will. Most private business is conducted in home territories. Body territories are conceived of as personal space.

As an example, if you wanted to invite someone to a dance, you probably wouldn’t announce it over the loudspeaker at a football game. That request is a personal matter, which needs to be handled in a private setting.

Personal Space Defined

Dr. Edward T. Hall, an anthropology professor, coined the word proxemics to describe the territorial zones we have around our bodies. He said we have four zones for personal space: 1. intimate distance, 2. personal distance, 3. social distance, and 4. public distance.

These zones are the areas we operate in. Intimate distance is the closest. It can be actual touching or up to 18 inches.

Usually, only close friends or family will be in range.

When people violate intimate space, they make others anxious and angry. Policemen will often get very close to suspects–sometimes to seem like a friend, sometimes to intimidate them. Other people who violate your space may be trying to show they are more important or powerful than you.

Another way people can violate intimate space is inadvertent, such as in sporting events or social situations. Have you ever seen a basketball player make a rebound, then move his elbows back and forth to claim distance? Have you ever felt a little claustrophobic under a pileup in football? How about in a crowded elevator? The next time you ride in one, watch the other people. Most of them will look up at the numbers or will stare at the floor. They do this out of respect for other people’s space.

How Much Distance Do You Need?

The next zone of personal space is the personal distance zone. Here, Dr. Hall further breaks it down into close personal distance (1-1/2 to 2-1/2 feet), where you can still touch someone, to the far phase, which extends up to 4 feet.

Remember Mary, who was mad because Sally the cheerleader stood too close to her boyfriend, Steve? Sally probably had invaded Steve’s close personal distance. That is considered major flirting to most people. Sally should have stayed at the next range, the social distance.

Social distance also has two ranges: close is from 4 to 7 feet and is generally where we conduct business. Far is from 7 to 12 feet, where your teacher might sit at his or her desk to show authority.

The final type is public distance, which ranges from 12 feet and beyond. Generally, this distance is reserved for public gatherings, such as auditorium addresses or political speeches.

Animal Instincts

Traditionally, the amount of space you need to feel comfortable depends on you, but the reason you need space at all comes from the fact that humans are “territorial” animals. That means that when humans were hunting and gathering their food, they would stake out land. Because some places were more productive, ancient peoples would fight over them.

Today, people still fight over the best land, and they still stake out their personal space. “No Trespassing” signs and fences around yards to keep others out are seen everywhere. No Trespassing body language, such as a cold shoulder, is also effective at keeping people away.

Space: The Final Frontier

When someone confronts you, personal space violation is still difficult to define. With personal space, even eye contact or body language can trigger negative feelings. Staring at a person usually means that you think there may be something peculiar about that person. So, although you may be several feet away, they may feel threatened because you are staring at them.

Being conscious of personal space may be difficult. The important thing to remember is that everyone is different. If you feel closed in, the best thing to do is let your feelings be known. Chances are the other person was never aware of personal space.

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03 Sep

Insuring Yourself Is Much Easier Now

Posted in Uncategorized on 03.09.14 by Merlyn

iuimeYou may not think about insurance protection before you go skiing or participate in a team sport. But, what if you break a leg and have to go to the hospital? Are you protected against those health care costs?

If you get sick, what do you do? Where do you go? What kind of help can you find?

When you break a leg, sprain an ankle, or come down with the flu, you probably don’t think, “Can I afford to see a doctor?” That’s the question, however, that many Americans have to ask themselves. The reality is: Good health care costs money.

You may not have to pay now, but sooner or later, paying doctor bills will become your responsibility.

How much does health care really cost? Do you know? Let’s look at some facts.

Americans today like to think our health is protected. We want to believe we have the best health care system in the world. And we spend plenty of money on health care for ourselves — about $670 billion in 1990 — that’s $2,600 for every man, woman, and child.

We’re spending so much money that we should have terrific health care. Do we?

Take a look at these facts:

* 34 million Americans have no health insurance, according to 1990 census figures.

* Health care costs have been rising at about twice the rate of inflation.

* One estimate shows the per-person cost of health care will more than double by the year 2000 — about the time many of you will be having to deal with health care on your own.

Are You Covered?

When you see a doctor or go to an emergency room, one of the first questions you may be asked is, “Do you have insurance?” Or, “What type of insurance do you have?”

According to Webster’s Dictionary, insurance is “a means of guaranteeing protection or safety.” You buy health insurance today in order to pay for health care in the future. There are several ways to do this.

Managed health care plans such as HMOs (Health Maintenance Organizations) and PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) handle a large part of insurance coverage. (See “Health Help: Learning the Language” of plans on page 8.)

There is usually a waiting period — a time set by the insurance program — before your coverage begins. That means a time of 30 to 90 days may have to pass before you can begin to use the insurance plan — sometimes even longer.

When you get sick or are injured after the waiting period has passed, the insurance plan helps pay for your medical care.

If you have medical insurance when you go to a doctor or hospital, your insurance acts as protection by paying all or a portion of your medical bills. Keep in mind, however, that some medical insurance may pay only some (not all) of the costs, depending on the plan.

Paying the Premium

Monthly payments for insurance coverage are called premiums. Perhaps your parents have insurance through an employer. This may mean that the employer pays all or part of the premium. With the rising cost of health care, fewer employers are able to cover all of the costs for their employees’ health care. While your parents may be able to qualify for company health care, they may have to contribute a portion of the premium. Sometimes this is done by the employer deducting part of every paycheck. Keep in mind, however, that insurance coverage through an employer ends when the job ends — unless you arrange with your employer for coverage under COBRA provisions. (See page 8.)

You may want to find out how to apply for insurance. Your parents are probably taking care of this for you know, but eventually you will be doing it for yourself. It’s never too early to learn.

All plans require you to fill out an application form. The insurance plan forms will ask for a medical history (a listing of accidents, illnesses, allergies, etc.). This medical history may determine whether or not your parents, or you, qualify for insurance. Once qualified for coverage, a monthly premium will be required.

Know Your Options

If an employer does not offer health insurance as a benefit, many people find they can’t afford a policy on their own. It’s wise to know other options available for persons who can’t afford insurance. Government programs, such as the following, can help:

Federal Programs: Medicaid; Medicare; Indian Health Service; Women, Infants, and Children program; and Veterans Administration. (See page 8 for explanations.)

State Programs: Each state has its own program for those residents who are uninsurable through other means, though this is not necessarily for those who can’t afford regular insurance.

Community Clinics: Community health centers provide services based on ability to pay. Try to locate one nearby.

Stay Alert to Potential Problems

It’s important to know what your policy covers and what it doesn’t. In case of long-term serious illness, for example, most insurance plans pay only to a specific limit.

Americans pay a great deal for health insurance. And the costs keep rising. To help keep costs down, a national health care system, such as the one in Canada, has been proposed by legislators.

In the Canadian system, everyone pays a share of the cost through taxes. Since all Canadians pay into the system, everyone has medical care coverage. There are differing opinions about how this system would work in the United States, since Canada has a significantly smaller population than the United States.

It may be tempting to leave health care costs to “the experts,” but it’s up to you to ensure your health by becoming a smarter consumer of health care. Stay alert to health care trends; understand and work for reform; make informed choices.

Today’s teens can expect to be health care consumers until the middle of the 21st century . . . or beyond.

Find an opportunity to sit down with your parents to get a picture of your family health insurance program. (See “Health Talk” on page 11.) This is excellent preparation for that day in the not-so-distant future when you will be making these decisions on your own.

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02 Jul

Public Transit Is Necessary, But Getting Worse

Posted in Issues on 02.07.14 by Merlyn

ptinThe question is no longer whether Rosa Parks can sit at the front of the bus. It’s whether she gets to ride the bus at all. Although more overt racial discrimination in public transportation has given way, inadequate transit services affect many people’s access to work, recreation and health services. And because of the high costs of owning and driving a car, private automobile transportation is often not an affordable option.

Federal policy has heavily favored automobile use, with $205 billion provided by the Highway Trust Fund for state road projects since 1956, compared to only $50 billion for mass transit over the past 30 years. Highway investments provide less direct benefit to the poor: In 1990 half of the households without access to a car earned less than $10,000 (78 percent of the households without access to a car earned less than $20,000), while 96 percent of households with incomes over $35,000 owned at least one vehicle. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that the poorest fifth of urban residents in southern California receive only four percent of the area’s transportation benefits.

Society’s dependence on automobiles concerns both social justice advocates and environmentalists. But their approaches to solving transportation problems are often divergent. Environmentalists struggle to find ways to discourage automobile use, such as placing higher taxes on fuel or pro-rating registration fees based on the number of miles driven. Advocates for poor working people, on the other hand, focus on survival, such as fighting cutbacks in transit service or the construction of highways that cut through communities.

Despite these differences, some common areas of concern are emerging. The environmental and social impacts of suburban sprawl, poor land-use planning and disinvestment in cities are beginning to bring these constituencies together. The country’s reliance on automobiles and the dominant planning role played by state Departments of Transportation, highway builders and engineers provides a clear target for joint activities.

As a sponsor of a series of Energy and Equity Roundtables, the Environmental Action Foundation is reaching out to a diverse range of groups working on transportation and energy issues. In November, I spoke at the Transportation, Environmental Justice and Social Equity Conference co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration and the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a Washington-based coalition. These forums are among the first attempts to start a national dialogue among diverse advocacy communities around transportation issues. Although there is still a lot of mutual learning and listening yet to do, we are beginning to understand that working together toward common solutions is needed in order to aim for the kind of fundamental changes in transportation and government services we seek.

As environmentalists and social justice advocates move from parallel tracks to the same one, we are beginning to share victories and lessons.

* The Urban Habitat Program of the Earth Island Institute worked with the Bayview Hunters Point community, the largest African American neighborhood in San Francisco, to formulate the country’s first community-designed transit system plan based on social and environmental justice criteria. In 1992, Urban Habitat found that none of the San Francisco Municipal Railway system’s development proposals would adequately meet the transit needs of Bayview Hunters Point. With the assistance of residents and city planners, Urban Habitat developed a strategy that includes commercial development, adequate transportation services, conveniently located stations and plans for stimulating local jobs.

* Public transportation will only be fully utilized if it is accessible. In 1970, the Chimawa Indian Health Clinic expanded to serve the Native American population in western Oregon. But the public transit line in the area stopped a mile from the clinic. Since there were no sidewalks, transit-dependent patients had to walk a mile through what amounted to a muddy trail. After years of legal challenges and protests, the bus line was extended. But today the line is in jeopardy because of low ridership, and activists are asking for the transit agency’s assistance in educating patients about bus availability.

* In Gary, Indiana, which has the largest African American population in the state, Michele Nanni of the Hoosier Environmental Council is pushing for a more sustainable regional transportation plan. A loose voting bloc has been organized, made up of community representatives and transit operators, to support policies that address both environmental and social justice concerns. Although the region’s long-term plan is still based on highway use, Nanni has succeeded in making the planning process more accessible to the public.

As Nanni and other activists have found, one of the basic solutions to transportation problems is encouraging citizen participation in the planning process. For the first time, such participation is legally mandated; through the landmark Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). ISTEA changed the power dynamic by enhancing the role of metropolitan planning organizations and the governor, and by adding a significant new player: the public.

Enhanced political strength through education and advocacy will help to level the playing field and create a partnership on transportation planning, eventually leading to transportation systems that fulfill both social and ecological needs.

Another tool for public inclusion is Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (1964). ISTEA’s planning regulations explicitly require states and metropolitan planning organizations to be consistent with Title VI, which states that: “No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” This can be interpreted to mean that the planning process must allow representation of diverse groups in decision making, make the transportation system accessible to all populations, and have a fair ratio of transit and highway expenditures by region. For example, in Los Angeles, the Labor/Community Strategy Center has sued the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on the grounds that bus riders, who are low-income and overwhelmingly people of color, have had to increase the amount of their bus fares to pay for suburban projects, whose riders are mostly white and have higher incomes.

The Civil Rights Act and ISTEA have laid the legal groundwork for change in this arena. With environmentalists and social justice advocates joining forces to significantly improve the transportation planning process to be much more inclusive, there is a greater opportunity to hold government accountable and to design transportation systems that serve us all.

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11 Jun

Cities Make Sustainability A Priority

Posted in Issues on 11.06.14 by Merlyn

cmsyWhen Richard Morgan first conceived of a program to teach carpentry skills to at-risk youth, he didn’t intend for it to be a cutting edge environmental project. Through the American Institute for Learning, an adult education center in Austin, Texas, where Morgan works, he hoped to set up a cabinet shop that would serve as an apprenticeship program.

But when the city’s Environmental and Conservation Services Department heard of Morgan’s plans, it suggested an environmental spin. Why not build energy-efficient, sustainable housing for low-income people? Morgan was intrigued, and the result is Casa Verde, a model “green” construction program that has multiple benefits for low-in-come people.

A three-bedroom “sustainable” house was built last year as a pilot project and sold to a low-in-come family for $40,000. With its successful completion, Casa Verde received funding both as a HUD YouthBuild program and an AmeriCorps program, President Clinton’s national service initiative. Support also comes from the Community Housing Development Organization.

Sustainable construction uses methods and materials that don’t deplete natural resources, and that are safe, healthy and light-enhancing, Morgan explains. “It has positive impacts on the occupants, the builders and the area,” he says. “The houses are durable, resource-efficient and adaptable.”

This year three more houses are under construction. They are made from Faswall, a mineralized wood fiber that is filled with concrete. Among the energy efficiencies are a heating system fueled by energy from the hot water heater, large overhangs and a porch for shade, a metal roof with a radiant barrier to decrease attic heating and ceiling fans.

Not only will Casa Verde provide affordable, energy- efficient housing for low-income people, but it also offers a foot in the construction trades to at-risk young adults, between the ages of 17 and 25. “Construction is a good medium to teach responsibility and citizenship,” says Morgan.

This year, 64 apprentices are being introduced to the building trades; more than half of them had a troubled past with the justice system. They work in eight-person crews, alternating their workweeks with classroom study. They also perform community service by assisting with weatherizing other low-income housing and with making houses accessible for people with disabilities. Casa Verde apprentices are paid minimum wage, and receive free health insurance and child care, as well as a $4,725 educational grant through AmeriCorps.

“It’s really exciting,” says Morgan. “When they leave our program, they will have been exposed to all of the trades that are involved in residential construction.” Morgan estimates that as many as 40 percent of the program’s graduates will go on to work in construction.

Philadelphia: Neighborhood Centers Wage Valiant Fight

Philadelphia is one of the nation’s utility nightmares. High gas and electric rates, costly modernization of a deteriorating infrastructure, older homes and an aging, poor inner-city population combine to fuel an ongoing energy crisis.

In the mid-eighties, the situation came to a head when gas utility shut-offs mushroomed from 3,000 to 30,000 a year. At the same time, the state’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) was poorly managed, not even spending its full $24 million allotment from the federal government. The Weatherization Assistance Program was in shambles.

“There were all kinds of horror stories,” recalls Liz Robinson, executive director of the Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia. “Insulation was ending up on people’s beds from the roof. Storm windows were installed that were six inches too short. There were resources, but they were poorly managed, poorly delivered and the result was a problem raging out of control.”

The financially-strapped city, leery of creating a new government agency, established the Energy Coordinating Agency as an independent nonprofit to help low-income people avoid shut-offs. It has grown into a comprehensive program that is fighting the crisis on many fronts.

“We’ve tried to create a rational system from the customer’s point of view,” says Robinson. Seven neighborhood centers serve as “one-stop shopping” for people with utility problems. Paperwork has been streamlined and made uniform for all utilities. Counselors at the centers not only help with bills and shut-offs, but also educate clients on energy conservation. Home repair advice and services are offered, and a homeless prevention program was launched this year. Twenty-two thousand households are served by the centers.

“There’s a big emphasis on self-help and education,” says Robinson. “Most people do not understand how their houses work. They don’t know how to make their heating system run efficiently or how to do caulking and repair work.”

Those who are physically able are taught how to make the repairs themselves. For the elderly and disabled, the centers offer limited services or refer them to another agency that handles major systems repairs.

“All the centers aggressively recruit volunteers from their client base, as well as local universities and businesses,” says Robinson. “They work to bring volunteers up to the level so that if there’s a staff opening they’re able to be hired.” The majority of paid counselors come from the ranks of the poor and unemployed. Crews doing weatherization and home repair also generally come from the local neighborhoods where they work.

The Energy Coordinating Agency and the centers are supported by the city, state and utilities, as well as federal block grants. “The hardest part is maintaining the commitment of institutions and government. Unless you have that, the coordination is very hard to do,” says Robinson. “It requires agreement by all the players that the program makes sense and that it’s in their interest to coordinate their services with others.” This year, the program will be working with the city to crack down on landlords who maintain substandard housing. “We’re going after the landlords. We’ll give them an opportunity to make the repairs, and give them a low interest loan,” says Robinson. “But if that fails, we’ll use power of code enforcement to put a lien on the properties.” More than half of the low-income clients are renters.

Despite the intensive efforts of the agency, the energy crisis in the city is unabated. Utility shut-offs have continued to rise, with 50,000 people having their gas shut-offs a year, 20,000 households losing their electricity, and nearly that many families without water. The persistence of the problem is aggravated by the relatively low priority given to conservation and education by utilities.

“The utilities have moved from no role in low-income efforts to a very major role,” says Robinson. “They now contribute more resources locally than the federal government. Those resources tend to take the form of bill subsidies, with too little going to conservation and education. You can be investing $1,000 in a bill subsidy every year, and meanwhile, if that house is not properly maintained, it continues to deteriorate and the bills continue to go up. The investment in conservation and education needs to be comparable if we’re ever going to turn the corner.”

Portland: Nonprofits Focus on Education and Self-Help

Portland, Oregon, has led the way in fashioning a comprehensive energy strategy that includes improving energy efficiency in municipal, commercial, industrial and residential buildings, increasing recycling and decreasing waste, and developing telecommunications as an energy-efficiency strategy. By the year 2000, Portland hopes to increase energy efficiency by 10 percent, thereby freeing $100 million for other needs.

Included in this effort are two programs, one citywide and one statewide, directed towards the energy concerns of low-income people.

The Community Energy Project is a nonprofit self-help program that runs free workshops for low-income households, teaching participants how to weatherstrip, caulk, install vinyl storm windows and other measures. Participants who meet the income criteria are given materials, in the form of rebates from the utilities.

“The whole idea is to make the houses more comfortable. We also reduce the energy bill by encouraging behavioral changes,” says Bob Chaples, executive director of the project.

The two-hour workshops are held in the evenings in schools and community centers and are led by people from the neighborhoods who are trained and paid a $25 stipend.

Each year, 45 workshops are held for low-in-come people, 10 of them targeted at special groups, such as immigrants for whom the workshops are held in Spanish.

In addition to the workshops, the project organizes teams of volunteers to help elderly and disabled people with home repairs. Seven-hundred volunteers, recruited from local factories, schools and businesses, participate annually, working on 200 homes.

“With the senior program, we do a pre-work audit of the home, which tells us which materials are needed,” says Chaples. “We walk the residents through the house and show them where their energy dollars are going, and how our materials will help make their home more comfortable.”

Also based in Portland is Oregon Heat, a statewide program, that is striving to fill the void left by shrinking energy assistance federal funds. “In 1983 our LIHEAP allotment was $25 million. This year, it’s down to $10.8 million,” says executive director Jay Formick. “The trend seems to suggest it will continue to be cut until there’s nothing left.”

Oregon Heat’s main mission is to raise funds for energy assistance. Last year, they raised $630,000. “What we would like to do is help low-income households become more self-reliant so they don’t need energy assistance,” says Formick. “We want to empower people, not just give them a handout.”

To that end, Oregon Heat organized the Energy Education Project, staffed by VISTA volunteers. The volunteers go to communities across the state, working with local social service agencies to identify low-in-come families who would benefit from energy conservation education.

Volunteers must learn to tailor their education and advice to a wide variety of circumstances. For one, Oregon’s climate ranges from high desert to rainforest to coastal. There are also differences in urban and rural needs and in culture and language – in eastern Oregon, for example, there is a large Hispanic population. And people use many different heating sources, including gas, oil, electric and wood.

“All of this presents a challenge to meet the needs of low-income households,” says Formick.

Pilot studies show that energy education can result in an 18 percent reduction in energy use in low-income households, a goal for which Oregon Heat is aiming. Combined with weatherization, reductions can be as high as 30 percent.

The Project is labor intensive, and its original plans of a massive statewide saturation have been scaled back to a more modest goal of reaching 1,200 households by early 1996. Volunteers begin with a home walk-through and energy audit. This is followed by a workshop and one final home visit, to make sure people understand the conservation suggestions.

Half the clients are renters, mostly based in Portland, and the other half are homeowners living in rural areas. “We discovered that renters are often disinclined to effect any kind of behavioral change,” says Formick. “They see it as the landlord’s problem, even when [the renters] are paying for the electric bill.”

The Project’s goal is to set up ongoing energy centers, which will continue to educate people after the VISTA volunteer moves on. “We don’t want a centralized program,” says Formick. “It’s our intention to get local communities organized so they’ll pick it up and run with it.” For example, in the town of LaGrande in eastern Oregon, the VISTA volunteer recruited employees at a local hardware store to support an ongoing energy education effort in the community.

Formick acknowledges the challenge is formidable – even in Oregon, a state with low utility rates. “There are more and more working poor who have a bona fide need but who don’t qualify for LIHEAP,” he says. “All the energy education in the world probably won’t help meet that need. But we’ll make a dent in it, and also have a not insignificant benefit to the environment.”

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06 Jun

Bullying: Not Going Away

Posted in Issues on 06.06.14 by Merlyn

bngaIt’s been a season of horror stories. And these stories of violence aren’t set in a dark alley at midnight … but in the halls and classrooms of America’s schools.

In Bethel, Alaska, a 16-year-old boy shoots and kills the school principal–and a classmate who had teased him.

In Pearl, Mississippi, a 16-year-old high school sophomore pulls a rifle on a crowd of classmates and opens fire. Two students are killed in the attack and seven others are wounded. Police arrest the boy, Luke Woodham, as he tries to drive away. Days later, five other students at the high school are arrested; police say they may have known in advance about Woodham’s plans.

In Paducah, Kentucky, a tall, thin freshman named Michael Carneal tells a curious teacher that the four guns he has rolled up in an old blanket are “a poster for my science project.” Waiting in Heath High School’s central foyer, where a group of teens were ending their morning prayer group, Michael pulls a semiautomatic pistol from his backpack and fires 12 shots, killing three girls and wounding five other students. Carneal’s friend Ben Strong, a minister’s son who was the prayer group leader, talks Michael into giving him the gun. Later that week, at the funeral for the three girls who died, classmates write messages in markers on their caskets–and Michael Carneal’s older sister sings with the choir.

Most people like to think of schools as safe places–even in neighborhoods that aren’t safe. Maybe that was never quite as true as moms and dads liked to think: Even Mark Twain, writing more than a century ago, had vivid memories of schoolyard bullies and fistfights.

But there is a difference today–in how much violence there is at school, and in the increased level of the violence. “More than 2,000 students are physically attacked on school grounds each hour,” says a National Education Association study. “Confrontations that once resulted in scratches and bruises are now ending in gunshots, stab wounds, and even death.”

How much violence you experience often depends on where you live and where you attend school. Teens in private schools or schools in affluent neighborhoods generally report that guns and gangs aren’t a part of their world–while schools in neighborhoods with a high rate of crime and violence tend to mirror the violence outside.

But school violence isn’t found only at inner-city schools: Suburban, small-town, and “country” school districts report plenty of problems, too–even the city-style gangs that sometimes move to small-town or rural locations hoping to find a lack of organized law enforcement. One Virginia judge, pointing to rising juvenile violence in the rural area he serves, noted that teenagers see the same violent movies and TV shows whether they live in the country or in urban areas. He felt media violence was helping shape teen behavior.

Fear of Violence

Surveys show that, whether or not they’ve directly experienced violence, all American teens are increasingly aware and afraid of violence at school and in their out-of-school lives–afraid enough to be making some changes in how they live. A recent Harris poll of 2,000 teenagers found:

* One in eight teens reported carrying a weapon for protection.

* One in nine teens (and one in three from high-crime neighborhoods) said fear of violence had caused them to cut classes or stay home from school at times.

* About one in five teens reported that they had changed to a different (and, they hoped, safer) circle of friends.

* Almost half the teens polled said they’d made some kind of change in their daily routine because of crime and violence: avoiding certain parks or playgrounds, for example, or taking a different route to and from school.

Violence “is this generation’s Vietnam,” says Erin Donovan, who works with a group sponsoring violence-prevention programs in 40 states. Donovan notes at least one encouraging finding from the Harris poll, though–nine out of 10 teens said they’d be willing to take an active role in trying to do something about violence through “mentoring, education, or community awareness programs.”

Feeding the Monster

Where does the violence come from–and what keeps it coming? The answers aren’t simple. Here are some pieces of the puzzle:

A loss of “connectedness”: Parents work, and kids stay home alone. Neighbors don’t know neighbors. Community groups are finding it harder to recruit volunteers. Teens working after-school jobs say there’s no time to hang with friends anymore. Increasingly, many Americans feel isolated from other people. Some psychologists say this lack of connection contributes to the kind of self-centered, “I’m gonna get mine” attitude that can easily turn into violent behavior when somebody gets in the way.

Lack of family support and control: According to the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, today’s teens spend much less time with parents and other adults than they did just a few decades ago, and more time “in front of the television or with their peers in … unsupervised environments.” Parents, who may be struggling to make it financially, working long hours, or focused on their own problems often aren’t providing the warmth, guidance, and discipline that help kids grow up into connected, caring young adults.

For teens who live in high-crime, violence-prone neighborhoods, family support is even more critical. Children surrounded by violence want adults to give them the feeling they are being held and protected–kept safe from danger, says psychologist Mohamed Seedat, who counsels teens in some of Boston’s roughest neighborhoods. When parents and other adults a ‘ re uncaring, abusive, or simply don’t have the power to protect, says Seedat, children and teens feel abandoned and angry–and may fight back with violence.

Media influences: The “glitzy” portrayal of violence in, the movies, on TV, and in music videos may not make you become a person who turns violently on somebody else. But Harvard violence expert Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith says that media violence not only “tells [us] that violence is an everyday occurrence, a justified form of self-defense,” but it also makes violence look easy and attractive:

The camera loves action, especially violent action. [But] in real life, mashed and mangled bodies are not attractive. In real life, the impact of a moment of violence reverberates through time. Years later, parents are still mourning the loss of a child, children are still mourning the loss of a parent, a police officer may still feel anguish that he was required to use deadly force, even to save his own life. On film or videotape violence begins and ends in a moment. “Bang, bang, you’re dead.”

Does viewing violence make teens act more violently in their real lives, though? A social worker in one inner-city neighborhood says he sees the huge impact that viewing violence has on fatherless boys looking for male role models. “They ask their imaginary heroes [in movies and on TV] for advice. How should they handle themselves? The answer they receive is always the same. Their heroes tell them to be tough … to fight.”

Teen subcultures/guns: Dr. C. Everett Koop (then Surgeon General) talked about violence as a “national health emergency.” Violent behavior is often a way of gaining respect within teen gangs (male or female). Combine that with easy availability of “junk guns” and knives, and you have all, the ingredients for an explosion of violence.

Alcohol, drugs, and risk-taking: Why does drinking or taking drugs so often link up with violent behavior? Psychologists say mind-altering substances tend to bring our strongest emotions to the surface–and for some teens, the strongest emotions are rage and anger. What’s more, using alcohol and drugs is often part of a pattern of violent, risky behavior that may also include smoking, binge drinking, driving drunk (or riding with an “under the influence” driver), or engaging in casual sex.

Poverty: Studies show that murder rates soar in neighborhoods where men have no jobs and women struggle to raise children alone. Poverty in the United States doesn’t just mean not having enough money to live decently. It means living closer to violence–from the streets, from gangs, from the drug culture that breeds crime, and so on.

Living in a Bad Dream

It was still nearly dark that Tuesday morning at the east entrance to Sam Houston High School in Arlington, Texas. Buses were unloading hundreds of students. When sophomore Brandon Tillman climbed off the bus, he was followed into the school building by an older student, Ronell Tate, who challenged him to “step outside” to settle a fight (whether about a girl or rival gangs, nobody’s sure).

Outside the building, Tate pulled a gun on Tillman, who turned and ran toward the school. Tate fired six shots; one wounded Tillman in the upper thigh–but the others miraculously missed the dozens of students who were in the line of fire.

The only thing freshman Lindsey Kitchell saw was the blood in the hallway outside her first-period class–and the “freaked out” look on her teacher’s face. Panicked parents, alerted to the shooting by a radio broadcast that wrongly reported a student had been killed, stormed through the halls and took almost half of the 2,300 students home for the day.

Some haven’t come back. Though many students insist “Sam” is as safe as any other school, there has been an upswing in requests for transfers. Lindsey Kitchell loves the school and says “I’m not scared. I’m not a gang member, and so they wouldn’t have any reason to hurt me. I guess I could have been shot just being there when he pulled the gun, though.” She says, however, that the atmosphere around the school is tense. “The teachers are really upset–they’re bringing metal detectors to every class and yelling at kids who aren’t wearing their badges.”

From his hospital bed, gunshot victim Brandon Tillman says he likes the school, too. “Enough to go back there?” asks a reporter. Brandon doesn’t answer.

Psychologists say exposure to a single violent event is unlikely to cause permanent psychic damage to the students who were at the shooting scene. But what happens when children and teens have to live month after month in the middle of a war zone–in communities where they may experience violence both outside and inside their homes?

Mothers in a study of one neighborhood said their children became “sad, angry, aggressive, and uncaring” after exposure to continuous violence. Children and teens may have trouble sleeping or concentrating, or relive the day’s events as nightmares. To avoid thinking about the reality of their situation, they may try to distract themselves with fantasies/daydreams or hyperactive behavior–and both can cause trouble at school. Some children develop a sense of hopelessness about the future: “If I live to be 20…” Others become outwardly tough and superaggressive; some become gun-toting gang members.

In most cases, children and teens trapped in these situations can’t just dig themselves out. They need help from adults who care about them, and communities that are willing to spend time and money on the problem. How does it work?

Finding a Better Way

What keeps teens away from violence? There’s no simple answer. But studies show that teens who don’t engage in violence have some things in common:

* a positive family environment (or sometimes just one very caring, involved adult relative or friend)

* parents who expect them to live up to standards

* plans for a good future

* something that really interests them (athletics, community service, music, etc.)

How many of these “positives” do you have in your life? Even if your home life isn’t all you’d wish for, there are ways to take charge of your life and your future–and create a positive spin for yourself!

Youth violence increases when the school doors close, and young people have nowhere to go and nothing to do at the end of the school day, on weekends, and during vacations, says the Pacific Center for Violence Prevention in San Francisco. That’s why across the country, more and more schools are putting up “open all hours” signs and giving students something to do that’s interesting, fun–and safer than the streets.

In California, these kinds of full-service schools are called “Second Shift Schools”; in other parts of the country, they’re called “Beacon Centers,” “YouthNet Centers,” “New Beginnings,” or “Village Centers.” Programs often include athletics, drama and music classes, computer and job training, counseling, health clinics, social services, parenting classes, leadership and volunteer groups. At a typical center, parents might take an ESL (English as a Second Language) class while teens play basketball or learn something new about computers.

These kinds of centers have a lot going for them. They give adults and young people a chance to reconnect and get involved in each other’s lives; give teens healthy adult role models; improve physical and mental health (leaving parents and teens better able to cope with problems); and provide opportunities for teens to act as leaders, mentors, and volunteers–letting them know they are valued and needed by the community.

At one New York City Beacon Center, a group of teenage girls would hang around the doorway of the Center, but said they were too “bad” to actually sign up for any of the classes or activities. A Beacon youth worker started to talk with the girls every night, and challenged them to come up with something they really wanted to do.

Finally, the girls agreed–they wanted to be cheerleaders! The youth worker agreed to coach them, and found parents who would make uniforms. Six weeks later, the team of six girls competed in an area cheerleading competition–and won second place. Today, the original girls are involved as leaders and peer counselors at the Beacon Center, don’t hang out with their old friends who are involved in illegal activities, have stayed in school–and the cheerleading team now has 65 members!

Making Peace

“Hey, man, take it easy. It was an accident.”

“Why would you want to call me that and hurt my feelings?”

“If you’ve got a problem with me, I’ll talk, but I don’t want to fight.”

“Let’s go get a Coke and give this guy some time to chill out.”

Across the country, schools are sponsoring conflict resolution programs aimed at helping teens find nonviolent ways to resolve problems: by learning comeback lines to use in “hot” situations, by role-playing in a “pretend” fight situation, and by analyzing a videotape of the fight later.

Dr. Prothrow-Stith says these kinds of exercises help teens understand that fights do not just happen, and that fighting is NOT the only way to deal with problems. Prothrow-Stith doesn’t tell teens to ignore their anger–she says it’s “a normal emotion … that each of us must learn to handle without hurting ourselves or others.” She asks teens to make lists of “What Makes Me Angry,” and of “Healthy and Unhealthy Responses to Anger.” Fighting is always on the list–and so she asks teens to analyze the possible costs and benefits of fighting: “What’s Good and What’s Bad About Fighting?” Looking at their own lists, teens (including young men who haven’t ever thought about not fighting) begin to think about how much a fight could cost them. And by watching themselves on the videotape, they begin to see how much peer pressure and rising emotions have to do with fights–and that once you start recognizing the patterns, there are ways to stop fights early on–before emotions get red-hot.

We’re not saying it’s easy. Says Prothrow-Stith: “Teens who choose not to fight are bucking the trend, or rather, they are beginning a new trend.” For teens living in a society that largely condones violence, she says, avoiding conflict doesn’t always mean a pat on the back. Sometimes, it means seeing friends being embarrassed at your walking away from a fight–or even losing those friends. But if you think your life is drifting toward violence, you need to find a new direction … even if it’s hard.

How to Play It Cool

Jack Bernal is a quiet but funny 16-year-old junior at O’Bryant High School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a vintage but rough-edged town just east of Boston that’s home to working-class families from many different races and ethnic groups. In the recent past, the area has seen plenty of street violence.

But Jack doesn’t fight. “Mostly, I see that people get into fights for no reason–and even if they have a reason, they come out looking really dumb. I’ve got no reason to fight with anybody. I have friends, we stick together, and if somebody tries to pick a fight with me, I just say `Whatever…’ and walk away.”

Dr. Peter Stringham’s work with families and teens like Jack at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center is known around the United States. His strategies aren’t a “magic pill,” he says–but they can help you sidestep plenty of trouble.

Here’s Dr. Stringham’s seven-step process. After each step, draw on your own experiences and think about how this step might have helped you in past situations–or how you might use it in the future. (You can write ideas/notes on paper, or brainstorm with a small group of friends.)

STEP ONE: Don’t lose your temper. If trouble is brewing, keep a strong grip on your emotions–and your mouth.

STEP TWO: Learn to recognize the “triggers” for fights. “The classics are name-calling, talking about your family, swearing, and racial or ethnic slurs,” says Stringham. Hearing “trigger” words or phrases should alert you to start looking for a safe way to avoid conflict.

Jack says he thinks of himself as a “brick wall” when he’s in a tense situation. “When somebody tries to talk trash to me, about my mother or whatever, I just don’t say anything. I’m a brick wall. And they get bored and go away because I won’t let them push me into doing something I don’t want to do, which is to talk trash back at them and give them something to get madder about. Why would I do that? It’s stupid.”

STEP THREE: Keep calm, and say to yourself: “This person is upset about something, and he/she is trying to use fighting to solve the problem.” What he/she is angry about may have something–or nothing at all–to do with you, says Stringham. Your goal should be to avoid fueling this person’s anger.

STEP FOUR: Remember that part of this kid Is a decent kid. “Part of EVERY teen you meet is a decent person,” says Stringham. Remembering that makes it harder to “demonize” the person who is yelling into your face.

STEP FIVE: Try to talk calmly to the “decent side” of the other teen. “When I’m talking to teens, we work out examples: A friend is really upset, and says `You’re ugly, and so’s your mother.’ What can you say? You remember he’s your friend, he’s angry, and you DON’T want to fight him! So maybe you say, `If I’ve done something wrong, tell me, I’ll fix it. I don’t like you talking about my mother, but if you have a problem, let’s talk about it.'”

STEP SIX: Recognize that sometimes you have to walk away. “Does talking always work?” Stringham asks teens. “Of course not So sometimes you have to walk away. It’s hard to do that when your friends are saying `You can beat him.’ But fighting is the easy way out–teens know that. It takes more courage to walk away when you have to.”

STEP SEVEN: Decide if the fight is really over. “Have things really been worked out–or is somebody going to be looking for revenge? And if the fight isn’t over, you have to ask teens to identify people who can help settle this without violence. Kids will know other teens or adults who can negotiate and explain things. Our neighborhoods are full of these natural peacemakers–they’re superstars, and we all need to use them.”

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24 May

Run From UV. Now!

Posted in Issues on 24.05.14 by Merlyn

uvrMarci was athletic. An avid volleyball player, the fairskinned blond spent hours outside playing her favorite sport and getting well-tanned at the same time. At age 21, she noticed a mole on her back that had changed. She went to see Dr. Tina Hieken, and she was diagnosed with skin cancer. In 1993 she had a melanoma removed from her back. Today, says Dr. Hieken, a surgical oncologist from Skokie, Illinois, “Marci doesn’t go out into the sun in the middle of the day, she wears a T-shirt when she plays volleyball, and unlike the time prior to her diagnosis, she wears sunscreen.”

Marci has had no recurrence of skin cancer in the last five years, but as Dr. Hieken points out, her case is evidence that “we are seeing skin cancers developing at an earlier and earlier age; it is not just a disease of the middle-aged and elderly anymore.”

Tanning Truths

Whether you sunbathe, are athletic, or get a little brown just being outside, you are at risk. “There is no such thing as a safe tan. Even a healthy-looking tan is the result of the skin attempting to repair itself,” says Dr. Alan Moshell of the National Institutes of Health.

You’ve probably heard someone say, “I never burn; I just tan right away, so I don’t have to worry about skin cancer.” Whether you turn pink, red, or brown, you are at risk. When ultraviolet radiation from the sun hits your skin, your body knows it is being injured. It then produces melanin (a dark pigment that the skin cells produce) to act as the body’s natural sunscreen, and a defense mechanism to block out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. A tan is a sign of skin damage.

Another myth about tanning is that as long as you build up your exposure to the sun gradually, you won’t do any damage. As soon as you are out in the sun, the damage starts. And, according to Dr. Hieken, that length of exposure, especially during adolescence on, can lead to skin cancers.

And what about cloudy days? Or the fact that you aren’t sunbathing, you’re just mowing the lawn or walking to the bus stop? More myth. You can burn on cloudy days, too. And no matter what you are doing in the sun, it is still blasting your skin with ultraviolet rays.

The ABCs of UVs

Our ancestors gravitated to the sun for warmth. It makes us feel good to see a bright blue sunny sky. What makes the rays from this wondrous star so dangerous? Think for a minute about what a powerful ball of light and energy the sun is: It can fade a carpet, dry out the earth to parched dust, and heat our homes. That’s pretty strong stuff, and it’s all that ultraviolet light that also tans and burns our bodies. There a re two basic types that reach the surface of the earth:

UVB–the sun’s burning rays (blocked by glass); primary cause of sunburn and skin cancer

UVA–(pass through glass); penetrate skin deeper, cause premature wrinkles, and contribute to skin cancer

Taking Cover

How can you be outdoors and avoid the harmful rays of the sun? There are many effective ways to protect yourself from the sun, according to the American Cancer Society:

* Stay out of the sun when it is most intense–between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

* Wear wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and dry, tightly woven clothing (loose weaves will let sun come through, and wet T-shirts lose their protectiveness).

* Be aware of the reflective power of the sun: It’s stronger than direct sunlight. Snow, sand, concrete, and glass can reflect harmful radiation. And sitting in the shade isn’t always enough. The sun can find you. (See “Those Sneaky, Snaky Rays,” page 15.)

* Summer isn’t the only time to worry. The sun can be harmful in the cold weather, too–especially if you are skiing or living in higher elevations where the thinner air doesn’t absorb as much UV light and allows more of the harmful rays to come through.

Rubbing It In

Wearing sunscreen when you are outdoors will also protect you from the sun’s harmful rays. Sunscreens contain a chemical that absorbs ultraviolet light to protect our skin (like the melanin in our body does). The amount of protection a sunscreen provides is indicated by its sun protection factor (SPF). SPFs range from 2 to 50–the number being part of the formula that tells you how long you can be out in the sun before you burn. (An SPF of 15 means that if you would normally burn in 10 minutes, with sunscreen applied you can stay in the sun 15 times longer before burning–150 minutes.)

For most people, a cream, lotion, or spray sunscreen with an SPF of 15 is adequate. Those people with very fair skin, red or blond hair, and freckles may benefit from a higher SPF. Here are some tips on making the most of sunscreens:

* Apply liberally and evenly.

* Put it on 20 to 30 minutes before you go outdoors.

* Avoid getting it in your eyes.

* Pay special attention to easily burned areas–your ears, neck, chest, tops of your feet, nose, and tops of your legs.

* Lips and your nose often need extra protection–a zinc oxide product is now available in funky fluorescent colors.

* Reapply sunscreen every two to four hours, especially after excessive sweating or toweling off.

* If you are taking antibiotics, you may be more susceptible to the sun’s rays. Apply sunscreen generously. Check with your doctor about the effect of other medications on sun sensitivity.

* If you develop a rash after using a sunscreen, try another product. Some contain the chemical PABA, which can cause allergic reactions in some people.

When choosing a sunscreen, Dr. Hieken tells patients to “find one that has a fragrance and feel you like, choose an SPF 15 unless you are very sensitive to the sun, and reapply.” “Some products,” she adds, “claim to be `supersport blocks’ and tell you that you don’t need to reapply–but do it anyway.”

Some cosmetic products on the market today claim to be sunscreens or contain sunscreen. If a product says it contains sunscreen, it may only be a small amount (SPF 2 to 4)–not enough to protect your skin. To be safe, the label on these products should say they have an SPF of 15.

On the Fair Side

For years Hollywood made it fashionable to sport a dark tan. But look at the covers of some current magazines–stars are opting for the fair, healthy look.

There are tempting options for a “safe” tan, but don’t be fooled. Tanning booths and sunlamps both produce harmful rays, and tanning pills have side effects. Some of the high-quality tanning creams that actually color the skin may be safe, but you need to exercise caution when using any product that contains dye.

The American Academy of Dermatology points out that sunburns you get during adolescence and through age 20 greatly increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Researchers say that 80 percent of skin cancers could be prevented by using adequate sun protection.

When you are tempted to go out in the sun unprotected, consider this scenario: If you saw someone out on a frigid day without a coat, you’d tell him to cover up before he freezes! Think of covering up from the sun in the same way–but this time, before you burn.

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