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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Junior Achievement: Teaching Financial Literacy to School Children

When it comes to the necessary components of a modern education there is much debate on what is a school's responsibility and what should be left to parents.  Much of the debate in the past has been around teaching sex education.  Today the debate has shifted to financial literacy.  With many people (and governments) deeply in debt today it seems appropriate to give young persons some knowledge about finances before they go down the wrong roads.  Starting with college debt many young people find themselves digging out of a "a deep hole in debt."

Junior Achievement has developed an innovative program that provides young students some hands on experience with finances.  By developing a "Finance Park" Junior Achievement teaches students from Howard County and other jurisdictions,

"Credit and Debt, Saving and Investing, Taxes, Income and Social Security, Pricing Research, Planning: Budgeting and Money Management and Career Goals.After 19 teacher-led sessions, the program culminates in an online personal finance simulation where students apply learned concepts in a life-like “virtual” community. Upon entering JA Finance Park:Virtual, students are assigned a unique “life situation,” which details their adult persona, including marital status, number of children (if any), education, employment and income."

"Teachers, parents and local business people mentor students as they use bank services; contribute to charities; purchase housing, transportation, furnishings, food, health care and other expenses; make investment decisions, create a spending plan, and balance their personal budgets. Through these activities, students begin to understand the value of money, and make the connection between hard work, education and their future earnings."

"JA Finance Park™ enables students to build foundations for making intelligent lifelong personal finance decisions, in a program correlated to Maryland Skills Standards for 8th and 9th grades. In 19 teacher-led lessons, combined with a 4.5 hour simulation, students learn about the many pieces of a personal budget, such as rent/mortgage, car payments, insurance, savings, entertainment, groceries, and more! As students strive to create a balanced budget, they begin to understand the value of money, and make the connection between hard work, education, and their future earnings."
For more information about JA Finance Parkor details on additional sponsorship opportunities, including a presenting sponsorship opportunity, contact JACMD Development Vice President Kaitlin Bowman at, or call 443-394-7211

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

States cutbacks impact mental health services

As Republican candidates all try to be the one to minimize the size of government there are consequences to reducing government services.  The following story from Reuters points to one consequence.

Mentally ill flood ER as states cut services

CHICAGO/NEW YORK - On a recent shift at a Chicago emergency department, Dr. William Sullivan treated a newly homeless patient who was threatening to kill himself. "He had been homeless for about two weeks. He hadn't showered or eaten a lot. He asked if we had a meal tray," said Sullivan, a physician at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago and a past president of the Illinois College of Emergency Physicians. Sullivan said the man kept repeating that he wanted to kill himself. "It seemed almost as if he was interested in being admitted." Across the country, doctors like Sullivan are facing a spike in psychiatric emergencies - attempted suicide, severe depression, psychosis - as states slash mental health services and the country's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression takes its toll. This trend is taxing emergency rooms already overburdened by uninsured patients who wait until ailments become acute before seeking treatment. "These are people without a previous psychiatric history who are coming in and telling us they've lost their jobs, they've lost sometimes their homes, they can't provide for their families, and they are becoming severely depressed," said Dr. Felicia Smith, director of the acute psychiatric service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Visits to the hospital's psychiatric emergency department have climbed 20 percent in the past three years. "We've seen actually more very serious suicide attempts in that population than we had in the past as well," she said. Compounding the problem are patients with chronic mental illness who have been hurt by a squeeze on mental health services and find themselves with nowhere to go. On top of that, doctors are seeing some cases where the patient's most critical need is a warm bed. "The more I see these patients, the more I realize that if it's sleeting and raining outside, the emergency room is the only place they have," said Dr. R. Corey Waller, director of the Spectrum Health Medical Group Center for Integrative Medicine in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Government agencies such as the National Institutes of Mental Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration could not provide fresh data on use of psychiatric services in recent years. But doctors from more than a dozen hospitals nationwide, mental health advocacy groups and state-funded agencies told Reuters they are all seeing a marked increase in psychiatric emergencies.

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD), an organization of state mental health directors, estimates that in the last three years states have cut $3.4 billion in mental health services, while an additional 400,000 people sought help at public mental health facilities. In that same time frame, demand for community-based services climbed 56 percent, and demand for emergency room, state hospital and emergency psychiatric care climbed 18 percent, the organization said. "This wasn't one round of cuts," says Ted Lutterman, director of research analysis at NASMHPD Research Institute. "It was three or four for many states, and multiple cuts during the year."

If the economy doesn't improve, next year could be worse because many community mental health agencies are cutting programs and using up reserve funds, says Linda Rosenberg, president of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. "It's been horrible," she said. "Those that need it the most - the unemployed, those with tremendous family stress - have no insurance." In the emergency room, this increased demand has meant doctors and social workers are spending hours and sometimes days trying to arrange care for psychiatric patients languishing in the emergency department, taking up beds that could be used for traditional types of trauma.

More than 70 percent of emergency department administrators said they have kept patients waiting in the emergency department for 24 hours, according to a 2010 survey of 600 hospital emergency department administrators by the Schumacher Group, which manages emergency departments across the country. Ten percent said they had "boarded" patients for a week or more. And many hospitals are not prepared for the increased caseload of psychiatric patients, says Randall Hagar, director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association. California cut $587 million in state-funded mental health services in the past two years, the most of any state, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a patient advocacy group. "They don't have secure holding rooms. They don't have quiet spaces. They don't have a lot of things you need to help calm down a person in an acute psychiatric crisis," Hagar said. "Often you have a patient strapped to a gurney in a hallway outside of the emergency department where social workers are desperately trying to find an inpatient bed," he said.

In North Carolina, the state has cut its inpatient psychiatric capacity by half since 2005, says Dr. Bret Nicks, an emergency physician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem and a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians. Nicks points to a report from the Institute of Medicine released in 2006 that found U.S. emergency departments were already overtaxed and overcrowded. "Now you are adding in patients who are unsafe to leave but yet have nowhere to go," he said. "I consider patients with acute psychiatric needs as really the forgotten patient population in the U.S. right now." Dr. Stephen Anderson is an emergency department doctor at Auburn Regional Medical Center, a mid-size suburban hospital outside of Seattle. "When the economy is hurt they are some of the first to drop off the healthcare rolls," he said of local residents in the largely blue-collar community. Anderson, who heads the Washington Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said the state has lost a third of its inpatient psychiatric beds in the past decade. Lately he is seeing a marked escalation in patients with psychiatric problems turning up in the emergency department. In early December, a third of its beds were occupied with people in a psychiatric crisis who were not safe to return to the community.

The problem extends out to small towns. Sullivan splits his time between the big emergency department at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago and St. Margaret's Hospital, a tiny facility in Spring Valley, Illinois, about 100 miles southwest of the city. On a recent shift, a young woman with schizophrenia arrived at the hospital. She had just lost her job and apartment and was living with relatives. She could not afford the medications that were keeping her illness in check. The woman asked Sullivan to switch her prescriptions to drugs that could be found on the $4 discount list at Wal-Mart and other discount stores. "I didn't feel comfortable doing that," Sullivan said, noting that emergency physicians are being asked to deliver specialized care that should be handled by a psychiatrist. He found a healthcare facility about 25 miles away with a psychiatrist who could help, but even that presented a problem for the woman, who had no way of getting to the appointment. "It's almost akin to having a cardiac patient come in and say, 'I need someone to adjust my defibrillator.' In the emergency department, we can do a lot, but there are some things we have to leave with the specialists," he said.

Monday, December 26, 2011

5 Most Surprising Findings From the 2010 Census

From Time Magazine:
Getty Images
Getty Images
Over the past 10 years, our population growth has slowed, we’ve found it increasingly hard to leave home to start a career, and our salaries have decreased for the first time on record. But, it’s not all bad news.
The U.S. Census always provides fascinating data about the state of our country. But the numbers that have been trickling out of the 2010 Census this year show marked shifts, triggered largely by three factors: the Great Recession, an increase in immigration, and a rapidly aging population.
The data paints a picture of Two Americas, not necessarily between the haves and have-nots, but between older and younger Americas.
“Within the United States, there is a segmentation between older America, which is not receiving a lot of immigrants and where Baby Boomers are the dominant force, and the other part of the country, which is getting younger and becoming more diverse,” says Dr. William Frey, demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
It’s a period of great change for the U.S., and it comes across in the numbers Census officials have been releasing this year. Here are five of the most surprising figures.

Source: US Decennial Census / American Community Survey / Brookings
1. We’re growing more slowly.
According to the 2010 Census, the 2000s were the slowest decade of population growth in 70 years. The country’s population only grew by 9.7%, a significant dip from the 13.1% growth in the 1990s.
“A lot of that is what a demographer would call the “aging momentum,” Frey says. Fewer Americans are in their child-bearing years, immigration is down and economic growth has slowed – all factoring into a dip in growth. The South and the West were still the nation’s leading regions in population growth, accounting for 23 million new residents, as opposed to 4 million in the Midwest and Northeast. Still, even with the decrease, the U.S. added the equivalent of 80% of Canada’s population since 2000.
2. We can’t leave home.
Americans are increasingly stuck at home and less mobile than in years past. The percentage of Americans who moved in 2011 hit 11.6%, the lowest that figure has been since the 1950s.
“It’s the Avenue Q generation,” says Frey, referring to the Broadway musical about unhappy New Yorkers who aren’t able to move to other cities. “But this migration issue is very much a short-term problem. It’s mostly young people in their 20s and 30s who are staying home or moving back in with their parents.” Historically, recent grads are the ones most likely to pack up and leave home for better jobs. The problem is that the mobility issue is a vicious cycle: Americans can’t pack up and move because of the poor economy, and the economy is poor because people can’t pack up and move. But once things do get better, expect those mobility numbers to rise.
3. We’re closer to becoming a “majority minority” nation.
The rise in minority populations in the U.S. is quickening, and by 2040, Census officials project that the country will hit that majority minority mark. “In infants,” says Frey, “we’re already at a majority minority.”
(MORE: Stop Changing the Oil Every 3,000 Miles Already)
Non-whites, largely Hispanics and Asians, made up 92% of population growth in the last decade, and many of them are moving into large metro areas or the suburbs. Minorities now consist of more than half the population in 22 large U.S. cities, an increase from 14 metro areas in 2000 and only five in 1990. And according to Census figures, a majority of every major racial and ethnic group in large cities now lives in the suburbs.
4. We’re getting older.
Yes, all of us are getting older. But as Baby Boomers age, the U.S.’s 45-and-over population has grown more than 18 times faster than the group that is currently under 45. Many cities, including Buffalo and Cleveland, are aging; while others, like Raleigh and Las Vegas, are experiencing an influx of younger Americans. And older Americans are moving to the suburbs, where 40% of the population is now 45 and older. (In fact, about half of all Americans now live in the suburbs.)
And a note to those running for political office next year: Half of all voting age Americans are now over 45 years old.
5. We’re not making as much money as we were 10 years ago.
In what might be the most startling finding to come out of the 2010 census, real median household income fell for the first time on record. In 2010, the typical household earned $49,445, a decrease of 7% from 2000, while poverty climbed to 15.1% of the population, the highest since 1993.
“The 2008 recession and the period afterward were a much more severe economic downturn than we’ve seen,” says Howard Wial, a fellow and economist at the Brookings Institution, in explaining the dip in household income. “And the recovery we had from the 2001 recession was sluggish. So we had a very severe recession like nothing we’ve ever seen following a period of pretty slow growth.”
While it’s difficult to project with accuracy what might happen by the time the next Census rolls around, Wial sees a long climb ahead for the U.S. economy.
“It’s hard to make predictions 10 years ahead,” he says. “But so far it’s been a very tepid recovery, and I think it’s going to continue that way for another couple of years.”

Read more:

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday Greetings Videos

Thanks to HoCoMoJo the following holiday videos from last year at the Columbia Mall are a perfect way to enjoy the holiday

I am still trying to figure out a way to work around the limited views that the Baltimore Sun has started.  It's a challenge but I will figure it out.  Anyone have any luck defeating their blocking system.  It wouldn't be so bad but having a paid paper subscription I resent the extra charge to read it online.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hashbrown cups with baked eggs

Shape shredded hash browns in a custard cup, add a little chopped ham and top with a raw egg.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Top with cheese or Hollandaise sauce.

Even I can run at a "Penguin" Pace

Having run this race a few times I can say that the food and shirts at this event are worth the race fee.  Great way to start the new year.

The Howard County Striders
& The Bain Center Council

Invite you to start your
 Super Bowl Sunday
with a great 5K run
and Post Race Brunch!

Penguin Pace 5K

7:45 AM, Sunday, February 5, 2012

Proceeds benefit The Bain Center Providing quality programs for
Howard County Seniors!

State of the Art ChronoTrack Timing and Race Management by
The Howard County Striders!

Scenic course on rolling roads through the Longfellow neighborhood of Columbia Maryland!

NEW FOR 2012
Gender-Specific Sizing & Styles
Long-Sleeve High-Tech Tee Shirts with the
famous Penguin Pace logo!

Great Post-race Brunch Catered by
the Elkridge Furnace Inn!
New Format!  Mix & Mingle!

Awards to the 1st Place male and female finishers and to the top three male and female finishers in in the following age groups: 14 & under, 15-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, & 70 and over.
All awards are based on gun time.

Register early!

Field limited to the first 400 runners!
This race has closed prior to race day the past five years!
Register online today & save!
Online registration fee: $30

Online Registration Closes Noon Wednesday Feb 1st
Limited Walk-in Registration During Packet Pickup if field is NOT closed
Friday February 3 & Saturday February 4
Walk-in Registration Fee:  $35


Friday February 3, 2012 4 PM - 7 PM
Saturday February 4, 2012 10 AM - 5 PM

6420 Freetown Road
Columbia MD

Sunday February 5, 2012
6:30 AM - 7:30 AM
The Bain Center
5470 Ruth Keeton Way,
Columbia MD 21044

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Connecting Columbia's biking and walking path system

If you use the path system in Columba you might be interested in attending one of the two open house events that the  Columbia Association (CA) will host to kick off its Connecting Columbia project on January 10th and 11th. The goal of Connecting Columbia is to create an active transportation action agenda that will result in a more interconnected bicycling and walking circulation system for health, recreation and transportation purposes. The open houses will be held on Tuesday, January 10, at the Owen Brown Community Center, located at 6800 Cradlerock Way; and Wednesday, January 11, at Slayton House, located at 10400 CrossFox Lane. Both meetings will be held from 7:30 to 9 p.m. and will feature the same content. A brief presentation introducing the project team and describing the project, goals and objectives will occur at approximately 8 p.m. Community members are encouraged to stop by any time during the open house to learn about the project and to suggest ideas to improve walking and bicycling in Columbia, especially improvements to CA’s 93.5-mile pathway system. Before and after the presentation, there will be several “stations” for residents to make suggestions and recommendations.

In October, CA awarded the contract for the active transportation action agenda project to Toole Design Group, a nationally-recognized planning and engineering firm specializing in bicycle and pedestrian planning and design. A 16-member citizens’ task force has also been formed to provide guidance to CA and consultants as they work to create an active transportation action agenda. The project is anticipated to be completed by June 2012. For more information about this project, visit
Registration for the open house is appreciated, but not required. Register online at For questions about the open houses, contact

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Can you really identify high school dropouts at 3rd grade??

I read a recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that really got me thinking.  It indicated that a study that followed almost 4,000 students reached the conclusion that it was possible to identify children at high risk to drop out as early as 3rd grade by the reading level.  This is how the report presented the information:
One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23 percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood inpoverty.For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently in third grade, the proportion that don’t finish school rose to 26 percent. That’s more than six times the rate for all proficient readers.The rate was highest for poor Black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively—or about eight times the rate for all proficient readers.Even among poor children who were proficient readers in third grade, 11 percent still didn’t finish high school. That compares to 9 percent of subpar third grade readers who have never been poor.Among children who never lived in poverty, all but 2 percent of the best third grade readers graduated from high school on time.

Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma. Now, researchers have confirmed this link in the first national study to calculate high school graduation rates for children at different reading skill levels and with different poverty rates. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers. For the worst readers, those couldn’t master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater. While these struggling readers account for about a third of the students, they represent more than three fifths of those who eventually drop out or fail to graduate on time. What’s more, the study shows that poverty has a powerful influence on graduation rates.The combined effect of reading poorly and living in poverty puts these children in double jeopardy.

The study relies on a unique national database of 3,975 students born between 1979 and 1989. The children’s parents were surveyed every two years to determine the family’s economic status and other factors, while the children’s reading progress was tracked using the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. The database reports whether students have finished high school by age 19, but does not indicate whether they actually dropped out.

For purposes of this study, the researchers divided the children into three reading groups which correspond roughly to the skill levels used in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): proficient, basic and below basic. The children were also separated into three income categories: those who have never been poor, those who spent some time in poverty and those who have lived more than half the years surveyed in poverty.

I was interested in hearing how Howard County Schools handle the issue of dropout and today I talked with Craig Cummings.  He explained that he and Ann Blackwell work on the dropout issue.  Every Spring schools identify those students at highest risk of dropping out.  This process happens with students entering 6th and 9th grades.  The risk factors are student test scores, school attendence and school suspensions.  Sometimes a socio-economic factor can be involved but this factor is not as important as the other factors.

Once a high risk student is identified a plan and a support team is developed for each high risk student.  This support team can involve teachers, counselors, pupil personnel workers and special ed staff.  Families are approached to gain their involvement and support.

Maryland has a target goal of keeping dropouts below 3% statewide.  Howard County not surprisingly beats this goal with a dropout rate of 1.25%.  This equates to 240-250 student dropouts a year.  This rate has been about the same for the past couple of years.  About 3 years ago there was a significant reduction.  The students still dropping out today are only those that are the "toughest of the tough."  The only groups of students that have not met the 3% dropout goal for Howard County are Hispanic and African American students.

One way the the School System is trying to address the dropout problem is through the offerings of the "career academies" offered at the Applied Reach Lab (ARL).  Housed in the old Vo-Tech building the academies offer many of the vocational trainings that the Vo-Tech program used to offer.  There is a recognition that for some students a hands on training experience maybe more relevant than just classroom instruction. 

The School System has also discussed where more flexible school times could keep some students engaged. Maybe instruction between 12-6 or some classes in the evening might keep some students in school.  As with any issue flexibility may address some of the problem.

News Hour segment on the dropout problem

Random County info

From Columbia 2.0 blog
Last night was a big night for Wilde Lake, as the drawings of the proposed residential properties in the WLVC will be presented to the Wilde Lake Village Board.  There will be a three week comment period following the meeting on the residential design.

From the Horizon Foundation:
The Columbia-based Horizon Foundation today announced a novel language interpretation system intended to help Howard County residents with limited English skills or who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate with health and medical providers. The program, which uses specialized data tablets located in health provider offices, allows the patients, remote language interpreters and physicians to see one another during an office visit or hospitalization.
"We are pleased that Howard County General Hospital, the Chase Brexton Clinic and the Healthy Howard Access to Care Program have agreed to participate in this 2-year pilot," said Richard Krieg, Foundation President and CEO. "It's the first time in the nation that three types of community health providers will use a high tech interpretation system to help patients with limited English skills."
The hub of the new system is Language Access Network (LAN), a provider of video interpretation services located in Columbus, Ohio. Medically qualified interpreters at the LAN language center will appear on screen in each of the pilot project's delivery sites. Immediate access to over 170 languages, including American Sign Language, will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Interpreter services will be delivered via a dedicated high-speed broadband network and a remote video interpretation platform known as "Martti," an acronym for My Accessible Real Time Trusted Interpreter. Through the pilot program, Howard County General Hospital will deploy eight Martti units, and Chase Brexton and Healthy Howard will each use one.
"From a patient care standpoint, our goal is to provide care to our patients as quickly and effectively as we can, and Martti is definitely helping us do that," said Victor A. Broccolino, President & CEO of Howard County General Hospital: A member of Johns Hopkins Medicine.  "For example, on the first day we went live with the system, we had a woman in the Maternal Child Unit who spoke a particular dialect of Farsi," Broccolino recalled.  "Within five minutes we were able to connect with an interpreter who could communicate in that very dialect to give the patient discharge instructions.  The level of timeliness would have been extremely difficult to achieve before Martti."
Of the county's 280,000 residents, almost 15 percent are foreign born, according to 2010 census figures. "We expect that the new system will significantly enhance access to care for many of these residents," Krieg explained. "The development of this pilot followed Foundation meetings with most of the county's health providers as well as nonprofit and public agencies that serve the foreign born."
Krieg noted that in meetings with school officials, the Foundation learned that it is not unusual for the children of non English speaking parents to be interpreters for their parents and local health providers. "This is undesirable for a number of reasons," Krieg explained. "First, the child can miss an entire school day, and, secondly, it puts the student in a very uncomfortable position, especially if a significant illness is involved."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Donuts or bagels? It all depends on where you live

Having spent time in northern Pennsylvania the past couple of days I have noticed how difficult it is to find any good bagels. As a bagel eater for breakfast I can't eat the Lender bread bagels they sell here in the grocery stores.  I should have brought a supply of Bagel Bin bagels.

If I want a donut I have the choice of three places that make their own donuts. I have to say running past a place making donuts sure smells great.   Warm glazed donuts smell heavenly.  Good thing I don't carry cash when I run or the temptation would be too great.  Reminds me how my Father was always surprised how hard it was to find a donut place when he came to visit us in Columbia.  I can still hear him saying "What don't you people in Columbia eat donuts?"  A cup of coffee and a donut is a staple here in Pennsylvania.  This was before we started getting Dunkin Donuts in town. As an aside, anyone from the Boston area knows how many Dunkin Donuts they have up there.  One on every street corner.  But in Columbia we couldn't even support the Kripy Kreme place.  I still miss the smell of the donuts that place had.

In trying to differentiate whether a place is a bagel or a donut place I thought of cold weather places vs. warm weather places, Democrat vs. Republican, sedintary vs. active places and the closest I could come up with was urban vs. rural.  With the exception of Boston the dividing demographic seems to urban vs. rural or truck drivers vs. foreign car drivers.

Now I need to get back to my Boston Creme donut  :-) 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A New Vision for a Library--The New Miller Library

New Miller Library opened yesterday.  See what a new approach to library services and the home of the Howard County Historical Society.  From their website information:

The Charles E. Miller Branch & Historical Center, which opened December 2011, is the largest branch in the Howard County Library System (HCLS). A 21st Century library for 21st Century public education, the new Miller Branch matches the quality of the curriculum HCLS delivers.

Designed to capture the benefits of natural lighting and maximize energy efficiency, the new Miller Branch has been designed to achieve LEED Silver Certification from the United States Green Building Council.

Partnering with the Howard County Historical Society and other organizations, the Historical Center vision will bring history to life through research opportunities, classes, seminars, and events that focus on Howard County and Maryland history. The HCLS Charles E. Miller Branch & Historical Center will become a hub for historical research in Howard County and central Maryland.

The branch has nine quiet study rooms, a 3,000 sq. ft. meeting room, a Tech Lab, and a Terrace Overlook, which allows customers to read and work outdoors. This location has 100 computers, all of which include Internet access and word processing software.

A unique component to the branch is the
Enchanted Garden, a sustainable, community-based teaching garden that will focus on health, nutrition, and environmental education. The Enchanted Garden is scheduled to officially open in May 2012.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Potato Latkes for Hanukkah

 Every year this time I try to make potato latkes a little different then I have in the past.  This year I added shredded carrot, salmon and pineapple to the regular recipe.  I will pass on the recipe

Three cups of shredded potato (I buy the bagged shredded frozen hash browns)
One cup minced onion
One cup shredded carrot
6 ozs of drained crushed pineapple
8 ozs of canned salmon (tuna can be substituted)
2/3 cup of flour
2 eggs
Salt (Old Bay works too) and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients together and pat into patties.  Don't make them too thick--thin is better.  I put mine in the freezer for about 30 minutes to make them firmer to fry.
Heat oil and fry latkes until brown on each side.  Drain on paper towels.
Top with either sour cream (I add hot sauce or wing sauce to mine) or applesauce.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Energy Assistance cuts leave many cold this winter

Last Sunday a did a blog on the reduced Energy Assistance for low income persons this winter. I contacted Bita Dayhoff at the Howard County Community Action Council to see what the reduced dollars look like this year in Howard County.  Bita indicated that the funds this year are only 60% of what they were last year.  Last year they served about 4800 families.  Because of the reduced dollars this year's grants will have to be reduced.  Let's hope for a mild winter.

A number of years ago I saw first hand who received these grants when I took applications for homebound senior citizens in Howard County.  I remember taking many applications for seniors living in the trailer parks along Route 1.  Many of these trailer parks no longer exist.  It was hard to imagine how these seniors made it on such small monthly incomes.  I heard stories of having to make choices between rent, food, medicine and heat.  One very elderly lady indicated that she spent days in bed when it was really cold to conserve on her heat. Another elderly gentleman in western Howard County told me that in the winter he lived on the possums that he shot around his home during the summer.  He had a freezer full of frozen possum that he showed me.  I can't say they looked very appetizing but he assured me that they tasted "pretty good." I took his word for it.

I sometimes think of these folks when, for me, keeping warm in the winter is just turning the dial on a thermostat.

Good news story
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The young father stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn't be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter."She told him, 'No, I'm paying for it,'" recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. "He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn't, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears."

At Kmart stores across the country, Santa seems to be getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers' layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn't afford, especially toys and children's clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

Before she left the store Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis woman in her mid-40s had paid the layaway orders for as many as 50 people. On the way out, she handed out $50 bills and paid for two carts of toys for a woman in line at the cash register.
"She was doing it in the memory of her husband who had just died, and she said she wasn't going to be able to spend it and wanted to make people happy with it," Deppe said. The woman did not identify herself and only asked people to "remember Ben," an apparent reference to her husband.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Child Care--the critical element in the move from welfare to workfare

With the move in the 1990's from the welfare program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)   to a program that promoted job training and job placement for mothers with dependent children the change came with the understanding that child care subsidies were required to make "workfare" work.  The thought was that using public dollars to subsidize child care was cheaper and more effective than paying single mothers to stay at home watching their children and always being dependent on welfare.  Ronald Reagan demonized the "welfare mom" as what was wrong with public assistance.  Creating dependency was seen as expensive and wrong programmatically.

In an article in the New York Times it is apparent that the difficult budget times for the feds and many states now means that the day care subsidies that permitted mothers to be employed are rapidly disappearing.  According to the Times,

"The subsidy, a mix of federal and state funds that reimburses child care providers on behalf of families, is critical to the lives of poor women. But it has been eaten away over the years by inflation and growing need and recently by state budget cuts, leaving parents struggling to find other arrangements to stay employed. 'States have dropped their investment in child care substantially,' said Linda Saterfield, vice chairwoman of the National Association of State Child Care Administrators, who oversees child care for the state of Illinois. 'We’re being expected to do more with less.' Her state has toughened eligibility for the subsidies and raised co-payments from families to cover the growing demand."

In Maryland over 8,000 eligible persons are on the waiting list for the day care voucher. “We’ve seen quite a steep increase in demand,” said Elizabeth Kelley, director of Maryland’s Office of Child Care. Families have used unlicensed child care providers or quitting work and moving in with family while waiting for the subsidy. Making the problem worse is the fact that because of low rates of reimbursement many child care centers are not taking the child care vouchers.  Only 3 states now reimburse at the federally recommended levels as opposed to 22 that were at those levels 10 years ago.

Here in Howard County in a report called "Making Ends Meet" released recently by the Association of Community Services, funded by the Horizon Foundation, the lack of affordable child care was a major barrier to self sufficiency for low income workers.  To be self sufficient in Howard County with two preschool children a family would have to make almost $72,000.  The Report stated,

"The Federal Poverty Level has little relevance to the reality of trying to make ends meet in Howard County and sets work supports program eligibility levels so low that they often provide a disincentive to earn higher wages.  All household types experience loss of total income as they earn more and exceed eligibility for benefits. In the most extreme example, a household with one adult and two preschoolers is surviving at minimum wage ($7.25) working full time, but as soon as the adult earns $1 more per hour, the downward trajectory rapidly takes them below self-sufficiency at about $10 per hour and does not reach ‚“breakeven‚” again until earnings are $35/hour, or $72,000 per year."

"For the purposes of this study, a working poor individual is defined as any individual earning between $10,830 and $31,517 -- $10,830 represents the Federal Poverty Level for one adult in 2009,3 and $31,517 is the self-sufficiency annual income for one adult in Howard County in 2009 as determined by 2010 Howard County Self-Sufficiency Indicators Report1. A single individual must earn more than $31,517 a year in Howard County to be considered self sufficient  and no longer poor. The American Community Survey 3-year Estimates 2007-2009 indicate that there were 11,108 persons living below the Federal Poverty Level in Howard County in 2009, during that period 4 percent of the County’s population."

"Child care remains the largest non-tax expense in Howard County family budgets and, as has been shown in the “cliffs” diagrams, has the ability to throw families into the financial abyss. Affordable, high quality child care for low and middle income families, particularly in the earliest years of a child’s life, has the potential to 1) relieve financial stress in working poor families, 2) benefit employers whose parent workers can be more productive and, most importantly, 3) begin to build the human capital of a new generation."

This from the AP:
"Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans - nearly 1 in 2 - have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income. The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

"Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too 'rich' to qualify," said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty. "The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," he said. "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years."

"Congressional Republicans and Democrats are sparring over legislation that would renew a Social Security payroll tax cut, part of a year-end political showdown over economic priorities that could also trim unemployment benefits, freeze federal pay and reduce entitlement spending. Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income actually suffer material hardship. He said that while safety-net programs have helped many Americans, they have gone too far, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs."There's no doubt the recession has thrown a lot of people out of work and incomes have fallen," Rector said. "As we come out of recession, it will be important that these programs promote self-sufficiency rather than dependence and encourage people to look for work."

"Mayors in 29 cities say more than 1 in 4 people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it. Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold - roughly $45,000 for a family of four - because of pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job. Housing and child-care costs are consuming up to half of a family's income.States in the South and West had the highest shares of low-income families, including Arizona, New Mexico and South Carolina, which have scaled back or eliminated aid programs for the needy. By raw numbers, such families were most numerous in California and Texas, each with more than 1 million."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Penn State shows that silence isn't always golden

      With the news reports from Penn State and Syracuse about the charges that coaches had molested children the first reaction is "how could so many people not report the abuse to the police."  These incidents follow the scandals of priests and scout leaders not being reported to the police.  Are we so insensitive to abused children that we only think about protecting the institutions to which we belong? I  have blogged before on how the town I grew up in ignored the fact that the Cub Scout leader in town was a pedophile and Sunday School teacher and he was never reported.
      There are already calls in Maryland to have not reporting sexual abuse of a minor a crime.  Bills are being prepared by some legislators for this session of the General Assembly.  The mandatory reporting requirements, particularly of teachers and doctors, has resulted in criminal charges being brought against perpetrators in increasing numbers.  Telling your supervisor as in the case of the Penn State case would not be sufficient.

Some of the facts on child sex abuse:
      Ninety-three percent of children who are sexually abused knew, trusted or loved their attackers.
  Sixty-seven percent of sexual assault victims are under 18, 34 percent are under age 12, and 14 percent are under age six.
  One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.      Forty-five percent of pregnant teens report a history of child sexual abuse.
  One in five children is sexually solicited while online.

        In Howard County the Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland has recently taken over the responsibility of treating children who have been sexually abused. From their newsletter:
"Although treating abused children is not new for us (FCS has been provid­ing child abuse treatment services in Central Maryland since 1985), we've in­creased our services to fill the gap created by the closing of the STTAR Center. With the funding from the Department of Citizen Services, we became the mental health services provider for the Child Advocacy Center in Ellicott City, an accredited center.
We've added two full-time child therapists for the program. One is a mem­ber of the Child Advocacy Center multi-disciplinary team and is based in El­licott City. The other works out of the Wilde Lake office. The program also includes a part-time community educator/outreach coordinator.We see children under age 18 who are victims of child abuse, sexual assault or neglect. Our services include crisis intervention and ongoing individual, family and group counseling for victims and their non-offending family mem­bers.
Other funding to support this program comes from the United Way Com­munity Partnership of Howard County."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Santa is Coming to Town

Over the next two weeks, Santa will be in Howard County on a special assignment from the North Pole. Accompanying him on his journey will be the firefighters and paramedics of Howard County.

The Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department will be driving Santa and Mrs. Claus around various neighborhoods beginning tonight through December 16th, from 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM. When neighbors hear "Jingle Bells" sounded on the air horn of the fire engine, they should meet at the nearest street corner. Wrapped gifts for needy children and canned goods will be collected. For scheduling and additional information, visit

In Ellicott City and West Friendship, Santa will also ride out to spend time with good girls and boys, both young and old. Please visit the following web sites,  and
 for details.
Finally, the Savage Volunteer Fire Company will be out and about with Santa starting December 17th through December 24th beginning at 7 PM. More information can be found by calling 410-880-5803.

Bright Minds Foundation: Bridging the Digital Divide in Howard County

As the recently released report by the Association of Community Services of Howard County on self sufficiency indicated that even though we live in a wealthy county we still have income disparity that leaves some families barely hanging on.  This can be seen in the number of children that now are eligible for free lunch in our schools.  To try and insure that all students in our school system has the resources needed for success and to promote educational innovation the Board of Education created the Bright Minds Foundation in 2006.  As their website states:

 " We fund programs, services and ideas that can make a difference in a student’s life. We make grants where funding would otherwise not be available within the system’s budget. Although Howard County is one of the wealthiest communities in the country, one in ten of our public school students are eligible to receive free or reduced priced meals and over 350 children are homeless. These children are academically disadvantaged because they do not have access to the personal resources that most of Howard County takes for granted. Bright Minds wants to level the playing field by providing learning tools to families whose resources are limited."

The Foundation has provided computers to hundreds of Howard County schools over the last 5 years working mostly with the Lazarus  Foundation who rebuilds donated computers.  Students receiving the computers have to attend a class to learn how to best use their computer.  For most of these families it is the first computer they have had in their home.

Additionally the Foundation provides grants to teachers to develop innovative educational programs that provide students with exciting learning opportunities that expand on the classroom instruction. Some of the projects funded have includes a geocaching programs to teach 6th and 7th grade students how to use GPS, Girl Talk to work on self esteem issues of 8th grade girls and a variety of robotic and engineering programs.  Teachers can apply for up to $2500 for a project.

For anyone interested in donating to this program click on this link

Monday, December 12, 2011

The worst type of age discrimination

We have all heard about the stories of people over 50 not being able to be hired for a job because they were seen as "over the hill." Here in the Baltimore we always hear sportscasters say of the Raven's Ray Lewis that his high level of play is "remarkable given his age." Age does have its effect on all of us but by itself it not relevant.

This past week my Father has been in the hospital and I saw the worst form of this age discrimination.  He had been transferred to a new hospital and his attending doctor was telling me about his plan of treatment.  After explaining all the medical interventions he stated, "Of course with a patient of your Father's age you should be prepared for the worst."  He didn't say for a patient with your Father's health condition he said of my father's "age."  Age is not a disease.  If my Father was 40 the doctor would not have said the same thing.  The danger is that his attitude would impact how he treated my Father.

The experience reminded me of an old joke about an elderly patient.  A ninety year old man went to his doctor complaining of pain in his right knee.  After the doctor examined the knee he leaned over patted the elderly gentleman on the shoulder and said, "at your age you have to expect that things like this to happen to a knee after 90 years."  The elderly gentleman looked at his doctor and said, " My left knee is 90 years old too and it works just fine."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Defining a society

As the saying goes, "You can define a society by how it takes care of its vulnerable populations--its young and old."  With that said I saw this news article this morning and it had me remembering the saying.

Mary Power is 92 and worried about surviving another frigid New England winter because deep cuts in federal home heating assistance benefits mean she probably can't afford enough heating oil to stay warm.
She lives in a drafty trailer in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood and gets by on $11,148 a year in pension and Social Security benefits. Her heating aid help this year will drop from $1,035 to $685. With rising heating oil prices, it probably will cost her more than $3,000 for enough oil to keep warm unless she turns her thermostat down to 60 degrees, as she plans.

"I will just have to crawl into bed with the covers over me and stay there," said Power, a widow who worked as a cashier and waitress until she was 80. "I will do what I have to do."
Thousands of poor people across the Northeast are bracing for a difficult winter with substantially less home heating aid coming from the federal government.

"They're playing Russian roulette with people's lives," said John Drew, who heads Action for Boston Community Development, Inc., which provides aid to low-income residents in Massachusetts.
The issue could flare just as New Hampshire votes in the Republican presidential primary.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she hopes the candidates will take up the region's heating aid crunch because it underscores how badly the country needs a comprehensive energy policy.

Several Northeast states already have reduced heating aid benefits to families as Congress considers cutting more than $1 billion from last year's $4.7 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that served nearly 9 million households. Families in New England, where the winters are long and cold and people rely heavily on costly oil heat, are expected to be especially hard hit. Many poor and elderly people on fixed incomes struggle with rising heating bills that can run into thousands of dollars. That can force them to cut back on other necessities like food or medicine.

"The winter of 2011-12 could be memorable for the misery and suffering of thousands of frigid households," New Hampshire's Concord Monitor newspaper said in an editorial. "Heating oil prices are expected to hit record highs, and federal fuel assistance may reach a record low for recent years." Higher home heating oil prices and more families seeking aid due to the sour economy are straining resources. There's a 10 percent surge in new applicants in Boston, Drew said. "Our whole program could hit a rock soon," said Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association.

Families can expect to pay, on average, about $3,300 to heat a home with oil this winter in New England, Wolfe said. That's about $500 more than last winter. About half of the region's homes use oil heat.
Congress, which is locked in a bitter battle over reducing spending, still must decide how much money to give the program for the budget year that began Oct. 1. In fall 2008, amid concerns about rising fuel prices, the government nearly doubled fuel assistance, releasing $5.1 billion to states for the following winter.
But last February, President Barack Obama proposed cutting the program nearly in half, calling for about $2.5 billion. The House is considering $3.4 billion for fuel assistance, while the Senate reviews a $3.6 billion proposal. Snowe, along with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are pushing for $4.7 billion, last year's funding level, but they face long odds. The government has given an initial round of funding, $1.7 billion, to the states.

In Maine, one of the coldest states, the average benefit has been reduced by about $500. The state's average benefit last winter was about $800 among 63,842 households served. The average income of recipients was $16,757. About 80 percent of Maine households use oil heat. "It's a very serious situation," Dale McCormick, director of MaineHousing, a state agency that administers heating aid, said. "We can't send out money we don't have." That view is shared by home heat aid advocates across New England and into New York and Pennsylvania. Most of those states have cut benefits. New Hampshire has tightened eligibility requirements.

Vermont's average benefit was cut from $866 to $474. New York's maximum benefit this year is $500, down from $700 last winter. Pennsylvania's minimum benefit is dropping from $300 last year to $100, Wolfe said. "We have a lot of terrified people who can't see how they are going to survive," said Drew.

Read more:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Best Coffee in the World

As someone who has had about every type of coffee around, including expensive Hawaiian coffees, I have found the best coffee here in Pennsylvania that I have ever had.  If you want to have an unforgettable coffee call the Endless Mountain Coffee Roasters at 570-281-7423 and have them ship some Red Sky ground coffee to you.  If you don't agree it is GREAT coffee I will buy it off you.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why most organizations and businesses die

I couldn't help but think about how both the Post Office and the Baltimore Sun are dying institutions this week.  I reached my monthly limit of free views on the Baltimore Sun for December and now have to subscribe to see articles online.  I have a subscription for their shrinking newspaper but that is not good enough to give me the online articles.  So I will forget about them online for the rest of the month.  I guess they don't think seeing their online annoying ads is worth giving me free views.

The Post Office this week talked about slowing first class mail and stopping Saturday delivery.  I guess they will drive more people to pay bills online now that we don't know when our payments will be received and we might get overdue penalties.  I have already gone to online cards and banking. Unfortunately for the Post Office Congress has required them to do things that now longer make business sense.  Delivery to every address is so outdated as those of us in Columbia have know for years.  They will only be a package delivery service eventually.

The problem with both of these institutions is they think they can right themselves financially by cutting services and shrinking.  What they need to do is find something new to make me use their services in new ways.    Businesses and organizations that adapt and grow new businesses survive.  Contracting only delays their death.  I can give you two examples of this.

Remember when Apple was a computer company?  When the Macintosh was failing to keep the company profitable and Dell was eating into their business they brought back Steve Jobs and he came up with the Ipod and turned the company into a music business, then brought out the IPhone and turned them into a phone company.

The second example is General Electric.  Think it is still a power company that makes light bulbs?  It's financial services is its most profitable divisions now.  They also make jet engines and MRI machines.  In fact their medical technology division is their second most profitable division.

Looking for growth opportunities doesn't have to be as transformational as these two examples.  Google just keeps coming up with new online services that provide a wide range of online tools.  Because of their reputation they quickly become the standard for these online tools.  They miss once in a while, like with their efforts to create a social networking application, but they move on to new tools constantly.

Reinvent or die is the mantra for today.  "If it ain't broke don't fix it" never did really work.

Oldie song to stay in your mind all weekend