As the economy begins to bounce back, many families who have put vacations on hold are now ready to pack their vacation bags. But can you really save money and have a good time with your kids on vacation? According to national family travel expert and author Eileen Ogintz, you can have your cake and eat it too when it comes to saving money and spending time with your kids.
Recently, UrbanMediaToday's Allegra Johnson spoke with Ogintz about saving money and why it's so important to spend quality time with your kids on vacation.
Allegra Johnson: We know that the economy is not at it's best right now, so how important is it that people feel like they are getting the best deals for their money?
Eileen Ogintz: Well, obviously we all want to get the most bang for our buck. But I think it's really important to remember that we need vacations. We need the time to connect with the kids, get away from all the stresses and strains at home. So we shouldn't feel guilty about taking a vacation.
AJ: What are some tips on saving money on spring vacation?
EO: There are a lot of ways that we can save. Think about when your going (on vacation). For example, if you go to Orlando in May or June, it will be cheaper. During that time you can find lots of hotels rooms for under $100.00 a night and it will be cooler and less crowded. If you go to ski country in Colorado or Park City, Utah, you'll find plenty to do in the spring and summer also, lodging will be two-thirds less then in winter. Another things is, think about places closer to home. You know, maybe you want to go to a national park; you don't have to go to Yellowstone or Yosemite if you don't live near there. You have 397 national parks to choose from, so choose one that's just a couple of hours away from home.
AJ: What about hotel stays? It can be challenging when you are traveling with children.
EO: Well, you can opt for a place to stay, where you can cook some meals; a condo or vacation house. There are also suite hotels that have a kitchen. Another way to save is to share expenses; with the grandparents or good friends. You're not only going to spend less on lodging cost, you'll share on food cost as well.
AJ: And where are some of the best places to go for families with children?
EO: Well, I think it depends on the family. If you have a kid who is obsessed with the theatre; go to New York. If you have a kid who lives for roller coasters or princesses; go to Orlando. But I think it's good to talk to the kids about what they are interested in. Ultimately, they're not going to decide where you are going but they can help out. Also when kids feel like they have input in the decision making, they will be a lot happier and you'll be much happier too.
AJ: And when it comes to saving money during the vacation, is it best to book everything as a package deal or search yourself for the best deals?
EO: If you're planning to fly and you go to a website like South West or Expedia and you book a hotel, a rental car and a flight altogether, you can save 20 percent or more. Basically what's happening is, you're not saving that much on the air fare but the hotel is giving you a bigger break then you can get on your own. It all depends on the kind of traveler you are. I suggest that you do your research before booking altogether. So, say you're going to Washington, DC or New York, you might want to look at the city's official website and see what kind of hotel deals there are. And if you're traveling with kids, you might find an incredibly cheap hotel but it might be inconvenient. If you're going to D.C. and you have kids, you may not want to be too far outside of the city, so it might be worth it to pay a little bit more.
AJ: And when it comes to flying with kids, what are some things parents should know?
EO: Many airports now have what they call a family lane. Always look for that so you don't get stuck behind an impatient businessman. When you have little ones who might have a favorite toy or blanket that they always have with them, It's good to explain to the kids before hand about why they have to go through security so they won't have a meltdown in the line. I think traveling with reusable water bottles is great when you have kids. And make sure you have an extra tee-shirt or change of clothes just in case the kids spill something or have an accident.
AJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
EO: Just remember, when you are sitting on a plane with your kids, that time can be really special. Maybe have a deck or cards or a book or something that you both can share. And finally remember, when you're traveling with kids, it's just like raising them; it's expensive and messy and wonderful. So just don't expect everything to go totally smoothly because it won't but some of the mis-steps become some of the most memorable moments.
Written by Allegra Johnson for UrbanMediaToday.com
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will hold primary elections on April 24, 2012.
While most Pennsylvania voters are aware of the opportunity to select a presidential candidate for the party in which they are registered to vote, some remain unaware of exactly what else will appear on the ballot. A reapportionment plan as a result of the 2010 United States Census has been put on hold for state House and Senate districts, but new US Congressional districts have been approved. Some polling places have changed, and a new Voter Identification law could cause confusion at the polls.
In response to potential confusion, Allegheny County has partnered with the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh to launch a voter education initiative using a county website feature.
“We are delighted to partner with the League of Women Voters,” says County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, “We want to make voting as easy as possible, especially with the changes.”
“On the primary ballot, in addition to president, there are candidates for senate, attorney general, auditor general and treasurer, half of the state senate, and all the House of Representatives,” says Fitzgerald. “You can access the site, and know who you can vote for.”
“If you look at the ballot, you can find out what district you’re in now,” says Fitzgerald.
The website, http://www.alleghenycounty.us/elect/index.aspx, has new features including a polling place locator, a sample ballot customized to the voter’s district, and a means of verifying the validity of a voter’s registration status. The site also offers instructions for operating voting machines, important deadlines for registrations, absentee ballot requests and submissions, and contact information and links for answers to further questions.
“It’s part of an effort to boost turnout,” says Arlene Levy, Co-chair of the Greater Pittsburgh League of Women Voters. “People sometimes don’t realize there are elections beyond the presidential race.”
“This new site is also important because of reapportionment, especially to voters north of the city,” Levy says, referring to the most dramatically redistricted area of the county.
“We are also partnering with public, university and high school libraries throughout the county, so we can reach those who don’t have a computer at home, or those who may be voting for the first time,” says Levy. “We have posters and signage provided by the county to show voters where in the library they can access this information.”
Librarians have been trained to help patrons access the elections website, and reminders have been posted on library websites. Bookmarks will also be made available through libraries which have details about election deadline dates, and contact information for both the Allegheny County Elections Division and the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh.
“This is an important education effort,” says Levy. “We want to assist all citizens in getting the essential information they need so they can vote, and have time to think about the candidates they chose to elect to office.”
“Your vote is your voice.”
Fitzgerald agrees. “We want voters to get out and be heard, not just in this, but in every election.”
Voter turnout is generally low for primary elections, and is expected to be even lower now that each party has proven to have only a single viable presidential candidate on the ballot.
The computerized system makes it difficult and inefficient financially to remove those candidates who have recently withdrawn their names, like Rick Santorum, who withdrew on Tuesday, so some others will remain on the roster.
Elections Division Manager Mark Wolosik expects about one of every four voters to place their votes. He estimates that “about 2000” new voter registrations have been filed for the primary, “but that should pick up for the general election in November.”
The voter registration deadline for this year’s primary has already passed. Applications for absentee ballots must be applied for by Tuesday, April 17 at 5 pm, and absentee ballots must be returned by Friday, April 20.
Three district polling places have been determined to be inaccessible to voters with physical restrictions which prohibit them from entering due to architectural barriers. These are in Haysville (Ward 00, District 1) at One Ohio River Boulevard; Pittsburgh (Ward 24, District 01) at Saint Ambrose School, 1011 Haslage Street; and Pittsburgh (Ward 23, District 17), Saint Peter’s United Church of Christ, at 18 Schubert Street.
An alternative voting procedure has been established for these inaccessible polling places who meet the following criteria: They must be registered voters in Allegheny County either 65 years of age or older, who have a temporary or permanent physical disability and vote at one of the three identified locations. These voters may obtain an application for an “alternative ballot” in person at the Allegheny County Elections Division in Room 601 of the County Office Building at 542 Forbes Avenue, Downtown, by visiting www.votespa.com, or by calling the Bureau of Elections at 412-350-4520. Applications must be returned no later than 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, 2012.
After an application is received, the applicant will be sent an absentee ballot that must be completed and returned to the Elections Division no later than 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24, when the polls close.
For more information about the programs sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh, visit http://www.palwv.org/pittsburgh/index.html.
By Nancy Hart
In 2010, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) decided to close Braddock Hospital, which had been purchased by UPMC in 1996.
The closure was a devastating blow to the struggling community, as the more-than-100-year-old hospital was the borough’s largest employer, and also the site of the town’s only automated teller machine. The cafeteria was, in fact, Braddock’s only remaining restaurant, and the extremely impoverished residents of Braddock were left without easy access to medical care.
Tuesday morning, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that a health-care facility would return to the vacant site of the now-demolished hospital thanks to an agreement between Highmark and MedExpress. Construction on the facility could be completed as soon as the summer of 2013.
Calling the development “exciting news for residents of Braddock and surrounding areas,” Fitzgerald says that, as a result of the partnership and of financial commitments made by the county, “we can assure our residents that care will be there.”
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman says “the way this has been rebounding is exciting.”
MedExpress will serve as “anchor tenant” of a $20.3 million redevelopment of the site, which runs along Braddock Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets, extending back to Corey Avenue. Also planned are additional office or retail space, 11 single-family homes, 24 rental housing units and a large community park.
“We will have a CCAC branch campus for sure,” says Fetterman, “and we’re talking to other prospective retailers.” Another potential tenant for the office space is the Allegheny County Health Department, and, Fetterman hopes, a dentist or dental clinic.
Funding for the development, says Fetterman, “is a mix of public and private dollars, and an extraordinary commitment in our community: New development, and a first-rate care facility the same as a wealthier community like Cranberry or Monroeville.”
“Highmark is proud to be in partnership with the county,” says Deborah L. Rice, the insurer’s Executive Vice-President of Health Services. “We welcome the prospect of serving Braddock with an urgent care center.”
Government funding for the project includes a $3 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A proposal for low-income hosing tax credits will be considered by the state Housing Finance Agency on Thursday, and construction on the units is slated to begin next fall.
“The county took our concerns very seriously, and have fought hard to bring this level of care to our community,” says Fetterman. “We are grateful for their support.”
Fetterman is proud of the advances Braddock has made during his administration. “We fixed the Braddock High Baseball Stadium, and are rolling out security cameras in the last remaining areas. We converted the abandoned First Presbyterian Church on Library Street into a beautiful community center and just booked our first wedding for there.”
“We hope to continue with more housing and other developments along Braddock Avenue,” he says. “Filming is about to begin on ‘Out of this Furnace,’ which will put Braddock out to a national audience and start a conversation about what’s here, and what we’re missing.”
“Everything’s back on the table” because of the new development agreement, says Fetterman. “It’s a game changer for us.”
By Nancy Hart
Archival photos courtesy of Heritage Community Initiatives, Inc.
Ed Gainey is a man of passion.
As Coordinator of Economic Development in the City of Pittsburgh, he worked to bring attention to the needs of minority community members by improving relations with the Mayor’s office.
As Chairman of the City’s Democratic Committee, Gainey tries especially to be sure that members of the community understand how important their vote is in every election.
The election currently foremost on his mind, though, is the primary poll. On January 17, Gainey, who lives in the city’s Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood with his wife, Michelle Coburn Gainey and their children, announced that he would once again challenge incumbent Joe Preston for his seat in the 24th Legislative District of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The district is comprised of the East Hills, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Highland Park, Homewood, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington, Belmar and North Point Breeze neighborhoods, and parts of Morningside, Point Breeze, Stanton Heights and Shadyside.
“I don’t have anything against Mr. Preston,” says Gainey as he launches his third campaign for the seat. “I just think he’s been there too long.”
Gainey says he believes Preston has lost touch with the needs of the district he has been representing for three decades. “I believe we need new leadership, new visions, new ideas.”
“East Liberty has had a complete transformation. It would have been easy [for Preston] to put resources into the community, to put state resources where they’ll go to help our seniors and our youth.”
“All Preston did,” says Gainey, “is vote for a violent bill, a utility bill that allows companies to shut off utilities even in winter, when people need them most.”
“I have a track record of fighting for our neighborhoods,” says Gainey, who was born and raised in the district, and graduated from the city’s Peabody High School prior to earning a business degree from Morgan State University in Baltimore. “As community and economic development occur throughout our district, I work day and night to make sure that the people who live here see the benefits. This is the approach that I will bring to Harrisburg.”
Gainey feels that the region’s political leadership needs to be aware of what impacts the region. “Other leaders see something missing, or something needed, they go get it. Preston’s out of touch” with the Pittsburgh-area communities he was elected to represent. “It’s not necessarily negative,” Gainey says, “but whatever you didn’t do in 33 years, you aren’t going to get done in the next two.”
If elected to the House, Gainey plans to address economic development issues and the needs of small businesses, as well as deal with what he calls “major issues” of transportation, property reassessment and the “voter suppression bill.”
This bill, currently making its way through the state Congress, would require voters to present current government-issued photo identification or a photo identification card from a college or university prior to being allowed to vote.
“No one talks about how this bill will impact the residents of this district,” says Gainey. “Residents need to be informed about it, or they will be victims of it,” citing claims which show that minorities and the elderly are among those most likely to be without such photo identification documents. “The vote dictates who we are.”
“Our community doesn’t always vote to capacity as it is,” says Gainey. “They are trying to limit our freedom based on criteria that make no sense.”
Gainey considers the proposed cuts in transportation to be “economic violence,” and thinks the state should take steps to provide funding to help the Port Authority Transit avoid making those cuts. “We need more public transportation, not less.”
“Transportation connects people to employment and economic opportunities,” Gainey says. “The governor put together a panel to study transportation needs. The reality is, how do we make enough noise to make the governor consider the options of his panel?”
“Transportation cuts pollute our highways and create congestion,” he says. “The governor needs to make a decision on how to fund” the public transit authorities currently struggling with deficit as a result of budgetary restrictions and cuts.
Gainey also feels that privatization of the state liquor system is an economic mistake. “I hope they don’t,” he says. “There are a whole lot of people working in the system. We wouldn’t be creating jobs, we’d be having layoffs.”
In a privatized system, Gainey feels employees of stores permitted to sell liquor “wouldn’t make the kind of money or have the benefits they do now, and in this economy, we can’t afford that.”
“I am an advocate for taking those issues to the state level,” says Gainey. “The state legislature is a primary job, but the secondary job is to leverage political capital in our community. That’s why representatives are there.”
“The people of our neighborhoods deserve a strong leader who understands our needs, and who will not be afraid to stand up and fight for us.”
By Nancy Hart
State Representative Joseph Preston, Jr. is unconcerned about criticism aimed at him by his opponent in the primary election for the State House of Representatives in the 24th Legislative District.
“You know, I’ve never seen a statue erected to a critic,” Preston says, “but everyone thinks they can criticize.”
“I have been involved in a myriad of situations,” Preston says, naming an extensive list of projects for which he secured state funding, including the facilitation of building projects for businesses, the re-vamping of senior centers, rebuilding public parks in Aspinwall and the expansion of Stagno’s Bakery in East Liberty. “A lot of things you see now, we started eight to ten years ago.”
The 64-year-old Preston was born in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania. His father was a coal miner from Apollo, and his mother was from New Kensington. They moved their family to the district he still serves while Preston was a young boy so his mother could use her education to get a job, eventually working for the state herself until her retirement “20-some years ago.”
After graduating from Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse High School, Preston put himself through the University of Pittsburgh by working in Pittsburgh’s steel mills, and began his professional career in the personnel department of J & L Steel. “They still use a system I developed” to evaluate employee potential for placement in trades or in management. The East Liberty Development Initiative is one of his favorite achievements, citing his love for his home neighborhoods as a catalyst for his efforts today.
“How a person is before they get elected is how they are after they’re elected,” Preston says. “The first piece of legislation I ever did was the Job Corps,” He is still very involved in the Corps’ operations, and hopes to bring an auto-repair training center there soon.
“A lot of projects [on which he has worked] could have been expanded,” says Preston, “but we can’t get cooperation from the city.” He shares no regret for trying, however. “You only get tackled if you carry the ball.”
Preston’s greatest concern during the current and upcoming sessions of the state’s legislature is the budget. “The cuts in education, transit funding . . .”
The newly instituted “asset test” for state welfare recipients is a major concern. “The assets test actually costs more to implement” than it will eliminate in fraud. Preston feels there is unfairness inherent in the new regulations. “What if you’re just starting out at a job, and need to still driving a ‘hoopty car’ worth $2000?”
Another concern, especially within his district, Preston says, is the lack of a plan to fund transit to avoid fare increases and cuts in service. “24 percent of my district depends on public transportation. Cuts will be devastating.”
Preston, who actively worked to have several state liquor stores relocated or removed from “problem areas” within his district, feels that privatization of the stores is a mistake. “People need to understand the issue is by district. I understand the problem.”
“The last thing I need in Homewood are package stores. I agree with most of the people in my area: It’s about trying to set a positive tone.” Instead of privatizing, Preston feels that the liquor store system’s recent efforts to increase service have made the stores more functional for and accessible to users. “They have specialists in some of the stores who can help you choose” appropriate wines or liquors for consumers’ needs. “And they have to find what you want,” he says of customers who complain the selections available are limited.
Preston is dumbfounded by recent legislation by Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican Representative from Butler County’s 12th Legislative district which changes identification requirements for voters. Referred to by opponents as the Voter Suppression Bill, Metcalfe and his co-sponsors want to amend the state election code to require state- or college/university-issued photo identification to be presented to election officials in order for a voter to be permitted to cast a ballot. The bill is currently under consideration by the state senate, after amendments which will require the state to provide photo identification free of cost to non-drivers who present proper documentation.
Supporters of the bill claim it is a valid measure to stop election fraud, but many admit the rarity of fraud in the state’s elections, and that this bill would do nothing to address the rare instances of fraud which have been proven to occur.
“They almost had to carry me off the floor on that,” says Preston of his reaction to introduction of the bill. “It’s a Republican ploy by ALEC introduced across all states.” ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which, according to its website, is a “non-partisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions.”
“Metcalfe tried to stop me from speaking,” Preston claims. “This [bill] is not to suppress the vote, it’s to stop people from going through the trouble of voting altogether.” “I’ve been a member of Baptist Temple for over 50 years,” Preston says. “I make more than 5000 decisions a year, and I pray that none of them hurt people.”
“The job of an elected official is not to set the tone, but to pick up the tone” of those who elected him, says Preston. “We need to be together more, and not criticize each other.”
Preston spends Sunday through Thursday in Harrisburg while the Legislature is in session, but says he arrives at his North Highland Avenue office in East Liberty on other days between 7 and 8 am. “My door has never been closed to anybody.”
Saying he respects everyone’s right to his or her own opinion, even those who publicly oppose him, Preston says “I am an elected official, and I am elected to serve. I may object, but I will protect their right to protest.”
By Nancy Hart
Tax Filing Deadline is Just a Blink Away. Need More Time, File an Extension of Time To File Your Tax Return
Filing an extension is easy and fast. You are not getting an extension to pay your taxes only to file. The IRS expects you to estimate what your tax bill will be and to pay it in full when filing the extension form. No documentation or explanation is required on how you determine your estimated tax bill.
To extent the filing deadline for an individual income tax return, you file a file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return by April 17, 2012. Filing this form will extend the deadline for filing for 6 months. You will not receive any notification that the you have been approved, since approval is normally automatic.
If you have filed a Federal form for an extension, no additional form is needed to receive an extension to file your local taxes.
There are special rules if you are:
Here is a listing of types of extensions. These forms are available on line by following their link.
Extensions for Corporations, Partnerships, REMICs, and Certain Trusts
written by Mary Jo Lincoln, CPA
President MAA & Associates, LLC
Cirque Du Soleil is known for its gravity defining performances, elaborate costumes and set designs. Now Cirque is celebrating the life, music and dance of Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson the Immortal World Tour is currently touring through North America and next week the show will be in Pittsburgh. UrbanMediaToday’s Allegra Johnson has a sneak peak of the show and more with Maxime Charbonneau, publicist with Cirque du Soleil.
Go to UMToday page on YouTube.com
Now that the city has committed to demolishing vacant properties that blight the neighborhood in Homewood, community members are committing to new projects to address the issues that remain.
One group, the Homewood Agricultural Coalition Network (HACN), is attempting to begin their “first” urban farm on a lot at 7341-7345 Kelly Street left vacant by previous demolition.
“We want to bring food sovereignty to Homewood,” says Sonya Boyd, one of the project’s organizers. “Our families are underserved. We don’t have a grocery store, so we don’t have access to fresh produce.”
The sizable lot, which reaches back from Kelly Street all the way to Fleury Way, and surrounded by single-family homes and rowhouses with tiny, neatly-tended yards, was previously covered in rubble from the demolitions, construction debris and trash, all of which were hazardous to children who played in the vacant lot for want of a better place to do so. City crews have cleaned up most of the more dangerous debris, and have promised to return within the next two weeks to remove weeds and “trash” trees and otherwise help prepare the site for gardening.
Fellow organizer Raqueeb Bey says, “The city put us in the ‘Green Up’ program,” which provides groups who agree to maintain vacant lots with basic resources like water and liability coverage, “but there’s so much more we need.”
“It’s hard to connect [to potential funding sources] when you have no resources,” she says. “When you don’t have the collective interest, it’s hard.”
Boyd agrees. “Often, politicians and organizations pick capitalism above needs. Redevelopment has its place, but revitalization is more necessary.”
“Our people are disadvantaged. They find funding to bring in businesses from outside. We need to start fixing from inside, not outside.”
Homewood is one of several city neighborhoods classified as a “food desert” by federal standards: A low income community with median income at or less than 80 percent of the area’s median family income, and a low-access community where one-third of the population resides more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.
“Our people have a history in agriculture,” says Boyd. “We need to get people back to eating healthy: Mothers, babies, teenaged sons.”
“We need to grow food and become land stewards again.”
Boyd points out that the lack of availability of fresh produce and fruits is a major factor in the debilitation of the population. “Our community suffers from obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes — we know these diseases are all affected by poor nutrition. So we don’t have money to go to the grocery store, and we continue to suffer.”
“We want to take these vacant lots, one by one, and turn them into farming areas. We need to see fresh food growing in the community.”
Prior to the city’s initial cleanup efforts, “you would come to these lots and see children playing with the rubble,” says Bey. “The piles were high, and they had to be dangerous to their health. Asthma, blood poisoning. . . We’re curious to see how many are affected by this.”
“We have gifts and talents in our community, the African-American community,” Boyd says. “We need to come together, to connect again with the earth, with our heritage.”
The women’s efforts, which are strictly volunteer, have been consuming their time for months. Their plan is to begin construction and planting of the garden on Saturday, April 21 between 9 am and 2 pm.
“We want to teach people how to grow food, how to preserve food. The younger generations have lost the land stewardship, the ‘being connected,’” says Bey, who has taken classes in various aspects of agriculture, including beekeeping.
“We would like to see the rebuilding of our community. We want to see it thrive,” Bey says. “But we need help, we are trying to get help, but are getting the runaround wherever we turn. We invited our councilman [Reverend Ricky Burgess] here to see what we’re doing, and he didn’t come.” The women wrote a proposal for council asking for funding, but met with no interest.
Burgess says his office is willing and able to help the group apply for grants to fund their farm, but the process takes time.
HACN has big plans for their first urban farm. They would like to install raised beds for vegetables, plant a variety of fruit trees, and beautify the area with some flower beds. They would also like to include a few benches and some play equipment, so the entire community, from children to seniors, can enjoy the garden.
“We’d also like to include an education component,” says Boyd. “We’ve tried to contact CCAC, Chatham and Penn State, but they can’t help us. We’d like people in the community to learn where the food comes from, and what to do with it,” citing preservation skills like canning, freezing and drying of garden produce as skills becoming lost within the community. They would also like to offer healthy cooking demonstrations using the produce from Homewood’s own farm.
“It would be wonderful if we could have the older people in the community share their knowledge with the kids,” says Bey.
HACN is in need of “everything” to make the garden a reality, “We need fruit trees, supplies for raised beds, benches, equipment from shovels to tillers,” says Boyd. “We need funding, and we need volunteers.”
“In five years, we’d like to be a permanent fixture in the community, maybe even have some small farm animals so the kids can learn to take care of them,” says Boyd. “Everything comes from the earth, and returns to the earth, but we’ve lost that connection.”
The group will meet this Saturday, April 7, on the second floor of the Homewood Carnegie Library to continue planning for the garden. All are welcomed to attend.
Acting on the advice of New York State urban farmer Karen Washington, the group has established a site for financial donations at https://ww.ioby.org/project/homewood-agricultural-project. As of publication, the group has raised $100 of their projected $2160 budget through ioby.org, which operates mainly to support urban farming in New York.
HACN members plan to continue to solicit donations of funding and supplies from local businesses, community members and others interested in their efforts to revitalize their community, but, “even if we have to go out there and scoop up the dirt with our hands,” says Boyd, “we’ll be out there scooping.”
HACN will accept donations of any relevant materials, from plants to tools to decorative items or supplies like fertilizer or components for raised garden beds. They also welcome any volunteer helpers. To arrange a donation, to volunteer, or to find out more about the group’s activities, contact them through firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 412-731-0279.
By Nancy Hart
On Saturday, the Mall at Robinson was the site once again for the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services’ (HDS) annual Sign-a-Thon.
The event, which serves as a fund-raiser to benefit HDS’ Non-Profit Interpreting Fund,
brought together hundreds of deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing people, their friends and families, and other interested people from throughout the southwestern Pennsylvania area to enjoy four hours of entertainment, visit with service providers and enjoy fellowship with others who share the same experiences.
According to HDS President and CEO Amy Hart, the organization “looks at Sign-a-Thon as a ‘celebration of deaf culture and language.’ It’s a chance for people to learn more about the resources and opportunities available to them in their own language.”
While many of the exhibitors at the event provided information about health-care concerns such as home nursing, elder care, and overall wellness, other exhibitors provided information about everyday concerns such as saving money on energy, or the importance of insurance. A table from HDS’ Assistive Device Center displayed their wide range of products from sign-language learning books and tools for children to alarm clocks for the deaf to books written by or about those living a deaf life.
Some exhibitors provided information specifically for the non-hearing audience about sign-language interpreter services or telephone relay services, while the Community College of Allegheny County provided data on their educational programs and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History brought a few exhibits. Several churches, social clubs like the DeafLions and religious-based organizations invited the deaf community to join with them in programs designed to provide the hearing-impaired with the same experiences available to hearing people everywhere.
All of the exhibitors welcomed questions from all comers, including shoppers who stumbled upon the Sign-a-Thon while doing their regular shopping at the Mall. “I never really considered how difficult it could be,” said one.
“We hope those people had fun,” says Hart. “We hope they gained some additional knowledge about deaf culture, and enjoyed the show. Maybe they took away something they could use.”
Dr. Raymont Anderson, a Maryland college professor and high school teacher who is certified in American Sign Language (ASL) Education, brought his extensive theater and dance experience to his recurring annual role as emcee of the entertainment portion of Sign-a-Thon.
Anderson, who is hearing, has spent a majority of his professional theater career both acting and signing the story for audiences. He has been the creator of, and performer with, several different dance troupes for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and also brought his current company, BELIEVE, to Pittsburgh to perform at Sign-a-Thon.
Performances by “impressionist” Ang Zeis, ASL singers Erika Fine and Miss Deaf Greater Pittsburgh 2001 Sarah Clark, pop-music performances by IMAGE from Bloomsburg State University and Sign-in from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Slovak folk dancing by members of the Pittsburgh Area Slovak Folk Ensemble (PÁS) were bookended by Anderson, whose introductions ranged from comic antics to movingly personal testimony. His proficiency at conveying his message through ASL as well as through his facial expressions and physical movement captured the attention of both hearing and non-hearing audience members. The members of BELIEVE, with Anderson and without, presented beautiful theatrical interpretations of both popular and sacred music.
Throughout the day, craft tables were available for children at which sign language interpreter Jessica Mock helped both deaf and hearing children learn through crafting. Children were invited to color alphabet pages bearing both the Arabic alphabet and the letters in ASL. Other activities included the use of cutouts of the children’s own hands to make bunnies, flower baskets, penguins and fish, or activity pages on which children interpreted the pictured ASL signs to decipher messages.
Rozie Fero, a youth volunteer at the craft area, said, “It was really cool to see the little kids be so fascinated by it. It was cool to see them realize the different ways they can use their hands, even to speak.”
Fero, who is hearing, and at 12, is herself a novice at sign language, says it was very difficult for her to try to communicate with the deaf people she encountered. “It made it easier for me to understand how hard it is for them when people are talking but they can’t understand.”
“It really made want to learn more sign, because I really want to be able to communicate with everyone.”
At the end of the day, everyone gathered at the stage outside of JCPenney to find out who won the day-long Chinese Auction and 50/50 drawing. Anderson, Hart and HDS Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Jessica Knoche, who organized the day’s events, expressed their gratitude not only to those who exhibited and performed, but also to those who attended.
“Just a reminder,” said Knoche. “We hope to see you again next April.”
Hart considers the day a great success. “Everyone had a wonderful time.”
For more information about the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services and its programs, visit http://hdscenter.org/.
By Nancy Hart