December 14, 2008

Sharing and Caring Hands, a Real Test of Faith

Charities around Minneapolis have begun to feel the effects of the weakening economy as the amount of people seeking help has swelled while donations are falling short.

“It is really God’s work,? Mary Jo Copeland, the director and founder of Sharing and Caring Hands, a Minneapolis homeless shelter, said. “He will work it all out.?

Sharing and Caring Hands will need it as they approach the year’s end. The nonprofit has seen a significant drop in the donations of food, clothes and toys this Christmas season. The most drastic decline has been in financial donations, Rob Wills, the center’s night manager, said.

“Donations are down more than $500,000 from what we have been averaging over the last several years,? Wills said.

As the lines of people in need grow daily, there is an escalating concern among some employees that donations will not be able to keep up with the pace.

“The line of people seeking financial help to pay their bills or receive vouchers has doubled in the last couple months,? Chris Moore, one of Sharing and Caring Hands’ five full-time employees said.

Sharing and Caring Hands spends $300,000 every month, serving about 20,000 people.

The organization relies entirely on donations and private grants. Copeland says she does not accept money from United Way or the government because paperwork dehumanizes the poor.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, nearly 200 people crowd around the piles of donated clothing, toys and hygiene products laid out on tables in the basement of the shelter. A line of homeless people waiting to use a shower extends around the room.

Upstairs a line stretches all the way around the large cafeteria, as people wait to talk to Copeland or her husband, Dick. After listening to each person’s needs, they do whatever they can to provide aid, Dick Copeland said.

The organization provides financial help to pay for bills, rent and bus tickets. They also provide free housing for families with children, hot meals, clothes, a food shelf, health care and legal aid, Sister Xavier M’Ezeokoli, a member of the I-H-M Sisters, said.

Foreclosure is a big part of the story, Moore said. Many of the people coming into the shelter ended up on the streets through no fault of their own. They faithfully paid rent to their landlords who ended up not keeping up with mortgages and had to foreclose, forcing them out on the street.

In recent months, many more families have been seeking housing at the Mary’s Place shelter, located across the street from the food shelf. The shelter houses 92 families at any given time. No waiting lists are kept as families are taken in daily on a need-only basis.

Although the shelter has never had an empty room since its opening in 1995, Moore said the organization has had to turn away many more families in the last six months. Most people are sent to Hennepin County Emergency Shelter when there is no room at Mary’s Place.

“Usually when people think ‘homeless,’ they think of a grizzly guy on the street. That is not the case, especially now. The economic crisis has definitely changed the demographics of the homeless,? Lance Martin, another Sharing and Caring Hands employee, said.

Jason Mayberry is an example of the demographic change.

As a father of three children, Mayberry has always held a steady job to support his family. He could never imagine himself relying on Sharing and Caring Hands for a warm meal, Mayberry said.

That is, until now.

Last summer Mayberry was laid off from his factory job in Edina.

“I’ve done everything in my power to find another job,? Mayberry said over a plate of noodles, a hardboiled egg and chips served by volunteers.

“I ran out of money to pay rent. Now I can't support my kids and don’t even have a place to live.?

Stories like Mayberry’s have become very common at the center in recent months, as more people come in for help, Martin said. Despite Copeland’s calm faith, the organization has reason to worry about the combination of more people in need and less in donations.

Sharing and Caring Hands is not the only nonprofit facing uncertain times.

“The Salvation Army donations are down 10 to 30 percent this year,? Annette Bauer, spokeswoman for the Minnesota and North Dakota Salvation Army division, said.

The American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter laid off 15 people this month because of diminishing individual donations. The chapter’s budget dropped from $10 million to $7 million this year, the American Red Cross’s media inquiries contact, Courtney Johnson, said.

Sharing and Caring Hands receives almost 50 percent of its annual donations in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This makes it hard to project budget short falls, but there are many indicators that suggest that times are harder this year, Martin said.

“Every year we serve a Christmas dinner with all the works,? Moore said. “By this time we usually have hundreds of donated turkeys, but right now we have only received about 30.?

Donated Christmas presents for children also seem to be fewer than usual, Moore said.

“We’re hoping that people will understand the huge need there is right now,? Dick Copeland said, optimistic that donations will pour in to help those who desperately need it despite the hard times this Christmas season.

December 7, 2008

Final Blog- Computer Assisted Reporting Analysis

The Los Angeles Times has been working on a series entitled “Mexico under Siege? since June 2004. A huge amount of reporting has gone into the stories.

The Los Angeles Times realized that the violence was increasing and declared it a drug war. They have sent half dozen reporters to cover the issue.

The Web page keeps a record of every article written on the coverage of the topic. It uses many more platforms than print to tell the story.

For example, the site has a multimedia gallery and an interactive map. The multimedia library has hundreds of pictures displayed as thumbnails that people can click on. When a picture is selected, it enlarges and shows a caption depicting a brief story of what the picture is. Each picture also has a date. This is a powerful way to tell a story using computer assisted reporting. The reporter needed to have camera skills and be able to make a visually pleasing slideshow to tell the story so effectively.

Most importantly, the feature also has an interactive map using many infographics. This section has a map of Mexico covered in different sized bubbles. The size of the bubbles shows readers visually how many people have died of a drug-related cause since Jan. 1, 2007. When the mouse scrolls across the bubbles, it tells how many people have died in that area. There are many different components needed to create something like this. First, correct data is necessary. For this particular project, the data came from the Reforma newspaper’s Justice in Mexico Project. Once the reporters had the data, they had to be able to use computer-assisted reporting skills to format the information to simplify the numbers and make them easy to understand and visually pleasing for the information seeker.

The multimedia section also has a bar graph depicting deaths by week using the same information from the Justice in Mexico Project. The reporters had to carefully analyze the information to be able to effectively make it into a graph.

Finally, the reporters used computer assisted reporting to show a list of “major players? in the Mexican “drug war.? When the mouse scrolls over a face, it enlarges and gives some information about the person and their connection to the drug war. A great deal of reporting and information gathering is involved in a project like this. A group of reporters has to be very organized and efficient to make the story interesting and visually appealing.

“Man vs. Wild? Host Injured, Rescued in Antarctica Channel “Man vs. Wild? star Bear Grylls injured his shoulder Friday during an expedition in Antarctica to raise money for a charity, CNN said.

The 34-year-old was airlifted to the United Kingdom after the “life-threatening? fall that broke his shoulder, the Mail, a British newspaper, said.

Bear aimed to promote alternative energy and bioethanol during the expedition, while also raising money for the international children’s charity Global Angels, the Mail said.

He had planned with his four teammates to clime and name a 9,000 foot mountain peak if the trip was successful, the newspaper said.

According to the Mail, Bear is determined to go back to Antarctica.

The adventurer is a former British Special Forces member. He newly published a book on survival skills, “Man vs. Wild: Survival Techniques for the Most Dangerous Places on Earth,? The Associate Press said.

Sunny von Bulow, 76, Dies after 28 Years in Coma

Heiress and socialite Martha “Sunny? von Bulow died Saturday after spending almost 28 years in an irreversible coma, her children said in a statement issues from Maureen Connelly, the family spokesperson, MSNBC said. She was 76.

The American heiress was the focus of one of the most sensational 1980s criminal cases.

Prosecutors alleged von Bulow was sent into the coma as a result of two murder attempts by her husband, Claus von Bulow, a British socialite.

On Dec. 21, 1980, Martha van Bulow was found unconscious on the bathroom floor of her Newport, R.I., mansion.

Claus von Bulow was convicted in 1982 of twice injecting his wife, who suffered from hypoglycemia, a low blood sugar condition, with insulin.

His conviction was appealed and overturned. In a second trial in 1985, he was acquitted.

Martha “Sunny? van Bulow is survived by her daughters, Cosima Pavoncelli and Annie-Laurie von Auersperg Kneissl Isham; her son, Alexander von Auersperg; and nine grandchildren, the New York Times said.

"We were blessed to have an extraordinarily loving and caring mother," von Bulow’s children said in a statement, according to CNN.

December 6, 2008

Pilot Killed in Northern Michigan Plane

A pilot died when his single-engine airplane crashed into a northwestern Michigan mobile home Saturday, KSTP said.

The residents of the home were shoveling snow outside at the time of the crash, WCCO reported.

The pilot, whose name has not been released, took off from St. Paul and appeared to be headed to Glens Falls, N.Y., Tony Molinaro, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Chicago, told KSTP.

He was trying to land at Cherry Capital Airport in “harsh, wintery conditions? when he crashed, Ron Hubbard, a FFA official based in northern Michigan told the Traverse City Record-Eagle said.

The two witnesses of the crash, Scott Sanford and Justin Rider, said that the pilot was the only occupant of the aircraft.

“We had just stepped out, maybe two minutes before,? Stanford said to the Traverse City Record-Eagle. “It went right into our house.?

The pilot was a 47-year-old man from Lake George, N.Y., Sheriff Bill Artress said, according to WCCO.

Investigation is underway to identify the cause of the crash, the Traverse City Record-Eagle said.

Sunday Benefit for Daughter of Slain Anoka Woman

Family friends are planning a benefit Sunday for a girl whose mother authorities say was killed by the child’s father.

Four-year-old Savannah should still get a bright future, the family friends told the Pioneer Press.

The girl’s mother, Natasha Waalen, 28, was found in Andover in what appeared to be a motorcycle crash in September. Investigators arrested Waalen’s boyfriend, Ryan Boland, and his brother, Timothy Boland, on charges of murder when facts didn’t add up, WCCO reported.

"This incident took Tasha away from us, but we cannot let it stand in the way of Savannah's future," Stacey Anderson, one of the lead organizers of the benefit, said to the Pioneer Press.

At least 24 children in Minnesota lost their mothers as a result of domestic violence last year, the executive director of Alexandra House in Blaine, Connie Moore, told the Pioneer Press.

The benefit will include live music, a silent auction and appearances by cheerleaders for the Minnesota Vikings, the Fort Mill Times said.

Amsterdam Plans a City Clean Up

Amsterdam revealed plans Saturday to close half the city’s brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafés in an effort to curb organized crime from the popular tourist destination, CNN said.

The city council said that some red light businesses exist as a cover for organized crime such as the trafficking of women and drug dealing.

"Money laundering, extortion and human trafficking are things you do not see on the surface but they are hurting people and the city. We want to fight this," Deputy Mayor Lodewijk Asscher said to BBC.

The plan announced that Amsterdam will spend $38 million to $51 million to attract hotels, restaurants and small shops to the area, the BBC said.

Asscher made it clear that the city will remain a “tolerant and crazy place,? CNN said.

The city’s “tolerant policy? has a longstanding reputation, emerging as a center for prostitution in the 1600s.

The Netherlands legalized prostitution in 2000 and allows the open selling of marijuana in coffee shops.

November 23, 2008

Woman Killed by Estranged Husband at New Jersey Church

Police are looking for a gunman who fatally shot his estranged wife and injured two others in a church vestibule on Sunday as service ended, ABC News reported.

Joseph M. Pallipurath, 27, drove from California to Clifton, N.J. where he opened fire inside St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Knanaya Church, New Jersey’s Star Ledger said.

About 200 people were in attendance, according to The Associated Press.

"Kids were crying. People were screaming," Suja Alummoottil said, according to ABC News. "It was chaotic."

Reshma James, 24, died at St. Joseph’s Medical Center about 4 p.m., Clifton police Detective Capt. Robert Rowan told the Star Ledger.

The other victims, a 47-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man, remain in “extremely critical condition,? according to the Star Ledger.

James had a restraining order filed against Pallipurath and had moved to New Jersey to escape her abusive marriage, ABC reported.

The majority of the church is made up of first-generation immigrants from India, The Associated Press said.

U of M, Augsburg Students Named Rhodes Scholars

Two Minnesotan college students were named Rhodes Scholars on Sunday, KSTP reported.

Brian Krohn, a senior majoring in chemistry at Augsburg College, and Ashley Nord, a physics, astrophysics and global studies senior at the University of Minnesota will study at Oxford University in England next year under the prestigious scholarship, the Star Tribune said.

Krohn, the first Rhodes Scholar from Augsburg, presented some of his biodiesel research to Congress members earlier this year, KSTP said.

Nord plans to pursue a career in biophysics after earning a doctorate in condensed matter physics at Oxford, WCCO reported. Nord is from Rapid City, S.D.

Krohn and Nord were among the 31 out of 769 applicants selected for 2009, WCCO said.

The Star Tribune reported that, according to the scholarship trust, 32 United States students were selected for the scholarship.

Rhodes Scholarships were created by Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist, in 1902. The awards are the oldest international study scholarships for U.S. students, the Star Tribune said.

Vatican Forgives John Lennon for Jesus Jibe

The Vatican newspaper forgave John Lennon this week for his 1966 boast that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ, FOX News reported.

The late English singer told a British newspaper that he did not know whether Christianity or rock and roll would die out first, the BBC said.

Lennon’s comment enraged Christians, especially in the United States where some burned the Beatles’ records at gatherings in huge pyres, MSNBC said.

"The remark by John Lennon, which triggered deep indignation mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a 'boast' by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success, after growing up in the legend of Elvis and rock and roll," Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily said, according to MSNBC.

The newspaper went on the praise the musical talent of the Beattles, FOX News reported.

"The fact remains that 38 years after breaking up, the songs of the Lennon-McCartney brand have shown an extraordinary resistance to the passage of time, becoming a source of inspiration for more than one generation of pop musicians," the newspaper said.

Denny Hecker Closes 6 Dealerships

Denny Hecker, the prominent Twin Cities car dealer entrepreneur, closed six of his dealerships and sold three others this week because of the “sour economy,? WCCO said.

About 400 employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closings, the Pioneer Press reported. The recent closings reflect the problems many other dealers are facing.

According to the Star Tribune, in a release last week, state employment figures revealed that 2,000 dealership jobs were lost in October alone.

On Saturday the Hecker Automotive group shut down the Blaine Bargain lot, Froest Lake Chrysler Jeep Dodge Mitsubishi, Sillwater Ford Lincoln Mercury, Moticello Dodge Ford and Mercury, Shakopee Chrysler Jeep Dodge, and Rosedale Hyundai.

"The decision to realign our dealership came as we found ourselves in the midst of a 'perfect storm' of economic bad news: a financial crisis on Wall Street, chaos in the housing market, consumer confidence at all time low and the sight of the Big Three on their knees in Washington asking for a bailout loan." Denny Hecker Automotive Group President Barbara Jerich said in a statement on Friday night.

November 22, 2008

College Student Kills Himself in Front of Webcam

An internet audience watched as a college student committed suicide by taking a drug overdose Wednesday, the New York Times reported.

The family of Abraham Briggs says they are “horrified? that the online spectators and Web site operators waited until it was too late before acting to save the 19-year-old, according to FOX News.

Some of the spectators encouraged Briggs on to follow through with the suicide plan he posted to the Web site 12 hours before he died. Others cracked jokes and discussed whether or not he was taking a big enough dose to kill himself, Wendy Crane, an investigator with the Broward County medical examiner’s office, said to MSNBC.

Some of the viewers tried to talk Briggs out of his plan, the New York Times said.

Sometime after swallowing the pills, someone reported the situation to the moderator of the bodybuilding site the teenager was broadcasting from, MSNBC reported.

The moderator was able to trace Briggs’ location and notify the police. However, the police did not arrive in time to save him, FOX News said.

November 16, 2008

Cultural Analysis

The story “Fear of the Queer: Blacks in Florida vote to oppress gays,? by Bob Norman, published last week in New Times Broward-Palm Beach discussed the issue of blacks voting against gay marriage in Florida.

The story explained the phenomenon of many “civil rights-minded black voters? who voted against gay marriage, but voted for Obama.

The article used statistics to illustrate the facts. “While about 96 percent of black voters favored Obama, 70 percent of them were opposed to gay marriage, according to both pre-election and exit polls,? the article said.

This article asks many questions about why the majority of black Americans do not support gay marriage, assuming that because African Americans have experienced so much discrimination, they would want gay couples to have equal rights.

The story also uses quotes to add credibility and life to the story. "Black people have consistently been less supportive of gay and lesbian rights than any segment of the population in Florida," the article quotes S.F Mahee, an Oakland Park activist, saying.

American Girl Store Opens at the Mall of America

The opening of the American Girl store drew hundreds to the Mall of America early Saturday morning, according to the Star Tribune.

Some started lining up around 5:30 a.m. to be the first in the store, the Star Tribune said.

The Pioneer Press called the opening of the store “one of the most anticipated of the year in the Twin Cities.?

The first American Girl store opened in Chicago in 1998, when the company became a division of toy giant Mattel Inc.

The Minneapolis location is the seventh American Girl store in the nation, the Star Tribune reported.

The store is made to be an experience, where the average customer spends two hours browsing dozens of displays, eating lunch at the café, and purchasing dolls, books or matching outfits for girls and their dolls.

The company was started by Pleasant Rowland to encourage girls to read while sparking pride in America’s history, the Star Tribune said.

Turbulence Caused Crash of Mexican Jet, Official Says

The fatal crash of a the Lear jet, which killed everyone aboard, including Mexico’s interior minister, may have been caused by the turbulence from a large passenger jet it was following too closely, the transportation secretary said Friday, according to MSNBC.

The pilots of the jet did not immediately slow down after they learned they were nearly one nautical mile too close behind a Boeing 767-300, preliminary investigations revealed, MSNBC said.

Both aircrafts were on their way to Mexico City’s international airport on Nov. 4.

No alcohol or drug traces were found in either pilot and no evidence has been found to indicate that anything was wrong with the plane, Luis Tellez said to CNN.

Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino died with the eight other passengers on board. Five additional people were killed and 14 were injured on ground when the jet crashed into rush-hour traffic in Mexico City, CNN said.

Mourino, a close confidant of President Felipe Calderon, was compared to the equivalent of a vice-president by MSNBC.