Author: John Vogan

News Assistant at KING 5 Television in Seattle

Giving back by getting out: IC Charity Miles hosts first 5K

Tal Aizen knows firsthand the impact an organization like the Wounded Warrior Project can have. Soon after joining the Israeli army last year, a back injury left him in a wheelchair for six months.

“I was lucky. I got sort of fixed,” Aizen said. “These guys are missing legs. They need the help.”

Aizen was released from the hospital last July, and thanks to a back surgery he can once again walk and run. The Wounded Warrior Project is one of more than two-dozen charities on the Charity Miles smartphone app, which tracks a user’s distance to determine the amount of money a sponsor will donate to a cause. Biking earns 10 cents per mile, while running and walking earns 25 cents per mile.

“I wish I could go back to my job there [in Israel],” Aizen said. “I miss the guys there. I miss everything. The running deal is sort of helping me overcome it all.”

A personal story also inspired Gene Gurkoff, the founder of Charity Miles. He ran marathons for nine years to raise money for Parkinson’s research in honor of his grandfather, who has the disease.

I always wanted companies to sponsor me but I could never get them to do that because I’m just an amateur athlete,” Gurkoff said. “But I figured if I could get enough people together then we could all become sponsored athletes, just like the pros, but for charity.”

IC Charity Miles is one of the first college campus organizations to base their mission around the app since it was founded two years ago. It held its first 5K event Sunday on the trails of the South Hill Natural Lands.

“I just think it’s amazing what [IC Charity Miles Co-Presidents] Rachel and Kelly have done to step up and lead the charge at Ithaca,” Gurkoff said.

Giving Back While On-the-Go

The trend of ‘mobile philanthropy’ has been increasing rapidly in recent years. In the U.S., one in three people use a mobile device as their primary source for accessing the Internet. And globally, PayPal reported the total value of mobile donations through their service in December 2012 was 242 percent larger than in December 2011. Dozens of apps like Charity Miles can be downloaded to support non-profits while on the move.

Some have criticized movements on mobile devices and social media as a form of ‘slacktivism’ – slacker activism – that may be easy to take part in, but ultimately disconnects people from the cause and real volunteer service. But for ICCM founder and co-president Rachel Gray, the app also promotes awareness.

“It does have the big name charities, like for Alzheimer’s or Leukaemia and Lymphoma, but there are so many charities I had never heard of, like Red White and Blue,” Gray said. “You’re donating your time to this charity through running, and you’re getting fit while doing it, but at the same time I think it’s a way to spark interest.”

Gray points out that users can watch short videos each time they choose a different charity to find out more about what they are supporting, and then become more involved if it is something they are passionate about.

Running… Low On Battery

The app is not without some minor drawbacks, however. The GPS-tracking feature drains battery power faster than normal usage, which can be a problem for longer walks and runs. And, unfortunately, those without smartphones currently cannot take part in the fundraising. Still, IC Charity Miles members like Marissa Fortman think it is important to support the cause.

“The whole data plan thing is [expensive], but if you have it and you’re going to be walking or running around, it’s so easy to just turn it on and do it,” she said. Fortman stood as one of the volunteers directing 5K participants at each quarter mile mark.

Gray said the group plans to expand efforts in the Ithaca College community in the future. Their goal is to hold a 5K at least once a semester, and are already thinking about hosting a “Turkey Trot” for the fall and branching off to form a running club for students to join.

IC Charity Miles meets Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. in Friends 304.

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Harassment: Highlighted this week, happening every week

Today marks the end of the International Anti-Street Harassment Week, but the struggle continues for many who, for one ‘reason’ or another, are targeted and bullied. Whether it be through words, intimidation, or physical violence, this type of unacceptable behavior happens every day.

The week, sponsored by StopStreetHarassment.org, was created to bring these issues more directly into the public eye, as well as share potential solutions to prevent abuse and keep everyone accountable.

One example of abuse they cite on their website: a 2013 study of 93,000 LGBQT individuals in the European Union found that half avoided public spaces sometimes because of street harassment and most reported high levels of fear in locations like restaurants, public transportation, streets, parking lots, and parks.

April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month — sexual assault is a large component that harassment can quickly lead to.

Earlier this week I took part in a tweetchat to bring further awareness and collaborate on ways we can spur a dialogue that will foster a safer environment. Check out my interaction here.

What instances of harassment have you been witness or victim to? Share your insight below, along with any advice you have for how to stand up to harassment.

Important points in today’s ‘State of the Media’

Journalism, and more broadly media in general, have undergone tremendous changes in the last decade, which Pew Research has captured in its release of the State of the News Media 2014 report. Technology has dramatically shifted the landscape of the news industry, namely the platforms on which information is disseminated. The earlier stages of this shift certainly evoked a bleak outlook for journalism: newspapers once thought resolute for so many previous decades suddenly perished in a matter of short years. There was much room for cynicism.

Since then, however, the prognosis has improved drastically. Digital pioneers and newfound platforms have not only begun to fill the void of these out-of-print entities, they are yielding real economic gains and employment opportunities.

Thirty of the largest digital-only news organizations account for about 3,000 jobs and one area of investment is global coverage

Vice Media has 35 overseas bureaus; The Huffington Post hopes to grow to 15 countries from 11 this year; BuzzFeed hired a foreign editor to oversee its expansion into places like Mumbai, Mexico City, Berlin and Tokyo. The two-year-old business-oriented Quartz has reporters in London, Bangkok and Hong Kong, and its editorial staff speaks 19 languages. This comes amid pullbacks in global coverage from mainstream media.

This is good news. For a while it was thought that ‘churnalism’ was the wave of the future. Quality journalism is beneficial to society, but oftentimes, as with international or long-term investigative journalism, perhaps the most expensive. This aspect of the report shows that all hope is not lost for expanding journalistic horizons.

Of course, at least for me, and my interest in pursuing broadcast journalism, the impact on news television piqued my interest.

Local television, which reaches about nine in ten U.S. adults, experienced massive change in 2013, change that stayed under the radar of most

 Nearly 300 full-power local TV stations changed hands in 2013 at a price of more than $8 billion. The number of stations sold was up 205% over 2012 and the value up 367%, with big owners getting even bigger. If all the pending sales go through, Sinclair Broadcasting alone will own or provide service to 167 stations in 77 markets, reaching almost 40% of the U.S. population.

David Smith, the CEO of Sinclair, was even quoted saying he would like to have 80-90 percent of the viewing audience if he could get his hands on their broadcasting. The influence of these fewer and farther between owners, their money, and also the squeeze on resources for local TV stations to produce and share content, is unfortunately an area of concern that I will continue to watch closely.

What do you think? Is U.S. media headed in the right direction? Check out Pew’s State of the News Media 2014 report to see how your news consumption preferences are faring.

Four buildings have been condemned after the massive fire on March 18

Cause of Ovid fire, community response surprise residents

Residents in the town of Ovid finally have an answer to what caused the massive fire on Main Street the night of March 18: an 11-year-old boy with a lighter.

According to Seneca County Sheriff’s investigators, the boy was playing with the lighter behind the New Dragon Chinese Restaurant when he accidentally set trash on fire. Propane tanks nearby quickly turned it into a severe blaze, causing severe damage to the restaurant and three surrounding buildings that have all since been condemned. Fortunately no injuries were reported.

At least ten residents were displaced when seven apartments above the businesses were also gutted. A firewall between the Chinese restaurant and thrift shop in the building next to it was somewhat spared. The shop’s insurance engineer is inspecting the property today to assess whether it can be salvaged.

Sixteen-year-old Cheli Austin lives in the apartment just behind Italian Kitchen, one of the affected businesses. She was returning home from shopping that night when she saw the blaze.

“It was just flames everywhere,” she said. “It started around five at night and went until four in the morning.”

Austin visits both restaurants frequently and said she knows the owners personally.

“They’re [doing] good,” she said. The owners of the Chinese restaurant are staying in Waterloo with assistance from the Red Cross until they can relocate. Austin describes the food they made with one word: “Amazing. I miss it already. I ordered the sesame chicken dish a lot.”

The unnamed 11-year-old boy has been charged as a juvenile with arson in the fourth degree, given he recklessly started a fire, but did not set the fire intentionally. The sheriff’s office stated the case would be referred to family court. If found guilty, the boy could be sent to a juvenile detention facility, placed on probation, and/or given counseling or treatment.

Unprecedented destruction for the small town

Several long-time residents said they have never seen any structural devastation come anywhere close to this month’s fire damage since they have lived in Ovid.

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All the affected buildings are insured; both the Chinese restaurant and thrift shop have signs posted in their windows stating they plan to re-open after recovery.

Paul Walborn, who owns the barbershop just across the street, still worries about the length of time it will take to demolish and rebuild the businesses.

“I hope it doesn’t take a long time,” he said. “It’s an eyesore. A lady just stopped right in the middle of the traffic, and [her car] almost got hit in the rear end…They stop and they look. That’s not good.”

 United recovery in the community

A relief fund was set up at the local Five Star Bank, and multiple events have been planned to help the displaced fire victims. On March 27, the Ovid Federated Church dedicated this month’s community dinner, though it is technically free, to collect donations for the fund.

“We have helped some people with clothing already,” Pastor Diane Walker said. “Once they get into a permanent place of residence, we’ll help them with household goods. We’re working on sorting things as the come in and make them available.”

Right now, she said, cash donations will help the most until those specific needs are identified.

The Eagle Hotel in Lodi is hosting a benefit concert, “Rebuild With Love” on March 30. Adults are being asked to donate $5 (children 13 and under free) for admission to the event, which will include music, food and an auction.

A spaghetti dinner is scheduled for April 6 at Riley’s Place in Willard from 2 to 6 p.m.

50 slaves work for me — how about you?

Courtesy SlaveryFootprint.org

Courtesy SlaveryFootprint.org

The film 12 Years a Slave —  based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African American man kidnapped in Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery in 1841 — received even more critical acclaim after winning three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But slavery is far from being history, and is in fact incredibly prevalent around the world.

Recently I was enlightened to just how much modern-day slavery drives my lifestyle. SlaveryFootprint.org offers a free survey-style quiz to determine, based on different areas of consumption: food, clothing, electronics, etc. — approximately how many slaves ‘work’ for you.

My result was 50. I do not know their names, or faces. And neither does most of the international community. Conservative figures estimate that there are 27 million slaves worldwide (roughly equal to the entire combined population of Australia and New Zealand). The abolition of slavery unfortunately did not mean the end of the slave trade — only its visibility.

It is rather disturbing to visit the website and do this activity, with all its bright colors and aesthetically pleasing graphics — until you realize just what it is you’re unveiling. The quiz ends by asking if you would like to send notes to the various companies that have ties to slave labor, given that so many of the so-called ‘licit’ or legal trades we engage in on a daily basis are linked to this cheap, profitable and ‘illicit’ trade.

Try taking it for yourself. How high is your number, and what areas caused it to spike? Respond in the comments below, and please share any efforts you’ve heard or taken part in to expose and prevent slavery.

Ithaca City Hall helps same-sex couples collect newfound tax refunds

Image

Image courtesy Mint.com

The City of Ithaca vowed Tuesday to help employees in same-sex marriages receive refunds for federal taxes paid on spouses’ medical insurance, the Ithaca Journal reported.

Ari Levine, the City Attorney, announced that Ithaca can request the IRS to refund the taxes and will file amended W-2 forms on behalf of the employees. The assistance is good news for local same-sex couples as many others across the country are finding it difficult to navigate new tax benefits, as well as penalties associated with marriage.

Couples can retroactively claim refunds according to the new law for the previous three tax years. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), specifically ruling in the Windsor v. United States case that the IRS cannot deny marriage tax benefits to people in states that recognize same-sex marriage. New York became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011.

The Huffington Post outlined key benefits the new law affords:

  • Deductions and Credits for Dependents — If you file married filing jointly, you will be able to take tax deductions and credits for your children, other dependents, or your spouse.
  • Dependency Exemption — The dependency deduction may mean an additional tax deduction of $3,900 per dependent and an additional $3,900 exemption for your spouse.
  • Earned Income Tax Credit — When you file as a married couple you may be eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit worth up to $6,044 for 2013.
  • Education Credits and Deductions — Education is expensive, you may be able to claim a tax deduction on your taxes of up to $4,000 for your dependent or spouse’s education.
  • Lower Tax Rates When Filing as a Married Couple
  • Easier Tax Preparation and Savings on Costs
  • Savings for Families

However, it’s not all good news. Some couples may find that it is not worth it to re-file, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported. Those couples with combined six-figure incomes could find themselves placed into higher tax brackets and losing tax credits they previously qualified for. Still, it pays for couples to investigate and see how they are affected.

Lavine also told the Ithaca Journal the city is willing to work with other big employers’ in the area who are considering similar action.

The watch tower at the Auburn Correctional Facility is a far cry from Cornell's clock tower, but the two institutions have built a working relationship through CPEP.

Education during incarceration: local efforts echo Gov. Cuomo’s vision

By the time Raymond Roe was released from prison in 2008, he had been behind bars for more time than he had even been alive before being sentenced. With mounting bills, a new baby at home, and a troubled past, he committed three robberies that he would immediately come to regret. Several months later, he found out he would serve 15-41 years at the Auburn Correctional Facility.

Now, 24 years later, Roe is working as Mobile Unit Assistant for the American Red Cross. He was able to take college courses while still in prison as part of the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), and now serves on its Board of Directors. The program teaches about 100 inmates each year at the Auburn and Cayuga Correctional Facilities.

Last month Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an initiative to fund college programs throughout New York State prisons. Rob Scott, the Executive Director of CPEP, applauded the plan.

“This is a game-changing initiative,” Scott said. “After two decades of depriving incarcerated adults of the opportunity to pursue post-secondary education, New York is prepared to lead by example in putting its prison classrooms back to use.”

Financing the Guilty?

However, the plan’s announcement did not come without criticism.

Lawmakers opposing the initiative point to hard-working and law-abiding citizens who are struggling to make enough money for school. In effect they are asking, why should inmates get a free education while those who have not committed a crime cannot afford it?

Currently it costs an average of $60,000 to house an inmate. Adding college education programs would cost up to an additional $5,000, which taxpayers would fund.

Governor Cuomo has argued the overall cost of housing inmates would go down in the long-term with reduced recidivism rates that the education measure would bring.

“These people need jobs when they come back to their families,” Christine Bonilha, a former volunteer of CPEP, said. She agrees the benefits of programs like CPEP also apply to the greater community.

“There’s also a lot of gang violence within prisons, but with this program inmates need to have perfect discipline to be enrolled as students, which sets them as role models while in prison, and when they return to the community,” Bonilha said.

Changing the Prisoner Perception

Cornell is not the only higher education institution getting involved with the effort. Over on South Hill, several students at Ithaca College set out to film Beyond the Wall, a short piece profiling the success of Ray Roe with CPEP.

“I really hope it can be used as a point of critical thought, and actually get people to think and talk about these issues that are really uncomfortable,” Caroline Podraza, one of the producers, said.

Across the U.S., 2.3 million people are imprisoned – more than 90 percent of them will be released sometime in the future.

“Cornell University…has seen first-hand the wider benefits to our students, their families who benefit from their academic accomplishments, and the neighborhoods that will be better, not worse, for their return,” Scott said.

What do you think? Should a statewide prison education program be implemented? Sound off in the comments section below.