Thursday, December 10, 2009

Visiting Montcalm for media workshop

I am traveling to Montcalm County Community College on Friday for another media workshop, provided the weather does not go haywire between this afternoon and 5:30 a.m.
I don't ever remember visiting Montcalm before, but I believe I must have driven through it on my way to somewhere else over the years. I did a little background checking on the county via the Internet and it looks pretty remote, pretty rural, much like the area where my home is in Huron County.
This should be a very interesting workshop because it sounds like we'll have a fairly large group attending. They're bringing with them some ideas for letters to the editor and forum submissions. Those are always a challenge because it's tough to strike a balance between being informative and interesting.
I will be traveling with friends Jill and Kari, which will make the two-hour drive bearable. They are very bright and lively and highly motivated. I give them credit because they are so committed to their cause, doing everything within their power to help slow down underage drinking.
Just the other night, I received another unsolicited complaint about the severity of underage drinking. While getting ready for my presentation to the Huron County Historical Society, a prominent member of the community told me about how a good family friend recently was trying to deal with an accident that resulted from an underage drinking session.
While staggering around, the young man fell 20 feet and landed on his head, resulting in a serious head injury. The family is devastated, still waiting to find out how bad and how long-term the damage is. Very sad. Tragedy as Christmas and New Year's approach.
The man also went on to complain about how shocked he was at the amount of underage drinking he witnessed just before a recent MSU football game. "Parking lots around campus were filled with kids drinking to excess, and of course no one from the college or the police were doing anything to slow it down. You have to figure that some of those kids are going to get hurt - that's simply what happens when you have too many kids with too much alcohol."
I'm sure this will be part of workshop on Friday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Help Send Santa to Baghdad started six years ago

Today is packing day at the National Guard Armory on Wilder Road in Bay City.
More than a hundred volunteers will converge on the armory, starting at about 8:30 a.m., to pack boxes with donated Christmas gifts to mail to our troops serving in the Middle East. The burst of activity marks the final phase of this year's Help Send Santa to Baghdad campaign.
I plan to attend packing day later this morning. It's a great atmosphere and a great way for all to launch the "giving season." Volunteers are as busy as woodpeckers hammering away on an oak tree most of the morning.
Hopefully, the last week of the campaign has been a big success. The last time I checked with organizers, donations of cash and gift items were down from last year when nearly $10,000 and five tons in gifts were raised.
Help Send Santa to Baghdad is sponsored by The Bay City Times and run by a group of volunteers, mostly veterans. I started Send Santa while working at The Times six years ago. The first year, I sent out packages myself from my office at the newspaper.
In my weekly column, I told readers about the effort and they responded by sending donations to the newspaper. In one column, I wrote that since our troops could not come home for Christmas because they were fighting for freedom in the Middle East, then we should send Santa to Baghdad.
That's how the name was born. It caught on and took off. Friends Johnny Burke and Blondie started pushing the campaign on WHNN-AM and volunteers showed up out of nowhere.
Help Send Santa to Baghdad has grown each year. Through the years, we've sent more than 10 tons in gift packages to troops from Northeast Michigan. It's the least we can do for our soldiers, who are sacrificing so much.
If you can help - either by packing boxes or donating cash or gifts - then show up today and volunteer. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Huron Area Writers Group meets for first time

Last week, the Huron Area Writers Group met for the first time.
I must say I am pleasantly surprised at the number of folks who showed up and the impressive writing credentials they brought with them.
In addition to Dennis Collins, my partner in crime on this venture and a published author, we had a woman who writes for the New York Times online, the Thumb-area's premiere writer and photographer - Bill Diller, a Web designer and media consultant from Bay Port, a marketing whiz from Caro, a poet from Kilmanaugh, and a variety of others who have been writing and developing stories for years.
I think we had 14 people show up at the Pigeon District Library, which rests comfortably on main street in downtown Pigeon. Additionally, almost everyone who attended reported that they knew of at least one other person who wanted to attend but couldn't make it.
That includes me. My co-worker, Adam Damm, got tied up while chasing after flu vaccine in Toledo and could not make the meeting. Adam, like several others who were reportedly unable to attend, is a very talented writer.
I'm looking forward to our next meeting. We're going to exchange reading and writing materials, listen to and then discuss a short reading of fiction from a HAWG member who is in the process of turning it into a story.
All very exciting!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Flooding latest nightmare for homeless in St.Petersburg

On my last full day in Florida, sister Sharon and I found Tent City, the city of St. Petersburg's latest attempt to solve its homeless problem.
Pinellas Hope, a 240-tent campground in a rundown area of Pinellas Park just north of the city, is run by Catholics. It offers one meal a day, rudimentary health checks and counseling and whatever people who have places they call home in the area are willing to donate.
As we drove up to the campground, we splashed through big mud puddles from heavy recent rains.
On our right, we passed an auto salvage yard. Mechanical wreckage of all shapes and sizes was strewn around a huge, fenced lot. The human salvage yard was on our left. People of all colors and ages milled about another fenced-in area. Their future was considerably less predictable than what was going to happen to the junkers across the street.
We went to the entrance of Tent City and talked with a woman who looked like she was in charge. She had been handing out dry clothing and words of encouragement to several people who lined up in front of her spartan office.
"The zipper on this doesn't work, but it buttons," the volunteer said, handing an older woman a pair of royal blue shorts. "It's all I have right now. Can you make it work?"
"Ya, it's better than what I got," the woman said, holding the garment up to eye level for quick inspection. The two smiled at each other. The woman with the shorts turned and hustled off toward the round, igloo-style tents, which stretched out as far as I could see.
I identified myself as a journalist and asked if someone could show us around the camp. I explained that I was on a short visit to Florida to visit my sister and was astounded at the number of homeless people we encountered on the streets in St. Petersburg. My sister and I wanted to find out more about the problem.
A survey by Florida social workers in 2008 indicated that St. Petersburg is the hometown of about 5,000 homeless people, which they believe is up about 10 percent from the previous year. I could not find survey numbers for this year during a check of the Internet.
The volunteer said a tour would be possible during normal times, but today was not a good day. No officials from Pinellas Hope were available to grant a tour and the cloud burst from the day before had turned the camp into a gray and brown, soupy goo.
"Wait a second, let's ask Ted," she said, looking over my shoulder toward a slender, graying man with a shirt and name tag that identified him as another volunteer. As he walked our way, he looked us up and down.
The woman introduced us and told Ted about our request.
"Maybe this afternoon," he said. "If you can come back, we might be able to do it then. But now is not a good time because the whole back end of the camp is flooded. It's really sloppy. All the rain has left us with a big mess. People are trying to dry out and move their stuff."
We thanked them for their time and decided to get out of the way. These folks did not need outsiders nosing around while they were trying to battle a new problem - flooding, mud and lost possessions amid stifling 90-degree heat and humidity. More misery. More grief. More headaches.
As we drove away, we sat in silence, mostly stunned by what we had witnessed. We felt like we'd just driven into a third-world country.
Sister Sharon said she planned to organize the people at work. "We'll volunteer, we'll make collections, we all have things we can donate. There must be ways we can help."
I hope the friends and relatives I was not able to visit during my short trip to Florida will forgive me. After seeing the homeless on the streets of St. Petersburg - some begging for handouts for their families - Tent City was a place I felt like I had to visit and write about.
As I made my way back home to Michigan, I couldn't shake the looks of despair from my mind. The experience gave new meaning to the word vacation. It also suddenly made all of my problems feel so very trivial.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Impressions of Florida - still great, but beaten down some by the economy.

It is hot as the blazes down here.
When I arrived late in the afternoon yesterday, it was steamy -- 92 degrees with a blanket of stifling humidity. But I almost did not mind it because the summer has been so cool and breezy in Michigan this year.
I love my sister Sharon's new condo just south of St. Petersburg. It's in a gated community on Coquina Key, a tiny little island that hangs off the foot of the mainland kind of like a big toe. Her condo is on a canal that runs out to the Gulf of Mexico.
The view in all directions is fantastic. Nice warm, gusty breezes off the water. It's raining here now, but the forecasters say that will pass and we'll have another hot one today. We plan to have a nice easy day around her condo pool, watch Michigan spank the daylights out of Notre Dame and then I may whip up a batch of Dave's Word Famous Spaghetti. We'll see.
Florida still looks the same to me. Lots of people, especially the kind who make me feel like a youngster (for that reason I love them, man).
But there are tons of signs indicating that the devastated national economy has taken a heavy toll on Florida. Things are horrible back in Michigan, where we've lost a million jobs since the downturn started, but times are tough here, too.
Plenty of dark, empty houses with weeds sprouting from the cracks in their paved driveways. For Sale and foreclosure declarations are posted almost everywhere you turn -- even here in my sister's gated community.
One thing I noticed while we were driving yesterday is that there are so many homeless people. You see tired, worn-looking people swarming the parks and empty lots.
At one stoplight, I watched a young woman with a sign that asked for handouts. It said she was trying to keep a roof over her family's head. Heart-wrenching. I didn't the sense that she liked what she was doing or enjoyed panhandling. I saw desperation in her eyes.
Sister Sharon says that the homeless problem has gotten so bad in the St. Pete area that every so often the cops round 'em up like cattle and drive them out of the city to an open area where tents have been set up for shelter.
But that only works for awhile. Before long, the homeless find their way back into town.
Who can blame them? That's where the action is. That's where the lifelines are. That's where the people are. And it may be the only place where they find hope.
Before I leave, I'm hoping we can visit Tent City. That's a side of Florida I've never seen before, and I'm sure it's unlike anything we'd find at Disney World ....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Laura Bush, Newt Gingrich could be GOP Dream Ticket

Right now, the only two Republicans who are displaying any kind of party leadership are Laura Bush, W.'s First Lady, and Newt Gingrich of 1990's Conservative fame.
The duo make a Dream Ticket to oppose Obama in the next presidential election. Does that sound crazy?
Think about it.
Who among the Republicans is more respected? Who among the Republicans has a better record (except, of course, for Newt's decision years ago to ditch his wife after she came down with breast cancer - but nobody is perfect, right?). Who among the Republicans is making more sense these days?
Not many - especially after the Republican from South Carolina boldly and stupidly called the president a liar during his address to Congress last night. The guy obviously slinks around lower than a snake's belly. I'd mention his name, but I feel like I want to shower every time I repeat it.
My Dream Ticket is above that.
It was Laura and Newt, you'll recall, who came out on Monday and said President Obama's back-to-school chat for the nation's kids was a good thing. What else could any right-minded individuals say?
Barack preached good old American values - stay in school, work hard and do yourself and your country proud because the U.S.A. needs you. Normally, that's the kind of stuff that makes Conservatives and Republicans drool and hug their wallets.
Newt went so far as to say that he would recommend that it would be good, important reading for every kid in the country. And Laura went a step further. She said the president of the United States deserves respect, something that came up in short supply during her husband's final years in office.
Civility and respect are things our leaders should all practice - especially in these very trying and critical times. Leadership in Congress is in very short supply.
That's why I like Laura and Newt at the top of the GOP ticket in the next election. I think Newt would make a great vice president.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Great news for Bay City and Michigan. GM is investing $37 million in the Bay City Powertrain Plant to produce parts for the company's new electric vehicles.
That follows news about a new battery-producing plant that Dow Chemical is going to build and run in Midland.
Both developments are great for the Tri-Cities and Michigan. Every little bit of economic development helps. It will mean more jobs and generate some tax revenue for the state.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I hope that the passing of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy marks the beginning of the end to those who stand in the path of national health care reform.
Really. It's time for them to become part of the solution rather than continue to cling to a medical system that is available only to the wealthy, well-connected or powerful. It's a system that has been broken for a long time and does not serve the majority of Americans.
Kennedy called national health care "the cause of my life." He will be remembered for many things that have improved the lives of millions of Americans from all walks of life. Let's add health care reform to the list.
Name the act that creates the reform in his honor. Let KennedyCare become as well known and as universal as another of his creations: Medicare.