Monthly Archives: June 2014

Bookcase for Every Child – An idea whose time has come????

What must be two decades ago now, midst a flurry of efforts to encourage and support early readers, Sherry Lampman observed that, while it’s great to give books to young readers, kids also need a safe place to store their treasures – they need bookcases.  Kids need to know that books are special, that books deserve special care, that a kid can actually own a book that is his or hers alone to treasure, that a book is to be read and read again.  Sherry’s intriguing idea has floated through my mind many times over the years….

Until just yesterday when I learned about the national “Bookcase for Every Child” project!    The project is thus described in the promotional materials:
“This project provides quality, personalized, oak bookcases, and a starter set of books, to pre-school children being reared in low-income families.”  The seed that Sherry had planted in my mind has taken root in Arkansas and environs.

Now copyrighted, the “Bookcase for Every Child” (http://www.bookcaseforeverychild.com) began nearly a decade ago in Conway, Arkansas.  There’s a comprehensive development plan that includes tips on who needs to be in the  “central committee” – the local librarian, a representative of the faith community, media reps, elected officials, a “literacy-minded banker” to serve as treasurer, and, of course, a “master craftsman to head up the bookcase builders.”

The erstwhile folks at Bookcase for Every Child are serious about all this – they also provide detailed information on just what resources the “master craftsman” and the building crew will need.  (http://www.bookcaseforeverychild.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=54&Itemid=72)

And they’ve made progress, particularly in the area around their starting point in Conway.  There’s a fun slide show that shows not only the finished bookcases, but the exuberant responses of builders and young readers alike.  (http://thecabin.net/slideshow/greenbrier/2014-05-27/bookcase-every-child)

I’ve had a fun time exploring the unique website sponsored by the project and the energetic project director, Jim Davidson (http://www.bookcaseforeverychild.com/index.php?option=com_contact&view=category&catid=12&Itemid=58)  Davidson’s energy and enthusiasm for the task rekindle that thought that Sherry had shared all those years ago.  Jim writes and believes and “bookcases save lives, bookcases with books save lives, reading saves lives, literacy saves lives….”   He is still working on the project from his home in Conway – Jim Davidson, 1 Bentley Drive, Conway AR 72034, 501-4507743.

I’m wondering now if Minnesota, land of 10,000 amateur craftsmen and grandpas, might offer a fertile growing environment for this special idea.  It can’t hurt to transplant the seed….

 

Access Press at 25! A quarter century of serving and reflecting Minnesota’s disabilities community

Access Press is celebrating its 25th Anniversary!  Congratulations are in order – and thanks!   So also is this post which I hope is redundant for many regular readers of this monthly treasure trove of information about the disabilities community. 

The mission of Access Press is “to promote the social inclusion and legal rights of people with disabilities by providing a forum for news, features, opinion and conversation to benefit people who are often invisible and marginalized in mainstream society.”   In truth,  Access Press is really the indispensable window on the world to what’s happening in the disabilities community, a community so robust that it can be difficult to understand if one does not feel a member.  With Access Press, we can all keep up, understand and participate.

Happily, after a quarter century, many Minnesotans have honed the habit of picking up the monthly Access Press – or, better yet, making sure there’s a drop site of the indispensable publication in every possible public space!  In fact, there are approximately 300 sites around the state where, on the 10th of each month, bundles of Access Press are dropped off for free and easy access.  In addition to the printed publication, the paper is produced in audiotape format using a special radio channel for people with visual impairments.   Keeping apace with technology, the articles from each edition are also posted on the Access Press website (http://www.accesspress.org)– or, if you just can’t wait for the 10th of the month, keep up with the print edition by following Access Press on Facebook and Twitter!

For those who have some catching up to do, the 25th anniversary is a good time to look back.  In the May 2014 issue Managing Editor Jane McClure offers a history note that tells the story of the newspaper, tracing the origins of the newspaper from the launch of Access Press on the brink of the vote on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  (http://www.accesspress.org/2014/05/history-note-a-look-back-through-the-pages-of-access-press/)  In fact, every month Access Press carries a History Note, reminding readers of the laws, the issues, and the leaders who have made a difference in the struggle of Minnesotans and Americans at large to create an inclusive community.

The June 2014 issue offers a great review of the legislative accomplishments of the most recent legislative session – issues that include a range from safe schools (bullying) to autism to expanded funding and more,  There’s also a synopsis of what’s coming up on Radio Talking Books and other audio options,  notes on accessible events, even advance notice of the Americans with Disabilities 24th Anniversary Celebration, Friday July 25 at DHS.

Though this is but a snippet of Access Press, it ‘s easy to see why the paper is a must read.   Check out the website for the latest edition of the newspaper and much more, including the story behind The Real Story, a documentary film exploring media coverage of the disability issues in Minnesota.  Produced by Access Press and narrated by Kevin Kling, the documentary explores the biases in media coverage of disability issues in Minnesota and nationally and examines the role of grassroots and mainstream media outlets in reporting on stories important to all people with disabilities. 
 (http://www.accesspress.org/the-real-story/press/)

Tim Benjamin has been Editor-in-chief of Access Press since 2001, assuming the position on the death of Charlie Smith, founder, publisher and long-time editor.  (http://www.accesspress.org/2001/05/welcome-new-access-press-editor-tim-benjamin/)    Tim’s monthly column always offers a thoughtful summary of what’s happening and a reminder for readers to get up and do what needs to be done – to keep up with the news and resources, to learn and understand those who “are often invisible and marginalized in mainstream society”, to share the wealth of information found on the pages of Access Press with friends, family, and colleagues, to take action (e.g. in support of Disability Viewpoints on community cable), and to be certain that Access Press is on the distribution list for events and resources of interest to people with disabilities, their families and organizations who serve the disabilities community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independence Day Birthday Greetings and a Public Spotlight on FOIA at 48

On my first day working in the DC office of OpenTheGovernment.org I was introduced to the security system, access code 7466.  Colleagues seem bemused that I did not immediately recognize this as July 4, 1966, date of the initial passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Since then the code has changed and I have learned more than I ever expected to know about FOIA.  Truth to tell, I have come to have enormous respect for this fundamental legislation, the bulwark of our nation’s protection of the people’s right to know.

Though some would say that FOIA is more honored in the breach than in the observance I worry much more about the fact that, for far too many of us, FOIA has come to be synonymous with national security, the province of attorneys and journalists, a mysterious process too pricey, too arcane, too complex for mere mortals.  In truth, FOIA is an indispensable tool that is available and accessible to the rest of us, which is why we need to engage in the ongoing hoopla surrounding FOIA as it approaches middle age….

Like most Americans FOIA, at the tender age of 48, is not about to sit on the shelf. Instead, FOIA is hot, ready to strut its stuff, retool, reinvent, whatever it takes to embrace the political and technological challenges of the day.  FOIA is taking its turn on center stage.  Everyone goes through this as the Big 5-0 approaches – not a bad idea for laws to pause for reflection at the same pace.

The 48th birthday celebration for FOIA blasted off on June 24 when U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014.(  http://www.leahy.senate.gov/download/alb14471 )

The intent of the bill is to significantly restrict the government’s ability to withhold information by citing what is known by insiders as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption.   The act also strengthens the FOIA ombuds Office of Government Services (OGIS), promotes more proactive online access to government information, and pushes back on agency attempts to weaken the 2007 Open Government Act amendments.  An earlier, less stringent, bill has already passed unanimously in the House. (FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act, February 2014)

Response to the Leahy-Cornyn proposal is immediate and generally positive from the open government community.  A quick google search will disclose comments by a host of advocacy groups of every stripe.  What matters now is that elected representatives understand that strengthening FOIA—the backbone of transparency and accountability — matters to “the rest of us,” the folks who care about food safety or the impact of fracking or the new EPA standards or transportation or children’s health or toxins or transportation safety or…..

It’s easy enough to brush up a bit on all things FOIA:

*If you’re the sort who likes to start from the beginning, check out the official FOIA website at http://www.foia.gov/index.html– keep in mind FOIA is a work in progress so if you see ways it can be improved, now’s the time….

*For specifics on FOIA at work, check out the National Security Archive, the unflappable agency that just keeps digging to unearth records long shielded by policy and practice from the public eye. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/the_archive.html

*To learn about examples of the impact of FOIA as the force behind the headlines, take a look at the “FOIA Files” compiled by Sunshine in Government – see http://sunshineingovernment.org/wordpress/?page_id=1533

*The public ombuds within government is the Office of Government Services, a major target of the Leahy-Cornyn bill – Learn about OGIS at https://ogis.archives.gov

*More to the point, engage in the process.  The folks at the National Archives and Records Administration, a major player in all things FOIA, are currently re-thinking their role and processes.  It’s fun to join the discussion of the real people who really do the real work of tending the daily business of open government   http://blogs.archives.gov/foiablog/2014/06/25/foia-advisory-committee-begins-setting-priorities/)

*If you’re the voyeuristic type that just can’t get enough of this stuff, check out The Government Attic, a treasure trove of stuff that’s been gathering dust all these years, now released through the FOIA process – today’s favorite, the FBI files back when they had time to worry about “The Untouchables” (http://www.governmentattic.org/11docs/FBIfilesUntouchablesTV_1948-1962.pdf}

The point is, let your fingers do the walking, and you’ll be a FOIA fan in short order.

As a FOIA fan you’ll need time to prep for the celebration of FOIA’s happy birthday on the 4th.   You’ll want to mention to the visiting President that transparency matters to Minnesotans.  You’ll need to get up to speed and engage in the buzz that  FOIA is getting these days.

Take away – A lot has changed since July 4, 1966.  Access to information by and about our government matters more than ever – we the people are increasingly responsible to be independent seekers and evaluators of resources, to hold our government accountable.  By default information access, open government, accountability will fall into the abyss of “everybody’s business and nobody’s business.”

As citizens it is a privilege to commemorate the birthday of FOIA by paying attention!  Those who shaped the fundamentals of our independence had a lot of confidence that we the people were the best deciders and that our decisions rest on good information by and about the government.   FOIA matters to all of us.

Besides, when approached in the proper spirit, birthday celebrations, even for  monumental laws approaching 50, can end up being pretty entertaining.

 

 

 

 

“A Place at the Table of Life” – How Jan Pilarski Describes Green Bridge Growers

 

Sometimes when I listen to The Splendid Table (which I do regularly) I am overwhelmed by the gustatory sophistication, the plethora of herbs and spices of which callers speak knowingly, the time and energy serious cooks spend on their art. Though mortified by my pedestrian palate, I listen with envy and admiration.

Last week I set aside my inhibitions and turned up the volume as Lynne Rossetto Kasper and her worthy crew held me spellbound with the riveting story of Green Bridge Growers (http://www.greenbridgegrowers.org, a vibrant Indiana farming initiative that mixes fresh produce and aquaponics with social justice and meaningful work for adults with autism.  (http://www.splendidtable.org/story/green-bridge-growers-growing-organic-produce-employing-young-adults-with-autism) The cross pollinization took root in my imagination.  I needed to know more about the founders, Chris Tidmarsh and his mother, Jan Pilarski.

At its core the mission of Green Bridge Growers is to leverage new jobs for those with autism by employing aquaponics to grow vegetables close to consumers, year-round, and at a profit.  Though palate-impaired I recognize a recipe for a win-win enterprise.

The robust Green Bridge Growers website (fed my interest in the produce and the purpose of this dynamic operation.  In terms of growing practices, the venture uses organic growing methods and materials, including aquaponics, to operate year round at the farm near South Bend, Indiana.  “Within this system, fish and plants grow in harmony, producing faster growing rates and much less waste.”

In financial terms, the customer base for GBG includes “high-end restaurants and grocery stores” and farmers’ markers, with talks underway to establish a relationship with Notre Dame University Food Services.

From the perspective of social mission, the role of GBG is described thus by co-owner Jan Pilarski, mother of Chris Tidmarsh:  “to create jobs that harness the amazing skills of young adults with autism.  We grow local, organic vegetables for our community, and those who buy from us help to create jobs and change lives.”

As is often the case, it was personal experience that sparked the idea that has become a prosperous and socially conscious business.  Jan Pilarski tells the story of  her son Chris, a high functioning autistic college graduate who couldn’t deal with the social challenges of a traditional job.  When he returned home, jobless, his mother recalls that “it was food that slowly brought us back to life.”  Chris had a passion for fresh, healthy, local food.  The family looked around to learn, among other things,  how other sustainable ventures had taught practical farming skills to inner city youth, to veterans, and to others marginalized in the work economy, to people who excel at the essential routines successful farming demands.

GBG is story of creative and socially responsible thinking.    Today sustainable locavore is hot, farm-to-market is the rage, sustainable agriculture ventures are establishing deep roots and reaping results throughout Minnesota and the Twin Cities.  What this story adds is the social goal of engaging a fresh and eager crop of growers in the process of sharing the labor and reaping the rewards.  It takes work, patience, holistic thinking and a social commitment.   The harvest is rich is countless ways.

As for GBG, they’re growing as fast as their crops.  There was a great article about the project in The Atlantic a few months ago.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/an-organic-greenhouse-run-by-farmers-with-autism/282145/gbg).  Chris and Jan star in an informative video they produced as part of a successful crowd-sourced campaign that will allow them to expand their equipment, their market and their employee base.

Needless to say, GBG excels at tweeting the latest news, freshest produce and wisest quotes – The quote from Friday, May 30, is from Mark Twain who wrote:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.  The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting the first one.”  No surprise that Chris Tidmarsh and Jan Pilarski have declared this the mantra of Green Bridge Growers.

Contact information for GBG:  Innovation Park Notre Dame, 1400 East Angela Blvd, South Bend, IN 46617 574 310 8190, greenbridgegrowers@gmail.com