Just Say ‘Om’: Local Group Brings Mindfulness, Meditation to Classroom

Contra Costa Times

20151101__CCT-MINDFUL-1102-03-1It’s just after lunchtime, and the temperature inside the classroom is warm. But more than 20 third-graders sit perfectly still with their arms stretched out over their desks and their eyes closed.

They’re practicing “starfish breathing,” as mindfulness instructor Alison Espinosa leads them through a series of meditation exercises, asking them to trace a feeling of warmth and love through their body and then share it with the world. Then the group breaks out in a song.

“I feel my heart as my love grows, sending heartfulness as my love flows,” the children sing. “From me … for me, and everybody I see!

Many adults would be hard-pressed to explain what exactly mindfulness means or know how to call on it during times of stress. But for thousands of students at the West Contra Costa Unified School District, it’s a weekly practice thanks to the Mindful Life Project, a local organization that brings meditation, yoga and mindfulness training to the classroom. Read the story.

As County Contemplates Future of Housing Complex, Residents Tied to Neighborhood

Contra Costa Times

LOS DELTAS RICHMONDThe wait for a spot in public housing in Contra Costa County can take years, with far more families in need than apartments available.

But there is one place where space is always available — the Las Deltas complex in North Richmond.

The development, built in the 1950s, consists of low-slung duplex homes and has a Head Start and a youth community center on site. But it is also located in one of the poorest parts of Contra Costa County, a place where there are few jobs and where everyone seems to know someone gunned down before their time. “Around here, if you show any kind of fear, people mess with you,” said Almetra Green, a Las Deltas resident. “So you learn how to stand your ground.” Read the story.

Using Social Impact Bonds to Clean Up Blight

San Jose Mercury News


Abandoned properties continue to plague Richmond, requiring this East Bay city of 107,000 to spend an estimated $1.7 million a year just to keep them shuttered, squatters out and the grass mowed.

But next week, the city will take a big step toward addressing the problem when it sells its first round of social impact bonds in exchange for $3 million. The money will be used to acquire and repair abandoned homes, which today number around 800.

In doing so, Richmond will join a growing number of cities using social impact bonds to fix housing, improve student grades and fight recidivism with money not always available in the general fund. Read the story.

Richmond Playwrights Rewrite Story of Romeo and Juliet

Contra Costa Times

CCT-ROMEO-0417-02When 25-year-old Donté Clark first read “Romeo and Juliet” in high school, he had a hard time connecting with a play set in 16th-century Europe. The tale of two star-crossed lovers written in iambic pentameter was a far cry from the reality he had grown up with in North Richmond.

But at 21, Clark took another look at the play as a participant in Richmond Artists With Talent, an after-school music and performing arts program. Suddenly, the story of the Capulets and the Montagues had new meaning, especially in the background of an ongoing real-life turf war between North Richmond and neighboring Central Richmond that has cut down dozens of young lives over the past decade.

So Clark decided to write his own play based on the Shakespearean tragedy, rewriting it to fit themes more appropriate to his and his friends’ experiences. Read the story.

Tea Party Launches National Bus Tour from Bay Area

Tea Party Activists Reuters

With the Republican campaign for the White House taking shape, hundreds of Tea Party activists kicked off a national bus tour on Saturday, aiming to rally their base and new recruits to the conservative political cause.

As supporters waved American flags and carried signs that read, “I’ll keep my money, guns and freedom, you keep the change,” organizers said the “Reclaiming America” bus tour was about restoring good governance. Read the story

NY Mosque Near Sept 11 Site Wins Approval


A New York city agency on Tuesday cleared the way for construction of a Muslim cultural center near the site of the September 11 attacks.

In a case that triggered national debate, the City Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to deny landmark status for an old building on the site of the planned center.

Opponents of the Muslim center, which would include a mosque, say it will be a betrayal of the memory of victims of the September 11 attacks, which were carried out by the militant Muslim group al Qaeda with hijacked passenger planes.

Read the story

Crafty Moms Turn to Online Sales For Income

etsyMay 2010

Lara Lewis used to be a stressed-out single mother whose teaching job left her little time for her young daughter. Now she works from home, selling about $60,000 worth of jewelry each year online.

The 37-year-old from State College, Pennsylvania, is one of an estimated 5.1 million stay-at-home U.S. mothers, many of whom juggle child-rearing and generating an income, and a growing number of whom are starting their own businesses.

The web is redefining “women’s work” and giving stay-at-home mothers the flexibility that eluded them in the corporate world. The Small Business Administration says the number of self-employed women around the country jumped by 10 percent from 2000 to 2006, to 5.3 million.

For Lewis, an online marketplace called Etsy provided a place to sell her estate-style and faux vintage pieces. The website, www.etsy.com, lets craft makers set up their own virtual shops and has more than 4.2 million users.

Read the story

Documentary Sheds Light on Cache of Secret Russian Art

desert-of-forbidden-art-croppedJuly 2010
Washington Post

“The work of art is a scream of freedom,” said Christo, the Bulgarian-born American artist whose experience of growing up in a Communist country left a deep mark on his creations.

In Russian art, there have been many “screams of freedom,” especially during the repressive Stalin and Brezhnev years, when artists who didn’t paint in the accepted Social Realism style were shunned, sent to mental institutions and exiled to labor camps.

This shameful legacy is chronicled in a new documentary “The Desert of Forbidden Art,” currently making its way to film festivals around the world. In the film, directors Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev tell the story of one man who dedicated his life to hunting down works by forgotten Russian Avant-garde artists, amassing one of the largest collections in the world in the process.

New York’s Silicon Alley Humming


May 2010

The recent recession may have cut venture capital available to young companies, but it hasn’t prevented a blooming of high-tech startups in New York.

Many of the companies getting attention from venture capitalists and on tech blogs are social media sites, which rely on networks of friends to do everything from picking out gifts to sharing photos.

“New York is a hotbed of innovative startups and always has been,” said Nate Westheimer, co-founder of AnyClip, a company that aggregates clips of movies.

 Read the full story.

Some American Jews Sitting Out the Recession in Israel

israelApril 2010

Fed up with the tough job market, some young American Jews are choosing to wait out the recession in Israel, where the government heavily subsidizes their stay while they intern, learn Hebrew or volunteer.

According to Masa, a group that organizes programs to Israel and is partially funded by the Israeli government, participation is up 50 percent since the fall of 2008. Today, Masa has more than 1,500 Americans working in Israel.

Masa’s Aaron Goldberg said interest has been rising since the financial crisis, which gave them the idea for their “Israel: A Better Stimulus Plan” marketing campaign.

“Before the economic crisis, there wasn’t that impetus to look beyond the traditional career path,” said Goldberg, Masa’s director of recruitment. “Now there are less jobs and less internships, so this becomes a great way to add something to your portfolio.”

Read the full story

Getting the Record Straight

Electronic Health Records Fast and Efficient…So Why Are So Few Doctors Using Them?

May 2009
New York Daily News

The Obama administration has promised $20 billion to expand the use of electronic health records in doctors' offices.

The Obama administration has promised $20 billion to expand the use of electronic health records in doctors’ offices.

The patients had the same name, lived in the same city and were born only one day apart.

But the girl in front of Dr. Shamiza Ally was not the one in the photo on her medical record.

It turns out the front office staff had inadvertently checked in the wrong patient, and Ally had filled in the wrong person’s chart. Ally did not catch the error until it was time to schedule a followup visit.

“It could have ended much worse if medication were involved,” said Ally, a pediatrician at Urban Health Plan, a Bronx clinic serving 31,000 patients, many of them from low-income backgrounds.

The photo in the health chart might not seem like a big deal, but it’s part of the Urban Health Plan’s ongoing system of electronic health records, first implemented six years ago.

Read the full story.

Home Sweet Home

Illegally converted homes are a problem as old as time. But with the economy in the dumps, is it about to get worse?

April 2009
New York Daily News

morning-on-upper-east-sideWhen Jesus Castellanos, a construction worker, became jobless in the fall of 2007, he knew he had to cut expenses – big time. So the 30-year-old moved in with two other men into a small room in a Jackson Heights home for $175 a month.

There was no heat or electricity, and at least 13 other people shared the five-bedroom home, all of them Latino immigrants. But for Castellanos, originally from Mexico, it was the only thing between him and a homeless shelter.

“A lot of people might blame the landlord for being a bad guy, for breaking the law, but he helped us out,” Castellanos said.

Complaints of illegally converted dwellings have jumped 62 percent over the past three years, according to the Buildings Department. That’s despite new laws that raised penalties to as much as $25,000 and a year in jail. Read the full story.

Store Within a Store? Anything Goes in New Economy

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