Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay

 

 

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Welcome to the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay - Celebrating Over 30 Years Serving Homer and Abroad

Homer-Kachemak Bay

Four Way Test: True, Fair, Goodwill & Beneficial to All

We meet Thursdays at 12:00 PM
Best Western Bidarka Inn
575 Sterling Hwy
PO Box 377
Homer, AK  99603
United States
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Rotarians in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, USA, tout their town as baseball's true birthplace

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If you’re a baseball fan, you probably think of Cooperstown, N.Y., as the game’s birthplace. That’s why the Hall of Fame is there, right?

But the Cooperstown story is a myth. The Hall of Fame itself refers to the “mythical first game” there. That first ballgame, supposedly played in 1839, is the sort of alternative fact the New York American sportswriter Damon Runyon called “the old phonus balonus.

So where did baseball really start?

Illustration by Dave Cutler

 

“Right here,” says Phil Massery, pointing at the turf beneath his feet. We’re at Rotary Park in Pittsfield, a cozy town in western Massachusetts, USA. He and 30 other Rotarians are enjoying a summer barbecue in lieu of their usual meeting at a hotel. The park, with its playground built by Massery and other members of the Pittsfield club, adjoins a Little League diamond. 

Wherever you go in Pittsfield, baseball is nearby.

“I’ve got nothing against Cooperstown,” Massery says, “but people should know the Hall of Fame is there by mistake.” He laughs. “I doubt they’ll move it here, though.”

Sitting in the shade with library director Alex Reczkowski, insurance agent John Murphy, and other local leaders, Massery, a real estate broker, tells the true story of baseball’s history. “It starts with Cooperstown, all right, but not the way people think.” Back in 1904, sporting goods tycoon Albert Spalding named a panel of experts to determine how the national pastime had begun. But Spalding didn’t want to hear that the sport had evolved from English games such as cricket and rounders. He said – and this is a direct quote – “Our good old American game of baseball must have an American Dad.” So it got one. The panel declared that Civil War Gen. Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown in 1839. Never mind that Doubleday was a plebe at West Point at the time. Never mind that Doubleday never claimed to have anything to do with inventing baseball. (One historian wrote that the man “didn’t know a baseball from a kumquat.”) Fans and sportswriters bought the story, and the Hall of Fame opened in Cooperstown in 1939 to mark the 100th anniversary of the First Game that never was. 

“Now flash-forward 65 years,” Massery says. In 2004 John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, discovered a document written in Pittsfield in 1791. “George Washington was president. There were still only 13 states. But there was already baseball here in Pittsfield. How do we know? Because kids were knocking windows out of the town church!” 

City fathers didn’t want rocks, horsehide-covered balls, or anything else pocking the First Congregational meetinghouse. They had paid Charles Bulfinch, the architect who was about to design the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to build it. So they passed a local law. “For the Preservation of the Windows in the New Meeting House,” it read, “no Person, an Inhabitant of said Town, shall be permitted to play at any Game called Wicket, Cricket, Baseball … or any other Game or Games with Balls within the Distance of Eighty Yards.” This was the first known mention of the national game in American history. As Thorn announced at a press conference, “It’s clear that not only was baseball played here in 1791, but it was rampant.”

A Hall of Fame spokesman called the discovery “incredibly monumental.”

“Pittsfield,” crowed then-Mayor James Ruberto, “is baseball’s Garden of Eden.”

George Washington was president. There were still only 13 states. But there was already baseball here in Pittsfield. How do we know? Because kids were knocking windows out of the town church!

Today the Rotary club holds its regular meetings at a hotel a block from Park Square. It’s a long fly ball from there to the spot where schoolkids played 226 years ago. In those days, Park Square was a grassy block at the crossing of the town’s main roads. It would have taken quite a clout to launch a ball from there to the meetinghouse. You would think such a shot might earn a kid a hip-hip-hooray. But the descendants of the Puritans frowned on such displays, so we can imagine the young Pittsfielders pioneering something like today’s walk-off home run. Somebody smacks a long one, they all wait for the sound of breaking glass and run off as fast as they can. 

What was the game like in those days? “The basepaths would have been shorter than they are today,” says historian Thorn. “The ball would be smaller than the one we’re used to, and softer. Fielders would throw base runners out by ‘soaking’ them – hitting them with the ball.” 

More than two centuries later, Park Square is a leafy ellipse in the middle of a busy traffic circle. It’s a couple hundred feet from there to the towering First Church of Christ on the site of the old meetinghouse and the small plaque beside the church. ON THIS SITE IN 1791, it reads, A NEW MEETING HOUSE OF THE FIRST CONGREGATIONAL PARISH IN PITTSFIELD WAS BEING COMPLETED WHEN SEVERAL OF ITS WINDOWS WERE BROKEN AS A RESULT OF BALL GAMES. But few visitors notice the plaque. Even among people born and raised here, as Massery was, few know that Park Square is a special place. 

“That’s our own fault,” he says. “We haven’t done enough to get the word out.”

At the barbecue, talk turns to baseball. Club President Jeff Hassett recalls his dad’s days running the local Babe Ruth League. Another Rotarian remembers his Little League years, when his coach said that “we had a tradition to uphold – years and years of Pittsfield baseball. Thousands of years, I thought. Maybe millions. I was 12!” Reczkowski mentions that the library he runs is where the 1791 document was found. “We’ve got it in a vault,” says the library director, who knows his local lore. “Our minor league diamond, Wahconah Park, is one of only two in America that face west. Did you know that? It means that the batter looks right into the late-afternoon sun. We’ve got a park that has rain delays and sun delays. And our team, of course, is called the Suns.” 

Of course they all know why other ballparks face east. It’s so the batter has the afternoon sun behind him. That means the pitcher faces west, which is why left-handers are called southpaws. 

Eric Schaffer used to watch his beloved Chicago Cubs on jumbo screens in Las Vegas casinos. Schaffer, who moved east with his Pittsfield-born wife 20 years ago, likes the “baseball feel” of New England and the regular-folks vibe of the local Rotary club. “It’s nice and casual here,” he says. “Plus the fines aren’t so bad. My cell goes off at a meeting in Pittsfield, OK, I’ll pay a dollar. The Vegas Rotary met at Harrah’s – there were some high rollers in that club. My phone went off in Vegas and it was, ‘Schaffer, that’s a $100 fine.’”

He and Massery and the others agree that Pittsfield could use an extra dose of pilgrims’ pride. “We should be one of the capitals of baseball,” Massery says. “I’m not saying the capital, but we really should be better known.”

The Hall of Fame at Cooperstown now recognizes Pittsfield, displaying a copy of the 1791 document near the front door. Serious fans know about the game’s roots in Pittsfield. “So why aren’t we capitalizing on it?” Massery asks. He did his part by paying for hundreds of baseball caps emblazoned “1791.” Local Rotarians wear them. But now he’s thinking bigger. He has his eyes on an abandoned building downtown. “We could turn it into a tourist attraction, our own little hall of fame.”

And what if someone finds evidence of a still-earlier baseball game? Wouldn’t that spoil everything?

“I feel good about our claim to fame. We got a lot of attention when the document turned up. Since then, every town in New England has had 13 years to rummage through its records. If they were going to beat us, they’d have done it by now.”

• Kevin Cook is a member of the Rotary club of Northampton, Massachusetts, USA, and a frequent contributor to The Rotarian. His latest book, "Electric October," is about the epic 1947 World Series.

Profile: Summit meeting brings surprise proposal

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Jennifer Boyd, Scarborough Rotary Passport Club, Ontario, Canada

For three Toronto-area Rotarians, a successful six-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzaniain June 2016 was momentous for several reasons.

Jennifer Boyd

 

After a year of planning and publicizing, Jennifer Boyd, Ryan Fogarty, and Raffy Chouljian raised CA$500,000 for End Polio Now. The climb went without a hitch, and at the summit, Fogarty surprised Boyd when he got on one knee and proposed.

The seed for the journey was planted in 2011. “At the District 7070 Conference, one of the keynote speakers was a polio survivor, Ramesh Ferris, who crawled in,” explains Boyd, who is her club’s president. “It was the first time I’d seen what polio was firsthand. It made me want to make a difference.”

After Boyd participated in a National Immunization Day in India in 2015, a friend suggested she climb Kilimanjaro to raise funds for End Polio Now; within days she persuaded Fogarty and Chouljian to come along.

They exceeded their initial fundraising goal of CA$100,000 in donations. The Canadian government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation matched it 2-to-1, bringing it to CA$500,000.

Boyd’s next big project was her September wedding, where every guest was to receive a wooden rose with a note that a $10 donation had been made in their name – to End Polio Now, of course.

• Read more stories from The Rotarian

Manitoba honors Rotary Peace Fellow for public achievement

Refugees who come to Winnipeg often end up living in areas that are predominantly inhabited by indigenous people. 

“Newcomers do not know much about the indigenous life and heritage and, without that knowledge, the first thing they encounter is people who are poor and stereotyped by the mainstream community,” says Abdikheir “Abdi” Ahmed, a 2011-12 Rotary Peace Fellow and immigration partnership coordinator for the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. “Indigenous people may see immigrants as encroaching into their neighborhoods. There is tension between both groups.” 

Abdikheir “Abdi” Ahmed, a 2011-12 Rotary Peace Fellow and immigration partnership coordinator for the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.

 

Ahmed works to smooth relations, helping them see they have more in common than what divides them. “Integration is a two-way process,” he says. 

In recognition of his work, Ahmed received the Order of the Buffalo Hunt, one of the highest honours for public achievement issued by the Manitoba legislature, in January 2016. 

“I never thought what I was doing had this significance,” he says. “But I don’t look at what I have done. I look at what needs to be done to bring about better living standards for people.” 

Ahmed, 37, may understand the needs of immigrants better than most. 

Originally from Somalia, he and his family fled the conflict there and settled in Kenya when he was a child. 

My hope is that in the next 20 to 50 years, if we have more Rotary Peace Fellows around the world who are speaking the same language and taking on a leadership role to create an interconnected world, things will change.

As a young adult, he moved to Canada as part of the national resettlement program. He began working with refugee children who were struggling in school while attending the University of Winnipeg, where he earned a degree in international development in 2007.

After graduation, Ahmed began working at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba. 

He learned about the Rotary Peace Centers program from Noëlle DePape, a colleague who had earned her master’s degree at the University of Queensland, Australia, through the fellowship.

 After Ahmed completed his own peace fellowship at Queensland, he and DePape worked together to develop a curriculum for a summer course that they teach to high school students at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, part of a Rotary District 5550 (Manitoba and parts of Ontario and Saskatchewan) program called Adventures in Human Rights.

“We help them view the world from the perspective that everyone’s rights are equal and understand the idea of building a community where everyone’s rights are respected and each person is given a fair opportunity,” he says. 

In addition to his work in Winnipeg, Ahmed serves on the board of Humankind International, an early childhood learning center that he co-founded at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya with two Somali friends who also immigrated to Winnipeg. He says it serves 150 children with four teachers, and he hopes to expand it to accommodate the many children who have to be turned away. 

Despite the suffering he has witnessed and the daily conflicts he works to resolve, Ahmed is optimistic about the prospects for peace and the potential of the peace centers program. 

“My hope is that in the next 20 to 50 years, if we have more Rotary Peace Fellows around the world who are speaking the same language and taking on a leadership role to create an interconnected world, things will change,” he says. “I also hope we can find an opportunity for Rotarians and past peace fellows to collaborate on projects in a more defined way.” 

Ahmed and his wife, Saadi, have three sons. He says their oldest, Mohamed, 9, dreams of playing in the NBA and says that with the money he earns, he will build houses for the homeless people he sees on his way to school. 

Ibrahim, 7, wants to be a firefighter so he can save people. One-year-old Yussuf has not announced any career plans yet. 

Pakistan and Nigeria replace paper-based reporting with fast, accurate cellphone messaging

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Mobile phones and simple text messaging may be the keys to victory in the world’s largest public health initiative: the eradication of polio. 

As the disease retreats from the global stage, thriving in only a few remote areas in three countries, it’s up to health workers to deliver vaccines and share information with speed and accuracy. 

Health workers in Pakistan are receiving cellphone and e-monitoring training at the Rotary Resource Center in Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

 

Rotary and its partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative are strengthening the lines of communication by giving cellphones to health workers in Pakistan and Nigeria, where a single text message could save a life. 

In Pakistan, Rotary has been working to replace traditional paper-based reporting of maternal and child health information, including polio immunization data, with mobile phone and e-monitoring technology. 

Community health workers across the nation have received more than 800 phones through a partnership with Rotary, the Pakistani government; Telenor, the country’s second-largest telecommunications provider; and Eycon, a data monitoring and evaluation specialist. Organizers plan to distribute a total of 5,000 cellphones by the end of 2018. 

Health workers can use the phones to send data via text message to a central server. If they see a potential polio case, they can immediately alert officials at Pakistan’s National Emergency Operations Center. They also can note any children who didn’t receive the vaccine or parental refusals – and record successful immunizations. In Pakistan, the polio eradication effort aims to reach the nation’s 35 million children under age five.

The result is a collection of real-time information that officials can easily monitor and assess, says Michel Thieren, regional emergency director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergency Program. 

Pakistan health workers are replacing traditional paper-reporting with accurate and timely cellphone-based reporting. 

 

“Cellphone technology signals tremendous progress in the polio eradication program,” says Thieren, who has directed polio-related initiatives for WHO in Pakistan. “The data we collect needs to have such a granular level of detail. With real-time information that can be recorded and transcribed immediately, you can increase accuracy and validity.

“This gives governments and polio eradication leaders an advantage in the decisions we need to make operationally and tactically to eliminate polio,” Thieren says.

Beyond polio

Health workers also are using mobile phones to monitor a multitude of maternal and child health factors. 

Pakistan’s child mortality rate ranks among the highest in the world, according to UNICEF, with 81 deaths under age five per 1,000 live births. 

But mobile technology can help reduce those deaths, says Asher Ali, project manager for Rotary’s Pakistan PolioPlus Committee. 

“Our health workers, including community midwives, are tracking pregnant mothers,” Ali says. “When a child is born, they can input and maintain complete health records, not just for polio, but for other vaccines and basic health care and hygiene needs.”

They also can monitor infectious diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, and influenza-like illnesses, as well as child malnutrition and maternal health concerns. 

“If there is a problem with the baby or the mother, we can send information to the government health departments immediately, so they can solve the issue quickly and adjust their strategies,” Ali says. 

Cellphones also facilitate follow-up visits with families, because health workers can send appointment reminders over text message. 

Proliferation of phones

Mobile phone use worldwide has spiked recently, with about 7 billion subscribers globally, 89 percent of them in developing countries, says WHO. Even people living on less than $1 a day often have access to phones and text messaging, according to WHO. Cellphones are used more than any other technology in the developing world. 

Rotary and other nonprofit organizations are leveraging this fact to boost a variety of health initiatives. 

The Grameen Foundation conducts a “mobile midwife” program that sends daily texts and weekly voice mails to expectant mothers, offering advice during pregnancy and the first year of the child’s life. UNICEF provides similar support to mothers, with a focus on nutrition throughout pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life. 

Mobile phones also are helping in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. The British nonprofit Absolute Return for Kids uses text messages to remind patients about medications and upcoming appointments. 

The Ugandan health ministry’s mTrac program, a mobile text messaging data collection network run in conjunction with UNICEF and other organizations, has a broader focus. Nearly 30,000 workers at 3,700 health centers submit weekly reports through their phones and receive surveys, alerts, and other communications. Questions go out to health workers about medical supply levels, conditions in clinics, and other critical issues.

Members of the Rotaract Club of The Caduceus, India, collaborated with the Jana Swasthya Project in 2015 to screen more than 8,000 people for oral health conditions, hypertension, and diabetes during Kumbh Mela, one of the world’s largest Hindu festivals. The project established a digital disease-surveillance system to study epidemiological trends, replacing a paper-based data-tracking process and allowing officials to access live data with a few clicks. 

In 2016, after Nigeria saw its first polio cases in almost two years, Rotary and WHO officials rushed to replace traditional reporting with a cell-based system in the northern state of Borno, where the new cases were identified. The mobile phone initiative has since expanded to more than 11 states. 

“Traditional paper reporting was misleading our program. The information we were getting was not entirely accurate. This gave us the sense that we were doing better than we actually were,” says Boniface Igomu, program coordinator of Rotary’s Nigeria PolioPlus Committee. “With cellphones, we’re identifying problem areas quickly and acting accordingly.”

The country has yet to see a polio case this year. 

Nigeria is also using cell-based mapping technology to identify areas that polio immunization teams have missed. Health workers test stool samples from children arriving from remote areas and log reports of acute flaccid paralysis. This effort started in Borno but has expanded to three additional states, Igomu says. 

After more than 1,000 people died earlier this year in Nigeria from meningitis, the country used the same digital tools in emergency vaccination campaigns, he adds.

“Mobile technologies are the type of innovations that can fill in the gaps of our program and finally help us end polio for good,” Igomu says. “Their uses have never been more important than now.”

Eviction isn't just a momentary lapse in housing; it's often the start of a downward spiral

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It was kids playing a game, a snowball thrown at the wrong car on a cold January day, that led to Arleen’s eviction. But that moment created an avalanche of instability in her life and that of her two young sons: a few months at a homeless shelter euphemistically nicknamed “the Lodge”; renting a house without running water, which they had to leave when the city deemed it unfit for human habitation; another in an apartment complex known as a den for drug dealers, which she left after a few months out of concern for her sons’ safety. 

Matthew Desmond, Princeton sociologist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Evicted"

Illustration: Viktor Miller Gausa

It was yet another move for a kid who attended five schools between seventh and eighth grades, who once missed 17 straight days of school while the family stayed at a domestic violence shelter. The rent on Arleen’s next apartment consumed 88 percent of her welfare check, leaving her with less than $100 to last the month. Then there were the costs of a funeral.

Eviction seems so straightforward: You don’t pay the rent, you get evicted. But sociologist Matthew Desmond found out that it’s not so simple while researching his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Evicted."

Renters can get evicted for calling the police to report domestic violence, or for the things their children do – have an asthma attack, hit a car with a snowball – that draw the attention of local officials or provoke an angry motorist to kick down the front door. The blemish of an eviction on their records sends people into ever worse neighborhoods, the landlords relying on renters’ desperation to justify increasingly squalid conditions. Poor families and criminals end up in the same places because both are deemed undesirable, but for vastly different reasons.

“Eviction is not just a condition of poverty; it’s a cause of it,” Desmond told The Rotarian. “We are paying for its fallout. We’re paying for higher rates of depression and we are paying for higher crime in neighborhoods with more evictions. We’re paying for kids’ health issues and the educational fallout. Investing in safe, affordable housing is not only something that has a moral benefit; it has economic benefits too.”

Desmond spent more than a year living in poor neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, to research the book and subsequently conducted additional surveys drawing on his fieldwork with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (he later received the foundation’s “genius grant” in 2015). The resulting book paints such detailed portraits of families going through eviction that it reads like a novel. It was named one of the 10 best books of 2016 by the Washington Post and one of the best books of 2016 by New York Times book reviewers, among its many accolades.

Desmond, now a professor at Princeton University, is familiar with Rotary and its mission: His father, Nicholas Desmond, was a member of the Rotary Club of Winslow, Arizona, USA, before moving to Massachusetts. The Winslow Rotary Club gave the younger Desmond a scholarship to support his undergraduate work at Arizona State University.

I wanted to write a different kind of poverty book, one that wasn’t just about poor folks or poor places, but these relationships.

Desmond spoke with senior staff writer Diana Schoberg, who lives in Milwaukee and was a renter herself in the city while he was doing his research. They talked about the high cost of living in run-down housing, the financial burden of the eviction cycle on society, and what we can do about it.

TR: Your book reads like a novel. How did you gain access to and the trust of the people you profiled?

Desmond: Living in the neighborhood helped a lot. In the trailer park, Larraine and Scott, Ned and Pam – those were my neighbors. I would spend days hanging out with Lennie in the office, which was right in the middle of the trailer park, and just became a presence. Some folks were very open from the beginning. Some folks were much more reserved and cautious. I took time with them and shared my previous publications so they knew what my work was about. Folks thought I was a cop, or a Child Protective Services worker undercover, or a drug addict. There were a lot of suspicions, all of which were completely understandable and much more normal in these neighborhoods than a social scientist.

TR: Did you get involved in the families’ lives or did you have rules for yourself about the boundaries you were going to keep?

Desmond: I didn’t have many rules about that. I was trying to understand their lives as deeply as I could and with as much complexity as I could. That meant that some nights I slept on their couches and their floors, and I watched their kids, and they bought me dinner and I bought them dinner. I wanted to try to bear witness to this problem, and that meant trying to involve myself as little as possible in certain scenarios, but as I talked about the book, there were some times when I helped out and there were a lot of times when they helped me out, like you do with friends.

TR: Did you go into the book wanting to write about evictions, or had you wanted to write about poverty and then evictions became the issue that stood out?

Desmond: I wanted to write a different kind of poverty book, one that wasn’t just about poor folks or poor places, but these relationships. Eviction was the narrative device. I had no idea how common evictions were. I had no idea that one in eight Milwaukee renters were evicted every two years, that eviction has such a big impact on people’s lives. Eviction became much more than just a way to write a certain book – it became the thing to really understand in a deeper way.

TR: The difference in rent between some of the squalid apartments you write about and well-kept places in safe neighborhoods was only $100 or $200 a month. Why is that?

Desmond: Researchers from [University of California] Berkeley have geocoded rentals on Craigslist, and you see this compression of rents in a lot of soft-market cities all around the country. This isn’t a uniquely Milwaukee thing – this is something you can see in a city like Cleveland or Baltimore or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Why is that? What’s going on?

The median asking rent in Milwaukee in 2010 for a two-bedroom apartment was $600. In the middle of the [poorer] north side, rents are about $550. So you have a slight reduction in housing costs, but the neighborhood and housing quality are vastly different.

Most landlords in Milwaukee set rents by looking at Craigslist or the newspaper to see what apartments are going for. If you geocode the addresses of properties advertising in Craigslist and the newspaper, they’re not on the north side of Milwaukee. They’re usually [in wealthier neighborhoods]. So the rents are skewed upward. That might be something that’s happening.

What’s interesting is that historically it doesn’t seem that weird. Even Jacob Riis talked about it when he wrote How the Other Half Lives [in 1890]. The rents in the tenements were actually a bit more expensive than rents uptown. That suggests that it has policy implications. It suggests that maybe the nonprofit sector can get more involved in very poor neighborhoods than they are. And it suggests that the housing crisis isn’t just driven by these kinds of bloodless forces, like supply and demand, but is also driven in part at least by a profit motive.

TR: How do you balance the right to profit that a landlord has, versus a need for someone to have safe and affordable housing?

Desmond: This is a moral discussion that the nation needs to begin to have. When I think about how to address this problem at scale, I always come back to public-private partnerships. I think that’s the way out of this crisis that can help the most people. Profits are involved in that, people making a living are involved in that, but the state is also involved in that, and much more housing assistance to families in need is involved with that. That’s why the book calls for a mass expansion of housing vouchers, which are these public-private partnerships. In America, we have chosen to house the vast majority of our families of modest means in the private rental market, which means landlords and property owners in that market have to be at the table.

TR: You portrayed the landlords so richly in the book. Tobin lends money to someone to attend a funeral, and Sherrena bought food for Arleen when she moved in. But as Sherrena said, “Love don’t pay the bills.” What makes the landlords you met tick?

Desmond: My job was to try to write about everyone with as much complexity as I could. Depending on how we lean politically, we might be more inclined toward the landlords or toward the tenants. And maybe we’re inclined to paint one of those groups in a really poor light, but if you look at the problem from the sidewalk level, it’s just much more complex than that. You see landlords in the book being generous and being forgiving and sometimes being very hard and sometimes cavalier. They’re human. One thing that makes them tick is making a good living. This is where the rubber meets the road on hard questions on affordable housing. The landlords in "Evicted" made a good living, and they rented exclusively to low-income families. How much inequality are we OK with? How big a profit should we tolerate, and are some ways of making a profit more upstanding than others?

One thing we’re doing now is trying to understand how landlord profit margins vary across neighborhood types. We’re finding some statistical evidence that profit margins are higher in poorer neighborhoods because the mortgage and the property tax bills are lower, but rents, like we just talked about, aren’t that much lower. That raises normative questions for us and public policy questions, too.

TR: How do we change the problem when it is so systemic? What role could an organization like Rotary play?

Desmond: Only about one in four families who qualify for housing assistance get any. The vast majority of poor folks get nothing. Their kids don’t get enough to eat, because the rent eats first. One in four poor families who are renting is spending over 70 percent of its income on housing costs. Even with imperfect policies, we need a vast expansion of housing assistance to those families. One way to get there is building a broad coalition – and involving not the usual suspects. If you care about educational quality and allowing kids to reach their full potential, then you’ve got to give them a stable home. If you care about reducing health care costs, the top 5 percent of the users consume 50 percent of health care costs in hospitals. And guess who those users are? They’re the unstably housed. They’re homeless folks.

This lack of affordable housing is going to hit our business leaders hard. They’re going to experience more turnover in their workforce. They’re going to experience the resistance of folks to move to high-cost cities even if the jobs are better. Folks that are part of Rotary have a vital role to play, not only as business leaders, but as community leaders as well. When low-income neighborhoods are communities – when folks know their neighbors – there are massive returns. They can drive down crime in their neighborhood, become more politically engaged, form that stickiness of neighborhoods that’s so important for kids’ well-being. Eviction threatens that.

TR: Are there other countries that we can look to for solutions?

Desmond: We’re unique among other advanced industrial societies for the level of poverty that we have and the kind of poverty that we have. If you give a talk on this book in Amsterdam or London or Paris, people are flabbergasted, outraged. They’re just not used to the material hardship that we have come to tolerate as a nation.

We can look to countries that have universal housing programs like the Netherlands or Britain. We can look at countries that have installed mandatory mediators between landlords and tenants like France has. Or countries like Germany that make a much more serious investment in public housing than we have. Or countries that don’t have these massive homeowner subsidies like we do, but have equal or similar rates of homeownership. Canada is one, the UK is another. But the good news is that we don’t have to – the policies we have here work pretty darn well. Our housing voucher program [often referred to as Section 8] is a great program. It lifts over 2 million people above the poverty line every year, and it makes kids healthier. Families move less. They live in better neighborhoods. It works. The problem is that it’s just not enough to go around.

TR: What sort of financial burden does the eviction cycle have on society as a whole?

Desmond: To answer that question, we need to ask, What does eviction do to a family? Families not only leave their homes. Kids lose their schools, you lose your community, you often lose your stuff because it’s piled on the sidewalk or taken by movers. Eviction comes with a mark: It pushes families into worse housing, worse neighborhoods. Those are things that can have a lasting and deep impact on kids’ well-being. We have a study that shows that moms who get evicted have high rates of depression two years later. We know that suicides attributed to evictions and foreclosures doubled between 2005 and 2010 [years when housing costs soared]. We have a study that shows eviction can cause job loss because it can be such a consuming, stressful event. It can make you make mistakes at work, lose your footing in the job market.

TR: Your book has gotten a lot of attention. Has that translated into any changes?

Desmond: We’re seeing a lot more people talk about this issue than before. This work has helped push forward arguments like the right to counsel in housing court, which New York City passed earlier this year. It is the first city in the country to take a stand to say folks who are facing eviction around the city should have legal representation. I testified at that hearing citing the research on what eviction does to families. Philadelphia is now considering something similar.

We’ve had movement on the federal level too. One example of that has to do with research that connected evictions to nuisance ordinances and domestic violence. Domestic violence survivors had to choose between calling 911 and risking eviction, or not calling 911 when they were in an abusive relationship. At a meeting on Capitol Hill, Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren really latched on to those ordinances. She organized 28 senators to write a letter to HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], and HUD very shortly thereafter issued guidance putting federal law back on the side of domestic violence survivors. The ACLU has been involved in that effort as well. It started a campaign called “I Am Not a Nuisance” where it’s litigating against these ordinances across the country.

If the book has made a difference, it’s because people are responding to the folks in its pages, folks like Arleen and Larraine and Scott. People are recognizing that this level of social suffering and blunting of human capacity is not right, and it’s not us.

We attended a major fundraiser in Wasilla on Saturday, October 7, "Rotary Uncorked", which is an annual event sponsored by our old club Wasilla, and by the Palmer club.  This year's theme was "Under the Big Top" and we were invited to participate as a clown (Clyde) and a fortune teller (Vivian aka Madame Voyeur)...this fundraiser generally nets about $40,000 and the funds are used for youth programs including "My House" the homeless shelter for teens in the valley. 

I know this isn't about our club, but it does promote Rotary and fundraisers!!
 
Vivian and Clyde
 
 
 

What made Gates Foundation polio eradication director drop his country doctor dream to become an international polio expert

By

At the Rotary International Convention in June, Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation renewed their long-standing support for ending polio in dramatic fashion: Rotary committed to raising $50 million per year over the next three years, with every dollar to be matched with two additional dollars from the Gates Foundation.

This expanded agreement will translate to up to $450 million for polio eradication activities.

Jay Wenger, director of the Gates Foundation’s polio eradication program, talks about his work as an epidemiologist and about why ending polio for good is so important.


 

Jay Wenger, director of the Gates Foundation’s polio eradication program

 

I wanted to become a doctor ever since I was a little kid, but I originally thought I would become a country doctor – a general practitioner.

That notion changed when I had the opportunity to work at a mission hospital for a couple of months during medical school. One thing I saw during that experience was that you could deliver a lot of health care and prevent a huge amount of disease for a relatively small amount of money.  

Eventually, I became interested in infectious diseases. I liked the idea of focusing on something specific – that seemed more doable to me than knowing everything about everything, as it seemed a general practitioner needed to do. I went on to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where I received additional training in infectious disease epidemiology.

Epidemiology involves studying disease in an entire population – figuring out who gets sick, how it spreads, and how it can be prevented. It included working on outbreaks, which is like solving a disease mystery but needing to do it in a hurry.

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    Counties, individuals, business and organizations pledge $1.3 billion to end polio. Read more

     

     

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    See a timeline of Rotary partners in eradicating polio

     

     

When I was at the CDC, we studied one outbreak where a dozen or so individuals in the same area wound up with the same skin infection. So I went to the affected area and started trying to figure out what these people had in common. It turned out they had all been patients at one particular clinic – that was one clue. When we looked further into the record, we found they had all had the same specific operation. In the end, we figured out that all the cases traced to a single bottle of fluid under one sink in that clinic, which had contaminated the equipment they were using. 

That’s a lot of what epidemiologists do: We track infectious diseases, try to figure out how they spread, and then, hopefully, figure out what to do to stop it.

I worked in a group at the CDC that focused on bacterial meningitis, which is an infection of the brain and spinal cord. A bacteria called Haemophilus influenzae Type B (Hib) was the most common cause, infecting up to 15,000 kids in the U.S. every year. This was when the Hib vaccine had just been developed. I got involved in monitoring how much disease was out there and how the vaccine was working, and it was really striking. We went from thousands upon thousands of cases per year to a couple of dozen as vaccine use spread to all kids across the country. 

Seeing the power of a vaccine program was a big part of what led me to get involved with polio eradication. 

I was born in 1955, which is the same year, incredibly, that the Salk vaccine for polio was licensed and introduced in the U.S. At that time, polio was the most feared infection in the country.

“You have to get rid of the virus everywhere or it can come back, reinfecting places where it was eliminated.”

To understand the significance of the development of the polio vaccine, you have to understand how big the polio scare had been in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. When summer came around, parents were terrified that their children would get the disease and wind up paralyzed or even dead. When that first vaccine came out in 1955, it was hailed as a medical miracle. 

Even after I was born, the specter of polio haunted people. There were campaigns with the newer oral vaccine where drops of the vaccine would be put onto a sugar cube, which you would then eat. I can still remember getting those sugar cubes for polio as a kid.

Polio became a major example of a successful vaccine – driving down case counts from hundreds of thousands per year globally to zero in the U.S. and other wealthy countries. But polio remained a big threat in the developing world. 

The poliovirus affects a type of cell in the spinal column, and once these cells are killed, there’s no way for the brain to send messages to the muscles. The result is what’s called acute flaccid paralysis, or AFP, and that muscle doesn’t work anymore – it can’t flex or contract. The virus often affects an arm or leg, which tends to shrivel from disuse. If the disease affects the muscles of the chest or diaphragm, polio can be fatal, because the patient can’t breathe.

What makes it possible to get rid of the virus is that it can only reproduce in humans and that it can live in humans for only a few weeks to a month or so until the body gets rid of it. During that time, virus is excreted in the stool, but once outside the human body, it can survive for only a week or two. It has to find another person to infect in that time, or it dies off. So if you can break the chain of transmission – stop the virus from spreading from person to person by making enough people immune through the vaccine – you can actually drive the virus into extinction. But you have to get rid of the virus everywhere or it can come back, reinfecting places where it had been eliminated. 

This is why the World Health Assembly voted, in 1988, to eradicate polio. Rotary was incredibly important at that time. They took ownership of the mission from the beginning, and they assisted numerous countries in the early stages of this effort. 

I could see the impact they were making, and as an epidemiologist I was struck by the possibility that we could eliminate a disease from the face of the earth, if we were determined enough. 

In 2002, I had the opportunity to work with WHO in India. I directed the National Polio Surveillance Project. That’s where I got firsthand experience with how Rotary works within a country. 

A great deal of Rotary’s support resides in their fundraising, of course. With an effort like this, you need a consistent source of funding, and Rotary has made it clear that they want to see this through to the end. Their support has been unwavering.

But I think the most striking thing about working with Rotarians has been how they’ve energized the sense of commitment in each country. In the United States, they worked in every congressional district and in Washington, D.C., to promote the vaccination effort. In a place like India, I learned quickly that the support of the Rotarians is invaluable. For example, we initially faced challenges with political leaders – but regardless of who we were working with, we could always rely on a local Rotarian to connect with politicians and persuade them to support the polio program.

More broadly, Rotarians provided an instant sense of legitimacy and urgency. They were influential members of their communities, and people took notice when they advocated for polio eradication. 

 

Stopping polio in India was a tremendous feat. From dense cities like Mumbai to the most remote villages up in the mountains, we had to make sure every child was vaccinated. 

Most of my fieldwork was in the north, because that’s where we saw cases. As head of the surveillance program, I would go see children with polio. One time, traveling to a northern state called Uttar Pradesh, I went into a tiny single-room house, where a little girl was sitting on a mat bed with a limp leg.

Her leg had been paralyzed for a couple of months. There were things we could do, like make sure she got physical therapy and splints. But there was no way to cure her paralyzed limb. Her mom was looking at me expectantly, and I could tell what she was thinking: “Here’s this big doctor from the West and he’ll know what to do. He’ll know how to fix my child.” 

That feeling of helplessness, those moments when you’re actually seeing the victims – that’s my strongest motivator. They’re the driving force for the eradication program, because we can’t fix polio once it happens. But we can fix it before it happens.

In 2011, I took my position at the Gates Foundation. By that time, Rotary and the Gates Foundation were already huge partners, and Rotary had played a major role in getting the foundation involved in the polio eradication program several years previously.

About the same time, the last case of polio in India occurred, which energized the community to believe global eradication was really within reach. Rotary and the Gates Foundation responded by committing to a multiyear strategic plan for ending polio for good, alongside the other partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (WHO, CDC, UNICEF). 

In June 2013, Rotary announced that it would contribute $35 million per year to the effort for a five-year period, which the Gates Foundation would match 2-to-1. In June 2017, Rotary announced that it would increase that contribution to $50 million per year for the next three years, which the Gates Foundation again committed to match 2-to-1. 

“The most striking thing about working with Rotarians has been how they’ve energized the sense of commitment in each country.”

What people need to realize is that with polio eradication, in contrast to many other public health programs, we can’t choose where to go. We have to go where the disease is. 

As of now, there are only three countries in the world where wild poliovirus may still circulate: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Those are incredibly challenging countries to work in, because they have much bigger issues to contend with than polio. 

We can’t forget about those places or deal with them later, because this would mean that we lose against polio – if the virus remains anywhere, it can spread back to those places we have already cleared out. We have to extend our efforts to the hardest places in the world, and to the least-reached kids in the world. 

The question I get most often is when we’ll be able to declare that polio is actually gone from the earth. I tell them that we’re pushing hard and nearly there. 

Last year at the end of July, there were 19 reported cases of polio worldwide. This year, there were only eight. However, the only way we can know that polio is really eradicated is if we record at least three years with no new cases, and I’m optimistic that we will meet this goal soon.

In my work as an epidemiologist, I’ve seen that it is possible to stop a disease as we did with smallpox. We didn’t just drive smallpox down to a small number of cases; we drove it down to nothing. 

If I were a more romantic type, I might allow myself to dream about the future of a polio-free world more often. But I’m a worker bee, and I like to keep my head down and focused on what work needs to be done to achieve that goal. 

What I try to think about – what Rotary and the Gates Foundation keep me focused on – is the human side of all this. I can still remember from my childhood how scared people were of polio. And I’ve seen firsthand in my fieldwork what polio does to its victims and their families.

That’s what keeps me working. 

• Read more stories from The Rotarian

Saturday September 30 we had a our annual Great Potato Barbeque at Mari-Anne Gross' house where we found the results of the Great Potato Race.  Maynard barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs and side dishes were provided by the participants and onlookers.  Great Grub and Lots of Fun!!
 
Great Potato Race Results
  Magic Molly (purple)  French Fingerlings (red) 
1st PlaceMarv Peters9.1lbs.Marv Peters16lbs.
2nd PlaceCharlie Franz8lbs.Mike Cline15.5lbs.
3rd PlaceMike Cline7lbs.Charlie Franz13.5lbs.
       
Potatoes donated to Food Pantry   
  Red66.33lbs   
 Purple43.70lbs   
 White21.9lbs   
 Total131.93lbs   
       
       
 Total Potato Weight    
 Marv25.1    
 Mike 22.5    
 Charlie21.5    
 
 
 
 
Speakers
Amy Woodruff SKP Resilience Coalition Coordinator
Oct 26, 2017
Creating a Connected Community
Bernie Griffard
Nov 02, 2017
SPROUT
Dave Brann
Nov 09, 2017
Beth Trowbridge
Nov 16, 2017
Club Assembly
Thanksgiving
Nov 23, 2017
No Meeting
Mark Hemstreet
Nov 30, 2017
Andrew Peter
Dec 07, 2017
Susie Quinn
Dec 14, 2017
Swing Choir???
Holiday
Dec 21, 2017
No Meeting
Holiday
Dec 28, 2017
NO MEETING
 
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