Jersey firefighters to build 26 playgrounds for Newtown victims
by Marisa Gerber
For the first time since Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey's shoreline and a gunman opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., firefighter Bill Lavin feels OK.
For a while, the president of a 5,550-member New Jersey firefighters union said he felt “demoralized and crushed and depressed.” But now he has new focus: building 26 playgrounds.
The effort led by the Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Assn. is a response to both tragedies. The playgrounds, one for each of the 20 children and six school employees who died in Newtown in December, will be built in states hit hardest by the storm — New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
They need to raise about $2 million, and even though Lavin knows it's a bit crazy, it feels right.
“Everyone I spoke to had a tear in their eye,” Lavin said. “And the response from the families validated that I needed to do this.” He reached out to the families of all 26 shooting victims. The 16 he's heard back from are on board.
Jenny Hubbard, mother of Catherine, a Sandy Hook first-grader who was killed, sent a note thanking him for thinking of the idea. It was so fitting, she said. Her red-haired daughter loved Sundays because she got to go to the playground.
“She would climb and jump and swing so high, she was convinced she was touching the clouds,” Hubbard wrote. “I know that she is thrilled with the prospect of having a park in her honor.”
Each playground will have its own flair, a representation of the victims and the things they loved.
For Jessica Rekos, horses and whales. For Grace McDonnell, lots of peace signs. For Dylan Hockley, the color blue.
Lavin's idea was born before the young victims.
It was a few days after Sept. 11, 2001, when a bundle of letters arrived at the Elizabeth Fire Department in Elizabeth, N.J., where he worked. Third-graders from North Bay Elementary School in Bay St. Louis, Miss., had scrawled messages of encouragement — “Hang in there,” one said to the World Trade Center first responders.
It helped them through dark days, Lavin said. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast four years later, the firefighters had one question. Was the North Bay school damaged? The hurricane had all but destroyed the school, they learned.
The New Jersey firefighters reached out and agreed to build a new playground for the children. They raised the funds and made it happen. It was a powerful moment, a sweet — if increasingly distant — memory, Lavin said.
Then, a week after Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey in October, Lavin's phone rang. It was a man from Mississippi. People in the state remembered what the firefighters had done for them, and they wanted to pay it forward. They held a toy drive, and in mid-December a trailer full of wrapped Christmas presents arrived.
Now it's New Jersey's turn.
The firefighters have received nearly $300,000 in donations for the Sandy Ground project, Lavin said. They have set up a website at www.thesandygroundproject.org. A groundbreaking ceremony for the first playground in Sea Bright, N.J., is tentatively set for the first weekend in March and will honor special education teacher Anne Marie Murphy.
Sea Bright, a small Jersey Shore borough that lost its entire business district to Sandy, welcomed news of the project.
“People are still struggling to get backs on their feet,” Mayor Dina Long said. “This is a symbol of hope; it's more than just a playground.”
Prescription drug abuse persists in Ohio
Residents relapse after gains in 2011
COSHOCTON — Although state law tightened restrictions on pain management clinics in 2011, the modest decline in prescription pain pills didn't continue into 2012, especially for Coshocton County.
Amanda Poorman, a head nurse who has worked in the Birthing Centre at Coshocton Hospital for almost 13 years, said she has seen a marked increase in mothers who use drugs who come to the hospital to have their babies.
“In the past year, the increase in use of drugs like heroin (and) oxycodone has been noticeable — also marijuana,” Poorman said.
She said no system can pull up exact numbers; however, a registered nurse certified in inpatient obstetrics, she is basing her statement on experience.
But it's not just a local issue — it's something seen nationwide, she said.
A study published in 2012 in The Journal of the American Medical Association confirms what Poorman said.
The study estimated a baby is born every hour in the U.S. with symptoms of withdrawal from opiates — about 13,500 babies per year. The condition, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, can cause seizures, breathing problems, dehydration, difficulty feeding, tremors and irritability.
Infants aren't typically tested unless there's reason to think drug abuse is present, such as the mother admitting or showing signs of use or having a history of use, Poorman said.
Babies born to mothers who are suspected of abusing drugs are watched closely, she said.
If the baby is having seizures, is shaky or irritable, or cries inconsolably, they usually are transferred to an Ohio State University medical center or Akron Children's Hospital for specialized care.
“Those are red flags for us,” she said.
Infants can be hospitalized for several weeks while doctors treat them with methadone or morphine to gradually wean them from dependence on the drugs their mothers used, Poorman said.
But medical authorities say opiate abuse had been allowed to proliferate for more than a decade, and the new law has made some progress.
There's more change coming, said Orman Hall, the director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. Change, he said, that will see the number of prescription opiate doses “drop at a much more rapid pace.”
In Hall's estimation, a “tremendous amount of misguided prescribing” is driven not by a profit motive, but by a lack of understanding of the potential for danger with these medications. Some people in the pain treatment community worry this could spell trouble for patients with honest medical problems.
Coshocton Hospital's Emergency Department is on alert for prescription medicine abuse, said Mary Ellen Given, the hospital's marketing consultant.
“We try to recognize people that are coming in for pain medication and not necessarily for medical treatment,” Given said. “It's something every hospital faces, it's a global issue.”
As doses dispensed remained constant, so has law enforcement's interaction with prescription opiates. The fallout from drugs diverted from legitimate uses to the underground continues to influence overall criminal activity as addicts commit robberies and burglaries to stave off the discomfort of withdrawal.
All the while, lives are not wrecked in a vacuum. People become addicted — sometimes while stealing from another and other times while following a doctor's orders — and family falls down their list of priorities.
We're making progress, Hall said, but “we have a long way to go.”
LAFS Donates New Patrol Bike to Lansdale Police
Lansdale Area Fundraising Society also donated money to the department's D.A.R.E. program on Saturday. Donations came from proceeds of LAFS-sponsored events, such as the Lansdale Beer Tasting Festival
by Tony Di Domizio
Lansdale Police Department's bike patrol will have more officers getting around town to fight crimes, thanks to the Lansdale Area Fundraising Society.
On Saturday afternoon, LAFS donated a new $1,350 bicycle to the department, along with a $930 donation to its D.A.R.E. program.
The check will be used to pay for the bike, purchased at Scooter's Bike Shop in Souderton.
The donations were made possible from proceeds garnered at various LAFS-sponsored events and programs, like the Lansdale Beer Tasting Festival and the recent calendar sale featuring photographs of Lansdale landmarks and its people.
The idea to donate a new bicycle to the police department came from a discussion Councilman Steve Malagari had with officers at last year's Oktoberfest.
"I was having a conversation with a few of the officers, and noticed (Officer) Tim Cornelius on a bike. I asked how many bikes they have, if they need new ones. We were looking for some different ways to give back to the community, and the way we came up with was donating a new bike. It will be well used and well utilized and it will serve them well," said Malagari, who also sits as one of eight LAFS board members.
Cornelius said the bike patrol is made up of patrol officers trained at a 4-day school run by the International Police Mountain Biking Association. The training, he said, teaches officers about patrol, maintenance, and community policing.
"It works tremendously in our borough setting. Due to the fact of the business district, we're like a small city," Cornelius said. "As bike officers, we can get to calls a lot faster than some marked cars can."
Cornelius said the bike officers patrol not just the roadways, but trails and parks as well.
And even the bikes are not your typical bike — one unique feature is the absence of the ratchet sound that typical bikes have when coasting. It allows police to be more silent in their patrols.
"Officers don't have to get out of the car and walk. We can ride back in the park systems to patrol for crime," he said. "I love being a bike officers. I can ride for days."
Chief Robert McDyre said the new bicycle is something that was needed to update the bike division of the department.
"This is probably one of our best tools," he said. "To make officers approachable on the street is incredible. That's how I get good feedback. We meet the needs of the community so much better with the bikes."
The bike patrol was formed in 1997. In the beginning, there were about six bike officers. Yet, the officers got older and they waned from riding for the bike patrol.
"We're going to bring six to eight trained, younger guys in to extend the bike program," McDyre said. "In the summer and spring, you are going to see two officers out every day."
All in all, there are 24 officers on the police force at present in Lansdale. Prior to the new council regime in 2009 — the same year McDyre became chief — the force was reduced to 19 officers.
"The council in 2009 restored manpower up to 24. We were'nt able to use the bike patrol for about five years," McDyre said. "We reinstituted in 2009-2010."
McDyre said the bike patrol has been a major factor in the 30 percent decline in crime in the borough within the past three years, compared to drug enforcement efforts and community policing.
"We're going through all facets to reduce crime and improve the community," McDyre said.
Lansdale Mayor Andy Szekely said the $1,060 donated Saturday to the police department's D.A.R.E. program was made from proceeds of calendar sales.
Last year, LAFs funded the production of 100 calendars at $10 each. The calendars were sold at various locations in Lansdale.
Read about the Lansdale calendar sales at this link.
"The total amount raised was $1,060 for D.A.R.E., and the total D.A.R.E. program is about $3,000 (in annual operation costs)," Szekely said. "Hopefully, we can continue calendar sales, open it up a bit and raise the full amount to support the program."
LAFS is a nine-person nonprofit board, with eight active members: Malagari, Szekely, Drew Stockmal, Ray Liberto, Mike Parzynski, Mike Panachyda, Molly Whetstone and president Rege McKenzie.
Like LAFS on Facebook at this link.
Stockmal said most of the proceeds donated Saturday were garnered from the Beer Fest.
Stockmal said LAFS is ramping up for the Lansdale Beer Tasting Festival on June 22, and the second annual Molly Maguire's St. Patrick's Day "Get Lucky Miler" in Lansdale.
"We'll have some surprises in the fall," he said.