Apollo, a rambunctious young pit bull, was abandoned and delivered to an animal shelter in Washington State. He was kept there for six months without finding a new home, and because of his unusually high energy level that was considered incompatible with adoption, the animal shelter eventually made the choice to euthanize the dog.
However, one last call was made to a Washington state narcotics K-9 trainer to see if Apollo was possibly suited for detection work. The trainer made the time to visit the animal shelter and run the pit bull through a series of tests; she concluded that Apollo was an excellent candidate for detective work. As a result, Apollo was placed in a new home at the Department of Corrections (DOC). Unfortunately, he had to wait twelve months while numerous dogs were chosen over him to begin training. The Tukwila Police Department speculated on its Facebook page that the reason he was not chosen was due to the widespread stigma against pit bulls, “who often have bad reputations based on misconceptions and lack of training.”
Thankfully, the trainer did recommend Apollo to the Tukwila Police Department in the summer of 2016, stating that the pit bull could finish first in his class if he was allowed the opportunity to demonstrate his skills. “All he needed was a chance.”
Members of the police department decided to extend their arms to the pit bull and allow him to go through narcotics school. The trainer was right. He finished first in his class last November. Tukwila Police Department describes him as “extremely friendly and can often be found trying to get us to play with him. He has brought great joy to all of us at the department in addition to being a very productive and hard worker.”
Will Koenig honored his mother, Kara Larson, by giving to the community what she gave to him: the ability to join together to partake in America’s greatest pastime, baseball.
“She also kind of made sure baseball was a big part of my life,” said Will.
Before cancer claimed her life last year, Kara taught Will to love baseball, not only as a sport, but as a way to build comradery. She left in him the importance of community and the desire to give back in any way possible.
“When she passed, instead of people sending flowers, we asked people to donate money to the Wilshire Riverside Little League, and they raised about $7,000,” said John, Kara’s husband.
Now Will wants to do his part in carrying on her memory through their shared passion. He converted a school project into a full-scale nonprofit organization.
“Change-Up Uganda is a nonprofit organization that is sending baseball gear and money over to kids in Uganda,” explains Will.
In this organization, he managed to maintain his mother’s love of baseball, desire to give back, and work to build a stronger community. He even managed to name the organization with a pun to relate the sentiment:
“Change up, like you’re changing up a place, and change up is a pitch in baseball,” he said.
She changed his life, and now it’s his turn to change others’.
Thanks to her 13-year-old son, Kara Larson’s memory lives on in every baseball game in Uganda.
To support Change-Up Uganda, please visit their GoFundMe Page.
Two Planned Parenthood facilities in Colorado recently announced that they would be closing this summer. The two facilities, one in Longmont and one in Parker, did not perform abortions but referred for them. Whitney Phillips, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, told local news that they are closing due to the “tough financial landscape” and because of the Affordable Care Act.
“We supported the ACA because we love the idea of more people having health insurance and increasing access to the critical services that they need, but a lot of our patients were self-pay,” she said. “They would come in…and pay out of pocket. Under the ACA, a lot of patients were given the opportunity to be on Medicaid. Again, that’s wonderful, but it meant that rather than bill them directly, we had to bill Medicaid. And Medicaid reimburses at a very low rate.”
Some of the other Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains affiliate locations will extend their hours to accommodate patients. The affiliate announced six closings recently, including these two facilities in Colorado, three facilities in New Mexico, and one in Wyoming. At least 13 Planned Parenthood facilities have closed or have announced closure this year, including four in Iowa (after that state’s lawmakers decided to defund the abortion provider), as well as two in Pennsylvania, and one in Maryland. Except in Iowa, the efforts to defund the abortion provider were not the cause of the closures, Planned Parenthood officials have said. Most closures are due to patient numbers and finances.
According to their annual reports, Planned Parenthood’s numbers and non-abortion services have declined in the past few years. Its abortion numbers have remained consistent. Planned Parenthood has yet to release its report for 2016.
A recent study shows a Portland Public Schools three-week program for children who did not attend preschool is reaping rewards.
The goal of this free program is to alleviate the anxieties of parents and their children in transitioning to kindergarten. The program was launched in 2010 in two schools and entailed children receiving kindergarten training every morning along with family meetings twice-a-week. Emphasis is now placed on helping students who do not speak English as a primary language or who attended Head Start and struggle with attendance.
Since the launch of the program, numerous other districts in Portland have begun similar programs, and the district now spends about $13,000 per school to provide this service.
While the program is short time-wise, the fruits of the program are outstanding. The most notable benefit of the program is that the schools are now able to better connect with families they struggle to contact and engage.
Another benefit is the emphasis on family involvement. The study states that “the emphasis on family involvement stems from a wealth of literature indicating that when parents are involved in their children’s schooling, students achieve higher grades, have better attendance, show more positive attitudes and behaviors, have higher graduation rates, and are more likely to enroll in higher education.”
Ngoc Nguyen, a mom from Southeast Portland, enrolled her youngest son in the program in the summer of 2016 and highly recommends the program. “My son didn’t know anything about school. He was so unsure and kind of afraid.” She stated that “After he really liked it. They helped him step by step to know the rules and routine every day.”
Researchers from the Multnomah County Partnership for Education Research conducted the study. They found that, after tracking 450 students for five years, the children who participated in the program had better attendance rates and stronger literacy skill than students who did not take part in the program. Since poor attendance and insufficient literacy skills can increase a student’s probability of dropping out, Researcher Beth Tarasawa stated that the results of this program could pay off years down the road.
One refugee family is making things sweet down in Georgia. Ruwaida G, her husband Khaled, and their daughter Zainab and their son Mohamad fled Syria in 2012. They applied for asylum in Jordan and arrived in the U.S. in 2016, with assistance from New American Pathways and Holy Trinity Parish, both of which teamed up to help the family. The family has asked that their last name be kept private so as not to endanger their relatives in Syria.
“We decided to leave Syria because we feared for our lives and for our children’s lives,” Ruwaida said. “There was no safety in Syria wherever we went, and we needed to leave if we wanted to survive.”
After passing the rigorous U.S. vetting processes for immigrants, the family settled in the Atlanta area. Amanda Avutu, who also lives in that area, met Ruwaida and her family after seeing an online post asking for volunteers to help set up the family’s new apartment.
“As I started visiting with the family and getting to know them more, we would go to their house and they would make us coffee and she start serving us cookies. We were going there focused on helping her husband find a job, but then found that she was literally serving us up an opportunity,” Avutu said.
Ruwaida carried a wooden cookie mold with her to the United States, which is used to make traditional Syrian cookies. The cookies are made with a 10-step process and Ruwaida hand molds hers. Avutu and her friends asked Ruwaida about selling her cookies for a profit. Ruwaida was skeptical but gave it a try, baking 45 dozen to sell at a music festival.
“She sold out before the first band played,” Avutu said. Soon after, Ruwaida, her husband, and a group of five friends created Sweet, Sweet Syria, a cookie business that Ruwaida hopes to grow into a successful family enterprise.
“I learned how to make these traditional Syrian cookies from my mother, who learned it from her mother, and so on,” said Ruwaida. “It is a family recipe. I learned how to make them when I was 14 years old and I have been making them ever since.”
Ruwaida, with the help of Avutu, has taken a business accelerator course and signed a lease on a commercial kitchen. She hopes to make cookies to sell at local coffee shops, restaurants and specialty grocery stores. Sweet, Sweet Syria will also expand into online orders soon and, in the future, to offer other Syrian foods as well.
Ruwaida’s husband, Khaled, a former electrician, works as an assistant chef.
“They’re very much partners in this business,” Avutu said. “She was a homemaker previously…and he’s been immensely supportive of her having this opportunity to work. Previously, they hadn’t really thought about that.”
Avutu and Ruwaida’s other friends have started a GoFundMe account to raise the money for her first year of rent on the commercial kitchen and to eventually help the couple open their own store, where people new to the U.S. and long-time citizens can gather. The crowd funding page has raised more than $20,000 of the $30,000 goal.
Ruwaida says she’s happy every time someone enjoys her cookies and the recipe that’s been handed down for generations.
“I am lucky to have a group of dear friends…I couldn’t have made it without them,” she said. “I hope that people who read (my story) see that we had a life before, and because of war we were forced to leave and rebuild our lives in a new country. I want them to know that we are thankful for the generosity of people and their willingness to see us and treat us as fellow human beings.”
The death of Kayla Greenwood’s father, Michael (pictured above, left), was caused by Kenneth Williams in 1998. Williams was charged and convicted with two unrelated murders and manslaughter and was executed for his crimes in late April. But before he died, he received an extraordinary kindness from the Greenwood family.
Kayla learned that Williams has a 21 year-old daughter, Jasmine, whom he hadn’t seen in 17 years and a 3 year-old granddaughter that he had never met. In a gesture of forgiveness, the Greenwoods decided to fly them from Washington to Arkansas, where Williams was being held.
The Greenwoods were waiting for Jasmine and her daughter when they landed at the Little Rock airport. They took them to the prison so Williams could see his daughter and meet his granddaughter. Kayla and the rest of her family were not allowed to see Williams, but she emailed a message to him via his attorney.
“I told him we forgive him and where I stood on it,” said Kayla. “Jasmine said that when the warden read the email to him, he broke out in tears.”
The Greenwoods pushed for Williams to be pardoned, but family members of another of Williams’ victims insistent on the death penalty. The reunion, however, brought some comfort to Williams and his family in his last days.
“When he found out that we are bringing his daughter and granddaughter to see him and that my mom and dad bought the tickets, he was crying to the attorney,” recalled Kayla. “He was sad he couldn’t talk to us.”