Thursday, December 20, 2007


During this special season, we are ever mindful of the dream of peace on earth and goodwill to all.

So in whatever tradition you embrace, may the Joy of the season with with you and yours!

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step i take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let ther be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.

Friday, December 7, 2007


If you didn’t know, this is the season for swearing; five last Monday in Chapel Hill, four last Tuesday in Carrboro, and four Thursday at the School Board meeting. That’s a lot of swearing and it was good swearing resulting from voters going to the polls and doing their civic duty. Some might tell you that your one vote doesn’t really matter; I say it does matter. In the Chapel Hill vote, candidate four and number five were separated by only 60 votes.

Yes, voting matters and I wish more of us participated in selecting those who will work untiringly as they lead our municipal governments and school system. Let’s commend all who ran and all of those who have served for their willingness to work hard to us and make the sacrifices that comes with service. As one council member made clear the other night, their families also serve and sacrifice.

Our communities and schools face all sorts of challenges that will determine our future. We citizens need to participate in the process and let our elected officials know our thoughts and concerns before decisions are made and not just complain after the decisions are made.

Given their commitment to us, it’s the least we can do.

Monday, November 26, 2007

1968 - OH, WHAT A YEAR!

Tom Brokaw's Boom has been getting a lot of attention, so over the holidays, I read the Newsweek article on his portrait of the tumultuous Sixties.

With a focus on 1968, I couldn’t help but to reflect on all of the significant things that happened in my life that year . We got engaged during Christmas vacation of 1967 and scheduled our wedding for June. Returning to school that January as an “engaged man” truly meant that I was different!

Before the wedding, the last semester of being an undergrad was marked with all sorts of challenges. On March 19, 1968, students seized the administration building in a dispute over the right of the campus newspaper to criticize the policies of the university president. The demands soon widened and the University officially closed while the negotiations with Board members were conducted.

This was a first for any university and there was plenty of media attention focused on what would be repeated events on other campuses. Our student body president, Ewart Brown, demonstrated tremendous leadership in holding things together and preventing violence. He is now the Prime Minister of Bermuda.

After five days, we returned to class and just 10 days later, the University closed because of the riots in DC after Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. When we returned in mid-April, there were serious questions about how we would make up two weeks of school. The solution was to allow students to take the grade they had at the time or take a final if desired. Heck, there was no debate in my mind and I finished college with no end of term exams!

Before the really “big events” of graduation and marriage, we coped with more violence when Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy was shot on June 5th and died on June 6th. We couldn’t help but reflect on how President Kennedy’s assassination in November of our senior year of high school changed our lives, and now another Kennedy was killed as we left college.

On June 7th, I received my commission as a second lieutenant in the Regular Army at 10 AM and my B.S. in Government at 4 PM. Noted professor John Hope Franklin, then of the University of Chicago, was our commencement speaker, and even under the threat of torture, I can’t tell you anything that he said. Years later when I asked him for forgiveness for not remembering his words of wisdom to us graduates, he simply replied with that patented twinkle in his eye, “Yes, you are just one among many!”

After packing up the next morning and driving to Durham where my wife to be lived, we had a series of pre wedding dinners and other social events. Fortunately, our after graduation celebrations still allowed all of my wedding party to show up at the right time in the right place and wearing the prescribed attire. So, on June 10th at 6:30 PM we had our ceremony in Duke Chapel.

My wife’s famous old Durham church – White Rock Baptist – had been torn down to build the Durham Freeway. Her mother was on a committee with the Chaplain of Duke and he indicated that he had seen the wedding announcement in the New York Times and wondered where the ceremony would take place. Their discussion led to him offering up the beautiful Duke Chapel. As no one could remember any African Americans ever being married there, there was plenty of local interest.

Later in June I reported for duty in the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. The first order of business was to go to Fort Benning, GA and learn how to jump out of airplanes. After learning more than I ever wanted to about the July heat and ever-present red clay of Georgia , I received my jump wings and returned to Fort Bragg. I was no longer a “leg,” that not very affectionate term airborne types call those without wings, and my five jumps from an aircraft while in flight made me part of a special fraternity.

My wife started her fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in computer science and when we toasted in 1969, all we could say was 1968 was some year! Now, we look forward in the coming months to celebrating the 40th anniversary of so many things. And believe me, time does in fact dull some of the sharp edges on some of those memories.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Last year I wrote about being thankful for blessings at home and in our community.(click this link to go back) This year, I am feeling not only thankful for all of our many blessing but also for the togetherness that this special day offers.

We are having the family dinner at our home this year, and not having to put the leaf in the dining room table is a clear indicator that there will be fewer feet under the table. This is not going to be one of those years where we have 10 in the dining room, eight in the living room at card tables, and a table full in the kitchen. Typically, some of the “big people” volunteer to be in the kitchen with the young ones; do other families experience the same escape tactics?

Anyway, we are not only dealing with the loss of some family members who were here last year, but also familly members being in other locations. Wherever they are, we know that they will be at our dinner in spirit as we tell stories about other days and share the many things we are thankful for, including the bounty that we are consuming with gusto.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and enjoy all of the time you can spend together with family!

Friday, November 16, 2007


We talk a lot about it and maybe now that the election is over, we will think through it as a community and decide what we will do about it. Some may remember back in February I was quoted in the Chapel Hill News for a comment I made at the Community Leadership Collaboration meeting about panhandling. I thought then and still believe now that too many people want to call everybody who is seen as "being different" is a panhandler.

What is the "look" of being different? There’s our problem because panhandlers and lots of other folks are different from others but we want to conveniently call all of them a panhandler. All who are homeless are not panhandlers. Not all panhandlers are homeless. Homelessness and public begging are not synonymous issues. That’s a proven fact! We have criminals prowling our downtown streets and we also have those with disabilities, the working poor, the homeless veterans and those who panhandle. Just "being different" drives perceptions way too much in my opinion.

Just a few weeks ago, a piece in the Daily Tar Heel by a courageous student confirmed my theory. Here in part is what he wrote (go here for the entire piece)::

Why I'm a racist and you might be one too
By: James Edward Dillard

There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make.

I'm a racist.

Until a couple of nights ago, such a thought had never entered my mind. My white pillowcase doesn't have any eyeholes; I've never burnt a cross or tied a noose.

More than that, I like black people. Not just the ones I know, either. I was excited when my hometown Steelers hired Mike Tomlin as its first black head coach because it meant a step toward equality in Pittsburgh.

And I considered myself enlightened. I'd seen "Crash." I knew about white privilege. I was smart enough to know racists still exist, but surely I wasn't one of them.

So imagine my surprise when I found out I was wrong.

Allow me to explain. On Sunday night, after having dinner at Franklin Street Pizza and Pasta, my buddy Duncan and I were walking back to campus when a black man approached us.

He was bald and wearing a coat. In his left hand was a Styrofoam cup. As he walked passed us, he extended his arm and said, "Wassup man?"

Immediately, without thinking, I stuck my hands into my pockets and shrugged my shoulders. "Sorry sir, I don't have any change," I said.

Problem is he wasn't panhandling. When he made this clear, I begged forgiveness. Fortunately for me, he was kind and accepted my apology. I couldn't have blamed him had he punched me in the face. But that's not the point.

The point is that in my mind "black guy" plus "cup in hand" plus "Franklin Street" equaled "panhandler."

Does this make me a racist? I think it does. At the very least, I'm guilty of racial stereotyping. Such stereotyping seems innocent at first - after all, most panhandlers downtown are black men - but this "harmless" stereotyping can be particularly corrosive.

The only way we will have a chance of solving our panhandling problem on Franklin St., — and yes it’s OUR problem, — is to have an open and honest dialogue about it. As the comments to Mr. Dillard’s piece reveals, just like our community in general, some of our students get it but others don’t. Sure, there are people who are fearful when they are on Franklin St. and we must change that.

I am hopeful that we will soon get it and get on it as well. The “Spare Change for Real Change” program is a great start, but there’s more to do. We have to resolve the shelter location question, as it is a symbol to many of the problem. We as a community have the ability to deal with this problem; let’s get the will.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


The Orange County Board of Elections denied Cam Hill’s request for a recount so the Chapel Hill municipal election is officially certified. I really think this was a very interesting election not for what happened but rather for what didn’t happen, and that is having a “real” campaign with candidates debating the various issues that voters might use in making their voting decisions.

Yes, we had plenty of forums and many things were said, but try this as a test: ask a friend what the top five issues were that separated the candidates. I suspect you will get pretty much the same reaction that I have gotten every time that I have asked that question: a blank stare!

Here’s my take on what we had in Chapel Hill. Instead of something that I will call “simple incumbency,” where a candidate runs on his or her record against a field of challengers and the other incumbents for the four seats, we had “SUPER INCUMBENCY.” Super incumbency is when all five of the current holders of the seats are seeking reelection AND they decide to “run together” against all challengers.

It’s a good thing that those who have served want to continue to serve, and I absolutely have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is when the five individuals who occupy the five seats appear to have agreed to a mutually beneficial campaign strategy, one that appears to diminish our ability to have a real debate or even a discussion of the issues. Diversity of opinion is a good thing, and we ought to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.

The fact that Matt Czajkowski did come in fourth says a lot about his ability to get his message out to voters while the five “SUPER INCUMBENTS” seemed to want only to talk about their past service and how they worked so well together in atypical harmony. In affirmation of their strategy, Mayor Kevin Foy sent out pre-election “robocalls” to voters asking them to reelect him (no problem with that, and I voted for him!) AND the other four incumbents.

Someone asked me why this troubled me and I told them it was because I would have preferred that the mayor have remained above the fray. He has to lead the council that the voters put in office. When a non-incumbent wins (as just happened), what’s the message to the victor? The “outsider” knows for sure that the mayor didn’t want him to win, but those few who bothered to vote obviously did. Yes, 2,932 gave the winner their vote and in the context of an election where only 15% of us bothered to vote, 13.74% of the Council vote is important.

Look at the results as certified by the BoE:

Matt Czajkowski (4th)/2,932/13.74%
Sally Greene (I, 2nd)/3,917/18.36%
Cam Hill (I, 5)/2,872/13.46%
Will Raymond (7th)/1,409/6.60%
Penny Rich (6th)/2,442/11.44%
Bill Strom (I, 3d)/3,735/17.50%
Jim Ward (I, 1st)/3,929/18.41%
Write-In (multiple)/102/0.48%

Does it mean anything that a candidate can win the fourth seat with under 3,000 votes?

In the mayor’s race, the results were:

Kevin C. Foy /4,333/70.17%
Kevin Wolff/1,803/29.20%

What’s interesting is that if we assume that everyone who voted for a council member also voted for mayor, but all who voted for mayor didn’t use all four of their council votes, it might explain some things. According to the BoE’s data, 6,175 voters cast mayoral votes. If all had voted for four council candidates, the number is 24,700. The total council votes were 21,338. The 3,362 “missing votes” suggests that more than a few voters chose to vote for only one, two, or three council candidates. Of course, the assumption is key, as there are probably people who did vote for the Council and not the mayor, but I think the pattern is obvious.

I wish all of the victors well as they work hard serving us during their term of office. I’m also sure that Mayor Foy and the other incumbents will be welcoming and treat Matt Czajkowski as he should be treated, but I wish I didn’t have to wonder about how he would be treated in the first place. I also wish the “SUPER INCUMBENTS” along with the four challengers had shown where and how they differed on policy. In addition, and most importantly, I wish they had spent more time talking about our future and the issues that face us.

What do you think? I’d really like your feedback on this.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


To all of my fellow veterans, I wish you a heartfelt happy Veterans Day. To those who support our veterans for their service, in spite of how you might come down politically on the issues of state, I say thank you for your support.

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, that’s how it all started. In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words:

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday - - a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day."

Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

In spite of the 1968 effort to make Veterans Day a Monday holiday, the law was changed back on September 20th, 1975, by President Gerald R. Ford when he signed Public Law 94-97 (89 Stat. 479), which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. As for a "day off" governments make the decision on when or if workers get a holiday when November 11th falls on the weekend. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management(OPM)generally does the following: when a holiday falls on a non-workday -- Saturday or Sunday -- the federal government is closed on Monday (if the holiday falls on Sunday) or Friday (if the holiday falls on Saturday).

Therefore, it is puzzling that so many confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day. After all, there are only two holidays that celebrate living people — Labor Day and Veterans Day. It’s simple, Memorial Day is to honor those who have died in service to their country. Veteran's Day honors those who served their country and are still living.

To help make the point, "Veterans Day" does not include an apostrophe but does include an "s" at the end of "veterans" because it is not a day that "belongs" to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans.

I hope people take time to honor our Veterans. One good way to do that is to contact your elected representatives and tell them you want quality medical care and other necessary support for our Veterans, and especially those who are now disabled because of their service. Meeting our obligations to our Veterans as a nation gives real meaning to our words of support for our Veterans.

Happy Veterans Day!


Veterans Day 2007: Nov. 11

23.7 million
The number of military veterans in the United States in 2006.
(Source: Table 505 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

Female Veterans

1.7 million
The number of female veterans in 2006.
(Source: Table 505 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

Percentage of Gulf War veterans in 2006 who were women.
(Source: Table 506 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

Race and Hispanic Origin

2.4 million
The number of black veterans in 2006. Additionally, 1.1 million veterans are Hispanic; 292,000 are Asian; 169,000 are American Indian or Alaska Native; and 28,000 are Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. (The numbers for blacks, Asians, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders cover only those reporting a single race.) (Source: 2006 American Community Survey.)

When They Served

9.2 million
The number of veterans 65 and older in 2006. At the other end of the age spectrum, 1.9 million were younger than 35.
(Source: Table 506 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

8 million
Number of Vietnam-era veterans in 2006. Thirty-three percent of all living veterans served during this time (1964-1975). In addition, 4.6 million served during the Gulf War (representing service from Aug. 2, 1990, to present); 3.2 million in World War II (1941-1945); 3.1 million in the Korean War (1950-1953); and 6.1 million in peacetime. (Source: Table 506 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

In 2006, number of living veterans who served during both the Vietnam era and the Gulf War.

Other living veterans in 2006 who served in two or more wars:

350,000 served during both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

78,000 served during three periods: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

294,000 served in World War II and the Korean War. (Source: 2006 American Community Survey.)
The documented number of living World War I veterans who served with U.S. forces as of Oct. 2, 2007. (Source: Department of Veterans Affairs)

Where They Live

Number of states with 1 million or more veterans in 2006. These states are California (2.2 million), Florida (1.7 million), Texas (1.7 million), New York (1.1 million), Pennsylvania (1.1 million) and Ohio (1 million). (Source: Table 505 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)


Percent of veterans 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree in 2006. (Source: 2006 American Community Survey.)

Percent of veterans 25 and older with a high school diploma or higher in 2006. (Source: 2006 American Community Survey.)

Income and Poverty

Annual median income of veterans, in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars. (Source: 2006 American Community Survey.)

Percentage of veterans living in poverty, as of 2006. The corresponding rate for nonveterans was 12.3 percent. (Source: 2006 American Community Survey.)

On the Job

11.1 million
Number of veterans 18 to 64 in the labor force in 2006. (Source: 2005 American Community Survey.)


6.1 million
Number of veterans with a disability. More than half this number (3.5 million) were 65 and older. (Source: 2006 American Community Survey.)


17.4 million
Number of veterans who voted in the 2004 presidential election. Seventy-four percent of veterans cast a ballot, compared with 63 percent of nonveterans. (Source: Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2004, at

Business Owners

Percentage of owners of firms that responded to the 2002 Survey of Business Owners who were veterans. Respondent veteran business owners totaled 3 million. (Source: Characteristics of Veteran-Owned Businesses: 2002 at )

Percentage of veteran owners of respondent firms who were 55 and older. This compares with 31 percent of all owners of respondent firms. Similarly, in 2002, 55 percent of veteran-owned respondent firms with employees reported that their businesses were established, purchased, or acquired before 1990, compared with 36 percent of all employer respondent firms. (Source: Characteristics of Veteran-Owned Businesses: 2002 and Characteristics of Veteran Business Owners: 2002, at )

Percentage of all respondent veteran owners who were disabled as the result of injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. (Source: Characteristics of Veteran-Owned Businesses: 2002 and Characteristics of Veteran Business Owners: 2002, at )


2.7 million
Number of veterans who received compensation for service-connected disabilities as of 2006. Their compensation totaled $26.6 billion.
(Source: Tables 508 and 509 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

Jan. 21, 2007
The date of death of the last World War I veteran receiving compensation or pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Source: Department of Veterans Affairs)

$72.4 billion
Total amount of federal government spending for veterans benefits programs in fiscal year 2006. Of this total, $34.5 billion went to compensation and pensions and $31.3 billion for medical programs. (Source: Table 508 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I had to stop and ponder the news that the pioneering Wall Street Chief Executive at Merrill Lynch & Co. "retired," even though it was clear that he was fired. Stan O'Neal will walk away with $161.5 million in restricted stock, options and retirement benefits! He will also get Merrill-paid office space and an assistant for three years. Not bad for a firing, oops, retirement!

As this community of Chapel Hill has a lot of rungs between the top and bottom of our income ladder, I can only imagine what even 10% of that package could do to address some of our more pressing social issues.

If we had that kind of money to spend, it would in fact cause of to say, is this a great country or what!

Monday, October 22, 2007


Good question to ponder! We flew from RDU to Chicago on a packed plane Friday morning for a weekend visit with our daughter who lives in Rockford. She has been working at the Belvidere Chrysler Assemble Plant as a labor rep for two years, and this was the first time we have been to see her.

From the moment she picked us up until she returned us to O'Hare International this morning, we had a really great time. When we got to her home, her two cats, Jax and Katy, immediately established that they remembered that I don't like cats, so they did what cats do - tried to get me to change my mind. Didn't work, but it was sort of fun to play with them.

We spent Saturday morning at an apple orchard that is very popular in her area. Edwards Apple Orchard is a great family place. They feature picking your own apples and pumpkins and in their barn, they feature a variety of apples for sale, cider, a donut kitchen and a gift shop. For kids, they have a petting farm, pony rides and play area. There was also a maze and tractor ride. The weather was beautiful and it helped to make the time at the orchard really fun.

We also took in a movie - Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married?" - which is interesting to see with your unmarried daughter! Lot's of interesting dynamics in the movie that seems to be doing well at the box office thus far. Major downer - Janet Jackson can't act! My wife's theory is that her face has been tightened so much, she can't change expressions. The "star" lost me when they said that she was a college professor!

We had some great meals, watched some football, spent time talking, and just hung out. Sunday afternoon, we got the phone call that we had all been waiting for --- her brother, and our son, made it home to his wife and family for his home leave from Iraq! When we spend a coming weekend with him and his family, we will surely know what makes for TWO GREAT WEEKENDS!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


For my birthday today, my wife took me to the State Fair. I thought it was a good way to help our area because every year that we have gone, it has rained! Well, that didn't happen this year, sorry to say.

Other than not raining, what else was different going during the day was that the place was packed with families and what appeared to be a lot of school trips, given the number of school buses. The place also seemed cleaner and there were many more rides.

All of the food vendors were there as usual, offering unlimited artery clogging delights. We stayed away from the fried stuff mainly because we couldn't find the fried Coke, Twinkies or peanut butter and jelly.

We saw lots of award winning produce and animals. When I saw that Harris Teeter paid $10,000 for a hog and $5,000 for a turkey, I could only hope that was a charitable purchase and not something that they planned to pass on to us!

Even though it was on the warm side, we had a great time watching people lose their money on games of chance and scream while on the rides that are designed to make you lose whatever was in your stomach, fried or otherwise.

We broke down and played the $2 "guess my age" game. The guy thought Sylvia was 56 so he wasn't withing 3 years. She selected an inflatable baseball bat for our grandson. We went to another one who thought I was 54! I selected a stuff animal for our granddaughter. Not a bad guess for this 61 year old guy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Do you know the secret? There are signs at almost every intersection that serve as a hint! Yes, we have an election on November 6th. It’s a municipal election this year for the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Alderman, and the School Board. We may not be electing our president, governor, US Senators or representatives, but this is an important election – simply because all elections are!

The regular registration period is over but you can still register during Same-Day Registration at the One-Stop No Excuse Absentee Voting Sites that are operational in Hillsborough beginning 18 October and in the downtown Chapel Hill Post Office and the Carrboro Town Hall beginning October 22. Early voting ends at all of the sites on Saturday, November 3rd, at 1pm.

I hope citizens will get informed about the various candidates and where they stand on the important issues. There have been numerous election forums that are now available online for review, and they can provide a lot of information. Get prepared and then vote early or on Election Day on November 6th.

In the 2005 election, our turnout was about 15%. We ought to be troubled that so few citizens participate. If we don’t vote, our voice isn’t heard. Will it be heard when we complain about what the elected bodies chosen by others do or don’t do?

Monday, October 15, 2007


Tonight, we completed our training. The focus was on the "advocating" portion of the program. The major pitfall is assuming the role of the parent and trying to solve all of the parent-student-school issues as a mentor. Our discussions and exercises produced some very frank views and people were comfortable enough with each other to not pull any punches.

Clearly, we have an excellent school system but the perception is that all students are not served as well as some others. One person mentioned that sometimes parents of color go to the school and are treated as invisible. Our role as mentor-advocates is to help, and that was a useful discussion because we could see the lines we didn't want to cross.

I've attended lots of training programs but I must say that these hours with Graig Meyer and Lori Clark were some of the most productive and well structured of a lot of former training sessions.

In a couple of weeks we will get to meet our mentees. I do not plan to Blog about it, but later on I might share some of my "lessons learned" and significant experiences.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Today (Saturday) was a full training day. We assembled at 8:30 AM at the Lincoln Center Board Room and began the session with an "ice breaker" to get to know the other volunteers. After the exercise, we participated in several role-playing exercises that reinforced some of the key points in successful mentoring.

We got to hear from some students who are being mentored, veteran mentors and parents and all shared their various perspectives on the program. All of them reinforced the point that getting to know each other was key and engaging the mentee in activities that are fun and developmental is critically important.

We also discussed the importance of race, culture, and class in the mentoring of African Americans and Latino students. To give us a feel of where the students participating in the program live, we took a bus tour of those neighborhoods within Chapel Hill and Carrboro. It was interesting that some who also live in the community were unaware of some of the neighborhoods where there is public and "low cost" (for our community!) housing.

We finish our training on Monday!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


On April 1, 2007, I wrote this column in the CHH on the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program (BRMA).

Now, rather than being an observer of the program, I began my training program to become a mentor. The twelve hours of training is spread over three days. After we complete the training, we get matched with our mentee.

Based on what we did tonight, learning how to meet this critical community need is going to be fun and challenging. The other mentors who are training with me all seem committed to helping kids reach their full potential and advocate for them. It will great to join the established mentors in helping these young people achieve their goals.

Follow the journey here as I post my observations and impressions of the program!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


There are two forums scheduled in October on back-to-back evenings.

The Chapel Hill town candidates forum is Oct. 9 at Hargraves center and the Carrboro candidates forum is Oct. 10 at town hall.

Both are sponsored by the Chamber, EmPOWERment, WCHL and CAN. WCHL will broadcast and have the podcast available for later listening on their site,

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Time in NYC is always interesting, to say the least, and even more so when your visit includes the September 11th ceremonies and activities. Just walking about, you experience the sights, sounds and smells that are what makes NYC what it is. And for better or worse, there's just nothing else like it!

On Saturday, there was a street market set up on 7th Avenue from 56th (Carnegie Hall) down to the Sheraton on 50th. There were food booths on all four corners of each block and you could buy all sorts of goods - five T's for $10, IPOD accessories, leather goods, sunglasses, rugs, jewelry, and on and on.

On Sunday we walked up Central Park West and right by the Trump Towers,

I noticed the New York Transit "Going Green" sign at the Columbus Circle station where the work is being done.

Down at the Fulton Market, the street performers are plentiful and one guy (in red tights)literally puts himself in a box - a small box!

In the subway ($2 per ride, 6 rides for $10) the stations have retained the public art of old and much of it has been restored. "Musicians" still perform in the cars and are met with the same NYC indifference. I think I saw two tourist give them some money.

Down in the Times Square area, the purse peddlers are on every corner and there is the occasional Rolex salesman. When it started raining (remember what that is?), the purses got covered and out came the selection of designer umbrellas. Ah, the practice of capitalism and entrepreneurship.

Of course, Times Square has gone Disney, and there are various characters who are in high demand for posing with you - for a fee, but the "Pope" was willing to pose for free! The area is pretty free of panhandlers - instead there are "organized" spare change jars where representatives of the various charities ask for contributions. It was very "low key," as were the others with "wares" to sell.

Only in New York City!

Thursday, July 26, 2007


This morning was one of those interesting times when I got to do something that doesn’t roll around very often – I went to register our vehicles AND bring my blue lettered and numbered plates back to the DMV. Yes, my 1994-issued plates had been recalled. Recalled! Why? Because the DMV folks made a decision to make the letters and numbers red.

In case you missed it, here is what the DMV put out:


RALEIGH — North Carolina’s vehicle license plates will soon be getting a makeover by the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. In April, DMV will begin replacing existing plates with an updated version. The oldest plates will be replaced first.

“Removing old plates from our roads will increase the safety and security of our drivers and
provide law enforcement agencies with an updated identification tool,” Commissioner of Motor Vehicles George Tatum said.

Tatum said that many of the 8.4 million vehicles operating in North Carolina carry license plates that are well over 20 years old. Their legibility and reflectivity have deteriorated, making identification difficult for law enforcement officers, he said.

DMV expects to replace more than 600,000 of the oldest plates during the first year of the program, with another 500,000 plates to be replaced in 2008. These plates have been identified by issue dates and sequence numbers. DMV will continue replacing older plates each year afterwards based on available funding. The division received about $1.2 million from the legislature in the 2006 session to begin making the change.

Owners with registrations identified for plate replacement will be notified with their renewal
notices. They will be automatically issued a new plate. Owners renewing registrations through the mail or via the Internet will be mailed a new plate and registration sticker. The cost of vehicle registration will remain the same.

The new standard plates for private automobiles will continue the “First in Flight” design, but will carry red letters and numbers rather than the blue letters and numbers now in use. Owners will be encouraged to take their old plates to license plate agencies for recycling, keeping them out of landfills.

Well, just traveling around, it’s my opinion that it was easier to see the old blue letters and numbers than it is to see the red. I asked others if they had any reaction to the new color and all felt as I do, it’s just harder to see.

It’s worth noting that somebody at the DMV studied marketing because if you don’t want just any old letters and numbers, a few dollars more than the basic fee will get you a “Specialized” ($10) or “Personalized” plates ($30). In the specialized category, there are over 120 options, with military, collegiate, civic clubs, special interests, and stock car racing themes. And for the creative types, most of the specialized plates can also be personalized.

The personalized plates can have eight characters and some special characters may count as more or less than one character. Of course, the DMV won’t approve naughty words or other combinations that they deem unacceptable. On their web site, you can “test drive” your creativity to see if it’s available, then they will inform you if it's acceptable.

Well, after all these years knowing by heart the letters and numbers of our two plates , I will try to learn the new ones before they get recalled!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


This summer we spent a couple of weeks in Europe and rather than a travel log, I want to mention a few things that struck me about some of the cities that we visited. To get off on the wrong foot, my clothes (in a suitcase) got to visit cities that I didn’t even get to visit, but after seven days, we were reunited. Of course, buying clothes was a hassle and our airline says that they only will reimburse 50% - that is yet to be seen!

The fist city was BERLIN. I have not been there since the wall came down, so flying into their airport was a first time experience. The last visit was on an Army train in total darkness. The first thing you notice is how clean the city is. Their tube and buses was easy to use and like other cities, they operated on the honor system. We never saw one inspector.

I particularly enjoyed our visit to their Holocaust memorial in tribute to Jewish victims. I was particularly impressed with the honest expression of sorrow. As you stroll through the blocks of various heights, the emotional reaction is amazing.

Another popular site is Checkpoint Charlie. There is a museum but there is also a series of outdoor panels that tell much of the post-WWII history involving a divided Berlin.

The Wall is on display all over the place. Pieces are part of postcards and other souvenirs so you have to wonder about authenticity. We took lots of pictures of various slabs and all were highly decorated with "art" on the side that faced the US Zone. There is graffiti everywhere in Berlin and the city is trying to remove it - good luck!

As Lutherans, we wanted to take the opportunity to visit Lutherstadt Wittenberg for the first time and see where Martin Luther lived and nailed the 95 Theses on the door of Schlosskirche in 1546 on All Saints’ eve. The door is now bronze, but the panels tell the story.

We left Berlin on the train. Not only was their central station amazing, but the train was on time, clean, and a real pleasure to be on. Here is how they keep their stations so clean – people seem to be willing to take the time to keep it clean and recycle what they can.

And as I said, the trains were all top shelf.. Here we are arriving in Antwerp. We also went over to Brussels, Delft, The Hague, and Rotterdam, then ended up in Amsterdam for a conference. One train was seven minutes late! Note on the picture the commitment to those with disabilities and those traveling with bikes.

AMSTERDAM was nowhere as clean as Berlin, by a huge margin. There were also more bikes in Amsterdam. We were told that the bike is primary transportation for 28% of the population. I saw one mom with a baby on her back, one child on the front and the third on the back. Talk about family transportation! They also provide places to store bikes.

The only problem that I had with the bicyclists was that even with the dedicated bike lanes, many also used the streets and the sidewalks and you had to dodge them constantly as you walked. They ride fast and are not concerned about pedestrians it seemed to me. Even the guidebook warned you to be on your guard!

Visiting a working windmill village of Zaandam was also a treat. Watching the miller turn the sails to get the windmill do what he wanted was impressive.

It was also clear that marketing to the tourist is worth the effort, even if Americans were taking a beating with the dollar at $1.37 against the Euro. That didn’t seem to stop all of the Americans I saw buying stuff.

Amsterdam is truly a “liberal” city and there were many, many, young folks taking advantage of what the city had to offer. In addition to café’s able to sell MJ, there were also these “ladies” sitting in these picture windows that had big red lights over them. The Bulldog seemed to be a popular café with locations various places.

As for the ladies, none seemed to want their pictures taken. From the picture below, you get an idea of what the red light district looked like.

When it was time to go home, we had to fly from Amsterdam to London, then change planes to get to RFK. Unfortunately, it was the day after the car bombs in England, so things didn’t work out for us very well, but that’s a story for another time.

Monday, June 4, 2007


I wonder about what it will really take for some of our local drivers to stop being selfish and care about the hazards that they create. True, some still run the red lights with impunity, but you should see the Seawell School Speedway in the early morning. Doing 60 or more on that road is insane, as the recent accident near the train track proves.

We also have drivers who must not remember much from the last time they studied for the DMV test. They drive in the rain without their lights on, and they don’t seem to understand the difference between solid and dotted yellow lines. Just watch what happens when the traffic going east on Estes backs up at the Franklin St. intersection and how people speed into the left turn lane starting back at Library Drive.

It would also be nice if some of our drivers remembered that when they do make that left turn, they are suppose to stay in the left lane. And how about visualizing using the turn signals activated by that stick on the left side of the steering column? It one can visualize using them, then one can easily advance to actually doing it. Not only does it help other drivers know what you intend to do, it also shows that you care about others.

Maybe we should require drivers to take the test every couple of years, but that won’t happen – it costs too much. But what do all of these accidents caused by uncaring drivers cost us?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The CHH Will Continue (For Now)

Editor Bob Ashley (click link) wrote in today’s Durham Herald-Sun that the Chapel Hill Herald will continue as a seven day a week newspaper.

I think that’s good news, but I do have concerns. Mr. Ashley uses the phrase “stay the course.” I hope that the Paxton management does not believe that nothing need to change with how they resource or support the CHH.

Chapel Hill needs more than one paper and I think the dedicated staff at the CHH produces a quality product – with the resources that they receive. Thus, it would be good to see several improvements by the Paxton management – to include delivering the paper with regularity!

Friday, May 25, 2007

RADIO (WCHL Commentary)

Do you have one of those XM Satellite radios? If you do, you probably were a little perturbed when you experienced an outage earlier this week. Hearing about their satellite being down and then hearing the story on TV about the ominous 2007 hurricane season made me wonder; if the predicted number of named storms and number of hurricane days is anywhere close to accurate, it’s going to be an interesting season!
Remember the ice storm back in December of 2002. Fortunately, WCHL had just returned as a local station and was able to provide 24 hour information and updates for those of us who had working radios. What would have happened if we had to depend on a satellite signal for our local advisories and updates? Sure, if you had a battery operated TV or a generator, you got news and updates from the TV stations, but it was regional. Hearing our mayor and town manager projecting calm and competent leadership as they provided advisories and updates was really reassuring.
Sadly, I think we will face another crisis of that sort in the future and it may come during this hurricane season. Now is the time to get ready by doing what the emergency preparedness folks have suggested. Go to the Orange County webpage and check out their advice. Having a working radio and extra batteries is one of their suggestions. I don’t know about you, but my family and I will most definitely be tuned to WCHL 1360 in order to stay informed. Satellite radio may have the music you want but it sure won’t have the local information that you really need!

Sunday, May 6, 2007


April 30, 2007

Dear Editor:

In the first 120 days of 2007, we probably have not received our paper on one-third of those days. Calling the Herald-Sun “customer no-service” line produces even greater frustrations, especially when the voice tells me that they “deliver more news seven days a week.” Of course, if they did deliver it, I wouldn’t be calling. Sometimes after calling, the paper eventually gets to our driveway and sometimes it doesn’t.

With all of the challenges facing the print media these days, you would think a paper’s owners would do all that it could to retain paying customers. I have personally had conversations with the district manager, the circulation manager, and even the publisher about not getting our paper but it continues to happen. I just can’t understand why, as the other paper that we pay to receive has missed delivery only once in the last 120 days and the free paper comes twice a week without fail. Whatever the explanation, deeds, not words, should be the coin of the realm for consumers.

We did not get this Sunday’s paper, again. We called and were told that they would try to deliver it; it never came. It didn’t come Monday morning either, but the “customer no-service” rep said that they would try to get it out to us Tuesday. I assume that my Sunday column was printed but I have no personal confirmation. What’s wrong with this picture?

Thus, in good conscience I can no longer be an unpaid weekly columnist for an organization that seems to care so little about its customers. I have enjoyed my time writing for the Chapel Hill Herald and I especially value all of the feedback from readers. I understand that, as editor, you have no control over the business aspects of the paper, but I hope you understand my decision. I also hope that somehow, the Paxton chain will devoted the necessary resources to improve delivery and its customer service approach before it’s too late. Our community needs a community-focused newspaper, but is this a corporate commitment?

Thanks again for the opportunity to write the weekly Sunday column and I wish you and your fine staff good luck.

Fred Black

Sunday, April 29, 2007


It seems like that in the last few weeks, we have had event after event that has caused me to pause and wonder a lot about our current human condition. These events, both locally and nationally, have been gripping in their media appeal and ability to dominate the cable news, talk radio and grab the headlines in the print media.

But as one event knocks off the prior one for the top spot, I keep asking myself, what is that we’ve learned? I know that there is no law stating that we have to learn anything from any event, but for a community of thinking people with enormous intellectual capacity and who seem to value social progress, it seems to be a reasonable expectation. It’s as if we must be a living testament to George Santayana’s oft quoted line, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Let’s look at two examples. First, the Duke Lacrosse case, or the stripper false allegation case as some call it. When the case first broke in the media, the uproar was deafening and the responses were certainly predictable. Anger, disgust, outrage, hate, and repugnance were evident and came through in media reports loudly and clearly. The lacrosse players and their coach, and those defending them, appeared to have little support.

People firmly on both sides of the case accused those of us of all sorts of things when cautioned that in situations like this it was best to wait for some facts to come in before reaching a judgment. So when people called from all over our country and asked about the case, I responded that it had all of the ingredients that the media loves: race, sex, class, an elite university, and disreputable employment.

When the North Carolina Attorney General declared the three young men innocent, reactions were just as loud. Of course, some argued that they knew it all the time and others claim that you can’t be innocent when you have a team party with alcohol being served to underage teens while watching an “exotic” dancer. But the key point is that those who knew what they knew in the beginning were just as adamant when this development became public.

Then comes Imus and his non-humorous attempt at humor (he claims) and the Duke story is no longer number one. Again, we have race and a verified assault on a group of young women. People who supported Imus referenced the 1st Amendment and his opponents argued that he had no right to do what he did to those young ladies. No attorney general declared him innocent or guilty, the marketplace did.

When the broadcast sponsors were bombarded with complaints from the public, the TV and radio networks went from a suspension to a firing, but not because they really didn’t like what their star jock said, but because the market forces aligned against them.

What troubles me in this situation is that we didn’t get to discuss more fully the issues raised in this case. In particular, how much discussion has there been about the rest of what Imus said, that the University of Tennessee girls were “cute?” What was he saying? Was it solely because of the absence of tattoos or was it because of straight hair and fair skin? Note that this is not a new race topic that we can’t seem to discuss openly or honestly.

Do you see a pattern? We know what we know and the facts, whenever they surface, are not going to keep some of us from our rush to judgments in hot button cases. There are so many outlets these days like blogs and chat rooms where we can express whatever opinion we have without having any responsibility to know what we are talking about. After all, we have a right to our opinions and therefore the right to be 100% wrong.

But when it comes to both sides of the hot buttons of race, class, sex and other captivating topics, why is it so hard for even people of goodwill to have candid and honest discussions? Hence, I must keep wondering what it is that we’ve learned from these cases. It’s interesting that 30 years ago when the TV docudrama “Roots” first aired, we seemed to be on our way in making some progress towards being able to discuss hard topics. Now, I’m not sure we’ve progressed.

In our local community, we are facing some hard issues like redistricting and the achievement gap where race and class are prominent factors. How can we achieve solutions if we can’t have honest and open discussions? I want to be optimistic that we can show that we’ve learned something constructive and beneficial from these recent events. If we can do that, it would be a good thing.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


One of the truths of our civic culture is that there are two distinct groups of citizens. In one group we have those who are willing to seek office to serve their community and the other group is made up of those of us who observe the first. Clearly, both groups are necessary for our system to work but we should acknowledge that it takes a lot of courage to be in the first group.

What if there were an election and nobody was on the ballot? Not very likely you say because there are always those who are willing to be group one folks. I guess that’s been true, and anyway it’s probably more likely that there could be an election and too few came out to vote. But it takes real bravery to sign on to be in group one and no courage at all to not participate in the electoral process.

How would you decide whether to run for office? After deciding to run what else do you have to do to enhance your chances of success? That is such a good question that the Community Action Network (CAN) decided to sponsor another free and nonpartisan campaign and elections workshop that will be held at the Chapel Hill Town Council chambers on Saturday April 28th from 10 a.m. to Noon. Registration is not required.

The workshop will cover running for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Hillsborough Town Council and the two school boards in Orange County. Those interested in running, as well as those just interested in working on a campaign, are the prime target audience.

Here is how it will work. The workshop will have three components. The first will consist of questions from moderator Rosemary Waldorf (former Chapel Hill Mayor) directed to a panel of former elected officials and volunteer campaign workers. The questions will focus primarily on deciding to run for office, campaign staffing, scheduling, financing, publicity, election laws, and the use of technology. In the second component, members of the audience will be able to participate directly by asking questions of the panel members.

The panel members scheduled to participate are Nick Didow, a former Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board member; Steve Halkiotis, a former Orange County Commissioner; Susan Halkiotis, a former Orange County School Board member; Tom Jensen, a recent UNC-CH graduate who has been active in a number of local campaigns; Thomas Mills, a political consultant; Ruby Sinreich, a former candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council and a computer technology usage expert; and Allen Spalt, a former Carrboro Board of Aldermen member. Others may be added in the run-up to the workshop.

After the panel discussion and questions from the audience, panel members will break into several small informal groups. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss specific questions that they have and follow up on topics that were covered in the first two components. The last time that CAN sponsored the workshop, the small groups were very popular and the added benefit was that participants were able to establish relationships with the former office seekers and campaign workers.

There will be some useful information to take home, as CAN has prepared a resource packet. It will include basic information about how to file for elections, samples of reports required by the Orange County Board of Elections, and a campaign activity timeline.

Why is CAN doing this? As a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for the general public interest, the board sees this activity as a perfect way to increase public awareness of this critical civic activity. Additionally, no organization other than CAN has done a similar workshop so it fills a need. Several attendees at the last workshop did in fact run for office and thought that the workshop was useful.

Since it might be difficult for some to get to Town Hall on a Saturday morning, the session can be seen in real time on Chapel Hill cable channel 18 and it will be rebroadcast on future dates on the People’s Channel.

I hope that many people come to the free workshop or watch it on TV. I also hope that more than a few people in Orange County will be motivated, after some serious thinking and analysis, to seek office. Having a good pool of candidates means that we will continue to have good political leadership. After all, we have some tough policy issues to navigate.

Just as CAN has tried to be “a positive force for positive action” in the Orange County community, having positive individuals who are willing to serve us is a good thing; having to choose from a slate of many good candidates is an even better thing!

Fred is the past chair and a current board member.
Previous columns are available at

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Yes, April 15 to 21 is National Library Week 2007. It’s a time to celebrate again the contributions of our nation's libraries, our librarians, and our library workers, as well as to promote library use and support. That’s what the American Library Association says about the annual event that it has sponsored since 1958.

In our community, we are blessed with our outstanding local and county libraries and the richness of the exceptional academic libraries at UNC. Libraries are a vital component of the quality of life that we enjoy and I think it would be a rare citizen who couldn’t think of a way that a library has made a difference in their life. To say that libraries are transforming places would not be an overstatement.

We are also blessed in Chapel Hill with having a top-notch library director, a truly wonderful group of committed professional staff members, tireless volunteers, and two special organizations dedicated to enhancing our library, The Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library, and The Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation.

For me, libraries have always been extraordinary places to learn and grow, as well as find new materials to explore, and new ideas to ponder. And best of all, they are places that offer unlimited enjoyment. When we initially arrived in Chapel Hill, one of the first things I did was to go get my library card. As a fan of libraries, I was amazed with how robust a collection and how beautiful a facility we had here in our community.

Not too long after getting my card, I met a friend from our New York days who also had moved to Chapel Hill. She was on the Library Board of Trustees and knowing that I had chaired the library committee for an academic institution in New York, she encouraged me to get involved here. I eventually served on the Library Board and had the opportunity to serve as its chair for two terms.

Working closely with an academic library and then a community library, I have been able to witness personally the technological revolution that has occurred, and in my opinion, changes made have been for the good of all. I can’t tell you how outraged some of those professors were back in the early 1990s when they learned that the card catalog was being retired and would be replaced by a terminal. They were not shy about expressing their feelings, as they were uncertain about the coming changes. Now, those terminals seem very much at home in libraries and we have adjusted to the change.

In Chapel Hill, our automated catalog now uses a graphics environment and provides patrons with much more online information about the collection than it once did. We also have a beautiful web page that provides lots and lots of information and has content in Spanish. Our library also has Internet access and a wireless capability throughout. In other words, we are high tech and will become even more so in the years to come.

But libraries are not just about machines and technology, they are also about people and the services that are provided. For example, in partnership with UNC, we have computer classes. In conjunction with The Friends, we have several popular programs like the “Books Sandwiched In” Club, “meet the author” opportunities, and special learning occasions like the series on the Constitution.

Children’s programming and circulation continue to grow at a rapid rate; and overall, the Chapel Hill Public Library continues to be the busiest per capita circulation public library in North Carolina. This demand locally for library programming is matched with the demand for accessible community meeting space. Hence, the bond that voters approved to expand our beautiful facility should allow us to offer more space to provide what citizens clearly want.

Go to the library web site <> and see what’s happening during National Library Week and beyond. You can also go to <> and see what The Friends are doing to further the excellence of Chapel Hill Public Library. They raise money for library needs through their book sales, sponsor programs for adults and children, and foster interest in the library. Another place to visit is <> to see what the Library Foundation is doing as part of their “ensuring excellence” campaign. They and The Friends have made significant contributions to the library and they solicit community support to make it possible.

Yes, this week is National Library Week, and our library is a truly special resource. Use it! Everyone who helps to make it the special place that it is should be remembered not just during this week, but every week. After all, having a community jewel is a good thing, and recognizing that it is so special is even better!

Previous columns are available at

Sunday, April 8, 2007


I have said on more than one occasion that we live in an opinion-gifted community. Fortunately, we also live in a community where we have people who just don’t “talk the talk” but they also “walk the walk!”

On Thursday March 29th, I was privileged to be in the presence of just these kind of people when Habitat for Humanity Orange County, NC held its volunteer appreciation dinner at the United Church of Chapel Hill.

In the room were many who have made the local Habitat for Humanity a real success — volunteers, homeowners and staffers. In her welcome, executive director Susan Levy indicated what she considered to be the notable achievements since the 2006 dinner and notable they were.

Our Habitat group has dedicated its 150th home in Orange County. The “Fairview Initiative” in Hillsborough was started and it has helped to revitalize that community. Home construction started on Terrell Road and on Tulip Tree Road in Hillsborough and one of the homes is unique, as student winners of the North Carolina Sustainable Build Design Competition did its design.

Also in 2006, local builders Anderson Homes and Olde South Building Company not only sponsored three homes in Richmond Hills, they built them in a “blitz build” in just one week! This endeavor was part of a nationwide “Builders Blitz” resulting in the construction of more than 400 new homes nationally.

To support projects in Orange and Durham Counties, the two Habitat’s “Hand-Me-Up” resale store sold furniture, appliances, household goods and antiques and was able to give both county groups $35,000 each. Later this year, another store will open and sell construction and building materials as a way to not only recycle perfectly good items but also raise needed funds.

Another accomplishment that should make everyone proud is that Habitat Orange now has build 50 homes over the last four years with sprinklers installed. A volunteer spearheaded the effort and, working in conjunction with local fire officials, the idea came to life and now those 50 homes are some of the safest in Orange County.

Believing in being good stewards with the gifts they receive, our Habitat tithes $4,200 for each house it builds. This is the cost to build a Habitat home internationally. To fund its projects, Habitat, like so many other organizations, depends on the generosity of foundations and local donors. Last year supporters raised over $200,000 to exceed the Stewards Fund Challenge to raise $150,000. The $350,000 is to buy the land to build more homes in Orange County. Funds were also raised at the Southern Village 5K race and a picnic where former senator John Edwards addressed hundreds on the importance of affordable housing.

Habitat’s capital campaign just went public. With a goal of $5 million, $4.3 million has already been raised in the quiet phase and the organization hopes to raise the remaining $700,000 before the end of 2007. More on where you might come in a little later.

All of this good news is really great, but the REAL story is the Habitat volunteers. These giving people not only swing hammers, but they also serve on committees that make the program work. They come from every strata of the community and they do what they do out of a sense of commitment and love that is simply overwhelming.

Who are the volunteers? They are us! They are high school students and UNC students from a wide range of organizations and groups that want to help. Examples include the UNC Class of 2007, numerous fraternities and sororities, the business school, religious campus organizations, departments and many other university groups. Volunteers are from our many congregations of all faiths who believe so strongly in the mission: “Habitat for Humanity of Orange County brings together God's people and resources to build quality affordable homes with people who need them.”

Each Habitat homeowners is required to invest 325 hours of sweat equity during the construction of their home and the homes of other Habitat families. As a result, neighbors meet neighbors long before they move in and develop firm and cooperative friendships. They also work along side volunteers and build lasting bounds of friendship. And homeowners also know that their monthly mortgage payments are used to build more Habitat homes for another family, thus helping to build Orange County one home at a time.

I stand in awe of those honored for their service to this great organization, people like former board chair John Sehon who received the Alice Call Miller Volunteer Award for helping Habitat grow and improve to better accomplish its mission.

What can you do? Volunteering your time is simple. Contact the volunteer coordinator at 932-7077 ext. 221, or by email at If you desire to donate, go to and select the option that works best for you. Giving your time and talents and/or your money to support this worthy cause is a good thing to do!

Note: Fred is a Habitat volunteer and the vice chair of the capital campaign leadership committee.

Previous columns are available at

Sunday, April 1, 2007


Have you ever heard Graig Meyer talk about the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate (BRMA) program? If you haven’t, you’ve missed something special. If you have, then you know that this Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of Wooster and trained social worker is passionate, dedicated, and enthusiastic. This is just the kind of speaker you want, one who resolutely believes in this program.

Having been the coordinator of BRMA since August of 1998, Meyer knows the ends and outs of getting a program to run and the trials of keeping it running. When he speaks, it’s also extremely clear that he also knows the joys that come from seeing the program make a real difference in the lives of all of the participants.

What is the program all about? BRMA primarily takes black and Latino students beginning in the fourth grade and matches them with mentors to help the students grow both in the classroom and in life. The formal mission statement reads, “To establish supportive relationships between adults and children to broaden children’s visions of their future; consequently helping them reach their fullest academic, physical, emotional, and social potential.” The first participants graduated from our high schools in 2003.

To accomplish this formidable task, there are several components of the program that all come together to achieve success. First, there is the mentoring component where a mentor-advocate from the community is matched with a student. Many mentors establish a long-term relationship with the student and help to broaden the student’s world-view over a number of years.

As advocates mentors and parents work in harmony to advocate for students in both the school and the community to harness, develop and use the various resources that support student success. One program resource is weeknight tutoring led by UNC students. Meyer indicates that the students in the program and from UNC form a unique bond, reinforcing academic success and interest in college.

To build on such interest, the program sponsors college tours, workshops, and much needed assistance to students as they work their way through the application and financial aid maze. Mentors are able to share their personal insights and experiences and that also helps to demystify what for most is a daunting process.

To accomplish the social development component, the BRMA program, provides for group social activities, summer camp opportunities, and funds for scholarships to participate in activities such as music or art lessons or athletic team. There are also opportunities to take advantage of the many cultural resources in our community.

The Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute is the vehicle for developing leadership skills during the summer and their year round service club. These opportunities for leadership development are available to students who are not participating in the mentor component of the program. The result, of course, is a rich leadership laboratory experience where practice in service learning opportunities helps to reinforce leadership skills.

If all that the program is doing wasn’t ambitious enough, there are two other things that are important to mention. Developed in cooperation with the North Carolina Council on Economic Education and the Carolina Pros, former letter winners from UNC, a “Show Me the Money!” class provides some other needed skills. Participants interact with professionals from the business, finance and technology sectors get to manage the financial portfolio of real-world professional athletes. To test their skills, there is a statewide competition against other “managers.”

Lastly, fifteen students in the Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) have been selected based on their commitment to servant-leadership to participate in a service-learning trip to Ghana, West Africa this summer. This “International Service-Learning Trip” is an amazing journey for cultural learning and service to others. In the past, YLI service projects during the school year and summer camp experiences blended nicely with the opportunity to participate in spring break trips to help others. But a trip to Ghana? What an amazing opportunity for personal growth and cultural enrichment.

Obviously, none of this could happen if the program didn’t receive generous support of foundations and local citizens. The total cost per student for the trip to Ghana will be approximately $3550. To demonstrate a significant commitment students and their families are being asked to contribute $1000 towards the cost. The BRMA program will raise the additional $2550 for each student through grants, sponsorships, and donations from our community.

Some can help this great program with a generous donation. Others can help by volunteering their time and talent to help some young people build the foundation for success in life. Go to the program’s web page to see how you can volunteer, make a donation, or do both. Remember the stated mission of the program? We all do things that affect a child’s vision of their future. Doing positive things is a good thing!

Previous columns are available at

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Back in the 70s when I was a graduate student at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, three of the most challenging courses for me in my politics, policy and administration curriculum were Public Budgeting, Managerial Economics For Public Administrators, And State And Local Government Finance. Not only did each have a lot of reading and homework, but I also learned that challenging courses are even more so when the professor is the author of the textbook.

Some of the lessons learned those many years ago come to mind as I observe our local budget process that we engage in at this time of year. Textbooks state that our budget is simply a plan that provides a mechanism to allocate resources for the pursuit of goals that are consistent with the community’s preferences and needs.

To complicate it, we the public want a lot, and these wants shouldn’t be confused with needs. We are willing to provide our government with our money so that the government can spend it to benefit us. I can still remember Professor Jesse Burkhead challenging us to remember to keep the theory and practice separated in our minds because financial wizards can propose a theoretically perfect budget, but the political process makes the plan a living one.

We in Chapel Hill are now at the proposal stage. Our Town Council normally holds three public forums and hearings before making decisions each spring on the annual budget, the 15-year capital improvements program, and applications for community development, housing, and transportation grants.

Tough questions have to be answered, like what services will the Town provide and at what levels, and where will the money come from. Our current Chapel Hill budget is $81.5 million. Know what’s in it? If we wanted to maintain only the items included in it, we would still have to find additional funds for next year to cover inflation. If we don’t want to raise more money, then we have to cut something just to keep pace with the prior year.

Municipal budgets are typically incremental, as we don’t start from scratch and build the budget from a zero base. Rarely do budgets decrease from year to year, so to hold steady we usually reduce spending or reduce some program or activity. Most families find themselves doing the same thing when they see that their available funds won’t cover all their needs and wants. It would be nice to be able to go to the boss and say, “Boss, I need a raise so that I can balance my budget.” I suspect most people are as successful with approach as cartoon character Dagwood Bumstead is when he repeatedly tries it with Mr. Dithers!

Governments can in fact do this to balance their budgets — the raise is called a tax increase. Local budgets must be balanced so you either spend less or get more money. I think we most often see a blend of the two but it still seems like tax increases come right regular. Since we have the occasion to participate in the process to set priorities and let decision makers know how we feel about the spending decisions and potential increases, we should take advantage of these opportunities.

For the budget that will go into effect beginning July 1, department work sessions were held in February and citizen boards and commissions also had the opportunity to provide their input. Then, the first public forum was held on January 31. The Manager will present a budget status report and hold another public forum on Wednesday, March 28. In addition to the annual budget, citizens also have the chance to comment on how we spend federal and state grant money and the components of our 15-year capital program that includes near-term priorities such as the expansion of the Chapel Hill Public Library, Parking Lot 5 redevelopment and the Southern Community Park near Southern Village.

The Manager plans to present his recommended budget on April 23. The last opportunity for public involvement will be a public hearing on May 16. The council then hopes to take its final vote on the budget on June 11.

Have you already participated in developing our plan? Do you plan to participate in the future? Do you think some of the priorities ought to be revised? Do you have some ideas on how to make our operations more efficient and effective? If you do, you should take advantage of these occasions to be heard. Having this significant opportunity to participate in the hard work of government budgeting in this manner is a good thing; translating budget theory into practice is an even better thing!

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Sunday, March 18, 2007


Do you have any idea where you were March 13, 2006? Some might remember that on that evening there was a party near the Duke University campus at 612 N. Buchanan Blvd. As the majority of students were on Spring Break, some members of the Duke Lacrosse team threw a party.

Media reports indicated that there were adult beverages (even though all participants didn’t meet the “adult” requirement) and “exotic” dancers hired to provide the entertainment. The truth of what else happened that night is still in dispute, but, as we all realize, the “party” has had a disastrous impact on that team, Duke University, and the entire community.

I remember very well where I was last year on that date, for I was also at a “party” and both UNC and Duke students were with me. Our party involved a “road trip” (remember that great line from the movie Animal House?”) and it was a life-influencing party. Actually, our party was a work party, and our beverage of choice was water and I assure you that there were no dancers.

Our party was “Alternative Spring Break 2006” and students from the Lutheran Campus Ministry organizations at both UNC and Duke departed on March 10th to help with the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. We drove our vans to a camp on a church’s property in Ocean Springs, MS. The camp was overflowing with students and other volunteers from all over America, and everyone was there to do what they could to help.

Having seen the pictures on TV of the horrible devastation caused by Katrina, you think that you are prepared for the up close and personal view of the damage, but believe me, you’re not. When you see it, feel it, and smell it, your senses are overwhelmed. Just driving into Ocean Springs on the Gulf Coast was shocking enough, but the drive around New Orleans exposed us to destruction unlike any that I’ve ever seen. We all commented about how little seemed to have been done in the seven months since the storm hit.

We organized our party of 31 into three work teams. My team’s first project was a home in Pascagoula, MS. Our homeowner was at work and we didn’t get to meet her until our third day. Talk about a party that tore the house up! That’s exactly what our party was all about. We removed the walls, insulation, cabinets, floors, bathrooms, and the kitchen. With our respirators and safety glasses in place, we literally “deconstructed the home,” hauled everything outside, and then cleaned and sanitized the surfaces with a chlorine solution. The black mold was everywhere and removing it as we had been trained made it a very undesirable party event.

It was dirty work and the heat of the day didn’t help at all, but slowly, the house got cleared and clean. The homeowner’s mother told our group several times that she prayed each night for help because the family had no way to do the job themselves. When we departed, she said that she didn’t know that there were college students like ours, adding that they could have been at the beach having fun, but here they were helping people they didn’t even know. Then, with emotion that affected us all, she said, “When you’re the answer to someone’s prayers, you’re somebody special.”

After finishing our first job, we went on another project and came to know another family that had also lost most of what they owned. Each of our teams had similar experiences with the same kind of homeowners — proud people who were determined to stay in their town and rebuild. We simply met great people, including all of the volunteers who operated our camp, cooked our food, provided technical assistance, and encouraged us when we needed it.

For me the highlight was getting to know the great students in our party. They worked untiringly and were selfless. They knew that they were doing something special but they all realized that being part of the work party was more of a growth experience for them. And just as I came to know these great young people, they made friendships that transcended any school rivalries. In their unity, they saw the power that acts of kindness have on people who have experienced tragedy and extreme loss.

So when you think about students and their parties, remember these students and their party. They were so inspired and moved by the first work party that they wanted to do it again. So the day after graduation in May, we went back. You can never completely replicate a good party but the second trip came incredibly close. Overall, parties that help people are a good thing!

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Sunday, March 11, 2007


Not too long ago in the mail, we received a letter from one of those mortgage companies that wanted to save us money. They said that they could lower our monthly mortgage payments because they specialize in loans and are a leader in this area. This was not our first such mailing and I suspect that others have received similar ones.

The recent letter that we received stated that “public records indicated” the amount of our initial mortgage. I hadn’t given much thought to my mortgage being a public record until that letter arrived. Next came all of the media coverage on the home that the Edwards family built near Chapel Hill. Not only did reports indicate how much the Edwards’ home cost, but also there was information on the amount of their tax bill.

It is amazing what information is available to anyone who wants to spend the time to gather it. In days past, one had to go to some government office building to retrieve public documents. Today, the computer revolution and the digitization of public documents have made the task pretty easy. With a little finger work, you can not only obtain home sale and tax bills, but you can also determine voting records and other bits of data about your friends and neighbors without leaving your home.

Having such information available in the public domain means just about anyone can access the information, and some companies are cashing in by harvesting the information and selling it online to whoever is willing to pay for it. Nothing new about those with the entrepreneurial spirit finding a way to make money, but if you search the Internet, you might be surprised at how many firms out there are willing to sell whatever they can find in public documents about you to anyone interested.

To be honest about this, we must acknowledge that certain records are deemed public to ensure fair access to information. But with more and more identity theft in our nation, maybe it’s time for a change. What is essential for anyone to have access to? What information on each of us should be, in fact, confidential?

If this was easy to answer, I’m sure that the smart people who deal with this issue on a day-to-day basis would have solved it by now. A personal experience showed me how difficult the answers are. When I retired from the U.S. Army, it was recommended that I take my DD Form 214 (the release or discharge from active duty form) to my county clerk and get it certified and filed so I could get certified copies later. Then, as identify theft got more popular, the DD Form 214 became an easy target because it had all of the information on it that info thieves would ever want. In 2003, North Carolina changed its law to treat the DD Form 214 as confidential.

Another related problem is the fact that the military switched from the service number system that it had used previously to making the social security number the service number. A few years ago some enterprising thieves went to the library and used the Congressional Record to get the social security numbers of some newly promoted generals right off the document that showed that the Senate had confirmed them for their new rank. Armed with this information, they obtained credit cards and quickly ran up astronomical bills in the names of the unsuspecting victims. When the scheme was discovered, new rules required that only the last four digits of the service number/social security number be used.

Those who were caught in this scam were furious because not only their good name was compromised, but also their credit scores took a hit. After a good deal of time and more than a few dollars, things were sorted out. Sadly, those generals were not alone in having to deal with this crime. Our Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. These skilled thieves have all sorts of ways to take advantage of an unsuspecting public, but I think that readily available “public” information can only makes their job easier.

We can shred documents, protect critical data, not give out personal information indiscriminately, be extra careful on the Internet, and a host of other sound steps to protect ourselves, but how can we ensure that our information in the public domain is not used illegally? Fortunately, states like ours are aware of this problem and they are working to help our laws catch up with all of this technology. Let’s hope that our representatives do what’s necessary to ensure that we don’t become victims of technology or the valid need for public documents. Being a victim is not a good thing.

Sunday, March 4, 2007


Last year our church, Holy Trinity Lutheran on Rosemary and Pickard, started a wonderful new health and wellness ministry within our congregation. In addition to incorporating health awareness and a variety of programs and activities to enhance our quality of life, they recently sponsored an evening cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training course. Since I tried to increase awareness of emergency preparedness when I wrote about it recently, my wife and I decided that we should both be better prepared to take care of each other.

Our three outstanding instructors, Caroline, Dawn, and Jeff, came from the South Orange Rescue Squad, another one of our local resources that makes this the special community that it is. They see offering these courses as a part of their mission to educate the public. With the support of a generous grant from Strowd Roses Inc, a non-profit foundation dedicated to supporting the greater community, the South Orange Rescue Squad is able to offers free CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) classes to individuals and groups within our county.

Our class of two dozen ranged from university students to fully retired but extremely active senior citizens. Our instructors asked us why we were taking the course. We had some who needed a refresher course for their jobs, but we had more than a few who decided that it was just a good thing to learn or re-learn. In my case, the last course that I had taken was back in the early 1990s and CPR had changed. Learning the current procedures seemed like a good idea.

We watched a video about CPR and its importance before we started our practical work. The take-away message was that numerous studies clearly show that effective CPR performed immediately improves survival from cardiac arrest. Since cardiac arrest can occur in your presence, knowing how to perform it properly can help save family, friends, co-workers, or people you don’t even know.

We also learned that in 2005 new CPR guidelines were established with the goal of simplifying CPR for lay rescuers and healthcare providers alike to maximize the potential for early resuscitation. When the video presentation ended and the questions were asked and answered, our instructors told us to pair up, find a spot on the floor, and then one team member needed to go get our practice dummy. My wife returned with the new training device that the Strowd Roses grant made possible.

This plastic fellow was really state of the art compared to the old ones. You could breathe into his mouth and make his chest move, and this was really helpful when practicing your two breaths at one second each. When you did your thirty compressions, you could also feel his chest move, making the training so much more realistic than it used to be. We also were trained on the use of a mask that can be used if it is available.

We each practiced the required actions for adults and children over eight years old, for children under eight, and for infants under one year old. We also learned what to do differently if we were alone or in the company of others. It was stressed that if alone with a child or infant, you do your five cycles (2 minutes) before calling 911. If others are around, you get them to call 911 immediately. We were reminded that in this era of cell phones, you can’t always assume the phone will work. Another valuable piece of information was that the local 411 people are not able right now to identify the origin of a cell phone call.

After practicing our cycles of two breaths at one second each and 30 compressions and passing our test, we exchanged our adult dummy for an infant sized one and practiced more cycles using our fingers instead of our hands. We were tested again and then watched a video presentation on the AED device. Lastly, we learned and then practiced choking management, or simply removing an obstruction in the airway for adults, children, and infants.

After a couple of hours, we were all pretty tired, not to mention a little sore from being on our knees on the floor. But all of that was significantly overshadowed by our satisfaction from learning the current CPR steps and choking management techniques. Our top-notch instructors made it a superb learning experience.

This is a great course for individuals and for other groups to offer their members. You can contact the South Orange Rescue Squad at (919) 967-1515 or email them at to arrange training sessions. This is really a good thing to do!