Summer Fun and Troubles

As summer is rapidly approaching many of us are already thinking about the outdoor fun such as camping and hiking. What we may be forgetting is the various ways we could become ill from these seemingly harmless activities. Everyone is ready to come out and play during the warmer months, which includes the ticks. There are several tick-borne illnesses we must be aware of to protect ourselves while having fun this summer.

We’ve all heard of Lyme disease and this year is said to be a particularly risky one for Lyme. Unfortunately, Lyme is present in more than 260 counties, reported by the CDC in 2015. Roughly 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme disease yearly, with 95% of the illness reported from all around New England and eight other states. Normally it takes up to 24 hours for a tick to infect a person with Lyme after biting. While this is an alarming truth, there are treatments for Lyme disease and there are several ways to protect yourself.

If Lyme disease doesn’t alert oneself enough to protect themselves from ticks, then maybe the Powassan virus will. Doctors have warn the public of this new tick virus in Connecticut beginning to appear in Bridgeport and Branford. While the symptoms are similar to that of Lyme disease, they are far more severe and there is no current treatment plan or cure. Therefore, it is imperative we are protecting ourselves before each fun-filled day outdoors and checking ourselves afterwards.

Before heading outdoors, the CDC urges everyone to spray themselves with a repellent containing a DEET concentration of 20% or higher. Pants and long sleeves are also recommended, however, if one just steers clear from bushy or wooded areas they’re at a lower risk of ticks latching on. Once your summer adventure is done for the day, you must do a thorough tick check on your entire body and on your pets and gear! Be sure to check your scalp, ears, armpits, between the toes and everywhere else. Showering within two hours of coming indoors is an excellent habit to pick up and it makes checking for ticks easier.

Following these guidelines puts oneself at a much lower risk for any tick-borne illnesses. One can have just as much fun while being protective of their body and health throughout the summer. Better safe than sorry, enjoy the summer safely otherwise risk losing the rest of the summer to an infection.

©Angela Angulo


Access to a Better Future

Access to a Better Future

In its second year running, the Access Center Social Rehabilitation Services part of Sound Community Services, better known as AXS, has been expanding their clientele slowly while helping the young adults within their program. AXS is a young adult drop-in center located in New London, which was created in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy in efforts to provide the youth with a safe and productive environment.

The AXS Center began with a vision of targeting those in need of educational improvement then formed into an increasingly fun, positive environment with other services and activities that are more appealing to young adults. Jason Hyatt, director of residential and young adult services explained that many of the clients come and start off by playing video games and watching television. “A lot of times it becomes more,” Hyatt said; more than relaxing and having fun. AXS became an outreach program adding supplemental services in which the clients are able to decide what they wanted to get done on their own time.

Young adults ranging from 18 through 25 are able to sign up free of charge and come and go as they please. Many services are provided such as mental health counselling, basic needs, job, housing and food assistance, as well as recreational events. Since opening, Sept 2014, over 250 clients have been enrolled, averaging about 16 clients monthly. About 15 to 20 percent of the young adults being advised and supported are currently homeless, 70 percent of the clients have completed their high school education.  “We focus on stage, not age,” Hyatt said. “What stages in life are these young adults in and how can we stand by them while they face young adult challenges.” Hyatt explained.

Each of the staff members are there for certain areas of service, yet all of them interact with the young adults and help in more ways than one. Meeting the needs of the clients is AXS overall mission as well as each of the staff members’ prerogatives. “We want to provide a safe, positive environment for young adults to grow with support,” Hyatt said.

Jasminne Samuels, an outreach case manager who has been working with Sound Community for over three years, has now been working with AXS for six months. Samuels helps with housing, linking services and mental health. “It’s hard,” Samuels said. Many of the youth that come into AXS are mentally or physically ill, have poor social skills or come in for basic needs such as clothing, personal hygiene, schooling, etc.

“People are in their own personal crisis. Sometimes they just want to sit down, talk and vent,” Samuels explained. The program staff strive their best to help the clients while letting them live as adults and make their own decisions. “I want to meet the client’s goals and expectations as best I can,” Samuels said. Rather than hand holding, the clients are shown the keys of success and are able to apply it to their lives on their own. When feedback is wanted it’ll be granted, otherwise listening is a big part of the staffs job.

The difficulty of the job comes with being able to help without dictating what each client should do next. “I learned to be more receptive of what the clients want,” Orlando Centeno Ramos, another case manager said. Ramos began working with youth at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in a special education classroom while working as a child care worker at Waterford Country School. He explained that he had to be more demanding in the job, unlike at AXS. “AXS has a completely different atmosphere,” Ramos said.

The AXS Center is a judgement free zone which includes a computer, family and game room, as well as a kitchen area. Some of the clients choose to use the computers to watch videos, get homework done or fill out job applications. Others decide to come for the warmth and play video games or watch television. With a relaxed atmosphere, AXS acts as a home away from home for these young adults.

“They’ve been helping me with housing and job searching, it’s also a good place to go when there is nowhere to go,” JS, 20, one of AXS clients said. Michael Morgan the program coordinator agrees that AXS is a great place for young adults to hang out and wind down if needed. “I feel we’re doing something very special, even providing a warm place is important,” Morgan said.

Being a part of AXS is being a part community movement where the future adults are proving to become successful. When young adults run into conflict in their lives, they’re able to figure out what the next step is with the case managers and staff in AXS. Opened 9a.m to 6p.m weekly, AXS provides essential resources and access to a better future.

©Angela Angulo

National Federation of the Blind Holds Annual State Convention

National Federation of the Blind Holds Annual State Convention

The National Federation of the Blind celebrated their 75th anniversary and their Connecticut affiliate held their 44th annual state convention in New London in November.

From Nov. 6 through Nov. 8, the annual convention consisted of several vendors and activists who collectively came together to hold this informational event at the Holiday Inn.

Logan Tech, a design and manufacturing company focusing on assistive technology for the visually impaired and non-verbal community, was represented by their sales manager Gary Tilbe. Glenn Dobbs, CEO of Logan Tech, was inspired to further develop this idea of technological assistance through his son Logan who has severe autism.

“Whether it’s the blind community, autistic community or non-verbal community; Logan Tech has helped many,” Tilbe said. Tilbe served as an advocate for the visually disabled at the NFB-CT convention, showcasing a few of the company’s latest technological advancements. One of their latest achievements, the Braille Label Maker allows for simplistic embossing in braille; useful for people of all ages who are learning braille as well as those who are already familiar with the language. The device also has a keyboard input for individuals who do not understand braille, but still have the need to use the braille labeling system.

Technological advances such as the ones Logan Tech offers, help the blind community live independently. “Expectations are very low in society; people will see someone who is blind and assume they can’t do certain things,” Erin Guillory, an advocate from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, said. He explained that positivity is key when coping with the stereotypes that fall onto those with visual imparities. “My wife is sighted,” Guillory said, a testament to the fact that human nature and compassion can transcend these disabilities.

“We need to be treated with dignity. We’re people like anyone else,” said Esther Levegnale, a board member with the NFB-CT Greater Hartford chapter, as well as secretary for the organizations Board of Directors. “The only difference is that we use alternative techniques,” Levegnale said.

Levegnale explained that the NFB advocates in a lot of areas in education and employment. “We speak to our congressmen in Washington about different issues,” Levegnale said, such as having all technological devices accessible for everyone and employers paying no lower than minimal wage regardless of the employee’s disability.

Federal programs such as the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, NLS, provide service to assist people who are unable to read or use standard print. “It brings the world to those who are blind,” Gordon Reddick, director of the Connecticut State LBPH, said. This service is accessible without costs through postage-free mail to people who meet the eligibility requirements.

“Just like a public library,” he said. Those that are visually impaired can experience literature through braille format and audio material.

Those various technological advancements and services bring more opportunities for growth and learning for people that are blind, helping to bridge the gap between the quality of life of visually handicapped citizens and our general populace. Education and literacy are essential for people regardless of any imparities.

Gradually, with the advocates from the National Federation of the Blind and the many services reaching out to the blind community, the nation is shifting toward enabling a more open minded and proactive approach to raising the standard of living for those affected by visual and audio related conditions.

©Angela Angulo

Refusing Refugees, Limiting Freedom

We’re not against the Syrians, we’re against ISIS. Connecticut’s positive decision of bringing Syrian refugees into the state is one that I agree with.

If our borders are closed and we refuse refugees, we are limiting the freedom we claim to provide. What freedom do these oppressed refugees have? Many of them will suffer and parish, among them children and women. We can at least alleviate some of the pain by providing them with a haven.

Agreeably, this decision seems worrisome considering the facts brought to us from the attack in Paris, Nov. 14. It had been reported that one of the suicide bombers was found with a Syrian passport, but this does not mean all Syrians are terrorists. While people do have the right to be upset we need to realize that Syrians are not the problem, the ISIS members are.

It’s not ethical to group together Syrians and Muslims with the ISIS groups. Just how it is not ethical to group together the Ku Klux Klan with all Christians.

We cannot condemn Syrians for the horrendous acts that occurred. These refugees are not coming to destroy out homes but to make new ones for themselves. They are broken down families who have fought and are still fighting. They are simply trying to save themselves and receive the freedom they deserve as human beings.

I am confident that our security system is up to par with checking up on these newcomers. The refugees must undergo a rigorous application in order to be accepted into the United States. INSERT PROCESS. According to Malloy this security process takes 12 to 18 months.

There are far easier processes to go through with entering the United States. Terrorists trying to infiltrate the U.S would most likely come through working or student visas, or as tourists.

Before thinking about this as a crazy, irrational decision, we need to remember who we are and where we all come from. We are a country that has grown exponentially due to the many refugees and immigrants who have come to better their lives as well as their families. Our ancestors came wanting freedom for themselves, who are we to shut out the Syrians who beg for the freedom of themselves and loved ones?

Of course there are always some risks, our ancestors themselves weren’t always easily welcomed. There is always a risk, but we should not be afraid while doing the right thing. “Women were raped. Children were damaged. People have lost limbs. We have an obligation as Americans to do our part in those situations,” Governor Malloy said, and I agree.

With over half of the nation’s governors stating that Syrian refugees are not welcomed, I am proud to be a resident in Connecticut. According to United Nations, Syrians are now the world’s largest refugee population. It’s a shame that because of the tragic event in Paris we would stop allowing Syrian refugees to enter our states.

ISIS has instilled a fear on many across Europe and now the United States which is unfortunately affecting millions seeking out freedom. Refusing Syrian refugees is like limiting the freedom we claim to provide. When we’re not letting them in, we’re proving to be a nation that isn’t free.

©Angela Angulo

A New Café With a Twist

A New Café With a Twist

The scent of freshly baked cookies and the sound of conversation and friendly competition, that’s what one can expect walking into the new café on Main Street in downtown Middletown, Connecticut.

The Board Room, Connecticut’s first board game café, is a family owned business which opened in June of 2015. This café offers over 400 different board and card games to play as well as various snacks and drinks.

“We have games for people that think games aren’t for them,” said Tenzin Masselli, who manages The Board Room and coordinates the events. Customers need to pay a fee of $5 per person, then they are able to play any of the games for the rest of the day, coming and going as they please.

The idea of a gaming café stemmed from the family’s interest in gaming conventions such as ConnectiCon. Masselli said the family was “happy all the time,” when playing together. Gaming has been a way for his family to become closer to one another, the café was inspired by their bond to “create a place with a similar feel for the community,” he said.

The Board Room offers the experience to meet new people while learning and playing various games. “The main idea behind shops like this is to build a stronger community,” Masselli said. Some regulars have begun volunteering for The Board Room, teaching games and giving tutorials to others that are interested in learning. “If you don’t know a game and want to learn, we’ll sit down and teach you,” Masselli said.

Daniel Nocera, coordinator of the Corporate Media Center and adjunct professor at Middlesex Community College, helped film a short commercial for The Board Room. Just under two minutes, short clips of people of all ages enjoying different levels of games are shown along with coffee and food being served.

On average “a good dozen or two dozen students come through,” Masselli said, a few of them now regulars. The students take advantage of the opportunity to save here. “Some people will study, then transition into gaming,” Masselli said. The Board Room sells some board games, magic the gathering cards, card sleeves, and deck boxes. “We’ve got it all,” Masselli said. People who decide to sit and play games end up saving hundreds. Some of the games the café carries costs over $100.

The Board Room is opened Tuesday through Friday from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturday’s noon to 12:00 a.m. and Sunday’s noon to 8:00 p.m.

On rainy Monday’s, they open up for warmth and indoor fun. Every week, magic the gathering, a competitive trading card game goes on. “We’re still adding stable events,” Masselli said. Next to one of the bookshelves piled with games is a suggestion board made up of sticky notes for any new game requests.

“It’s a daily struggle not to eat every cookie,” Masselli said. Soon Masselli says The Board room will be running more events and the walls will be fully decorated with paintings to attract more customers. “We’ve been adding things every week to bring people in,” he said.

©Angela Angulo