November 2016 Issue

  • Colleges and universities seeking to attract and retain a more diverse student population

     

    About 20 million students are attending American colleges and universities this fall, according to the U.S. Department of Education.  Approximately 40 percent of these students are part of ethnic minority groups, reports the ED, with more than 900,000 students who call another country home. The number of diverse college students in the U.S. has risen steadily since 1976, be that from domestic students of diverse backgrounds, or international students who choose to study here. Most institutions now have offices dedicated to serving the needs of their various ethnic and cultural groups. 

    Virginia Tech

    INSIGHT into Diversity magazine recently recognized Virginia Tech as one of 10 Diversity Champion colleges and universities. The magazine said Diversity Champions are “institutions that set the standard for thousands of other campus communities striving for diversity and inclusion. They develop successful strategies and programs, which then serve as models of excellence for other institutions. Diversity Champion schools exceed everyday expectations, often eclipsing their own goals.”

    Virginia Tech’s student enrollment of more than 30,000 is 35 percent diverse, with 11 percent being international students. Two years ago the university launched InclusiveVT, an initiative which shares the responsibility for advancing diversity and inclusion throughout the university community. The effort is led by Menah Pratt-Clarke, who came to Virginia Tech earlier this year.

    “Powerful foundational values guide the work of diversity and inclusion at Virginia Tech,” says Pratt-Clark. “The commitment exists at all levels of leadership … extends to faculty, staff and students through formalized relationships like campus caucuses and college diversity committees, but also informally through participation in diversity events, forums and discussions.”

    This year’s events include a welcome reception for underrepresented students, celebrations of various cultural months (Black History, etc.) and a workshop with diversity master trainer Lee Muh Wah in November. Earlier this year, VT hosted the 2016 Hispanic College Institute for high school students and will host the fifth annual Faculty Women in the Academy Conference in 2017.

    But efforts go beyond events and committees. They spread to the educational level, too. This fall incoming students will take an online video module designed to help them understand key diversity concepts and how to support an inclusive, welcoming and affirming campus climate.

    Moving forward, Pratt-Clarke plans to continue building on the established foundation with a strategic focus on four key areas: working with local communities to create a pipeline for students to Virginia Tech; recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students; exploring opportunities around diversity and inclusion in the curriculum and orientation structures; and supporting individuals and groups engaged in InclusiveVT work at the university.

    “There is momentum to keep improving and focusing on sustainable transformation, with new initiatives this fall related to increasing the recruitment and retention of diverse students and faculty; reviewing the curriculum; and engaging alumni,” Pratt-Clarke said.

    Radford University

    The Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Radford University is an excellent point of contact for any Radford student, regardless of ethnic or cultural background. Director Crasha Townsend says it’s become a “home away from home” for many students.

    “For some, it’s a place to embrace their own culture; others want to learn,” she says. The Center organizes cultural programming, heritage celebrations and other campus events. Past events include

     

    Dine on Diversity (a series of discussions over lunch), Salsa Night, film viewings and discussions and a multicultural congratulatory celebration ceremony to honor graduating seniors. They also have sponsored off-campus trips to places like the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. In addition to the events, the Center also oversees more than 10 student clubs and organizations, including the Black Student Alliance, Native American Cultural Association and the Highlander Step Team.

    Radford’s student body of 9,000 is about 28 percent diverse, with about 1 percent being international students. Those numbers are up from four years ago, when Townsend began working at Radford. “It’s gone up every year since I came. I get excited thinking about the future,” she says.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Lynchburg College

    Lynchburg College has a much different approach to diversity than other schools. Most colleges have one office devoted to inclusion, diversity, multiculturalism, etc. Lynchburg College has two.

    “About five years ago, we decided to make a concerted effort to diversify. We hired a consultant who recommended we separate the offices,” says Pat Price, director of the Office of Multicultural Services. Now the Office of Multicultural Services works with domestic ethic minority students, while the Center for Global Education works with international students.

    Price says Lynchburg College is “very student-centered” and she and her colleagues work to create organizations and plan events students want. The Office of Multicultural Services oversees many clubs, has sponsored things like Rainbow Week and celebrations of important cultural events, days or months. Martin Luther King Day events is an example of their efforts. The Center for Global Education has sponsored International Student Recognition Week and a food festival. The Center also addresses things like helping international students get acclimated to college life, understand banking needs, and maintain up to date visas. 

    Lynchburg College’s student body of 3,000 is 28 percent diverse, with 2 percent international students. “We have goals of creating a more international perspective, a more engaged and global citizenry, she says. “We look for students that would fit. Just by virtue of the way our (global) population is changing, our (student) population is eventually going to be more brown than white.”

    Hollins University

    At only 800 students, Hollins University is the smallest institution interviewed. Despite that, their diversity statistics are on the higher side, with a student body that is 34 percent diverse and 5 percent international.

    Hollins has one staff member dedicated to recruiting international students. The website says the office of Cultural and Community Engagement (CCE) works to “support an inclusive community, promote acceptance and celebrate difference.”

    CCE oversees several programs, such as the Early Transition Program, designed to assist new students from underrepresented groups, and the International Student Orientation Program, which helps international students adjust to living and studying at Hollins and in the United States. The office also conducts Safe Haven workshops for those who want to advocate for Hollins’ LBGTQ community.

    CCE sponsors many events dedicated to the topics of diversity and inclusivity. Past events include monthly cultural programming to honor and celebrate Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Black History Month, etc., with film screenings, author readings, art exhibitions and lectures. There is also a diversity leadership series to encourage students to explore their own cultural identity and engage in challenging conversations.

  • Stedman Speaks

    Q: How much is too much credit card debt to carry?

    SP: You should keep credit card payments to 10 percent of your monthly take-home income. For example, if your monthly income is $2,000, your monthly credit card payment should not be more than $200. This doesn’t mean your balance should not exceed $200, but make sure your minimum payment is no more than that. Keep in mind, however, that paying off the entire balance each month is in your best interest financially.

    Q: Are there any benefits to using a credit card?

    SP: Absolutely! By making purchases with your credit card and paying that balance off each month, you’re proving to lenders that you’re a responsible, creditworthy consumer. It boosts your credit score and will help you in the future if you ever want to get a loan. Additionally, some credit cards offer benefits and points that can be redeemed for trips and/or gifts. If you’re planning on getting a credit card, look at one that offers perks. If you enjoy traveling, you might want to look at a credit card that offers rewards like airplane miles or hotel stays. Keep in mind that reward credit cards might have higher annual fees and/or interest rates.

    Q: How do I know which credit card offer is right for me?

    SP: There are several factors to look at when picking a credit card. First, you will want to see your available line of credit. If you don’t think you can handle the freedom of a credit card, start with one that has a lower available credit line, like $1,000. Additionally, look at the credit card’s annual percentage rate or APR. That interest will add up if you’re not planning on paying off the total each month, so make sure the APR is low. Finally, look out for cards that charge annual fees just for having them open.

    Q: I opened a credit card recently because the rewards were too good to pass up. Should I keep it?

    SP: Sure, but don’t use a credit card simply because of its rewards. The danger in this is that you’ll be tempted to spend money you might not have spent otherwise just to earn reward points. If you think you can use the card responsibly, then go ahead and reap the rewards of your spending. If you don’t trust yourself, you might want to close the account.

    Q: What are some of the best things I can do to keep my credit cards in check?

    SP: It’s important to set parameters for yourself when using a credit card. One easy way to do this is to use the credit card for one specific purpose, like gas or groceries, so it’s easier to keep your spending in check. Another way is to get a card with a low line of credit. This forces you to keep your spending under a certain amount. And it may sound silly, but freeze your credit cards in a bowl of water. If you find something you want to buy with your credit card, you’ll have plenty of time to think about whether or not it’s a worthy purchase while it thaws.

    Q: How can I protect my credit card number from being stolen?

    SP: First, you can use digital wallets. This gives you a level of security by hiding the actual credit card number from merchants or anyone snooping on your phone. You can also sign up for purchase alerts. You set the parameters for your alerts (e.g. your card is used at a gas station or a certain amount of money is spent in one transaction), and you’ll be notified via phone and/or email if that parameter is hit. This empowers you to check on any fraudulent activity and keeps your credit card information secure.

    Watch out for Stedman Payne’s column in the next edition of ColorsVA for more useful financial tips.

  • Stedman Speaks

    Stedman Payne is an experienced financial professional who serves as Member One’s Market Executive in the Lynchburg area. His financial educational series offers tips for making smart decisions when it comes to managing your finances. Whether you were tempted by a too-good-to-be-true offer or had a financial emergency come up, credit card spending can add up fast. In this edition, Stedman shares his tips for smart credit card use and things to keep in mind while spending during this season of giving.

     

    Q: How much is too much credit card debt to carry?

    SP: You should keep credit card payments to 10 percent of your monthly take-home income. For example, if your monthly income is $2,000, your monthly credit card payment should not be more than $200. This doesn’t mean your balance should not exceed $200, but make sure your minimum payment is no more than that. Keep in mind, however, that paying off the entire balance each month is in your best interest financially.

    Q: Are there any benefits to using a credit card?

    SP: Absolutely! By making purchases with your credit card and paying that balance off each month, you’re proving to lenders that you’re a responsible, creditworthy consumer. It boosts your credit score and will help you in the future if you ever want to get a loan. Additionally, some credit cards offer benefits and points that can be redeemed for trips and/or gifts. If you’re planning on getting a credit card, look at one that offers perks. If you enjoy traveling, you might want to look at a credit card that offers rewards like airplane miles or hotel stays. Keep in mind that reward credit cards might have higher annual fees and/or interest rates.

    Q: How do I know which credit card offer is right for me?

    SP: There are several factors to look at when picking a credit card. First, you will want to see your available line of credit. If you don’t think you can handle the freedom of a credit card, start with one that has a lower available credit line, like $1,000. Additionally, look at the credit card’s annual percentage rate or APR. That interest will add up if you’re not planning on paying off the total each month, so make sure the APR is low. Finally, look out for cards that charge annual fees just for having them open.

    Q: I opened a credit card recently because the rewards were too good to pass up. Should I keep it?

    SP: Sure, but don’t use a credit card simply because of its rewards. The danger in this is that you’ll be tempted to spend money you might not have spent otherwise just to earn reward points. If you think you can use the card responsibly, then go ahead and reap the rewards of your spending. If you don’t trust yourself, you might want to close the account.

    Q: What are some of the best things I can do to keep my credit cards in check?

    SP: It’s important to set parameters for yourself when using a credit card. One easy way to do this is to use the credit card for one specific purpose, like gas or groceries, so it’s easier to keep your spending in check. Another way is to get a card with a low line of credit. This forces you to keep your spending under a certain amount. And it may sound silly, but freeze your credit cards in a bowl of water. If you find something you want to buy with your credit card, you’ll have plenty of time to think about whether or not it’s a worthy purchase while it thaws.

    Q: How can I protect my credit card number from being stolen?

    SP: First, you can use digital wallets. This gives you a level of security by hiding the actual credit card number from merchants or anyone snooping on your phone. You can also sign up for purchase alerts. You set the parameters for your alerts (e.g. your card is used at a gas station or a certain amount of money is spent in one transaction), and you’ll be notified via phone and/or email if that parameter is hit. This empowers you to check on any fraudulent activity and keeps your credit card information secure.

    Watch out for Stedman Payne’s column in the next edition of ColorsVA for more useful financial tips.

  • NW Child Development Center to reopen in 2017 under new ownership and name

     

     

    The Melrose community should soon see the return of a neighborhood staple, the Northwest Child Development Center (NWCDC). Nearly a year after its closure, the center is set to reopen in spring 2017. The Melrose Avenue Seventh-Day Adventist Church bought the center in September and plans to restore much needed child care services to the community, according to Pastor Shaun Arthur.

    The center closed last year under allegations of mismanagement. There was a frenzy of news stories regarding the reasons behind the shutdown. Local media reported on accusations of alleged misconduct by board members and former executives. However, one major factor leading to the center’s demise was the suspension of support from the center’s top funder, United Way of Roanoke Valley. Afira DeVries, Roanoke United Way CEO, said at the time, the NWCDC failed to meet the United Way’s standards for funding.

    Despite controversial circumstances surrounding the center’s closure, it has gained a chance at a fresh start thanks to the purchase by Melrose Avenue Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which sits on the corner across the street. The church paid $100,000, says former NWCDC board member, Haywood Dunlap.

    Dunlap says the past relationship with neighboring organizations made the church a prime candidate for the acquisition. The church’s former pastor, Nathaniel Lyles, was a member of the NWCDC board. “It has been a very positive relationship over the years,” says Arthur.

    The church did its “due diligence” in assuring the center would be a good fit, he says.  The two organizations shared several core values, including health and education. The core values for the new child care center have expanded to include trust, quality, faith, family and community.

    Arthur and his congregation are excited about the opportunities the reopened center will present. “We’re looking to provide safe, quality child care services, educational and family development and career development opportunities to the surrounding community,” he says.

    Although the Seventh-Day Adventist Church has been a part of the Melrose community for more than 60 years, it is a part of a greater network that is helping to oversee and fund community transition. The union and conference that oversee the church will help to create valuable oversight and accountability for the revitalized center.

    Arthur assures Melrose Avenue Child Development Center (MACDC) will host a “new management, new board, new mission, new vision and new philosophy.” According to documents released by the church, the new board already is in place and consists of nine members, including Arthur. Gail Boyd, a longstanding member of the church and the Roanoke community, serves as board chair. As a grandmother of 13 with a wealth of childcare experience, Boyd has unique perspectives to provide to the MACDC. Boyd’s simple philosophy for providing community childcare is, “Don’t think of it as a child from another parent, think of it as your child.”

    The new board consists primarily of members of the church, a step which Arthur says will add to the accountability for the MACDC. Steps already have been taken to reconcile the organization’s relationship with United Way and the community overall. “For decades United Way was a lead funder for the Northwest Child Development Center and enjoyed a long and successful partnership,” DeVries says. “We are encouraged by what we see in the new leadership, and we look forward to seeing the outcome of their efforts.”

    To gain support and communicate their aspirations for the center, Seventh-Day Adventist held a town-hall type meeting at the church in late October. Members of the community, including educators, churchgoers, current board members and Roanoke Vice Mayor, Anita Price, attended the meeting. “We’re here to celebrate and support Reverend Arthur and Seventh-Day in the purchase of the Northwest Child Development Center,” says Price. “We all have connections to Northwest,” as Price shared that her own children attended the center.

    Various organizations willing to lend their expertise and support to effectively run the new facility attended the meeting, including Total Action for Progress (TAP), a Roanoke based organization that promotes educational, job and economic achievement for those in need. Among the topics discussed were potential accommodations for special needs children, volunteer work, projects in the works and funding opportunities.

    Fred Hatch, an elder at Seventh-Day and the facility leader for MACDC, discussed a few of the major undertakings still ahead for the childcare facility. “We really want to take the center into the 21st century mold,” Hatch says. “We want that corner to stand out as a beacon in the community.”  Renovations are planned including gutting and replacing the kitchen, installing new windows, paving and lining the parking lot, installing a playground and landscaping. The work is estimated to cost $120,000.

    “We want our parents in the community to know that when they bring their children to the center, they are in a loving, caring atmosphere,” Hatch says. As some attendants voiced concerns that older adolescents may not have opportunities at the center, Hatch shared his personal vision that one day MACDC also would cater to older children. Arthur says the church and MACDC “plan to engage the community in a wider way….By God’s grace, and by your support, this is what we are looking to do.”

  • Scouting builds character and teaches leadership

     

    The path from boyhood to manhood can be stressful. Fortunately for many, there is an organization that guides the process of developing into a responsible man – Boy Scouts of America. 

    Founded more than a century ago, Boy Scouts of America has over two million members ranging in age from six to 25. Ideally, a boy enters as a Cub Scout and rises through the ranks to eventually achieve the coveted title of Eagle Scout.  Statistics show the achievement to Eagle Scout makes candidates more desirable on employment and college applications, as well as provides potential for elevated entry into the military.

    Members of Troop 1108 in the Piedmont District of the Blue Ridge Mountains Council recently shared their prospective on scouting.

    Will McPherson, who is not only the troop scout master, but also the Piedmont District executive, has devoted many years to the organization.

    Q: I imagine the role of district executive keeps you quite busy, yet you’ve chosen to also remain the scout master. Why not dedicate yourself to the executive position fully?

    A: When I accepted the executive position I knew that I would stay on as the troop scout master. I never considered resigning. While I love the executive role and all that it entails, I also have a genuine love for the scouting program. I’ve watched some of those boys grow from youths to responsible young men. You don’t get to see that from behind a desk.

    Q. We all know how troublesome the transition from adolescence to young adulthood can be. It can be a bit of a crossroads. What is it about the scouting program that keeps boys on track?

    A: The most influential components are structure and discipline.  As soon as a scout joins, he is introduced to an environment conducive to building character, responsibility and personal accountability. They learn to depend on and trust each other.  They are loyal. They become brothers. And brotherhood is what troop members see as the common bond as they shared thoughts on scouting.

    Q: You (Jamal Hewitt, 16) have the highest rank in the troop; you’re almost at Eagle. What advice would you give a young boy who is considering joining?

    Hewitt:  Being a scout has changed my life. It’s given me a positive distraction, not to mention it’s fun. You get to meet new people and try new things. I learned how to ski. I doubt I would have had the chance to ski if it wasn’t for scouting. It has also opened many doors for me. 

    Q: Bobby Brooks, 12, is a scout, having started as a cub. Tell me what you like about moving up in rank.

    Brooks: I actually like the responsibility. At summer camp I was the medicine carrier, so the other kids depended on me. I did a good job and I’m proud of that. I’m also a SPL (Senior Patrol Leader). It’s funny because as soon as it is meeting time, I change and go into leadership mode.   

    Q: Shimek Reeves, 15, originally joined just to have something to do.  Have you enjoyed scouting more than you initially expected?

    Reeves:  Yes. I am surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it, especially the camaraderie.  I expect to still be friends with these guys years from now. When we meet up we can just be ourselves. We don’t have to fit in. We can be crazy together.

    Q: Marquis Hicks, 12, mentioned that sometimes the tasks you must complete to earn your merit badges are difficult. Have you ever been tempted to give up?

    Hicks: Yes, sometimes. But then I remember the other things that were hard when I first tried them. I kept trying and eventually I accomplished it. And that builds confidence and encourages me to keep trying, even when things become difficult. 

    When you see Troop 1108 out and about, you may be surprised to see girls among them. The Venturing Program is for boys and girls who are ages 14-20 or have completed the eighth grade. Some of the young ladies shared their perspective.

    Q: Hope Brooks, 14, what appeals to you most about the Venturing Program?

    A: It’s the education. I’ve learned so much. There’s the typical: life skills, cooking, things of that nature. But also I feel confident in knowing that if for some reason I was lost in the woods or the middle of nowhere, I now have the skills to survive.

    Q. Aliza Martin, 13, I hear that you were a Girl Scout for many years before you joined the Venturing Program. Which of the two do you prefer?

    A: I enjoyed being a Girl Scout when I was younger. I learned a lot, but now that I’m older I needed something more. I like learning and competing alongside the boys. It breaks stereotypes. We get to prove that a girl can do anything a boy can do just as well, sometimes better.

    A great deal of maturity exuded from the boys and girls. There was one final question for the scout master.

    Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

    A: Working with parents and volunteers and seeing the families have fun together. In today’s society we allow technology to take over everything, and it is amazing how many youth, teens and adults I see that are glued to their screens (TV, tablet, cell phone, video games, etc.). When you take that away, you get to see the interaction between a parent and their child. The downside to that is as you see the scouts grow and get older, you realize you’re getting older as well. For us, this is literally a family affair. My wife, Olivia, plays a pivotal role. She is always there to help in any capacity needed, even if it’s to encourage or reassure a troop member. She helps me lead by example. We can’t teach them everything, but we can teach them to be prepared.

    For more information, visit www.beascout.org.

  • Understanding Your Health

    Every year up to 20 percent of U.S.
    residents get the flu, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of it. While the statistics can seem
    intimidating, knowing the facts, the
    symptoms and getting a vaccination can help you and your family to best prepare for flu season.

    The flu is a contagious respiratory illness resulting from influenza viruses. It spreads when a person with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks, causing droplets containing their germs to land in someone else’s mouth or nose. The virus also can live on surfaces and spread when someone touches it and then touches their own mouth,
    eyes or nose.

    Children younger than five, adults 65 years or older and pregnant women are at the highest risk for developing flu-related illness.

    Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms can last one to two weeks. While it
    typically peaks in January or February, flu activity starts in October. The best
    protection against it is the flu vaccination. 

    If you are afraid of needles and always opt for the flu mist, you are out of luck this flu season. For the 2016-17 flu season, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on
    Immunization Practices recommended against using the nasal spray flu vaccine.

    This decision was based on data findings from the previous three flu seasons that the nasal spray was not nearly as effective as the flu shot. For example, the committee found the flu mist was only three percent effective in children aged two through 17 during the previous flu season. 

    Although you won’t be able to get your preferred flu mist vaccine this year, it is still important to get your flu shot to keep yourself and your family protected from the virus. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies in the shot to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu virus, so I encourage everyone to get their shot now before flu season really picks up. It is the easiest way to fight the flu, reduce your risk of pneumonia, hospitalization or the need to visit a doctor’s office during the height
    of flu season.

    The flu vaccine cannot cause the flu, but some common side effects include
    soreness, redness or swelling at the
    injection site and possibly a low grade fever or body aches. If any side effects do occur, they are mild and usually only last for a day or two.

    If you experience a serious adverse
    reaction, please seek medical care
    immediately. For the upcoming flu season, Carilion will only offer the flu shot based on these new federal recommendations.

    Beginning Oct. 1, you can schedule a flu shot through one of Carilion’s primary care locations or walk in to any of our 
    VelocityCare or Carilion Clinic
    Pharmacy locations. Stay healthy this season and be sure to get your flu shot!

  • Roanoke's Don Chon celebrates 104th Birthday

    Edyth Cisneros writes for LaConexionVa.org, the Spanish-English community news website for Roanoke and Southwest Virginia

    “Do you still remember when I would push your stroller around the block and you would grab the flowers growing out of the sidewalk?” grandfather Jose Ascension Cisneros asked me.

    I felt like I should be the one asking him if he still remembers. Grandfather was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, in 1912, according to his mother. His original birth certificate, which burned during the Cristero War, recorded his birth in 1914. So grandfather is either 102 or 104, depending on which source you go by. 

    His lifetime has spanned some famous historical events, including the sinking of the Titanic, the women’s suffrage movement, the first car, both World Wars, the Mexican Revolution, Gandhi’s protests, Mussolini’s fascist takeover, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the first television and the discovery of penicillin.

    Don Chon, as he’s also called, was born in Tuele de Gonzalez Ortega, his pueblo in Zacatecas. Money was tight for his family of eight. Shortly after his birth, the family relocated to Las Juntas, Guadalajara, where they lived humbly in “una casita de dos cuartos con una cocina y un patio (a house of two rooms with a kitchen and a patio).”  These humble beginnings are what made him eager to learn and that is why he went to work at a very early age like many during that time.

    While Al Capone was fighting for turf in Chicago, my grandfather, at 14, was holding down his first job – helping around the house of a wealthy man. He kept the work from crushing his spirit by cracking jokes with women who worked in the kitchen. Grandfather still has the ability to make everyone laugh.

    During World War II, my grandfather caught a train from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to San Antonio, Texas. He made his way to Montana to work in the wheat fields, and then south to Oxnard, Calif., to harvest crops. Coincidently, I would be born in Oxnard 50 years later.

    Fast forward a couple of years and mi abuelo (my grandfather) at the age of 24, moved back to Mexico and where he found a wife. Soon he and his new bride started their own family and 16 years later he lost her during childbirth and was left alone with two children.

    In 1952 he married Antonia Gomez, my grandmother. She was around 20, and took in his children like they were her own. Together they started a family. They built a home, a family and a town practically. Grandfather aided in the construction of Ayutla. As it grew, so did his family – 18 children in all.

    I was born in 1995 and that is when mi abuelo started to push me around the block in Oxnard.  The memories are quite vivid. I recollect peeking out from behind the jacket, blocking my eyes from the sun and grabbing at white flowers growing from the cracks in the sidewalk while grandfather pushed me around the neighborhood.

    At 104 the history my grandfather has seen will take you to the moon and back. He marvels at inventions like television, cell phones and the internet. Actually, he still tries to keep up with the latest gadgets. He’s become a whiz with a camera and still insists on taking photos during all our family gatherings.

    With such a long life span there have been regrets and lessons learned. He regrets missing the chance to obtain an education and escape poverty. And his regret pushes me to take chances.

    My grandfather has taught me to be resilient and unwavering. Despite his life’s tragedies (living through bombings, the death of his first wife and son and growing up in poverty), he always has stayed strong and has kept going. Even now he says there always is more to see in the world. He refuses to give up on life. His advice on living to be a centenarian: 

    “Vivir bien, quita el miedo,” he said. That translates to live life to the fullest; be rid of fear. People are only afraid to die because they fear not accomplishing everything they wanted to do.

    He also gave me a warning: “Don’t party too hard,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I love to dance. That must be where you get it from, but we all have to measure ourselves.”  

    Wise words from Don Chon, who revels at his age. “I don’t think 104 is a lot. I’m not done yet.”

  • oktoberfest in full swing at lynchburg’s main st. eatery and Catering Co.

    I have never left a restaurant and felt like dancing the Polka. And no, I don’t actually know how to do this dance, but for some reason that is exactly what I wanted to do after my meal at Main St. Eatery and Catering Co. in Lynchburg. Let me explain. Main St. Eatery offers seasonal themed menus. Currently they are in the midst of Oktoberfest, which runs through mid-November. The restaurant is alive with German-inspired decorations – blue and white triangular flags hanging from the ceiling and Polka music playing in the long and narrow dining room, lined with mirrors on both sides of the wall, a trick often used to give the illusion of a larger space. 

    Chef Urs Gabathuler, who owns the restaurant, is from Switzerland and his wife Michelle, is from Austria. The couple relocated to the United States in 1979 and started working in hotel restaurants in Atlanta. Soon they found their way to Southwest Virginia and began operating their own restaurant. Main St. Eatery is one of several the couple has owned. It has been open for about 17 years. Even though the themed menus are popular, the regular menu is always available. Michelle Gabathuler says the most requested dishes are veal Zurich, which is the Swiss national entree, steak fries, rack of lamb, and “customers love Mussel Night,” available Monday through Thursday.

    The seasonal Oktoberfest menu consists of Wurstel, schnitzel and Hofbrauhaus (court brewery or beer hall) specialties. Additionally, there are German appetizers, desserts, sides and beverages. When most people think of Oktoberfest the first thing that comes to mind is beer. So my dining partner’s beverage choice was Spaten Brau, a traditional German beer that he describes as light and crisp. Being more of a wine drinker, I opted for Vier Jahreszeiten Blau Burgunder, a full-bodied Pinot Noir that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    We selected the Bavarian beer cheese as an appetizer. It is a small portion, served on a small plate not meant to be shared. In addition to about a quarter cup of beer cheese, the plate contained whole grain sliced bread, horseradish and a tomato wedge. The beer cheese is a little salty, but not overpoweringly so. The artisan bread with a crisp crust and soft inside, is served warm. Michelle says the bread, which comes from a local bakery, can vary. There is an overabundance of horseradish, but a layer of tomato adds freshness, offering a good balance of flavors.

    My dining partner, Kirk, decided on the Jagerschnitzel as his entree. The dish contains mushrooms, ham, demi-glace, red cabbage and Spatzle. Traditionally, the protein (schnitzel) in this dish is either veal or pork. The schnitzel, a boneless pork chop, is tender, juicy and lightly breaded, although there were a couple of fatty bites. The mushrooms are earthy and the red cabbage is very tender. The Spätzle, a homemade mini dumpling type pasta, pan fried in butter with salt, held a hint of a spice that we were unable to place. After speaking with Michelle, she explains “the spices in the dish mainly are salt and pepper; anything extra comes from how the skillet is seasoned.” Kirk ordered potato salad as an extra side. It is served warm and vinegary with a creamy texture and contains no mayo.

    I selected the Chicken Bayrischer Wald – a grilled breast of chicken, topped with beer cheese, smoked red peppers and onions and served with mashed potatoes. The food arrived hot, and the chicken sliced thin was very moist and tender. The onions are cooked to a point where they have a bit of crunch. Red peppers add a layer of smokiness that make the dish more complex than simple chicken and potatoes. The beer cheese coating the dish made it a bit salty, however the potatoes are well-seasoned and not over whipped. They are a necessary addition to counter a bit of the saltiness from the beer cheese.

    The timing was a bit off on the delivery of food. There was a 20-30 minute wait on the chicken. We sat in anticipation with no word on the status of our meal while tables around us were receiving and eating theirs. It also would have been nice for our server to offer us more bread during our wait, or even more water.

    Having a sweet tooth, I am not usually one to turn down dessert, and this occasion was no different. The dessert cart was calling my name, so I selected Schwartzwalder Kisch Torte, a cake with black forest chocolate, sweet cream layer cake with cherries and Kirschwasser (a German clear brandy distilled from cherry juice and pits). Visually the cake is beautiful, with alternating layers of rich black forest chocolate cake, cream and cherries. It is moist and not too sweet, but very rich. Good accompaniment options would be ice cream, a cold glass of milk or a cup of strong coffee. Desserts consisting of fresh fruit, such as apple strudel, pies and tarts, are made in house; other desserts are outsourced from a local bakery.

    Even though the Oktoberfest menu is offered only through mid-November, Main St. Eatery always has some sort of seasonal menu. December through February is Emerald Oysterfest. March is March Madness, offering buy one get one free specials, and June through mid-August is Miami Spice, featuring a Cuban inspired menu.  The restaurant’s business is consistently steady, and while they do some advertising, most business comes from word of mouth. An email distribution list also helps to promote upcoming specials.

    If you are in the mood for fare a little different, visit Main St. Eatery, 907 Main Street in downtown Lynchburg. The restaurant opens at 4:30 p.m. for dinner Monday through Saturday. Or give them a call for take-out at 434.847.2526. More information can be obtained on their website – mainsteatery.com. They also have a Facebook page where you can learn more about their seasonal menus.

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