June 2017 Issue

  • “Peacemakers” hoping to curb violence in the Northwest Roanoke

    If you have lived in Roanoke for any period, you are probably aware the Northwest area has a stigma of being a crime-laden community. WDBJ-7 reports that in 2015 the Northwest section had 25 incidents involving gun violence and 18 of the same offenses in 2016. It was the people behind these statistics and the murder of a friend, which motivated local activist Shawn Hunter to do something to deter violence in that part of the city.

    Hunter grew up in a high-crime area in Washington, D.C. Although he has degrees in business management and administrative management, his true passion is to help people in communities similar to community where he grew up. He has more than 15 years’ experience in social work, having worked in both D.C. and at Roanoke’s Total Action for Progress (TAP). The loss of his friend inspired him to take a more personal approach. In September 2016, Hunter founded Peacemakers, Inc., and the organization has been growing ever since. Each week, volunteers from Peacemakers canvass the Northwest community, asking residents what they need and want in order to succeed. They specifically target young people between the ages of 18-30, as statistics show that group is the most likely to get into the kind of trouble that leads to death or incarceration. “I ask them if they want a job. If they say yes, I help them get a job,” Hunter said.

    In addition to the canvassing, Peacemakers patrols the community nightly to help de-escalate situations. Hunter is certified by the Department of Criminal Justice as a facilitator and as a trainer in conflict resolution. “The people that can stop this senseless violence are not the police. The police are reactionaries; they get a phone call that somebody got shot, they react to it. We’re going out there trying to prevent this thing from happening in the first place. We can’t stop all crime, but we can be a deterrent,” Hunter said.

    Twenty-five volunteers from all backgrounds and ethnicities run Peacemakers. They attend weekly trainings in conflict resolution, CPR, self-defense and other relevant topics. Many of the volunteers have served time and some have felony charges. This may be controversial to some but “everybody is an ex-something,” he said. “Everybody is an offender in some way throughout their life. Everybody has something they’ve stopped, whether that be weed, cigarettes or coffee. They’ve cleaned themselves up. Ex means literally that you don’t offend anymore. We’ve found that those who have been out in the world and experienced incarceration and decided to clean their lives up can empathize more with people who are involved in crime. They’ve been there. If a person didn’t grow up in that type of environment or community, nine times out of 10 they aren’t going to be able to capture the people we’re trying to capture.”

    The Peacemakers headquarters is in an old firehouse in the Northwest community near the corner of 24th Street and Melrose Avenue. The center, which opened in April, is home to a computer lab, job readiness training and classes in self-defense, boxing and conflict resolution. Karate classes will be added soon. “This building [the firehouse] was closed down for seven years. We cleaned it up and brought it back to life and now it's functional and nice and clean. That's the same thing we want to do in the community. Once you clean it up, the dirt and filth is gonna leave,” Hunter said.

    Future dreams for Peacemakers include a village center that would offer affordable apartments and a business incubation program to teach trades and job skills. The organization recently purchased a second building on 11th Street to make this dream a reality.

    Those interested in volunteering with Peacemakers, Inc. may contact Shawn Hunter at 540-278-3551.

  • Stedman Speaks: Dipping Your Toes in the Investment Pool

    Stedman Payne is an experienced financial professional who serves as Member One’s Market Executive in the Lynchburg area. His financial education series offers tips for making smart decisions when it comes to managing your finances.
    From a young age you’re told to save money for the future. But when it comes time to actually put learning into practice, many of us just don’t know where to begin. A savings account is a great start, but are you aware of how easy it can be to earn more on the money you already have? Here are a few ways to get your feet wet with investing and what to keep in mind for retirement.

    Q: I know I should be investing, but I don’t know where to start. What do you suggest?
    SP: While there are many resources like books, online articles and even podcasts available, nothing beats face-to-face advice, especially when you’re new to investing. In addition to doing your own research, check in with your financial institution to see what they offer and to get that personal, expert guidance. Low-risk investments like money market accounts and share certificates are available at most financial institutions and can be a good way to jump-start your investment goals.

    Q: You mentioned “low-risk investments.” Does that mean there are high-risk options, too?
    SP: Yes, there are. With low-risk investments, the chances of you losing any money are minimal; however, you won’t get rich off of them. You’ll take a bigger chance with high-risk options like Exchange Traded Funds (EFTs), Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), or venture capital investments, but they have the potential to yield significant returns. Unless you have a deep understanding of investing, I suggest you work with a financial advisor or investment firm should you choose this route. They have the knowledge to help you make sound investment decisions.

    Q: How do I invest for retirement?
    SP: Whether it’s a long way off or could happen in a few years, it’s never too early (or late) to think about retirement savings. One of the best ways is to invest in your employer’s retirement package. Speak to the human resources department to understand how your retirement package works and if your employer is willing to match your contributions. If they do, max it out so you don’t leave any money on the table. If you feel like you still need more for a comfortable retirement, look into a Traditional or Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Check with your financial institution first to see if it offers these products. You can speak with a financial advisor or an investment firm to open one as well.

    Q: How much should I be investing?
    SP: This is where setting a budget for yourself comes in handy because it can help determine how much you can afford to allocate toward investments. If you’re just starting out with investing, five percent of your take-home income is a good place to begin. Take a look at your monthly expenditures. You might need to make some adjustments or take money from your discretionary fund to get to that five percent, but don’t take this amount from your fixed expenses like bills, emergency fund, or savings goals.

    Q: I’ve seen friends and family retiring then buying vacation homes or going on trips. How do I get there?
    SP: Keep in mind that there are many paths to building wealth. It generally takes years of disciplined and strategic saving and investing to get there. Your friends and family may have started saving early in life. Maybe there were other factors such as large or more risky investments that paid off or additional income like inherited funds that helped them get there. If you have dreams of retiring someday, my best advice is to start saving as much as you can as early as you can. Set a goal, like reaching a certain amount by retirement age, and keep that in mind throughout your saving and investing journey. You’ll be making some sacrifices now, but it will be worth it when you buy that vacation home someday.

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

     

  • YMCA Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program

    For many children summer vacations mean time at the beach, swimming pools, cookouts and family reunions. However, for other children summer vacation brings a different image to mind. Recent data show almost half of school age children in Virginia either hover near or are below the poverty line. These children often are eligible for free-and-reduced meals at school. While one child may anticipate the two-to-three month break from school, their classmate might fear their parents will not be able to afford to feed them. Parents are forced to adjust budgets to accommodate those extra groceries. Many also must add childcare costs to that already overextended budget. In addition, we all know, food is a necessity. The Lynchburg YMCA is on stride to lessen the burden of feeding, while also working to stimulate the mind during summer break.

    A common complaint among teachers is they spend the first two months of each new school year re-teaching material their students learned the previous year. The students seem to forget much of what they absorb between August and June. This regression commonly is called Summer Learning Loss. Many things factor into the process of losing learned material. The core factor is the cliché: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” When a child is not actively exercising the brain, as they do in the classroom, knowledge can fade. And when you couple that with an empty stomach, learning becomes increasingly more difficult. It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach. The YMCA’s Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program sets out to nourish often-overlooked children’s minds as well as bodies.

    With support from local schools, eligible low-income students to participate in the program. In order to qualify for the program, a child must be entering first, second or third grade in the fall, as well as meet their school’s requirements, which vary by school district.

    Participants in the six-week program are provided breakfast, lunch and snacks, and those meals adhere to the USDA dietary guidelines. The Y also provides transportation to and from the program. In addition to the literacy and math-based curriculum, the Y also incorporates daily physical activities. The activities include, walking nature tails, fishing, dancing, archery and field trips. When asked what she liked most about the program, one parent revealed children get to see things they have not seen before. Her child had visited a zoo for the first time. He children also had learned to swim as an outcome of their participation. She said she had considered enrolling her children in a class in past years, but could not afford the fees. The fact there was no cost for any of the program activities was “a blessing” to her family. She noted not only were her kids “not behind when school started,” but they were far ahead of their peers, which set them up for invitations to advanced classes. Another example of the program impact is the effect of the students’ social skills. One child, in particular, was an introvert at the beginning of the six weeks. He rarely spoke aloud and was resistant to any type of school during the summer. In only a few weeks, he was transformed. He engaged with both staff and other students and was eagerly receptive to learning.

    YMCA staff report that these experiences are common among program parents, with most parents becoming more engaged in their child’s academic career. The only parental critique is disappointment when a child has surpassed the third grade and is no longer eligible to participate. Staff also expressed regret that due to funding they only have been able to serve a limited number of students. However, having been awarded a new grant recently, they hope to double last year’s numbers by reaching 300 children.

    In addition, their website also boasts the following statistics:

    • 64 percent of participants gained reading and literacy skills compared to a national average of 62 percent

    • two months average grade-equivalent gain in math

    • 12,345 healthy meals were served during the six-week program ensuring youth in low income homes received proper nutrition during the summer months

    • 89 percent of parents report they are now more engaged in their child's education, resulting in an increase of parent to child reading at home

    • 100 percent of parents reported their children have a more positive attitude about school

    • 100 percent of participants were engaged in and exposed to several enrichment activities and programs such as music appreciation, visual arts, digital arts and STEM

    • All children were given the opportunity to participate in life saving swim lessons from certified swim instructors, enabling them to be safe in and around water while gaining confidence and independence

    For more information on Summer Learning Loss, visit
    www.ymcacva.org/summer-learning-loss-prevention-program.html

     

  • Twin Hoops camp continues to bounce along offering fundamental training to future hoopsters

    Although there are no shortage of community development programs in the Star City, two Roanoke natives have become staples in the city’s mentorship culture for years. Damon and Ramon Williams are a pair of twins who founded the South Roanoke sport and mentorship program, aptly named: Twin Hoops Basketball Camp.

    The program celebrated its 20-year anniversary in 2016, and was accompanied by festivities honoring former mentors and former Olympian and NBA player Bimbo Coles, who was the guest speaker. “It [the anniversary] was a monumental achievement. We attribute our longevity and success to the quality of our staff and counselors. Most, if not all, of our counselors are former TWIN Hoops campers,” Damon said.

    Twin Hoops Basketball Camp primarily runs two sessions during the summer, the first in June and the last in August. The program is open to boys and girls ranging in age from seven to 15.

    “Player to coach ratio is small, which provides more individual attention, quality of the staff and counselors,” Damon said. Recently, two new programs called “Fundamentals: Up Your Game!” and “3 on 3: The League” have been added in the spring and fall to meet demand for year round development. It is clear the Williams twins are still seeking ways to expand the program in order to meet the needs of the community in a meaningful way.

    “Other ways we engage the community is by having leaders and other professionals in the community as guest speakers.  We address issues that might affect our young people directly or indirectly as they grow,” Ramon said.

    The Williams twins have an extensive background in both basketball and leadership. The twins followed a similar path growing up, both attending Virginia Military Institute with the help of a pair of Division 1 basketball scholarships. The twins reached success in their college basketball careers, becoming the third and fourth leading scorers in VMI’s history.

    From there, coaching was a long-standing objective of the Williams brothers. Both coached at Salem High School for a time. As their paths diverged, Ramon went on to coach for roughly 20 years in several conferences, including Big East, the Southern Conference and the ACC. Damon also coached in the Southern Conference for a short time, and also as a high school head coach.

    “As youngsters, we had a lot of mentors growing up, from our parents, who were educators, and high school coaches that helped shape our basketball careers. To learn basketball we attended the Frankie Allen CORD basketball camp, which was our first basketball camp experience,” Ramon said.

    It is a fair assumption to make, that basketball and great expectations run intertwined in the Williams’ DNA. Twin Hoops became something of a spiritual successor to the CORD program.  

    “We saw the value and the impact of what CORD had on our basketball careers. This set the groundwork in 1996 of us starting TWIN Hoops Basketball,” Ramon said. While instilling good basketball fundamentals is a primary goal of Twin Hoops, good life practices are also a fundamental part of the program.

    “Our staff and counselors provide a safe and fun environment for all our campers. Whether we have a first time camper or repeat camper we stress teamwork, good character and having a great attitude.  We not only stress basketball fundamentals but also life skills beyond the court,” Damon said.

    According to the Williams twins, many of the Twin Hoops campers go on to continue the mentorship and basketball fundamentals that bounced into them. Many become counselors in Twin Hoops, leaders in the community or have successful basketball careers of their own.

    In each camper, the Williams twins sees a portion of their own experience and cherish the unique transformation of all of them. “When you have a young person come for the first time--and often our camp may be their first camp experience – they may be apprehensive and nervous.  By the end of the week, we see them improve, gain confidence, mature, meet new friends and most of all having fun, which is most rewarding,” Ramon said.

     

  • A Look at Sleep

    Do you get enough sleep? On average, many Americans only get six hours of sleep per night or less. It is important to your health as it gives the body and brain time to recover and prepare for the next day.

    The amount of sleep you personally need is unique to you. There is no “magic number” – sleep needs vary by age and among individuals. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep for good health and mental functioning. If you feel daytime drowsiness, even during boring activities, you probably haven’t had enough sleep. If interrupted, you may feel tired, become irritable and lose concentration during the day.

    Not getting enough sleep can make it difficult for your brain to perform basic functions. In addition, your risk for several illnesses such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes increases due to lack of sleep.

    To improve your sleep, consider doing the following:

    • Get up at the same time every morning, regardless of when you went to sleep. Set a realistic bedtime and try to go to bed at the same time every night (it’s best to have a bedtime when you are usually sleepy).
    • Limit time in bed to eight hours, unless you are ill, and don’t take naps or lie down during the day.
    • Use your bedroom for sleeping only, and make it as quiet and as dark as possible. (While in bed, do not watch television, do paperwork or computer work, eat, etc.)
    • Along those same lines, avoid using a smartphone while in bed.
    • Avoid exercise within four hours of bedtime.
    • Avoid eating or drinking large amounts within three hours of bedtime, and don’t drink caffeine after noon (a light snack is OK).
    • No alcohol or cigarettes within four to six hours of bedtime
    • Sleep in a well-ventilated
    • and humidified area (keep temperature in your bedroom cool, but not too cool or warm).
    • If you can’t sleep, go to another room and engage in a quiet, relaxing or boring activity (repeat this as often as necessary during the night).
    • If you get up during the night, return to bed only when sleepy. Don’t worry about losing sleep, you will make it up on the following night.

    All of us have trouble sleeping occasionally, but if you are having regular problems or difficulty staying asleep, talk with your health care provider. For more information, visit CarilionClinic.org.

  • Hot & Cold Café sizzling with flavor as the owners celebrate decade of Indian-Mediterranean fusion

    No true party is complete unless there is cake involved. This is just how Hot & Cold Cafe in Lynchburg celebrated its recent 10-year anniversary, by sharing cake with all customers. Owner Uday Mukherjee and his native New Jerseyan wife, Timby, created and opened the Indian and Mediterranean fusion restaurant in 2007.

    Uday is originally from Kolkata, India. He lived and worked in many regions of India and was able to pick up tips in his cooking through his experiences. He learned to cook some from his mother, and he has adapted many of her recipes to make them his own. Most dishes are derived from Northern India and is reflected in preparation and spices he uses.

    The chef landed employment in New York. The decision to move to Virginia was made when two job offers came up – one in Virginia, and the other in Florida. He struggled with the decision but a friend suggested Virginia because it was closer to New York in the event he decided to return.

    Timby was working in downtown when she got wind of a local restaurant owner trying to sell her business. She and Uday had been having conversations about the absence of Indian cuisine in Lynchburg and it was too good of a deal to pass up. The previous owner shared her recipes for the Mediterranean cuisine she had specialized in and the “fusion” of Indian and Mediterranean was born.

    The restaurant is located at 205 Ninth Street, which is right off Main Street in the heart of downtown. Lunch is the most popular time because they offer a buffet, and Uday is firm when saying, “even though my buffet is small the quality and taste is huge!”

    As fans of both Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, Kirk and I inquired about their most popular dish. “Really it depends on what the individual is in the mood for,” says Timby. “A popular vegetarian and Mediterranean dish is The Egyttian, which is a wrap containing falafel, hummus and tabouli. The most popular Indian dish is usually the Chicken Tikka Masala.”

    We did not arrive during the lunch buffet, but were able to try multiple items from the main menu. As a starter, we chose the Small Plate, which allows you to select three “Starters.” Our choices were Falafel, Tabouli and Hummus and also added for us to try was the Baba Ghanouj. Upon my objection against the baba ghanouj due to the sometimes bitterness of eggplant, Timby explains that Uday’s preparation involves roasting the eggplant, which helps alleviate that objectionable taste. The wheat in the tabouli is soaked in lemon juice that adds an extra pop of freshness along with the tomato and parsley. The hummus and falafel were tasty and texturally on point, but the Tabouli was definitely the star.  Also added as a condiment was onion chutney. The chutney is very spicy, not sweet, as you would expect. Pleased with the flavors, I selected it as the spice element alongside my entree.

    Upon ordering you will be asked what your preferred spice level is. Both of our dishes contained a gravy or sauce and were served in an individual bowl along with a larger bowl of basmati rice to be shared. An additional clean plate allows you to serve yourself as much or as little rice and food as you like.

    Timby says her favorite dish is the Lamb Mango, and I chose this as my entrée. People always pressure me to try lamb, saying that I have just never had it prepared the right way and that is why I do not like it. The lamb arrives and I savor the aroma of the small cubes of meat, push it around with my fork a bit and finally take a bite. To my surprise, the meat is not gamey due to the halal preparation. It does have an unfamiliar taste to me but not unpleasant and it is very tender. The mango, cut into small bits, does not overpower the gravy. The addition of onion chutney I requested on the side turns this dish into a nice combination of sweet and spicy.

    The Chef Specialty from the Palak Specialties menu was Kirk’s entree choice. He requested a medium spice level. Palak is basically a gravy made of pureed spinach and very popular in North Indian cuisine. The dish contains a tender mix of chicken and lamb along with carrots and broccoli. The vegetables introduce an unexpected sweetness that balance the flavors and also make the dish more substantial.

    Although full from my meal, I could not pass up an opportunity to try the Kulfi, Hot and Cold’s vegan ice-cream. The sweet treat is made with almond milk and coconut cream and is reminiscent of frozen ice. This is the only vegan dessert currently on the menu yet Uday tells me he always is exploring new ways to create a tasty vegan dish. He also is working on a recipe for Mango Kulfi, but unfortunately, it will not be vegan because of the use of dairy. Kirk selects the Indian Cold Coffee as a digestif. The drink is not sweet but you are asked if you want it made sweet and at what degree. The coffee is a bit bitter up front then a little sweet when it hits your back taste buds.

    Uday and Timby are very personable people that you can easily share a laugh. They do read food reviews with the understanding that you are not able to please everyone. Currently there are no plans for expansion. However, an occupied office next door could meet their expansion needs should the opportunity arise. In the meantime, stop in for lunch and enjoy the buffet or dinner is always an option as well. You can even call 434-846-4976, as long as it is during the business hours, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

  • Editor's Note

    This month we celebrate Juneteenth, an event that marked the end of slavery. It’s a day that we as African Americans should pay special homage. We should declare it as the second Independence Day of the year because truly that one event gave us our freedom and provided a first step toward inclusion in the greater American dream.

    Let’s talk a bit of history. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, slaves were not set free. Actually, another two and a half years would past before that happened. On June 19, 1865, two months after Confederate General Robert Lee surrendered in Appomattox, Union General Gordon Granger went to Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which in part read: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

    As black Americans, we have become complacent as it relates to this event. Many writers, commentators, historians, have weighed in on the reasons, asserting that Juneteenth fell from favor during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s, as African Americans looked more to change their future rather than focus on the past. In years past, Senator Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, but his efforts never gained traction.

    Folks, with all that’s going on in America today, we need to step back and refocus. I find the adage, the more things change the more they stay the same, resonating in my head. Indeed we have come a long way, but it pains me to say we have a farther way to go before there’s equality.

    Just a couple of years ago President Obama made the following statement commemorating the day: We don't have to look far to see that racism and bigotry, hate and intolerance, are still all too alive in our world. Just as the slaves of Galveston knew that emancipation is only the first step toward true freedom, just as those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago knew their march was far from finished, our work remains undone. For as long as people still hate each other for nothing more than the color of their skin…we cannot honestly say that our country is living up to its highest ideals. But Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. Instead, it's a celebration of progress. It's an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, things do get better. America can change.

    Keep praying for that change!

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