Thursday, February 24, 2011

Helping Young People Succeed, One at a Time

Jimmy Pugh talks about helping young people find their passion, and as he speaks, it’s clear that he found his – in them.  He directs Project Gridiron, a mentoring program that encourages young people to pursue postsecondary education by helping them connect their interests and abilities with realistic dreams and the people who can help those dreams come true.  At the core of this work are relationships – the partnership between Jimmy and his wife, who run the project together, the connections they make with the kids and their families, and their links with staff at colleges around the country.  As Jimmy explains, the key to success for these students lies in building supportive relationships with adults who can serve as role models.

The challenge of that, sadly, is that, as Jimmy explains, what many of the young people he works with need most is an African-American male role model.  While I’m skeptical of his claim that only male mentors can get students to think in terms of their accountability for their decisions, he’s not alone in suggesting that male role models play a special role, especially for young people growing up in families headed by single mothers.  The problem is that so many young adults need that kind of mentoring and there are not enough hours in the day for men like Jimmy Pugh – or women like his wife, for that matter -- to provide serious guidance.  Project Gridiron is a small-scale model.  It has to be.  So the question is this:  how do we get more people doing this kind of work? 

Want to get involved? Contact Jimmy Pugh.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Different Story about Israel

Nearly everything we ever hear about Israel has to do with its relationship with the Palestinians.  No doubt, that’s a complex, contested, frustratingly difficult topic.  Yet it’s not the only story to be told about Israel.  Nor is it the only complex, difficult issue facing the country.  As Dr. Galia Sabar explains in our interview, Israel is facing a challenge that is more familiar: how to deal with immigrants who enter illegally in search of economic opportunity.  Like the US, Israel is a country of immigrants, with a strong commitment to providing a safe haven not only for Jews from around the world but also for other refugees.  And much like here, migrant laborers in Israel, including many Africans whose experiences and conditions are the subject of Galia’s research and activism, do difficult types of work for low wages, thereby contributing to the economy, while also facing discrimination and fear from the mainstream society. 

What’s most refreshing about Galia Sabar’s discussion of these issues, for me, anyway, is her willingness to acknowledge the contradictions inherent in the problem.  On the one hand, she acknowledges the presence of racial prejudice in a country that was built as a response to the Holocaust, one of the most notorious cases of racial prejudice taken to the extreme in the history of the world.  She sees the paradox her country faces over granting citizenship to non-Jews: how can Israel continue to be a Jewish state, as is its mission, while also being a democratic state, especially if non-Jewish immigrants become a large proportion if not the majority of voters?  There are no easy solutions for Israel.  At the same time, the story of African immigration provides an interesting opportunity to expand our understanding of the issues Israel faces and how that country is changing. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Smart about the Arts

Like many others, I spent hours as a kid playing piano or guitar, going to dance classes, acting in children’s theater productions, and drawing. I was a complete klutz, and I didn’t like sports. I think I may actually have been kicked out of gymnastics in first grade. But the arts? That was home. So whenever I hear that schools are cutting back on the arts, or when I think about how many families can’t afford to provide the kinds of opportunities I had, I get frustrated. I know from experience how much difference music, dance, theater, and visual arts can make in a child’s life.

But that’s only one reason I’m blown away by SMARTS, YSU’s Students Motivated by the Arts project. Yeah, they provide free – yes, free – arts classes for kids (click here for an application). And students from kindergarten through high school have opportunities to sing and perform together. But consider this: much of that is possible by a whole other set of opportunities SMARTS offers: chances for YSU students studying arts education (and other fields) to develop their own teaching skills. That means that students who are being motivated here are not just kids but also soon-to-be-teachers.

And consider this: Becky Keck, who runs SMARTS, leads the program with a clear vision that always takes in two levels. On one level, she’s sharply focused on providing high-quality arts programming for local children. But she’s also always thinking about the place of the arts, and the place of non-profit organizations, in the community. In other words, she’s a true believer in the full, complex value of what she does. The more human assets we have like Becky, the better off this community will be.

Want to help support SMARTS? Come to Mad About the Arts, February 25, at the McDonough Museum of Art on the YSU campus. The event will raise money for both SMARTS and the McDonough. For details or to reserve tickets, call the SMARTS office at 330-941-2787.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Making Heart Surgery Simpler -- and Making Medicine More Complex

Heart surgery turns out to be one of those things that’s hard to describe without images.  Dr. Timothy Hunter from Humility of Mary Health Partners made a good effort, and better yet, he explained well how this benefits patients and changes the nature of surgery for doctors.  If you want to find out more about how it works, you can watch an online video, aimed at patients, that explains the procedure.  You can also read more about what Dr. Hunter is doing in this piece from the Youngstown Business Journal

What I found most thought-provoking about our conversation was the idea that changes in medical practice are so closely connected with industry.  That shouldn’t surprise us, but Dr. Hunter’s comment about the role of industry draws our attention to a part of the medical landscape that we usually don’t talk about.  We pay attention to doctors, hospitals, patients, insurance policies, and to national health care policies, but we rarely talk about how new ways of doing things are supported and promoted by companies that develop, manufacture, and sell very expensive equipment.  We like to imagine that medicine is not market-driven, that it’s not a business in the same way as other fields.  And in many ways, it isn’t.  But every new technique comes from somewhere, and good ideas are often transformed into profitable ventures via industry.  The question is, as I discussed with Dr. Hunter, how do we balance the costs of technology with the benefits of good health care?  That’s not always easy.