Friday, November 28, 2014

Hunger Pains, Even on Thanksgiving

Not everybody on Long Island ate like kings and queens yesterday.

In fact, for thousands of Long Islanders, including kids and senior citizens, Thanksgiving was just another day of uncertainty in the food department.

Surprised by this?  If so, you're not alone.

In an affluent place like Long Island, it's easy to forget that many of our neighbors rely on local pantries, kitchens, churches, and shelters for emergency food supplies each week.  Many of these organizations themselves depend upon food banks, such as Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, as their primary source of food.  And many food banks, in turn, depend upon individuals--people like us--to keep their shelves stocked.

If you're a data guy, here are some numbers about hunger (from Long Island Cares) worth pondering:
  • Almost 65,000 Long Islanders take advantage of emergency food services each week. 
  • Children under 18, people with almost no control over their lives or futures, make up the largest single population of Long Island's hungry (39%).  
  • Roughly half (48%) of those receiving regular food assistance on L.I. are employed, with 63% having incomes falling below the federal poverty level.  
But hunger is not just about numbers.  Hunger has human consequences.  Hungry kids are more likely to struggle in school than kids who are well fed.  Hungry adults are more susceptible to illness, which translates into increased absenteeism if they're employed, which makes escaping poverty that much more difficult.  Hungry seniors (no shortage of them either) face increased incidences of depression, anxiety, malnutrition, and disease, including some that are life-threatening.

Combating hunger--and poverty in general--is indeed a tough task, one that involves coming to grips with a host of economic, political, social, and human factors.  But the complexity of the problem doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to those for whom the most basic of human needs--eating--is a daily question mark. 

What can you do?

Taking part in one of NCC's many campus food drives, launching a hunger awareness project on campus or in your community, volunteering at a local food bank, or lobbying for legislation that affords people the diet and dignity they deserve--all are important. They won't solve our (yes, OUR) hunger problem overnight, but they'll help. They'll certainly beat hand-wringing or--worse--pretending the problem is somebody else's.

Because it's not. 

If you enjoyed your Thanksgiving dinner yesterday (as I did), great.  If you went to bed last night with a full belly, even better.  But until everyone in our midst can make the same claim, not only on Thanksgiving but every other day, we've all got serious work to do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Family Affair

In the food court yesterday I overheard a student complaining about her class having to go a campus talk on domestic violence.

"Why do I have to listen to this?" she asked a friend.  "I know it's a problem, but it's depressing."

She's right, of course.  Relationship violence isn't a cheerful subject.  Nor is sex trafficking, genocide, racism, bullying, or anything else involving the exploitation (or worse) of human beings, either individually or collectively.

But because these actions are so terrible--and because they happen so often--we have an obligation to pay attention to them.  For they involve members of the human family, which we're all a part of.

Don't mean to sound sappy or sentimenal here, but in fact, we are all connected.  And we're also responsible for each other, more than we might want to admit.  I'm hardly the first (and hopefully not the last) to think this, but in a world that sometimes seems to be "majoring" in self-absorption, it's important to be reminded that others in our midst matter.

This isn't necessarily a call to action but rather to awareness: of human rights violations, whatever form they take, wherever they occur. There's no shortage of them on this planet in 2014, some taking place on the other side of the world, others on the other side of town.  We may not be able to solve all of these problems overnight, but knowledge is a good first step.

Which is why all of us (including the complaining student in the food court) need to take ourselves to programs that raise awareness.

Like tomorrow's Women's Resource Center symposium on sex trafficking (Nov. 19, 9:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m., College Center). 

Or next Monday's program on the medical atrocities of the Holocaust (Nov. 24, 10 am, College Center).

Or the talk on American sports culture and domestic violence (Dec. 3, 12:30 p.m., College Center).

Or next spring's workshops on bullying and sexual harassment (check back for the time and place). 

These aren't exactly happy subjects, but they're important for all of us to know about and understand.  For whether we realize it or not, they touch members of the human family--people just like us.   

Friday, November 14, 2014

Think Winterim at NCC!

No, that's not a typo in the title: There really is a WinterIM here at NCC.  And if you're eager to make every minute count at Nassau, it's something you definitely need to know about.

The Winterim is a three-week session scheduled between the end of the fall semester in December and the start of the spring term in January.  It gives you a chance to earn credits that will count toward your Nassau degree and move you one step closer to graduation.

Winterim classes are short.  They're also intense.  They meet Monday to Friday during this three-week session for (on the average) three hours a day.  They cover the same curriculum in three weeks as in a regular semester, but at a much faster pace.  For this reason, Nassau limits you to one course during the Winterim, which, trust me, will keep you pretty busy.

Winterim classes aren't for everybody.  If you want to relax a lot between the fall and spring semesters, if you're planning to work extra hours during these weeks, or if you expect to be away in January, think twice before registering for this session.  Winterim classes aren't impossible, but they do require you to get to class every day and keep up.  In a short session, you can't afford to fall behind.

But Winterim classes are also great opportunities to pick up the pace of your studies, complete a prerequisite, get a requirement out of the way, or even retake a course that didn't go so well the first time around.  A Winterim class also gives you something to do in early January, which--let's face it--isn't the liveliest and most festive time of the year.

This year's Winterim session starts on Monday, Dec. 29 and runs through Friday, January 16.  There are no classes on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day (so you can celebrate the arrival of 2015!), but they meet the rest of the time.  You can take classes during the day or evening (your choice); both sessions involve the same amount of class time. And there are more than 40 different classes to choose from--lots of possibilities.

Winterim classes fill up fast, so if you think a Winterim class is for you, check out the schedule, see what's available, and go chat with an advisor.  Even if you're not scheduled to register for the spring semester until later this month, you can sign up for a Winterim class right now. 

Think Winterim.  Think credits.  Think graduation.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Didn't vote? For shame

So how many of you actually voted on Election Day?

Hard to know for sure, but if my conversations around campus this week were any indication, not many, I'd say.  Regrettably, most of you apparently decided to sit this election out.

Your reasons?

"Too busy."

"Didn't know anything about who was running."

"One vote doesn't really count."  

"Doesn't matter who's elected--they're all the same."

I guess when you feel powerless, it's easy to convince yourself that your voice and your vote aren't important because no one's really listening to you anyway.  And I suppose when you're pretty clueless about what's happening in the country, you can say--and genuinely believe--that it doesn't matter who's in charge.

But let me tell you otherwise.  

Make no mistake: the people who get elected to office--be it in Washington, Albany, New York City or Mineola--have a big say in your life.  They arrive with views and values that often translate into laws and policies that can impact your education, your finances, your health, your freedom, and your future.

Let me also point out--in case you haven't noticed--that there are some people holding office in this country who don't exactly have your best interests in mind.  I'm not naming names here (that's for you to figure out), but let's just say that not everybody in government sees students--or young people in general--as deserving of the same rights, privileges, and benefits as others.  In fact, some see nothing wrong with shortchanging your generation, especially if they think you're not going to notice or speak up about it. 

Distressing? Yeah.  Hopeless? Hardly.

For you still have the right to vote, a privilege some people on this planet would die for.  And contrary to what the cynics in the crowd might say, your vote does count--even more so if enough of you get yourselves to the polls. 

Before the next election rolls around, start paying more attention to the world beyond your Facebook page and learn who's on your side and who isn't (trust me, there are some in each category). I guarantee you'll be astonished by what you discover.  

And come next Election Day, vote as if your future depends upon it.

Because it does--now maybe more than ever. 

Here's to Democracy . . . 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Get Ready for Ernest!

"I have never liked reading in my life.  I would read books [in school] because I had to, but never just to enjoy reading.  The other day in class my teacher started to talk about a book named "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline.  That was the only book I read in my entire life that I loved from cover to cover.  I'd read the book about a year ago by myself.  I was bored and I decided to read it.  When I read the book it didn't hit me like it was college material.  I thought it was a kid's book, until my teacher told me that it was the common text for first years.  That opened my eyes and made me think that if that was the book I loved reading, what other literature is out there that will excite me like this one did?"
                                                                                                                     Dennis, NCC student

Talk about a book having an impact!  Ernest Cline's "Ready Player One," NCC's common text for 2014-2015, touches something in people--even those who don't consider themselves big readers. 

Maybe it's the book's futuristic setting (the novel takes place in 2044), quirky characters, great pop cultural references (cool read if you love the 80s), or portrait of a virtual utopia that offers adventure and relief from the dreary reality of planet Earth. 

Maybe it's the main character's quest to solve the puzzles hidden within the OASIS or his duels with corporate villains who have no qualms about stepping on people to get their way (sound familiar?).

Maybe it's the novel's conclusion (won't spoil it by giving too much away), which in its own way winds up pretty life-afffirming, something good books often try to be.

Whatever its individual appeal, "Ready Player One" speaks to a range of readers, including some for whom reading is not on their Top Ten List of Fun Activities.  Even if you're not big into reading, pick this book up anyway.  Maybe, like Dennis, you'll be inspired to read more.

And this Wednesday, November 5,  stop by the College Center's Multipurpose Room, where Ernest Cline, the author, will be talking about his book and the cyberworld that has become so much a part of ours.  He'll speak three times--9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 2 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room of the College Center.  He'll also be on hand to sign books, chat with students, pose for some selfies, and talk your ear off about the 80s.

Come on over to the CCB this Wednesday and hear all about "Ready Player One"--directly from the man who imagined it all and who has given us a novel for our time.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bauman and Berger: Inspiration for All

What could 27-year-old Jeff Bauman and 87-year-old Stephen Berger possibly have in common?

Different generations, different backgrounds, different lives--the two seem worlds apart.

But if you take yourself to the College Center to hear Bauman's talk on Monday, Nov. 3 (11 a.m.) and Berger's talk on Wednesday, Nov. 12 (2 p.m.), you'll discover why they're alike--and why their stories, while harrowing, are also inspirational.

Despite their outward differences, both men share a unique experience: they have looked into the face of evil and refused to be intimidated and defeated.

Jeff Bauman was an ordinary 27-year old who'd shown up to watch the Boston Marathon in April 2013.  As he stood near the finish line, cheering on his girlfriend, two terrorist bombs exploded, killing several spectators and seriously wounding many others.  Bauman was among those injured, losing both his legs, his life changed forever.

But despite the severity of his injury, he was able to share a description of one of the bombers--information that proved critical in authorities' efforts to track down those responsible. And after undergoing several operations, he has become an inspiration to thousands, the author of a book ("Stronger") about his experiences and a voice for the spirit of determination and for a positive approach to life.

Stephen Berger was 16 years old when he was deported by the Nazis from his native Hungary to a forced labor camp in Vienna. Until the end of World War II, he lived from day to day, witnessing atrocities, brutality, starvation, and death.  He himself had several close calls, escaping death sometimes merely by chance or the intervention of another.

Though more than twenty members of Berger's family perished in the Holocaust, Berger refused to remain a victim.  Immediately following the war, he helped survivors relocate. And for more than half a century, he's spoken to people of all ages, including students, about not only the evil of the Holocaust but the importance of remembering the lessons of the past.

"I worry a lot," he told a group of high school students last year, "because the Holocaust isn't unique in human history and genocides are happening today while we speak."

In troubled times, we often need people to inspire us, to reassure us, to teach us about courage, and to encourage us to be guided by our better angels.  Bauman and Berger do all of these things. Though their experiences are different, separated by time and place and circumstance, they remind us that there are still good people in the world and that we are all in this life together.