Archive for the ‘Schultz, Stefanie’ Category

The Importance of ‘Giving Back.’

As poverty rates continue to climb in Johnson County, volunteering has become more prevalent with some University of Iowa students.

By: Stefanie Schultz

The Hawkeye Area Community Action Program has various holiday programs to help low-income and homeless Iowa City families. This donation box is located at Kmart on Highway 6 in Iowa City. Photo by: Stefanie Schultz

Kelsey Jenn is a senior at the University of Iowa. She is an Elementary Education major who has volunteered since high school.

“I began volunteering at local hospitals. I’ve also volunteered at food banks and retirement homes. Here at the University I’ve done a lot of tutoring. I want to be a teacher so as much interaction as I can have with children is great,” said Jenn.

A variety of local organizations offer volunteer opportunities for local community members and university students. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that offers volunteer opportunities for students. They focus on building affordable homes for families in need.

“We do fundraising campaigns all year. It’s a rewarding experience,” said Kasie Ver Schurrue, Director of Resource Development for Habitat for Humanity.

University students and local community members can also become volunteers through church groups.

Susan Lungren, Christian Formation leader for Calvary Episcopal Church, encourages students and community members to volunteer.

“Volunteering is a gratifying experience. The most rewarding part is seeing the happiness on the faces of the people you have helped and to know you’ve touched their lives,” said Lungren.

Jenn agrees.

“The best part of volunteering is knowing that you’ve made a difference in another persons life,” said Jenn.

Local Volunteering Opportunities

The Parkview Church in Iowa City, is a local church that has a variety of volunteer opportunities for students and individuals. Doug Fern, Pastor of Compassionate Ministries, said that student volunteering has increased in the past year.

“It’s been great to see more university students volunteering. This year we’ve had more students than we’ve had in past years,” said Fern.

The Parkview Church offers volunteer opportunities for after school programs, reading programs, and mentoring programs and they have a strong connection with University of Iowa.

“Currently we have 100 kids in mentoring programs. We serve food and play games. I encourage students to check out our website if they are interested in volunteering,” said Fern.

Students have the opportunity to volunteer not only locally but around the country. The Calvary Episcopal Church gives students the opportunity to volunteer around the country.

“We [Calvary Episcopal Church] have repaired homes in the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, West Virgina, and Tennessee. We have also taught Bible School to children in Canada and Montana,” said Lungren.

The Importance of Volunteering

For some students at the University of Iowa volunteering has been a rewarding experience.

“I’ve always valued the opportunity to give back to a community that has supported me in many ways. When I tutor or work with a child, it’s amazing to see them get so excited and happy. The way they light up makes all the difference,” said Jenn.

Nick Chamis, First-Year Law Student at the University of Iowa, said that volunteering has been a satisfying experience.

“It’s seeing the work you’ve done and to know that no matter how minor it is, it still makes a difference,” said Chamis.

Jenn also describes volunteering as a rewarding experience and something that she will continue to do.

“It’s something that I value and I feel that a community struggles to function without it,” said Jenn.

“My advice for other students would be to find something that you think you’ll truly love to do. Just wanting to help out is awesome, but when you find something that you truly care about, it makes the experience that much more rewarding,” said Jenn.

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Iowa City Programs to Help Aid Low-Income Families During the Holidays

Traditionally the holidays are a time for giving. However, it can also be a financially straining time for many individuals and families.

By: Stefanie Schultz

As the first snowfall blankets the city, it’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit. Twinkling Christmas lights illuminate homes and jolly Santa Claus greets children with a cheery ho-ho-ho. Christmas is here. As many parents neatly wrap and place gifts under the tree, it is easy to forget the families who cannot provide an abundant Christmas for their family.

Since the 2008 flood and the economic recession, some Johnson County residents have endured financial hardships. According to an assessment compiled by the Iowa Policy Project, in 2008, 6 percent of Johnson County were recorded as living in poverty. The assessment also shows that poverty rates for children living in poverty has risen by 40 percent between 2000 and 2008.

The increase in poverty rates has increased financial advisers and non-profit organizations assistance for struggling families.

Holiday Finances

Despite a local increase in poverty rates, a November 2010 Gallup Poll reported that consumer spending during Thanksgiving is up from 2009. Over the three days following Thanksgiving, self-reported daily consumer spending in stores and online averaged $92 per day. Consumer spending is up from an average of $83 in 2009.

An additional Gallup Poll reported that Americans predicted they will spend an average of $714 on Christmas gifts this holiday season. This exceeds the $683 consumers forecasted in November of 2009. According to the Gallup Poll if consumer’s predictions remain valid through December, it would result in a two percent year-over-year increase in holiday sales.

Throughout the economic recession financial experts are helping individuals and families to reverse the financial issues. Senior Regional Manager of Primerca Financial Corporation, Ron Petrucci, works with families to educate them about financial products so they can get themselves and their families to their financial goals. He recommends that families carefully create and follow a budget in order to provide presents for their family.

“A budget is critical to making money go as far as it can. One mistake that everyone makes is carrying extra cash on them. Generally anyone that carries extra money will spend extra. Do your budget but only put money you absolutely need in your pocket,” said Petrucci.

Petrucci said that a big mistake that families, especially low-income families make, is spending money they don’t have.

“Once [low-income families] start spending money they don’t have on presents, they start paying things like utilities and groceries with credit cards. That’s when people can get into trouble,” said Petrucci.

Local Holiday Efforts

Locally some organizations are providing aid for families during the holiday season. The Parkview Church in Iowa City offers a program called “The Spot Christmas Store.” It is a church run program, located in Iowa City, that provides Christmas presents for low-income Johnson County families.

In its third year, “The Spot Christmas Store” supplies toys to at-risk youth. Parkview Church members purchase and donate gifts for the store. Gifts are to be donated with the price tags attached to the church in the beginning of December. Gifts are tagged as either boy or girl and are separated into three different categories; toddler and infant, child, and teenager, said Doug Fern, Pastor of Compassionate Ministries.

Holiday and birthday bags are provided for low-income families in Johnson County. Photo by: Stefanie Schultz

Low-income parents then purchase these gifts from the store at a reduced cost. Many of the gifts are do not exceed five dollars. Parents are allowed to spend up to 15 dollars.

“Fifteen dollars may not seem like much, however it ends up being about the equivalent of 150 dollars at a store,” said Fern.

Children are not allowed in “the Spot Christmas Store” because the church tries to provide parents with the ability to purchase their own gifts and to give them to their children themselves.

“Other holiday programs are great, but sometimes parents can lose their dignity in the process,” said Fern.

Fern describes the Christmas store as a succesful program.

“We [the Parkview Church] weren’t expecting that the program would serve a large portion of the Hispanic community,” said Fern.

Some holiday programs require a social security number and government identification. “We cut all that out,” said Fern.

“The Spot Christmas Store” begins its holiday season in November.

“Beginning in November I get calls from school districts who participated in the past or from individuals who have heard about the program and want in invitation. Unfortunately, we can only do how much people participate,” said Fern.

Last year the “Christmas Spot Store,” served 86 families.

“It’s great because parents can do the shopping for entire family,” said Fern.

Remembering the Importance of Christmas

Parkview Church helps families have a joyful holiday. However, we know that helping struggling families and individuals can be difficult.

“You can help someone in the wrong way. Just throwing money at someone isn’t always the right answer. Sometimes we have to say no for various reasons. It isn’t always a fun process,” said Fern.

Although Fern fully supports the program, he emphasizes the church does not want to promote extreme materialistic importance regarding the holidays.

“During the holiday season people’s needs become heightened. These needs aren’t necessarily different during the rest of the year, they are simply more apparent. We get so wrapped up in the material aspect of Christmas and we [the Parkview Church] try to balance that,” said Fern.

Still, Fern said that Parkview Church tries to promote the ‘real’ meaning behind the holiday season and tries to downplay the materialistic “meanings.”

“It’s a battle because are we promoting that you need to have toys and material things to have a nice Christmas? Families really appreciate it but to really put things in perspective, that’s the challenge,” said Fern.

Community Leaders Look to Restore Financial Stability to Johnson County Residents

Compared to national and state averages, Johnson County residents face increasing poverty rates.

By: Stefanie Schultz

The Food Bank at the Johnson County Crisis Center provides groceries and household supplies for nearly 700 Johnson County residents a week. Photo by: Stefanie Schultz

Hundreds of brown paper bags filled with groceries line the tables at the Johnson County Crisis Center. Tomorrow local residents will arrive to collect them.

For nearly three years, some area residents have been impacted by the economic recession. Organizations, such as the Johnson County Crisis Center, provide aid for residents who struggle to purchase basic household necessities, such as groceries.

A 2010 community assessment released by the Iowa Policy Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on tax and budget issues, shows alarming financial statistics about Johnson County residents.

The assessment focuses on local and national demographics and how they are  effected by recent poverty increases. The study also compares economic data that was compiled between 2000 and 2008. The recently published assessment has been a guide regarding poverty issues around the Johnson County area, said community leaders.

Financial expert David Hagen, of the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, said poverty levels are determined by an individual’s gross income level and the size of their household. Currently, Johnson County falls around 15 percent below the national poverty level, while other surrounding counties fall between nine and 10 percent, said Hagen.

Poverty Stereotypes

As the poverty rate increases throughout Johnson County, so does stereotypes regarding poverty. The belief that people who live in poverty do not work is a common misconception, said Fields. Yet, according to the 2010 assessment, only about 4 percent of Johnson County residents living in poverty do not work.

“For many low-income families, working at a low paying job is not enough to provide for a family. Minimum wage is almost impossible to live off of. It is extremely difficult to provide food for a family, transportation, and pay bills. That’s what many low-income families deal with. They work but they don’t make enough to support themselves and their family,” said Beth Ruback, Communication and Development Director for the Crisis Center of Johnson County.

Assessment Results and Factors

According to the Iowa Policy Project’s assessment, the percentage of Johnson County families living in poverty has risen. In 2008, 5.2 percent of families lived in poverty, compared to 6 percent in 2008. The percentage of children in Johnson County living in poverty has risen by 40 percent between 2000 and 2008. Senior citizen poverty rates are also on the rise. According to the assessment Johnson County seniors experienced a 63 percent poverty increase from 2000 to 2008.

Some organizations are battling the increase in seniors living in poverty by providing opportunities for local seniors. For seniors, the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program offers internship programs that provide re-training, paid internships, and job counseling, said Hagen.

“Seniors have the potential to be excellent resources for employers if they have a skill set that meets the current market. In Benton County, we [the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program] provide home maintenance services, medical loans, home delivered meals and a site for hot meals and socialization,” said Hagen.

While Johnson County’s poverty rates remain lower than national poverty rates, the numbers are still cause for concern, said community leaders.

“I have seen an increase in people [locally] using organizations such as the Crisis Center’s Food Bank,” said Patti Fields, Director of Community Impact of United Way of Johnson County.

While ways to reverse the increase in poverty are discussed, community leaders and financial experts believe a variety of factors played a role in rising poverty rates. A key factor was the recent economic recession.

“[In 2008] the economy took a hard hit and many people lost their jobs. However it’s important to remember that [poverty] hasn’t just been a national problem. It’s also been a local problem,” said Fields.

Fields also said a large influx in female-single-parent households, the continuous increase in cost of living, and the 2008 flood are additional factors.

“[The flood] changed our community greatly and significantly reduced the amount of affordable housing for some individuals and families,” said Fields.

Community and Organizational Efforts

Johnson County has multiple organizations that help low-income individuals and families. An example is the Johnson County Crisis Center. The Crisis Center’s Food Bank was established 40 years ago and provides groceries, once a week, to Johnson County residents. Birthday bags, employment opportunities and counseling are also available.

The Crisis Center provides various resources for people throughout Johnson County. They provide job postings and a food bank for local low-income families. Photo by: Stefanie Schultz

Additional resources for low-income individuals and families are also provide throughout Johnson County. The Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, the United Way of Johnson County and the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program also help low-income Iowa City and Johnson County residents.

Unlike other programs, the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program serves six local counties including; Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Washington. In the 2010 fiscal year the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program served over 19,000 households and 52,000 individuals in all six counties, said Hagen.

The Hawkeye Area Community Action Program works with Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LHEAP, to provide energy assistance to nearly 8000 families with an income level below 150 percent of poverty each heating season, said Hagen.

“Without the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program and other community providers, more people would be forced to making decisions between food, rent, heat, or Johnny’s winter coat,” said Hagen.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided additional funds to increase services to people in need.

“[The Recovery Act] came at a critical time as state funding and community donations have decreased with the recession. Human services funding typically decreases as it trends with the economy. Thus, when it is needed most the resources to assist people often are not available,” said Hagen.

Future Outlook
Local agencies, including the United Way, the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, and the Johnson County Crisis Center continue to assess and aid low-income families. However, many challenges remain, such as the distribution of information and constant community changes.

“Solutions to poverty require community. Building community requires partnerships. It is important that [local organizations] help people acquire skills to take ownership of their situation or provide various income supports or service that fill those gaps,” said Hagen.

Pulitzer Prize Writer Teaches At Iowa

James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson (Photo, Stefanie Schultz)

By: Stefanie Schultz

It’s a typical Iowa City fall morning. Bursts of chilly air blanket the campus. Hints of orange and red pop amongst the green leaves. Professor James Alan McPherson sits in his office. He is carefully reviewing a student’s file, preparing to write a recommendation.

“This is what makes [my job] enjoyable. It’s fascinating to see where the [students] come from and to see where they are going,” said McPherson, a professor at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

As we discuss his love for teaching, his passion for writing and story telling begins to illuminate the room. To say his professional life has been successful is a vast understatement. In fact, before Professor McPherson began teaching at the University of Iowa he was an award-winning southern fiction writer.

Remembering Racial Difficulties

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1943, Professor McPherson personally endured the racial tensions that ripped through America’s south. Consequently, his work has been devoted to many of these issues. His book, “Hue and Cry,” deals with a variety of issues, such as homosexuality and racism, which remain just as relevant and captivating as they did during the late 1960s and 1970s.

“I grew up in the south during a time of white domination. My work took me across racial lines. It introduced me to a variety of stories,” said McPherson.

Pulitzer Prize Winner

Through the 1960s to the early 2000s, McPherson’s work flourished. In 1978, he became the first African-American writer to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his short story collection “Elbow Room.” Later, he was awarded a MacArther Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995.

McPherson’s professional life has been filled with bountiful amounts of success. Yet, while talking with him, it is easy to recognize his natural humble and passionate persona.

“[Winning the Pulitzer Prize] made me more of a target. It puts pressure on you to excel. Even at a time when you may not be able to do so,” said McPherson.

Still, awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and national recognition was never his ultimate goal. Instead, his love and passion for writing is what drove him to succeed.

“I’ve never wanted a conventional and traditional life. I just wanted to do something different,” said McPherson.

Before attending the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, McPherson attended Morgan State University, Morris Brown College, Harvard Law School, and Yale Law School. Additionally, Professor McPherson taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz and lectured in Japan at Meiji University and Chiba University.

“Teaching in Japan was a great experience. I loved socializing with the people. I was fascinated with their mannerisms and their socialization skills,” said McPherson.

Settling Down in Iowa City

Today however, Professor McPherson’s exotic traveling has come to a standstill. Instead he can be found teaching writing courses at the Dey House at the University of Iowa.

“He [McPherson] really gives it his all. He truly wants students to succeed and wants to help them. He is an extremely dedicated teacher,” said Janice Zenisek, Secretary at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

Although his zest for traveling may be gone, his love for the Writers’ Workshop and Iowa City remains.

“[Iowa City] has and old-fashion deeply embedded communal sense. Here [Iowa City] you receive reinforcement of who you are on all levels. I admire and appreciate that,” said McPherson.

Pedestrian Safety

A story recently published on the nytimes.com discussed the issue of cars driving on beaches and pedestrians (beach-goers) getting hit. This past summer two children have been killed because they were struck by drivers on the beach. As parents and family members mourn the loss of their children, community members and city council is left with the question of allowing cars on the beach or discontinuing a long-standing tradition.

Personally I believe this topic is extremely relatable to Iowa City for a variety of reasons. One reason being that numerous students have already been involved in this type of accident this year. Additionally, living in a community where many people rely on bicycles, mopeds, and walking as a mode of transportation the chances of pedestrians being hit is alarmingly high. In order to localize this topic and write about it, I think talking with a Iowa City police officer would be my first step. Therefore I would rely on the Iowa City website to find a police officer to talk with. The Iowa City website is a credible website for finding this information because it is a .org site and is edited and run-by city officials.

Secondly, I would want to talk with an official at the University of Iowa to discuss possible suggestions and advice they might have for drivers and for students. Safety is a main priority at the University so talking with someone such as the Dean of Students would be vital to my story. Therefore, I would use the University of Iowa’s directory site to locate a number or email address to contact my source.

James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson is a nationally renowned author. In 1978 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his short story collection, Elbow Room, becoming the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Currently, McPherson is a permanent faculty member at the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Pulitzer Prize recipients are among the elite in their class.  Receiving a Pulitzer Prize places writers in a prestigious category that many aspire for. As I searched for blogs about James Alan McPherson I found a variety of blogs discussing his professional work. Although these blogs merely state various Pulitzer Prize winners, they also discuss how McPherson has added to the world of fiction writing and to the world of African-American Literature. Additionally, these blogs (which were found on Google Groups, seem credible because people stated their sources).

As a student at the University of Iowa, it is an honor to be surrounded by a variety of highly professional educators. Sadly, I feel that many students, faculty members, alumni, and community members do not acknowledge or realize the the professors at the University who have accomplished a great deal regarding their professional lives. Besides winning a Pulitzer Prize for Elbow Room, McPherson has written seven-short story anthologies, appeared in a variety of different journals and magazines and was the  recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 1981. Because, James McPherson is currently a professor at the University of Iowa, finding current blog posts and online discussion groups are difficult to locate. However, I was able to find a Facebook page that provided a small biography and gives fans the opportunity to be “friends.” (I would like to note that this is not his personal Facebook page. I am unaware if he even has a private Facebook page). I realize that Facebook may not be the most credible source, however I think that reading what his “fans” have written and how they are impacted by his stories and career, is an important aspect of what makes McPherson such a compelling and historic author.

I decided to select James Alan McPherson because he is an extraordinary fiction writer and he is an incredible resource at the University of Iowa. Currently, I am a work-study student at the Writers’ Workshop and have been for the past three years. I have seen first-hand how many individuals, from all over the world, recognize and respect his work. Additionally, I have seen how his presence here at the University has drawn a variety of different writers to apply to the MFA programs and to want to work one-on-one with him. I picked these sources because they seemed like credible sources. The blog discussing his professional work was followed by a number of people. Although it may not be a great deal of people, finding blogs about an author, especially one that has not written in quite some time, is difficult to do. For information about this background I chose the New Georgia Encyclopedia website. I chose this site because it was a .org, which from what we learned in class and in our readings raises its credibility.