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Lifestyle

Life on the cutting edge: Groundbreaking stem cell research into Lou Gehrig's disease

Community Cares - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig said goodbye to the crowd at Yankee Stadium: "Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." The bad break he referred to was his career-ending diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known today as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Seventy-five years later, researchers studying ALS are using cutting-edge stem cell science to develop treatments and, one day, a cure.

ALS affects nerve cells called motor neurons that control a person's muscles. As the disease progresses, the brain loses the ability to control voluntary muscle movement, which slowly causes paralysis, eventually taking away the ability to breathe.

Monica Carrasco, Ph.D., an associate research scientist at Columbia University, lives on the cutting edge of ALS research. Carrasco uses human stem cells to study the ways ALS functions. Her current project focuses on the interaction between motor neurons and cells known as glia that help maintain the balanced environment neurons require to function properly. Stem cell research can be very intense, she says, because the cells need attention every day.

The breakthrough that made her projects possible came in early 2006, when another lab pioneered the process for developing stem cells for motor neurons. At the time, people mostly used mice to study ALS, but only a tiny fraction - 5 percent - of ALS cases can be studied with mice models. That imposed serious limitations on ALS research.

Carrasco says that stem cells will be huge for many diseases. For ALS, they already are. The ability to develop stem cells from the skin samples of many different ALS patients gives researchers the big picture that studies using mice could not. As a result, the past few years have been a hotbed of new discoveries.

To support those discoveries, the ALS Association funds more than 98 projects with a total award value of $18.1 million through its Translational Research Advancing Therapies for ALS (TREAT ALS) program. From 2006 to 2008, Carrasco was the recipient of the Milton-Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship for ALS Research from the ALS Association. Funding for this two-year scientific research award was made possible by the generosity of the Safenowitz family through The ALS Association Greater New York Chapter in memory of Milton Safenowitz, who died of ALS in 1998.Dr. Carraso has since received several other support grants from the association to continue her work and says that the ALS Association’s funding has been “Incredibly important. We wouldn’t be able to study ALS in the lab without that support. There are many things that we could not be doing right now without it.”

Research today is “advancing as fast as I have ever seen,” she says.

Many ALS patients have lost up to 60 percent of their motor neurons by the time they are diagnosed. Carrasco wants to better understand the causes and phases of ALS and enable doctors to diagnose the disease as early as possible. Early diagnosis is crucial to effective treatment, she says. “By understanding the mechanism of the disease, we can move on to develop drug treatments.”

There’s still a long road to travel before stem cell research into ALS reaches its full potential, Carrasco says. “You have to consider that only in 2006 was the technology developed to take skin samples and develop the skin samples into pluripotent stem cells,” she says. “This is unique and very new. It’s not just about using the cells; it’s about asking the right questions and understanding exactly what information you can get out of the cells. There is huge hope, but these are the really early days.”

Categories: Lifestyle

How to say goodbye to work worries while on vacation

Education - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Summer has just begun and that long-awaited vacation is on the horizon. Unfortunately, it can quickly pass you by and before you know it, that precious vacation time has been wasted due to inadequate trip planning or a basic inability to relax.

Twenty-three percent of Americans take no vacation time at all, according to a report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. With employees skipping out on vacation days every year, the bigger question remains as to why this continues to happen, and what happens when employees actually take that time off? More importantly, how can an individual enjoy a vacation without being completely disconnected from work?             

First off, it’s important to understand the value of taking time off work. “A well-placed vacation can help break the cycle of everyday workplace-related stress,” says Dr. Joffrey Suprina, dean of the College of Behavioral Sciences at Argosy University. “Chronic stress takes a toll on our body's health, disrupting its ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions and even avoid injury. When you're stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill. Your sleep will suffer and not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you'll make poor decisions. So vacations are important to our overall physical and mental health.”

A new survey from Glassdoor found that 61 percent of employees admitted to doing some work while on vacation. In a connected world of smartphones, iPads and Wi-Fi, that might not seem like a big deal. It's easy to work remotely. However, many people aren’t getting the most of their vacation. Checking an email can easily lead to jumping on a project, which has potential to take up hours of your valuable vacation time.

“Taking time off has a positive effect on employee happiness and productivity, however many people are simply afraid to walk away from their work even for a few days,” says Dr. Carlos Tasso E. De Aquino, assistant dean of the Graduate School of Business and Management at Argosy University. “With globalization and increasing competition, the workforce feels threatened to lose their jobs to people anywhere in the world, so they develop this ‘addiction’ and never stop working,” adds Aquino.

So before you leave the office for vacation, assign a person to help others regarding your normal responsibilities and let everybody clearly know who this person is - including them in an automatic email reply and voice mail.

“Consider a time blocking strategy, where you choose a small block of time to catch up on work. Let your coworkers know that this is the only time you'll be responding to emails, calls and other work needs. By doing this you’ll be in control of your responsibilities, setting employee expectations, and alleviating some of the stress that comes from having to constantly check in,” says Suprina.

Another good idea is to train your stand-in coworker well in advance. Consider having your employees partner up with somebody who understands their job. When their counterpart goes on vacation, only they can contact each other if something comes up. This means that all the attempts to access the vacationing employee have to go through their “gatekeeper” who can judge just how important it actually is to contact that employee.

Vacations give you a chance to unwind, enjoy life, and to keep your work-life balance from swinging too far toward work. They allow you to take a step back from your normal, stressful routine and enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation. So go ahead this summer and take a few days off. Just don’t forget to bring a camera.

Categories: Lifestyle

Smart ideas to get your car running, and looking, its best before your next road trip

Automotive - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Are you a self-proclaimed road warrior who loves when other drivers do a double take to admire your well-cared-for car? Do you like to make others envious of your engine’s soft purr, your car’s immaculate finish, manicured curves and polished accents? Even if you’re not a car connoisseur, summer travel is upon us and now’s the time to get your vehicle road trip ready – inside and out.

Tune in to tune up

Before you hit the gas, it’s important to make sure your car is running properly so you don’t end up stranded on the side of the road. First, check the fluids – oil, coolant, brake and windshield washer. If it’s almost time to get the oil changed, get ahead of the game and do it before you leave. A long road trip can put additional stress on your motor, but clean oil can keep things working properly.

Another way to keep everything running smoothly is to maintain the health of your tires. This not only creates a much safer driver experience, allowing you to handle the car better, but also saves money on fuel. Review your vehicle owner’s manual for the correct air pressure for your specific tires.

The condition of the exterior tire surface should be cared for as well. Driving on bald tires can be extremely dangerous and can cause you to lose control in slick conditions. Tires also tend to heat up on long trips and thin tire walls can result in unnecessary blow-outs. To make sure you have proper tire tread, insert a penny in between several different tread grooves across the tire with the bottom of Lincoln’s head facing down. If the tire tread doesn’t touch honest Abe’s head, it’s time to invest in a new set of tires.

Lastly, check to be certain all lights and signals are functioning properly. Sit in the car and turn each light or signal on and off while a friend observes. This will ensure you can properly communicate with other drivers on the road, especially during night time travel.

Primped and polished

Now that the inner workings of your ride have been tended to, it’s time to give the outside a makeover.

First, give your car a quick wash and then some personality. A fast and affordable way to enhance the look of your ride is with Custom Wrap Removable Coating from Dupli-Color. Change the color completely or simply add a racing stripe or modify your wheels in a few steps.

Whether you’re cruising in a car, truck or motorcycle, the spray on, peel-off formula provides a smooth finish that lasts months, perfect for an extended getaway. Plus, it can be removed in a matter of minutes without the need for tools or solvents.

Custom Wrap comes in six matte finishes – Carbon Black, Graphite Metallic, Performance Red, Arctic White, Patriot Blue and Jet Grey – and even shields against surface scratches from dust and dirt, while protecting from rain, snow and UV exposure. If you happen to notice any pre-travel nicks and chips on the finish, use an exact-match touch-up paint tool, like Scratch Fix All-in-1, to quickly and affordably conceal, cover, seal and protect.

Get your gear in gear

Now that your car is prepared for the road trip ahead, it’s important for you to make sure you’re equipped with everything you need to make your getaway a success. These days, many cars come equipped with GPS but you never know when that might malfunction or a signal is lost. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to have a paper map handy in case you need to take a detour or would like to break your planned route and go exploring.

To avoid frequent stops, take tasty, filling snacks like pretzels, granola bars, trail mix or beef jerky. Bottles of water will keep you hydrated, but don’t overdo it otherwise you’ll be making several pit stops along the way. And don’t forget to make sure your glove compartment and trunk are both stocked with emergency essentials like a flashlight, jumper cables, roadside flares, blankets and a first aid kit. And, of course, no road trip is complete without a fun playlist to act as the soundtrack for your journey.

Once you’ve followed these necessary steps to make sure your car is functioning properly and looking great, consider that your green light to go. The open road awaits you.

Categories: Lifestyle

Preparing for cyber warfare

Education - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Recently, emboldened Russian hackers breached the systems of power plants across the United States and Western Europe. In June, Chinese hackers attempted to gain access to several U.S. power plant operation control systems. And in May, the Department of Homeland Security announced hackers had actually gained control of a mechanical device at an unnamed U.S. energy facility.

These brazen cyber attacks on a critical infrastructure have raised new alarms within the information and homeland security sectors. Dr. Jane LeClair, COO at the, National Cybersecurity Institute notes that these types of incidents, in which hackers exploit  vulnerabilities within the country’s digital infrastructure, are referred to in military parlance as “prepping the battlefield.” Following other recent high profile data breaches at private companies such as Target, Michaels, and eBay, and the digital bomb that was left in NASDAQ in 2011, the question is being raised – is America prepped to handle a contemporary cyber war?

While there may be no definitive answer to that question right now, it’s apparent the U.S. needs to look beyond the basics in cybersecurity like never before, says Dr. Sherly Abraham, program director for cybersecurity at Excelsior College. She emphasizes the need for a more proactive approach and comprehensive situational awareness.

Traditionally, the information security community has reacted to a cyber attack or discovery of a particular malware by developing an algorithm to identify the virus’s signature and then creating anti-virus software to prevent a future breach. But many in the security community argue in favor of training cyber professionals to “think like a hacker,” says LeClair. Many higher education institutions are now offering cyber programs that detail both offensive and defensive approaches.

The need for greater situational awareness and increased security education and training may seem like common sense, yet these are often underutilized or even ignored. Experts are urging private companies, organizations and governments to become attentive to the security strengths and weaknesses of their entire operational network - evaluating, monitoring and securing each device, user and service.

A strengthened posture of situational awareness also means taking into account individual weaknesses. Human error often is an organization’s largest cybersecurity vulnerability. Focusing on the human-side of the equation can help stave off social engineering, the criminal practice of using deception to trick an employee into giving up access to a company’s system or confidential information via clicking on a link that contains a virus or malware.

In fact, greater situational awareness and a proactive approach may have been able to prevent at least a few of the past data breaches. Data alerts surrounding the use of memory-scraping malware attacks against credit card companies were first issued in April 2013. A few days prior to Thanksgiving that year, malware introduced into Target’s security and payment system led to the theft of 40 million customer credit card numbers.

Did the merchant take the data alert warnings seriously enough? Even if they had, would this have prevented cyber intruders both at home and abroad (where there are reports of state-sponsored hacking efforts) from perfecting their craft? Industry analysts and commentators will continue to debate the issue. But what is certain is that better education and training can improve the likelihood that cyber-defenders not only heed attack signs in the future, but develop the necessary measures to build defenses against them before they are created in the first place.

Categories: Lifestyle

Don't let debt drag you down: Balancing student loan debt with future goals

Education - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - With each passing year, student loan debt is digging a deeper hole for more young Americans. Over a nine-year period, the average student loan balance among 25-year-olds has grown 91 percent, from $10,649 in 2003 to $20,326 in 2012. More than 38 million Americans have outstanding debt amounting to nearly $1 trillion. This figure has nearly quadrupled over the last four years, surpassing both credit cards and auto loans as a leading source of personal debt, according to Pew Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

While the statistics are startling, some of today’s young people are prepared to take on the financial challenge. Younger generations (those in their mid-20s to early-30s) are showing signs of taking their finances seriously, according to a MassMutual 2013 State of the American Family Study. Nearly two-thirds want to be actively involved in all decisions regarding their finances, and almost half are actively seeking ways to educate themselves about personal finance, a rate significantly higher than older generations. For young people looking to take control of their future, there are ways to ease the strain of student debt. MassMutual offers the following tips to help graduates manage their loans:

* Seek out scholarships – College is expensive, and taking out student loans is often inevitable. If you are still in college or considering getting your degree, be sure to research and apply for a range of scholarships to help lower your education costs. “One of the most powerful steps young people can take to mitigate educational debt is to aggressively seek out scholarships to help fund college,” says Michael Fanning, an executive vice president with MassMutual. “Graduating from college with less debt can help take the financial worry out of the equation when making ‘grown up’ decisions like homeownership, starting a family and saving for retirement.”

* Make a budget that includes all expenses – Expenses fall into three categories: fixed, flexible and discretionary. Sit down and review all of your monthly costs, from meals to rent payments, and identify which category they fall in. From there, you can allocate funds to each area. It’s critical that you have a full understanding of all expenses, debt and assets in order to not only stay on top of fixed expenses – like your student loans – but also build a realistic financial plan.

* Borrow or swap – Before making a purchase, ask a friend or relative if you can borrow or swap for a similar item. This especially holds true for items you may use only once or very few times. Going on a backpacking trip abroad? See if you can borrow a friend’s backpack rather than buying a new one. Looking to update your wardrobe? Ask a friend to swap outfits, doubling each other’s wardrobes instantly. Buying something with your money isn’t the only way to get it.

* Keep living at home – Rent is a huge expense. If you’re moving away from your hometown to work, it’s unavoidable. But if your first job is close to home, consider asking if you can move in with your parents for the first year or two to save on expenses. Use the money you’re able to save during that time to make larger payments toward your student loans to pay them down quicker. That will also allow you to bolster your savings for when you do move into a place of your own.

* Avoid credit card debt – Post-graduation is a crucial point that will help determine your credit-score for years to come. Younger generations have close to $5,000 in credit card debt, according to MassMutual’s study. To keep credit card debt in check, only use one or two cards at a time with limits that aren’t high, and pay your balance in full each month to avoid interest. Missteps could affect the rate you pay on big purchases down the road, like a car or home loan.

* Ask for a raise – Once you have established a solid foundation at your job, usually around the one-year mark, raise your hand and ask for a raise. Be sure to approach your supervisor prepared, both with how much more you want and why you deserve it. Highlight how you’ve demonstrated value to company over the year and how your work merits a raise. Even if you don’t get it right away, you’ve started the conversation.

Taking steps today to manage your finances and get out of debt will help ensure a successful, debt-free financial situation in the future. For more tips and information regarding smart money management, check out www.massmutual.com/myfuturenow.

Categories: Lifestyle

Caught in a data breach? How to reclaim control of your credit and identity

Community Cares - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - By the end of the first quarter 2014, more than 200 data breaches compromised millions of consumer records, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, which keeps track of reported data breaches. Stunned? Data breach stats are even more staggering if you’re among the millions of Americans caught up in one every year.

In addition to the potential monetary loss and identity theft risks, data breaches can also rob you of your sense of security and confidence. When you learn you’ve been involved in a data breach, it’s important to take steps to help protect your identity and financial accounts, and to rebuild your sense of security.

Often, breached organizations will offer affected customers some form of credit monitoring for a set period of time (usually one year) after the breach. While such services may go a long way toward making you feel more secure, be sure you understand exactly what the offered product can – and can’t – do to help you recover from the potential impact of a data breach.

Data breaches, credit monitoring and identity theft risks

Consumers whose personal or financial information is compromised in a data breach may be at greater risk of experiencing identity theft. In 2013, more than 13 million Americans experienced identity fraud, according to a study by Javelin Strategy.

Credit monitoring products aim to help minimize identity theft risks by keeping an eye on your credit accounts, where evidence of potential fraud and identity theft may first appear. Identifying such signs early may help mitigate some of the damages associated with identity theft.

While it’s true that consumers can do on their own virtually everything a credit monitoring product does, going it alone can sometimes be time-consuming and burdensome. Convenience is a significant benefit of a credit monitoring product. Not all credit monitoring products are alike, however, and if a company offers you this product in the wake of a data breach, don’t hesitate to carefully review the product and ask questions, including:

* Does the product provide daily monitoring of credit files?

* Will you receive timely alerts of key changes in your credit files?

* Does the product monitor your credit file at all three of the major credit reporting agencies, or only one? For example, Equifax Complete monitors information from all three bureaus.

* Are financial alerts included, and is it possible to link your bank and credit card accounts to the monitoring product? This allows you to be alerted when withdrawals from your bank account and/or charges to your credit card are processed, based on threshold amounts that you define.

* Is Internet scanning for your Social Security Number and credit card numbers included? This may help detect unauthorized posting of your Social Security number and credit card numbers on certain suspicious trading sites.

If a breached company cannot answer these questions, or you’re not satisfied that the credit monitoring product being offered is comprehensive enough for your needs, you may need to take additional steps. First, you should ask the breached company for a different product. Such companies are increasingly aware of the impact data breaches can have on their reputation, and may be more willing to engage with those customers who feel they’re not receiving an appropriate response in the wake of a data breach. If a company refuses to respond to your request, consider also subscribing to a more suitable product of your choice on your own – it can be a key step toward regaining some confidence and peace of mind when you’re a data breach victim.

Categories: Lifestyle

Suffering from low libido? It may be a sign of a bigger medical issue

Community Cares - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - With the hectic schedules that many women adhere to, it’s not surprising that many feel stressed out or overwhelmed. The responsibilities of juggling a career, a family and obligations as a wife and mother can be nerve-wracking, and for many women sex is not on their mind. While this lack of desire may be the result of the day’s stresses, in a number of cases it may be the symptom of a bigger issue.

Nearly one in two non-menopausal women ages 30 to 50 say they have experienced low sexual desire at some point in their lives, and 61 percent of these women felt distressed by it, according to a new survey supported by HealthyWomen and Palatin Technologies, which is developing an on-demand treatment for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), a common type of female dysfunction otherwise known as low libido.

HSDD is characterized by a lack of sexual thoughts or desires that cannot be explained by another medical condition. Though HSDD has been diagnosed for over 30 years, the vast majority of women surveyed had never heard of the condition. But HSDD is very real and, if not recognized, can ruin relationships.

“Sex is an important part of a romantic relationship, so a lack of intimacy can sometimes create tension within an otherwise healthy partnership,” says Beth Battaglino, R.N., president and CEO of HealthyWomen. “Women who avoid sex because of low sexual desire may not realize that this could be a sign of a medical issue. Most women don’t know what female sexual dysfunction is, or understand that conditions like HSDD are real and can be a serious concern for them as well as their partner.”

Survey results support this idea, as 85 percent of surveyed women said they felt low sexual desire would hurt their relationship with their partner and 66 percent felt it would impair communication. Perhaps more concerning is that nearly half of those who had identified themselves as having HSDD blamed themselves for the condition, and 38 percent said it made them question their worth in their relationship.

“It’s important for women living with HSDD or some other form of female sexual dysfunction to not blame themselves, and they need to feel confident to discuss their concerns with their health care provider and their partner,” Battaglino says.

There are currently no approved medications for the treatment of HSDD, yet 92 percent of women surveyed said they would be interested in a treatment for HSDD. The good news is that medications for HSDD are on the horizon. For more information visit www.palatin.com.

Categories: Lifestyle

Religious guidance, moral support and more roles filled by Navy Chaplain Corps

Education - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - When serving domestically and overseas, Sailors are away from home, family, familiar settings and traditions. Many use their beliefs and faith to help them understand and manage the unfamiliar surroundings they’re experiencing. Guidance, moral support and worship opportunities are critical services provided by the Navy to help Sailors through the challenges of the job while maintaining relationships with family and fellow military members.

Navy Chaplains and Religious Program Specialists from the Religious Ministry Team are available to meet the religious needs of Sailors and Marines and Coast Guardsmen. The Navy Chaplain Corps consists of more than 800 Navy Chaplains and represents over 100 different faith groups. All Chaplains are Navy Officers, meaning each holds an important leadership role practicing ministry and providing faith leadership, as well as personal advice in a ministry that is run 24/7. Chaplains live, work, eat and pray with their fellow shipmates and understand their needs and challenges like no one else.  

Religious support has been provided to military members since before the 13 colonies declared independence from Britain. In 1775, the Continental Congress recognized the importance of religion for Sailors and required services to be held on Continental Congress ships. Later, during World War II, large numbers of civilian clergy stepped forward and enlisted to meet the religious needs of millions serving in the United States Navy. Today, the Navy’s Chaplain Corps consists of active duty and Reserve Chaplains who tend to the spiritual and emotional needs of all military members and their families.

Navy Chaplains are in high demand, and a religious counsel career can be especially rewarding in the military. Whether conducting worship ceremonies on a ship at sea or assisting clergy with religious activities on a base, these men and women are in a unique position to serve their country and fellow service members.

Navy Chaplains have more time to:

* Conduct worship services in a variety of settings
* Perform religious rites and ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and baptisms
* Counsel those who seek guidance
* Oversee religious education programs
* Provide spiritual guidance and care to hospitalized personnel and their families
* Train lay leaders
* Advise leaders at all levels regarding morale, ethics and spiritual well-being

In addition to providing religious ministry for overall faith and facilitating all religious requirements for those of different faiths, Chaplains also advise the command to ensure the free exercise of religion.

To train for the Navy Chaplain Corps, five weeks of training at Officer Development School are held in Newport, R.I., followed by seven weeks of Naval Chaplaincy School in Ft. Jackson, S.C. Continued educational opportunities are available through the funded Chaplain Corps Advanced Education Program, and clinical pastoral educational programs are also held. Any student in the process of earning a graduate theological degree could potentially enter the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program as a student.

Visit navy.com to learn more about Chaplain career opportunities and the background required to answer this exciting and important call to serve.

Categories: Lifestyle

Learn how to help college students take control of their health

Education - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - College may provide the first opportunity for many young adults to make important health decisions for themselves. In its Healthy Campus 2020 objectives, the American College Health Association’s Healthy Campus Coalition highlights a number of important topics for improving the health of college students, including vaccine-preventable diseases, nutrition and physical activity, substance abuse, mental health, and sexually transmitted diseases.

“College is an excellent opportunity for young adults to begin to take ownership of their health, especially as we know this population can experience an increase in mental health concerns,” says Dr. Vaughn Rickert, psychologist and professor of pediatrics and the Donald P. Orr chair in adolescent medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine and Riley Hospital for Children. “Helping teens be proactive about managing their health during this time can help establish positive health habits in addressing any concern as soon as it's recognized.”

Once teens start college, their eating, exercising and general health habits may change. One way to help maintain good health is for teens and young adults to get vaccinated. Vaccines to help prevent against HPV, flu and tetanus are recommended for college students and young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some states may require students entering college to be vaccinated against certain diseases, such as meningitis. It is important that teens discuss these recommended vaccines with their doctor during their annual checkup.

In addition, there are other steps students can take, such as eating right and exercising on a regular basis, that may help them maintain good health. According to the CDC, healthy nutrition starts with eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and balancing high calorie foods with healthier ones. Establishing an exercise routine can also help build and maintain healthy bones and muscles while reducing the risk of obesity, and developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“During college, teens may begin to make new friends and celebrate new accomplishments,” says Dr. Rickert. “It is possible that alcohol will be present during these celebrations and social gatherings. Teens need to understand the importance of making responsible choices.” Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, according to the CDC. Underage drinking increases the risk of physical assault, school problems and abuse of other drugs.

College can also be overwhelming and stressful. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are common mental health issues on college campuses. Many campuses run a suicide prevention hotline, which can be the first step in seeking support. Students can also visit the campus health center or a nearby clinic.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are another important issue many young adults can face during college. Nearly half of the 20 million new STDs diagnosed each year are among young people aged 15 to 24 years. Latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmission of some STDs when used consistently and correctly.

College students can discuss these important health topics with their doctor during their annual checkup. The best place to go for health services is a regular health care provider, according to the CDC. However, if a college student does not have one, they may be able to visit the on-campus clinic for a checkup.

Parents may also consider scheduling their teen’s annual checkup while their teen is home from college for a holiday or semester break. MyTeensHealth.com offers tips and resources to help ensure parents are prepared to help their teens stay healthy during college, including a checklist for their teen’s annual wellness visit.

Categories: Lifestyle

Establishing a 401(k) at your small business is easier than you think - and helps employees save for the long-term

Community Cares - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Over the next 16 years, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day. Social Security alone may not be enough to provide an adequate retirement. Every day you hear about the lack of retirement savings and how ill-prepared many Americans are to meet their spending needs during retirement. Many remedies are suggested to help Americans save for the long-term. While there is much discussion around new ideas on how to close the savings gap (state administered plans, myRA savings plan, etc.) one answer to help Americans save more for retirement is available today.

Creating a workplace retirement plan (such as a 401(k)) continues to be one of the most appreciated benefits of any company. According to The Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study conducted by Guardian Retirement Solutions, overall satisfaction with 401(k)s among existing plan sponsors is virtually 100 percent, including a majority (56 percent) who are “very satisfied.” Specifically, more than half (57 percent) of small-business owners say the plan helps employees retire with an adequate and secure income and at least half say their plan is very successful when it comes to making retirement savings easy, providing employees with retirement income planning tools and supporting and encouraging disciplined, systematic savings by employees. 

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey found that 73 percent of people without access to a workplace retirement plan say they have less than $1,000 in total retirement assets. The solution? Increase access to workplace retirement plans.

Many small businesses are still without a 401(k) plan. In fact, 46 percent of small businesses do not offer a workplace retirement plan, according to Guardian’s Small Plan 401(k)RetireWell Study. This makes it more difficult for small businesses to attract and retain the talented employees vital to making them competitive in their industries. It also does not help close the savings gap for the average U.S. citizen. In order to help more Americans save, small-business owners should consider offering or improving a workplace retirement plan. Satisfaction rates are high, and the need is significant.

If you’re a small-business owner considering offering a 401(k) plan or looking to improve the current workplace retirement plan you offer to your employees, follow these five tips to establish a successful plan so your employees can feel more confident about their retirement and remain loyal to your company.

5 tips for implementing a successful workplace retirement plan

1. Work with a competent financial professional. Business owners who work with a financial professional when offering a 401(k) plan were much more satisfied (61 percent) with their overall plan than those who did not work with a financial professional (40 percent), according to the Guardian Retirement Solutions Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study.   

2. Understand your role – as the plan sponsor, you are the plan fiduciary.  This means you have taken responsibility for the plan and you must act in the plan’s best interest. Among other duties, this includes acting prudently and in the best interest of the plan participants, selecting and monitoring the service providers who help administer the plan, providing education for participants and employees, selecting and monitoring the plan investment options, and ensuring the plan is paying “reasonable” fees for the necessary services required to administer the plan. Educating yourself on these responsibilities, and talking to your legal adviser to understand your obligations as a plan fiduciary is critical. Additionally, your financial professional can work with you to help find service providers who can assist with these responsibilities to ensure you’re doing what’s needed for the plan, minimizing your fiduciary risk, and ensuring the plan is operating optimally.

3. Find the right help for you and your plan. Look for a recordkeeper and other retirement plan service providers who are focused on the needs of small-business owners to ensure your needs are met. Services can include: customized and flexible solutions for your business, fiduciary support services, investment flexibility (target date funds, managed accounts, multiple fund choices), access to customer service teams, enrollment and on-going education and support. Small companies do not have the same access to staff and resources that larger companies do. Working with providers who understand and cater to the small business market and who can offer these value-added services will help you reduce your administrative burdens.

4. Find the right plan design for you. Talk to your third-party administrator (TPA) about a plan design that makes sense for you and your employees. There are many ways to setup a workplace retirement plan, not just a 401(k) (i.e. defined benefit plan, cash balance plan, profit-sharing only plan,etc.). In order to maximize company and employee tax savings and meet other plan and business owner objectives, you want to be sure the plan has the necessary features to help you attract and retain employees.

5. Educate your employees. Look to work with service providers who can provide your employees with robust enrollment and on-going educational tools and the support to help them plan, save and invest for retirement. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you can help your employees achieve the retirement they desire.

Categories: Lifestyle

Establishing a 401(k) at your small business is easier than you think - and helps employees save for the long-term

Business/Careers - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Over the next 16 years, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day. Social Security alone may not be enough to provide an adequate retirement. Every day you hear about the lack of retirement savings and how ill-prepared many Americans are to meet their spending needs during retirement. Many remedies are suggested to help Americans save for the long-term. While there is much discussion around new ideas on how to close the savings gap (state administered plans, myRA savings plan, etc.) one answer to help Americans save more for retirement is available today.

Creating a workplace retirement plan (such as a 401(k)) continues to be one of the most appreciated benefits of any company. According to The Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study conducted by Guardian Retirement Solutions, overall satisfaction with 401(k)s among existing plan sponsors is virtually 100 percent, including a majority (56 percent) who are “very satisfied.” Specifically, more than half (57 percent) of small-business owners say the plan helps employees retire with an adequate and secure income and at least half say their plan is very successful when it comes to making retirement savings easy, providing employees with retirement income planning tools and supporting and encouraging disciplined, systematic savings by employees. 

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s (EBRI) 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey found that 73 percent of people without access to a workplace retirement plan say they have less than $1,000 in total retirement assets. The solution? Increase access to workplace retirement plans.

Many small businesses are still without a 401(k) plan. In fact, 46 percent of small businesses do not offer a workplace retirement plan, according to Guardian’s Small Plan 401(k)RetireWell Study. This makes it more difficult for small businesses to attract and retain the talented employees vital to making them competitive in their industries. It also does not help close the savings gap for the average U.S. citizen. In order to help more Americans save, small-business owners should consider offering or improving a workplace retirement plan. Satisfaction rates are high, and the need is significant.

If you’re a small-business owner considering offering a 401(k) plan or looking to improve the current workplace retirement plan you offer to your employees, follow these five tips to establish a successful plan so your employees can feel more confident about their retirement and remain loyal to your company.

5 tips for implementing a successful workplace retirement plan

1. Work with a competent financial professional. Business owners who work with a financial professional when offering a 401(k) plan were much more satisfied (61 percent) with their overall plan than those who did not work with a financial professional (40 percent), according to the Guardian Retirement Solutions Small Plan 401(k) RetireWell Study.   

2. Understand your role – as the plan sponsor, you are the plan fiduciary.  This means you have taken responsibility for the plan and you must act in the plan’s best interest. Among other duties, this includes acting prudently and in the best interest of the plan participants, selecting and monitoring the service providers who help administer the plan, providing education for participants and employees, selecting and monitoring the plan investment options, and ensuring the plan is paying “reasonable” fees for the necessary services required to administer the plan. Educating yourself on these responsibilities, and talking to your legal adviser to understand your obligations as a plan fiduciary is critical. Additionally, your financial professional can work with you to help find service providers who can assist with these responsibilities to ensure you’re doing what’s needed for the plan, minimizing your fiduciary risk, and ensuring the plan is operating optimally.

3. Find the right help for you and your plan. Look for a recordkeeper and other retirement plan service providers who are focused on the needs of small-business owners to ensure your needs are met. Services can include: customized and flexible solutions for your business, fiduciary support services, investment flexibility (target date funds, managed accounts, multiple fund choices), access to customer service teams, enrollment and on-going education and support. Small companies do not have the same access to staff and resources that larger companies do. Working with providers who understand and cater to the small business market and who can offer these value-added services will help you reduce your administrative burdens.

4. Find the right plan design for you. Talk to your third-party administrator (TPA) about a plan design that makes sense for you and your employees. There are many ways to setup a workplace retirement plan, not just a 401(k) (i.e. defined benefit plan, cash balance plan, profit-sharing only plan,etc.). In order to maximize company and employee tax savings and meet other plan and business owner objectives, you want to be sure the plan has the necessary features to help you attract and retain employees.

5. Educate your employees. Look to work with service providers who can provide your employees with robust enrollment and on-going educational tools and the support to help them plan, save and invest for retirement. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you can help your employees achieve the retirement they desire.

Categories: Lifestyle

6 tips for a safe and enjoyable summer

Community Cares - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Summer is all about spending time outdoors – either at home or away. Whether you’re hitting the road or taking a trip to the local park, it’s time for fun in the sun. And when you’re preparing for fun outside, remember that there are safety concerns to consider as well.

With that in mind, Master Lock offers these six tips to help make the season a safe and enjoyable one for everyone in your household:

* Make your backyard a safe place. Remember to put garden tools and lawn mowers away in a locked place after use. Un-stored tools could cause a fall or be used by young children as toys. Secure your shed or garage door with a high-security, weather-resistant padlock. Not only does this deter kids from using tools as toys, it also guards lawn equipment from theft.

* Sleep safely with the windows open. Sleeping with open windows provides a cool breeze for pleasant rest and helps many people sleep better. What’s more is that it lessens the chance of succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning, a dangerous nighttime killer. Unfortunately, it also provides intruders with easy access to your home. Before enjoying this summertime routine, take proactive measures to ensure you do so safely. If you have a home security system (only 14 percent of North Americans do, according to the recent Safety and Security Survey), make sure it provides window security coverage. Otherwise, use a window-blocking device that prevents windows from opening more than 6 inches, and ensure windows cannot be accessed from outside. While you’re sleeping, ensure all doors are locked and safeguard patio doors from intruders with Master Lock’s Door Security Bar.

* Designate a family meeting spot. More than half of North Americans have not designated a meeting spot in case of a house fire. Choose one with your family now so you’re prepared in case of a fire. It’s also good practice to designate a meeting spot whenever you’re away from home. Whether you are at a carnival, park or away on vacation, always come up with a plan of where to meet. This will give you peace of mind in case someone in your family is separated from the group.

* Check your smoke detectors. Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors save lives and protect against injury and loss due to fire. Yet, survey results showed that only 7 percent of North Americans test smoke detectors monthly – the recommended frequency to ensure they’re always working correctly. Replace batteries yearly or as soon as you hear a low-battery warning sound - usually a chirping noise. Smoke alarms themselves should be replaced every 10 years.

* Create backups. With busy summer schedules, it’s easy to forget your keys before leaving the house. To avoid being locked out of your house, make extra copies of your keys and keep them in a secure spot. A lock box allows you to store your extra key and make it accessible only to those who know the combination.

* Prepare for the unexpected. Technology today makes it easier than ever to ensure you’re never without important information, such as your child’s insurance details or passwords to your online accounts. Store digital copies of your family’s important medical and identification information in a secure app such as the Master Lock Vault for access whenever you need them.

By taking the proper safety precautions, you’ll enjoy a safe and worry-free summer. To learn more about the products available from Master Lock, visit www.masterlock.com.

Categories: Lifestyle

How to maximize your tax benefits from charitable gifts

Community Cares - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You answer calls to support your alma mater, the local animal shelter and the American Red Cross with gifts of money and volunteer time. And after cleaning out the closets, dressers, kitchen cabinets and garage, you take a trunk load of donations to the thrift store.

You know your gifts of cash, time and household items may be tax deductible, but what do you need to do to verify that and maximize your deduction?

"Being charitable can cut your taxable income, as long as you follow a few simple rules," says Jessi Dolmage, spokesperson for popular digital tax preparation brand TaxACT. "Those include giving to eligible organizations and keeping accurate records."

To determine if you've donated to eligible organizations, search the IRS' database of Exempt Organization Select Check at www.irs.gov. Most religious organizations and government agencies are eligible, even if they’re not listed in the database.

Keeping detailed records is important for accurate valuation of your gifts (and in turn your tax deduction) and in the unlikely event of an audit. Dolmage says records should include organization name, donation date and amount.

For monetary gifts, keep the written acknowledgment from the organization with the donation date and amount. A canceled check or card statement with the transaction date also suffices for gifts under $250.

If you receive merchandise, benefits or privileges in exchange for a gift, you must subtract the value of those from the original gift amount. If your payment is more than $75, the organization must give you a written statement with a description and estimated value of the merchandise, goods or services.

For noncash donations, document the charity name, date and location of the items, along with a reasonably detailed description of the items. If you receive a receipt from the charity, keep it with your records.

The IRS requires additional documentation for vehicle donations. You must receive a written acknowledgment or Form 1098-C from the charity for the vehicle.

Noncash donations, such as clothing, kitchen gadgets and furniture, must be in good condition or better. The tax-deductible amount of those items is the fair market value (FMV), the price if they were exchanged between willing buyers and sellers. Special rules apply to donations of cars, boats airplanes, property subject to debt, investments that have appreciated in value and inventory from your business.

Mobile apps can make tracking throughout the year painless. Donation Assistant by TaxACT tracks cash, noncash and recurring gifts, with FMVs for more than 1,300 commonly donated household items. You can also save photos of your donations and receipts. When doing your taxes, import the information and TaxACT Deluxe will calculate your maximum deduction and complete your tax forms.

You can deduct charitable gifts you made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 only if you itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A. In order to itemize, all of your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction amount based on your adjusted gross income and filing status.

Additionally, you must file Form 8283 if your noncash contributions total more than $500, and include a qualified appraisal of property worth more than $5,000.

Download the free Donation Assistant app at www.taxact.com/apps and learn more about the tax rules of charitable giving at www.irs.gov and www.taxact.com/taxinfo.

Categories: Lifestyle

How to maximize your tax benefits from charitable gifts

Business/Careers - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - You answer calls to support your alma mater, the local animal shelter and the American Red Cross with gifts of money and volunteer time. And after cleaning out the closets, dressers, kitchen cabinets and garage, you take a trunk load of donations to the thrift store.

You know your gifts of cash, time and household items may be tax deductible, but what do you need to do to verify that and maximize your deduction?

"Being charitable can cut your taxable income, as long as you follow a few simple rules," says Jessi Dolmage, spokesperson for popular digital tax preparation brand TaxACT. "Those include giving to eligible organizations and keeping accurate records."

To determine if you've donated to eligible organizations, search the IRS' database of Exempt Organization Select Check at www.irs.gov. Most religious organizations and government agencies are eligible, even if they’re not listed in the database.

Keeping detailed records is important for accurate valuation of your gifts (and in turn your tax deduction) and in the unlikely event of an audit. Dolmage says records should include organization name, donation date and amount.

For monetary gifts, keep the written acknowledgment from the organization with the donation date and amount. A canceled check or card statement with the transaction date also suffices for gifts under $250.

If you receive merchandise, benefits or privileges in exchange for a gift, you must subtract the value of those from the original gift amount. If your payment is more than $75, the organization must give you a written statement with a description and estimated value of the merchandise, goods or services.

For noncash donations, document the charity name, date and location of the items, along with a reasonably detailed description of the items. If you receive a receipt from the charity, keep it with your records.

The IRS requires additional documentation for vehicle donations. You must receive a written acknowledgment or Form 1098-C from the charity for the vehicle.

Noncash donations, such as clothing, kitchen gadgets and furniture, must be in good condition or better. The tax-deductible amount of those items is the fair market value (FMV), the price if they were exchanged between willing buyers and sellers. Special rules apply to donations of cars, boats airplanes, property subject to debt, investments that have appreciated in value and inventory from your business.

Mobile apps can make tracking throughout the year painless. Donation Assistant by TaxACT tracks cash, noncash and recurring gifts, with FMVs for more than 1,300 commonly donated household items. You can also save photos of your donations and receipts. When doing your taxes, import the information and TaxACT Deluxe will calculate your maximum deduction and complete your tax forms.

You can deduct charitable gifts you made between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 only if you itemize deductions on Form 1040 Schedule A. In order to itemize, all of your itemized deductions must exceed the standard deduction amount based on your adjusted gross income and filing status.

Additionally, you must file Form 8283 if your noncash contributions total more than $500, and include a qualified appraisal of property worth more than $5,000.

Download the free Donation Assistant app at www.taxact.com/apps and learn more about the tax rules of charitable giving at www.irs.gov and www.taxact.com/taxinfo.

Categories: Lifestyle

What employers want: the 3 'Cs'

Education - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Whether you are an employer looking to hire someone or the person looking to get hired, it’s all about competency.

Only 11 percent of employers believe recent graduates have the skills needed to succeed within their work forces, according to a recent Lumina Foundation report. Two-thirds of employers say recent college graduates may have the skills and knowledge for entry-level positions but less than half believe recent graduates have what it takes for advancement to higher level jobs, according to a 2013 survey conducted for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

So what are these essential competencies that candidates are missing? At the top of the list are the three “Cs”: critical thinking, collaboration and communication. Hiring officers look for candidates with good problem-solving abilities, the ability to work in teams, and those who have good verbal and written communications skills. For the “traditional” college graduate in his or her early 20’s, much of their focus in school was spent on mastering subject matter, not necessarily on cultivating the three “Cs”. They may have a degree but not much in the way of experience. On the other hand, working adults who are earning their degrees later in life have had ample opportunity to hone these skills and are lacking the credential – a diploma – to get hired or promoted.

A new approach to higher education taking hold on campuses and in board rooms is called competency-based education. Under this model, students can receive credit for knowledge and skills they already possess. A 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 87 percent of Americans believe students should be able to receive college credit for knowledge and skills obtained outside the classroom. Some schools, like Excelsior College, are well-established leaders in this practice. Degree programs like these define what students must know, have well-defined learning outcomes and have a rigorous means of assessing whether students have achieved these outcomes.

How can job candidates, young or older, demonstrate both subject-matter mastery and competence? To start, first evaluate and identify your unique combination of skills, values and personal traits. Research the job that you are seeking and the company that is doing the hiring. Think broadly and don’t confine yourself to the same industry in which you may have experiences, either as an employee or a student who had an internship. List the knowledge you have gained and skills you have developed.

“After you know who you are and what you have to offer, explore and choose the educational and career options that suit you best,” says Maribeth Gunner, director of career services at Excelsior College. “The key to selling yourself is to show your ability to apply knowledge (competence), rather than simply possessing it (mastery).”

Categories: Lifestyle

Seven tips for a greener back-to-school season

Education - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - With back-to-school shopping, changing schedules and preparing kids for the upcoming school year, your family’s environmental impact may be the last thing on your mind

It is possible to have a greener back-to-school season. Here are seven simple things parents and children can do to care for the environment – and themselves – as they return to school.

1. Reuse and recycle notebooks. While high schoolers may go through multiple notebooks per subject every year, it’s rare for elementary school-aged kids to use up their notebooks. Tear out used pages (and recycle them, of course) from last year’s notebooks so that kids can use the remaining blank pages. Use contact paper to freshen and reinforce covers that are worn or written on.

2. Give broken and worn down crayons new life. Gather all the bits and separate by color. Remove all papers. Using a mini-muffin pan (or mini ramekins in fun shapes), fill each cup with crayon pieces in one color. Melt in an oven set at 350 degrees just until crayons are completely melted. Cool at room temperature, then freeze for 30 minutes to make it easier to remove the newly formed crayons.

3. Refresh smelly shoes naturally. Stinky gym bags and tennis shoes don’t have to be a reality for your athletic child, and you don’t have to resort to chemicals to kill odor. You can create a natural deodorizing spray with essential oils. Simply mix 12 to 16 drops of lemon oil, six drops of red thyme oil and 2 drops of patchouli oil and 4 ounces of water in a misting bottle. Shake vigorously and mist inside gym bags and shoes. The formula not only kills odors, it adds an energizing, refreshing aroma.

4. Look for ways to green your commute to school. If you live close to school, consider walking or biking. Families with longer commutes may consider carpooling or using the school bus.

5. Green lunches by packing them in reusable lunch bags (no brown bags or plastic baggies, please). Pack sandwiches in reusable sandwich containers, and use bento-style boxes with multiple compartments to hold snacks, veggies and other sides. Replace plastic water bottles with reusable bottles – plenty of fun, colorful options are available.

6. Energize naturally. Do your kids grab a sugary soft drink or sweet snack to boost their awareness while doing homework? Instead of relying on unhealthy treats for an energy boost that will come with a crash afterward, energize homework time with an essential oil diffusion. Aura Cacia offers this mood-boosting blend:

Ingredients:
10 drops peppermint essential oil
3 drops eucalyptus essential oil
2 drops ginger essential oil
3 drops sweet orange essential oil

Directions:
Combine all oils in a mister bottle and spritz in the air around your child’s work space. To give kids a boost during the school day, soak a cotton ball in the essential oils blend, slip it into a reusable plastic container and place in your child’s book bag. Whenever he needs a burst of energy during the day, he can open it and take a quick whiff.

7. Lighten up your electricity use and carbon footprint. Get kids involved in a fun weekend project by replacing incandescent bulbs throughout the house with energy-efficient CFLs or LEDs. These bulbs give off the same amount of light for back-to-school tasks like homework or picking out a first-day outfit, but use about 80 percent less electricity and can last for eight or more years before needing replacement.

Categories: Lifestyle

Wholesome snacks for back to school

Education - Wed, 07/16/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - The school year is here and with it, all of those hectic schedules. You may think the chaos of another school year means you’re too busy to provide your children with nourishing after-school snacks, but that doesn’t have to happen. There are many easy recipes available that will allow you to provide wholesome and delicious snacks to your kids, and there are easy ways to be sure they enjoy them. Here are a few ideas.

Ask them to help

Your children will be more excited about eating a healthy after-school snack if they have a hand in its creation. Creating a garden vegetable tray is an easy way to let kids customize their snack to their own taste preferences. Smaller kids can organize the grape tomatoes while you cut the peppers, and when you’re finished, you can all enjoy the snack together. This large recipe is perfect if your kids are bringing friends over. You could also create the tray on a Monday and then enjoy it all week long.

Garden vegetable tray

Ingredients

1 package Simply Organic Southwest Ranch Greek Yogurt Dip Mix

1 16-ounce package Stonyfield Plain Organic Nonfat Greek Yogurt

1 small zucchini, sliced

1 small yellow squash, sliced

1 pint grape tomatoes

1 medium jicama, peeled and sliced into sticks

1 orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1 bunch of radishes

1 bunch green onions - about 10 - trimmed

1 head romaine lettuce, large leaves only for the base of the vegetable platter

1 red bell pepper

Instructions

Mix Simply Organic Southwest Ranch Greek Dip Mix with the 16-ounce package of Stonyfield Plain Organic Nonfat Greek Yogurt. Chill for 30 minutes.

Line a large tray or shallow dish with a decorative napkin and Romaine lettuce leaves.

Seed the red bell pepper by slicing off the top of the pepper, then pull out the membrane and seeds. Discard membrane and seeds, but keep the top for decoration.

Fill the hollow bell pepper with chilled Simply Organic Southwest Ranch Greek Dip and place in the center of the tray or dish.

Arrange corn, zucchini, yellow squash, grape tomatoes, jicama sticks, orange and green bell pepper, radishes and green onions around the red bell pepper dip cup.

Place toothpicks or skewers on nearby serving platter.

Hide healthy foods in delicious flavors

Sometimes the right presentation is all you need for your children to enjoy healthy snacks. This recipe for a banana, pineapple and orange smoothie hides nutritious fruit in a savory offering that feels more like a dessert. Just make sure your kids don’t drink it too fast to ward off brain freeze.

Banana, pineapple and orange smoothie

Ingredients

1 medium sized frozen banana (peel removed before frozen)

1 cup frozen pineapple

6 ounces Greek Yogurt

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon Simply Organic Orange Flavor

1/2 teaspoon Simply Organic Vanilla Flavoring

Fresh orange slices and shredded coconut, for garnish

Directions

In a blender, blend all ingredients until smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape the sides down as needed throughout blending.

Serve immediately.

Snack on the run

After a long day of sitting at their desks at school, your kids may not be interested in sitting at the table for snack time. If you’re kids are on the go, this quick, savory recipe will give them a nutritious snack they can enjoy anywhere so you don’t have to turn to chips or candy.

Roasted chickpeas

Ingredients

2 cans (16 oz. each) chickpeas, drained, rinsed and dried

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 packet Simply Organic’s Crazy Awesome Veggies seasoning blends

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place chickpeas in bowl.

Toss with olive oil and seasoning blend until evenly coated.

Spread in a layer on rimmed baking sheet.

Bake 30-40 minutes or until crisp.

Creating delicious, wholesome snacks for your kids is easier than you think. All you need is the right recipe. For more easy recipe ideas to make back to school as healthy and nutritious as possible, visit www.simplyorganic.com.

Categories: Lifestyle

Parents: How to pick the right cost-effective technology device for your child's learning

Education - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - When it comes to education, Americans may hotly debate testing, grading and teacher accountability, but one topic that finds wide-spread support among educators, parents, legislators and students is the value of technology in the classroom. With a majority of teachers reporting in a PBS Learning Media survey that they use technology to reinforce and expand on lessons and motivate students to learn, it is only a matter of time before your child will use technology in the classroom.

When your child needs to use technology to support their learning, will you know what type of cost-effective device to buy for maximum learning benefit?

To choose the best device for your child, you need to think about how they will use the device in their learning. Some projects will require work on a PC – such as online assessments or activities that use Microsoft Office applications. If your child needs a quick, easy and cost-effective way to access the Internet for research or online collaboration, a Chromebook might be a good choice. With the Google Apps for Education suite, Chromebooks allow students and teachers the ability to search the Web and do most basic productivity activities. Additionally, if your child’s school system is set up to support Chromebooks, teachers can monitor student progress and streamline communications.

“Chromebooks are stable, dependable [and] provide easy access to learning content,” says Heather Vogel, a teacher at Battle Creek Middle School in St. Paul, Minn. “No bells and whistles, just a no-nonsense portal to a new, highly personalized way of learning.”

If you’re thinking of buying a Chromebook for your child, keep these tips in mind:

* Screen size – Chromebooks vary in screen size so for parents looking for a more generous screen, Toshiba offers a 13-inch screen and HP offers a 14-inch screen.

* Durability – Some Chromebooks, such as the Lenovo X131E, have been developed and designed to be especially rugged with students in mind.

* Battery life – With longer battery life, Chromebooks are less likely to turn off mid-class. Intel-powered Chromebooks boast a 57-percent longer battery life while Web browsing, according to a study by Principled Technologies.

* Speed – A device’s processor should be powerful enough to ensure students can easily and quickly read textbooks and take notes online, complete homework, create presentations and share files. The Principled Technologies study also revealed that Chromebooks powered by Intel offer faster speeds and better performance than competitor processors. Faster access means students will spend less time waiting and more time learning.

* Graphics capabilities – Much of what students do in class will be graphics-intensive (such as an anatomy simulation), so their Chromebook should run on a processor that will allow for smooth, vibrant graphics across all applications.

* Start-up time – Students are busy and easily distracted. Shorter start-up time means the learning process can begin more quickly.

* Price – Although prices on digital devices are becoming more reasonable across the board, Chromebooks can be especially cost-effective. For example, the Acer 720 is a lighter and lower cost device.

* Support/resources – Students don’t learn in a vacuum and their Chromebooks shouldn’t have to operate in one either. It’s important to choose a device that offers students and parents access to support and resources 24/7. Intel supports students, parents, and teachers with K-12 Blueprint, a website that provides information about products, capabilities and features of the Chromebook that are useful for students. Visit www.k12blueprint.com/chromebooks and follow @IntelK12Edu on Twitter for further resources.

Already accustomed to technology in their daily lives, today’s students are eager to embrace technology in the classroom. With educators and parents on the same page, they can create a learning environment where students can thrive.  

“I feel more connected to [my school] now and - in some ways - it feels like the other kids and I are part of a big workplace, except our job is to learn,” says Maria Jiminez, a student at Piedmont High School in Monroe, N.C. “Chromebooks are like a tool that makes everything so simple. And - with my workload and extra-curricular activities, simplicity is a really good thing!”

Categories: Lifestyle

Serve your country and explore the world simultaneously

Education - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - It’s no secret that world travel is one of the most exciting perks enjoyed by men and women in America’s Navy. With more than 100 ports of call around the globe and bases in multiple time zones, there’s a great chance you’ll see the world over the course of your Navy career.

On any given day, 600,000 Sailors and Navy civilians are working together around the globe to perform their mission of deterring aggression and, if deterrence fails, winning our Nation’s wars. Even if that doesn’t satisfy your appetite for adventure, during your ample vacation time, you’ll be able to fly standby on military flights around the world for a small fee. You can cross many international and domestic destinations off your travel bucket list during your time of service.

What’s more, you will often be eligible to stay in base lodging around the world. This includes lodging at any military facility that has rooms available for military personnel and their families, and lodging is usually provided at a cost much lower than you would find at an off-base hotel.

These cost savings on travel are a great benefit that isn’t often found in post high-school or college careers. It all amounts to a lifetime of adventure, culture and memories that you and your family can enjoy throughout your time in the Navy and beyond.

Sailors serve around the world on a variety of missions and at many ports. One of the top port destinations is Sydney, Australia, which has an electric nightlife, plenty of beaches and great recreational activities. When on vacation, it’s just a short flight or bus trip to Brisbane or Cairns to explore the Great Barrier Reef, or take a trip along the Great Ocean Road between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Those who prefer a more European experience will love Rota, Spain, which is the gateway to the Mediterranean. This port is connected to the rest of Europe, thanks to an extensive transportation system that gives Sailors plenty of options for their vacations. Another great European port is Naples, Italy, which is just a short train ride from the beautiful and historic city of Pompeii. The city has been rebuilt, but exploring the unearthed ruins is a very educational experience. Sailors can also take the train up to Rome for a one-day visit or even for a long holiday.

While it’s not an international destination, another top port Sailors love to visit is Hawaii, with its rich history and tropical setting. Sailors don’t need to go far to find beautiful beaches and recreational activities in the water, and relaxing on shore is a perfect way to spend some holiday vacation time.

To see where Sailors are serving today, visit navylive.dodlive.mil/category/inside-the-navy/your-navy-today.

For more information about opportunities to serve, visit www.navy.com.

Categories: Lifestyle

What's the top learning style in America? Hands-on wins hands down, survey says

Education - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 12:00am

(BPT) - Children learn by doing, and every child has a unique learning style all his or her own, child development experts tell us. The same can be said of adults if a recent survey is any indication. A majority of Americans say hands-on training is the hands-down winner when they want to learn something new in an educational environment, according a Harris Interactive poll conducted on behalf of Everest College.

Surprising in the Internet age when most Americans spend hours a day online, 52 percent of the 1,011 adults polled said active participation through hands-on training was the best learning method, while just 19 percent counted using the Internet as a preferred learning tool. Watching a demonstration by an instructor came in a distant second at 28 percent, and just 15 percent valued watching videos.

“When it comes to what learning methods work best, everyone is different,” says John Swartz, regional director of career services at Everest College. “Clearly, most Americans feel hands-on training works best for them. For our education system to succeed in preparing Americans for the working world, it’s critical for us to understand what learning styles work best for all students, whether they’re pre-K kids or older Americans returning to school for advanced training.”

There’s no arguing the value of higher education in professional life. In 2012, workers with a professional degree earned $1,083 more per week than those with only a high school education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment rates for those with only a high school diploma were more than four times that of workers with professional degrees.

With college costs continuing to increase and competition remaining high for available jobs, both high school graduates and working professionals seeking to further their careers through advanced degrees recognize the importance of finding the right educational program for their learning style.

“Students who practice what they’re learning in a hands-on environment can often retain much more information when compared with sitting passively in a lecture room, so it’s not a surprise that hands-on training is the overwhelming favorite,” Swartz says.

Other variables play a role in determining an adult’s preferred learning style, the survey indicates. While both sexes preferred hands-on training overall, men were significantly more likely than women to say hands-on training worked best for them. Women were significantly more likely to say visual demonstrations worked best for them.

Top earners also liked the Internet; 30 percent of those with household incomes topping $100,000 said the Internet worked best for them as a learning tool, while just 18 percent of workers earning less than $35,000 agreed. Twenty-eight percent of Americans ages 45 to 54 chose reading from a text book as their top method.

“It’s no secret that students in the U.S. are falling in the rankings on global achievement tests, so it’s imperative that we invest in early education, retain the top educators, and identify the best forms of training programs and learning methods to prepare future generations,” Swartz says. “One of the major benefits of tactile learning, or hands-on training, is that it develops critical thinking skills that give students the ability to make on-the-spot decisions in a workplace environment.”

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