Buzzworm news briefs

Put that PC to sleep

A personal computer seems so clean. No gas-guzzling engine spins its hard drive; no trees need to die to produce its paperless documents — just plug it in and play in the stream of electrons.

But when the source of those streams is a coal-fired electric power plant, your computer can indirectly produce a surprising amount of dirty air. For every 24 hours you leave it running at full power, about three pounds of carbon dioxide — the “greenhouse gas” linked to global warming — pours out of the power plant’s smokestack. If you left your PC running an entire year, you’d be personally responsible for some two pounds of ozone-producing nitrogen oxide, six pounds of haze-producing sulfur dioxide, and 10 milligrams of toxic mercury entering the atmosphere.

Now consider that 60 percent of America’s 54 million office computers are left running overnight when their users go home. That’s more than 9 million tons a year of needless CO2 emissions — and $900 million in extra electricity bills — just to keep a bunch of spreadsheets and screen savers flickering through the wee hours. More than half the electricity used to power computer monitors, energy experts say, goes to waste.

That’s why the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency estimates that installing and activating Energy Star Monitor Power Management on the 1,300 computers in Buncombe County’s government network and the 500 city of Asheville computers could reduce local CO2 emissions by up to 1.6 million pounds per year — along with up to 3,600 pounds per year of NOx, about 10,000 pounds of SO2, and up to 15,000 mg. of mercury. And, along the way, the reduced electric bills could save the two governments as much as $63,000 in taxpayers’ dollars.

Monitor power management, or MPM, puts a computer monitor into low-power “sleep” mode when it’s been inactive for a while. It “wakes” the monitor when the user presses a key or moves the mouse. Most computers nowadays have the feature, but it’s disabled on an estimated 40 percent of them. (MPM is not the same as a screen saver, which saves comparatively little power — none at all if the background isn’t dark.)

Thanks to a $5,000 grant the air agency has secured from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, county and city information-technology staff will now be able to use Energy Star software that the agency will buy for them to quickly and easily activate MPM throughout their networks. Engineering Supervisor Melanie Pitrolo announced the grant at the agency board’s Sept. 13 meeting. Surveys conducted before and after the activation will measure actual pollution-emissions reductions, she noted, and the data will be forwarded to the Mountain Area Early Action Compact as part of the regional effort to reduce ozone pollution.

— Steve Rasmussen

Designing for life

Asheville diners have made Dining Out for Life, an annual fund-raiser for AIDS service agencies, a resounding success for the Western North Carolina AIDS Project for the past two years. (The annual national event has gradually grown since its inception in 1990.) Now, Design One, the ad agency that created the local poster for the 2004 Dining Out for Life, has put Asheville on the national map. That design, created by David Guinn and Jim Slatton, has been chosen as the official poster for the 2005 event in 32 cities nationwide as well as Vancouver.

The design was selected by the Chicago-based marketing group MPG, which was hired to head the DOFLI national campaign, out of all the designs submitted by participating cities. As part of the selection process, MPG interviewed more than 40 individuals across the country within the marketing, graphic-arts, media and restaurant industries to solicit input. The poster design will also appear on other various marketing materials used to promote the event in each city.

Design One has been a longtime supporter of WNCAP, donating design graphics for various fund-raising activities.

In related news, Asheville AIDs activist Harry Brown has been named to the national board of directors of Dining Out for Life.

— Cecil Bothwell

Touching a child’s heart

When a foster child who’s available for adoption finds a permanent family, “It’s amazing the transformation in the kids — it really is,” exclaims Erica Jourdan, a recruitment specialist with the Buncombe County Department of Social Services.

“It’s safe for them to fledge — to flip up those feathers and just calm down,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I’m OK now; I’m going to be OK. Even if I’m not OK right now, I’m going to be.’ They have some trust again.”

If you think you might be interested in helping spark that kind of transformation in a foster child, check out this year’s WNC Adoption Awareness Celebration, slated for Saturday, Nov. 13, 1-4 p.m. at the Presbyterian Home for Children (80 Lake Eden Road) in Black Mountain. The free event will feature information booths and speakers, including people who’ve adopted and those who’ve worked with foster children. There’ll also be door prizes, food and fun stuff for kids, such as a puppet show, a playground, and an arts-and-crafts room.

About 250 kids are now in foster care in Buncombe County, Jourdan reports. Fifteen of them are available for adoption and in need of a permanent home; the youngest one is 9 years old.

Many prospective parents are reluctant to adopt older kids, notes Jourdan. She remembers the time some years ago when a 13-year-old foster child, on being told by her social worker that she was now available for adoption, “burst into tears and said, ‘But no one’s going to want me — I’m too old!'” For Jourdan, it was a pivotal experience: “That just broke my heart. From that moment on, I started seeing the whole thing completely differently.”

With the older kids, says Jourdan, “You know more about what you’re getting, and when they’re ready for a home, they really want a home. A lot of our younger kids don’t even understand what’s going on so much. So in some ways, the younger kids can be just as difficult — if not more difficult — to work with, because a lot of them are maybe preverbal or don’t know how to express [their confusion].”

Jourdan and her husband have an adopted infant themselves and are now in the process of adopting a teenage girl she describes as “wonderful.”

She and her new daughter “talk a lot,” Jourdan reveals. “But so much comes down to whether your parenting style matches the child’s temperament style — and I think with the older kids it’s easier to tell if you have a good match. But she’s just wonderful — and I would be so sad to think that someone wouldn’t want to have her in their life because she’s 15.”

For more information about adopting or becoming a foster parent, call the Buncombe County Department of Social Service’s Families for Kids Information Line at 250-5868.

— Lisa Watters

Spotlight on Rainbow Mountain

When local writer and researcher Lesa Schirmacher attended a conference at Rainbow Mountain Children’s School two years ago, she sensed right away that this was a different kind of learning environment.

“More spiritual,” she recalls. “And it looked like they identified with all the aspects of the children.”

Flash forward to the present, when Schirmacher is working on a resource book (tentatively titled Schools in the U.S.) that will spotlight roughly 50 schools in 17 states.

The book will look at all kinds of schools, she explains: “charter, public, private, magnet … to see what [they] are doing today.” The author is also working on trying to line up a publisher.

Schirmacher sees the book, first and foremost, as a tool for parents — educating them so they “have more power” when making decisions about their children’s education. But she also envisions it as a networking tool — a way for educators to learn about one another and their varied approaches to teaching.

Once she’d decided to do the book, Schirmacher remembered her experience at Rainbow Mountain; further research confirmed her initial impression of the school.

“We’re delighted,” says Executive Director John Shackelton about the decision to include Rainbow Mountain. “Mostly … about why we were chosen — our innovative ways of teaching.”

The private school, established in 1977, offers what it calls “holistic, alternative education” for children from preschool through eighth grade.

Shackelton cites two touchstones Rainbow Mountain uses in shaping its approach to teaching. One is the focus on the “developmental issues children go through at various stages of their lives. … A lot of our curriculum decisions were made in response to that kind of understanding.”

The other is an emphasis on “emotional safety.” As Shackelton explains it, “We consider that to be a primary element of education for children.”

Besides West Asheville’s Rainbow Mountain, Schirmacher says she plans to include two other North Carolina schools: Asheville’s ArtSpace Charter School, which she says focuses on “arts integration while working with the North Carolina curriculum,” and “a more urban … school … probably in Raleigh.” For now, however, the author is off to Atlanta and Florida to scope out some schools there.

Schirmacher’s interest in education isn’t strictly theoretical: She’s worked as a teacher herself (including a stint at a school in Guinea, West Africa, last year). And eventually, she’d like to go international with her work, researching and writing books about schools all over the world.

“What are they doing in Canada, [in] Australia?” she wonders. “What can we learn from their schools?”

For more information about Rainbow Mountain Children’s School, call 258-9264 or visit www.rmcs.org. To learn more about the book, contact Schirmacher at airwindfire@hotmail.com (phone: 299-0408).

— Lisa Watters

Reading service provides a lifeline for the blind

“I don’t know what I would do if it wasn’t for the Radio Reading Service. … I would miss the newspaper most of all, and knowing if anything big was going on in the world. Just because you’re blind or can’t read anymore doesn’t mean your mind is gone. I keep the little receiver by my bed and when I can’t sleep at night, I turn it on and listen.”

— 90-year-old, legally blind WNC woman

About a thousand people in 23 Western North Carolina counties rely on the 24-hour, nonprofit Radio Reading Service to keep connected. A local show broadcast at 1 p.m. each weekday features volunteers reading from the Asheville Citizen-Times and Mountain Xpress, providing local news as well as information about meetings, upcoming events and even obituaries. The rest of the time, the service taps into a national feed that features material from about a dozen national print-media sources, including USA Today, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the Reader’s Digest.

“Sometimes I think the vision-impaired are left out in the cold,” says the woman quoted above, a listener for a dozen years. But the project also serves people who have trouble reading due to a physical disability or a reading disorder such as dyslexia. People can access the service online (www.RAISEWNC.org) or via a special receiver, which they can get either from RAISE or through Services to the Blind, a program available in some counties through the department of social services.

RAISE (Regional Audio Information Services, Enterprises), which produces the local show and delivers the programming in WNC, is truly a labor of love, notes volunteer Jan Schochet, who chairs the group’s fund-raising committee. Founded in 1988 by volunteer director Bob Brummond, RAISE has been completely volunteer-run until now. “We have 67 volunteers who give a total of 4,888 hours of service annually,” Schochet notes proudly.

Under Brummond’s guidance, she says, the project has grown to include a satellite station in Hendersonville (where volunteers read from the Hendersonville Times-News and Brevard’s Transylvania Times) and a program called Descriptive Audio for the Sight Impaired, which was introduced a few years ago to enhance the theater-going experience for the visually impaired.

But after 16 years, Brummond has had to scale back his involvement. In response, the board of directors has decided to launch a fund-raising campaign to hire a full-time, paid director.

“We have fabulous volunteers … but we need someone who really holds it all together and makes sure everything runs smoothly,” says Schochet. The new director will also be in charge of fund-raising, public relations and community outreach.

Based on estimates by the American Federation for the Blind, notes Schochet, “There are potentially 17,500 WNC residents in need of our service. That’s another reason that we need an executive director who can really go out there and make sure that we are able to reach all these people.”

For more information about the Radio Reading Service or to request a receiver, call RAISE at 251-2166. To volunteer to read or provide technical support — or to make a tax-deductible donation — call Schochet at 236-9650.

— Lisa Watters

Scarecrow as art

Marcianne Miller loves scarecrows — or, to be more precise, she loves making them (which she does with her family every year).

When you fashion a scarecrow, says Miller, “You … make something that seems to come to life. … Shy, friendly, goofy or in-your-face, [they] will acquire their own personalities, even give themselves names. This year alone, I welcomed … Babs Butterfly-Catcher, sexy Fredrico, Maid Marian and Gonzo the Gargoyle.

“They’re like party guests,” she adds, “staying for a short while, amusing the adults, charming the children, demanding no long-term maintenance.”

The depth of Miller’s passion is evident in her book Creative Scarecrows: 35 Fun Figures for Your Yard & Garden, just published by the Asheville-based Lark Books. Miller’s sister Merry Miller drew the illustrations and contributed 12 of the projects herself. The book also features scarecrows created by assorted Asheville artists, who used everything from salvaged metal to moss and lichens to balloons in shaping their masterpieces. Creative Scarecrows even touches on the history of these artful garden sentinels and highlights scarecrow festivals around the world.

And because this is an ephemeral art, says Miller, “Scarecrows are wonderful projects for people who are just beginning to explore their creativity. … Scarecrows don’t have to be perfect; you don’t have to have a lot of skill to make them. … [And] more than any other decoration in the garden, they exhibit your personal touch.”

They’re also ideal group projects, she notes. “There’s just something about the nature of them — perhaps because they’re like life-size dolls — that makes people want to get involved in making them. It’s kind of a phenomenon. I’d be making scarecrows in the front yard by myself and within minutes, my neighbors would run over with offers of help and clothes from their closets, or other things to decorate them. So it’s natural that scarecrows would inspire community events, such as annual scarecrow festivals.”

Speaking of which, Miller’s book (and her unbounded passion for all things scarecrow) has inspired the East Asheville Library (to which Miller is a frequent visitor) to stage a scarecrow contest on Saturday, Nov. 13 with Miller as a judge (assisted by Asheville Citizen-Times columnist Susan Reinhardt and gourd artist Lynn Allen). Entries should arrive by 1:30 p.m.; judging will begin at 3 p.m. Scarecrows will be judged in four categories: made by a family; made by an adult; made by a teenager (ages 11 to 17); and made by a child (ages 10 and under). Prizes will be awarded, and the scarecrows will remain on display for a week or so.

To learn more about the contest, call the East Asheville Library at 298-1889.

— Lisa Watters

N.C. women sound off

What issues have the most impact on N.C. women and families? North Carolina Women United, a coalition of 30 groups working to achieve full equality and empowerment for women, wants to hear female residents’ experiences and opinions.

Every two years since 1988, N.C. Women has held a series of Women’s Agenda Assemblies across the state to solicit input on public-policy issues likely to come up in the state Legislature’s next session. Based on those discussions, the group establishes priorities, which are formally delivered to the N.C. General Assembly.

This year, 34 such assemblies are planned; the Buncombe County gathering happens Thursday, Nov. 18 at the Asheville YWCA (185 S. French Broad Ave.), beginning at 5 p.m.

Local women are invited to share their top concerns and help forge a consensus that will be presented to state lawmakers on May 19, 2005.

To learn more about North Carolina Women United or to preview the draft agenda, visit www.ncwu.org. For more information, contact Kathleen Balogh, western region director of the North Carolina Council for Women/Domestic Violence Commission, at 251-6169.

— Lisa Watters

Looking into an international mirror

An international perspective on the role of the United States in the Arab/Israeli conflict is being explored in a five-part series of discussions led by Jenna Bryner, who recently spent time in the Middle East as a volunteer for the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

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