Preventing avoidable deaths

YOUR TURN

Phyllis AlRoy
GUEST COLUMN

The country in which a baby is born should not determine how long she lives. Now Congress has an unprecedented opportunity to make sure it doesn’t.

A new bipartisan bill has been introduced into both houses of Congress entitled Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015. In the Senate, S-1911 was led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Chris Coons (DDelaware).

In the House, HR-3706 currently has 18 Republican co-sponsors and 20 Democratic co-sponsors. Both bills aim to end preventable child and maternal deaths by 2035.

Unlike many of the world’s problems, this is one we have the power to solve and we have made some incredible progress.

With the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), global partners and advocacy groups like RESULTS, the number of children worldwide under the age of 5 dying annually has fallen at an astonishing rate, from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013.

But with 17,000 children worldwide still dying each day — mostly from treatable causes like diarrhea and pneumonia — much work remains.

The Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 and the companion version which was introduced in the House in October will set important reforms into law. The legislation supports doing more of what we know works, including quality prenatal care, management of labor and delivery, and basic treatments necessary for child health.

For the first time in history, experts and scientists agree it is possible to stop these avoidable deaths once and for all. Lawmakers should seize this incredible opportunity and pass this common sense, cost-effective and, most importantly, lifesaving legislation.

Working with its partners in developing countries, USAID has long been at the forefront of helping stop child and maternal deaths. However, a 2014 report from a blue ribbon panel, a group of high-level business and development experts, identified a series of specific budget and management challenges impeding faster progress. These include a highly decentralized planning and decisionmaking process, a lack of flexibility, and fragmented data collection that makes it difficult to measure progress.

USAID has already made changes including creating clear benchmarks for success, appointing a coordinator to manage the entire strategy, and realigning $2.9 billion in funds to support a bold target of saving the lives of 15 million children and 600,000 women by 2035. This is major progress. The Reach Act will hold USAID accountable to its promises into the future and ensure that ending preventable maternal and child deaths remains a United States priority after the Obama Administration is gone.

This legislation will maximize our investments, with returns measured in lives saved and healthy, prosperous communities. If they work quickly to pass these bills, members of Congress can make sure that every single child in the world has a chance not to only survive, but thrive.

It is hard to imagine a more powerful legacy for this Congress and the people of New Jersey. Let’s call on representatives Chris Smith and Leonard Lance to co-sponsor the Reach Act so New Jersey can take its place in history by giving all children a chance to survive and thrive.

Phyllis AlRoy is a group leader for RESULTS in New Jersey and the recipient of the Bob Dickerson National Grassroots Leadership Award for her nearly 30 years of child survival advocacy work.

Having a good old time with Larry Black (the guy who is committed to keeping the rated-G in TV)

By Lori Acken,

 Larry Black Larry Black It’s near impossible to tune in to RFDTV’s Larry’s Country Diner and not want to climb through the screen to share some pie and sociability with host Larry Black and his cast of amiable characters as they crack wise, reminisce about classic moments in music and TV and generally have a fine time. The 70-year-old, Alabamaborn preacher’s son turned his love of music and rich baritone voice into a decades-long career as a disc jockey — during its heyday, the Larry Black Show aired on 125 radio stations across the country. Acting gigs followed on I’ll Fly Away and In the Heat of the Night and in feature films such as Ernest Goes to Camp and October Sky. Now Nashville-based, Black also serves as producer of the downhome Diner and its equally nostalgic companion series Country’s Family Reunion that give folks longing for the homespun days of Hee Haw new options. We caught up with Black to talk about keeping the rated- G in TV.

Country’s Family Reunion was your first TV venture — how did that come to be?

I was doing a project with [the Gaither Homecoming series’] Bill Gaither — a comedy album that he was producing for me — and when we finished the album, we were having dinner at Amerigo’s here in Nashville. I said to him, “What you’re doing with the Southern gospel people, we ought to do with the country beat.” This was in 1997, just before it just all broke loose for Gaither with the Homecoming gatherings that he does. He said, “I’m too busy,” so I said, “Then I’ll do it.” We got together 30 people and put them in a room. Of those 30 people, about 18 have now died. So what we really created was a piece of video history and remembrance. Grandpa Jones. Johnny Russell. Little Jimmy Dickens. It has been a real jewel — and we’ve continued to do them.

And Reunion begat Larry’s Country Diner?

Once we hit RFD-TV, I realized what the audience was and that Ralph Emery was no longer going to do his TNN show. So I thought this was a perfect time to do a different kind of talk and variety show. But I don’t like sitting in front of fireplaces to do interviews, or across couches or a desk. So, “Hmm, we’ll do a little Podunksville diner, and every day at lunchtime the local cable company — because they have nothing better to do — brings some cameras into the diner to shoot the people having lunch. The sheriff in town [played by National Musicians Hall of Famer Jimmy Capps] just happens to be a world-class guitar player, so he’ll pull up and bring his guitar in, and if anybody drops by and wants to sing, they can sing and he’ll play the guitar for them!”

Nadine is your breakout star.

Every small town has the town gossip. I’d gone to church with Nadine for about 17 years — Ramona Brown is her real name — and she did this little character for a Valentine’s party one time. So I went to her and I said, “Why don’t you go online and get the church bulletins that are all screwy, and you come in and do that? You can mess with people all you want as the church lady.” So she did that, and that character has just really blossomed. Her husband is an optometrist and she’s worked for him all of their married life. Now she goes out on weekends and will do 45 minutes worth of standup.

How do you choose your guests?

While we have the Larry Gatlins and the Vince Gills, Randy Owen of Alabama, there are other artists — Gene Watson, Moe Bandy, Jimmy Fortune — those guys say the shows just totally revived their careers, and have given them a new lease on life in terms of touring. I want to reach out, and help more artists who don’t get airplay anymore because they don’t have labels, but they still produce product. They just don’t have a way to get it to the marketplace.

Describe your audience.

Because we deal with a more mature audience, they introduce us to their kids, and to their grandkids. Then the kids and grandkids become fans. Also, we find that when we go to Branson, oftentimes there are young adults who bring their parents because they know their parents want to come see the show live, and they have become fans also. Our viewing audience is getting younger because they’ve experienced the same thing.

That’s a rarity.

That’s a joy. Bill Medley, one of The Righteous Brothers, lives in Branson and performs there as well as Vegas, and he said, “It’s so funny. You perform in Branson and you see these busloads come in and you watch the old people get out of the bus … with their parents.” I thought, that is so true, man! You have these 60- year-old people getting off the bus with their 85-year-old parents!

Students ask school board to declare Diwali a holiday in North Brunswick

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — Six students from North Brunswick Township High School are trying to make Diwali an official school holiday.

Maithreyi Ravula, Sahil Shah, Suraj Sanyal, Sairam Vinjamuri, Swathi Tata and Rashi Bhatt presented a petition with 100 signatures to support the “festival of lights” that is celebrated by four religions of South Asia to the North Brunswick Board of Education on Dec. 16.

“On July 13, 2015, Mayor Mac Womack addressed the recent assaults on Indian- Americans by stating: ‘What’s gotten us together is really a terrible bias crime. It’s not acceptable anywhere in the world, but it’s especially not acceptable here in our home. It’s a home for all of us. We’re a community. We have to stand up as a community and say, “Not acceptable, not tolerated.” We’re one community. That’s all it is,’” Maithrevi said to the board members.

“However, the sole representation of the South Asian community in North Brunswick should not depend on the offchance that a citizen gets assaulted. To truly embrace diversity and be the community our mayor indicated a few months ago, we must take actions that respect the values of the South Asian community as well.”

According to Maithrevi as of June 2014, the Asian population of North Brunswick was the second highest demographic of the township, numbering more than a quarter of the town’s population.

“Under the current excused absence policy, the hundreds of people who wish to celebrate Diwali are forced to miss school on their own time and are punished by falling behind on classwork, assessments and lessons.” Maithrevi said.

“The creation of a school holiday would not only solve this problem but will be a gesture of basic respect that townships such as Passaic and South Brunswick have done since 2005 and 2011 [respectively]. If these townships and many others that observe the same 180 school days requirement can fit in a single day of respect for an overwhelming population of their communities, then it is surely not impossible for North Brunswick, a community lauded as the leader of diversity, to do the same. The time is now to take a stand and make North Brunswick a home to all of its citizens — advocate to make Diwali a holiday in our school district.”

Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski said the board receives many requests for holidays, so the idea will be brought to the Student Services Committee for consideration.

“We appreciate the way the students presented the petition,” he said. “The board will look at a balanced schedule.”

He also said the board would review the way excused absences are being addressed.

The petition can be viewed at tinyurl.com/nbdiwali.

Cops shop with civic-minded students in South Brunswick

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Two sets of local heroes were once again honored for their contributions to the community.

Ten students were chosen from a pool of 9,000 in the South Brunswick school district to be assisted by South Brunswick police officers as they shopped in Target on Route 1 in South Brunswick on Dec. 17.

The second annual Heroes and Helpers event recognized students who help autistic kids in the classroom and on the playground, help kindergarteners learn to read, volunteer to tutor other students, raise money for kids with cancer at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, volunteer in a soup kitchen, help with food drives, promote breast cancer awareness, raise money for the treatment of Ebola patients in Africa and promote the Circle of Sisters.

Eric Robinson of South Brunswick High School was assisted by Detective Jairdullo; Darren Olsen of Crossroads South Middle School was helped by Officer Flanders; Sanjana Kowshik of Crossroads North Middle School walked around with Patrolman Merkler; Jake Graci of Brunswick Acres Elementary shopped with Patrolman Benbow; Madison Bachmann of Greenbrook Elementary was aided by Patrolman Sites; Megan Sidoti of Cambridge Elementary was helped by Patrolman First Class De- Prossimo; Irene Chiotis of Constable Elementary walked around with Patrolman Hallman; Katelyn O’Rourke of Monmouth Junction Elementary was assisted by Detective Shearer; Alan Shivey-Wells of Indian Fields Elementary shopped with Patrolman Gassman; and Gabriella Tuzzolino of Brooks Crossing Elementary was helped by Patrolman Moreira.

“These kids are known to help staff in the schools; provide motivation and guidance to classmates; and to offer kindness, compassion and a cheerful word to all they meet throughout the day,” Police Captain James Ryan said. “These kids are hard workers, striving to improve their grades and attendance. These kids are always working to improve the lives of the people around them, and we’re honored to stand here today and call these kids our personal heroes.”

South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka credited the partnership with the business community and school district for making this day possible. He specifically thanked Target of South Brunswick, the South Brunswick School District’s administrators and supervisors, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Policemen’s Benevolence Association for funding this program; the South Brunswick School District for nominating the students; and all the recipients and their families for attending.

Voters oppose funding two new schools in North Brunswick

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — The township school district will have to decide on an alternate plan to educate its growing population of students.

A special referendum to build two new schools in town was defeated by voters on Dec. 8. The machine count was 1,137 yes to 1,537 no, with an additional 43 yes and 45 no votes by mail, for a total of 1,180 affirmative to 1,582 negative votes for the new schools, according to information provided by the Middlesex County clerk’s office.

“The obvious reason is because of the tax impact on the residents,” Superintendent Brian Zychowski said of why he believes the $87 million referendum failed.

Thirty-two acres outside of the Renaissance development on Route 130 south could have been designated as a fifth and sixth grade school, plus an early education center that would include the Board of Education’s administrative offices.

“There wasn’t a buy-in to how fiscally responsible the board was. We had a lot of fabrication and a lot of miscommunication [by residents],” Zychowski said. “Frankly, we are in a tough economy where people are unemployed and underemployed and people did not want to support it.”

However, Zychowski said the plan was fiscally prudent in the long run, and now the board faces an impact on taxes if children are sent out-of-district or if additions have to be constructed on existing buildings.

In a demographic study offered by the school board, enrollment increased from 4,523 to 6,302 students in the past 20 years, and the New Jersey Department of Education expects a 9 percent growth rate, or about 120 to 150 students each year, over the next five years.

“We have a responsibility to put children somewhere,” Zychowski said. “I think this was the most fiscally sound … way to address our overcrowded schools.”

Zychowski said that the Board of Education will meet to discuss an alternative plan that will “provide the optimum environment for learning.”

Gift drive is key to SBHS holiday concerts

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — The South Brunswick High School Music Department hopes to bring more than cheer through their music.

Inspired by the “Friends of JJ” movement to bring holiday gifts to the children at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and various local hospitals, the Music Department collected three truckloads full of unwrapped toys and games for children and teenagers at each of their concerts.

The concert choir, strings, men’s ensemble and symphonic band performed Dec. 8.

The percussion groups, freshman bands, flute trio, chamber orchestra and symphonic orchestra performed Dec. 9.

The festival choir, freshman orchestra, freshman choir women’s ensemble and wind ensemble performed Dec. 10.

Gift certificates up to $25 were accepted, as well as video game consoles, DVDs, portable DVD players, headphones, toys, LEGO sets, craft kits, Play-Doh, art supplies and activity books.

Opposition to schools was not adversarial

The local newspapers have ordained me as the leader of the group opposing the $88 million school referendum in North Brunswick. Thank you for the compliment, whether deserved or not.

Our group is comprised of North Brunswick residents who have had years of experience in business and industry. We looked at the presentation and the referendum from various views and determined that it did not provide sufficient information to make a wise choice in accepting this debt. We do not know where the Board of Education (BOE) got the information to generate this plan and what studies were performed to justify that level of an investment/ debt.

Were other options considered, such as the return of the Maple Meade School to student use and the relocation of the BOE offices to office trailers on site or an offsite location such as the transit village where the next explosion of the student population is expected to occur? Can the developer of that project contribute to the construction of a new school on that site? A profit and loss statement concerning the current three- and four-year-old program at a leased school and a projected profit and loss and return on investment for a new facility housing that program should have been addressed.

We can sympathize with the BOE regarding their space issues. During our tenure in business and industry we had to constantly face similar problems, although the products were different.

We are not assuming an adversarial position regarding this matter. We would like to see the situation alleviated by a transparent procedure, void of any emotional or partisan brinkmanship.

Richard Pender
North Brunswick

You can go home again

In theaters now

Sisters lets two women we absolutely love bring their comic genius to the screen. Maura (Amy Poehler) and Kate Ellis (Tina Fey) are tasked with the responsibility of cleaning out their room at their childhood home as their parents are moving to a condo. But in rehashing the memories made there, the two decide there is only one thing to do: throw one last party with their old friends.

As the sisters dig through memories, we realize quickly that Maura has always played it safe, while free spirit Kate has always loved to party. Neither can wrap her head around why their parents want to get rid of this house, but both can agree on throwing the party.

So the sisters do all the prep and invite many of their old friends — who in no way resemble the pictures on Facebook or who they can remember them to be. They set out to be the perfect party hosts, only this time Maura gets to be the free spirit while Kate keeps everyone together.

Amy and Tina are funny. At times they are very funny as this is a raw comedy that doesn’t make any apologies. It is a pleasure seeing these amazingly talented women work and they tend to wow viewers with their quick wit and delivery.

The supporting characters, however, are a mixed bag. Some — Ike Barinholtz and John Cena in a bit role — made me laugh and enjoy the addition to the story. But roles for Bobby Moynihan and Maya Rudolph felt tired in Moynihan’s case and misguided and forced for Rudolph’s character.

The unevenness of the supporting characters does NOT take away from the fact that Amy and Tina — yes, I can just use their first names — are the real stars here. Together they are a breath of fresh air on the comic landscape with everything they do. These two sisters prove you can go home again — just be careful if you plan to throw a party there.

Sisters
Rated: R
Stars: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz
Director: Jason Moore

Grade: B

The Big Short
Rated: R
Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling
Director: Adam McKay

Adam McKay’s peek into the credit and housing bubble collapse shows an industry full of corruption, extravagance and the willingness to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public. A startling discovery by a number of seemingly ordinary individuals sets them up financially as they short the banks during the booming housing market of 2005.

Meredith Baxter and her ‘Family Ties’ husband enjoy reunion as Christmas’ power couple

By Kellie Freeze,

In Lifetime’s holiday original movie Becoming Santa, Holly (Laura Bell Bundy) brings her boyfriend (Jesse Hutch) to meet her family and reveals that not only are her parents Santa and Mrs. Claus, but also whoever she marries will become the next Santa.

There’s no one better to play the quintessential holiday couple than Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross, who played TV’s perfect parents on Family Ties. Baxter offers a little secret about portraying Mrs. Claus. “She may be iconic, but no one knows what she really looks like!” The actress figures, “Whoever we say she is — that’s who she is!”

The actress reveals that she enjoys working on holiday films because of the strong family storylines, but the flick’s biggest draw was the opportunity to work with her good friend.

“As soon as I knew he was attached, I didn’t even bother reading the script,” she jokes.

“The interesting thing about this particular script,” muses Baxter, “is the idea that the women of the Claus family are the ones who determine who is the next Santa.” She adds, “As light as this film is, for my character there’s an undercurrent of, ‘OK, this is serious business.’”

Baxter reveals that her favorite off-set activity was reading, while Gross spent his time with his fans.

“It was very, very hot where we were shooting and Michael was wearing a big fat suit,” she recalls with a laugh. “We had a huge fan in the green room and while we weren’t working, he would just position himself in front of it. He was this large, lumpy personage, just trying to stay cool.”

As for if she remains in touch with her other Family Ties cast members, particularly her TV children, Baxter shares: “Not on a regular basis, no. That’s why I covet those times when we can get together, which is really so sweet to see them. They’re such good people and good parents. I love that we raised good children who are good parents.”

That’s the most common question she gets from fans, too. “They want to know how’s Michael Fox. They want to know if we see each other, we talk to each other. I often hear, ‘I wish you’d been my mother.’ That’s a woman who’s strong and loving and has the time to sit down and spend time with her kids the way many parents don’t have a chance to.

“The fact that all the characters seemed to have some longevity in people’s hearts and minds is just lovely. It’s rare I think that that happens, and when it does it’s really glorious. I think people liked our family because we liked each other so much.”

Lifetime airs an encore performance of Becoming Santa on Dec. 25 at 10 p.m.