Seniors need extra care to beat the heat

Courtesy of AmeriHealth Caritas

Summer is fast approaching. The days will be long. Your grandchildren will be out of school. You will want to spend time outdoors enjoying barbecues and other activities that are part of this season.

You should have a wonderful time. But you also need to be careful. Daytime summer high temperatures are often above 90 degrees here in July and August. The humidity can make it feel even hotter.

People over age 65 are at higher risk of suffering a heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. They may be slower to adjust to higher temperatures. Some may have medical conditions or take medication that affects their ability to cope with heat. While seniors can and should get outside, they need to take steps to stay as comfortable, and as safe, as possible.

Use air conditioning to stay cool

If you have air conditioning in your home and — if you have one — your car, use it. In addition to keeping you cool, the dry, air conditioned air will feel much more pleasant than the humid air outside. If the evening weather happens to be cooler and dry, you can turn it off for a few hours during the evening. But keep it on during the day.

If you do not have air conditioning, you can use electric fans. But you should spend as much time as possible during the day in an air conditioned environment, such as a library or an indoor shopping mall.

Go early or late

The heat and sun are strongest in the late morning and afternoon. If possible, you should save outdoor activities for the early morning (before 9 a.m.) or very late afternoon (after 5 p.m.).

Dress for the weather

This is not the weather for cardigan sweaters or wool suits. If you plan to be outside longer than for just a short walk, like going from your front door to your car, you should wear light, loose-fitting clothing. Lighter colors are best, as they reflect more of the sunlight and heat than darker colors.

You should also wear a hat and put on sunscreen to protect your head and skin from sunburn.

Drink water

While not really a heat-related illness, dehydration occurs much more quickly in hot weather because you’re sweating. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, make sure you drink plenty of water. You may want to take a water bottle if you are going to be outside for any length of time.

Cool down when you come home

Even if you follow the tips above, you should cool down when you return home. A shower, bath or even a sponge bath can help. If it is the middle of the day and you have the time, taking a nap is also a good idea.

If you start to feel weak or dizzy from the heat, you should go into an air conditioned building as soon as possible. If those feelings don’t go away, you should call your doctor.

Even during the summer, it is still important to get outside and do physical activities. With a few simple steps, your summer can be a pleasant one.

Dr. Lavdena Orr is medical director of AmeriHealth Caritas VIP Plans in the District of Columbia. AmeriHealth Caritas VIP Plans offers two products in the District — AmeriHealth VIP Select, a Medicare Advantage product with prescription drug coverage open to all of the District’s Medicare beneficiaries, and AmeriHealth VIP Care, a special needs plan for Washingtonians who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare (dual-eligibles). For more information, visit

Movie inspires students to think about college

— Every day of Dontay Gray’s senior year began at 5 a.m. The early start gave him enough time to catch the two buses and two trains to David Starr Jordan High School in Long Beach, California.

Although his family had moved a 90-minute commute away, Gray had his reasons for finishing high school at Jordan. He wanted to make a name for himself on the nationally-ranked football team, in hopes of earning a scholarship and becoming the first person in his family to attend college. If the sports angle didn’t work, he had been doing well academically, slowly raising a 2.8 GPA with a semester full of As and Bs. Plus, it was the first school he had attended since serving his sentence for gun possession in tenth grade.

“I started my road to college my 11th grade year. It’s never too late,” says Gray, now a senior at California State University, Sacramento. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, where your family is from, or what you’ve been through. College is for everybody.”

Gray is one of four students profiled in a new documentary titled, First Generation. The film seeks to shed light on the college access gap, which is often widest for those who are first in their families to pursue higher education.

According to the National College Access Network, full college access is achieved when every student receives sufficient academic preparation and personal support, to begin, and successfully complete post-secondary education. NCAN reports that only8.3 percent of low-income students earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24 (compared to 73 percent of students from high-income families).

“Both my parents went to college and both their parents went to college. My parents hired a private counselor for me because they knew my public school wasn’t helping me,” says the film’s co-director, Adam Fenderson. The genesis of the film came through his wife and co-director Jaye, who was a low-income student at Columbia University, and later became an admissions officer for the school. According to Jaye, the handful of applications from low-income students simply couldn’t compete with the gilded submissions from more well-off students.

Adam explains, “I had a lot of support and it was something I took for granted as a kid. For people [like me], it’s hard to teach them that that’s not necessarily normal, and that’s not necessarily what others are dealing with.”

One of the film’s goals is to show how complex the college access problem can be; a range of factors contributes to the disparity. NCAN cites rising tuition costs; the confusing, unstandardized admissions process; application fees; lack of academic and emotional support; and, a 471-to-1 average ratio of students to guidance counselors.

On top of this, would-be first generation students may never even consider college as a viable option.

“For [first-generation students] college is a foreign thing. Nobody in your immediate family knows about it, most of them didn’t finish high school,” says Gray, adding that he had thought the only people who could go to college were wealthy, or had exceptional grades.

After being released from juvenile hall, he was connected with a mentor who was the first to suggest college as an option for him. “Your family doesn’t know, so they can’t tell you. So they don’t talk about it, so you never bring it up. And in not talking about it, you start to figure it’s OK not to go to college. Nobody else went, and they seem fine. The less you talk about it, the less you plan to go.”

Although most of the parents in the film were excited about the prospect of their child going to college, unmistakable worry lurked below their smiles. During the film, one mother (who did not complete high school), burst into tears while setting up the Christmas tree, torn between having to say goodbye, and the prospect of not being able to afford the opportunity.

Another mother (and widow) quietly asked her slightly more-knowledgeable son whether she would need to pay for all four years at once. Gray’s mom, who had beaten a drug addiction but was unemployed during applications season, simply quipped, “We’ll figure it out.”

Most first-generation students are part of low-income or middle-class homes that cannot afford any college costs out-of-pocket.

“[The cost] was one of the biggest problems I had on my mind. I was broke. My family couldn’t pay a dime, and that’s when they told me about the FAFSA,” Gray says. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid lays out a family’s income information (as reported to the Internal Revenue Service), and the government, schools, and organizations use it to gauge how much financial help will be given, based on need. “If I didn’t know about that, I wouldn’t have even applied for college. I wouldn’t want to put my mom through that, I’d rather go to work to help her out.”

This deal-breaking level of concern is not unfounded. College costs are rising across the country, particularly at public four-year institutions, which tend to attract low-income and first-generation students.

As a result, grants and scholarships (if a student is even aware of them) don’t cover as much, and families take on loans to supplement. The Center for American Progress reports that 81 percent of Black students who earned a bachelor’s in 2012 had student debt, with 27 percent of them responsible for repaying $30,500 or more.

The dark cloud of college cost begins to overshadow the other factors in choosing the right college. This overshadowing leads to “poor matching,” which occurs when students, especially first generation students, assume they won’t be able to attend their personal-first-choice school (or even upper-tier schools they hadn’t considered) because of finances and/or grades. So they set their sights lower.

All four students in the documentary fell prey to this in some way. Gray, for example, originally wanted to attend Clark Atlanta University, but was discouraged by the application question that inquired about his criminal record.

“Students who end up over-qualified for their college get less rigorous training than they might during their time in college,” states a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Michigan. “This may lead to lower earnings once they enter the market, and is an inefficient use of educational resources, since some of our most able students are not being pushed to expand their knowledge and skills.”

With demand for skilled workers on the rise and the United States plummeting in international education and economic rankings, the underdevelopment of these talented students may stunt national growth.

Adam and Jaye have partnered with Wells Fargo to take First Generation on the road as part of a “Go College!” Tour, screening the film for high school students and education advocates. Adam says, “For students in high school who feel like they can’t make it to college because of their circumstances…seeing the kids [in the film] make it in their own way gives them hope, a sense of power.”

Children should never be left unattended in vehicles

— A recent survey by Public Opinion Strategies of Washington showing that parents are willing to leave children unattended in vehicles is cause for alarm for safety advocates, says AAA Mid-Atlantic. The results are especially concerning as temperatures are beginning to warm up and as parents are prepare for Memorial Day trips.

The study revealed that 14 percent of parents surveyed have intentionally left their children under kindergarten age alone in a vehicle, while 23 percent of parents with children age three and under have deliberately left their child alone in a vehicle.

“There are numerous disastrous results that can arise from leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, including death from heatstroke, accidental injury if the vehicle shifts into gear and the risk of child abduction,” said Ragina Cooper-Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Young children are especially susceptible to injury because they cannot escape a vehicle on their own.”

The risk of serious injury or death during hot weather is heightened for children left alone in vehicles, according to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The internal temperature in vehicles can rapidly ascend to 200 degrees. Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children under the age of 14, representing 61 percent of non-crash related fatalities in this age group.

Since 1998, there have been at least 606 heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, according to San Francisco State University’s Department of Geosciences. The same research states that on average, 38 children die each year, or one approximately every 9 days. In 2013, 44 children died of heatstroke. Four children have died through May 15, 2014. The university’s department review of media reports shows that 95 percent of the children who died of heatstroke from 1998-2013 were five years old or younger.

AAA Mid-Atlantic and NHTSA offer the following safety tips:

*Never leave a child alone in a car— even with the windows partially opened— as a vehicle’s interior can still heat up quickly to deadly temperatures.

*Do not leave your children alone in a running vehicle with the air conditioner on even for a few minutes; your child may put the car into drive or even get caught in a closing power window, not to mention that you increase the risk of your car being stolen and your child abducted.

*Make a habit of looking in the vehicle— front and back— before locking the door and walking away. Children have died because they fell asleep in their car seats and their parents didn’t realize they were still in the car.

*If your spouse or a guardian is taking your children to daycare or school ask them to call you to make sure the drop-off went according to plan.

*Do things to remind you that a child is in the vehicle:

Place your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat where your child is seated so that you will have to check that area when you leave the vehicle.

Leave a written note in your vehicle where you will see it as you leave the vehicle, such as on the dashboard area.

Keep an object in your child’s car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when leaving the vehicle, as a reminder that a child is in the back seat.

*Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle— teach them that a car is not a play area. Always lock your car doors and keep car keys out of children’s reach.

NHTSA offers additional tips on keeping children safe at

Device can save thousands of children from drowning

— Pastor George A. McKinney and his family were hosting a pool party four years ago. Several children and families were gathered, fellowshipping and having a good time. Nothing out of the ordinary for this annual event, which Pastor McKinney had been hosting for more than a decade without incident.

AJADD is a life-saving device; an underwater distress signal device in the form of a watch or hand instrument that would be worn on the body. The device uses GPS technology, vitality monitoring, and swimmer identification technologies to alert of a swimmer’s imminent danger. AJADD sends and receives signals in real time to a lifeguard, or a caretaker, on land, or on ship.

(Courtesy Photo)

AJADD is a life-saving device; an underwater distress signal device in the form of a watch or hand instrument that would be worn on the body. The device uses GPS technology, vitality monitoring, and swimmer identification technologies to alert of a swimmer’s imminent danger. AJADD sends and receives signals in real time to a lifeguard, or a caretaker, on land, or on ship.

“Albert was 7; my son was 9 at the time. They were friends. They had gone to Magic Mountain together. There were some other kids there as well and they were having a great time,” McKinney remembers He vividly remembers about six or seven children in the pool that time, saying, “Albert was running around the house, having a great time, playing video games with my son. Normal kids’ stuff.”

But what was a normal, joyous time quickly turned to tragedy.

During the party, the kids were playing dead man float, and as fate would have it, Albert got in trouble. No one immediately noticed and before anyone caught on, Albert was at the bottom of the pool. Once he was discovered, a few people immediately dove to the bottom of the pool, and brought Albert to the pools edge, began to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (CPR), as one of the parents called 911.

The paramedics came and rushed Albert to the hospital. But he could not be saved. Pastor McKinney, his family and all families involved were deeply impacted by the tragedy

Psychologist Lorraine Johnson, mother of Rudy Johnson, came to counseling with everyone involved at the McKinney’s home.

“During that meeting she talked about how to get over the trauma. These things are things that can happen. And certain things are God’s will. And every experience, good or bad, can be a learning experience, or a teaching tool,’ she said.”

But Pastor McKinney wrestled with Albert’s death. “I asked the Lord, ‘What is to be learned from this?’ To me it was a senseless tragedy. It was at that time, I initially started seeing some visions of a device. Then I had a dream and in the dream I saw schematics, what it would look like. The Lord started showing me these things. So I started committing my thoughts to paper, and that was the birth of AJADD.”

AJADD, named after Albert, is a life-saving device; an underwater distress signal device in the form of a watch or hand instrument that would be worn on the body. The device uses GPS technology, vitality monitoring, and swimmer identification technologies to alert of a swimmer’s imminent danger. AJADD sends and receives signals in real time to a lifeguard, or a caretaker, on land, or on ship.

“The problem with most drownings is that you can’t even tell, they look like they’re just playing in water so before you know it, it’s too late,” said Pastor McKinney. “There’s like a 2 – 3 minute window that you have to get to them. A device that creates early detection is so important.”

During the patent process is when Pastor McKinney began to understand the devastating effects accidental drowning has on the African American community. He began to study drowning, and discovered the horrifying effects it has on African American children.

“I started inquiring into the lives of African American families, within my church and in the community and I found that many African American families have had a cousin, sister, or close friend who has drowned – but yet, nobody ever reports that this is a problem. This is an unaddressed problem in the African American community.”

Pastor McKinney’s father, Bishop George D. McKinney, is a proponent of teaching youth to swim, taught Pastor McKinney and his siblings to swim at a young age. Pastor McKinney carries this sentiment with him, which helped guide him to the creation of AJADD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of people who drown are male. Children ages 1- 4 have the highest drowning rates and most of those drownings occur in homes or swimming pools. The disparity is widest among children 5 – 14 years old. But what is most discouraging is that the fatal drowning rate of African American children in this age group is almost three times that of white children.

“Factors such as access to swimming pools, the desire or lack of desire to learn to swim – which usually comes from their parents – they don’t want to get in the water, and choosing water recreational activities, contribute to these statistics,” said Pastor McKinney. “In the poorer communities, we don’t choose water-related activities. So we’re not accustomed. We get out there and we’re not used to it, and we get in trouble. Choosing water-related activities contributes to the racial differences in drowning rates.”

New NAACP president says protest in His DNA

— When Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III of Dallas, Texas learned that the NAACP Board of Directors had chosen Cornell William Brooks over him, Attorney Barbara R. Arnwine and several other better known candidates to succeed outgoing president Benjamin Todd Jealous, his response was “Who?”

And he wasn’t the only one responding that way.

In an interview from Florida, where trustees had just made their selection, a board member who asked not to be identified by name said, “We turned the whole nation into a collection of owls,” he said. “When they learned of our decision, everyone in the country was saying, “Who? Who? Who?”

Though he is not among the Who’s Who of national civil rights advocates, Brooks feels his entire life has prepared him to become president and CEO of the NAACP. He graduated from Jackson State University in Mississippi with honors, earned a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in systematic theology from Boston University School of Theology– where Dr. Martin Luther King earned his Ph.D. in the same area of study – and graduated from Yale Law School, serving as a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and a member of the Yale Law and Policy Review.

After serving as a law clerk for Judge Sam J. Irvin III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Brooks’ first job was as an attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law headed by Barbara Arnwine. He later worked as an attorney for the Justice Department, a senior attorney for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and was executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington, D.C.

His most recent job was as president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a Newark-based organization founded in 1999 by the Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein Foundation. According to its website, the institute seeks to expand economic opportunity for people of color and low-come residents; promotes holding local, state and regional government accountable for fulfilling the needs of urban residents and protects the civil rights of the disadvantaged.

“When you look at the arc of my career, it has not been singular or linear in focus, but really touched on many of the challenges facing the country – whether it be in business, the criminal justice system, the juvenile justice system, the housing market – so I think I bring a multi-dimensional, multi-disciplined, multi-faceted focus on work,” Brooks said. “That does not make me unique, but perhaps distinctive.”

Brooks will need that and more to be successful as the 18th president of the NAACP.

The 5-page job description developed by The Hollins Group, the NAACP-contracted search firm based in Chicago, noted among the specific job responsibilities: “Work closely with the Chairman and the Board and be responsible for developing the organization’s U.S. private sector fundraising plan and growing its annual income and membership by 20%. This also will include expanding both staff and operations with an emphasis on building a larger base of private sector support and establishing an endowment.”

According to the job description marked “confidential,” the Baltimore-based NAACP has a staff of 100 and an annual budget of $42 million. However, the organization is deeply in debt and recently cut its staff by 7 percent.

Brooks has never managed a staff that large. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice had a total of 19 staff members and a budget of $2.08 million. Its primary income was equally divided between government grants and investments, each bringing in approximately $350,000 annually.

According to its IRS Form 990, it had a loss of $421,939 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2012. Even though it was losing money, Brooks collected base compensation of $227,526, plus $10,437 in retirement and deferred compensation and $3,137 in nontaxable benefits for a total of $241,100, according to the IRS filing.

Beyond the fiscal challenge, the expectation that Brooks can grow membership by 20 percent a year is considered a lofty goal for an organization that has long fudged its membership numbers. Former NAACP executive directors Roy Wilkins and Benjamin L. Hooks routinely claimed a membership of 500,000.

However, the Baltimore Sun did research and found that the NAACP had been claiming a membership of 500,000 since 1946. In 2006, then-president Bruce Gordon finally admitted that the figure was less than 300,000, where it still remains today.

Brooks seemed confident that he can attract young people to the nation’s oldest – in longevity and by average age of members – civil rights organization.

“It’s been my model, if you will, to engage young people, not by deputizing and delegating to them, but charging them with being co-creators of public policy,” he said. “In work I’ve done thus far, we were not engaged in bringing young people to the kiddie table. We bring them to the conference table as co-creators of reform and it works. It’s easy to get people excited about the work when they’re doing the work. They are not, in effect, junior anything in the movement.”

At 53, Brooks, who grew up in Georgetown, S.C., feels he is uniquely positioned to serve as a magnet for young people.

“I represent not just the younger end of the Baby Boomer generation, but the older end of the hip-hop generation,” he explained. “In other words, I came of age musically with R&B yet with hip-hop because it was born when I was in college.”

When pressed to share his vision for the NAACP, Brooks repeatedly declined, saying that’s something he will present when he addresses the NAACP membership at its July convention in Las Vegas. However, he said clues can be found in his past activities.

He has worked on numerous issues including small businesses, civil rights litigation, assisting ex-offenders by getting companies to not ask about past incarceration on employment applications, Black colleges, churches, education, housing, criminal justice issues, training women for nontraditional jobs, and politics.

Brooks, who still maintains a house in Virginia, ran for Congress in 1998 as the Democratic nominee for the 10th District in Virginia, but was soundly defeated in the general election by Republican Frank Wolf. He was a member of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s 2010 transition team, but is quick to add that he was appointed to various local and state posts, including the board of the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority, by Democrats as well.

“My grandfather, Rev. James Prioleau, in the 40s ran for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of South Carolina,” said Brooks, a fourth-generation ordained minister and an associate pastor at Turner Memorial AME Church in Hyattsville, Md. “He ran for Congress not because he thought he could win, but rather because he wanted to register African Americans to vote and enlist in and engage in the membership of the NAACP. That legacy is part of my moral DNA.”

With the upcoming mid-term elections and the passing of voting laws that adversely impact Blacks, some critics worry that Brooks will not be able to hit the ground running when he assumes office in July. However, he strongly disagrees.

“I think I am well prepared to do the work,” he said confidently. “I am as confident in my colleagues as I am my own abilities. I don’t think I’ll have any problem hitting the ground running simply because there are a lot of folks running with me.”