12 new snacks to try for Halloween 2015

Many of us in the CNN Library have a sweet tooth and love sampling new flavors of candies and snacks, almost as much as we enjoy doing editorial news research. We combined our two loves in honor of National Junk Food Day in July, when we wrote about new snack hybrids and flavor pairings.

Starburst's take on the Halloween spirit includes new flavors like Batty Blackberry, Bewitched Blueberry, Mysterious Mango and Chilling Cherry-Kiwi.

(Photo: Courtesy Starburst)

Starburst’s take on the Halloween spirit includes new flavors like Batty Blackberry, Bewitched Blueberry, Mysterious Mango and Chilling Cherry-Kiwi.

Now that fall’s here, we’re back to share our “expert” thoughts on some new takes on traditional Halloween snacks — in time for trick-or-treat 2015. We believe both kids and adults will be shrieking for some of these. Others are just plain ghastly. Are you scared yet? Boo-ya!

Brach’s Candy Corn

Amy Roberts: We tried Sea Salt Chocolate (my favorite of the three), Peanut Butter Cup, and Fruit Crèmes, which include strawberry, orange, peach, lemon, and raspberry flavors. I was amazed and mesmerized when Julie unveiled her discovery that each striped section of the chocolate and peanut butter varieties was a different flavor. In one candy! Perhaps the reason I missed this is because my technique is to just shove all of them in my mouth at the same time.

Just Born Marshmallow Peeps

Amy: We tasted Candy Corn dipped in White Fudge, Pumpkin Spice dipped in White Fudge, and Caramel Apple dipped in Caramel Fudge. The texture of the soft marshmallow paired with the fudgy coating is what makes these special. All so good, especially the candy corn. We also tried the new tombstone-shaped Peeps. I was briefly concerned about what a tombstone would taste like: Regret? Unfulfilled dreams? Concrete? Fortunately, they just taste like regular Peeps.

Julie In: Peeps to me have always been a springtime treat, but once I wrapped my brain around these fall flavor offerings, a cornucopia of possibilities opened before me. What’s not to like about a pumpkin-flavored chick-shaped marshmallow with white chocolate at the bottom? The tart green apple Peep balanced well with the sweet caramel. My favorite of the three was the candy corn Peep. Its flavor was subtle and rounded out nicely with the white fudge.

Hostess Pumpkin Spice Twinkies and Candy Corn Cupcakes

Julie: Remember the eight-month long Twinkie shortage back in 2013? Well, those dark days are long gone, and Twinkies are back with a vengeance, a delicious pumpkin spice-filled vengeance. The distinctive spongy yellow cake is the same but this time, the crème inside is light brown and flavored with hints of pumpkin and cinnamon. I liked that the filling complemented rather than overpowered Hostess’ original golden child. Meanwhile, the candy corn cupcakes are vanilla-flavored and filled with a dollop of crème, lightly frosted and dotted with yellow, orange and white sprinkles. Unfortunately, I didn’t really taste the main draw: the candy corn flavoring. Note: These fancy Twinkies are only at Kroger stores.

Little Debbie Pumpkin Spice Rolls

Amy: I have never been a huge Twinkies fan, mostly because I am stumped as to how the crème filling gets in the cake. These yummy Little Debbies are the sweater-weather cousins to the brand’s Swiss Cake Rolls. Very few pumpkin spice products are spicy enough for me, and these were. And, Julie, these are available everywhere.

Jelly Belly Bean Boozled

Amy: If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’re probably familiar with Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. Bean Boozled by Jelly Belly, now in its third edition, is along the same lines, except the funky flavors are mixed in with the regular flavors. You don’t know which one you’re getting, since they look the same! This year, there are two new types: Lawn Clippings (not terrible) and Stinky Socks (tastes like goat cheese). My sample was all trick and no treat, including Rotten Egg, Skunk Spray, and Barf, which was very realistic. Not even the Toothpaste flavor helped to wash away the Baby Wipes residue from my mouth.

Julie: While Amy and I jealously guarded the other treats, we gladly shared these with our colleagues, especially the Canned Dog Food and Barf flavored jelly beans. We’re generous like that. About 15 of our co-workers helped us taste test them, and kept us entertained with their facial expressions every time they ate a funky-flavored bean. If you’re brave enough to try these, make sure you channel your inner child, open yourself up to double dog-dares and bring a stomach of steel.

Flix Candy – Box of Boogers and Lip Pops

Amy: Here’s the category with the biggest innovations. We tried Box of Boogers and Sour Spooky and Pumpkin Lip Pops The boogers had three flavors: Strawboogy (strawberry), Sour Green Boogy (Lime), and Snotterine (tangerine) — they all had a powdery aftertaste but looked realistic — or so I hear. As for the lip pops, picture a baby’s pacifier where the handle is shaped like a jack o’lantern’s or a vampire’s grin.

Julie: I suppose I’m picky with my booger gummies. I didn’t care for the dusty residue on the gummies and the taste left me underwhelmed. I liked the idea and that they came in different shapes and sizes, but I wouldn’t buy these except as a gag gift. The lip pop itself was overly large and the taste was just OK.

Zombie Bones and Brains Gummy Candy (Target)

Amy: I liked the berry flavor of the bones and brains candies. There were fewer brains in the package than I would have liked, though. Isn’t that always the way?

Julie: Despite the picture of a smiling cartoon witch on the package, the gummy candies are pretty gruesome-looking. The blue raspberry taste was pleasant, and I pretended that the gummies were actually vitamins for strong bones and a healthy mind. I would probably buy them again.

Starburst Halloween Mix

Julie: Starburst’s take on the Halloween spirit includes new flavors like Batty Blackberry, Bewitched Blueberry, Mysterious Mango and Chilling Cherry-Kiwi. I sensed a trend there. The individual candy wrappers include graphics such as bats, smiling ghosts and skulls. Other than the flavor names and pictures, I forgot that these were part of the Halloween Mix. Personally, I would have gone with a flavor like blood orange, but there’s no denying that the Starbursts were tasty. I wouldn’t mind eating this mix of particular flavors year round.

Dove Chocolate Eyeballs

Amy: Dove Eyeballs are only found at Target, also where I also got my elasticized waist jeans, which, coincidentally is all that fits after I started Eyeball 30, the diet where you only eat Dove Eyeballs for 30 days. Sticking to this diet is easy.

3 Musketeers MUSKEFEARS

Julie: The 3 Musketeers MUSKEFEARS fun size bars are advertised as having the same great taste but with a spooky red nougat inside. The fluffy chocolate center is more dark pink than red. I suppose “spooky pink nougat” doesn’t instill fear like “spooky red” (even though everyone who has done laundry knows that nothing is scarier than pink clothes after a red sock is accidentally left in a load of whites). Never fear, it tastes exactly like a regular 3 Musketeers bar.

Amy: I had no idea Julie, or anyone really, could have opinions this definite about nougat color. I enjoy eating these no matter what color they are inside. Now I must pause to savor the accomplishment of my personal and professional milestone of using the word “nougat” in a sentence. Twice.

The link between diabetes and dental health

— Regular dental checkups are essential to maintaining oral health. In addition to preventing dental caries and removing tartar that contributes to gum disease, dental checkups can alert patients to other potential health problems. For example, symptoms of periodontal disease may be indicative of the presence of diseases that stems from outside of the mouth, including diabetes.

Diabetes, a condition of uncontrolled blood sugar or insulin production, can affect many areas of the body, including the mouth. Diabetics face a high risk of oral health problems because of fluctuating levels of blood sugar, which impairs white blood cells. White blood cells are the body’s main defense against disease and are dispatched when a virus or bacteria is present. Should white blood cells be rendered less effective, the body’s defense system is compromised and infections can occur in the mouth and elsewhere.

Those with diabetes may complain of certain oral symptoms. Uncontrolled diabetes can result in a decrease in saliva flow, which leads to dry mouth. Saliva is important to wash away bacteria in the mouth.

Gum inflammation can occur because diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken, slowing the flow of waste and nutrients from bodily tissues. An increase in bacteria and the compromised state of white blood cells makes for the perfect environment for periodontal disease. Furthermore, uncontrolled diabetes can make it more difficult for the mouth and other areas of the body to heal. Therefore, there may be recurrent mouth infections, sores and other symptoms of irritation. Thrush, a condition of overabundant yeast in the body that can cause white patches and soreness in the mouth, is also more prevalent among diabetics.

The American Diabetes Association says that not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to serious gum disease, but serious gum disease may have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes. Many people are unaware they have diabetes until an oral health exam raises a red flag that warns of uncontrolled blood sugar.

Those who are aware of their diabetes should take treatment seriously to keep blood sugar levels in check. They also should discuss their diabetes with a dentist and other oral health practitioners so that a custom exam and screening schedule can be implemented. It is vital for diabetics to maintain oral health to reduce the risk of infections of the mouth that can spread elsewhere throughout the body. TF144099

CAPTION: A dental health exam may reveal a warning sign for diabetes.

Five tips for using household appliances more efficiently

— When you get your monthly electricity bill, do you ever wonder which appliances consume the most power?

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that major appliances in your home account for 13 percent of household energy costs. Our homes are a hub of activity for many energy-hungry appliances. Your refrigerator, clothes dryer and water heater use most of the electricity, according to this list.

There are many ways to lower your electricity bill and enhance your quality of life. This is a list of five tips for using appliances efficiently:

  1. Is your refrigerator too cold? Cut energy use in your refrigerator and freezer by adjusting the temperature settings. Keep refrigerator temperatures at 35 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and freezer temperatures at 0 to 5 degrees. Adjusting the temperature 10 degrees lower than the recommended level can increase energy use by 25 percent.
  2. Small laundry loads waste energy and water. Wash and dry only full loads and use lower temperature settings.

According to Consumer Reports, doing laundry in cold water can save you $60 annually.

  1. Save up to five percent on water heating costs by changing the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees to get comfortable hot water for most household uses. Learn more water heating tips from our previous post.
  2. Using the same principle as the clothes washer, always wash full loads on the dishwasher. Use less water and energy by running the dishwasher once in the evening. Whether it’s half-full or completely full, the dishwasher uses the same amount of water for every use.
  3. Don’t pay for phantom electricity. Even when they’re off, televisions, phone chargers and hair dryers that are plugged-in are still using energy. Before you leave the house, take the time to unplug all electronics that are in standby mode.

Lastly, when it’s time to shop for new appliances, look for products with the ENERGY STAR and EnergyGuide labels for long-term savings.

Innovative financing is available for energy efficiency improvements to your home through the “Be SMART Home Loan” program, which covers appliance replacement and upgrades. Be SMART offers flexible financing of up to $25,000 for eligible homeowners.

For more ways to save energy, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website: www.energy.gov.

Baltimore Farmer’s Market offers extended hours during holiday season

— Make this season merry and bright with the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar! Just in time for the busiest shopping day of the year, the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar announces it will stay open one additional hour until 1pm on Sundays November 22, December 6, December 13 and December 20. The market is the perfect place to shop for festive meals, unique gifts and holiday decorations, all in one stop!

Market-goers can find a variety of seasonal items for their Thanksgiving or holiday meals such as turkeys, brisket, hams, oysters, fresh and smoked fish, cheeses, pies, cider, apples, sweet potatoes, nuts and more. In addition to ingredients for holiday cooking, those looking to purchase the perfect gift can browse the bazaar for unique craft items such as jewelry, soaps and lotions, holiday ornaments, vintage clothing, mugs and other dishes, original works of art, handcrafted baskets, leather goods and more. As the season progresses, wreaths, Christmas trees and other decorative greenery also become available.

Located on Saratoga Street between Holliday and Gay streets, underneath the Jones Falls Expressway (JFX), the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar remains open Sundays through December 20, 2015. Maryland’s largest producers-only market is presented by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and managed by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts.

For more information on the Baltimore Farmers’ Market & Bazaar, call 410-752-8632 or visit www.promotionandarts.org.

Outrage grows after South Carolina officer throws student in classroom

— Even without the full context, even without knowing what happened beforehand, the video is appalling.

It shows a South Carolina school resource officer yanking a student from her desk, causing her to fall backward in her chair. He then throws her several feet across the floor.

CNN Video

A violent encounter between a student and officer at a South Carolina High School

A school district in South Carolina is investigating the actions of a school resource officer after video circulated showing him violently removing a student from her desk.

Other students sit silently, with one student covering his face with his hand.

But the outrage was raucous on social media, with some calling for the officer’s firing.

A violent confrontation

The incident started when a teacher at Spring Valley High School in Columbia told the student to leave the classroom, CNN affiliate WIS reported. When the student refused, the school resource officer — Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields — was called in.

It’s not clear what happened immediately before the cell phone video starts recording. But when it does, the school resource officer is heard telling the student to get up from her desk.

“You’re either going to come with me, or I’m going to make you,” he says.

The student doesn’t budge. Fields tells her, “Come on, I’m going to get you up,” and tries to pull her from the desk.

She falls backward in her chair, but the officer doesn’t stop. He lifts her body slightly off the ground and hurls her several feet across the room.

David Klinger, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the deputy’s actions seem unjustifiable.

“It literally makes no sense, as I’m laooking at it, why he would escalate to that point — pick her up, pick up the chair she’s in, the desk she’s in, and toss her,” Klinger said.

“There may be some logical explanation, but I can’t see it.”

Shocked Twitter users couldn’t understand it, either.

“I don’t care what this kid supposedly did. She’s a kid,” Charles Clymer tweeted. “Did she threaten his life? No? End of discussion.”

Julia Carmel wondered what would have happened if there was no video footage.

“When a cop can be as violent as the #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh video in front of classroom audience, I fear what he’d do w/ nobody watching,” she tweeted.

Sheriff ‘very disturbed’ by video

Sheriff Leon Lott saw the video and “was very disturbed by it,” department spokesman Lt. Curtis Wilson said.

“He has questions like everyone has — and he wants answers and once he has those answers, he will address them,” Wilson said.

Fields has been placed on administrative duties. The school resource officer will not return to school pending an investigation by the department.

But Stephen Gilchrist of the Richland Two Black Parents Association said he wants an independent investigation.

As for the student, she faces a charge of disturbing schools and was released to her parents after the incident, Wilson said. He said another female, who might not be visible in the footage, was also arrested for disturbing schools.

No one was injured, the sheriff’s department said.

School board chair also stunned

James Manning, chairman of the board of trustees for Richland School District Two, said he was alarmed by what he saw.

“I have watched the video several times and there is no doubt that the video is extremely disturbing,” he said in a statement.

“As the parent of a daughter in Richland School District Two I can assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously. The district superintendent has been in constant contact with the Richland County Sheriff to express our concern over this matter and the district has banned the deputy in question from all District Two property.”

Analyst: The officer was within his rights

CNN law enforcement analyst Harry Houck said while the video “looks really bad,” the officer was legally allowed to use force on the student.

“Yes, he can do that because you failed to comply,” said Houck, a former New York police detective. “You are under arrest, you’re failing to comply now. So the officer can use whatever force is necessary to effect an arrest.”

He said the officer probably shouldn’t have been called in to deal with the student in the first place.

“Cops are at a school in the event a crime is being committed,” he said.

“Too often, these teachers in these schools are calling on the cops because they have a disruptive student in the classroom. This is not a cop’s job.”

Officer’s career marked with lawsuits, praise

Fields did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment Monday night. But court documents and a sheriff’s department newsletter offer a study in contrasts in his career.

The officer was a subject of two lawsuits in the past decade.

In the first case, Fields was accused of excessive force and battery in a 2007 lawsuit. A jury ruled in favor of the officer.

The second case is scheduled to go to trial in January. Fields is one of several defendants listed in a suit filed by a student against the school district over his expulsion.

Fields has also received commendations for his work in schools. He was given a Culture of Excellence Award by a Richland County elementary school where he worked as a school resource officer in 2014.

“Ben has been working for the Richland County Sheriff’s Office Department since 2004 and joined the School Resource Officer Program in 2008,” a sheriff’s department newsletter said.

“He is assigned to Spring Valley High School as well as Lonnie B. Nelson Elementary School, and has proven to be an exceptional role model to the students he serves and protects.”

CNN’s Sarah Aarthun, John Newsome, Tina Burnside, Chandler Friedman, Joseph Netto, Don Lemon and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.

Ole Miss removes state flag from campus

— The University of Mississippi has removed the state flag from campus, according to a university statement issued Monday.

The move comes after student senators voted 33-15 with one abstention last week to ask the school administration to furl the banner, which includes the Confederate battle emblem in its upper left corner.

CNN Video

Where the Confederate flag is still flown

Despite the University of Mississippi’s removal of the state flag from the campus, the Confederate battle flag can still be found displayed across the country.

“University of Mississippi Police Department officers lowered and furled the state flag in a Lyceum Circle ceremony as the campus opened Monday morning,” a school statement said. “The flag will be preserved in the University Archives along with resolutions from students, faculty and staff calling for its removal.”

Like many students and observers, Buka Okoye, president of the school’s NAACP chapter, had the impression that the school wouldn’t act on the student senators’ vote until a new chancellor was appointed. The NAACP was in the process of organizing a march in two weeks to pressure the university administration to take down the flag immediately. He was “shocked” to learn the school had removed the banner Monday, he said.

“It was huge that the university came on the right side,” he said. “That was huge for me. It really shows me how much the university has progressed.”

He is proud that his school has sent the message that it wants to “distance itself from Confederate iconography in general,” and while it certainly doesn’t mean the end of racism, it’s another step in taking down the structures that support racism, he said.

The next step for him and the NAACP chapter is to pressure the university to do something about the obelisk honoring “Confederate dead” that is located in the area of campus known as The Circle, where the state flag flew. The monument has been there since 1906.

Elation, disappointment

Allen Coon, a student senator and president of the College Democrats who was at the forefront of the fight to take down the flag, told CNN he, too, was surprised and elated by the decision.

“They didn’t announce anything. They did it early this morning,” he said. “The leadership acted swiftly, and despite the opposition from the governor, who two days ago said college students act emotionally, they took it down. It’s exciting.”

Another student senator, Andrew Soper, who organized a petition that drew more than 1,800 signatures (at least 1,500 of which came on the day of the vote or after the vote) urging Ole Miss to keep the flag on campus, said he was disappointed to see the flag taken down.

“I think it’s the wrong move. They should have done it through the state of Mississippi. They didn’t do it the right way,” he said.

‘A flag that speaks to who we are’

Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks, who called for the state to change its flag in June, applauded the civility with which student senators came to their decision, saying, “Their respect for each other, despite genuine differences of opinion, was an inspiration to us all.”

“I understand the flag represents tradition and honor to some. But to others, the flag means that some members of the Ole Miss family are not welcomed or valued,” he said.”Our state needs a flag that speaks to who we are. It should represent the wonderful attributes about our state that unite us, not those that still divide us.”

Confederate tributes have come under increased scrutiny in the South since the killings of nine African-Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June. Shooter Dylann Roof apparently revered the flag as a symbol of white supremacy.

In that state, the Confederate banner that flew on the Capitol grounds in Columbia was taken down on July 10, less than a month after the shootings.

Many Mississippi cities furl the flag; some keep it flying

The vote by the Ole Miss student senators follows a decision by aldermen in Oxford, where Ole Miss is located, to remove the flag from city property in August. That was around the same time actor Morgan Freeman, author John Grisham, musician Jimmy Buffett and others signed a letter calling on the state to come up with a new flag.

Other Mississippi cities — including Macon, Columbus, Grenada, Magnolia, Hattiesburg, Clarksdale, Starkville, Yazoo City and Greenwood — have voted or issued executive orders to remove the state flag from city property since the Charleston shooting. (Conversely, the cities of Petal and Gautier have voted since the massacre to keep the flag flying.)

The City Council in the state capital, Jackson, which hasn’t flown the state flag on city property in more than a decade, voted in July to urge the state to create a new flag, CNN affiliate WAPT reported.

Also taking action since Charleston were Leflore County, which took down the flag this summer, and the Gulf Coast Business Council and Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, both of which said they’d endorse a new flag without the Confederate canton in the corner.

The Ole Miss vote is also in line with the stances of three other public state universities that don’t fly the flag on their campuses: Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University.

Mississippi State University’s Faculty Senate voted before a 2001 statewide referendum to support efforts to change the state flag. Delta State University and the University of Southern Mississippi, too, have issued statements calling on the state to redesign the banner.

The Mississippi University for Women is the only state university that has not issued a statement or removed the flag, but an article last month in the school’s weekly newspaper reported that faculty and school leaders are discussing the matter.

The issue of changing the flag was last brought before the state’s voters 14 years ago, when Mississippians chose, by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1, to leave it as is.

CNN’s Nick Valencia and Devon M. Sayers contributed to this report.

If meat causes cancer, what can we eat?

You may have just learned that processed meat such as bacon, sausage and ham may cause cancer and unprocessed meat may be “probably carcinogenic to humans,” according to a new World Health Organization report. Or that cheese and sugar can be as addictive as a drug. Or that even veggie hot dogs may not be completely meat-free (or even human tissue-free), we recently learned.

CNN Video

How bad for you are processed meats?

A new report by the World Health Organization says that eating processed meats increases the likelihood of contracting bowel cancer.

So what in the world is there left to eat so you can stay healthy?

Doctors say it’s easy: Eat more like a Greek. Yes, your parents were right to push you to finish your veggies. The Mediterranean diet — one heavy on veggies, nuts and fruit, with limits on meat and dairy — is the way to go. Study after study has shown it is the key to help you live longer and puts you at a lower risk for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. It even keeps your brain younger and healthier. And while you will feel better and potentially live longer on a diet that favors veggies and fruits, it will also help you maintain a healthy weight and a thinner waist line, which is good for your overall health, self-esteem and mental well-being too.

Our heads know this to be true even if in our hearts (or stomach?) prefer things bacon-flavored. And we may be seeing this as more Americans cut calories and avoid the fast food and sugary sodas. (Though the developing world is starting to adopt our bad eating habits). But too few Americans are on a first-name basis with edible plants, studies show.

American children ate 63 calories of produce a day in 2012, which is up from 47 calories in 2003. There is a similar uptick among adults, but that’s not enough when you consider the USDA recommends three to five servings of veggies a day and two to four servings of fruit a day.

So, for your health’s sake, here’s what you can do to follow this plant-oriented Mediterranean diet. It’s pretty simple and it offers a wide variety too, so you won’t be bored with what’s on your plate.

Make your meals heavy on the vegetable, bean and cereal side. You can eat fish and poultry at least twice a week. Snack on nuts and fruit. You don’t have to do anything so extreme as avoiding carbs. You can have three servings of those a day, especially if they are of the whole-grain variety. If you drink, enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner. The red variety is supposed to be particularly good for your heart health. Cook with olive oil as opposed to butter. And limit the amount of saturated fat, meat and dairy.

If you can’t give up your bacon or burger habit, be reassured one bite will not kill you In fact, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association says the scientific evidence does not support a causal relationship between red meat or processed meat and cancer. But the International Agency for Research on Cancer that did the report says that based on the research it used for its study, an estimated 50-gram portion of processed meat you eat increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That 50 grams is about two or three slices of bacon. And of course just because something raises the risk of cancer doesn’t mean you will get it.

So bottom line, if you must eat meat, make it a special treat rather than a staple.

Eat more plants and you’ll feel better, you’ll be healthier and you’ll look good, too.

Fees reduced to connect homes to natural gas this fall

— BGE’s Smart Energy Savers Program® reminds eligible residential customers that now is the perfect time to make the switch to natural gas for home and water heating. Before the cold weather sets in and the holiday season gets underway, customers can begin making their homes more comfortable and energy efficient— and save big on connecting to natural gas.

For eligible customers, BGE’s Natural Gas Connection Program waives the fee— up to $2,000 based on their home’s proximity to BGE’s main gas line— to connect to natural gas, as long as a customer replaces their heat pump or electric water heater with a high-efficiency gas furnace or high-efficiency gas water heater. In addition, customers can save even more with rebates on high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, as well as lower annual energy costs.

Equipment rebates are available as follows:

·$150 rebate for installing an Energy Star® certified gas water heater

·$300 rebate for installing a high-efficiency gas furnace

·$500–$1,000 rebate for installing a high-efficiency central air conditioning system

When it comes to energy costs, a high-efficiency gas water heater can save an average of $332 a year, while a high-efficiency gas furnace can save an average of $377 annually. Switching to a natural gas furnace and water heater, homeowners could save as much as 45 percent on energy costs annually compared to electric systems, depending on their home and existing equipment.

“More than 900 residential customers have already enrolled to make the switch,” says Chris Walls, BGE’s manager of residential energy efficiency programs. “Eligible customers shouldn’t wait until their heat pump or water heater fails, but should act now to save money and energy. Even if they are not ready to replace their heat pump, they can replace their electric water heater with a high-efficiency natural gas water heater now, and still get the Natural Gas Connection discount.”

Now is the time to connect and make the switch to natural gas. To learn more about the Natural Gas Connection Program and to see if your home is eligible, visit: BGESmartEnergy.com/Gas or call 877-685-7377 to talk to a natural gas expert.

The BGE Smart Energy Savers Program is a suite of programs that enable customers to control energy use, leading to more efficient use of electricity and lowering energy bills from where they otherwise would be.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day campaign working with HBCUs to raise awareness

— Just as students are returning to campus embarking on new classes, student activities and volunteerism, the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) campaign is giving students an active role in raising awareness of the message “Get Educated, Get Tested, Get Involved, and Get Treatment.”

The Student Ambassador Program will accept applications from students who are interested and committed to addressing challenges surrounding HIV/AIDS on their college campuses. This work is more important than ever as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that African Americans and blacks account for 47 percent of the nation’s new HIV infections. Moreover, among the African American and black communities, persons aged 15-24 years old comprise 27 percent of new HIV diagnosis in 2013, an estimated 5,868 diagnoses. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) continue to play a significant role in social change around the country surrounding this epidemic.

“As a proud product of an HBCU, I know how HBCUs play a vital role in our response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic by educating students and preparing the next generation in efforts towards promoting prevention, testing, treatment and care. These efforts are particularly important for HBCUs to mobilize and engage because young African Americans are significantly affected by the impact of HIV and AIDS, but we can be the greatest game changers,” Amber Mazyck, a recent graduate of Bethune Cookman College and student ambassador, lends her voice in the discussion on student involvement in raising awareness around HIV/AIDS.

NBHAAD’s HBCU Initiative provides student communities access to outreach materials and resources for HIV/AIDS education, testing, and treatment. Student ambassadors will be empowered to create safe spaces at events, so students have the freedom to discuss topics related to HIV/AIDS in black communities in a supportive environment. Student Ambassadors’ creativity and innovative spirit will help in planning events and hosting activities for the Annual February 7th commemoration of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Student Ambassadors may also provide information on local testing sites and linkage to care opportunities for those living with HIV/AIDS and/or newly diagnosed. Student Ambassadors participating in the program will have ongoing professional development and public health resources from local, regional and national public health entities, particularly in HIV/AIDS and STI prevention and support.

Participating in HIV/AIDS awareness efforts position ambassadors to have a direct impact in encouraging others to make wiser and safer decisions. Student ambassadors are empowered to coordinate activities in collaboration with other organizations, faculty, and health centers. Some suggested activities to increase awareness are health fairs, town hall meetings, candle light vigils, fashion shows, and social media engagement.

Social media greatly influenced past HIV/AIDS awareness efforts, serving as a major component at HBCU campus events. Indeed, Fort Valley State University held a two-day event in observance of NBHAAD, which provided free HIV testing and information about HIV/AIDS wherein social media played a central role. Many inspirational events held throughout the country on black college campuses sparked conversation, raised awareness, and integrated social media in innovative ways.

“We have learned how to engage students to spread the word [about HIV]. You must have something of substance before students will follow you or retweet. It’s about finding the balance between educational and personal messages. We encourage students to speak about HIV as they would any other topic via general conversation. Social media is a way student’s get information in real time,” said Joell Royal, Project Coordinator for Howard University’s SHOP Project.

The goal is for the Student Ambassador initiative to be an even greater success in the 2015-2016 academic year by engaging more college campuses and recruiting additional students to get involved. The National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Strategic Leadership Council (NBHAAD SLC) plans to make an even greater presence as it comes off the heels of its 15th year anniversary. By receiving the latest information and resources on HIV/AIDS in the African American and Black communities, those with undiagnosed HIV infections, and those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS will have the tools to live longer, healthier lives with consistent, accessible linkage to care and treatment services.

The National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day initiative encourages students to apply for the student ambassador program before the closing deadline of January 9, 2016. For additional information and/or guidance, visit: www.nationalblackaidsday.org/

St. Vincent de Paul completes expansion of Sarah’s Hope

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore and other community leaders at the grand opening event for the newly renovated Sarah’s Hope family shelter in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore City.

The $8 million project doubled the shelter’s capacity to 150 beds to meet increased demands, making it the city’s largest homeless shelter for families. The renovations created family style living units, expanded space for improved services, and added a new early childhood center for homeless children operated by PACT. The new Sarah’s Hope allows Baltimore City to meet the requirements of the federal HEARTH act by accommodating families with older adolescent males, intact families, and families headed by single fathers. Sarah’s Hope’s intensive and comprehensive services minimize the length of time families are homeless by helping families overcome barriers to housing, increase their self-sufficiency, and quickly return to permanent housing. The Sarah’s Hope capital project was supported by the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the late Willard Hackerman, and other local foundations, corporations, and individuals.

“This is a huge leap forward in our effort to provide resources that will have a positive impact on families struggling with poverty and homelessness in Baltimore City,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. “The completion of this project not only allows St. Vincent de Paul to better serve the families who come through Sarah’s Hope with more accommodating living arrangements and the comprehensive services they need to improve their lives, but it offers a wonderful recreation facility for the families in the adjacent Sandtown-Winchester community.”

Families who are homeless, nationally and in Baltimore, represent about one third of the homeless population, and have been the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in recent years. While homelessness for anyone is tragic, the challenges faced by homeless families far exceed those of individuals. Homeless families often face many barriers to housing arising from physical and mental health needs; substance abuse; domestic violence; poor credit; lack of education; low wages; and unemployment.

Homeless children experience emotional and behavioral problems at triple the rate of non-homeless children, including high rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and stress. Children who have been homeless are four times more likely to have developmental problems and/or educational delays, and twice as likely to have learning disabilities. The longer a family is homeless, the more difficult it becomes for that family to regain permanent housing and self-sufficiency, and the greater the negative impact for children. For these reasons, the focus of Sarah’s Hope is to minimize the length of time that families are homeless.

Operated by St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore since 2008, Sarah’s Hope is located in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore City. Prior to the renovation, Sarah’s Hope’s capacity was 75 beds, limiting it to serving approximately 100 homeless families each year. The shelter has always operated year-round at nearly 100 percent capacity, and fielded hundreds of phone calls each month from homeless families who had to be turned away due to lack of available beds.

By doubling its capacity through this expansion, Sarah’s Hope is now expected to serve around 200 families a year. Sarah’s Hope provides homeless families with the comprehensive stabilization and self-sufficiency services they need to return to permanent housing as quickly as possible. Sarah’s Hope provides comprehensive services including shelter, meals, youth activities, adult education classes, basic healthcare, case management, housing placement, and referrals for benefits and other resources.

Sarah’s Hope also plans to extend resources to the local residents of the Sandtown-Winchester community. A new multi-purpose room in the renovated building allows community members to host meetings and events, and a community playground and green space is planned on the property in a second phase.