Inspirational News StoriesExcerpts of Key Inspirational News Stories in Major Media
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The food served at the suburban San Francisco school system, Mount Diablo Unified, reflects a trend away from mass-produced, reheated meals. Its lunch menus are filled with California-grown fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats and recipes that defy the stereotype of inedible school food. Among American schoolchildren, these students are in the lucky minority. Making fresh meals requires significant investment and, in many areas, an overhaul of how school kitchens have operated for decades. What's more, federal money to boost lunch budgets has declined. The government last year ended a pandemic-era program offering free school meals to everyone. A few states, such as California, have been paying to keep meals free for all students, but most states went back to charging all but the neediest kids for meals. Increases in money from California's state government have made it possible for Mount Diablo to buy fresher local ingredients and hire the chef, Josh Gjersand, a veteran of Michelin-starred restaurants. Local farms, bakers, creameries and fishermen now supply most ingredients to the district, which serves 30,000 students from wealthy and low-income communities east of San Francisco. Making food from scratch isn't just healthier, it's cheaper, many school nutrition directors say. In 2021, California committed to spending $650 million annually to supplement federal meal reimbursements – money for food, staff, new equipment and other upgrades.
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Jacque Fresco is an inspiration to many, with his innovative ideas and blue prints for a sustainable society and planet that reject the current models of mass consumerism and self-destruction. His latest venture, called The Venus Project, advocates what Fresco has coined as a "resource-based economy", a society which runs on socio-cooperation and which utilizes the methodology of science and the advancements in technology in one of the cleanest and most energy efficient systems ever conceptualized. Located in Venus, Florida, The Venus Project is a research center which develops innovations in the fields of freelance inventing, industrial engineering, and conventional architectural modeling. The Venus Project aims to answer the question, how can we utilize technology wisely so that there is more than enough for everyone on our planet? To make this happen, Fresco proposes that a planning process must first occur, where the entire infrastructure of the planet is re-worked. This means the planet working together as one, eliminating the false borders that separate continents and countries and looking at our planet as an open trading highway system. The Venus Project works to showcase the amazing and inspiring potential of computers and technology, and to help people understand that it is not technology that is responsible for the deterioration of the planet and society, but rather it is the abuse and misuse of machines and automated technology for selfish benefits that we should be weary of.
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Fifty years ago, Congress voted to override President Richard Nixon's veto of the Clean Water Act. It has proved to be one of the most transformative environmental laws ever enacted. At the time of the law's passage, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage was dumped by New York City into the Hudson River every day. This filth was compounded by industrial contaminants emptied into the river along much of its length. The catch basin for all of this was New York Harbor, which resembled an open sewer. At its worst, 10 feet of raw human waste blanketed portions of the harbor bottom. Health advisories against eating fish from the Hudson remain, but its ecology has largely recovered, thanks to the law, which imposed strict regulations on what could be discharged into the water by sewage treatment plants, factories and other sources of pollution. Today people swim in organized events in New York Harbor, which would have been unthinkable in 1972 when the law was passed. Across the country, billions of dollars were also spent to construct and improve sewage treatment plants, leading to recoveries of other urban waterways. Cleaner water has made the harbor far more hospitable, and other steps have helped to rebuild life there, like fishing restrictions and the removal of some dams on tributaries in the Hudson River watershed. The bald eagle has made a strong comeback, taking advantage of the harbor's resurgent fish life. In December 2020 a humpback whale was seen in the Hudson just one mile from Times Square.
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Luc, along with just about every able-bodied Rwandan aged 18 to 65, participates in the monthly activity known as "Umuganda," a Kinyarwanda word that means "coming together in common purpose." On the last Saturday of every month, from 8 to 11 a.m., Rwandans across the country gather together to partake in community improvement projects. In Luc's neighborhood, this has meant trimming back bushes that attract malaria-spreading mosquitoes, and making sure roads are clear. According to Luc, these monthly gatherings have helped his community recover from a long, devastating period of genocide, making it clean, innovative, loving and self-reliant. Across the country ... the tradition of Umuganda has unfolded in similar fashion, helping Rwanda to piece itself back together and recover from ruin. Though Umuganda is a national phenomenon, the mobilization of it takes place at the community level – specifically, in "cells" of at least 50 households called Umudugudu. Spearheaded by a community leader, members of a cell often use the mobile messaging service WhatsApp to work out the logistics. This small-scale organizational structure is key to making Umuganda work. Luc thinks Umuganda has value beyond the projects themselves, promoting self-reliance among Rwandans. "When you see something wrong within your surroundings, you do not wait for someone else to come and do it for you, you just go for it and do it," he says. "Do Umuganda. Solve the problem yourselves."
Here in the Kibera slum, life sometimes seems a free-for-all. Yet this is an uplifting slum. Kennedy [Odede] taught himself to read ... then formed a Kibera self-help association called Shining Hope for Communities, better known as SHOFCO. Let's just acknowledge that development is hard, particularly in urban slums that are growing fast around the world. Billions of dollars are poured into the poorest countries, and in Haiti and South Sudan one sees fleets of expensive white S.U.V.s driven by aid organizations; what's missing is long-term economic development. International aid keeps children alive, which is no small feat. But it has had less success in transforming troubled places. That's where SHOFCO is intriguing as an alternative model. "Development has been part of imperialism – you know better than anybody else because you're from America or Europe," Kennedy [said]. He thinks international aid sometimes is ineffective partly because it feels imposed by the outside. SHOFCO has spread through low-income communities across Kenya and now boasts 2.4 million members, making it one of the largest grass-roots organizations in Africa. It provides clean water, fights sexual assault, runs a credit union, coaches people on starting small businesses, runs libraries and internet hot spots, mobilizes voters to press politicians to bring services to slums, runs public health campaigns and does 1,000 other things. It exemplifies a partnership: local leadership paired with a reliance on the best international practices.
Zach Skow [is] a man on a mission to bring dogs into every US prison. Skow is the founder of Pawsitive Change, a rehabilitation programme that pairs rescue dogs with inmates. He began a pilot programme at California City Correctional Facility in January 2016, teaching inmates to become dog trainers, and it's now been rolled out to four more California state prisons and one female juvenile correction centre. To date more than 300 men have graduated from the programme and roughly 200 dogs from "high-kill" shelters have been rescued and adopted as a result of the inmates' work with them (the shelters accept any animal [and] euthanise a certain percentage if they can't rehome them). Seventeen of the programme's human graduates have been paroled and so far none has returned to prison (at a time when the US recidivism rate stands at 43%). Working with the dogs and seeing what the animals are going through prompts the men to speak of their own experiences. When one student relates how his dog didn't want to come out of the kennel in the first few days, another shares how he too didn't want to leave his cell when he first came to prison. Many of these men have been told repeatedly from a young age that they're not to be trusted, that they make a mess of things, that they're not fit to take charge of anything. This message is then reinforced ... through the penal system. This programme challenges the "branding" these men have had imposed on them from an early age. It allows them to create new narratives.
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Music, it turns out, is medicine for the mind. [A 2021 study] set out to see what happens in the brain when a person with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer's disease listens to their favorite playlist for an hour every day. The 14 participants had brain scans and took neuropsychological tests that involved memory exercises. At the end of the trial the participants showed a small but statistically significant improvement in memory – something that is extremely unusual. New connections had formed between different regions of the brain ... that actually changed brain plasticity and also improved function in relaying information. Thaut says the research shows that while music is in no way a cure for Alzheimers, it can provide a "cognitive boost." That's why a person with memory impairment may not recall their daughter's name but may remember all the lyrics to her favorite lullaby. "It's pulling from emotions, it's pulling from feelings, it's pulling from interpersonal associations, it's pulling from a date or time or period of one's life – historical things," [Concetta] Tomaino says. Music serves as a clue, coaxing the brain to fill in the blanks. "It is painful to watch your beloved slip away inch by inch," [Carol Rosenstein] says. "And if it weren't for the music, I wouldn't be sitting here today. As a caregiver and first responder, I can tell you, I would have never survived the journey."
On Dutch 'care farms,' aging folks tend to livestock, harvest vegetables and make their own decisions. Boerderij Op Aarde is one of hundreds of Dutch "care farms" operated by people facing an array of illnesses or challenges, either physical or mental. Today, there are roughly 1,350 care farms in the Netherlands. They provide meaningful work in agricultural settings with a simple philosophy: rather than design care around what people are no longer able to do, design it to leverage and emphasize what they can accomplish. Studies in Norway and the Netherlands found that people with dementia at care farms tended to move more and participate in higher-intensity activities than those in traditional care, which can help with mobility in daily life and have a positive impact on cognition. Dementia is often linked to social isolation, and care farms were found to boost social involvement. In traditional dementia care settings ... the focus tends to be on preventing risk. There's often a fixed schedule of simple activities, like games or movies, and the only choice attendees are given is whether to participate or not. In the course of his research, [Jan] Hassink has spoken to countless people with dementia. Common to many of them is a desire to not only participate in society, but contribute to it. "We don't focus on what's missing, but what is still left," says Arjan Monteny, cofounder of Boerderij Op Aarde, "what is still possible to develop in everybody."
For most New Mexico residents, college will now be officially tuition-free. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed on Friday Senate Bill 140, otherwise known as the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act. First introduced in 2019, the plan will waive tuition for any students attending any in-state public school or tribal college, including community colleges. "For over a quarter of a century, New Mexico has been a national leader in providing free college to its residents. A fully funded Opportunity Scholarship opens the door for every New Mexican to reach higher, strengthening our economy, our families and our communities," Lujan Grisham said. "Signing this legislation sends a clear message to New Mexicans that we believe in them and the contributions they will make for their families and the future of our great state." Eligible students must enroll in a minimum of six credit hours and maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5 during their time in college. The scholarship has already been awarded to more than 10,000 students over the last two years, but now $75 million has been allocated to the fund. That could support up to 35,000 students this fall alone ... and allows part-time students and adult learners to take advantage, as well. Across the country, many states have moved to provide some sort of tuition-free college education, typically at the community college level. In 2019, California waived tuition for first-time, full-time students attending two years of community college.
In the next few weeks, tens of thousands of people in Cook County, Ill., will open their mailboxes to find a letter from the county government explaining that their medical debt has been paid off. Officials in New Orleans and Toledo, Ohio, are finalizing contracts so that tens of thousands of residents can receive a similar letter. In Pittsburgh on Dec. 19, the City Council approved a budget that would include $1 million for medical debt relief. More local governments are likely to follow as county executives and city councils embrace a new strategy to address the high cost of health care. They are partnering with RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that aims to abolish medical debt by buying it from hospitals, health systems and collections agencies at a steep discount. About 18 percent of Americans have medical debt that has been turned over to a third party for collection. Cook County plans to spend $12 million on medical debt relief and expects to erase debt for the first batch of beneficiaries by early January. In Lucas County, Ohio, and its largest city, Toledo, up to $240 million in medical debt could be paid off at a cost of $1.6 million. New Orleans is looking to spend $1.3 million to clear $130 million in medical debt. The $1 million in Pittsburgh's budget could wipe out $115 million in debt, officials said. These initiatives are all being funded by President Biden's trillion-dollar American Rescue Plan, which infused local governments with cash to spend on infrastructure, public services and economic relief programs.
Near the southern border of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a curved translucent roof peeks out a few feet above the dusty plains. Below ground, at the bottom of a short flight of stairs, the inside of this 80ft-long sleek structure is bursting with life – pallets of vivid microgreens, potato plants growing from hay bales and planters full of thick heads of Swiss chard and pak choi. This is an underground greenhouse, or walipini, and the harvesters are members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. It is one of at least eight underground greenhouses that, over the past decade, have been built or are being constructed on the reservation – which has one of the highest poverty rates in the US. Some hope they can help solve the interconnected problems of the lack of affordable, nutritious food and the difficulties of farming in the climate crisis. Today, more than half of the residents of Oglala Lakota county, one of three counties within the boundaries of the reservation, live below the poverty line. Food access is a huge problem. The 2.1m-acre reservation is classified as a "food desert" with only a handful of grocery stores. And health outcomes, including diet related diseases, are poor – about 50% of adults over 40 have diabetes. Neil Mattson, professor and greenhouse extension specialist at Cornell University's School of Integrative Plant Science, says underground greenhouses could help to usher in more year-round food production across the northern US but they are still fairly new in the country.
Beginning in the late 1990s, as landfills in the crowded capital area approached their limits, South Korea implemented a slate of policies to ease what was becoming seen as a trash crisis. The government banned burying organic waste in landfills in 2005, followed by another ban against dumping leachate – the putrid liquid squeezed from solid food waste – into the ocean in 2013. Universal curbside composting was implemented that same year, requiring everyone to separate their food from general waste. In 1996, South Korea recycled just 2.6% of its food waste. Today, South Korea recycles close to 100% annually. Ease-of-use and accessibility have been crucial to the success of the South Korean model. "South Korea's waste system, especially in terms of frequency of collection, is incredibly convenient compared to other countries," says Hong Su-yeol, a waste expert and director of Resource Recycling Consulting. "Some of my peers working at non-profits overseas say that disposal should be a little bit inconvenient if you want to discourage waste but I disagree: I think that it should be made as easy as possible as long as it goes hand-in-hand with other policies that attack the problem of reducing waste itself." National and municipal governments in South Korea have been actively investing in urban farming programs, which include composting courses. These sort of community-based efforts might be where the US can shine, increasing initial access to composting options in cities that presently have few other options.
Loretta J. Ross [identifies] the characteristics, and limits, of call-out culture: the act of publicly shaming another person for behavior deemed unacceptable. Civil conversation between parties who disagree has also been part of activism, including her own, for quite some time. "I am challenging the call-out culture," Ross said. "I think you can understand how calling out is toxic. It really does alienate people, and makes them fearful of speaking up." The antidote to that ... Professor Ross believes, is "calling in." Calling in is like calling out, but done privately and with respect. "It's a call out done with love," she said. That may mean simply sending someone a private message, or even ringing them on the telephone to discuss the matter, or simply taking a breath before commenting, screen-shotting or demanding one "do better" without explaining how. Calling out assumes the worst. Calling in involves conversation, compassion and context. “I think we overuse that word ‘trigger’ when really we mean discomfort,” she said. “And we should be able to have uncomfortable conversations.” Ross told the students ... “I think we actually sabotage our own happiness with this unrestrained anger. And I have to honestly ask: Why are you making choices to make the world crueler than it needs to be and calling that being woke?" She thought of what her organization’s founder, the Rev. C.T. Vivian ... told her: “When you ask people to give up hate, you have to be there for them when they do.”
Note: Watch Ross's powerful Ted Talk on simple, yet deeply inspiring tools for calling people in instead of calling people out.
In the year since Donna Bruce started working at the Baltimore public library's Penn North branch, she has connected more than 400 visitors to housing programs, food assistance and substance abuse recovery options – and saved a man from dying of a drug overdose by administering the emergency treatment Narcan. Poverty is pervasive in the neighborhoods around the Penn North library, and many people come in simply looking for heat or shelter. Bruce is leading a team of "peer navigators" in the library system trained to provide trauma-informed engagement and support to the public. All navigators have personal experience with mental health challenges or substance abuse disorders and act as role models in the community. Peer Navigators is the first city agency program that owes part of its origin story to Baltimore's 2020 Elijah Cummings Healing City Act. The goal of the groundbreaking legislation is to help departments reckon with and change policies that have caused – and continue to cause – trauma, while charting a new path rooted in healing. The act mandates that city employees receive training, to gain awareness and learn how to help those who have been harmed. At the same time, agency leaders must evaluate their practices and procedures to determine if they are causing trauma and how to change those that are to better serve Baltimore's communities. Evidence shows the approach can improve social environments, decrease violence, and reduce other negative encounters.
Underwater noise due to human activities at sea can harm marine biodiversity, leading for example to hearing impairment and behavioural disturbances. EU experts have adopted recommendations on maximum acceptable levels for impulsive (for example from oil and gas exploration and extraction) and continuous (such as from shipping) underwater noise. The new limits mean, that to be in tolerable status, no more than 20% of a given marine area, can be exposed to continuous underwater noise over a year Similarly, no more than 20% of a marine habitat can be exposed to impulsive noise over a given day, and no more than 10% over a year. These underwater noise pollution limits deliver on the Zero Pollution Action Plan and are the first of this kind at global level. The threshold values will contribute to set limits on where and for how long marine habitats can be exposed to underwater noise. Impulsive underwater noise, such as from oil and gas exploration, occurs in about 8 % of the EU's seas: it is particularly present in large areas of the Baltic, North and Celtic Seas, and the Mediterranean area. Maritime traffic is the main source of continuous underwater noise. With 27% of its area subject to shipping, the Mediterranean Sea sees the highest shipping traffic in the EU. This is followed by the Baltic Sea (19 % of the area). Overall, only 9% of the EU's sea area has no shipping traffic. EU Member States will now need to take these threshold values into account when they update their marine strategies.
A study published in Nature in February 2020 entitled "Power generation from ambient humidity using protein nanowires" discovered an interesting way to harvest energy from the environment, creating the potential for another clean power generating system that is self-sustaining. According to the authors, "Thin-film devices made from nanometre-scale protein wires harvested from the microbe Geobacter sulfurreducens can generate continuous electric power in the ambient environment. The devices produce a sustained voltage of around 0.5 volts across a 7-micrometre-thick film, with a current density of around 17 microamperes per square centimetre. We find the driving force behind this energy generation to be a self-maintained moisture gradient that forms within the film when the film is exposed to the humidity that is naturally present in air." The study also mentions that "connecting several devices linearly scales up the voltage and current to power electronics" and that their results "demonstrate the feasibility of a continuous energy-harvesting strategy that is less restricted by location or environmental conditions than other sustainable approaches." One of the electrical engineers, Jun Yao, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, stated that they are "literally making electricity out of thin air." They are calling it the "Air-gen" and it generates clean energy 24/7, thanks to the electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by Geobacter.
Note: As the article states, why do none of the truly "free" energy sources we keep hearing about never come to market? Explore a treasure trove of concise summaries of incredibly inspiring news articles which will inspire you to make a difference.
New research has shown that mushroom skins could provide a biodegradable alternative to some plastics used in batteries and computer chips, making them easier to recycle. Researchers from the Johannes Kepler University in Austria were working on flexible and stretchable electronics, with a focus on sustainable materials to replace non-degradable materials, when they made their discovery, published in the journal Science Advances. "There was a fair share of serendipity involved," Martin Kaltenbrunner ... co-author of the paper, told CNN. At the time, a member of the team had been looking at using fungus-derived materials for use in other areas. This work led to the latest study, which shows how Ganoderma lucidum mushroom skin could work as a substitute for the substrate used in electrical circuits. A substrate is the base of a circuit that insulates and cools the conductive metals sitting on top of it. Typically, they are made of non-degradable plastics, which are discarded after use. The mushroom ... forms a compact protective skin made of mycelium, a root-like network, to protect its growth medium (the wood). The skin has many properties that set it apart from other biodegradable materials, Kaltenbrunner said, "but most importantly, it can simply be grown from waste wood and does not need energy or cost intensive processing." "Our mycelium ... can last a long time if kept dry, but in just a standard household compost, it would degrade entirely within two weeks or less," he added.
In Wales, the average citizen uses almost three times their share of the world's resources. But Cassandra [Lishman] and her family are part of a groundbreaking scheme launched by the Welsh government in 2011 that aims to address that imbalance. The One Planet Development Policy (OPD) and its predecessor, Pembrokeshire's Policy 52, allow people to bypass tight planning laws and move to protected areas to live ecologically sustainable lifestyles. So far, 46 individual smallholdings have signed on to the programs, which require residents to sustain themselves using the resources available on land they inhabit. The policy aims to combat an array of problems: rising temperatures, soil degradation, rural depopulation, a rampant housing crisis and wasteful global supply chains. But ... by limiting consumption and allocating resources wisely, ecologically responsible development is possible, even in pristine environments. To qualify for the scheme, there are four requirements. First, each household must use only their global fair share of resources, which has been calculated by the Welsh government as equivalent to six acres of land. Second, applicants must show that within five years this land can fulfill 65 percent of their basic needs, including food, water, energy and waste. Third, they must come up with a zero-carbon house design using locally sourced and sustainable materials. Finally, they must set up a land-based enterprise to pay the sort of bills ... that can't be met with a subsistence lifestyle.
Co-Op City is amazing. A massive housing development on the eastern edge of the Bronx, it has its own schools, power plant, newspaper, even a planetarium. It was built by a clothing workers union and the United Housing Federation in the 1960s to provide affordable middle-class housing in New York City. From the beginning, it embraced a social justice mandate that included participatory self-government, ethnic diversity and a sharing of resources. Just 49 percent of New York City households have responded to the 2020 Census so far – well behind the national average of nearly 60 percent. At stake are potentially billions of dollars in desperately needed federal funds as well as seats in the House of Representatives. But not all Census tracts are created equal. In Co-Op City, the world's largest co-operative housing complex, with more than 15,000 apartments, residents are not only well ahead of the rest of the Bronx and of New York City – they also outpace much of the nation. Among Co-Op City's seven tracts, five exceed 70 percent in participating, and the others are not far behind – making "the city in a city" an outlier in the Bronx, where fewer than 40 percent in many tracts have responded to Census Bureau mailings. Noel Ellison, 67, general manager for Co-Op City's property management company, Riverbay Corporation, said the coronavirus crisis has galvanized residents, bringing an already tight community even closer. So did Co-Op City's unusual inclusiveness, he suggested.
Thomas Panek has completed 20 marathons, however, he made history on Sunday at the New York City Half Marathon. While visually impaired runners usually use human guides, Mr Panek became the first person to complete the race supported by guide dogs. A trio of Labradors - Westley, Waffle and Gus - each accompanied him for a third of the race. The team finished in two hours and 21 minutes. Mr Panek, who lost his sight in his early 20s, told CNN that while he appreciated the support of human volunteers, he missed the feeling of independence. "It never made sense to me to walk out the door and leave my guide dog behind when I love to run and they love to run," he said. "It was just a matter of bucking conventional wisdom and saying why not. In 2015, Mr Panek established the Running Guides programme which trains dogs to support runners. "The bond is really important. You can't just pick up the harness and go for a run with these dogs," Mr Panek told CNN. "You're training with a team no matter what kind of athlete you are, and you want to spend time together in that training camp." Each dog wears a special harness and set of running boots, to protect their paws. Before the race, Mr Panek told Time magazine that guide dogs give visually impaired people the freedom to "do whatever it is a sighted person does, and sometimes, even run a little faster than them".
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Important Note: Explore our full index to revealing excerpts of key major media news stories on several dozen engaging topics. And don't miss amazing excerpts from 20 of the most revealing news articles ever published.