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New York Squeezes Into Top 10 Least Obese States

obesityWe might still be able to slurp down a super-sized Big Gulp here in New York, but we —arguably—have a right to since a new poll has found that we are not the obese state. Mississippi takes the cake with a whopping 35.4% obese population.

Americans overall are continuing to live unhealthy lifestyles; they do not exercising as much as they should, while not eating enough healthy foods. The rate obesity has increased nationally since 2008. The rates were calculated from weight and height measurements (obsess= a BMI of 30 or >) of 178,072 adults living throughout the U.S. in 2013.

New York squeezed into the top ten list of states with the lowest obesity rates with a lighter obese population of just 24%. According to the Take Care New York 2012 report, the number of New Yorkers who drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage per day dropped to 28.2% in 2012, compared to the 35% in 2007. However, the research from this separate study found that we are still not eating enough fruits and vegetables.


The Gallup poll found that Montana ranked the least obese state with just 19.6%.

Following the fat Mississippi, West Virginia (33.45), Delaware (34.4%), Louisiana (32.7%), and Arkansas (32.3%) rounded out the top five.



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New Yorkers are becoming healthier

According to the Take Care New York 2012 report, New Yorkers are engaging in healthier lifestyles, resulting in an expectant lifespan increase to 80.9 years. New Yorkers are consuming less junk food, increasing their physical activity, and smoking less.

Mayor Bloomberg, as often criticized for having a nanny-state approach, has put an end to smoking in restaurants, bars, beaches and parks. There was a 2% decrease in smokers, as 15% of New York adults engage in the unhealthy habit.

Although Bloomberg’s soda ban was turned out and in appeal, the number of New Yorkers who drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage per day dropped to 28.2% in 2012, compared to the 35.% in 2007.

In 2004, the baseline of adults not eating fruits and vegetables the previous day was 14.1% (10.7% in low poverty). The five-year progress report revealed that this number has decreased to 12.5%.

Whether or not Bloomberg’s policies towards health is a factor in the overall increasing health of city, New Yorkers have positively become more health conscious. 

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Art showcases women have home in NYC

“Since art is the expression of beauty and beauty can be understood only in the form of the material elements of the true idea it contains, art has become almost uniquely feminine. Beauty is woman, and also art is woman.”

–      Rémy De Gourmont

SOHO20 Gallery continues to showcase the impressive and unique talent of female artists with free exhibits that include work by artists Sophia Peer, Mariangeles Soto-Diaz, and Elizabeth Bisbing available now until September 28.

Displayed on the right wall upon entry is Sophia Peer’s color photography collection titled “Series of Affair,” whose images fill the viewer’s eyes with what can be interpreted as a theme of emptiness.

The first image captures an empty bed with its canary yellow covers neatly tucked in. Hanging over the bed in this orderly set-up room with nightstands symmetrically on either side is a nightgown or housedress that an elderly woman would wear. This focal point garment on a hanger is dangled from a ceiling light fixture.

The second photograph shows an elderly women with short brown hair putting something into her mouth, one aging hand to lips, the other arm crossed around her waist. She wears a similar garment as seen in the first image and stares blankly off into the distance as she sits in a chair in a cluttered room. Although the room is full of random objects, it is the look in her eyes that is vacant.

The final photograph in this series shows an elderly man in classic blue jeans and a plaid shirt lying down on a couch. His moccasins lie under the coffee table, his belt drapes over it. One wrinkly hand is placed on the men’s stomach, while the other forms a “V,” tucked between the nape of his neck and the sofa. He wears a frown and his half-closed, drooping eyes stares off into the distance as if limberly living in a memory.

Peer also displays a 120-minute video, “Rock-Paper-Scissors” (2011) that is a performance art piece. The video shows Peer’s hand tracing the outlines of square and rectangle shapes such as photographs and books with a black colored pencil onto a white canvass.

The two new exhibits are “Color Felt” by Mariangeles Soto-Diaz and “More Life Than Still” by Elizabeth Bisbing. Soto-Diaz’s abstraction art links color to emotion. She used social media platforms to ask a community of friends, family, peers, and the public to translate certain feelings to specific colors, where she then created abstract paint images.

by artist Mariangeles Soto-Diaz
by artist Mariangeles Soto-Diaz

Soto-Diaz writes, “color and emotion are vast; both appear solid, yet are ultimately elusive, challenging out desire for universals.”

Artist Elizabeth Bisbing displays her collection “More Life Than Still,” which features delicate flowers and weeds created with cut paper. Some pieces include drawing with mini collage-like elements.

“Daylilies” from June 2012 is made up skinny green stems with both deep and vibrant orange pedals, and hints of rustic reds and yellowing greens.

“Choke Vine,” an invasive weed with psychedelic seeds, includes twisting vines that appear to be suffocating stem over a red background. The innocently colored pink and white bulb of petals bows down as if in mourning.

The collection features labels with paradoxical elements of fact and fiction. There are medicinal facts on some of the plants and weeds, which take root in reality. We also see fantasy as seen in the paper cut of wild thyme that in folklore was used in concoctions to enable one to see fairies.

Elizabeth Bisbing Bisbing’s stop-motion animation of Little Betty Jane brings her wildlife collection to life. As stated in the press release, “In these episodes distinguished by a disturbing humor- the wild side of nature turns into a metaphor for subliminal fears of mortality and internalized traumas.”

After Little Betty Jane is darkly swallowed by water and plant, Bisbing lightly ends the film with “No paper dolls were harmed in the process of making this film.”

New York City resident Bisbing has been a member of the Soho20 Gallery since 2002 and has had four solo shows and participated in several group shows at the gallery.

Located at 547 West 27 Street #301 in Chelsea, SOHO20 Gallery has been a platform for emerging female artists since the 1970s.

The space has given more than 200 artists the opportunity for exhibition, but also offers a mentor program for emerging beginners to learn from more established artists.

SOHO20 Gallery is one of the oldest organizations in the United Stated built to address the under-representation of women both in museums and galleries.

Gallery director Jenn Dierdorf shared that the non-profit is dedicated to supporting women in the arts, in one way, by debuting new work to for live audiences every Thursday for the rest of this month at 7 p.m. “And there will be wine,” Dierdorf added.

The Gallery has and continues to draw public awareness that there is a place for female artists in New York City.

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Shaping our students: Community Schools

By: Lauren Keating

In the past few years, New York has begun to see a rise in community schools. A community school is a hub that is a partnership between the school and community resources. Not only are students being educated, but they also have access to both physical and mental health services, tutoring and afterschool programs.

A community school is a hub for families and engages the community to be active members. With this strategy of organizing the resources of the community around the student, the student will be more likely to succeed. Community schools include strong core instructional programs to assure students meet academic standards, while expanding learning opportunities for both the student and their families, as well as offering health and social services. As a result of integrated resources, student learning is improved and strong families and healthier communities can exist.

The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) uses a model that consists of a developmental triangle. There are three sides of the triangle, where the child is at the center and around the child is the family and the community. One side of the triangle the CAS is not responsible for, the core construction of programs, is handled by the Department of Education. However, CAS tries to influence that as much as possible. The academic program at community schools focuses on real-world knowledge and community problem solving.

CAS is responsible for the other two sides of the triangle, which includes expanded learning opportunities by afterschool programs, and comprehensive support services, which includes physical and mental health services. In order for a school to be effective, there must be integration of all these elements.

The CAS was founded in 1853 with the goal to assist the needs of poor children in New York City. The Children’s Aid Society has partnered with the New York City Department of Education since 1992, Washington Heights being the location for the first middle school. Since then, they have opened 24 schools throughout the years; however, only 19 are open now due to lack of funding. The locations of the schools include: Washington Heights, Harlem, the South Bronx and Staten Island.

These community schools receive funding from CAS, as well as city, state, and private funding. As a partner with the Department of Education, CAS is giving services in exchange for space. CAS provides full services to the flagship community school, Salomé Ureña de Henríquez. Not only is this location a community schools, but includes charter schools are well, as it is the colocation of I.S. 218 Salomé Ureña de Henríquez (grades 6-11), M.S. 293 City College Academy of the Arts (grades 6-8), and M.S. 322 (grades 6-8).

These services CAS offers at the Campus includes: after school, Saturday, holiday and summer programs; medical, dental, mental health and preventive services; parent, family and community engagement and development opportunities. These include: a family resource room, vocational and educational trainings, adult education, and advocacy and leadership opportunities.

Having full services offered is beneficial to a student’s learning. If a child is sick, no longer does their class time have to suffer. At the Salome Urena de Henriquez Campus, located in Washington Heights, a boy without panic in his eyes sits in a wheelchair and is pushed down the hallway that is full of bulletins such as one with pictures from a recent trip to China that included parents, and is taken into the “Student Wellness Center.”

Instead of being pulled from the classroom and having to wait in a hospital, the student can get medical attention right at the school. If a student cannot read the blackboard, they could get glasses if optician services are offered. If they have suffering from personal problems and need someone to talk to, they just have to walk into the clinic and discuss their issues.

“Teachers don’t have to worry. They can focus on educating,” stated Maria Astudillo, the Deputy Director of Mental Health for The Children’s Aid Society. Emergency room visits reduce classroom hours, while can be financially straining. “It doesn’t produce anything positive.”

By offering health services, the school uses all of its resources to encourage a healthier student.  “A community school organizes resources from the community with open relationships and extended services in order to bring results for student success,” stated CAS Director of External Affairs and Communications, Hersilia Méndez.

With a grant from New York State, the mental health clinic at the Salomé Ureña de Henríquez Campus was able to hire social workers that screen patients for suicide, depression and other issues. However, many of the parents seek help as well. The CAS also receives money for family planning services to combat high rates of ten pregnancy and sexual abuse. The clinic also focuses on trauma treatment for students while preparing parents for discussing sensitive topics. Because 90% of the Campus’ population is of Dominican decent, the Campus has hired staff with similar background that can connect to parents culturally.

Poor families in particular have a lack of knowledge in terms of physical health and mental health. “Mental health is a necessity, but we don’t focus on it. As a society, we focus more on physical and spiritual health,” stated Astudillo. It is in the “Family Room” where workshops are provided on topics such as anxiety. At the Salomé Ureña de Henríquez Campus, 222 students were serviced in mental health, whereas 126 of those went on to long-term counseling this year.

While support services are important in a community school model, expanded learning opportunities are equally essential. Most community schools are open all day and well into the evening, six days per week, year-round.

parents summer camp 2011There are holiday and summer programs offered in order to prevent loss of learning time. “Research shows during the summer, students loose one month of reading and math. This in particular affects poor children,” said Méndez. “Usually for poor kids don’t have the opportunities,” she added.

Only 300 of the 1400 middle school kids in Washington Heights attend after school programs because of lack of funding. However, the CAS makes sure that those students in need of the programs the most are the ones who seek the resources. “We have a habit of thinking of universal targeting; we think that all children need to have everything. In reality, there are some children who need more than others and also there are limited resources. We really need to target hose who need it the most,” Méndez stated.

However, every student that goes to the school “has access to the medical services, dental services, and the parental engagement program,” she stated.

Salomé Ureña de Henríquez captures the parents in action in both the morning and after school. “We believe that if the parents are not engaged than nothing will happen. One of our main objectives is to work and develop the leaderships of parents both in the school and in their own homes because we see immigrant parents and they come here and don’t speak English. Their children are English speakers so the child becomes the parent,” stated Méndez.

Resources for parents are also offered in community schools, which are important and enrich the family. Family and community engagement and development opportunities offered by CAS include: a family resource room, vocational and educational trainings, adult education, and advocacy and leadership opportunities.

Isaac Smith is one of those people who took advantage of the opportunity to be a leader. Smith has been the PTA President at the CCAA Academy (the 293 branch) for two years. This will be his last year because he wants to give other people a chance to have the leadership opportunity. As a PTA President, Smith as had the opportunity to be a leader and advocate. Smith and the PTA would hold meetings with the administration where parents can attend, which allowed parents can have a say in the school.

Being an education advocate comes out of Smith’s over twelve-year experience as an educator. As a special education teacher and also as parent, he noticed that children need participation from both parents and teachers so that they will be able to have a positive and successful school experience.

father's clubSmith believes that there needs to be more parent participation in their children’s education. At the Salome Urena de Henriquez Campus, Smith would organize events for the parents and touch base with them since many are Latino and do not speak English.

These parents can’t communicate very well and Smith regularly comes to the Campus to have conversations with them, addressing concerns that are relevant to the student. Some would say that Smith is like a “mini Dr. Phil.”

“Parent involvement is the most important thing because that child knows that their mother and father are there for him one hundred percent and there is nothing he or she can’t do,” Smith stated.

There are so many children that come from broken homes and lack that structure and end up dropping out of school. Smith said that just as much there are success stories there is the other side of the coin and as a parent and educator he feels that is it so important to invest in children.

Parents become “absolute leaders,” as Méndez calls them, at the Campus through adult education programs such as ESL, GED, and citizenship, to name a few, that take place in the “Family Room.”

“The biggest problem is parent participants. We carry that message to the family center where the parents from the three different schools come and discuss programs,” said Smith.

Across from the “Student Wellness Center” is the Campus’ “Family Room,” that is hard to miss with its fluorescent neon sign. This family center is the home of the Fathers Club, a unique place where fathers can lean on each other for support. Events and workshops are often held such as a discussion about raising young ladies through the workshop “How to Understand Women.”

“When we are in there we talk about so many things that time flies,” Smith said about the club. The father’s are taught skills such as computer and language. “Believe if or not, they do chess. That’s a big thing. Chess is the game of kings.”

Smith believes the Center is a wonderful resource. “We come from diverse backgrounds. Some of us are educators, some of us are laborers, and some of us are migrant workers.” Smith thinks the experience of having a diverse community and for that community to come together in a positive way is a wonderful thing. The group allows what Smith said a more human way of dealing with issues and being proactive and invested in education for themselves and their children.

Family room at the Salomé Ureña de Henríquez campus.
Family room at the Salomé Ureña de Henríquez campus.

“It doesn’t matter with whom you sit with, but the fact of the matter is you can sit with somebody, talk about your concerns, agree to disagree at times, and come out with a smile on your face,” said Smith.

“We have a responsibility to our children, and not only fathers but mothers too, need to step up for our children because they are the ones that will be holding the candle of the future. We have to step it up now as much as we can to be able to pave a decent way for them for the future,” he added.

Evidence that the community school is working can be found in the rate of attendance.  The 2009-2012 attendance rate at M.S. 293 was 95.2%, I.S. 218 90.9%, and M.S, 322 91.1%. The more time students are in school, they greater chance they have at succeeding.

“Public education is the backbone of democracy. We have an obligation to change it for the better; it’s a cause. For immigrants and colored people, community schools are the best option,” stated Mendez.

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The heart of the Coney Island’s Polar Bear Club beats on

Coney Island Polar Bear Club (Winter 2012)
Coney Island Polar Bear Club (Winter 2012)

By: Lauren Keating

The ocean inhales and drags its liquid contents backward as its waves jump high and then crash to the shore with the ocean’s exhale. There is something about the ocean that is spiritual, but perhaps it is just the spirit of Coney Island.

The freshness of life fills the air, as laughter from the members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club is blown out to sea. While most New Yorkers stay bundled up, beating the cold, the members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club bare all, taking a weekly Sunday swim from November to April every year.

Coney Island, the historic Brooklyn neighborhood, with its fantastical and nostalgic feel, is home to many annual festivals and events. One ritual, the weekly Polar Bear swim, which has been around for over one-hundred years, is no exception.

Coney Island Polar Bear plunges into cold water.
Coney Island Polar Bear plunges into cold water.

Plunging into New York’s bone-chilling waters during the winter appears to heal the bones of the members of Coney Island’s Polar Bear Club. Not only do the members partake of the experience in a ritualistic way, but they are also driven by the health benefits they receive from the cold swim.

Although winter swimming can be hard for some to conquer, the rush one feels is powerful, making the old come together with the young, resulting in a feeling of being alive. “It’s sometimes hard to go into the cold water, particularly when the sun is not shining or when it’s windy, but I know that I will always feel great afterwards, and that is the motivating force,” Queens resident, Therese Caserta stated. As if the ocean was some sort of Fountain of Youth, this climatic feeling the members feel rejuvenates, refreshes, and revitalizes mind, body and soul. “After a few minutes, this high rushes over me and I feel very happy and very tranquil and at peace.”

Dr. Fred Notarnicola, who specializes in internal medicine, commented of this “high,” stating, “When you go into cold water, the brain releases endorphins which block pain receptors, so you do not feel the pain. You get a rush of adrenaline. This increases heart rate, blood pressure, and to some degree, boosts metabolism.”

Caserta, who is in her early thirties, joined the club in mid-January of 2009. After suffering from health complications for years, this younger-generation Bear says that release of endorphins and adrenaline makes her “feel good” and improves her mood dramatically. This is important to her after suffering from epilepsy her entire life. After being treated with multiple drugs since the age of sixteen, the drugs became unsuccessful at providing her with a seizure-free life.

“I had a Vagus Nerve Stimulator implanted in 2001, but it, too, was unsuccessful and, in fact, made my seizures worse. All of 2005 was a blur of testing for me to see if I qualified for brain surgery. It was decided that I was an eligible surgical candidate and I went on to have the VNS removed in February of 2006, followed by a craniotomy in March and a right temporal lobectomy in April of 2006. It was the defining year of my life,” Caserta stated.

Therese Castera enjoying the cold water.
Therese Caserta enjoying the cold water.

She had wanted to be a Polar Bear since she was a young girl around age six and saw the New Year’s Day swim on television. After feeling healthy from a winter swim, it seemed joining the club was a perfect fit. Now a religious member of the ritual swim, Caserta stated, “Some people go to church. We go to the ocean.” As seagulls soar off into the horizon, their cawing is like the tolling of a bell as a procession of members began to anoint themselves with the ocean. Spirituality flourishes during these afternoons, as the waves continue to crash effortlessly as thoughts.

Polar“The club roster is consistently growing. Most polar bears recruit people in their everyday lives and the media attention we get also draws people in. We completely believe in what we do as having health benefits and as a very ‘holy’ experience. We want everybody to share in this,” Caserta claimed.

The 108-year-old club had about 205 members in 2011, as president of the club, Dennis Thomas set out on a mission to make the club feel more at home. “The Coney Island Polar Bear Club is an interesting mix of people who may not socialize anywhere else. Our membership includes all trades people, lawyers, teachers, hipsters, vegans, kids covered with tattoos, a really wide cross-section of New York, retired people and kids in their 20s,” Thomas commented.

Even the media’s perception of the club has changed. “We used to appear on the local news for, say, 10 seconds before the weather forecast with the anchors basically laughing and calling us crazy. The past few years the media has given us a different form of attention. I think it has to do not only with the ways the club has grown, but what I think they’re seeing is the enthusiasm of the members, the ‘second family’ feel, the diversity of the membership (we aren’t a bunch of old fat guys on the beach anymore),” noted Thomas.Polar Bear.group2

Caserta stressed that the Polar Bears are her family. “I look forward to being with them every Sunday and it helps boring New York City winters go by quickly. The ocean is therapy and makes everything better whether it’s a physical ailment or I’m feeling mentally blah,” the New York Aquarium worker added.

In addition to Caserta’s surgeries concerning her epilepsy, she also endured a gastro bypass surgery in January of 2011. Her body was left tender, as medication didn’t improve the severity of the pain. “The doctors did the surgery laproscopically and I had a total of six holes where they actually put the instruments right through your abdominal muscles to get to your stomach. It’s painful and hard to move. The cold water actually helped numb the pain better than prescription painkillers.”

Surprisingly, her doctors encouraged her to keep on winter swimming. Dr. Notarnicola explained why. “If you have wounds and they are not healed yet, the cold has a protective effect of reducing the swelling, which allow the tissues to heal faster.”

“My surgeon did tell me it was okay to swim with the wounds because the cold water in January does not harbor bacteria the way warm water does so the risk of infection is very low,” Caserta added.

Caserta’s medical struggles continued after having a car accident this past year. Her doctors were supportive of the cold-water swimming because it was therapeutic for her injured back. “The cold reduces the inflammation and being submerged in water takes the weight and pressure off of the joints.”

As the Coney Island Bears swim in arctic New York waters, in Beijing, China, the trend of winter swimming has also been on a rise. What seems like another world away, in fact exactly 6,847 miles east of New York, David Li De and other Chinese residents have been taking their own polar plunges in the natural rivers and lakes.

Going for a dip in the freezing waters in Beijing is a year-round activity, as this form of aerobic exercise is popular. Li De is among those who wish to push the winter swimming movement. His goals include creating better conditions and more opportunities for winter swimming in Beijing.

Li De began testing the icy waters in 1997 after being diagnosed with HIV. As far as he knows, he has been the only HIV patient in all of Beijing, and possible all of China, who has no complications or any further developments of his illness.

In May 1997, Li De, a seemingly healthy man, decided to donate blood. He admitted that he wasn’t aware of the status of his health prior to donating, but he was not feeling sick nor did he have any complications that would have made him cautious or nervous. He was then told that he was, in fact, HIV positive, news that blew him out of the water. “I was very shocked and I couldn’t believe it. After nearly three-months or so, I slowly became adjusted and accepted reality,” Li De stated.

He met Dr. Ren Lie Ping who claimed winter swimming could cure Li De’s illness, believing that this sport is a good way to enhance the immune system. Like Caserta, Li De was also advised and encouraged to keep swimming in the bone-chilling waters.

Dr. Ping claims that swimming in the cold water is common amongst Chinese folk, but the key is that there is a shortage of research funds. Li De aspires to educate people about how his condition has remained in remission. “I would like to participate in the World Winter Swimming Association Competition held every two years and let the world know that I had HIV, and through winter swimming, I achieved positive results.”

“I never lost faith while conquering HIV. Every day we swam in the cold water and cold wind outside. I could not persevere without faith. So now my body is in very good condition with no symptoms. So I suggest all the people join this sport, especially HIVers,” Li De stated. “Winter swimming is a kind of sport that is very powerful for physical and mental health.”

Being a firm believer in healthy lifestyles and natural healing, Benarr Macfadden, also known as the “Father of Physical Culture,” founded the Coney Island Polar Bear Club in 1903. “Weakness is a crime; don’t be a criminal,” is a slogan he is reported to have given birth to. The members of the Polar Bear Club are far from weak, although many members are still from an older generation, and many suffer from health complications.

Luis Padilla leads the Polar Bear pre-swim warm up.
Luis Padilla leads the Polar Bear pre-swim warm up.

Club member Luis Padilla showed no fear when the members proceeded to plunge. As some members tiptoed near the receding shoreline, testing the water as if toes were thermometers, others, like Padilla, jumped right in as if the water had finally called them home. If one believes the body is a temple, then this swim makes the body a Mecca of enlightenment; it is becoming one with nature in its simplest form.

Padilla can often be found leading the Bears to their warm-up exercise, where the members gather around a circle to get their body temperatures rising as they do some jumping jacks before diving in. An outsider can see this as representing their unity.

Padilla is a seasoned swimmer with the Bears and he stated that only about seven of the old-timers he knew are left. After staying active in the water from five to seven minutes this 31-year member claimed that after his first swim, his body had begun to grow healthier. Padilla suffered for years with back pain and arthritis before being convinced by his brother Carlos to dive into the ritual. “That water is good for you,” stated Carlos, as he was advised to “jump around to keep warm.”

With his prominent Spanish accent, Padilla recalled, “That night I slept really well because I didn’t feel the pain.” His health complications began to subside.

After suffering from lung problems, Padilla was advised by doctors to stay active. He took a liking to winter swimming and decided to remain an active member. Not only Padilla, but also dozens of members of the club stated that after suffering from joint pains, arthritis and sore muscles, they found that the intensity of their symptoms have decreased. They claim that the cold swim releases the body from all pains, as in the water’s cold temperature the swimmer’s bodies become numb, easing the stress in the body. “It’s like medicine,” Padilla stated.

The medical opinion of Dr. Notarnicola differs from what some members believe. “If you have arthritis, the cold numbs the pain in that moment. However, afterwards, they can feel more pain,” the doctor asserted.

He said that muscle spasms will worsen later for those suffering from back, neck or joint Polar Bear.airpains. He does not agree that the numbing effect the members feel during the swim is a positive thing for those suffering from this disease.

It is important that those with arthritis are advised about these and other risks. If not monitored properly, the swim can become dangerous, as members could also be at risk of drowning after feeling numb for too long. For safety precautions, the club hires lifeguards to survey in case of an emergency.

Dr. Notarnicola believes that winter swimming has at least one concrete medical benefit. Mother Nature may have offered humanity some biologic gift, as winter swimming increases white blood cells, which in turn help make the immune system stronger.

“If you are elderly and you are very healthy, you don’t have diabetes, you don’t have high blood pressure, you don’t have heart disease, the cold water could definitely help boost your immune system.”

Whether this medical advantage is some kind of freak of nature or not, this benefit is what allows the members to remain healthy and prevents them from catching the common cold after being exposed in cold temperatures for up to 15 minutes.

“The cold water helps boost your white blood cells. Anytime you get attacked by bacteria or viruses, your white blood cells produce antibodies. The antibodies attack either the bacteria or the virus and they kill both. It’s a mechanism of defense. The immune system is essential to the body,” stated Dr. Notarnicola.

Polar Bear.group3Joining a brotherhood of Bears for a polar plunge seems to heal the body one swim at a time, or at least it increases immunity, white blood cells, and gives the Bear an endorphin high. “I joined the club because of doctor’s orders,” one Polar Bear shouted in the Education Hall of the NY Aquarium. But whether new members of a younger generation are joining the Bears for health reasons or to feel that contagious family unit feeling, thanks to alpha Bear Thomas, membership is certainly on a rise.

“Part of my own attitude is that the Coney Island Polar Bear Club is part of the long history of Coney Island. We’re the oldest living landmark at Coney Island; we’ve been there longer than the parachute drop, the Wonder Wheel and even Nathan’s. So being a part of the club is participating in the history of Coney Island and continuing it into the future,” Thomas reported.

President of the Polar Bear Club, Dennis Thomas soaks in the winter ritual.
President of the Polar Bear Club, Dennis Thomas soaks in the winter ritual.

There may be something spectacular about the essence of Coney Island, and the Bears are no different. As the sounds of the waves crashing to the shore continue to fill the sounds on the Coney Island beach, the healthy hearts of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club continue to beat on as well.

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Who will pick up the cost of Hurricane Sandy residential damage?

Broken tree in Bayside, Queens

Hurricane Sandy smashed New York and surrounding areas with an overall death toll now at more than 110 fatalities. As of Sunday, about 120,000 customers in New York and New Jersey still struggling to rise above the darkness as they still remain without power.

In an attempt to speed up recovery efforts for those displaced from the super storm and the nor ‘eastern that stuck after, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg  announced “NYC Rapid Repair” on Friday.

The program began yesterday, whereas the mayor is trying to get people back into their homes in a timely fashion. The program will allow those whose homes were damaged in the storm receive home repairs from city contractors.  All that the individual has to do is to  go to a city restoration center, get a Federal Emergency Management Agency number and sign up.

Bloomberg said in a press conference, “You have to have a FEMA ID number. The FEMA ID number will be given you regardless of whether you have insurance, regardless of how much damage you have, regardless of whether you have a mortgage.”

“Just call FEMA, they will give you a number and then you have to just ask for the assistance,” Bloomberg continued.

After seeking the aid, a contractor will assess any damaged and as Bloomberg stated, “within a short time, the work will be done.”

Who will foot the bill? Bloomberg expects FEMA to pay for most of the repairs.

This may come to a relief to those who are  trying to pick up the pieces after the disaster. This also can help ease some worries about getting scammed from contracting companies. Since the city is behind this, people will be able to trust that they won’t be getting ripped off- which would cause insult to injury after already loosing so much.

Staten Island resident and volunteer of 192 Ebbitts Street, Gina Kohm told the Excelsior that the neighborhood of New Dorp was experiencing a problem with contractors from other states coming in with scams.

Although the contractors on Staten Island have donated so much of their time gutting houses, bring gas and pumps, out-of-staters have approached victims claiming that if the person hands over $4500 in cash up front, a team will come to do repairs. The overall cost they estimate will be $9000.

Kohm spoke of the con artists claiming 30 men will work on the site, when in reality there are only  5 guys who are just coming in to take advantage of whole blocks of people.

“There is sick twisted people out there. And it’s not Staten Island doing it; it’s people coming out to take advantage of people,” she told the Excelsior.

“[People] Their vulnerable now; they’re going to fall for anything.”

Now with “Rapid Repairs,” hopefully the victims of Hurricane Sandy can finally get the help they need to mend their broken homes and lives in an honest and timely manner.

To Contact FEMA, call 1 (800) 621-FEMA (3362)

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Hurricane Sandy was Photoshopped

Photo taken of Bay Parkway, Brooklyn, NY during Hurricane Sandy. The image was popular on Instagram.

New Yorkers have experienced the wrath of Sandy’s scorn.  While some took the forecast seriously, stocking up in supplies, or evacuated if residing in Zone A, others tried to weather through the storm. The intensity of the storm was well reported, perhaps some New Yorkers should have took this natural disaster seriously. But no matter how prepared we thought we were, many New Yorkers were shocked to experience these life-threatening conditions.

Although some parts of each borough suffered from severe damages caused by heavy winds, rain and flooding, other neighborhoods were able to push through it. Mayor Bloomberg reported that about 7,000  had fallen down in city parks, as he closed parks “until further notice.” The trees that tumbled over in New York and New Jersey residential areas have resulted in fatalities.  33 people were killed in the U.S as of late Tuesday during the  two-day storm, with damages being estimated at $20 billion in New York. There were 67 fatalities in the Caribbean.

The hurricane was devastating, as fires broke out in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and there was a ConEd exposition in Manhattan. The winds caused a building to rip open and even bent a crane.

President Obama approved disaster declarations for New York and New Jersey. They will be  eligible for federal assistance for rebuilding.  Mr. Obama said,“All of us have been shocked by the force of mother nature.”

Because of such hazardous conditions, New Yorkers and those living in the radius of the storm, had been stuck in their houses. The lucky ones that had power, followed every breaking news moment on social media sites. However, more than 8.2 million households were without power in 17 states as far as Michigan- about 2 million were in New York.
The Borough President of Brooklyn, Marty Markowitz said in a statement, “During my tours of the hardest-hit Brooklyn neighborhoods yesterday and again today, it was apparent that the devastation is so widespread and overwhelming that it’s in the best interest of all of our residents for a more significant National Guard presence to supplement the great work being done by our brave—but overwhelmed—first responders, including our amazing NYPD and FDNY.”
Since Monday evening, Facebook was bombarded with people posting updates wishing safety to all those effected by the hurricane. Social media played a crucial role in this storm, since family and friends could check on each other and receive news updates from phones, even when the power went out. There was timeliness in the news feeds and many posted  and shared pictures, documenting the damage and debris.
Although in this day-in-age the internet and social media played a vital role in spreading information, dozens of images began circulating that were obviously Photoshopped. As some Facebookers began to share the photos, some took the powerful images seriously, even though some included scenes from the epic disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow. Although these images can look interesting to the  creative eye and is a display of skill from those using such programs, the naive eye can easily think these images are real. With the power of the viral internet, these images are spread and can put a news event not in context. If we are going to use multimedia when reporting an event, it is our duty to report them accurately. However, creativity should be encouraged, but the artist should at least acknowledge the tinkering.
The internet and multimedia is both essential tools for spreading news, but can also lead to some form of propaganda. The images are intriguing- that much is true, so here are some of the best Photoshopped Sandy images that have been spreading since Monday.
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NY Yankees steal bases and our hearts

The Yankees recently broke most New Yorker’s hearts after losing to the Detroit Tigers (8-1), in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, striking out the chance to make it to the World Series. Fans were disappointed again by the beloved team, the richest and most accomplished team in baseball.

General Manager Brian Cashman said. “We feel we let the fans down in New York and each other at the same time.”

The team began to play with fan’s emotions when team captain Derek Jeter injured himself in Game 1, ending his season with a broken ankle and breaking our hearts. Jeter rolled over his knee after trying to get to the ball in the 12th inning. After stayed down for a few moments he was carried off the field. The dreams of fans we carried away after wondering if the team could pull off wins without him. Our dreams became a nightmare-reality when this prophecy ultimately came true.

However, as the saying goes, there is no I in team and the rest of the players also had to take responsibility for the post-season fails. “We didn’t swing the bats,” said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi. “It wasn’t one guy, it wasn’t two guys, it was a bunch of guys. . . . Collectively we weren’t able to get it done.”

Even though the Yankees weren’t top dogs (insert A Rod scandal here) this year, the team has always been in New Yorkers hearts and this love affair will certainly never fade away. The Yankees has originally called the Highlanders and became member of the American League in 1903. In 1912, pinstripes appeared on their uniforms, a fashion statement that would become the most famous uniform design in sports. A year later, the team would change to the iconic name we know now as the Yankees.

The team would go on to create history starting with purchasing Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox in 1921. On Apr. 18, 1923, Yankee Stadium opened and they had a 4-1 win against the Red Sox’s, Babe Ruth hitting the Stadium’s first home run.

The Yankees star players have included not only the Babe, but these legends-just to name a few:

  • Yogi Berra, one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.
  • Joe DiMaggio, the player who holds an unbreakable record of a 56-game hitting streak.
  • Mickey Mantle, the Triple Crown winner of 1956.
  • Reggie Jackson, who in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, hit three home runs off of three different Dodgers pitchers.
  • Alex Rodriguez, who became the youngest player ever to hit 500 and 600 home runs.
  •  Derek Jeter, the Rookie of the Year in 1996, captain since 2003 and all-time hits leader, who has hit his 3,000 home runs on July 9, 2011.
  •  Mariano Rivera who set the all-time saves record on Sept. 19, 201.


With their track history, the Yankees can do no wrong to New Yorkers, even when their iconic stadium was moved (across the street from their Bronx home) in 2009. That is, besides high food prices sold at concession stands that include $15 for a Lobel’s steak sandwich, $13 for a beer and a whopping $6.50 for ice cream. However, with extreme talent and relentless drive, the Yankees are a team that have inspired multiple generations. By swinging bats, throwing balls and sliding to home plate, the Yankees have brought families and friends together in celebration over an all-American tradition.

The Yankees have 40 pennants and 27 titles under their belt, but to their fans they hold the supreme title-the greatest team in MLB.

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Bloomberg to exit: Quinn may enter mayoral position

The reign of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will soon be coming to an end, as his third term comes to a conclusion. With this chapter of our city closing, a fresh and blank page lies ahead of us. The mayoral elections will be held in November 2013 and although City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn has not officially declared her intention to run in the race, she is seen as a front-runner.

If Quinn, a Democrat, were to win the political race, the 46-year-old would make history, becoming the first female and the first openly homosexual candidate to take over the reins. She is the director of the Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, working with the NYPD against hate crimes.

Elected Speaker in 2006, Quinn since 1996 represented Manhattan’s lower west side as a member of the City Council. She invested in growing job sectors such as health care and food manufacturing.

According to The New York City Council,  Quinn and led legislation concerning the environmental movement, as it was both unique and one of a kind in the nation. She required manufacturers recycle electronic waste, and passed a bill establishing a plastic bag recycling program. Quinn has also passed bills to improve energy efficiency in large commercial buildings.

Quinn stood up for women’s rights, exposing anti-abortion clinics that falsely promoted themselves as family clinics. She also legislated against harassment at reproductive health clinics while arranging a public/private partnership that would give free HIV testing for tens of thousands of patients.

Quinn has the support of Mayor Bloomberg, who has recently passed the bill that would limit New Yorker’s from purchasing sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, sports venues and the like, although some political analysts say she should distance herself from him after his declining support.

William Thomson Jr.,Bill De Blasio and John Liu are also talked about contenders for the mayoral race.

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New Yorkers make farming their passion

Living among the steel and skyscrapers, New Yorkers might think farming just simply isn’t a way of life here. When shopping for our food, many purchase chicken from brands like Tyson and National Beef Packing Co., probably never wondering where our food really is coming from. Although the lands of green pasture seem so far away, many might not be aware that there are plenty of local farmers here in New York.

In the world of major corporations running the show, like the GMO conglomerate Monsanto, it is important to know where our food comes from. Even though we live in a major city, that doesn’t mean we should settle on the health and wellness of our food. Factory farming is not only bad for the animals,  it is also bad for us and the farmer. Animals are often treated under poor conditions. They are often pumped with hormones and antibiotics, even when they are not sick. Because their systems become susceptible to bacteria after being immune from the antibiotics, we can get sick from the illness they could be carrying. Factoring farming is also bad for the environment, polluting the air and areas around the factories.  Who suffers the most is the local farmer who put their blood, sweat and tears into this way of life and are side-changed.

Would you trust those who won’t even properly label our food? Instead, we should be supporting our local farmers and if we care not only about our bodies, but for the environment we live in, we should be following a slogan used by the Slow Food Movement to aim for “good, clean, fair” food. (Slow Food Movement signs were displayed by Jeffersonville, NY.)

Farm life is indeed close to home, the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens both having functional farms. But just a few short hours away, the upstate region of New York is abundant with farm life. Maybe more importantly, the farmers embrace this way of life and while some live this lifestyle as an occupation, others do it simply for the love of it.

Along with his family, Jim Hughson, a lifelong resident of the Idyllic town of Jeffersonville, NY, operates one of the countries most recognized Excavation and Sanitation firms. He continues to employ many local individuals, even during this challenging economy. His immediate family still remains fully active in the farming business, over the mountainside. His mother, Helen and twin sister Hazel have been recognized as the County’s oldest siblings at 94. They drive into town daily.

The sounds and smell of being on any farm is quite awakening to the typical city nostril. For farmers, this becomes unnoticeable because of growing up and working in this lifestyle.

Jim Hughson works in the construction business as well as dabbling in excavation and sanitation. He is also the owner Silvio’s, the Jeffersonville Inn restaurant. Although he has a day job, in addition to all those responsibilities, Hughson also runs a farm. He does this not for the money, or because this he what he needs to do to provide for his family, but because farming is his passion.  Hughson believes that getting on a tractor and being alone outdoors can put the mind at peace, something that is therapeutic. 

As a city dweller tends to picture farms the way we see them in movies – the typical red barn that lies near the house where a family rises before the crack of dawn to collect eggs from the chicken coop, the whole farm closely structured together with the family right in the middle of it. For Hughson, this is not the case. Located on the other side of the mountain that is draped with trees baring rusted copper and golden leaves is Hughson’s family house. But minutes away is the land he owns land that is big enough for miniature horses, chickens, cows and pigs to roam around.

The first noticeable aspect of all the animal’s temperaments was that they were happy. They appeared to be liberated. They had the freedom to roam around the property, some looking like nomads, others isolated in peace.

That was until one removes eggs from the chicken coop, momma hens clucking in mourning, the egg warm after her tender loving care. The chickens and roosters were not caged up like prisoners and enjoyed afternoon strolls along the property. The cows, although were fenced in for obvious safety and tending to purposes had plenty of room to wander down hill or to stay close to calves that were unrestricted. They communicated by call and response methods, an angry “Moo!” hollered by one, followed by a collective and no in sync echo. While some cows seemed aggressive towards an outsider, it was as if they were only protecting their land. The baby calves wobbled in the dirt, all having their own personalities. One specifically resting next to a pig-pen was a ham. The approximately three-month old calf foamed at the mouth with excitement, sticking its slug like, greyish tongue out for shameless licks. Drool dropped down the mouth and her head bobbed pleasingly while being stroked.

One could tell these animals are loved, even if they one day would be dinner. This puts a fresh perspective on where our food comes from. Hughson uses the products of his farm for himself and his family and does not supply food in mass production. He also has small corn crops, but this specific farm is strictly a passion for this man, not a cash cow. However, his brother still remains to be a full fledged, functioning farmer. Although the existence of many local farmers has greatly diminish, Sullivan Count, NY, is a typical reminder of how America once was.

Compared to the city mice with green thumbs nursing mint leaves and the like in apartment fire escapes, the country folk take farming as not only a way of life, but as essential and meaningful part in their lives. One can’t get more organic than products coming straight from the farm itself. According to “The Old Farmer’s 2013 Almanac” by Robert B. Thomas, “An overwhelming 97 percent of the farms and ranches were still family owned as of 2009, but this figure doesn’t make include the small-scale growers who produce food in their own backyards and\or in community plots to save money and improve their health.”

While living in the big city, we have enough problems to worry about. Take care of your health and remember the local farmers who help subsidize your next meal might just be coming from kind-hearted, dedicated  individuals like Jim Hughson.