Author Archives: Jeff Meade

Carrying the Burden of Stress

Jul 7, 2014, 11:36 AM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Forum at Harvard School of Public Health: The Health Burden of Stress, and What We Can Do About It. Presented in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NPR. (July 9, 2014)

Nearly half of us suffer through one major stressful event every year, and the weight of that stress can be heavy indeed. Take, for example, trouble at work, problems in a personal relationship, or the death of someone close to you.

At the top of the list: health issues—either yours, or those of a loved one. In fact, a health concern is the leading cause of stress for 43 percent of us. And all of that emotional turmoil can have a ripple effect, extending out into the realm of our overall well-being.

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Bedtime Story

Jul 1, 2014, 10:33 AM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Sarah Meade Reading Pic Sarah, having a read at Granny's house

The globby tears, the quavering voice, the pudgy outstretched hands, the plaintive word “please.” They all come to mind as vividly as if it were yesterday.

Our daughter Sarah was (and still is, at 27) a good soul, but like every small child, she had her moments. And when those “moments” more or less coincided with bedtime, the worst punishment we could mete out was to refuse to read her bedtime stories—or “sturries,” as she called them. We would kiss her good night, and adjourn to the living room, there to sit and look at each other guiltily as our little girl suffered the tortures of the damned.

We listened to that heartbreaking little plea, “But I HAVE to have sturries!” echoing down the hall, and our hearts would break, too. We felt like the worst parents ever

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"It's Good to Know the Red Cross is There"

Apr 11, 2014, 5:06 PM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Northern New Jersey American Red Cross volunteers Hart Coven and Bob Hassmiller Northern New Jersey American Red Cross volunteers Hart Coven and Bob Hassmiller (photo by Jeff Meade)

The emergency response vehicle (ERV) fielded by the American Red Cross of Northern New Jersey is all gleaming white with shining chrome, flashing lights, diesel engine chugging away, the distinctive Red Cross logo emblazoned on its sides, larger than life.

The truck itself is about the size of a small delivery van, but even with a pair of comfortable padded seats, the inside looks roomy. But don't be fooled. Each of the red plastic insulated crates stacked like Lego bricks up toward the front of the truck can contain 50 hot meals. That’s a lot of mac and cheese. Up to 350 meals in all on a really busy night. There's enough coffee and juice to revive and hydrate exhausted firefighters for hours. Volunteers can give out a good many compact little "comfort kits," containing toiletries and other day-to-day necessities.

And of course, there are blankets—the big, warm white ones, also bearing the Red Cross symbol. The kind you see on local TV news, draped around the shoulders of folks driven from their  apartment complex by an overnight multi-alarm blaze.

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The Smoking Generation

Jan 13, 2014, 11:06 AM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Chuck and Jean on their wedding day Chuck and Jean on their wedding day

When I was a little kid growing up in Norwich, N.Y., I earned candy money by helping out at Saturday night bingo, held in the basement hall of St. Bartholomew Church.

By "helping out," I mean taking orders (and collecting tips) from the little old ladies who were so focused on their bingo cards that they could not leave the table long enough to get themselves a drink or a snack.

Virtually all of those old ladies smoked. A blue-gray haze hung over the room like a dingy veil. I might as well have been chain-smoking Lucky Strikes the whole night.

When those old ladies placed their orders, their vocal chords coarsened by decades of smoking—“Get me a meatball sandwich, will ya, hon?" —they sounded to my impressionable young ears like the tough-guy character actor Broderick Crawford. (The little mustaches, perhaps, completed the illusion.)

People younger than I am probably can't imagine what it was like to live in that world, a world in which smoking was ubiquitous.

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A Portrait of Hope

Dec 16, 2013, 4:46 PM, Posted by Jeff Meade

Artist Chuck Connelly Artist Chuck Connelly and his monumental remembrance of the children of Sandy Hook

I first came to know Chuck Connelly in April of last year. He’s a gifted, famous and often controversial artist, whose work has appeared in countless galleries, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He’s very much his own man, and that man can be difficult. A writer once described Connelly as “Norman Rockwell on acid—a maverick narrative painter pushing the limits of myth into a modern malaise all his own.”

It’s a left-handed compliment, but there’s no getting around the undeniable truth: Chuck Connelly is an extraordinary talent. He may come across as a rumpled, dark-witted cynic, but on the inside, he is a luminous soul.

So here’s how I came to know Chuck Connelly. He’s an Irish-American who lives in Philly's East Oak Lane neighborhood, and I co-author a blog devoted to Irish culture in Philadelphia. So for our purposes, Connelly was grist for the mill.

And so it was that I found myself on the topmost floor of a ramshackle barn one dreary day last April, gazing upon Connelly’s most recent magnum opus: twenty painstakingly detailed oils on canvas, each one bearing the likeness of a first grader murdered by a lone gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. All of the paintings were clustered in a simple 10- by 12-foot wooden frame. The entire assembly towered over us. It was a breathtaking, shattering remembrance.
 

When news of the shooting broke, Connelly reacted as the rest of us did, with horror, frustration and anger. A couple of days later, he started painting a portrait of one of the young victims, 6-year-old Emilie Parker. At first, he wasn’t sure where the project was taking him. At that point, it really wasn’t a project. “I started to do the one, Emilie, when it first happened,” Connelly explained to me. “Her face was everywhere. I just thought ... what a tragedy. So I painted her. Then I made Dylan (Hockley), and then I thought ... you know what? I gotta do them all.”

Last week, Connelly’s “Children of Sandy Hook” went on display at Villanova University to commemorate the one-year anniversary.

As that anniversary arrived last weekend, I thought about Chuck Connelly’s heartfelt tribute. It caused me to wonder, probably for the millionth time, when we’re ever going to come to grips with the problem of gun violence. Every shot fired wounds us all.

Here at RWJF, we have devoted a great deal of effort toward understanding gun violence and how to prevent it. One well-known example of our work in this area is grantee Cure Violence, formerly Ceasefire.

Here’s how we describe the program:

Cure Violence uses a public health model to reduce gun violence. By treating violence as a learned behavior that can be “unlearned,” Cure Violence offers a solution to a problem that had been seen as unsolvable.”

Obviously, gun violence is one aspect of a much broader and disturbing picture. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that violence of all kinds is a plague in the United States, and from our description of Cure Violence, you can begin to understand our response to it. We approach violence as a critical public health issue, and that point of view determines our course of action.

A recent example of our work to curb violence further illustrates that particular approach. It revolves around the issue of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. That’s a wonky term, but it is meant to describe and encompass the horrors routinely visited upon children, mostly in the form of abuse and neglect. Many of these children live a nightmarish existence.

Some might say we’re swimming against the tide on this one, but we are, as my colleague Susan Promislo wrote in this space a few months ago, “witnessing a health revolution.” Childhood trauma was the subject of a recent summit in Philadelphia, a confab that garnered a great deal of national attention. Throughout the country, more and more experts are turning their expertise to the problem of ACEs, and many of them are doing pioneering work to understand the problem’s causes, document its long-term emotional and physical damage, and develop creative and effective long-term solutions.

From our work, we know that there are no simple answers to countering childhood trauma—or any other kind of violence. Just a few weeks after the Newtown tragedy, a report by Kevin Freking in the Huffington Post cited a particularly painful statistic: “The United States has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents.”

I find myself pondering those damning numbers. Can we really do what we want to do? Can we really make the country a better, less violent place? Sometimes it seems impossible. But if there’s one thing I have come to know about this place, it’s that most of us are incredibly hopeful. You can’t work here and not be an optimist at heart. It would be easy to throw up our hands and give up, but no one here gives up.

If the tragedy of Newtown tells us anything, it’s this: When it comes to the challenge of violence in America, if we are to prevail, we must be guided by hope. And to paraphrase one of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes: We can never, never give up.

Jeff Meade is a senior writer/producer for rwjf.org.



New Brunswick Bike Exchange on a Roll

Jun 12, 2013, 1:04 PM, Posted by Jeff Meade

bikevolunteers Left to right: Marisa Rodriguez-McGill, Leighann Kimber, and Julio Garcia, PRAB director of operations

More than a dozen bicycles are stacked upright on a pair of racks in a sweltering New Brunswick warehouse. Most of the bikes are low-end Huffys and Schwinns, the kind of models you might pick up at a Walmart for under a hundred bucks, like a child’s powder blue two-wheeler, with scuffed white tires, banana seat, adorned with dog and kitty decals. One or two—like a sleek, sturdy Cannondale—are more expensive models, aimed at serious cyclists.

In too many cases, bikes like these would have been destined for the landfill. Not so these bicycles. They’re getting a second lease on life—chains cleaned and re-lubricated, bald or flat tires replaced, crooked handlebars re-aligned, here and there a spot of touch-up paint. Soon they’ll be sold, heavily discounted—as low as $10, as high as $120 for the high-end models—to residents who otherwise would be unable to afford this economical, healthful and fun mode of urban transportation.

The New Brunswick Bike Exchange is a nascent project of the non-profit organization PRAB (Puerto Rican Action Board), which is a partner of the Foundation’s statewide New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids program. The Partnership focuses on efforts to combat the childhood obesity epidemic.

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