On Monday, August 21, 2017, North America will see the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse we’ve had since 1979.

While it’s tempting, it’s dangerous to look directly at the eclipse. The sun’s rays are much more powerful during an eclipse than a normal day, and since the retina does not have pain receptors, you can’t feel your eyes being damaged.

Try one of these easy tips to prevent retinal damage or eclipse blindness:

  • Purchase eyewear specifically designed for looking at eclipses. Ordinary sunglasses are not a substitute—keep your eyes safe and get the real thing! Refer to the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers page for more details.
  • Install a solar filter on your telescope, camera, binoculars, or other viewing devices. Simply looking through these while wearing solar eyewear will not do! These devices magnify the sunlight, making the rays even more powerful.
  • Pinhole projection is another safe option for viewing. This involves passing sunlight through a small opening (such as a hole punched in an index card) and projecting an image of the Sun onto a nearby surface (for example, another card or the ground). Do NOT look at the Sun through a pinhole!

For complete safety information, visit the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Eclipse 101 page.

Unsure when the eclipse will be visible in your area? Check here.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. BBB Wise Giving Alliance, a Community Health Charities partner, issued a warning about a fake charity sweepstakes. The scammers call from a Washington D.C. area code (202), referencing the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America and saying that the recipient has won $450,000. The catch? The “winner” must give up their banking information for taxes and insurance. Both the FTC and the Make-A-Wish Foundation posted alerts about the scam.

Keep yourself safe from charity scammers with BBB’s tips on identifying fraud:

  1. If a caller says you have to “pay” for a prize, hang up.  If you truly participated and won a sweepstakes, you will never have to send any type of payment to get your winnings.
  2. Government agencies won’t call you about sweepstakes.Scammers use this ruse to gain your trust and/or to make their tax or fees claim sound more official.
  3. Watch out for unauthorized use of a real charity name. The caller may use the name of a nationally recognized charity, like Make-A-Wish Foundation, to help build credibility, they may even offer to “connect” you with the sweepstakes office of that charity.  That’s another false-trust builder. If you truly want to connect with the charity, go to their official website for details.
  4. Don’t succumb to pressure to do as they say.Sometimes the longer you stay on the call, the more opportunities you will be providing scammers to push the right buttons to convince you.
  5. Report suspected scams to government authorities and the BBB.If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, contact the office of the attorney general in your state, report it to the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.gov, and post your concerns to BBB Scam Tracker so that other members of the public will be informed about it.

It’s back to school season! You know what that means: Busy schedules and even busier mornings.

 

While it’s tempting to pack a pre-packaged breakfast, what you put in your body in the morning fuels you for the rest of the day. Whether it’s for a child or yourself, stay away from foods loaded with fat and sugar—your breakfast should be filled with hearty food that will keep you going throughout the day. Instead, try the American Heart Association’s Top Ten Tips for a Healthy Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal in an instant!—Instant oatmeal is great on a cold morning and contains fiber and vitamins.
  • Smoothie madness—Blend frozen fruit (bananas and berries are great), low-fat milk or fat-free milk, and 100$% fruit juice for a quick, tasty breakfast smoothie with lots of nutrients.
  • Go 100% whole grain—100% whole grain, cereals containing fiber served with low-fat or fat-free milk are a healthier alternative to sugary cereals. Whole wheat muffins with smashed banana are easy and tasty too.
  • Eggxactly!—Boil, scramble, or poach eggs and serve on whole wheat toast—they’re packed with nutrition
  • Toaster treats—Frozen whole grain waffles take almost no time to make. Top them with berries, low sugar apple sauce, or sliced bananas instead of syrup.
  • Go nutty!—Spreading peanut or almond butter on whole grain toast is a great way to get both protein and fiber.
  • Go fruity!—Fresh fruit cut up with a dollop of low or fat-free yogurt is a great way to start the day. Apples contain fiber and bananas contain potassium.
  • Try all-fruit spreads—Instead of butter or margarine on toast, try all-fruit spreads, fruit butters, or even sliced bananas or strawberries
  • Bagel classics—Try a while wheat or sunflower seed bagel with low-fat cream cheese or peanut butter
  • Breakfast on-the-go—Don’t have time to eat breakfast at home? Try whole grain mini bagels, muffins, nuts and dried fresh fruit that can be taken in the car (apple slices and bananas are also easy and not too messy!)

More than 14 million kids and adults in the U.S. attend summer camp every year.  It’s something we take for granted—afternoons spent swimming at the lake, popsicles eaten after a long field day, and the learning done by the creek rather than in the classroom.

For many kids, summer camp is a rite of passage.

It’s more than a tire swing by the river or globs of sticky sunscreen; it’s the chance to just be a kid. It’s the first time many children are apart from their parents for longer than a school day. It’s the first time they get to decide what they want for dessert. It is the first time they get to grow up and be on their own.

However, it can also be something more than just the classic camp experience portrayed in films like The Parent Trap or Meatballs. It can be a place where a child with type 1 diabetes learns self-confidence and independence from mom and dad, plus has an opportunity to be with other kids with diabetes. It can be a moment in the life of a child with special needs where they can broaden their worldview by meeting other children, interacting with animals, and engaging in sports and activities that help expand their social skills and display their unique abilities. Some camps provide youth from poor, inner-city communities with their only access to quality summer educational or recreational programs. This includes mentoring and fitness that can teach kids how daily choices support a healthier, happier life.

Not every child has access to summer camp.  Often, children living with long-term mental and physical health challenges don’t have the opportunity to go away for summer—camp isn’t always feasible when you need assistance climbing stairs or require multiple insulin shots every day.

But long-term health challenges don’t stop kids from wanting to be kids; camps across the country are working to make sure that every child has this life-changing opportunity. Camps like Camp Crescent Moon, American Diabetes Association Camp, and The Woods Project are working to ensure that children living with long-term health challenges, disabilities, and disadvantages still get to experience fun in the sun. From zip lining to fishing, camp gives children the chance to just be kids.

I witnessed the incredible positive impact of these health-based camps over the 20 years I spent with the American Diabetes Association. Spending a week at diabetes camp with all the other “kids” opened my eyes to what a parent of a child with diabetes faced every day. It meant waking up throughout the night to check on campers who might be experiencing low blood episodes, or celebrating with a six-year-old who was learning to test his own blood sugar levels or master the intricacies of an implantable diabetes pump. I learned there that these summer camps for kids with health challenges were about the only place where these children are ever completely “normal”; they could forget about their health issue and just be with other children who are like them, who understand them.

This impact is not limited to children here domestically—it happens all across the globe with camps like SeriousFun. Actor Paul Newman founded SeriousFun camps in 1988 so that kids with health challenges could, in his words, “raise a little hell.” Now, almost thirty years later, there are nearly 30 SeriousFun camps around the world.

For SeriousFun Camp Korey camper Alex, camp is a place that celebrates what he can do—not what he can’t. Alex uses a wheelchair, and often feels left out. But not at Camp Korey. Alex’s mother describes camp as “a place where he can be appreciated for who he is without constantly having to prove that he is good enough to deserve a place….He came home with his heart so full, he overflowed with happiness. It’s a place where he is a kid first and a person with a disability second.”

Alex isn’t the only camper to benefit from the freedom the camps provide. A study done by the Yale Child Support Center in 2015 found that parents noticed a positive change in their children with long-term health challenges after attending summer camp:

  • 66 percent of parents reported their child had an increased interest in social activities
  • 79 percent of parents reported an increase in confidence levels
  • 77 percent of parents reported increased self-esteem
  • 64 percent of parents reported an increased sense of belonging

Yes, camp is about mosquito bites, s’mores, and bunkbeds. But for some children, it’s the first time they’ve been in the water. The first time outside a hospital that they’ve been surrounded by other children who understand what they’re going through. It may be the first time they’ve been treated like kids, not patients.

Let’s help every child experience the confidence that summer camp fosters—and the sweat, smiles, and chlorine-filled fun that accompanies it—no matter what their disease or diagnosis.

Check out our Camps for Kids resources to find special camps for children with long-term health challenges in your area, or support the cause.

Two nights ago, I asked my older child (who just turned 21) if it was okay for me to discuss her personal situation in this blog post. She answered that if we don’t talk about it, we’ll never overcome the stigma associated with mental health problems, and people will continue to suffer in isolation and unnecessary shame. It was exactly the answer I expected.

 

Two years ago, before Emma’s struggles began, I would have called that a courageous attitude. Around that time because of my work, I began attending seminars and meetings about suicide prevention and mental health in the workplace, and I marveled at the courage of people who shared their lived experience stories of anxiety and depression. I didn’t understand how someone could be so brave as to admit to a room full of strangers that he’d tried to kill himself. But he knew exactly the impact it would have on his audience to witness a brilliant, successful man explain the hidden demon that had been destroying him inside for years.

 

Then that hidden demon attacked my family.

 

Ethan was a high school senior, a brilliant, successful kid with high GPA, strong test scores, and acceptance letters from good colleges. Then, suddenly, grades slipped. Anger appeared. He started cutting. As his parents, we didn’t understand why all his success suddenly began falling apart.

 

And we couldn’t talk about it, of course, because everyone else’s kids seemed just fine and no one would understand. So we stumbled along as best we could.

 

Shortly after graduation, Ethan and his girlfriend came to us, somber and serious, with “something to tell us.” Naturally we assumed what parents assume in this case, but we weren’t even close. Ethan said, “I think I may be gender fluid.” We didn’t know what that was at the time, but we learned quickly.

 

The ensuing two years has been a journey like none of us had ever anticipated. “Gender fluid” has clarified to “transgender,” and although Emma still looks to most people like a young man, nearly everyone accepts her for who she is inside. Depression and anxiety, in part driven by her gender dysphoria, has slowed her ability to transition. She’s been hospitalized six times on psychiatric holds for suicidal ideation, and one time she actually tried to take her own life. We’ve found that few doctors or therapists have any experience with or understanding of how gender issues complicate a person’s mental health picture. Although Emma has a tremendous network of support and love around her, depression is a powerful demon.

 

It’s a difficult thing, being the parent of a grown child whose depression has caused at least one suicide attempt. We are all just stumbling through this the best we can.

 

At first, I thought this was a private thing, something no one else would want to hear about. Then, during a reception at a work conference, I responded honestly to a colleague who simply asked, “and how are your kids?” By sharing my family’s story, I unexpectedly created space for her to open up about her own family’s struggles.

 

Telling her about Emma’s transition and depression didn’t feel courageous. It felt more like an act of compassion and connection, a recognition that few of us are as problem-free as we feel we have to present ourselves all the time.

 

Thus, when I stood up in front of a room of 150 people at the Charities@Work conference two weeks ago and told this same story, I didn’t think of it as courage at all. It should not have to be a courageous act to show vulnerability in public. Suppressing mental health challenges only perpetuates the stigma that makes it harder for suffering people to overcome the crushing feeling of pointless shame. There is no part of me that is ashamed of my daughter. There is no part of me that is ashamed of not having the answers, or not being able to “fix” her.

 

It’s important to remember that we are all stumbling along the best we can. This is the reason I started WriteCause with Community Health Charities. I hope over time it will grow, with others sharing their stories and shining a light on mental health concerns. Only through this sharing can we overcome the stigma and allow people struggling with mental health issues to change from being a person with a shameful secret, into being a person with a loving, supportive network holding them up.

 

Join us and share your story:

Everyone experiences fear. The fear of public speaking, failure, heights, darkness, small spaces — and, one of my all-time favorites — snakes. Just ask Indiana Jones. Fear comes in all sizes and shapes, and attacks despite our best efforts to ignore or avoid it. So, what makes you afraid?

We may not agree on politics, religion, or even favorite dessert (I like cannoli), but you will probably agree with me that you share the fear of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, Alzheimer’s is the most feared disease in America.

Read more on The Huffington Post.

I always included the PSA (prostate specific antigen) screening test in any routine physical because I knew that prostate cancer was one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths for men in the U.S., and my PSA numbers had been climbing. To be honest, I didn’t really give much thought to my personal risk of cancer. No one in my immediate family had ever had prostate cancer, and at the time of the biopsy, I was only in my mid-50s. Prostate cancer was a disease that only affected older men.

All my complacency was shattered when the doctor came in and started the conversation with words that would change my life: “Man, you have a lot of cancer in there!”

 

Read more on The Huffington Post.

With summer vacation fast approaching, many parents are looking for ways to keep their kids active and healthy. Activity occupies the mind, avoids the summer slide, prevents boredom, and keeps kids from becoming couch potatoes.

 

Experts say too many kids choose sedentary activities over the summer, like video games and television, instead of exercise. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that the body mass indexes (BMI) of more than 5,000 kindergartners and first graders increased by almost twice as much during summer break as compared with the school year. A follow-up study in 2016, published in the Journal of Obesity found that the risk of obesity is higher when children are out of school than when they are in school.

 

With a little planning, you can ensure your kids have their best, healthiest summer ever with these 12 tips:

  • Create structure and plan daily activities
  • Limit electronics
  • Keep cool with outdoor water activities – pools, water balloons, squirt guns, slip and slide, hose, boating, etc.
  • Make exercise a family affair by walking to a park or playground, biking, playing football or Frisbee in the yard
  • Encourage socialization with friends
  • Checkout summer camp and vacation bible school options
  • Sign up for summer reading programs at your local library
  • Learn something new through activities sponsored by area parks, museums, science centers, libraries, theatres, and beyond
  • Join a summer sports league
  • Try seasonal foods through cooking activities or plant a family garden
  • Give back through volunteering – check out volunteer opportunities
  • Keep a stash of craft activities, board games, books, and art supplies for rainy days

 

Remember:

  • Ensure safety and adult supervision
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Consider the impact of air quality
  • Stay hydrated

 

Summer Obesity Studies:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/health/children-obesity-summer.html?_r=0

http://www.easterseals.com/explore-resources/living-with-autism/summer-activities-for-kids-with-autism.html

http://www.lung.org/about-us/blog/2016/05/for-kids-with-asthma-rising-temps.html

http://www.diabetes.org/mfa-recipes/tips/2015-06/fitting-in-summer-treats.html

http://www.kidsgetarthritistoo.org/living-with-ja/daily-life/staying-active/

https://www.healthiergeneration.org/news__events/2013/07/02/800/active_and_healthy_this_summer#disqus_thread

These gift ideas are perfect year-round for holidays, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and more. Give a great gift that gives back, building stronger, healthier communities for all of us by supporting our trusted member charities. Here are 10 ideas:

  1. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: Items include to beaded and charm bracelets as well as home décor (photo frames and throw blankets). Our pick: the Daisy Fuentes necklace or Brooks Brothers Striped Tie.
  2. Free to Breathe: A partnership for lung cancer survivors, Free to Breathe offers a variety of jewelry, watches and apparel, including beautiful bracelets and scarves with a “Be Brave” motto. You also have the option to build your own charm bracelet or necklace for an even more personalized gift. Our pick: Time to Be Brave leather band watch in pearl white. Also featured in Gift Guide for Gamers.
  3. American Cancer Society: The American Cancer Society Bookstore has an assortment of books, including a children’s picture book about why smoking isn’t healthy, cookbooks, support & care and cancer education books. Our pick: American Cancer Society New Healthy Eating Cookbook.
  4. American Diabetes Association: Find T-shirts, gifts for the kitchen and entertaining, and more at www.shopdiabetes.org Our pick: Precise Portions® Go Healthy Travel Pack.
  5. American Heart Association: One of the best online charity shops out there. They have everything from travel mugs to apple scented planners and rhinestone jewelry. Our pick: “Go Red” fleece blanket
  6. Autism Speaks: From T-shirts to jewelry, the Autism Speaks shop has it all. Our pick: NEST Blue Garden Classic Candle.
  7. JDRF: Shop a variety of T-shirts, ball caps, automotive accessories and more at the JDRF. Our pick:  The OGIO® Sonic Sling Pack.
  8. National Stroke Association: The National Stroke Association store has everything from apparel and bags, to drinkware and temporary tattoos.  Our pick: “Come Back Strong” graphic t-shirt.
  9. National Multiple Sclerosis Society: At this shop you’ll find bracelets, lapel pins and even an orange teddy bear! Our pick: Orange and white compactible umbrella with the MS logo.
  10. Sickle Cell Disease Association of America: Sickle Cell Disease Association of America has a variety of gifts that include clothing, drinkware and more.  Our pick: “It’s Time” lunch bag.

My children were raised in a home where Elmo, Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch were just another part of our family. Since 1969, Sesame Street has been reaching and teaching children all over the world with comedy, cartoons, games, and songs. More than just ABCs and counting, Sesame Street has influenced our perceptions about developmental psychology, early childhood education, and cultural diversity.

This month, with the addition of Julia, a new Muppet with autism, this long-running American cultural icon has taken another important step to increase the awareness and understanding of children who are “different,” specifically children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The big question we need to be asking ourselves now is whether this unprecedented step forward is enough.

Read more on The Huffington Post.