Addiction to destruction: Heroin on the rise in Tompkins County

By Gillian Nigro and John Brunett

Ithaca – Apr. 14, 2014 – A mobile methamphetamine lab was found near the E. Green Street parking garage in Downtown Ithaca on Apr. 6, but in Tompkins County, heroin as the drug of choice is rapidly increasing in prevalence, according to law enforcement officials.

That day, City of Ithaca Police responded to the scene, with assistance from the Tompkins County Sheriff and the Ithaca Fire Department Haz Mat Team, and discovered a half-dozen clear bottles of an unknown substance that appeared to be reacting and off-gassing. Preliminary department tests have shown them to be the remnants of a mobile meth lab.

No arrests have yet been made in the case, but Jamie Williamson, public information officer for the Ithaca Police, said the department has not seen that large of an influx in meth use and possession over the last several years, but has data showing that heroin is becoming a serious problem.

“Heroin is much more devastating than other drugs simply because when you go from recreational use to addiction to destruction, that cycle rears its ugly head much faster and with much more intensity than other drugs,” Williamson said.

The office of the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County is directly across the street from where the containers were found in the alley where E. Green Street and the overpass meet. Education and Prevention Director Stacy Cangelosi said she was not surprised meth was found there.

“It’s very isolated,” Cangelosi said. “It doesn’t seem like it because it’s right there on Green Street, but it’s very shady. I walk through there as fast as I can.”

Narcotics in Ithaca Final

In contrast to Tompkins County, Southern Tier communities are experiencing a huge increase in the production, possession and use of meth, according to Williamson.

“Our community and how well we’re doing here in Ithaca is almost an anomaly compared to all the other communities in upstate New York,” Williamson said. “We’re a more affluent community and we’re fortunate in that regard.”

Bill Rusen, Chief Executive Officer of Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services, said CARS does not see many patients with meth as their prime substance of addiction, but it has been a larger problem in neighboring counties.

“Many surrounding counties are more typical upstate counties in that they were agrarian-based economies,” Rusen said. “When that economy got hollowed out by big agribusiness buying up farms, methamphetamine became the way that people made a living, albeit in an illicit manner.”

Meth is not only an issue in less affluent counties in upstate New York, it has also become the primary industry throughout a big swath of middle America, Rusen said.

“When you look at the great plains and the small rural farm towns scattered all the way from the foothills of the Rockies to the Appalachians, a lot of that used to be small farm towns,” he said. “The idyllic picture that we have of American life at the beginning and middle of the 20th century may not have been as idyllic as we like to think.”

An interview with Stacy Cangelosi of the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County:

Photo courtesy of the Ithaca Journal

Ithaca veterans find solace and sense of community in church

By Gillian Nigro and Noreyana Fernando

Ithaca –  Mar. 31, 2014 – Paul Waldrop’s U.S. Navy fleet was stationed about a half-mile off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon, when the Marine barracks were bombed on Oct. 23, 1983. Two hundred ninety nine American and French servicemen died in this attack during the Lebanese civil war, which is rooted in a complex religious and territorial conflict.

The then 19-year-old Waldrop could see the smoke cloud rising higher and higher from the rubble.

“I can remember at night watching gunfighting back and forth and up into the mountains,” he said. “It was an event that changed my life, both as a person going from a boy to a man, and just having more of an awareness of a spiritual being.”

Waldrop became a member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in downtown Ithaca after he returned from active duty. He said the sense of community he experiences there is reminiscent of his time spent on a small combatant ship in the Navy.

“In one instance, we went out to sea for 39 days straight days with no land,” Waldrop said. “It’s a bonding experience that you can get in all aspects of life.”

Men who experienced intense combat were more than twice as likely to turn to prayer than those who did not, according to an analysis of archived World War II surveys of Army Infantry published in the June/July 2013 issue of the Journal of Religion and Health,

The co-authors of the study, Craig Wansink and Brian Wansink, are brothers and also professors at Virginia Wesleyan College and Cornell University, respectively.

Craig, the coordinator of the Department of Religious Studies at Virginia Wesleyan, said he and his brother wanted to highlight that communities are important in responding to the experience of intense combat.

“Religion involves a sense of community, and those combatants who focused on a ‘band of brothers’ seemed to find a common sense of community with the context of a church community,” Craig said.

Though the Wansink study only applied to World War II veterans, Craig said he anticipates similar results if they applied the same analysis to veterans of more recent or ongoing military conflicts.

“Although I have never experienced the horrors of combat, I’m confident that those who have, even today, would find some comfort in being with a group of people that focuses weekly on issues of life, death and ultimate significance,” Craig said. “So much else in the world might just seem painfully trivial.”

Robert Nobles, 93, was taken as a prisoner of war after D-Day during World War II while serving in the Air Force. He said being a member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church for more than 60 years has provided him with a strong sense of community.

“The church is like a big family,” he said. “They have a seniors dinner once a month and I go to that.”

David Allen, also a member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, served off the coast of Vietnam on an aircraft carrier from 1965 until the end of the war in 1975. He said he did not engage in actual combat, but acknowledges the therapeutic power of a church community, especially for more recent veterans.

“Younger people, people who have been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, might be much more emotionally affected by what they went through, as opposed to what I had to do or what I did,” Allen said.

Religion and war: an interview with Vietnam war veteran Jim Murphy —

Cornell student lays roots for sustainable farming in Cameroon

By Gillian Nigro and Dylan Lyons

Ithaca – Feb. 24, 2014 – Cornell undergraduate Timothy Smith received approval in January to establish an organic cocoa teaching and research farm in Bekondo, Cameroon, to help small farmers escape poverty.

Smith, a 32-year-old senior, established The Bekondo Foundation after visiting the village last summer as a volunteer consultant for WebDev, an organization that trains rural entrepreneurs to develop sustainable environments in underserved areas. He put forward his plan last month to both the Bekondo village chief and general council.

“I presented a framework of what we wanted to do,” Smith said, “which is to create an open-access research farm for the farmers to see how sustainable farming works and how they can reduce their dependency upon agrochemicals.”

Cameroon is the world’s fifth-largest cocoa exporter. Farmers currently borrow agrochemicals at a rate of 200 percent market value, and because they cannot afford to pay up front, they are charged an additional 4 percent interest during harvest season, which results in meager profits. Organic production would reduce this dependency, Smith suggested.

The Cornell Computer Reuse Association (CCRA), an organization dedicated to refurbishing and donating computers to those in need around the world, partnered with Smith to establish computer centers in Bekondo where growers will be able to learn chemical-free disease and pest management techniques, as well as financial planning.

The CCRA plans to donate 20 computers to the village, which will begin shipping out in March, according to President Amy Allen.

“It’s really great to see someone like Tim being able to take initiative and provide access to technology that is so desperately needed in that region,” Allen said.

The next step for Smith is to purchase land for the farm, and while in Bekondo, he found two parcels that will cost about $10,000. Back at Cornell, he is raising funds and said he hopes to acquire $50,000 for startup costs by May.

While exploring a vast range of fundraising efforts, Smith is also contacting businesses for potential partnerships. He recently brought cocoa beans back from Cameroon, which he made into chocolate and plans to sell. An Ithaca chocolate event is also in the works where local chocolatiers will be able to feature their products, he said.

Darlynne Overbaugh, owner of Life’s So Sweet Chocolates in Ithaca and Trumansburg, said she has placed a large emphasis on quality since she started her business in 2007.

“One of the really important aspects of my business for me is utilizing quality cocoa beans,” Overbaugh said. “It’s got to taste good.”

Overbaugh said she tries to be cognizant of issues in the cocoa industry, such as sustainability and child labor. She makes her Ithaca bark products from Kallari chocolate, a collective of Ecuadorian cocoa farmers who sell their own chocolate and focus on community development and environmental conservation.

By reaching out to cocoa importers and chocolatiers, both local and national, Smith is also fostering connections between buyers and Cameroonian farmers to develop a co-op. That way, when the growers eventually have high-quality cocoa beans to sell, they will already be linked to businesses independent of major exporters, he explained.

“I hope to establish these connections for them, and to provide resources and education so that I can leave,” Smith said. “It will be up to the Cameroonians to decide what they need next.”

Timothy Smith explains why he was attracted to Bekondo and what he found there in this audio interview:

Ithaca’s Board of Education challenges New Roots’ charter renewal

By Gillian Nigro and Jamie Swinnerton

Ithaca – Feb. 3, 2014 – New Roots’ school charter was renewed last Monday, a month after the Ithaca City School District Board of Education voted to prepare a challenge if the charter was approved.

On Dec. 17, the ICSD Board of Education voted 5-1 to prepare an Article 78 challenge against the SUNY Board of Trustees – New Roots’ accrediting body – if the charter was renewed following a recommendation by the Charter School Institute (CSI). Board member Brad Grainger, who made the motion, and Superintendent Luvelle Brown, declined to comment.

Article 78 is “a special proceeding brought to challenge the activities of an administrative agency,” as defined by the New York State Court System’s glossary article. In this case, the ICSD wants to challenge the SUNY Board of Trustees, which oversees New Roots.

The board will seek opinions from its attorneys over the next few weeks regarding Article 78, said Rob Ainslie, president of the Board of Education, although there’s no decision yet.

“We’re not at all surprised that New Roots’ charter was renewed,” Ainsle said. “We just want to make sure that the kids in this district are getting the best opportunities they can, but we have no oversight of what goes on there.”

New Roots’ Principal and Superintendent Tina Nilsen-Hodges said there is no basis for an Article 78 challenge against the SUNY Board of Trustees.

“The renewal is absolutely in line with their policies and their definitions of what constitutes a charter renewal,” she said. “So there’s no way that there can be a finding that they acted in an arbitrary manner, or that they didn’t follow their own rules and procedures.”

New Roots co-founder and chair of the Board of Trustees Jason Hamilton, who is also an Ithaca College professor, said public school districts are fearful of charter schools partly because they are taking money out of their budgets that are funded by taxpayers.

“If a citizen decides to go to the charter school, then they ought to be able to take some of their money with them to this new educational experience,” Hamilton said.

Nilsen-Hodges said she recognizes that the introduction of charter schools into the public education world puts established school districts in a difficult position.

“We’re located in the middle of someone else’s community school district, which is under the jurisdiction of a board of education in that community,” Nilsen-Hodges said. “So it’s a very different kind of dynamic and relationship among public schools than has existed in the past.”

The motion to prepare Article 78 passed with a majority vote, with Seth Peacock voting against the measure and Chris Malcolm abstaining. Peacock, who works as an attorney, declined to comment.

“Pursuing a legal challenge against the SUNY Board of Trustees would be a colossal waste of money and the money could be better used educating students,” Hamilton said. “As a citizen, I would be quite upset that my tax dollars are being spent that way. As a New Roots Board of Trustees individual, it’s really neither here nor there to me if they want to sue SUNY or not.”

Hamilton also said he was relieved, honored and excited that the charter was renewed.

“It shows that this whole experiment with New Roots is really working and we’re starting to slowly reshape how people think about education,” he said.

The process of renewal for a charter school is ongoing, according to Nilson-Hodges. Each year the school produces an accountability plan progress report to show that they are on track with the Institute’s guidelines. The extensive review process includes on-site visits to the school, interviews with staff and in class observation sessions.

“It’s been an excellent process in terms of keeping us and this organization on what matters most, which is a rigorous program in line with our mission that focuses on the success of each and every student,” Nilson-Hodges said.

Catherine Kramer, director of charter school information at CSI, said the Institute will provide an update as to the progress of New Roots at a committee meeting in 2015, once additional performance data becomes available this summer and a fuller picture emerges of the school’s progress in meeting its accountability plan.

Article originally appeared on IthacaWeek.