Developmental Disabilities Fest celebrates tech


Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month continued this week with a festival celebrating community members and resources available for individuals with disabilities.

The event celebrated its “biggest and best” festival in 15 years on Tuesday at the Athens Community Center, said Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities Supt. Kevin Davis. About 45 organizations set up tables to showcase various services.

This year’s theme was technology, with organizations featuring a wide variety of technological advancements made to help individuals with developmental disabilities live independently, such as in-home security cameras.

Other organizations educated the general public about their services, such as transportation services, the Athens Public Library and various health centers.

“It’s good to raise awareness for people in the community — especially those with disabilities — about all the wonderful services these agencies have to support them,” Davis said.

The event spanned two hours and included a performance from the Athens County Community Singers — a nonprofit choral group for all people with and without disabilities which is led by director Stephanie Morris.

“I love getting to perform and showcase all the hard work these folks practice every week,” Morris said. “I love celebrating and supporting everyone in our community at this event.”

Tuesday’s festivities were part of a series hosted by ACBDD to recognize March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. The theme this month is “Integrate Athens,” meant to be a reference to ACBDD’s new Office of Integrate Athens located at 9033 Lavelle Road. An open house at that office is planned for Tuesday, April 2, from 3-5 p.m.

“Athens is a leader in Southeast Ohio as a progressive, integrated and inclusive city,” Davis said. “I’m happy to be a part of that and highlight the agencies that make it all possible.”

Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on March 21, 2019.

Local author shares Disney World expertise in new book

An Athens resident is hoping to bring some guidance to the “fanciful” — and often “overwhelming” — world of Disney theme parks in her new book.

Sarah Hina, a tried-and-true Walt Disney World fanatic and author of two novels, used her understanding of the literary industry with a topic she’s passionate about in her new book, “Walt Disney World Step by Step 2019: A Common-Sense Planning Guide.”

Her family has visited Disney World in Orlando annually for more than a decade, giving her a plethora of knowledge on the parks and how to plan a trip to what is known as the “happiest place on Earth.” After giving tips to family members and friends about saving money and time at Disney World, Hina decided to share her knowledge with a wider audience.

Hina’s expertise landed her a gig with Mickey Travels, a Disney vacation planning agency. As a travel agent, she is responsible for scheduling a family’s visit, ordering “FastPasses” (for quicker ride waits) and setting up dining reservations.

“The place is absolutely massive,” the 47-year-old mother of two said. “The first time we went it was so overwhelming, but if you’re familiar, you can have an amazing vacation. If you walk in there and expect to eat where you want and ride where you want, you’re going to be disappointed if you don’t plan.”

Disney World is divided into four parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot. Each offer unique attractions including rides, character visits and dining facilities. Between all the FastPass ride schedules, castle dinner reservations and more, Hina hopes to bring clarity to a planning process that can take months for some families.

“Disney has done a great job of branding their parks as the quintessential American family vacation,” she said. “Because of that, many people want to go so you’ve got to understand how it works.”

As a biology graduate from Case Western University, Hina said she never envisioned such a unique career change. Now an expert of all things Disney World, Hina described being encouraged by her publisher to write a yearly edition of the guide.

“People love being immersed in that Disney bubble and escaping reality,” she said. “I never expected to turn it into a career. I genuinely enjoy seeing other families experience the kind of happiness and togetherness we’ve experienced.”

Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on Feb. 10, 2019.

Local kids ‘Shop With a Cop’

A third-grade elementary student spent an afternoon shopping for Christmas toys with State Patrolman Zack Tackett. (Photo by Abbey Marshall)

In the face of tough circumstances, Jennifer Peterson feared that her children might not have the Christmas she wished for them this year.

Delivering that sad news broke her heart, but after her husband lost his job she felt like they had no other options to afford Christmas presents.

That’s when she received a call that was her saving grace. Peterson was informed last week that her two children were selected by the Athens City School District as participants in this year’s “Shop with a Cop.”

Fifty children in the Athens City School system and about 40 law enforcement officers and firefighters from neighboring areas gathered at Walmart on Sunday afternoon for the annual event. Each child was given a $100 gift card, funded jointly by the Walmart Foundation as well as Athens Police Department.

Jennifer Peterson’s 8-year-old daughter milled through the toy aisles, eyes dancing between Barbie displays and Hatchimals tucked into their packaging. The third-grader was paired with a state highway patrolman. She weaved between shopping carts and other children, decisively pulling items from the shelf that she wanted.

“I’m done,” she told Trooper Zack Tackett after a short bit. “I don’t really want a lot of things. I want to get some stuff for my mom.”

She did just that, spending the remainder of her stipend on gifts for her mom. When they approached the cash register, though, the items went over the allotted $100. Tackett pulled out his own wallet to pay for the extra amount.

“This was my first time doing this,” Tackett said. “I just thought it’d be good to help out some kids, and it was really fun.”

Following their shopping spree, kids hopped into firetrucks and police cruisers and rode down State Street — lights blaring and sirens flashing — to the Athens Community Center. Pizza, snacks and a visit from Santa Claus awaited them.

“It’s great the kids have the opportunity to not only get toys for the holidays, but spend time individually with officers,” said retired APD Capt. Dave Williams, a reserve officer who helps organize the Shop With a Cop event. “They see that we are here to help, and they shouldn’t be frightened of us.”

The annual event is held each year in memory of Steve Kazee, a Walmart loss prevention officer who died in 2013. His family carried on his legacy of Christmas charity toward children, and they even helped raise some of the funds towards the kids’ toys.

The first year benefited 18 children and has grown significantly in the years since. The goal for 2019 is to give this opportunity to 100 local kids, said Athens Walmart Manager Keith Adams.

“We want the officers to know they are our Christmas heroes,” Peterson said. “This means so much to us.”

Children also learned the lesson that giving is a two-way street. As Peterson’s daughter approached Trooper Tackett on Sunday afternoon, the young girl handed him an ornament. It was tucked into a small stocking she and her mom had made for him.

“Thank you so much,” he replied, kneeling down to shake her hand.

Originally appeared on A1 of The Athens Messenger on Dec. 12, 2018.

I tried OU’s narcan simulator and learned how to save a life

In a span of eight minutes, I learned how to save a life — and you can too.

All it took was completing an overdose simulation in Ohio University’s GRID lab. By wearing oculus lenses which display 360-video, I felt all the emotions of anxiety and fear as simulated students searched frantically for Narcan to revive their friend.

The immersive virtual reality video was created by professionals in OU’s College of Health Sciences and Professions in tandem with faculty and students in the Scripps College of Communication.

Users put on oculus lenses and are immediately thrown into a situation that assistant professor of nursing Sherleena Buchman said is unfortunately all too familiar: a person (in this case, a student) is seen slumped over a chair with a needle in their arm.

In the simulation, two of the student’s friends enter the dorm room and begin panicking. They search the room for any sort of anecdote and calling 9-1-1. The students hesitate at first to call the police, worried about getting in trouble, but the operator ends up giving detailed instructions on how to administer a life-saving drug: narcan.

Narcan is a nasal spray used in to treat emergency cases of opioid overdose.

The video was shot on an Insta360 Pro, allowing users to move their body and physically change their point of view in the room. The audio in the headset also shifts when the viewer moves to take in various parts of the scene: the students tear their friend’s room apart and bystanders watching from behind their phone screens.

“It’s one of those things you can watch multiple times because there’s so much happening at once in all directions,” said Jacob Hagman, a faculty member in the nursing school who also played the overdosed student in the pilot. “There’s so many high intensity moments since it’s so immersive.”

The goal, Buchman said, is to give non-health professionals instruction on how to save a life. In the past few years working in an emergency room, she said she has seen a significant increase of people bringing in overdosed friends or family members.

“It’s so easy, and I want to stress how easy it is for anyone to do,” she said. “If those people knew how to do this, maybe that person would’ve had another chance at life.”

The simulation ends with a detailed, close-up video on a nurse’s hands preparing and administering the life-saving drug.

There was no cost associated with the project, said media professor Eric Williams, because the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab had access to all the resources — the 360 degree camera and editing software — accessible from a previous grant.

Under William’s tutelage, around six students were involved over the summer as editors and producers.

The pilot project is currently being re-shot with new actors and is slated to be completed in December. Faculty plan to make 16 mobile viewing stations available in various places across the community, such as the Athens City-County Health Department.

Eventually, Buchman said they plan to upload the video to YouTube and make it accessible for people across the country to use with their own VR viewing lenses.

“Anybody can administer narcan, you don’t have to be a nurse or a medical professional,” Buchman said. “Prevention and great and we want to get there, but the end ultimately is to save a life.”

Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on Nov. 23, 2018.

Imagining a future for The Ridges

What will The Ridges look like 150 years from now?

That’s the question community members gathered to answer at the Southeast Ohio History Center Thursday night for the sixth and final installment of the Athens Asylum Sesquicentennial Series.

The Ridges Framework Plan co-chairs Shawna Bolin and Joe Shields recounted a brief history of the former Athens psychiatric asylum over the course of the past 150 years and revealed plans for the grounds’ future.

Since Ohio University received the property in 1988, amidst renovations including the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, there have been ongoing talks of tearing down some of the buildings due to asbestos concerns. That proposal was met with vociferous opposition from community members who have insisted The Ridges is an integral part of Athens’ identity.

One such building, a former tuberculosis ward, was torn down in 2013 due to its deteriorating condition and the presence of trespassers.

“The Athens Asylum is an American treasure,” said Tom O’Grady, executive director of the history center. “It’s important to the identity of this town. What is done there will have a great deal of influence on what happens to the rest of the community.”

Bolin said she once worked at The Ridges as an OU student and fell in love with the history complex and its story. Nineteen years later, as the associate vice president for university planning, she is working on The Ridges Framework Plan that will stand for the next few decades and beyond.

Setting sights on their future, Bolin and Shields discussed how The Ridges will evolve decade by decade.

By 2020, once the current asbestos removal is complete, a ward wing of the main building will be renovated. The $14 million project will create open-office space for various departments, including the Ohio University Police Department. There are also possibilities of an outdoor museum to display the natural environment, as well as the start of ballroom renovation.

The 10 years following will be focused on sustainable housing and establishing an eco-village, they said. By 2030, perhaps commercial development such as wineries and breweries will be built at The Ridges.

As for the long-term future, plans are for the most part up in the air. Bolin and Shields poked fun and created their own vision for the future: one that included innovations such as jet packs and harvesting cells in research centers to cure diseases. Their outlandish suggestions elicited laughter from residents in the crowd, but in all reality, their ideas might not be too far off in 2168.

“By the 300th anniversary, much of what we’ll be celebrating is the same,” Bolin said. “Preservation of land, historic buildings, academic advancement and community engagement.”

Originally published on the front page of The Athens Messenger on Nov. 19, 2018.