Teens Behind the Wheel – Staying Safe on the Road

By Susan Baldani

A rite of passage for most teens is getting their driver’s license. It’s something that they’ve usually dreamed of for years. For parents, however, giving their kids those car keys can fill them with dread. And they have a right to be concerned. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.”

Instead of living in fear when your teen is out driving, there are things you can do to keep them safe. And parents need to start before the child takes his first drive around the block.

“My biggest concern was obviously their safety,” said Christine Scally, a mother of two sons, ages 16 and 18, who lives in New Jersey. “We have spent a lot of time teaching them defensive driving. Also, we had to have conversations with them about who they let in their car. This became more of an issue once Sean turned 18 and the restriction regarding how many kids he was allowed in the car was lifted.”

Fortunately, laws are in place to make sure teens gain the necessary experience while curtailing how late they can drive, how many people they can have in the car, and in some cases, requiring that a licensed adult is in the car with them. These are called Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Systems and exist in every state in the U.S. as well as in Washington, DC. And these laws do work. As stated on the CDC website, “Research suggests that the more comprehensive GDL programs are associated with reductions of 26% to 41% in fatal crashes and reductions of 16% to 22% in overall crashes, among 16-year-old drivers.”

Seat belt laws also save lives. The website goes on to state that,” Of the teens (aged 16-19) who died in passenger vehicle crashes in 2016, at least 48% were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Research shows that seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.”

Teens today also have the more distractions than ever. Cell phones are a huge problem with kids talking and texting while driving. According to DMV.org, “Multiple studies indicate using a cell phone while driving is the equivalent of driving drunk―that’s even when using a hands-free phone.”

Texting can be even worse. “Research shows texting―on average―causes a loss of focus on the road for 4.6 seconds. You can drive the length of a full football field in that time. A lot can go wrong while you drive the length of a football field without your eyes on the road.”

Sometimes technology can be an asset, if used the right way. “One of the rules that we have is that they need to enable their GPS function on their phone so we can find them at all times,” said Scally. “If they do use Google Maps or Waze, we require them to use the voice activated feature so that way they don’t have to look at the phone while driving.”

Speeding, of course, is another major cause of crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports, “In 2017, speed was a contributing factor in 26% of all fatal crashes – and 9,717 people died in those speeding-related crashes. Speeders account for every 3 out of 10 drivers, or about 63.6 million drivers. It’s not just aggressive driving, it’s deadly driving.”

The higher the speed, the more severe the crash and injuries will be. There’s an increase in stopping distance and a greater potential to lose control of the vehicle.

Speed should also be adjusted according to the weather and road conditions, such as snow, rain, and fog, traffic congestion, construction, sun glare and darkness. All of these variables, and not just speed limits, should determine how fast or slow people should go. It’s better to arrive late than to not arrive at all.

Parents can also make defense driving courses a requirement for obtaining a license and getting behind the wheel. According to Safemotorist.com, “With defensive driving classes, students learn to improve their driving skills by reducing their driving risks by anticipating situations and making safe well-informed decisions.”

Some states even offer an insurance discount of up to 10% and a reduction of points on your license, which is a great incentive for all drivers. But learning to drive safely with a high level of skill is the biggest reason to take these courses.

Parents also have to be aware of their own driving habits when their kids are in the car. If they see you speeding, using your phone, not wearing your seat belt and driving aggressively, then they might think that it’s okay for them to do those things as well.

Give your teens the tools they need to be safe on the roads. It will give you peace of mind and make it much easier to hand over those car keys when the time comes.

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine published in Virgina

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Mother’s Day Blessings

Mother's Day pic

What I have learned from my mother

By Susan Baldani

What qualities does one need to be a wonderful mother? Well, let’s see. Kindness, selflessness, a loving heart, a caring personality, an abundance of patience, acceptance and wisdom are just a few necessary qualities. Fortunately for me, my mother has all of these and more.

Even though I never had children of my own, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to be a stepmother and, in the last few years, a grandmother, or in my case, a MeMa. I fell into these roles rather easily, I believe, because I had such a great role model in my mother (and grandmothers). Not that the men in my life haven’t influenced me positively as well, but this article is, after all, to celebrate Mother’s Day.

I learned that my needs have to sometimes be overlooked in order to make others happy. That sacrifice is a form of love and not something to begrudge. I learned that giving to others makes me much happier than any gift I could give myself. I learned how to bring comfort, even when I feel like I’m the one who needs comforting, and that it’s better to get up to help when all I want is to do is lie down. These are traits I have tried to carry over into all of my relationships.

My mom is also one of my very best friends. I can talk to her about anything and she will never judge me, criticize me, or try to make decisions for me and my future. She will give me advice, but knows that I need to make some mistakes to find my own true path in life, and hitting a few speed bumps along the journey is the only way to really find the right destination.

My life has been filled with many successes, both personally and professionally. My mother has encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities that have arisen and has been my tireless cheerleader. I couldn’t have accomplished what I have without the belief instilled in me to trust in my own decisions.

I know I am so very fortunate to still have my mom. Some of my friends have already had to say goodbye to theirs, and my heart truly breaks for them since I know what a hole I would have in my life without my mother. No matter how old I get, I will always need my mommy. Happy Mother’s Day!

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada.

United to Fight Homelessness

Home

By Susan Baldani

Justin Landis, owner of The Justin Landis Group in Atlanta, is passionate about helping his clients find their dream homes. He is also truly devoted to helping end homelessness. “Everyone deserves a dream home. We help our clients find their dream homes, but most nights over 7000 people in Atlanta do not have a home,” he said.

This is why he decided to take the Keller Williams 90 in 90 campaign to the next level. The 90 in 90 goal is to sell 90 homes in 90 days and is a way for agents to grow their businesses. However, Justin decided to make it an even bigger challenge by uniting the real estate industry for a great cause.

In 2018, his 90 in 90 goal was to raise $90,000 in 90 days. He asked everyone involved in a home sale, such as attorneys, lenders, home insurance and moving companies to pitch in with whatever amount they felt comfortable giving.

“A lot of people want to do good, but there was not a vehicle to do it together that multiplies, and that is the key – that it multiplies,” said Justin.

Last year in March, April and May, over $90,000 was raised. The goal was actually met on the last day at 4:09 pm. Money came not only from the parties involved in the transactions, but also from the community.

The Atlanta Mission, whom they partnered with and awarded the money, also asked their donors to match the amount. Another $180,00 was raised, and all in all, a grand total of $270,000 was raised in 90 days. “That’s the power of people doing things together,” said Justin.

The Atlanta Mission uses this money to get their clients off the streets and into programs that provide housing, counseling, vocational training, addiction recovery, daycare, education and other vital assistance.

“The awesome thing is that when people complete a program like this, they’ve rebuilt all aspects of their lives and rarely fall back into homelessness,” said Justin. To find out more about the mission and what they do, go to https://atlantamission.org/services/.

This year, the challenge is on once again. In March, April and May, the goal will be to raise at least $90,000 in 90 days. Other agents and teams have elected to take part this year and a handful of Keller William brokerage offices are doing it as well.

Most promotion is done through word of mouth, and one of his big supporters is Rick Hale, managing broker and owner of Rick Hale and Associates. Rick owns six offices in Atlanta and truly believes in the program. Since the proceeds this year are going to various charities, one that Rick has chosen is Every Woman Works, which helps women and families literally work their way out of homelessness. He also stands in as a father figure for a few shelter children, so this campaign is near and dear to his heart.

“We’re in business with amazing people who are committed to helping the cause,” said Rick.

Justin is now in the process of starting a charity called Good Key. Its goal will be to become a conduit between the industry and organizations that are helping the homeless, as well as to spread awareness and raise funds. “I have a dream that the real estate industry can be united to do a greater good,” said Justin. To find about more or to get involved is this 90 in 90 campaign, go to http://www.justinlandisgroup.com/90-in-90/.

Written for Midtown Lifestyle magazine in Atlanta, GA
http://www.midtownlifestylepubs.com/

A corporation leading the way for a healthier planet

Pet drinking

By Susan Baldani

Many companies today are taking into account the impact their business practices are having on the environment and trying to find solutions that support sustainable growth. One company that has taken this to heart is Mars. A family-owned business that has operations around the globe, they have devised a plan that can improve the world now and in the future.

Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation Plan, launched in September of 2017, is focused on business practices that support the planet and have a positive social impact. In order to do this, they have chosen to apply their five principals – Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom – along with scientific findings to tackle the challenges of climate change, scarcity of resources and poverty throughout their agricultural supply chains.

According to the company, “Mars has aimed to act as a good corporate citizen, minimize our impact on the environment and use the natural resources of our planet wisely and efficiently. Mars has always sought to create mutual benefits for our business and the people and communities whose lives we touch.”

They have identified three pillars that are essential drivers of sustainable growth:

Healthy Planet – with the goal of reducing our environmental impacts in line with what science says is necessary to keep the planet healthy, focusing on climate action, water stewardship and land management.

Thriving People – with the goal of meaningfully improving the working lives of one million people in our value chain to enable them to thrive, focusing on increasing income, respecting human rights and unlocking opportunities for women.

Nourishing Wellbeing – with the goal of advancing science, innovation and marketing in ways that help billions of people and their pets lead healthier, happier lives.

One example of this philosophy is The Better Cities For Pets™ program. Piloted in Franklin, TN, in 2017, it assists cities in becoming pet-friendly, thus allowing for more people to reap the benefits of pet ownership. Their four focus areas are shelters, homes, parks and businesses.

Thanks to a coordinated effort between the Downtown Franklin Association and the Williamson County Convention & Visitors Bureau, more than 90 businesses have taken part by having a shared pet code of conduct, consistent signage and in-store education. The city also now has pet waste stations which encourages visitors to bring their pets with them.

Mars US Petcare, currently headquartered in Franklin, will be moving to a new location in town within the year. According to the company, the new corporate office will rely on windmill energy production to compensate for 25% of the facilities’ energy consumption. The new building will also be LEED certified. And all of their Petcare facilities are zero-waste to landfill locally, not just in Franklin.

Making these changes hasn’t been easy, but Mars feels that new, innovative approaches are needed to mitigate the myriad of problems facing the environment. Of course, it also takes cooperation from others to put these ideas into action, so they’re continually building new partnerships and action-oriented coalitions to find breakthrough solutions to sustainable growth.

According to Mars, “We’re focused on implementing changes in a way that has a positive benefit not just for Mars but for the communities where our associates live and work, and for society at large.”

Written for Franklin Lifestyle in Franklin, TN

http://www.franklinlifestyle.com/

Forget your troubles and do a puzzle

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By Susan Baldani

There is always a jigsaw puzzle in various state of completion on my dining room table. I do it on a big piece of cardboard so when people are coming for dinner, I can just pick it up and slide it under the couch. Out of sight, but not out of mind. As soon as the coast is clear, I drag it back out, with the guests never knowing that they were sitting on a sandy beach or snow-covered mountain.

As a child, I always enjoyed puzzles, but as an adult I forgot about them for a while. Then, about 10 years ago, I was planning a trip to the shore to stay in a rental house for a week. I was so looking forward to relaxing. I had all my beach gear, books and magazines, but wondered what else I could do when I was tired of the hot sun and sand. I happened to see a beach-themed puzzle at the store, and just like that, I had my new hobby.

Besides being fun, I find that puzzles are often a great way to overcome anxiety and stress. When I sit down and work on a puzzle, focusing so intently on those little pieces helps me forget about my own problems for a while. It’s hard to worry when you’re trying to complete the whiskered face of an adorable cat. (A lot of my puzzles involve cats, dogs and a variety of other cute animals.)

I am very, very picky when it comes to choosing a puzzle. First of all, I like to occasionally match them to the season, so in the summer I will pick out a beach or floral scene, for example. I also need a busy puzzle; no big blue skies or wide expanses of green lawns. No, the more stuff crammed into that square or rectangular picture the better. I also prefer between 500 and 750 pieces; anything less is too easy and anything more sometimes frustrates me. And I don’t like to be frustrated. After all, I’m doing puzzles to de-stress and enjoy myself.

What I find truly amusing is when people come in, see me doing a puzzle, and remark about what an old-fashioned pursuit it is. However, more often than not, they find themselves wandering over to watch. Then, before they realize what’s happening, they’re doing the puzzle with me.

By the way, I think puzzles are making a comeback. When I went to my local library last week, I noticed that they now have two jigsaw puzzles going at all times. What a great idea!

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada.

It’s time for preschool – what you need to know to make the best decision for your child

Preschool

By Susan Baldani

A good preschool has been shown to provide a strong foundation for learning and has also been proven to increase a child’s academic success for years to come. In addition, it’s usually a child’s first experience with structured education and leaving home for hours on end, so parents want to make sure the choice they make is the right one.

Here are some things to focus on when choosing a preschool for your child:

Teachers

The strength of any program is going to depend on the teacher. Requirements differ by state – while one may not require a bachelor’s degree, other states may. Find out what the qualifications are that the school itself requires of their teachers.

What kind of degree or experience do the teachers have? At minimum, they should have a certificate such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Even better is a bachelor’s or, of course, a master’s degree in early childhood education. Also find out if there are teacher’s assistants or aides in the classroom as well and if so, what their qualifications are.

Size of classes

Many studies have shown that the lower the ratio of student to teacher, the better the academic outcome. To ensure that children get the proper attention, states have strict guidelines in place for how many children a certified teacher can oversee and how many adults, such as aides and assistants, have to be in a classroom.Most early-childhood educators believe that younger children do best in classes with fewer than 15 students.

Educational philosophy

While some schools focus on structure, others allow for discovery-based learning. While structure is important in every grade, many studies encourage more free play during preschool, which allows children to make choices in their learning.

“You don’t want to be telling (the children) what to do all the time,” said Deborah Stipek, a professor and former dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. “You want to make sure there are experiences all kids get because they’re important, but it’s also important to let them bring themselves to the task.”

Parents should also look for schools that welcome parental visits, have open communication, and provide feedback on their children’s day-to-day activities. Even though they are young, this is the age when developmental delays and learning issues may present themselves.

As stated in the article “Tools for Parents: What to look for in a preschool program,” by Lillian Mongeau, “Several well-established assessments of social and emotional growth as well as academic preparedness are available to early childhood educators. These non-academic assessments help parents and teachers measure important developmental traits such as self-esteem; whether children understand what adults are telling them; a child’s ability to keep trying a new task – like rebuilding a tower that’s fallen down; and fine motor skills.”

Classroom set up and safety

Preschool classrooms should have open floor plans with low tables, small chairs and low shelves. Toys, books, blocks and other items should be neatly organized into play centers and within reach of the children.

Look around the classroom to make sure the room and materials are clean and the environment is safe. Stipek stated that “parents should look for general cleanliness as well as safety features such as covered electrical sockets, toys without sharp edges and safe storage of potentially dangerous materials, including paint and cleaning supplies.”

Everyone on staff should be trained in CPR and first aid, and the school should also have an emergency plan in place. Also ask about background checks. Does the school perform those?

Discipline

Find out how children are disciplined and what kinds of rules they are expected to follow. How are children encouraged to follow these rules? Positive reinforcement should be used, such as reward charts or stickers, and praise from staff. If the child does not follow the rules, does the teacher use time-out or redirection or some other kind of behavior modification techniques?

Other things to ask: Do children take naps during the day, and if so, for how long? Who provides the food and snacks? Does a child have to be fully potty trained in order to attend? Can the school provide references or the ability to speak with other parents?

Of course, cost is another factor that parents need to know up front. Some states provide free preschool, whereas many others still do not. However, there may be programs that help offset the cost for low-income families.

Lastly, parents should follow their instincts. Does the school feel like a positive place to learn, do the children look happy, and are the teachers warm and inviting? Would they feel comfortable leaving their child there? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” they can then be secure in the fact that they have found the best place for their child.

Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine in VA.