About Joanna Fantozzi

Joanna Fantozzi is a freelance journalist specializing in arts reporting. She has contributed to the West Side Spirit and Our Town. Follow her online at JoannaFantozzi.com.

Campaigning for a New Culinary Future

The West Side Campaign Against Hunger is a non for-profit food pantry on the Upper West Side that offers a unique atmosphere to its customers. In the basement of the St. Paul and St. Andrew Church on 86th Street is the headquarters of the Campaign Against Hunger.

Here, the bustling scene of people in need from all over the city wait to fill their shopping carts. But unlike most food pantries which “give a man a fish,” WSCAH teaches the men and women how to fish, and feed them for a lifetime. Offering such programs as exercise classes, shelves of books, and the popular Chef Training Class.

Headed by Chef Raquel Rivera-Pablo, the class is free, and offered every 12 weeks for customers who dream of becoming chefs, or who simply want to learn how to create and eat healthy meals on a budget.

Salieu Suso: Bringing a Little Bit of African Culture to Your Daily Commute

With a smile on his face and a repertoire full of African melodies, Salieu Suso brings a little bit of culture to the dreariness of the daily commute, and stands out amongst the throng of Penn Station musicians.

Suso sings and plays the kora, a traditional African stringed instrument that is very popular in the Gambia, where he is from. The kora’s 21 strings are made from fishing line, and the instrument is similar to a harp. Suso comes from a long line of kora players, and began playing when he was 8 years old when his father began giving him lessons.

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Occupying the Headlines: How the Media Portrays Wall Street Protestors

Since the movement began, images and analysis of the Wall Street protests have inundated newspapers, online news, and the evening news,and the attention has been exponentially growing larger. As of Nov. 2nd, there were over 130 headlines about the Wall Street protesters across the country, according to Google News search results.

But what is the media saying about these protesters? What is the image being portrayed? This image cloud represents a sampling of adjectives and phrases used in headlines on Nov 2nd from NBC, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, and various blogs. Continue reading

Pay Up!: Top Five Reasons Post-Grads Dread Sallie Mae

In a previous post, I explored the speculative reasons why students despise student loans, and what they can do to avoid the unfortunate pitfalls of some indebted grads (no job! depression! My life fell apart!). Countless advice websites aside, the real student loan experiences of 32 people between the ages of 21 and 30, were calculated in a Google Forms survey over the course of two weeks.

 

Of the students surveyed, 72% said that they used student loans to pay for at least part of their college tuition, and 34% of respondents will have to, or are paying off more than $25,000 of debt.

Why it sucks, in reality:

1) Hindsight is always 20/20– A large portion of the respondents referred to the fact that they felt they were too young to make financial decisions at age 18 that would seriously impact themselves decades from the start of college. 29 percent of respondents even went to far to say that they regret going to their college because of their debt, or are unsure if they are happy with their decision.

“I wish that someone had explained loans and debt more clearly to me when I was 18 because sometimes I regret taking so much loan money,” said Lindsay Armstrong, a graduate of College of the Holy Cross and current grad student. “Then again, I got a great education and someone probably did explain, but I was 18, so I was just like….whatever, it will all work out.”

2) Sallie Mae’s website is confusing– Three out of the 32 respondents specifically referred to Sallie Mae’s confusing and contradictory website. One female respondent pointed out that if you ever have insufficient funds in your bank account, Sallie Mae will keep trying to take money out, and you can rack up bank fees.

3) What is up with Sallie Mae changing policy? Speaking of Sallie Mae, many post-grads feel that in general, the company’s policies are always shifting and far too confusing.

One female respondent, a 2006 graduate from Hofstra University said “My loans kept getting bought by different companies, I’m not too sure why that was happening but Sallie Mae did not really explain to me the change of interest rates nor the best way to go about paying them back since they are in separate accounts.”

She also said that she wants to get a financial advisor, but cannot because of, guess what? her loans.

4) Dreading the payments each month– Many respondents said that even with educating yourself about loan options, it is still daunting to see that bill come in every month. Approximately 63 percent of respondents got a job immediately after college, and of that 63 percent, 34 percent got a job after college at least partially for clearing their debt and for financial reasons.

Even with a job, though, payments can be difficult. Danielle Kuhn, a 2010 graduate from The College of New Jersey said that she is living at home working at a job that she doesn’t enjoy and is overqualified for, just to pay off her loans.

Justin Mitchell,a 2002 graduate from the University of Northern Colorado, pointed out that, “when people are coming out of school with crippling levels of loan debt, they are left with very few options, and are facing huge debts before they’ve even started their lives.”

5) Not knowing my options- Although Justin said that he wishes that there were other options, this brings up the final complaint from post-grads. are there any options besides Sallie Mae? According to askstudentloans.com, just because Sallie Mae is the the most popular student loan distributor, does not mean it is the only one. There are also Stafford and Plus loans, and plenty of scholarships for every type of student out there.

Even with these complaints, however, students don’t seem to be too worried. The majority-44 percent never or rarely think about their student loan debt. An as for optimism- 41 percent of respondents think that it will take them less than five years to pay off their student loans.

The effects of paying off student loans in the real world can be scary, daunting, and burn multiple holes in your bank accounts. The top bits of advice that respondents gave to students entering college and college students? Make sure to listen to your financial advisor and parents, when you take loans out, and when you begin paying them back.

Tom DiChristopher, SUNY Albany Class of 2005, said that if he could do it again, he would have put college off for a year, and thought twice about deferring his loans immediately after graduation.

“I think the biggest misconception post-grads have is that deferment is a solution,” said DiChristopher. “A six-month reprieve after graduation is fine, but it’s important to start paying as much as you can as soon as possible.”

 

 

 

 

Future Brides “Say Yes” to Dresses and Charity at the White Hot Style Shop

This week, from Thursday until Sunday, future brides visiting the White Hot Style Shop got pampered, primped, and plenty of wedding ideas at the second annual bridal exhibition, featuring book signings and celebrity appearances, vendors and hair and makeup stylists. Part of the proceeds from sales at the White Hot Style Shop and other events go to charities like Dress For Success, an organization that helps underprivileged women dress for the office and  job interviews and Operation Smile.

“Charity has certainly become an incentive in the wedding planing process,” said Communications Manager Julia Bucciero. “Couples have become increasingly focused on combining philanthropic initiatives with their wedding spending.”

All day on Thursday, brides took part in the festivities, and began getting ready for their big day.


The window at the front of White Hot Style shop displays a wedding gown that was featured on the cover on Brides Magazine, while future brides file in and out of the event.

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Sallie Mae: The Two Most Dreaded Words to a Recent College Grad

It is no secret that paying off student loans is a dreaded process for graduates, especially if you happened to go to an expensive private institution or did not get much financial help from your parents. In fact, according to Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, a recent survey confirmed that this year’s college graduating class is the most indebted ever with an average debt of $22,900.

There are so many resources out there to learn about loans and advice for paying for paying for loans (hint: they definitely don’t recommend selling your body for student loan-relief like this student did, according to the Huffington Post). However, beyond the occasional inane story, students are literally flooded with information from parents, financial advisors, college advisors, etc.

For example:

How do loans (specifically Sallie Mae) work?

This handy, albeit grim, graphic from collegescholarships.org shows the general process of a loan, and what happens if you fail to pay the loan.

According to the Daily Finance, stress over college loans, and being “suddenly hit” with student loan debt can lead to life-ruining consequences such as losing the job of your dreams, extreme anxiety and even thoughts of suicide. In a study by Foregivestudentloandebt.com, 8% of students said they would commit suicide to protest debt plight.

Although these cases may seem extreme, anxiety due to student debt is real. If you decided however, to get loans, there are ways to to avoid defaulting on them, or falling behind on your payments, just by Googling it.

Some smart ideas out there: Such plain financial advice as consolidate your loans to create lower payments for yourself, or try to get debt forgiveness, according to Money Grubbing Lawyer, who speaks of his own daunting amount of law school debt ($100,000).

According to this video by Howcast: there are also some sneaky tricks to help you avoid trouble with paying off debt such as extending your loan term, and understanding the benefits of being a teacher with student loan debt(some low-income area schools will forgive your whole debt if you work for them)

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Also, to avoid much of student-loan debt in the first place, students can look to expert opinions in the financial field. “We advise students to not over-borrow. They can always return funds they find they do not need or reduce their loan request,” said Shelleye Belton, City College of New Yorks Associate Director of Financial Aid in an email interview.

With all of this advice out there, why are loan-dependent students always so surprised when, after graduation, Sallie Mae comes knocking on their doors, demanding payment?

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Loan Mountain from shapingyouth.org

This survey found here, polls young college graduates about their debt, and tries to find out the truth about student loans. Beyond the advice columns and financial advisors, what is it really like to pay off a loan? On average, how much debt do post-grads have? Above all: how much impact does debt worry have on their lives?

The Rich Get Richer…

President Obama named his tax initiative after Warren Buffet, the famous multi-billionaire, and the picturesque “old, stodgy white dude.” The tax initiative will try to make the rich get slightly poorer, instead of escalating the growth of their money pile.

But really, how rich are America’s wealthiest citizens?

According to the New York Times, the wealth distribution is much more skewed than Americans think. 20% of Americans own 84% of the wealth (approximately).

 

From a calculation based on this year’s Forbes 400, the top ten wealthiest people in America own 311.4 billion dollars, combined (Warren Buffet is number two, after Bill Gates). The statistics only tell part of the story, however.

What do the wealthiest in America think of Obama’s tax plan? According to the Global News, Buffet is “fine” with the President naming his tax plan after him. The Christian Science Monitor even goes as far as saying that Buffett and Obama are “best pals.”

Indeed, the Christian Science Monitor reports that the two have been working closely together. Warren Buffett seems to have similar opinions to Obama, as he stated in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times: “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress.”

Warren Buffett is not the only one protesting tax breaks for the rich: “It’s time for millionaires, like me and the ones in Congress, to step up to the plate and start paying their fair share,” said Guy Saperstein, a wealthy lawyer and member of the group Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, according to Reuters.

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In this ABC video, Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA, says that “paying taxes is patriotic.”

It certainly seems as if individual millionaires and billionaires have no problem with coughing up more tax money to even the playing field, but according to House Speaker John Boehner, Obama’s statements qualify as “class warfare” and dismisses the plan, stating that “it does not make sense to tax the people who invest in the economy.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the super-wealthy do not really invest in the economy in the same way that Boehner refers to. A Prince and Associates Study shows that the extremely wealthy are more likely to put their money into start-ups and hedge funds, as opposed to mutual funds, which would reach out to the masses.

On the contrary, a recent Forbes column argues that increasing taxes for the rich would decrease the amount of money wealthy people put into savings. These savings, according to Alex Brill and Chad Hill, are investments that help the economy in the long run.

Here’s what the Twitterverse is saying about Warren Buffett and the tax plan:

Warren Buffett: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! TAX ME, YOU MORONS! ~ http://t.co/CAdCqJeu ~ #p2 #p21 #tlot
@sunshineejc
sunshineejc
Why should Warren Buffett pay the same cigarette tax as his secretary? #buyhersmokes
@jpodhoretz
John Podhoretz
Warren Buffett 'should send in a check' if he feels guilty about tax rate... http://t.co/rVCKmwzU
@Drudge_Report
Drudge Report

Sunshineejc says it all: from recent comments it does seem as if the rich want to be taxed. ….Go figure. The tax debate has been volleyed back and forth  between Republicans and Democrats, between the wealthy and the middle class, since the Reagan Administration.

Top Five Jobs That Did Not Exist 10 Years Ago

With the government divided on economic issues, especially on President Obama’s jobs plan, it may seem like the economy will continue in this downward spiral. “Will I get hired?” and “Can I still find a job?” are the big questions on everyone’s minds these days. But fear not: there are still plenty of in-demand jobs out there, and many of them were not even invented until a few years ago.

1) Online-Content Curator– What exactly is an online content curator?  They are the editors, librarians, and museum curators of the web: aggregating and organizing content for readers. Businesses are hiring curators, and freelancers are using curation as a way to promote their brand. According to Clickz, the idea of creating an Internet community is at the heart of this Web organization tool.

2) Social Media Specialist/Manager– It is becoming a tight race to stay on the cutting edge of “what’s hot” and “what’s trending” in the Twitter/blogosphere. Companies have been hiring people like NPR’s Andy Carvin to “microblog” or “microreport” and get their ideas out there in under 140 characters. FYI: Andy tweets approximately 1200 times a day, according to Poynter.

3) Search Engine Optimization Specialist– SEO has been around for quite some time but it was not until recently that company and business websites began to rely more and more on SEO techniques to boost sales and customer clicks. According to ReThink Recruitment, a recent study found that salaries of senior SEO specialists have increased by 70% in the last three years. There is even an international SEO conference to help budding SEO specialists.

4) Green everything: from Organic farmers to Green Funeral Directors– Not every up and coming job is focused on new technology of the 21st century: some follow worldwide trends. Technically, organic farming has been around for years, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “organic farming offers the best opportunities for those entering the profession.”

As for Green Funeral Homes? Green funeral homes and their directors are becoming a large trend in the past five years, says Jessica Koth of the Funeral Director’s Association, with more and more people wanting to bury their loved ones without chemicals.

5) 3-D Animator– If working with dead people and crops is not your thing, another job on the rise is the 3-D animator.

 

3-D Animators have gotten more clout in the past few years. According to 3D-TV, Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katz recently received a 3D Visionary Award, the first time that this award has been offered in the animation industry.
Protip: Jobs to Avoid in This Tough Economy:

-Mailman- or Mailperson whichever you prefer. According to the Times Free Press, the postal service has seen a lot of trouble. Blame email, Obama, whoever you want: somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 jobs are at risk if mail centers shut down.

-Travel Agent- Obama spoke recently about jobs that are becoming obsolete, including travel agents, saying that “people just use the Internet.” Angry travel agencies insist, however, that their industry is “doing just fine” with an annual payroll of $6.3 billion, says the Economist.

Even if you do not decide to become a green funeral home director after reading this post, there are new career options out there. The job market is changing all the time. Five years ago, did you think that you could hold a career as a Twitter reporter? Didn’t think so.

Bad News for Brand New Teachers

In times of economic crisis, it can be terrifying for new graduates to be thrust into the shark pool of lay-offs, hiring freezes, and pay cuts. Even teaching, oftentimes thought to be one of the most in-demand occupations, has seen setbacks in the current economic crisis.

In schools across the country, new teachers have been struggling to compete for very few jobs. In Texas, more than $4 billion were cut from public education funds statewide. As a result, Corpus Christi, Texas has seen fewer teachers hired, and bigger classrooms.

Hundreds of miles away, Londonderry High School in New Hampshire only hired one teacher fresh out of college. The entire school district hired only two rookie teachers, when in previous years they had hired as many as 30.

According to the Journal Sentinel, tthe difficult job market in Milwaukee was due to the 300 layoffs that occurred at the end of the year, and the intense competition that the newly-unemployed faced. Other reasons? Baby-boomer-aged teachers stay with their jobs longer because of the recession, creating fewer and fewer spots for new teachers.

These stories, and statistics that indicate increased education cuts create the daunting picture that may discourage young, would-be teachers. Many young teachers now join the ever-growing group of college grads who simply cannot seem to find steady jobs.

According to the Atlantic City Press, only 51% of Rutgers students who graduated from 2006-2010 held steady jobs two months after graduation. The nation-wide class of 2011 has even more to worry about than previous classes. Time published an article grimly stating that the class of 2011 is the most indebted class ever, and the average debt for a college grad is $22,900.

But wait, would-be teachers: don’t tear up your diplomas just yet. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts an overall steady growth rate of 15% between 2008 and 2018 for post-secondary teachers and elementary school teachers.

Another bright spot? The federal government may soon be stepping in to stop the pattern of unemployed educators. Only three U.S. states increased their education funds for the 2012 Fiscal Year, according to the Huffington Post. However, CNBC predicts that President Obama’s speech tomorrow about the current economic situation will include a plan to prevent teacher layoffs, most likely by sending aid to state municipalities.

On the state level, school districts have been doing what they can to hire new teachers and to decrease the growing competition between new teachers, and veterans. At Rock Bridge High School in Missouri, for example, first-year teachers are being paired with more experienced instructors for their first few years in the school district.

Some school districts have even seen significant improvements in the job market. According to Philly.com, the Philadelphia school district has filled 999 out of the 1,000 job openings from the end of the school year for the 2011 to 2012 school year.

Should teachers expect job opportunities? Although the future is still foggy, the federal, state and local governments seem to be doing their best to ensure that it does not become impossible for college graduates to enter one of the nation’s oldest and most revered professions: the educator.