Tax Time is Here! Free Quick Tips & Resources

Romans 13:6-7: For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

What’s Changed? 2018 Tax Reform Changes

According to the latest news release from the Internal Revenue Service’s “Tax Time Guide” (irs.gov) the following key changes to tax filings from previous years are as follows:

  • Tax rates lowered. Starting in 2018, there are seven income tax brackets, ranging from 10 percent to 37 percent.
  • Standard deduction nearly doubled over last year. For 2018, the basic standard deduction is $12,000 for singles, $18,000 for heads of household and $24,000 for married couples filing a joint tax return. Higher amounts apply to people who are blind or filers who are at least age 65. The increased standard deduction, coupled with other changes, mean that more than half of those who itemized their deductions – for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes – in tax year 2017 may instead take the higher standard deduction in 2018, according to IRS projections.
  • Various deductions limited or discontinued. For example, the state and local tax deduction is limited to $10,000, $5,000 if married and filing a separate return, and new limits apply to mortgage interest. In addition, the miscellaneous itemized deduction for job-related costs and certain other expenses is not available.
  • Child Tax Credit doubled, and more people now qualify. The maximum credit is now $2,000 for each qualifying child under age 17. In addition, the income limit for getting the full credit is $400,000 for joint filers and $200,000 for other taxpayers.
  • New credit for other dependents. A $500 credit is available for each dependent who does not qualify for the Child Tax Credit. This includes older children and qualifying relatives, such as a parent.
  • Personal and dependency exemptions suspended. This means that an exemption can no longer be claimed for a tax filer, spouse and dependents.

Resources for Last Minute Tax Help

  • The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) – These are IRS-certified volunteers who provide free basic tax return preparation assistance in filing electronic returns. These service are available free of charge for the following people: Those who generally make $55,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own returns.
  • Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) – This program offers free tax help for all taxpayers who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

Before visiting either VITA or TCE you will need to have the following documents available. If they are applicable to you:

  • Proof of identification (photo ID)
  • Social Security cards for you, your spouse and dependents 
  • An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) assignment letter may be substituted for you, your spouse and your dependents if you do not have a Social Security number
  • Proof of foreign status, if applying for an ITIN
  • Birth dates for you, your spouse and dependents on the tax return
  • Wage and earning statements (Form W-2, W-2G, 1099-R,1099-Misc) from all employers
  • Interest and dividend statements from banks (Forms 1099)
  • Health Insurance Exemption Certificate, if received
  • A copy of last year’s federal and state returns, if available
  • Proof of bank account routing and account numbers for direct deposit such as a blank check
  • To file taxes electronically on a married-filing-joint tax return, both spouses must be present to sign the required forms
  • Total paid for daycare provider and the daycare provider’s tax identifying number such as their Social Security number or business Employer Identification Number
  • Forms 1095-A, B and C, Health Coverage Statements
  • Copies of income transcripts from IRS and state, if applicable

Find a VITA or TCE Site Near You

VITA and TCE sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations across the country. To locate the nearest VITA or TCE site near you, use the VITA Locator Tool or call 800-906-9887.

When looking for a TCE site keep in mind that a majority of the TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program. To locate the nearest AARP TCE Tax-Aide site between January and April use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 888-227-7669.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs)

What it is: A federal grant program that gives money to legal-aid and legal-services organizations to help low-income taxpayers or taxpayers who speak English as a second language. Law schools and business schools also are common providers. Some charge nominal fees.

How it works: The program generally provides representation for people in IRS disputes, including audits, appeals, collections and litigation. It also can help respond to IRS notices and fix account problems. For 2019, the income ceiling was 250% of the federal poverty rate, but some programs may have a little wiggle room.

Get help from the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program.

If you’re over 60

AARP Tax Foundation

What it is: A nonprofit arm of AARP that operates the Tax-Aide network of tax preparation sites for the IRS’s VITA and TCE programs.

How it works: AARP’s Tax-Aide connects taxpayers with tax counselors who have advanced IRS training. It also operates an online FAQ page where you can submit tax questions to IRS-certified volunteers. You don’t need to be an AARP member to get free tax help.

Get help from the AARP Tax Foundation

Military OneSource

What it is: A Department of Defense program that provides financial and legal resources, among other things, to military members and their families. The tax program is called MilTax.

How it works: Trained MilTax consultants are available to give free tax help by phone seven days a week at 1-800-342-9647 or 1-703-253-7599. Live chat is also available. MilTax is part of the VITA program, which means you also can get face-to-face help on base or nearby.G

IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service

What it is: If you have a tax problem contact this independent organization within the IRS that protects taxpayer rights.

How it works: You can turn to the Taxpayer Advocate Service for free tax help if you’ve already tried to resolve your tax problem through normal IRS channels or you think an IRS process isn’t working the way it should. There’s at least one Taxpayer Advocate office in every state. Contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service

Advertisements

Surviving Disaster

IMG_2066.JPG

November 30th  marked the official end of Hurricane Season 2018 with 15 storms in total. Media images of people surrounded by the water-soaked ruins once known as home were heartbreaking. But soon those images were now replaced by new grieving faces. The family members of the victims of the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, CA were struggling to make sense of the actions of the lone gunman who seemingly took the lives of their loved ones at random. There were 12 people killed in total.  Then there was the Carr fire, which occurred shortly afterwards as a result of a camp fire.

Are Disasters and Tragedies the New Normal?

The fire burned for over a month and forced the evacuation of over 35,000 California residents resulting in 88 deaths and over $1 billion in land and property damages. For many of us, the images families driving in slow moving droves through walls of fire is not one that will ever be forgotten.  Then more shootings occurred. Pittsburgh and Kentucky served as an ugly reminder of the hate that has eroded a society that once revered senior citizens and places of worship. This was a revelation that shook the communities of faith across the nation. Then the real shaking began. Earlier this month, many of us viewed the jaw-dropping footage of a natural disaster as it unfolded in Anchorage, AK where a 7.0 earthquake shook helpless residents in their homes, schools and workplaces.

So what does this all mean? Are disasters and tragedies the new normal? And what exactly happens in the aftermath to the millions of victims each year who have suffered losses as a result of either a natural or man-made disaster or tragedy?

Dr. Ricky Dillard, dubbed “The Choirmaster” is the musical director and lead of the New Generation Chorale (aka New G). Ricky is among the countless number of people who have experienced the pain firsthand of what it is like to lose it all.

The highly-celebrated,  Stellar award winner and Grammy nominee received word in 2007 that his newly purchased six-bedroom home had been completely destroyed by fire while he was still on tour. It was then that I met Ricky for the first time in NYC just days after the fire had occurred. Upon hearing the news, I anticipated that interview would be cancelled, but he came to the SiriusXM studios as scheduled, still yet to go home to the devastation that awaited him.

CFU:  How did you first find out your home had been destroyed by fire and what was your initial reaction at the time?

RD: I received a call from my next door neighbor who was a veteran who had been helping me to do some things at the house. I had remodeled the home and he would come over to do quite a bit of things like painting and refurbishing floors and taking care of the lawn. While I was in New York, he and his wife had called me to say…”your house has burned down”.  Then I received another call from a friend, who said”your house is burning and on the news” and that’s how I found out about the fire.

My initial reaction was…it hadn’t sunk in. I was away and did not rush back because I was still in awe. I was still overwhelmed by the news. I might may have returned home 3 days later. Why? Because I didn’t have a place the live. The house had been completely burned down and destroyed and I had nowhere to go.

CFU: It was reported that among the things lost were several irreplaceable items of memorabilia. Can you elaborate on that?

RD: All of my things were destroyed in the fire, Stellar Awards, Grammy nominations, certificates and medallions, music, recordings, records. I lost all of my clothing, I lost choir robes and just all of the furniture and just all of the things that I bought for the house because everything was brand new in the house pretty much and I just know that fires can really destroy everything that you have and it did.

CFU: What were the greatest lessons you’ve learned about yourself and others during this tragedy?

RD: The lesson I’ve learned from this tragedy is to one… have all your business straight as it relates to insurances.  I did have insurance. Another thing I learned is to trust in the Lord through these times. You never know when they will happen to you. I also learned that there are many people who care and many ministries that care….family and friends that care and many people came to my aid when they heard my home had been burned down.

I had been given several benefit concerts because at that time I was living in two cities in Chicago and Atlanta. They all came together and gave me a benefit concert. There were also others like Benedict College from South Carolina who came together to help me. There were people calling from all over the world to lend their helping hand in my time of need and I thank God for his grace and for how He is a provider.

He turned my situation around and within one month or two months and I was now living on the Northside of town and had moved into a very nice place where I could restore and rebuild.

CFU: Since your own personal tragedy many others have become victims of newsworthy man-made and natural disasters. What helped you get past the devastation of the loss? What advice would you give to those who have experienced sudden life tragedies?

RD: Again, I had much support from close friends and family. Luckily, at the time of the fire I was in Canada. I then left Canada and headed to Chicago and from Chicago I went to New York. The house actually burned down when I got to New York but I had a week’s worth of clothing with me because I had packed a very big suitcase because of my recording session.

But what really helped me get passed the devastation was the benefit concerts. There were friends and families as well as churches who were supportive and not only that I had the Word of God that had been written in my heart that in times of trouble The Lord would be a hiding place and would be a  pavilion and a safe haven and truly He was.  From that day in 2007 to 2018 I am restored and revived and have rebuilt the things I’ve lost.  God turned it around and gave me double for my trouble.

If you trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not to thine own understanding and in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path. God Bless.

**********************************************************************************

IMPORTANT RESOURCES

IMG_2067

(Provided courtesy of a  dedicated staff member from the American Red Cross).

Help provided to disaster survivors is tax-deductible. Assistance is always needed and appreciated.

Donations: https://www.redcross.org/

How to Prepare for Emergencies – Be “Red Cross Ready”: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies.html

 

Individual Safety Pages

Each one of these pages provide information on what to do before, during and after a disaster event. I’ve provided a small selection. Last link in this section is the main page to access all. Remember, disasters are not just the large events such as hurricanes and tornados. A home fire is a disaster to the people involved.

Home Fire Safety: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/fire.html

Flood Safety: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/flood.html

Tornado Safety: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/tornado.html

Earthquake Safety: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/earthquake.html

Wildfire Safety: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/wildfire.html

Main Types of Emergencies: There are more than 20 different disaster events – natural and man-made:  https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies.html

Mobile Apps: https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/mobile-apps.html

The Red Cross also provides free Mobile Apps on everything from First Aid to individual events such as Hurricanes and Earthquakes. IMO, the ideal collection of apps to have on your phone are:
  • Emergency (an all-inclusive app lets you monitor more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts, to help keep you and your loved ones safe.)
  • First Aid (provides instant access to information on handling the most common first aid emergencies.)
  • If you have children – Monster Guard (For kids aged 7-11. This app teaches preparedness for real-life emergencies at home)
  • If you have pets – Pet First Aid (Be prepared to help your furry friends with veterinary advice for everyday emergencies.)

 

Where is Your Faith in God?

IMG_1441

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1-6)

It’s something we talk about, sing about, pray about and encourage others to have because without it, it is impossible to please God. Faith without works is dead. It should be alive. Nothing fruitful can be done with something dead.

Mustard Seed Faith

But what about when challenges arise? How much faith do you need to get through it? The Bible says you only need faith the size of a mustard seed. That’s the faith that is needed to move mountains. Imagine being able to mountains with mustard seed faith. Health mountains,  family mountains, relationship mountains, finance mountains and employment mountains, move aside. But even mustard seed faith can seem feel like a challenge when you are faced with hard facts.

Where is your Faith?

This was the title of a gospel song sung by the late Rev. James Cleveland. That was a question that was meant for those in their darkest hour, seeking answers. Are you always ready to practice what you preach? Trials can arise at any time and they are never welcomed or convenient. When the storms of life roll in it’s easy to lose sight of our peace.  God will purposely allow storms in our life at times to get our attention  and turn our eyes towards HIm.

If you find yourself in a place where your faith is being challenged. Turn to God and ask what it is should be doing or learning from your experience. Perhaps He is seeking to break your dependence upon people or material things and help you to recognize that He is still the source and supplier of all your needs and no good thing will He ever withhold from you. (Psalm 84:11)

Faith Shaming

When we are in the midst of a crisis whether perceived or real, we often tend to turn to loved ones or friends for advice. Although they may be well-meaning, they may not have the answers you seek.

I have personally witnessed as well as been on the receiving end of “fellow Christians” who had expressed disappointment with those who are wavering. To say that someone is not believing hard enough or praying long enough to change their circumstances is simply not true. For this reason, many Christians choose to suffer in silence.

God will determine how long an individual’s season of difficulty shall last. Faith will be the result of duration during your trials. Despite how others’s may react to your disappointment during a trial rest assured your response whether adverse or correct will not come as a surprise to God nor will it somehow block you from your blessings.

Broken by Design

The truth is, when God is in the process of breaking someone their response does not automatically mean they are questioning God’s ability to deliver on His promises, they are simply reacting to their circumstances the same way that Jesus demonstrated His own humanity on the Cross during the time of the Crucifixion when he cried out to his Father “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

God understands our despair, our fears and our doubts and doesn’t take it personally. He’s a loving Father who’s ways and understanding surpasses our own, yet He is patient with our growing process.

Remember Moses? He pleaded with the Lord when he was instructed to lead the people of Israel and had a list of excuses as to why he should not have been the one chosen. Moses faced several other challenges along the journey and faith was not always his strong suit, but look what the Lord did with him and through him.

Everyone’s Faith is Tested

Don’t be fooled. Whether you are a Pastor, Minister, Bishop, Deacon or Deaconess, choir member or simply sit on a pew. Your faith will be tested and you will have to put your faith to work in the face of the tragedies, disappointments and devastations of this life. We all come to different levels of faith at different stages throughout our lives. As our relationship grows so does our faith. Always remember that God will never give us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Encourage Yourself

When life’s trappings become a distraction either in the form of people or material things, God will sometimes intentionally move them out of way to disrupt our thoughts of being self-reliant. When this happens think back on those times in the past when you were either in dire need or when things seemed impossible and God blessed you with the provisions you needed or changed the course of events in an unexpected way. Use those times to comfort you during your current circumstances. Write them down and revisit the list as often as needed.

Don’t concentrate on the crisis or the pain. Pray and ask God to reveal to you exactly what it is you should be learning from the difficulties you are facing either about yourself or others around you. No hardship is ever a wasted moment in your life. Maybe you are about to demonstrate strength you never thought you possessed.

Sometimes we imagine situations to be way worse than they are. God also sometimes sends people to assist or bring a message that will speak specifically to your situation but the message will be unmistakably from God. This is not a coincidence.

As the saying goes, God works in mysterious ways.

 

Why Are Church Memberships Declining?

IMG_1287

When I was a child, there was a nursery rhyme that went “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and see the people”

But where are the people now? Church memberships have been declining steadily across the board amongst almost all denominations with the exception of the Evangelicals.

In God We Trust?

Considering we were once a nation for whom “In God We Trust”, the stark reality is that many people are opting not only out of church life but out of religion entirely. So where is the disconnect?

What’s Happening Within the Church?

With the rise of reported abuses, scandals and wrongdoings within the church community, coupled with the societal demands for church traditions to keep up with a modern world, the sanctity of churches somehow are becoming obsolete.

Also, societal views of church members overall have waned.  Religious beliefs have been further confined to being practiced in churches or at home. Doing so in a public setting such as in an office or a school is now oftentimes frowned upon as being “politically incorrect” or an infringement upon the rights of others.

But what is correct about a world that is turning away from God?

Louis Posthauer, the Executive Director of Hunters of the Harvest Ministry, “Helping Christians Return to the Body of Christ” has been deeply involved in various aspects of ministry since 1979 when he turned his life over to Christ.  Over the last 36+ years he has been actively involved in teaching and leading a broad range of ministries in the local church.

IMG_1290

CFU:  When did you first realize that there was a crisis in the local churches concerning declining membership?
In 1989 through 1991, I was a full-time volunteer Pastor in the local church and got involved in outreach and visitor follow up. During that time I noticed many casual attenders and friends of theirs who basically were disconnected from the church. As a result, the Lord showed me a Biblical strategy that was very effective in restoring dropouts to the local church. I continued to utilize that after I went back into industry for 25 years and saw many friends and neighbors and work associates restored to church.
However, it wasn’t until 2016 when the Lord impressed me to raise up this ministry and impart it to local churches to train their congregations that I realized how bad this problem of dropout believers has progressed in the western church! The Barna group in 2016 conducted a study that shows for every 10 adult Americans over the age of 21, only 3 out of 7 who consider themselves Christians are actively engaged with the local church. That means that 4 out of 7 of all of those who profess Christian faith are dropout believers. This is stunning. 55% (4/7) of all professing Christians in America today are drop out believers! I’ll bet you know some.
Some of your family members, some are your neighbors, some are your work associates and some are your friends. If you are an actively engaged Christian you’ve already found that simply inviting them or trying to get them back into church generally just doesn’t work. That’s why God’s biblical strategy is so key and important to restoring dropout believers.
CFU: What do you think has contributed to these diminishing numbers?
Some consider that the secular culture is a factor, others consider the level of engagement or lack therof of the church in society, others suggest the relevance of the church today. And there are other factors. All these issues, however, are merely manifestations of the latter days Church age we are living in, in which most people’s love is growing cold (Matt 24:12).
As a result, dropout believers have bought into a variety of lies that justify their disassociating themselves from the church  – the body of Christ, none of which are the will of God. These are strongholds – false, deeply deceptive belief systems in the mind, that must be torn down spiritually in order for them to know the truth.
CFU: What is the goal of Hunters of the Harvest Ministry in rebuilding the Kingdom?
The vision of Hunter’s of the Harvest Ministry is to see millions of dropout believers across the church in the Western World restored to the church – the body of Christ. Our mission is to impart the biblical strategy of hunters of the harvest to churches and their congregations to enable them to effectively reach out to their own sphere of influence: their family members, friends, neighbors, and work associates; and see God work miraculously to restore them to the local church.
Just think – if every active christian engaged and helped restore one – just one dropout, the church would double in size! Think Easter/Christmas level attendance all the time! Think of Holy Spirit revitalized on fire churches – because when dropouts are restored they come in on fire and ready to give and to engage!
CFU: What do you recommend as an action plan for rebuilding the Kingdom?
LP: Churches in the West still try to do evangelism as if most of the society around them is not saved or are unbelievers. That is not the case in America and some other Western countries. In fact the Barna statistics say in America only 30% of adults profess no commitment to Christian faith. Yes, this 30% will respond to traditional evangelistic outreach that proclaims the gospel of good news.
However,  those 4 out of 7 believers who are dropouts have already “been there, done that”.  They won’t be inclined to be responsive to such traditional outreaches(“I know that – I already believe in Jesus…”). Dropout believers already believe in Jesus. They just don’t believe the church is real – a vital part of their professed belief in Jesus. Their false belief systems – strongholds – must be brought down spiritually (2 Co 10:5) and overcome by the love of God manifested through prayer in individual believers who are committed to them. This is the power of the biblical strategy of Hunters of the Harvest.
I encourage every active Christian and especially leaders who are concerned about this issue to carefully review our website HuntersoftheHarvest.Org  This is the biblical answer for the restoration of dropout believers.
Christians, Pastors – it is time to act. The hour is late. Maranatha!

Turn Your Hobby into a Profitable Career

IMG_1254

What Are You Passionate About?

What is the thing you do with well with no real effort? What do you do as a hobby that fills you with joy every time without fail? Do family and friends tell you how much they enjoy your cooking?  Maybe you love baking in your spare time or you a flair for fashion and can sew. Perhaps you are a natural organizer and are able to coordinate details or events and can put things in order fairly easily. Or maybe you have a special bond with children or elders, that allows you to connect with them as a caregiver. These are just a few examples of passions many people turn into businesses. The possibilities are endless

Minding Your Own Business

The thought of becoming an entrepreneur isn’t something that everyone aspires to be. But don’t let the challenges of managing yourself as your own employee become an obstacle to your success. There will always be excuses available to justify not following your dreams and the reality is that none of those reasons are ever bigger than the God we serve. (Philippians 4:13)

Time Waits for No Man or Woman

When it comes to time, for some people there will never be enough of it. Day-to-day responsibilities can feel overwhelming. The thought of being able to do something on the side may feel nearly impossible. Most people find that between working a full-time job or attending school or parenting there’s usually little time for much else. The truth is, everyone has the same amount of hours available to them each day.

Still, many people manage to achieve far more than others. Who are these overachievers? Are they smarter? More organized or dedicated than you? Or, have they just figured out how to use time to their advantage and work smarter.

The latter is probably true. Also, nearly everyone can find a way to gain additional time to jumpstart a dream project. Even you!

Reclaim Your Time

Here are a few tips to help you regain more time:

  • Limit the time you spend on social media, watching television and checking and responding to emails.
  • Manage your social life. If you are serious about investing in your dream, you’ll have to consider skipping a few outings once in a while. It won’t hurt you. In fact, it can save you both time and maybe money too.
  • Use your commute as to get work done. Depending on your routine,  you may be able to use your travel time to  research and write out your ideas.
  • Wake up a little earlier or retire a little later. Making the effort to get an extra hour or more in to get things done can make the difference in you achieving your goals.

Working 9-to-5

What is that you like or dislike about your current job? Do you have a level of independence or maybe this is something you are lacking. Are your earnings already at its peak or is there room for growth and opportunity? Now is the time to figure out what really makes you happy.

If you have a job already, you are in the is the best position to try out something new on the side. Many people have turned their hobbies into successful full-time careers.

Common reasons for starting a “side hustle”

  • Additional income opportunity
  • Independence. Doing it for yourself
  • Doing something you actually enjoy vs. doing what pays the bills

What’s Your Passion?

How do you determine your passion? Consider it the thing you would do and enjoy even if you did it for free. If God has placed a dream within you that continually tugs at your heart and mind, then chances are you have found your passion.

Say “NAY” to the Naysayers

There will always be detractors. Your vision may not be as clear to others as it is in your own mind. Do not fall into the trap of needing to run everything by everybody all the time. Seek out wise counsel and research the works of those who may have already done what you are striving to do. The internet is a rich source of information. Use it to your advantage.

Also, learn to say nay to your own naysaying as well. Perhaps you may feel you do not have all of the qualifications needed to handle the task or you don’t have the money to fund what’s needed or maybe you have decided to purse your dream later in life.

Each of these circumstance have at some point been faced by someone else who is successful today. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed then you already have all you need to get started on your pursuit. (Matthew 17:20).

Need ideas? Here’s is a list of “99 Side Hustle Business Ideas You Can Start Today” from SideHustleNation.com.

 

Prepping Christian Children for Public School

Back to school time is here! In some states, children have already returned to classes. While entering a new school year is exciting, it can be also be stressful. Like many Christian parents, you may have concerns when sending your child to a public school for the first time. Continue reading “Prepping Christian Children for Public School”

A Mother’s Love: Celebrating March of Dimes

Stacey D. Stewart joined March of Dimes as its fifth President on January 1, 2017.  In this role, Stewart heads the organization leading the fight for the health of all moms and babies. She is responsible for all aspects of the organization’s strategy, vision and operations.

97F8BB42-04BF-4CE1-898F-923132E03957

CFU: How long has the March of Dimes been in existence?

SS: March of Dimes is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2018. President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded our organization in 1938 to fight the terrible epidemic of polio that paralyzed and killed thousands — mainly children — every year. With March of Dimes support, Dr. Jonas Salk and later Dr. Albert Sabin developed safe and effective vaccines against polio, to the tremendous relief of Americans and people around the world. Today our mission is to lead the fight to improve the health of all moms and babies.

CFU: What role does the March of Dimes play in supporting the health of mothers and their unborn babies?

SS: March of Dimes is the leading organization for the health of moms and babies, fighting for all families no matter who they are, where they live or what they can afford. We are working to reduce the rising rate of premature birth in this country, with a focus on populations and geographic regions that need our help most. We believe there is an urgent need to address the unacceptable racial and ethnic disparities in infant and maternal death and illness.

SS: We are funding critical research focused on finding the unknown causes of premature labor and new ways to prevent it with an international network of six Prematurity Research Centers.

30193BBB-BC26-4CCF-BCAA-54A76E32A424

PREEMIE Act

SS: March of Dimes advocates for policies that prioritize the health of moms, babies and families — for example, the PREEMIE Act that was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). We’re very pleased that this important initiative is moving forward to renew and improve federal programs aimed at preventing and treating preterm birth.

Maternal Mortality

SS: Additionally, Congress will soon consider the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act (H.R. 1318) and the Maternal Health Accountability Act (S. 1112). If passed, these would support states in establishing or improving maternal mortality review committees and examine every case of maternal death in order to identify causes and patterns. These are needed pieces of legislation as the maternal mortality rate is not only increasing, but at the highest of any country in the developed world.

30813E2A-C222-4AAF-A15E-0DFEF6FCBC72

CFU: What are some of the common reasons that women of reproductive age are not more proactive when it comes to their health?

SS: Every woman wants to have a healthy baby. However, we know that many women do not get the health care they need when they need it. Quality health care before pregnancy and proven interventions to reduce the risk of premature birth are not made available to all women, particularly black and Hispanic women, lower income women, and women in underserved geographic areas.

SS: One result of this inequity is that the preterm birth rate among black women is about 50 percent higher than the rate among white women. March of Dimes is committed to leveling the playing field to give all babies a fighting chance.

CFU: Do the changing politics that surround healthcare such as budget cuts and policy changes also affect the March of Dimes’ organization?

SS: We have played and continue to play critical roles in shaping state, national and local policies and healthcare practices for women, infants, children and families. Our 80-year record of success reflects our bipartisan commitment to working with policymakers and healthcare providers.

Publicly Supported Health Care

SS: With a number of states making their own changes to health care in response to uncertainties at the Federal level, it’s important that we engage at both the federal and state levels and protect critical safety nets such a Medicaid and other publicly supported programs. It’s critical we work collectively to ensure women and children can continue to count on these essential health programs.

CFU: What are some of the major challenges now impacting your organization and how can the public assist?

SS: Recent changes in philanthropy and disruptions to the economy have been challenging to many nonprofits, including March of Dimes. Ensuring that every woman of childbearing age in the U.S. has insurance that includes pregnancy care is an ongoing struggle.

Public Support Needed

SS: There is an urgent need for new solutions to address the threat of premature birth and growing racial and ethnic inequities. Now more than ever, March of Dimes needs the public’s support for our efforts from research to education to advocacy. We ask the public to join us in our mission by donating, raising awareness and speaking out to their elected officials to support moms and babies across the nation.

Movie Chat: “A Question of Faith”

A4FE6BA5-AD59-4718-917C-038A3A15A52D

Angela White is the founder of Silver Lining Entertainment, LLC, a family owned Multimedia Entertainment Company based in Los Angeles, CA. She is a filmmaker, entrepreneur, producer motivational speaker, author and industry coach/strategist.

Angela recently made history,  by becoming the first African American woman to produce a theatrical faith-based film, entitled “A Question of Faith,” which stars Kim Fields, Richard T. Jones, C. Thomas Howell, GregAlan Williams, Renee O’Connor, Jaci Velasquez and TC Stallings.

23F4AC34-26C0-41BA-A76E-75340E60F2EE

CFU: In the film “A Question of Faith” you address many real-life issues such as forgiveness.  What are some of the consequences of not dealing with not forgiving? 

AW: The process of forgiving is hard for everyone, but we must be like Christ and forgive others.  When you harbor on to ill-feelings, the lack of forgiveness can internally eat you up, which will ultimately affect your life.

In the “A Question of Faith” discussion guide, I wrote some teachable concepts regarding forgiveness:

  • In order to forgive, you have to free yourself from the hurt; anger, pain and any negative feelings that are holding you back from living out God’s purpose for you.
  • Letting go ultimately allows a spiritual transformation in your life.
  • Never allow pride to stop you from uniting with God on a spiritual level.  In time, God will heal your heart and replace it with a humble spirit to look at situations from a different perspective.

AW: Let’s not forget our Bible verses in Luke 6:35-37 or Roman 12: 17-20, which guides us on the power of letting go. The power of forgiveness was an important element of “A Question of Faith” but necessary to show how we can all be like Christ and you may be surprised on what’s on the other side of letting go.

CFU: The film also depicts a couple who is faced with the decision of whether or not commit to having their loved one’s organs used to save another person’s life. What are some of the common stigmas surrounding organ donation? I’ve heard that there are Christians who believe that a body not intact is a body that won’t enter Heaven.

AW: “A Question of Faith” partnered with “Donate Life of America,” who educated us for about a year on many stigmas and false stereotypes that comes with being an organ donor or recipient.  One of the first things that I realized about organ donation, as I was very naive to this subject, was the number of people that receive an organ a year and there are many.  Organs donated range from eyes, lungs, hearts, kidneys, blood vessels, liver, tissue, pancreas, etc, so there are many parts of the body that can be in need due to a failing health issue.

Organ Donation Crisis

AW: Also, I did not know the number of people that die per year because they do not receive an organ.  Organ donation is a serious life issue and I say that with all sincerity, as I know some people do not agree.  I am African American and we have some of the highest diabetes rates in the world.  Many African Americans with diabetes or other health complications require an organ at some point due to a failing health issue.  Many African Americans with diabetes are subject to needing a kidney transplant at some point if their health fails and we are not donating enough to save people’s lives.  I had to learn that giving an organ to someone in need is the most purest form of love for the recipient.  And, for the recipient, to receive an organ is God’s grace.

Importance of Organ Donation

AW: Thus, people need to be educated on the importance of signing to up to save someone’s life.  The community at large needs more organ donors and I think people would be surprised how many people they already know might have already been a recipient or donor. God gave us his son, Jesus, so he is the first organ donor in my humble opinion. It is not your body that goes into heaven but your spirit.  When we are buried, it is said, “dust to dust” and “ashes to ashes” and we were formed from dust. Thus, our physical earthly body will die but our spirit is what moves on to Heaven.

CFU: Texting and driving or operating a vehicle while distracted is another issue raised in the film. Many people feel that this is only an issue with younger drivers such as the character in the film. How do you see “A Question of Faith” helping to raise awareness of this as not just an age issue?

AW: The issue of texting and driving is not a young people issue but a highway and transportation major crisis going on everywhere in this country.  I was very proud to highlight this issue in the movie, as there are so many accidents that happen every minute due to someone distracted by their cell phone.

Texting and Driving

AW: The film partnered with many national organizations to highlight this issue and the statistics surrounding the number of people that die per day as a result of a distracted driver were alarming.  I hope we shed some light on the seriousness of being a distracted driver and that one minute in time can alter and change not only your life but someone else’s.

CFU: “A Question of Faith” also tackles a character who’s views of race nearly destroyed his livelihood. In a society that often appears to be increasingly more intolerant of each other, how can our nation begin to heal the divide?

AW:  We openly wanted to address the issues of race in America for many reasons as we are in a moment in history, where we have the commander and chief dividing our country into two.  It is funny how history will repeat itself if we are not careful about our leadership and making sure the next generation understands the past.  As we are in 2018, race relations are worse than 1980 to some people.

AW: The statement by itself is shocking and some would argue, it is not that bad, but I disagree.  Young people of color are dying every day at the hands of police officer, who are supposed to protect us and hate crimes are on a rise.  We need to address race relations before the country can heal.  If we ignore the past, it will continue to repeat.

We the People

AW: As a people, we must come together and have an open dialogue about race. If we ignore the race topic, we can never begin healing.  Further, we must remove leadership that continues to divide the races.  So, this is a tough question as there are a lot of moving parts that must happen prior to healing and one being having an open dialogue from both sides on their perceived feelings, so we can start having some honest conversations.

AW: A lot of race issues are from perceived perceptions that are not factual or accurate.  If people would even take the time to sit down and talk, we would realize we are more alike than not. Just pray that our country can start having an open dialogue, so the healing can be possible.

CFU: You are the first African American woman to produce and release a mass-market faith-based movie, did you know when you started to work on the project that you were going to be a pioneer and is the faith-based market friendlier to female producers than the mainstream?

AW: You know when I started to produce, “A Question of Faith” I had no idea of this market or the players that came before me.  I was completely uninformed of the fact that not many African-Americans, in general were not in this movie genre.  Thus, after producing the movie, a year later, a publicist brought this fact to my attention and I was genuinely surprised with mixed emotions.  Of course, I was elated that a milestone could be reached and then I was sad that it took until 2017 for this to happen.

AW: The milestone reminded me of how much work African American filmmakers still have to do in this industry. I am just happy for anything that I can offer and bring to the table and I want to inspire the new generation coming up, so they can continue to break barriers for others.

Paying it Forwarding

AW: We must all pay it forward and I just want to be the best possible example of a female producer and help as many as I can to reach their goals and dreams in this tumultuous industry and it is not easy and the genre does not make a difference.  I have learned after producing so many movies that all the genres are the same, as this is show “business” and regardless of your theme, you have to be smart, diligent and prepared to work really hard and sometimes by yourself.

AW: Lastly, faith films are still considered a niche by many, so the workload is even heavier, as you have a particular audience to reach that might not normally go the movie theaters, so you really need to make sure your film not only stands out but has a great message.  The faith audience cannot be fooled, so your work and story must be authentic.  With all this said, it just raises my work ethic and the bar for excellence in this industry.

A Question of Faith” is available everywhere on DVD and is currently airing on Netflix

O Taste and See: Veggies are Really Good

IMG_0938

There’s no debating that veggies are a key to a maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. But when it comes to making changes in our eating habits it can be downright challenging.

If that’s not enough, how about those who have committed themselves to becoming totally vegetarian or vegan. The mere thought of it is enough to make some of us run for the hills.  By the way, vegan is not short for vegetarian.

Even if you, like me aren’t quite there yet when it comes to giving up meat entirely, you can still incorporate some healthy and delicious alternatives to your menu. Continue reading “O Taste and See: Veggies are Really Good”