New restaurant owner hires employees with disabilities

COLUMBUS, Ind. – Randy Lapidus couldn’t have predicted that his daughter’s cardiac arrest during an argument would eventually result in a new business venture.

Although doctors believed Rachel wouldn’t walk or talk again, she was able to transition into a rehabilitation program. When Rachel started vocational rehab, her disabilities made finding a job difficult. Lapidus wanted to change that, so he and his family recently opened Special Dogs and More, a hot dog restaurant in Fair Oaks Mall with the majority of employees having some form of developmental disability.

This is his story.

Middle Way House launches annual Wrapped in Love art display

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Middle Way House held a yarn-cutting ceremony on the Monroe County Courthouse lawn Friday, October 6, to launch 2017’s Wrapped in Love art display, which raises awareness and funds for the nonprofit emergency shelter and rape crisis center.

This is the sixth year for the project started by the late Toby Strout, former executive director of Middle Way House, and Mary Ann Gingles, owner of Yarns Unlimited.

A new addition this year is the Wrapped in Love Benefit Sunday, October 8, from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Fountain Square Mall Ballroom. The event commemorates the tree wrap project, which is held each year in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Middle Way House, which serves six counties in southern Indiana, provides shelter, advocacy, housing and legal services to survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault.

Nashville musician encourages consumers to shop local

NASHVILLE, Ind.Brown County musician and software consultant Chuck Wills encourages consumers to shop local this holiday season and throughout the year.

Wills says he shops at small businesses in his community all year round, but his family and friends have come to expect unique holiday gifts from the arts and crafts mecca of Brown County, Ind. Whether it’s for those gifts or just items he needs, he supports the local economy and encourages others to do the same by shopping local.

Wills adds, though, that supporting small, local businesses doesn’t just mean purchasing an item. He says buying tickets to an event or planning an evening out together is not only good for the musicians and performing artists people see, but also enhances one’s time with others.

Non-profit focuses on harm reduction for IV drug users

NOTE: This is Part 1 of a profile on Indiana Recovery Alliance. The second segment will be part of a larger special feature on the impact of heroin use on social and community services in Indiana. The full package will be published in upcoming months.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Social worker Chris Abert started a non-profit outreach service to help those at risk for disease and death due to intravenous drug use. With heroin use and HIV diagnoses in Indiana reaching epidemic proportion, his agency has grown from three to more than 60 volunteers.

The Indiana Recovery Alliance focuses on harm reduction in whatever manner the person deems necessary. Abert said volunteers meet people where they are and focus on facilitating any positive change as people want for themselves.

That can manifest itself in many different ways.

Abert says that positive impact can range from abstinence to clean needles to condoms. It also means that Indiana Recovery Alliance will provide people with clothes, rugs to use as sleeping mats, shoes, sanitary napkins and many other necessities that help them continue to feel human.

Once a week, IRA volunteers climb in their long, silver van and go out to meet people and provide for their needs. The Chicago Recovery Alliance sold the van to IRA for $1, which the agency still owes, because, Abert said, “We don’t have a dollar.”

With the heroin and HIV epidemic that exploded this spring, Abert said his volunteer numbers have increased, but what the agency needs more than anything are monetary donations. For those who would like to donate money, go to IRA’s Facebook page or website at

If you’d like to donate something, but don’t have money to spare, Abert said IRA could use medical or other supplies distributed or used when the van goes out in the community.

Another way to help, he said, would be for churches or other organizations to host coat drives. IRA distributes the coats to those exposed to inclement and winter weather.

Here’s an introduction to the Indiana Recovery Alliance:

Chris Abert talks about harm reduction and The Indiana Recovery Alliance.
(Video by Linda Margison)

Habitat raises funds, and then walls, to get family in home by the holidays


SEE ALSO: Volunteer works so partner families have homes


PEOGA, Ind. — After two fundraisers in the past few months, Brown County Habitat for Humanity is ready to raise the walls on this year’s partner family home.

On Tuesday, Oct. 6, workers will frame the walls on this three-bedroom house for Nathaniel and Rachelle Nash and their three children, Desirea, Jordan and Nate.

The plan is to have the family moved in by the end of November, so the Nashes’ home church, Church of the Lakes in Cordry-Sweetwater, plans to step in to provide labor and food for the volunteers, according to Rachelle Nash.

Sandie Jones, a Habitat board member, said the organization’s inaugural garage sale in August raised $4,891 and the Hike for Humanity on Sept. 26 brought in $6,400.

“It was a great event with 50 hikers participating,” Jones wrote in a message.

The money raised will fund the no-interest loan that the Nashes will pay back over time, according to Rachelle Nash.

IU students march for climate change


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — More than 50 Indiana University students, faculty and staff joined Reinvest IU organizers for the March for Climate Action on IU’s campus Thursday, Sept. 17.

With signs, windmills and music in tow, the marchers trekked into Bryan Hall and upstairs to President Michael McRobbie’s office where they read a letter calling for the IU Foundation to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies within five years.

Divestment means to pull funds from those companies, rather than investing in them.

McRobbie wasn’t in the office, but that didn’t keep members of the core Reinvest IU group from voicing their platform.

“Indiana University cannot claim to be proactively addressing climate change while the IU Foundation investment committee continues to make substantial investments in the fossil fuel corporations responsible for climate change,” organizers read. “Investments that seriously undermine the well-being of our future are morally reprehensible and make a mockery of IU’s commitment to nurturing healthy and flourishing lives.”

The IU Graduate and Professional Student Organization started an initiative in 2013 to raise awareness and gain support for a push to get university leaders to divest funds in fossil fuels.

According to a report created by the GPSO, “Scientists and governments around the world agree: If the world warms more than 2 [degrees Celsius] above pre-industrial levels, comprehensive and drastic change to the way we live, the functioning of our economy, and our quality of life will be unavoidable.”

The report adds that to stay within that temperature level, consumers may safely burn only 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide, but fossil fuel companies own nearly five times that amount.

GPSO wants the university’s foundation to exercise both fiscal and environmental responsibility with the funds it invests, according to the report.

Reinvest IU will meet Thursday, Sept. 24, to plan other events for the semester and continue the campaign against the university’s fossil fuel investments.

For more information, connect with Reinvest IU on Facebook to learn when events are scheduled.

Brown County revs up for October tourism

BROWN COUNTY, Ind. — With October just a few short weeks away, Nashville and Brown County, Ind., are gearing up for the busiest tourism season of the year.

More than 1.3 million people a year find their way to this hilly, quaint mecca that has streets lined with tiny shops selling local art, crafts and unique finds. They venture along curvy, windy roads through the state’s largest park, Brown County State Park, where they ride horses and mountain bikes, hike, camp and picnic amid the squirrels, deer and other wildlife.

The terrain is what drew artists to the area at the turn of the 20th century. Painters like T.C. Steele, Ada and Adolph Shulz, Marie Goth and Carl Graf, and many others, all made their homes in the hills that provided endless inspiration for their work.

And now, visitors follow that same trek each October as the green foliage evolves into hues of orange, red and yellow.

“Vibrant hues can be seen throughout the county in our rolling hills. Check out our famous foliage while hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, zip lining, and more,” said Aubrey Sitzman, public relations coordinator for the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

One of the main attractions in October is the Back Roads of Brown County Studio Tour, which offers visitors a glimpse inside the world of local artists.

“Not only will you get to admire the area’s fall colors as you drive along, but you’ll also have the chance to visit a dozen home studios, featuring the work of more than 20 artists. Watch these artists in action, explore the spaces that inspire them, and, if you like something well enough, purchase art directly from its source,” Sitzman said.

The economy of the experience is one that the community and small business owners depend on each year. Of the 15,000 residents, 24.7 percent work in the retail, service, arts and entertainment industries fueled by the high number of visitors each year.

With the high number of visitors, though, diners and shoppers may have to wait in line.

“Most restaurants don’t take reservations so plan ahead,” Sitzman said. “Be sure to give yourself plenty of time for dining as most restaurants do not take reservations. Maybe pick out where you are wanting to go ahead of time and remember to be patient. Take in your Brown County/Nashville surroundings and just enjoy the company you are with.”

Sitzman suggests visitors download the newly released Discover Brown County app to their smartphones. The app is available for iOS and Android phones.

“From information on shops, restaurants, attractions and lodging properties to finding parking, restrooms and other attractions, the app makes navigation easy,” she said. “You can make reservations, use maps and directions, search for local events and even connect with the Visitors Center on social media. No need to wander or drive around aimlessly, just refer to that app and let it show you the way. Think of it as your very own personal tour guide, one that just so happens to conveniently fit in your pocket.”

For more information about October events, visit the CVB website.

Fourth Street Festival a hot ticket for arts enthusiasts


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The sweltering heat beat down on those who braved the sunny 90-plus-degree temperatures to partake in the Fourth Street Festival of the Arts and Crafts this Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 5 and 6.

Tents lined both sides of Fourth Street from Lincoln to Indiana Avenue. Each offered a different perspective on the artist’s worldview. From jewelry, metal and woodworking to fabric arts, painting and photography, the tents welcomed browsers and shoppers alike. On stages, festival-goers got a taste of performance art, including skits and spoken word, and even experienced a variety of musical talent.

The Bloomington Fire Department also hosted a fundraising cookout as part of the festival.

The festival began in 1977 and was created to highlight the work of artists and craftspeople in southern Indiana; however, artisans from across the country journey many miles to sell their wares to the festival’s visitors each year.

Bloomington thrives in its arts and cultural offerings and has officially been designated a cultural arts district, the Bloomington and Entertainment Arts District (BEAD). The city devotes space to public art and exhibits art in City Hall. The City of Bloomington Arts Commission is a citizen-driven organization that offers support through funding and partnerships.

Mom leads fundraiser for weekend meal program


NASHVILLE, Ind. — Clara Stanley saw an advertisement in her local newspaper about the Brown County Weekend Backpacks program and knew she needed to be involved.

As a mother, she understood the importance of making sure children had food they could prepare on the weekends. Many children have parents who work and leave them to their own devices. Meals are often one of those ways kids take care of themselves.

Stanley took the lead on this year’s Watermelon Festival, Saturday, Aug. 29, which featured activities, a silent auction and watermelon carving contest to raise money for food-filled backpacks.

The backpacks go to students who qualify for the free lunch program in two of the county’s elementary schools, Helmsburg and Sprunica, as well as the Brown County Intermediate School. According to Jackson Township Trustee Sandy Higgins, the third elementary school, Van Buren, is solely supported by a church in that township.

The backpacks include four breakfast items, four lunch items, four dinner items and two snacks. Stanley said volunteers try to get items that are healthy as possible, and, as funds are raised, fresh fruit is the next goal for the backpacks.

As of now, the backpacks include healthy options that students can prepare themselves, like peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese. Each backpack may be shared between family members.

While Stanley organized the fundraiser, a team of other volunteers spearhead backpack efforts. To help out, contact the appropriate person in your area of interest:

The Brown County program is part of the Feeding America BackPack Program that was started more than 15 years ago to feed children on weekends when access to food isn’t always available.