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Don't let phone thieves get into your computer

January 24, 2015 - 9:00pm

There's a newly popular way — ironically an old-fashioned one — for computer crooks to steal your money.

It's the telephone. Now that many users are getting wise to crooked emails and websites, computer criminals are turning to the telephone and some fast talking to cheat you. And they've found more than one way to do it.

Let's start with a call I received the other day. It went something like this.

"Hello I'm Blake Smith and I work for Microsoft. We've noticed that your computer is badly infected with a virus."

What good old Blake wanted to do was take control of my computer — all I had to do was install some software that would let him control it remotely — and he would fix my computer at no cost. My gosh, how kind of him. And how efficient of him to be able to check — somehow — through all the computers in the world online, find mine and then fix it.

I don't have to tell you that Blake didn't really work for Microsoft. There are plenty of con artists who use a modified version of this scam claiming to work for various companies, including those of some of the big anti-virus software makers.

That scam is a nice shortcut for a hacker. Instead of waiting for me to fall into a trap online, his plan was to let me do the heavy lifting and give him control of my computer. Once that happened he would be able to rummage through my data, taking what he wanted and to plant software that would report back to him. All with my help.

I'll tell you how I answered Blake's telephone call at the end of this column, but first let me tell you of still another way computer criminals are using the phone.

The next con starts in much the same way. But this time they tell you of problems they see and ask that you pay their company to fix the problems. Again, keep in mind that in reality some remote caller doesn't know whether you have computer problems.

But it's a great double whammy. You not only pay some stranger to invade your computer but he also has the option of planting bad software and stealing your data while he's on your payroll.

These fake calls can get you into big trouble. But even legitimate companies that fix computers remotely, using your Internet connection, are a poor choice. It's better to take your computer to a local computer repair tech, or to pay to have a technician come to your house.

I've only named two of the ways the telephone has become a hacking tool. There are others that readers have mentioned to me. For instance, one person got a call offering him Windows at a price way below retail. He was smart enough to realize that if it sounded too good to be true it probably wasn't true. At best, he would get a hacked version of Windows that would soon stop working.

The imagination of these crooks is endless, so be on guard when a stranger calls. Believe me Microsoft and other large technology companies don't randomly telephone people.

So just hang up.

I probably should have done that myself when Blake called. But I couldn't resist. And please don't follow my example. It's stupid to make a crook angry — it can make him doubly determined to cause trouble.

But since I sometimes let good sense take a vacation, I did this. When he told me of the long list problems he could see when examining my computer, I said:

"But Blake I don't have a computer. How were you able find all these problems when I don't even own one of those machines?"

Blake was silent for a moment and then hung up.

Bill Husted writes about technology. Contact him at tecbud@bellsouth.net.

2 arrests made at Ventura DUI checkpoint

January 24, 2015 - 8:48pm

From staff reports

Police arrested one person on suspicion of driving under the influence overnight at a DUI checkpoint in Ventura, officials said.

Ventura police conducted the checkpoint from 9 p.m. Friday to 2:30 a.m. Sunday on eastbound Thompson Boulevard west of California Street.

The one person arrested in connection with DUI had a .14 blood alcohol level and subsequently had their car towed. Another person was arrested in connection with a misdemeanor warrant related to a prior DUI arrest, authorities said.

Three people were cited with a possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle violation, a possession of an open container of an alcoholic beverage violation and a driving without a license violation, police said.

Funding for this checkpoint was provided to Ventura Police Department by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Farmers markets are turning green

January 24, 2015 - 8:30pm

The winter season at Ventura County farmer markets brings an advent of healthy green vegetables, including collard greens, Swiss chard and kales, especially this year where there’s been adequate rainfall.

At the downtown Ventura farmers market Underwood Family Farms always has a delightful assortment of green, leafy vegetables packed with nutrients just waiting to be made into a delightful side dish or even main dish, if served alongside some cornbread.

The following is an old-fashioned collard greens recipe I learned from a college roommate, who said it was a family favorite. While this recipe calls for salt pork, it also can be made vegetarian-style, which is equally good. This is great served with roast chicken and brown rice.

Old-fashioned collard greens

Ingredients

2-3 thick slices salt pork, cubed

1 large shallot, chopped fine

1 pound collard greens, prepared

2 cups chicken stock

- Tabasco sauce to taste

Directions

1 To prepare collard greens, cut out thick stems. If the stems and collard leaves are young and small, this step can be omitted.

2 Chop collard greens into about ½ inch square pieces.

3 Cook the salt pork cubes in a Dutch oven until crispy and brown.

4 Add chopped shallots and cook until translucent, about 2-3 minutes.

5 Add chopped collard greens and cook until starting to wilt.

6 Add chicken stock.

7 Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour.

8 Before serving add Tabasco sauce or red pepper flakes.

Note: To make this a vegetarian recipe, substitute about ½ cup olive oil for salt pork. Substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock. Add salt to taste. The original recipe doesn’t call for salt because the salt pork provides plenty.

Find the markets

Sundays: 8:30 a.m. to noon, College of the Canyons (parking lot 5 via Rockwell Canyon Road off Valencia Boulevard), Santa Clarita (529-6266). 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 300 E. Matilija St., Ojai (698-5555). 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Agoura Hills City Mall, Kanan Road (818-591-8286). 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Harbor and Channel Islands boulevards (includes a fish market), Oxnard (818-591-8286). 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Village Glen Plaza, between Agoura and Townsgate roads, Westlake Village (818-591-8286).

Wednesdays: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Pacific View mall parking lot facing Main Street, Ventura (529-6266). 3-7 p.m. Community Center Park, 1605 E. Burnley St., Camarillo (529-6266 or 482-1996).

Thursdays: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Plaza Park at Fifth and C streets, Oxnard (385-2705). 1:30-6 p.m., The Oaks shopping center, Thousand Oaks (529-6266). 3-7 p.m., Ventura Community Park, Kimball and Telephone roads, Ventura (263-2907).

Fridays: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas/Civic Center Plaza, 2750 Tapo Canyon Road, Simi Valley, (643-6458). 3-7 p.m., The Village at Moorpark Shopping Center, southwest corner of East Los Angeles Avenue and Miller Parkway, Moorpark (479-9699).

Saturdays: 8 a.m. to noon, 2220 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo (987-3347). 8-11 a.m., fish market behind Andria’s Seafood Restaurant, 1449 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura (644-0169). 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thousand Oaks Library Newbury Park branch, 2331 Borchard Road, Newbury Park (323-272-9171). 8:30 a.m. to noon, Palm and Santa Clara streets, Ventura (529-6266).

Chargers can keep yourtablet's batteries working

January 24, 2015 - 8:05pm

Q: I have a Kindle Fire HDX that needs full recharging after 8 or so hours. We are flying to South Africa and one leg of the flight is 14 hours. Is there any device on the market that I can purchase as an auxiliary power source/booster that will allow me to read, etc. for the entire flight? Our layover after the first leg is two hours and I'm sure everyone will be recharging at the Johannesburg airport

Aileen Zofcin

A: I've been on overseas flights that included armrests with built-in USB ports for charging. That way your battery stays topped off, even on the longest flight. There's no way for me to know if your flight will offer that, but it's worth checking with the airline to see. Also there are chargers that use batteries. Instead of needing to be plugged in they have large batteries that are used to charge the batteries of your device. Here's a website that explains how that works and offers links that will let you purchase various battery-powered chargers:

http://androidadvices.com/amazon-kindle-fire-extended-batteries-external-pack/#.VCFg3vldV8E.

Bill Husted writes about technology. Contact him at tecbud@bellsouth.net.

Household employees mean taxes are owed

January 24, 2015 - 8:00pm

If you have a household employee, the nanny tax rules apply to you. Essentially, a household employee is somebody who does work in or around your home and is considered an employee. An independent contractor (such as yard maintenance, house cleaners, and the like who have their own equipment and supplies, control how the work is done, and perform similar services for other homeowners) is not your employee and does not fall under the nanny tax rules.

However, if you have a home worker such as a health aide, private nurse, or caretaker and you control their wages, hours, and working conditions, they could be considered employees and could subject you to the nanny tax. The employee/contractor relationship is sometimes difficult to determine, so don't hesitate to seek professional assistance to determine the status of your home worker.

If you determine that you do have a household employee, and you paid them $1,900 or more in wages in 2014, both you and the employee are required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes (plus any applicable state employee taxes). Also, make sure that you're in compliance with your state minimum wage laws, local workers' compensation rules, and that your employee can legally work in the United States.

If tax withholding is required, you can either do it yourself or engage the services of a payroll processing company. You can use a simplified method to pay the taxes (IRS Schedule H) and file with your personal tax return, but you will still have to deal with state taxes and W-2 forms in an appropriate manner.

Finally, don't overlook that wages paid to your household employee can be the basis for a tax credit on your personal return for the child and dependent care credit.

Sandra Sandra Sunken is principal of Sunken Accountancy Corp. in Ventura.

Car fire extinguished on Highway 101

January 24, 2015 - 7:51pm

Ventura County crews extinguished a car fire Saturday evening in the Newbury Park area of the Conejo Grade.

The fire was reported at 7:15 p.m. on southbound Highway 101 near the weighing station for trucks. When crews arrived, they said the vehicle was fully engulfed in flames.

The fire was reported under control about 7:23 p.m.

At least one lane was blocked by the fire, according to the California Highway Patrol.

County exec takes lead in anti-poverty effort

January 24, 2015 - 7:30pm

When Gov. Jerry Brown released his proposed budget this month, one of the first people to criticize it for not doing enough to address poverty in California was a 49-year-old accountant from Ventura whose first job was crunching numbers for defense industry contractors.

Barry Zimmerman, now a button-down county government administrator, seems an unlikely advocate for the poor.

But the man who oversees Ventura County’s Human Services Agency, a government operation with 1,400 employees and a $225 million annual budget, is embracing that role.

As president this year of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, Zimmerman finds himself in a leading position to help shape a debate destined to dominate budget discussions in Sacramento this spring: What can be done to address a statewide poverty rate that by one measure is the highest in the nation?

The issue, he argues, is much larger than the moral obligation to prevent human suffering.

“We used to serve 1 in 10 people in Ventura County,” he said of the programs his agency administers, including Medi-Cal, food stamps and in-home health care services. “Now it’s 1 in 6, approaching 1 in 5. That’s just not healthy to the community.”

Zimmerman said the importance of economically balanced, healthy communities hit home to him when he served on a church mission in South America in his youth. The effects of deep poverty permeated the culture and could be seen on every street corner.

“The poor are part of our community. Why wouldn’t we create avenues of success to improve the community? I think it’s a societal issue,” he said. “I think we’d all be better off if we understood how a healthy community works. Otherwise, we shy away from these discussions.”

Legislators are poised to engage in those discussions.

“Poverty is going to be our big focus this year,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. “As well as our state has done, those folks are not rising. The state is doing well. Why isn’t everybody?”

Those who know him say Zimmerman may be the right person in the right job at the right time.

While Brown has made clear his opposition to the idea of simply restoring the budgets of safety-net programs to pre-recession levels, he appears open to proposals to more efficiently serve low-income Californians.

Ventura County Chief Executive Officer Michael Powers said Zimmerman has the right background and managerial skills to help anti-poverty advocates put forth such proposals.

“Brown’s position is pretty reasonable,” Powers said. “Anything can be restored with just more money. But that’s not reasonable, that’s not sustainable.

“Barry uses that accounting background to make sure we’re structuring these programs as efficiently as possible. There are a lot of moving parts. He’s very smart, and he has great analytical skills.”

County Supervisor Kathy Long, who this year is co-chairing a poverty task force for the California State Association of Counties, said having a numbers guy such as Zimmerman heading the Welfare Directors Association “doesn’t hurt.”

While Long describes Zimmerman’s concern for the poor as “very genuine,” she said he can help focus discussions on practical solutions. “He isn’t your typical, warm-fuzzy feely social service guy.”

Frank Mecca, the longtime executive director of the Welfare Directors Association, said Zimmerman will be an effective leader at a time when there is a heightened awareness of the issues.

“There’s a growing swath of people saying poverty and income inequality are out of control,” he said.

The notion of strengthening government programs to serve the poor is fraught with the political weight of arguments from opponents about income redistribution and creating classes of people ever more dependent on government, and the insistence of supporters that government has an obligation to provide basic assistance to those in need.

“You can’t erase those ideological underpinnings, but Barry presents them in a way that isn’t acrimonious,” Mecca said. “He talks about why it’s in the common interest of everyone to do something.

“He has a calm demeanor and a collegial, collaborative way about him.”

Among the proposals Zimmerman and the association will be pushing is the creation of California earned-income tax credit, modeled on the federal program signed by former President Ronald Reagan, who called it “the best anti-poverty bill, the best pro-family measure and the best job-creation program” ever to come out of Congress.

The program provides a refundable tax credit — which means the government provides cash benefits when the credit exceeds a working family’s tax liability — and 24 states have adopted programs that piggyback on the federal plan.

A report issued last month by the Legislative Analyst’s Office says a state program that provided a credit equal to 15 percent of the federal credit would benefit more than 10 million Californians, providing combined credits of more than $6,000 to families with two dependents and an income of $20,000 a year. The cost to the state would be $1 billion.

Two bills seeking to establish a state earned income tax credit were introduced in the Legislature this month.

Zimmerman said the creation of such a tax credit “would probably have the greatest and quickest impact of any anti-poverty program.”

“We need to concentrate on the economics,” he said. “What can we do to raise people to the next level? We need to have a strong safety net, but we need to also have a way out.”

He said that even when current safety-net programs work, they leave people in precarious financial straits. Someone receives work training, lands a job and begins making $13 an hour. “Magically, you’re off assistance. You lose all support. All of a sudden, you’re on the cliff again.

“How do we provide a structure that allows that progression to move on?”

Zimmerman said he looks forward to testifying before the Legislature this year and playing a role in developing a renewed state effort to provide services and opportunity for the poor.

Mecca, the Welfare Directors Association chief administrator for 24 years, said the commitment in the Legislature to do something feels stronger than it has at any time in recent years.

“If we had the worst air pollution in the nation, or the worst water quality, would elected officials tolerate that?” he asked.

“We have the worst child poverty rate in the nation — higher than Mississippi, higher than South Carolina. It’s morally unacceptable and it’s economically untenable.”

Ventura pest business has strong history

January 24, 2015 - 7:30pm

Green’s Entomological Service Inc.

Name of owner: Brian McGranahan

Product or service: Termite and pest control services

Address: 1462 Callens Road, Ventura

Date established: 1942

Hours open: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays

Telephone: 642-2177

Email: Greenspestinc@aol.com

Website: http://www.greenspestcontrol.com

Number of employees: 10

Franchise fee or startup capital paid: $150,000

Estimated annual gross revenue: $685,000

What prompted you to start your own business?: My personal desire to create a business that is one of integrity, honesty, along with exceptional service. Green’s has a heritage of putting the customer first, in safety as well as effective services.

What is your educational and career background?: I grew up in the pest control industry, following in the footsteps of my father.

How much research did you do before starting your business?: Green’s has been a viable business since 1942. I have spent 17 years honing my skills all the while I have been advancing in this industry.

What were the most helpful sources, including websites?: The pioneers before me: my father, Dan McGranahan, Fain Conners, Jim Bell — all great servicemen in this industry.

When were you the most discouraged?: Whenever I am faced with letting an employee go due to the economic downturns.

What company or individual do you admire?: Fain Conners from PestX.

What will make your business stand out from competitors?: Green’s stands on the responsibility of helping our customers. To get these results, Green’s feels it is necessary to be informative to our customers by educating with each service in its uniqueness to achieve this goal. This sets us apart from competitors.

Who is your target client base?: Residential, real estate, homeowner associations and commercial buildings.

Businesses less than one year old can be profiled in Who’s New in Business. Businesses older than one year can be profiled in Company Spotlight. Those owning franchises in the region can be profiled in Franchise Focus. Only businesses that have never been profiled in The Star may participate. For more details or the questionnaire, email freelancer Maria Saint at mcsaint73@yahoo.com. Please put the word “Questionnaire” in the subject header.

Dana Morrow makes the stars shine

January 24, 2015 - 7:00pm

Dana Morrow dazzles the big Hollywood names, one quick film snippet at a time.

He's the guy who puts together those snazzy film clip montages of the celebrity honorees each year at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The festival's 30th edition kicks off Tuesday night and runs through Feb. 7, and Morrow will be a big part of how things work.

He's looking for that look, signature action, smile or iconic scenes that define the actor, then throws that all together in an entertaining string. The mashups cut quickly from shot to shot or sometimes linger, bouncing from humor to poignancy amid that oft-thunderous theater sound. The best film clips come in the rousing introduction right before the stars take the stage; others are used as spice to break up the interviewer chats with the stars.

It helps the evening go, picks up the crowd. And people notice, including the stars. More than one celebrity has exclaimed "Wow" or "Was that really me?" or "Who did that?"

"It's a nice warm feeling to see your work on the screen and watch other people see it for the first time, or the stars watching their body of work," said Morrow, a soft-spoken man with a good sense of humor.

When cinematic legend Robert Redford came to town last year, his film clips montage began with the famous "‘I can't swim!' … ‘Hell, the fall will probably kill you'" cliff-jumping scene with Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Redford, Morrow said, personally thanked him afterward, adding, "He was very pleased with his montage, the atmosphere and the whole evening." Redford also hadn't seen a lot of his stuff for a long time, Morrow noted.

Other stars have asked for a copy of their montages. He's also met loads of celebrities, leading him to say things such as, "Colin Firth was a delight to be around …. Really, everyone's nice."

Not only that, but Morrow also directs the tributes, almost always held at the Arlington Theatre. That means he runs the whole show those evenings, responsible for the set décor, sound, lighting, cameras and camera operators and other behind-the-scenes aspects.

On those nights, Morrow sits in the back row of the lower level, orchestrating things with headphones on, coordinating with people backstage. He's learned to duplicate things. He has, for example, two projectors in case one goes out, and two microphones on every star and interviewer on stage in case one loses sound.

Pieces of a tribute

The film clip mashups stand out, deftly edited and set to everything from classical to rock music. There, Morrow has help from Roger Durling, the festival's executive director.

Durling, always one to spread the credit around, said simply, "I pick the music, and then he pretty much takes off with it from there."

Durling's music, Morrow noted, helps him understand what's needed and "sets the tone for the evening. We cut up the clips based on what the music is."

Morrow's directed the tribute shows for 13 years and has been doing the clip montages for at least the past seven.

He's done them for many A-listers who have come to Santa Barbara: Redford, Firth, Martin Scorsese, Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, to name a few.

It is, Morrow said, meticulous work, finding these pieces and putting them together, noting, "We have all these things to cut to and from, and it takes a long time to go through it and find them all."

He caught himself and laughed at his old terminology. It's not actual cutting or splicing, he noted; it's basically a couple of computer stations networked together at his in-home studio, where he and assistant Andrew Dale sit and move files back and forth.

A visit last week to Morrow's Spanish-style home found them busy. They had just three days to finish up things before moving their equipment this weekend into the Arlington and other venues.

Morrow built credits that will flash across the screen on tribute nights. Dale, whom Morrow calls "my right-hand man," put captions on clips for the Jennifer Aniston tribute that will go down Friday night — as you likely guessed, stuff from her new film "Cake," other movies such as "The Good Girl" and "Marley & Me," and, of course, "Friends," the TV show that made her a star. He and Morrow bantered over the range of "Friends" clips to include.

Over in a bedroom that this time of year doubles as an editing room, intern Skyler Bennett wrapped up work on clips for the seven actors who will be honored with Virtuosos Awards on Feb. 1. "Everything's all cut and ready," Bennett said finally.

It takes about two weeks to put together each celebrity tribute, Morrow said. That's a pretty stout workload for a festival that usually has a half-dozen or more tribute nights, some honoring multiple stars. For the festival's typical late January-early February run, he'll start in November.

"We try to make them interesting and warm and funny and thoughtful," he said.

A festival grows before his eyes

Perhaps it helps to learn that Morrow is a Washington state native (from Pasco, in the southeastern part of the state) with a background in producing TV commercials, videos and the like. Much of that took place in Seattle and much of it on the corporate end for clients such as Microsoft, Amazon.com, Sheraton Hotels and Holland America cruise lines.

He moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 after finally admitting that he "couldn't stand another day of rain." Shortly thereafter, he signed up to be a volunteer at the film festival.

"I just thought it would be a cool thing to be a part of."

Morrow, 61, has watched the festival rocket up in popularity, visibility and prestige, much of that during Durling's tenure.

"The film festival wasn't as big back then," Morrow noted. "It's grown in every way. It's a big, beautiful event now. It's so well-run."

He still has a production company, and still has Microsoft as a client. And he loves being in a place where he can cut up the stars.

"I can't say enough good things about Santa Barbara," he said. "I feel like I'm a lucky guy."

Man arrested in robbery at Ventura store

January 24, 2015 - 6:50pm

A Ventura transient was arrested Saturday in connection with a robbery at a Target store, police said.

The crime occurred at 2:16 p.m. at the Target at 4200 E. Main St.

Loss prevention officers at the store saw a man putting items in his backpack and leaving without paying, police said. One of the officers tried to detain the man, but the man ignored him and kept walking away, police said. When the same officer tried to grab the man, he man took out a metal rod and held it above the officer's head in a threatening manner, police said. The officer backed away from the man and let him leave.

Police said they looked nearby and arrested Lejon Peterson, 41, who had the stolen merchandise and metal rod, on suspicion of robbery. He was booked into county jail, police said.

100 people go to Oxnard clinic for measles info

January 24, 2015 - 6:20pm

With the measles outbreak in Ventura County growing in the past few days, about 100 concerned people showed up Friday night at a county public clinic in Oxnard. The clinic was offering free vaccines, but some of those who came just wanted information, said a Ventura County Public Health spokeswoman, Sheila Murphy.

As of Saturday, the number of confirmed measles cases in Ventura County remained at six, Murphy said.

The measles scare began a few weeks ago at Disneyland and spread across the state with 68 confirmed cases. At least one of the Ventura County cases appears to have been linked to the initial Disneyland outbreak.

Officials reported last week that an employee of a Citibank branch at 430 Arneill Road in Camarillo tested positive for measles. The employee has recovered.

At CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo, students were alerted Friday that a student infected with measles had been on campus. The infected student lives off campus but on Tuesday and Thursday spent time in a campus library and attended classes.

CSUCI students were among the 100 people who went to the Oxnard clinic Friday for information, according to a university spokeswoman, Nancy Gill.

Gill said the talk around the campus Friday was that many students were checking with their parents to make sure they had been vaccinated. The school and health officials worked Friday to contact 9,000 people who may have been exposed.

Gill said updated information is available on a campus hotline at 437-3911.

People who may have been exposed to measles have been warned to get vaccinated if they’d never had the disease and haven’t been fully vaccinated.

Measles symptoms may begin with fever as high as 105 degrees, cough, runny nose and red eyes. A red rash may emerge in a few days, first on the face and then moving downward.

It can take 21 days for the disease to emerge. People are believed to be contagious for four days before the rash appears and four days after.

Staff Writer Tom Kisken contributed to this report.

VCMC gets own foundation after split

January 24, 2015 - 6:07pm

County officials are launching a foundation devoted exclusively to their health care programs after a falling-out with a nonprofit organization that has drummed up money for the county hospital for almost 60 years.

The start of the Health Care Foundation for Ventura County is overdue and timely with the opening of a new wing at Ventura County Medical Center, officials say.

But the use of the word "exclusively" is no accident, according to interviews with board members and county officials.

Tensions had apparently been building for some time over funding priorities of the county's longtime partner, the Ventura County Medical Resource Foundation, which was moving toward a new mission by 2013. Board members decided the next year to drop financial support of VCMC from their mission, saying they would work with a variety of partners to boost access to health care for the most needy families.

"I think the reason why the board wanted to become more independent was that it wanted to encompass the health care needs of the entire county, not just one entity," said Jesus Torres, who chaired the board last year. "We wanted to create an organization that was nimble and flexible enough to address those needs."

The shift did not please some county officials worried about losing support for their system, historically the biggest local provider of health care for low-income patients. The issue erupted at a meeting of the board at the Las Posas Country Club, board member Dr. Ralph Armstrong recalled.

Dr. Robert Gonzalez, then head of the county Health Care Agency and member of the Medical Resource Foundation's board, accused the foundation of abandoning and betraying the county hospital, Armstrong said.

Gonzalez, who left his position early last year, did not return several phone calls and emails seeking comment.

County Supervisor Kathy Long said she was not entirely happy that the foundation decided to broaden its reach. Regardless, it is time for VCMC to have its own foundation, just as private hospitals in the area do, she said.

"We felt we had matured enough it was time to have our own," she said.

The board of the resource foundation plans to focus on programs and services, rather than paying for medical equipment for VCMC. It now provides dental and vision care to low-income children and supports a wellness retreat for women with cancer at the Lavender Inn in Ojai. Next up could be the opening of "Minding the Baby," an intensive home visitation program for young mothers and infants developed by Yale University faculty members.

Armstrong, a retired psychiatrist, said he plans to involve county mental health specialists in the infant program and wants to move past any divisiveness. The county will probably still get substantial funding from the foundation because it serves so many low-income patients, officials said.

Over time, the resource foundation has changed not just its direction but the composition of the board.

Gonzalez and other county officials and doctors constituted one-third of the foundation's board a few years ago. This year, the county has no representation.

A county employee fundraising campaign for the foundation that had been held for close to 15 years has been stopped. Instead one will start for the county foundation next month, Auditor-Controller Jeff Burgh said.

The campaign for the resource foundation, called "Boomerang," was sold to county employees as a way to help the county hospital through payroll deductions. The name didn't fit once the mission changed, so managers couldn't make the pitch, County Counsel Leroy Smith said.

Dr. Leo Tauber and four other physicians started what was then called the Medical Research Foundation in 1956. Tauber, a 98-year-old retired internist who lives in Ventura, said the intent was to help patients and the city's two hospitals. Both Community Memorial Hospital and Ventura County Medical Center benefited, but the emphasis was on VCMC, Tauber said.

CEO Victoria Chandler said the foundation was always an independent nonprofit organization, not an arm of the medical center. Tauber and his colleagues began by helping doctors pay for research projects, then raised funds to support newborn intensive care, high-risk obstetrics and the family-practice residency program at the county hospital.

The foundation became known for donating equipment to the county hospital, including its pediatric intensive-care unit, and annual awards honoring health professionals.

The relationship was bumpy at times. A history provided by the foundation questions the number of county officials that served on the board, their votes for projects benefiting county enterprises and domination of the annual awards ceremony recognizing outstanding health professionals.

In a change to its bylaws, the board decided last week that hospitals, clinics and health care organizations should have equal representation on the board, limiting the number to one apiece.

That prevents any one organization from dominating the board, although Chairwoman Mary Jarvis saw it as a move to control the size of the board.

"The board has asked us to cast a wider net to all health care organizations in the county, especially in the east county," she said.

Over the past five years, the foundation's gifts to Ventura County Medical Center amounted to a little over $375,000, county fiscal records show. Two weeks ago, The Star requested financial data from the foundation showing income and the causes it was spent on for each of the past five years to see whether the foundation was providing less support to VCMC.

Officials did not provide that information, but did offer an unaudited summary of spending from 2010-14 late Friday. The summary showed the foundation had given $1.14 million to the Health Care Agency over the past five years, including $425,000 for a pediatric intensive-care unit at VCMC.

Torres sees the need for both foundations.

"There is a lot of work to do," he said.

Board members hired a Pasadena health care consultant to help them decide what they should be doing, he said.

The consultant, Dennis Strum, told them VCMC had other ways to pay for equipment, including grants and fundraising.

"If you are an organization about mothers and children, which is pretty much where they ended up, where can you make the greatest contribution?" Strum said. "They came to the conclusion that the historic place they had been was not where the community needed them."

Choice on measles shot changes family forever

January 24, 2015 - 5:57pm

The fate of Bob Merrilees’ little sister Patty has been in his heart and on his mind but never on his tongue for almost 50 years.

That is, until the recent rash of measles cases reported after the patients visited Disneyland.

A respiratory virus is nobody’s idea of a souvenir from a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. But as of Friday, almost 70 cases of the disease had been reported in California.

Disneyland is your basic fantasy land for the measles virus. The theme parks attracts visitors from countries where the disease is more common. Catchier than the tune of “It’s a Small World,” the virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus can party a couple hours on surfaces like thrill-ride lap bars and turnstiles.

Ninety percent of people who have no immunity to measles through vaccination or by surviving the disease will catch it, if exposed. That is why Orange County is being called ground zero of the measles outbreak. Upscale communities in The O.C. are home to an unusually high number of parents who decided against vaccinating their children, citing personal beliefs.

Media reports indicate the vaccination status is known for 34 of the recent cases. The vast majority never have been inoculated against the disease.

And that’s what convinced Merrilees, of Camarillo, to speak out about the choice his late parents made.

“My parents neglected to vaccinate our sister Patty. ... As a result, they had to make the decision to remove her from life support on Jan. 27, 1966,” said the retired air traffic controller.

Patty was the youngest of seven children of William and Jeanette Merrilees, of Lancaster, N.Y., just outside Buffalo. William was a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. Jeanette was a nurse.

“Patty was a pretty idyllic kid,” Bob said of the 6-year-old baby of the family. “She never carried on or fought with the other kids.”

“She was happiest of all of us,” said Bobbi Merrilees Frendberg, the second-oldest sibling in the family. “She didn’t walk. She just bounced everywhere.”

And there was no reason to believe she would do anything but bounce back when she came down with measles in early 1966.

But then the Red Cross contacted Bob’s commanding officer where he was stationed in the Marine Corps in South Carolina. He was told his sister was gravely ill, and he was needed at home.

Once back in New York, he learned Patty had developed measles encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that occurs in an estimated one out of every 1,000 measles cases. If she lived, she likely would have severe brain damage.

His parents prevented him and his siblings from visiting her room to spare them the trauma of seeing how much the disease had ravaged her body.

Before the measles vaccine was released in 1963, an estimated 3 million to 4 million people came down with it in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those, 4,000 suffered encephalitis and 400 to 500 people died.

The vaccine was available for Patty, and Bob has no idea why the child of two health care providers wasn’t given the shot.

Bob knows only that failure became a source of hard feelings between his parents.

On a January night with a blizzard blowing in, the only decision left to them was to stop life support for Patty.

“All I remember is how exhausted my parents were and how everything felt cold, desolate and sad,” Bobbi said.

Patty’s death dealt a final blow to Bob’s religious faith.

“I gave up religion right then and there,” he said. “I said ‘Lord, we’re done.’ ”

And measles should have been done in this country due to the success of mass immunizations. In 2000, after 12 months without a single case, public health officials declared it eliminated from the United States.

Hammering the last nail in the coffin of a killer disease also should have been cause for celebration throughout the land. But parents, particularly in upscale California communities, embraced a long-since discredited British study linking the measles vaccine to autism and have opted out of vaccinating their kids.

Bob and Bobbi believe if these parents had any idea of the pain of losing their child or causing another parent to lose theirs to a preventable disease, there would be no vaccination hesitation.

Bobbi shared with me a reply her niece gave a woman who opposed vaccines: “She told her, ‘Even if vaccine caused autism, I’d rather have my child alive with autism than dead.’ ”

Email Colleen Cason at casonpoint101@gmail.com.

Area business report latest news

January 24, 2015 - 5:52pm

MOORPARK

Councilman elected to Metrolink board

The Southern California Regional Rail Authority board of directors, the governing body of Metrolink, has elected new officers. Among the new officers is Keith Millhouse, Ventura County Transportation Commission member and a Moorpark city councilman, who was elected to be second vice chairman.

The elections are for a one-year term, but the officers may be re-elected to another term.

Millhouse was elected to the Moorpork City Council in 2000 and currently is serving as mayor pro tem. He previously served as chairman of the Metrolink Board in 2009-10 and also is the past chairman of the VCTC and a member of the Southern California Association of Governments Transportation Committee. A graduate of Pepperdine University and Pepperdine School of Law, he practices law in Westlake Village and specializes in environmental litigation.

Metrolink is Southern California’s regional commuter rail service in its 22nd year of operation. For more information on Metrolink, visit http://www.metrolinktrains.com.

THOUSAND OAKS

Bloom Honey earns Good Food Award

Bloom Honey, the Thousand Oaks-based producer of 100 percent raw, single floral varietal honeys, has been honored with the 2015 Good Food Award for its white clover honey.

White clover honey is one of over a dozen single floral varietal honeys produced by Bloom Honey. Each varietal has a unique flavor and distinct personality that is based on the diverse floral sources of the nectars that are collected by the bees.

The Good Food Awards are granted to American food producers in 11 categories, including honey. Winners can display the Good Foods Award seal on their products.

The Good Food Awards winners are determined using scores from a blind tasting as well as a rigorous vetting process, which verifies that winners meet industry specific environmental and social criteria. Bloom Honey had to meet the following criteria: unpasteurized; extracted with minimal heat; strained and/or filtered in a manner that does not remove pollen; harvested within the past 12 months; and practice social responsibility, including humane management of colony, engaging the community in education, and if staff is employed in tending the hives and harvesting the honey, they are treated respectfully and given fair compensation.

President David Jefferson founded Bloom Honey in 2013 with a vision of sharing his gourmet, raw varietal honey in its most raw state — unfiltered and unpasteurized. For more information, visit http://www.bloomhoney.com.

Free clinic welcomes three to its board

The Conejo Free Clinic in Thousand Oaks has named three new members to its board of directors.

The new members are Thousand Oaks resident Patrick Cahalan, a partner at KPMG LLP; Simi Valley resident Carol Richards, a vice president and branch manager at Union Bank, Thousand Oaks/Westlake; and Simi Valley resident Mara Romezi, a senior manager for contracts and pricing at Amgen.

According to Frank Baldino, board chairman, the Conejo Free Clinic provides medical, legal and counseling services free of charge for 5,000 uninsured and underinsured men, women and children annually. For more information about the clinic, visit http://www.conejofreeclinic.org.

To share news about your company or business-related organization, email dajustesen@VCStar.com. If there is an event involved, please email the information at least three weeks in advance of the event.

Ticktockers come together for Camarillo project

January 24, 2015 - 5:45pm

The National Charity League held its districtwide Ticktocker Day on Saturday at Casa Pacifica in Camarillo. The nonprofit league brings together seventh- through 12th-grade girls and their mothers for community-service projects.

The focus of Ticktocker Day was to create no-sew blankets to be donated to Casa Pacifica, a residential center for abused and neglected children.

Participants also planned to create 400 bracelets for Operation Homefront to acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifices children in military families make so their parents can serve the country.

Dance, conference and other events planned

January 24, 2015 - 5:38pm

Camarillo

YMCA to host dance for dads, daughters

The Camarillo YMCA Adventure Guides and Princesses will host their 21st annual father-daughter Sweethearts Ball from 6-9 p.m. Feb. 7 in the Serra Center at Padre Serra Church, 5205 Upland Drive.

Tickets cost $35 and include dinner and photography.

Visit http://www.ciymca.org/camarillo or email Megan Voshell at megan.voshell@ciymca.org for more information.

Port Hueneme

Low-cost shots for rabies offered

Ventura County Animal Services, along with VIP Pet Care, will host a low-cost rabies clinic from 7-8 p.m. Feb. 3 at Fire Station 53, 304 N. Second St.

Rabies vaccinations will be available for $6, cash only. The clinic will offer canine DHLPP and parvo, canine bordetella and feline FVRCP vaccinations for $20 each.

Licenses are $20 for spayed/neutered animals and $75 for unaltered animals. Cash and checks will be accepted for those.

Simi Valley

Nominations sought for award

The Simi Valley Hospital Foundation is seeking nominees for its Woman of the Year award presented by the First Ladies of Simi Valley Hospital Foundation.

The award will be given at the foundation’s annual Hats Off to Women conference and luncheon April 17 at California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road.

Nominations can be emailed to svhfoundation@ah.org; mailed to Simi Valley Hospital Foundation, 2975 N. Sycamore Drive, Simi Valley, CA 93065; or faxed to 955-6671. Entries must be received by Feb. 13.

Call 955-6670 for more information.

Gala will honor Vietnam veterans

For the Troops will hold its military tribute gala honoring Vietnam veterans from 5:30-10:30 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 40 Presidential Drive.

Tickets cost $125 per person or $1,250 for a table of 10. Visit http://www.forthetroops.org for tickets.

Ventura County

Center to offer orientation sessions

The Women’s Economic Ventures Women’s Business Center will have free, hourlong informational orientation sessions to see whether people are ready for one of its business courses.

An orientation session will be held from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday in Oxnard. A second session will run from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday in Ventura.

The sessions are free, but RSVPs are required. Call 667-8004 to RSVP and learn exact locations.

Westlake Village

Conference to focus on special needs

The Center4Special Needs will have its third annual conference, “The ABCs and XYZs of Special Needs,” from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 14 at 5495 Via Rocas.

There will be 11 breakout sessions with topics including special needs planning, dentistry, self-determination and sensory challenges.

Sponsors and resource fair participants are welcome. Visit http://www.center4specialneeds.org or call 379-1681 to register.

Critical vote on oil waste disposal site looms

January 24, 2015 - 5:38pm

The Anterra Corp.'s bid to continue operating its Oxnard-area oil field waste disposal site after 2018 will go before county supervisors at a public hearing Tuesday.

The company's permit expires that year, making it subject to a 2000 zoning change that outlawed such facilities in farmland.

At this stage, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors is merely being asked to allow county planners to process amendments to a zoning law that would come back for consideration at a later date. The revision would allow Anterra and other operators to establish oil field disposal operations in land zoned exclusively for agriculture.

Tuesday's vote is critical because the board's refusal to allow the amendments to be evaluated would kill them. Anterra's request for expanded operations at the site amid farm fields off Wooley Road would die, as well. The company, however, could apply to continue operations at the current level after 2018.

Anterra is under investigation by the Ventura County District Attorney's Office, although no charges have been filed. The company has been cited for exceeding truckload limits with which it is now complying.

The Board of Supervisors must set aside particular issues surrounding Anterra and decide whether the proposal constitutes good land use, board Chairwoman Kathy Long said.

The board restricts commercial oil field disposal facilities in unincorporated territory to property set aside for open space or industry. The amendment would allow them on land in the Agriculture Exclusive zone, which is intended to preserve farmland.

"We are very protective of the AE zone," Long said. "I think it will be a tough call for the board."

Anterra operates the only functioning commercial oil field disposal site in the county. The Santa Clara Waste Water Co., west of Santa Paula, also accepted such waste but has been shut down for two months after a toxic explosion and fire.

County Planning Director Kim Prillhart has recommended that the amendments be analyzed and prepared. She found the changes consistent with good zoning practices, noting they would allow the board to take a second look at the exclusion enacted in 2000.

Supervisors could vote against processing the amendments without making any factual findings or citing any legal justification, officials said.

"It's a policy decision," Planning Manager Rosemary Rowan said.

The board would have to find the proposal consistent with good land-use practices for it to proceed. At least three of the five supervisors consistently oppose development in farmland.

If the board authorized the review, it could take one to two years before the matter came back for the board's approval, Rowan said.

Rowan said the lengthy process requires research and environmental analysis. It also would take time to process Anterra's request for a modified permit, which would be done at the same time.

Company officials want to triple the daily limit on truckloads, up to 72 a day. Anterra also seeks to become a round-the-clock operation instead of 12 hours per day.

The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in the boardroom in the Hall of Administration at the County Government Center, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura.

Santa Paula public safety fight contiues

January 24, 2015 - 5:38pm

A group of Santa Paula residents behind last year's unsuccessful campaign for a sales tax increase to fund police, fire services and street repairs have vowed to continue fighting for better public safety.

Members of Citizens for a Safer Santa Paula recently addressed the new City Council, offering to work with it to find a solution to what many see as underfunding and understaffing of the Santa Paula Police Department. Leader Ronda McKaig said a core group of about eight members also plans to meet in the next few weeks to discuss strategies for moving forward.

The group campaigned for Measure F in November, which would have increased Santa Paula's sales tax by 1 percent to fund police and fire services and street repairs. The measure received 57.8 percent of the vote, not enough to clear the two-thirds majority needed.

McKaig and group member Devon Cichoski said that while disappointing, the election results demonstrate broad support in the community for improved police funding.

"There's a majority of people in Santa Paula who are very concerned about public safety and want to see our public safety department adequately staffed," McKaig said. "I don't think the people who were supportive are feeling like it's over or they've been defeated. It's just that we need to get organized and figure out what else we can do."

What the solution might look like remains to be seen. McKaig said ideas could include organizing neighborhood watch groups, pursuing a general tax increase that would only require a simple majority, applying for grants, or other fundraising initiatives.

She said the group is waiting to see what action the City Council takes and hopes the three newly elected council members will bring a fresh determination to addressing public safety issues.

One of those new members, Mayor John Procter, said he agrees there is a dire need for more police funding, and also for the Santa Paula Fire Department and street repairs. He said he plans to propose forming a council and citizen subcommittee to come up with solutions.

"They've already shown how sincere they are and how much energy they have," Procter said of Citizens for a Safer Santa Paula. "I would love to work with those people because they might be able to help us hunt down resources to help with this."

Councilman Jim Tovias, a strong proponent of Measure F, said he would be open to suggestions from the citizens group. But he would not support a general tax increase because there is no guarantee those taxes would be spent on police and fire services.

Meanwhile, Santa Paula Police Chief Steve McLean said his department is making strides in fighting crime by cracking down on gang activity, but it still needs more funding. He said the department's 28 officers are insufficient for Santa Paula's population of 30,000.

Officers' salaries also need to be more competitive with other communities, he said. The chief said their entry-level salaries are about $21 an hour — the lowest in the county — prompting many Santa Paula officers to seek jobs elsewhere after gaining a few years of experience.

With additional funding, McLean said, he would beef up his department's gang unit, put an officer in charge of community relations, assign one to elementary schools, and have two officers track people released from jail. That will likely become more important with the passage of Proposition 47 and the release of many nonviolent offenders, he said.

Cook du Jour: A good start, pancakes

January 24, 2015 - 5:30pm

Name: Reece Morency

City: Camarillo

Specialty: Breakfast food

Secret: Experimentation

Personal victory: It wasn’t supposed to happen, but that didn’t discourage Reece Morency. Reece, then 7 years old, prepared an entry for the 4-H Food Faire two years ago. It was a personal victory, a homemade pancake recipe that he was thrilled to share with the judges, even though he technically was too young to enter. He even added blueberries, blackberries, the finishing touches to “berrylicious pancakes.” “It was the first recipe that I made by myself,” he said proudly. “My mom and grandma were cooking a lot and I wanted to help.”

All-around excellence: Though adept in the kitchen, Reece, now 9, has made his greatest strides in the classroom, where he carries a 4.0 grade-point average and is a member of the GATE program at Mesa Union School in Somis. He also is a dedicated member of a football team, the Camarillo Roadrunners. Reece has become accustomed to receiving many accolades for his efforts. He recently won the Roadrunners’ Most Improved Player Award, and a trophy for his fourth-grade academic excellence. But he manages to keep everything in perspective. “Cooking is great because I love to eat,” he said. “But I want to be like my father, a member of the Air Force Reserves.”

Berrylicious Pancakes

Ingredients

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup milk

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar or granulated sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

— Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries

— Butter

— Syrup

Directions

1. Mix the egg, flour, milk, sugar, oil, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

2. Spray an electric skillet with Pam or heat a griddle or skillet to about 375 degrees. (To test griddle, sprinkle a few drops of water. If it jumps around, the heat is just right.)

3. Pour about ¼ cup of batter onto a hot skillet or griddle. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the pancakes are puffy and dry around the edges. Turn the pancakes over with a spatula, cook until golden brown.

4. Top with butter, syrup and/or berries.

To nominate an amateur cook to be Cook du Jour, email DeAnn Justesen at dajustesn@vcstar.com.

Michelle Singletary: Finance coach all you need?

January 24, 2015 - 5:01pm

WASHINGTON — When Danita Wadley talks about her clients, she often uses “we.”

Wadley is a licensed financial coach in Houston whose job is to help people navigate various personal finance issues. When I talked to her about 49-year-old Traci McMurtry, I could hear the pride in her voice.

“We cleaned up her credit,” said Wadley.

She said “we” but was quick to point out that McMurtry did the work to boost her credit rating. When they first checked her FICO score through TransUnion, it was in the high 400s — on a scale of 350 to 850. Two years later, McMurtry said her score had jumped to just over 700.

“We paid off some collection accounts,” says Wadley, regional director of education and self-sufficiency for Volunteers of America Texas.

McMurtry increased her score so dramatically because she was able to settle some debts and got creditors to update her credit reports and remove negative information. She paid her bills on time and participated in a loan program at the center specially designed to help clients build up their credit.

“I did it, but she walked me though a whole lot of stuff,” says McMurtry, an ex-offender and recovering drug addict. She says she’s been clean for five and a half years.

The women formed a bond as they worked together to clean up McMurtry’s credit and help her buy a dump truck so that she could be self-employed.

“She helped me build my confidence in being able to pull it all off,” McMurtry said in an interview. “I’ve been though some things and a lot of obstacles in rebuilding my life. Addiction is a horrible confidence destroyer.”

Wadley works at what’s called a “financial opportunity center,” where trained personnel help low-income clients, most enrolled in job training and placement programs, manage their finances.

The Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) developed the centers. The community development nonprofit, which puts almost $1 billion every year into low-income neighborhoods, has partnered with other nonprofits to open 75 financial opportunity centers in 33 cities, according to an LISC spokeswoman.

LISC’s program is innovative. I believe financial coaching has been the missing link in job training and placement programs. It’s not enough to help people get a job. Many also need help changing certain financial behaviors that get in the way of using their income to build real net worth.

“Millions of families face financial insecurity due to circumstances such as loss of housing wealth, long-term unemployment, high levels of debt or poor credit,” wrote Alicia Atkinson, a policy analyst at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, in a report about the merits of financial coaching. “Financial coaching can help families and individuals regain their financial footing by helping them learn how to navigate our financial system more successfully and build habits that lead to financial security. This is a vital component to getting families back on track.”

What’s different at the centers is the one-on-one personal touch.

“Folks who receive financial coaching really begin to think about their goals,” said Seung Kim, who supervises the national network of financial opportunity centers.

Coaches help people set up budgets. They get them to open their bills. Many clients don’t open their mail because they have so many delinquent bills that it overwhelms them, Kim said. “We help them unpack the stress a little bit.”

Wadley said an initial session with a client often takes several hours as they walk through the client’s financial life and goals.

Traditionally, job placement centers offer financial workshops or classes with a strong emphasis on saving, opening a checking account and homeownership, Kim said. But telling people what they should do is not enough. Programs like what LISC offers realize that people need somebody they can regularly call for guidance or when they hit a financial snag. They benefit from someone who will hold them accountable.

Kim said that with the addition of financial counseling, the centers are finding people who get coaching have a higher rate of job placement. Clients are more likely to improve their net income, net worth and credit profile.

That’s what happened with McMurtry. She was able to purchase a used dump truck with cash. She hauls dirt and sand. Improving her credit helped lower the insurance premiums for her truck. Her next goal is to buy a home. And the center is helping her with that, too, through a matching savings program.

“I understand how important it is for people to be empowered to see how their money works for them,” Wadley said. “It’s important to peel that onion and see what they need individually.”

I believe that the financial opportunity centers have struck on the right formula to help low-income families pull out of poverty. It’s a holistic approach to their needs. Help them train and get jobs paying a living wage. Help them access public programs that will supplement their income until they can stand on their own financial feet. And provide them with financial coaching to better manage their money.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.