Veteran Finds a Home Away from Home

By Krysta Scripter

The veteran population in Reno has been on the decline. According to the latest Census statistics, the number of civilian veterans living in Reno between 2000 and 2013, dropped by approximately 18 percent.

But organizations that service veterans are seeing quite the opposite.

Kathi McGathey posts a flyer notifying guests about a free dinner at the Veterans Guest House in Reno. Mcgathey said the community is very supportive of the guest house. “They supply food to us. They fill our cupboards with canned foods or groups bring dinners in for the guys,” she said. CREDIT: Krysta Scripter

Kathi McGathey posts a flyer notifying guests about a free dinner at the Veterans Guest House in Reno. Mcgathey said the community is very supportive of the guest house. “They supply food to us. They fill our cupboards with canned foods or groups bring dinners in for the guys,” she said. CREDIT: Krysta Scripter

“We really haven’t seen a decline in people,” said Kathi McGathey, House Manager of the Veterans Guest House in Reno.

Located across the street from the Veterans Affairs Sierra Nevada Healthcare System, the Veterans Guest House provides a home away from home for those veterans who need a place to stay while undergoing medical treatment in Reno. Most of the houseguests live outside of the Reno city limits and often travel hours to get to their treatment.

“I’m here because I’m going through cancer treatment, radiation, and chemotherapy,” said Dave Morris of Silver Springs in Lyon County, more than 40 miles outside of Reno.

Dave Morris, who served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970, was diagnosed with colon cancer April 2015. Without the Veterans Guest House, Morris would have to drive an hour everyday after his tiring radiation and chemotherapy treatments. CREDIT: Krysta Scripter

Dave Morris, who served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970, was diagnosed with colon cancer April 2015. Without the Veterans Guest House, Morris would have to drive an hour everyday after his tiring radiation and chemotherapy treatments. CREDIT: Krysta Scripter

Morris served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970 and has been staying at the Veteran Guest House for four weeks while he receives treatment for colon cancer at a nearby clinic. Morris undergoes radiation and chemotherapy five days a week. Each session is 15 minutes long but the process drains him.

“The radiation is pinpoint,” he said. “It’s like a sunburn … so sometimes it gets a little uncomfortable.” On bad days, Morris sometimes needs to stand. He doesn’t go home everyday because the hour­long drive home to Silver Springs can be excruciating .

Morris had been apprehensive about seeking treatment at the V.A. hospital. “It wasn’t any good,” he said. “But now it’s phenomenal. They’re watching out for us better now. Not like in the old days.”

The number of nightly stays at the Veterans Guest House increased from just under 4,000 in 2010 to nearly 5,200 in 2014. Most of the stays are for two to three days but there are instances when veterans and their spouses stay for several months. McGathey said a long­term senior care home for veterans would be better for them.

“Our veterans travel hundred of miles to get here to go to an appointment,” said Kathi McGathey, home manager for the Veterans Guest House in Reno. CREDIT: Krysta Scripter

“Our veterans travel hundred of miles to get here to go to an appointment,” said Kathi McGathey, home manager for the Veterans Guest House in Reno. CREDIT: Krysta Scripter

“I have a lady that has been with us for five years. She is here five days a week,” said McGathey. “She could never take her husband home from where he is at the V.A. now. But if they were at a long­term care, she could actually stay with him at that home.”

The Nevada Department of Veterans Services is planning to build a veterans senior care center in Sparks that is expected to be open in 2017.

Unlike Reno, Sparks is experiencing a slight increase of veterans from 7,296 in 2000 to 7,924 in 2013, according to Census figures.

When completed, the Northern Nevada Veterans Home is expected to serve just under 100 veterans and their families. That would help address a bed shortage of more than 375, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The only state­owned nursing care facility for veterans is in Boulder City. The Nevada State Veterans Home has 180 beds and costs veterans $110 to reside there, according to the state veterans department. Comparatively, nearby facilities cost $233 a day.

Rick Shuster, Board Chairman of the Reno, Nevada Vietnam Veterans of America, has been advocating for a full­fledged veterans home in Reno. “It’s definitely long over due,” he said. There are more than 80,000 veterans residing in Northern Nevada, according to the Nevada Department of Veteran Services.

Plans began in 2006 but only recently did Governor Brian Sandoval include a veterans home in his budget for Reno.

Kathi McGathey, of the Veterans Guest House in Reno, welcomes a long­term facility. “We’re always full,” and she has a waiting list. She sends the overflow to The Sands Regency Hotel in downtown Reno. She said the hotel housed more than 600 veterans for them last year.

Re-entering Society: Former Cop Turned Felon Helps Others

By Ryan Coverdell 

A respected police officer-turned-prisoner finds redemption helping other inmates re-enter society. 

In Nevada, when a felon is released from prison, he’s given about $30 and the items and clothes he had when he was incarcerated. Transitioning back into society with so few resources can be tough.

The Ridge House in Reno is a transitional living facility for felons, offering six different homes for approximately 40 people. One of those homes is specifically for veterans.

These transitional homes work with Veterans Affairs to ensure the clients have all the necessary resources to live a successful life.

Dan Lisoni is a veteran and former criminal investigator who found himself on the other side of the law when he was arrested and jailed for a series of petty crimes.

He says his life took a turn when he became dependent on pain killers to deal with an injury on the job. Lisoni says he was already an alcoholic and it didn’t take much to fall deeper into trouble. He spent almost one year in prison and upon his release, he moved to the Ridge House.

That experience inspired him to get a job at the facility once he was released to help other felons transition into society.

He likens his job to a parent taking care of children, because he has to ensure his clients are fed, attend appointments on time, and have all the skills necessary to succeed in life.

Lisoni says these transitional houses have come a long way since the halfway house of the past.

And it’s evident in the numbers. Ridge House has seen a 25% recidivism rate within three years, far outperforming the nation’s average of 75%.

The transitional housing program helps keep clients by outfitting them with the proper attire for a job interview as well as how to write cover letters and resumes.

According to the Ridge House, they only spend $4,000 per client versus the State of Nevada, which spends upward of $20,000 to house a felon.

Lisoni says it’s easy to throw people in jail and throw away the key. It’s more challenging and rewarding when you help them succeed instead.

4th Street in Reno

A Home for Hawaii in Reno

2 a story by- Cynthia M. Sandoval

 

Para escuchar esta nota en espanol, haga clic aqui.

 

Fourth street has had an unfortunate reputation as being a dodgy part of Reno with drug sales, homeless people, and adult entertainment. Today, it looks like a run down street, but this once was a vibrant part of Reno with the Lincoln highway 40 running straight through.

7 the voices

“I love fourth street. I really do,” said Hawaii, a middle-aged homeless woman who lives within the Fourth Street corridor. Hawaii is one of many homeless people who regularly come to Fourth street to pass the time, meet with friends, and receive food assistance.

But right across the street stands a modern symbol that represents everything that Fourth street is not.

“We can walk out onto the main corridor here,” said Alicia Barber, a historian who has published several works on Reno history.

“We’re at the Nevada California Oregon railway depot which was just this past year turned into a restaurant, brewery and distillery, called The Depot. But the building had been vacant for about 10 years. East Fourth street was neglected for so long, after the interstate was constructed in the mid 70s”, said Barber.

“It really did become obsolete as a highway and immediately the business started to suffer and there wasn’t that sidewalk traffic and the street traffic that had made it so busy before so there was a often a sense of desolation.”

However, that desolation didn’t last. There’s a change here, and The Depot might be just the beginning.

Depot Ext_IMG_3805

“For the first time in my life time, and I’m 55 now, cities are cool. Everything is moving in the direction of cities. Fourth street has great bones” said Tom Dallessio, an executive director of the Philadelphia based organization “Next City.”

Earlier this month, he and 40 other urban professionals from all across the country came to Reno, in part, to come up with ideas to re-energize Fourth street.

8 “Fourth Street feels like an industrial

The way to give it a push, he suggested, is to start small and practical.

“Having bicycle lanes, adding clear lanes for traffic for pedestrian crossings if there’s an opportunity to create dedicated bus lanes or travel lanes that would be important.”

That seems easy enough, but for the business owners on Fourth street, it is not that simple. They believe that a few aesthetic changes won’t address the larger social issue.

“They see these kind of grungy types and they see the prostitutes walking down the street and people are afraid to come down here,” said Otto Braun. He and Richard Viera own The Cadillac Lounge.

9 “As a tourist, you know, you are walking

The exterior of the Cadillac lounge isn’t much to look at, but inside country Western music fills the small dark room.Regulars sit at the bar smoking, chatting up the bartender Sean and Zack, while the resident labrador happily greets anyone walking in.

The Cadillac Lounge is a well-known gay bar, but all are welcome here. And in many ways, it symbolizes what Fourth street strives to be– retro, with old-school character.

“Fourth street is a little rough around the edges, but we’re very welcoming.” said Braun.

The homeless shelter on Fourth street is close to the downtown area. In years past, the homeless were pretty much left alone because people rarely had a reason to visit. Now with plans to clean up the area and with businesses picking up, the two worlds are clashing.

“Dirty old town,” is how Tony, a resident of Fourth Street describes his neighborhood. “If there’s a sin to be done out here on fourth street its being done. Prostitution, drugs, alcohol, I mean it’s all here. The only thing I can say good about Fourth Street in Reno, if you’re homeless is that there’s no way you can go hungry.”

Historian Alicia Barber is aware that something needs to be done to revitalize Fourth Street, but she believes “a lot of people want to just renovate those motels or … get them back into more of a gentrified situation or open them up as motels again.”

6 “Fourth Street is the story of Reno.

She feels that when developers and business owners draft plans to renovate the area, there needs to be a sense of compassion for those, like Hawaii, who call Fourth Street their home.“​I love fourth street… I really don’t want them to kick us out,” she said.

A Taste of Culture on Wells Avenue

By Sonia Lopez

Wells Avenue is located in a zip code with the highest population of Hispanics in Reno. The city’s overall Latino population is twenty-nine percent, but here in this southeastern corner, it is forty-two percent. A four-block long stretch of South Wells Avenue has become a destination for Latinos from across the state to buy anything from Quinceañera dresses to Mexican rattlesnake cream, things they can’t find anywhere else. Next Generation Radio’s Sonia Lopez has this story about a street that connects people to their Latino roots.

Wells Avenue is the of the heart of the Latino community in Reno, according to Emma Sepulveda, director of the Latino Research Center at the University of Nevada, Reno.

When she first came to Reno in 1974, she lived in an apartment right off of Wells. She says back then, it looked nothing like it does today; there were no Latino-owned or oriented businesses. It was for the most part an Anglo neighborhood.

Window Shopping on Wells Ave

People travel hours to Reno, Nevada, to find products they can’t get anywhere else. CREDIT: Sonia Lopez

Sepulveda says Wells came into existence as a Latino enclave as their population rose in Reno.

“The numbers were demanding almost to have a little bit of what we left behind, here in Reno, and I think that is what was really part of creating this change and the creation of Wells Avenue,” she said.

When she first arrived in the 70’s, Reno’s Latinos made up only three percent of the total population. Today, twenty-seven percent of the population in Reno is Hispanic. The zip code with the largest share of that is 89502, the area in which Wells is located.

Today Wells Avenue is a thriving diverse community with a variety of business like Latino tattoo parlors, Irish bars, Pupuserias, Brazilian Jiu jitsu, and Marketon. Marketon is a local grocery store which has a large variety of Latino products. It is not just a grocery store for Latinos, people from different backgrounds shop there too.

Sepulveda says when she first lived on Wells, Marketon was not there, it was an Anglo owned grocery store. But as the neighborhood changed, the market was taken over by Latino owners. Even though she doesn’t live in the neighborhood anymore, now that the store has become Marketon, Sepulveda still goes there to shop.

She says they have spices she cannot find anywhere else, and she likes the feel of the place. “I just walked in right now and you could see people are shopping like they did in Latin America, you know you don’t come by yourself, you come with your family,” she said.

“Everybody knows if you want good Mexican food you go to Wells to the food trucks.” – Emma Sepulveda

Sepulveda says Latinos come to America because they want to be here, but they also create neighborhoods filled with their culture in order to maintain a connection to home. “We want to assimilate but we still want to have connections of where we came from,” she said.

For the Latino community, Wells is a place to make those connections. It has created a bridge that not only unites American Latinos to their culture, but invites others into Latino traditions. It one of the few places in the region where young Latina girls can come to buy there Quinceañera dresses.

Quinceanera

Kimberly Yamas drove almost an hour from Lake Tahoe to Wells Avenue to buy a dress for her Quinceañera, a traditional coming of age ceremony. CREDIT: Sonia Lopez

The street is full of life and color, decorated by the diversity of the businesses. But the four-block section at the center of the South Wells Avenue does have a majority of Latino shops. According to Sepulveda, about sixty-eight are operating.

Salon on Wells Ave

Sandra Chavez styling her sister-in-law’s hair at one of the many beauty salons on Wells Avenue that cater to Latinas. CREDIT: Sonia Lopez

It is not just restaurants, but dress shops, hair salons, notaries, and travel agencies that truly cater to Hispanics in Reno.

Amber Trudel Werhta and her husband own Paleteria Morelia. A paleteria is a shop that sells Mexican frozen snacks, candy, and drinks. They named it after Morelia, her husband’s home town. Her business specializes in authentic Mexican treats like Horchata, a traditional rice drink.

“We make it traditional how they make it in Mexico,” Werhta said. “We set the rice for hours with cinnamon and vanilla and then we actually blend it. It’s not a powdery substance, it’s authentic and we want to keep it very authentic. Most places you get it out of the bottle and its already premade.”

They also serve frozen strawberries with a special cream that they import from Mexico. Werhta says many customers are transported back to the homes they left behind by the familiar flavors. “Food that your parents made or that reminds you of home,” she said is not only delicious “it brings back memories.”

Wells Ave Shop Owner

Amber Trudel Werhta outside her Paleteria – a shop on Wells Avenue that serves authentic Mexican snacks and juices. CREDIT: Sonia Lopez

For Wertha opening a traditional Mexican shop on Wells has put her more in touch with her own Hispanic roots.

Werhta is a native of Reno. Her father is Mexican and mother is white. She says she didn’t truly learn Spanish until she started interacting with her largely Latino clientele. Marrying a Mexican helped too, she admits. Now she is raising her two children to be bilingual and steeped in their Mexican heritage.

Wells allows for Latinos who immigrated from Latin America to find a taste of home. It also helps them pass their traditions on to their children, to not only tell them about their culture, but actually show them.

 

Jesse Leaman Reno

Transforming the Wheelchair: Co-robots in Disguise

By Ryan Smith

Astrophysicist and quadriplegic Jesse Leaman is designing a smart wheelchair with robotic arms. He hopes the invention, which he calls an iChair, will help other quadriplegics live more productive and independent lives. Until Leaman’s robotics team at UNR receives funding, he works as an unpaid volunteer, commuting to campus on public transportation.

Jesse Leaman struggles to live in a world that isn’t built for him.

Getting out of bed every morning, commuting to work, opening a door – the majority of Leaman’s daily activities require the assistance of others.

Leaman is a quadriplegic,  and he’s spent the last 17 years designing wheelchair technology that helps people with severe disabilities be more productive.

Leaman’s newest project is the iChair. Like a typical smartchair, it includes a motorized chair, a computer and sensors. But, Leaman has even bigger plans. He’s creating a co-robot.

“That’s just the beginning,” he said. “Because once I’m going to be able to add the robotic arms, I’ll have the ability to eat and drink again on my own, press buttons and I can even do some nonverbal communication like celebrating or doing the robot dance.”

In 1996, Leaman jumped from his parent’s patio into a snow bank below and landed on his head. The impact crushed his third, fourth, and fifth cervical vertebrae.

According to Leaman, adding the arms will help people like him get back into the workforce.

In a 2012 report by Cornell University, only 25 percent of Nevadans with walking disabilities were employed and little more than 15 percent had full-time jobs. Cornell reported similar statistics for the United States, as a whole.

“The iChair, as it is now, is already really useful for making a person who can’t use their arms or legs, or a quad, to make them more employable because they can interact and work on a computer just the way anyone else can — even make them more efficient.”

Jesse Leaman’s smart chair includes a laptop with an infrared tracking system so he can work on a computer like any other able-bodied person. He also has it outfitted with a backup camera, GoPro and speakers. CREDIT: Ryan Smith

Jesse Leaman’s smart chair includes a laptop with an infrared tracking system so he can work on a computer like any other able-bodied person. He also has it outfitted with a backup camera, GoPro and speakers. CREDIT: Ryan Smith

A PhD in astrophysics and a former Post Doc. in space science at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Leaman designed his first wheelchair technology as an intern at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. It was just two years after his accident.

With other NASA engineers, Leaman connected a back-up camera to his wheelchair so he wouldn’t break anything in the lab.

“I was faced with the challenge of having to visit a lot of different scientists who could be mentors in the future,” Leaman said. “And, I had to go into all these strange offices and I was worried about colliding with objects and people because I can’t turn around to see what’s behind me. So, I was inspired to use the technology from the big rig [trucks] that put the rearview camera by the windshield.”

All of his innovations since spawned from necessity.

“It’s always about being more efficient when you’re in this situation, because you know very often you can just end up bedridden if no one comes to help you get up,” Leaman said. “So, I have to be as productive as possible when I’m up and about.”

Leaman recently turned all his attention to assistive technology. Following his Post Doc. work with NASA, he couldn’t find a job in his academic field.

Money became tight and eventually Leaman left California for Reno. He now works as a volunteer in the University of Nevada, Reno’s Advanced Robotics and Automation Laboratory — home base for his iChair research.

To become a salaried employee at the university, Leaman needs funding for his project.

He recently applied for a National Science Foundation grant which would pay his salary and give him graduate students to help him write the code that will bring the robotic arms to life. He is also developing 3D mapping technology which will help wheelchairs navigate obstacles on their own.

Without the grant, however, Leaman said his research is progressing slowly.

“Without an outside grant, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish this research, not on my own,” Leaman said. “It means that my research is going much slower and I have to spend out of pocket if I have to buy a new sensor. But, it also means I’m focusing a lot on things that I can do. For example, the Access Report is something I can do. Filming, editing and publishing, I can do that part. So that keeps me busy.”

Leaman and the ARA laboratory won’t know if they received the NSF grant until July. If they don’t receive it, Leaman said he will just apply again.

When Leaman isn’t working on his research, he uses the GoPro camera on his wheelchair to document accessibility issues around Reno. He’s made nine videos highlighting opportunities for access improvements like automatic door openers, sidewalk cuts and wheelchair ramps.

“I would like to start documenting different accessibility levels first around Reno and then eventually around the nation and possibly around the world,” Leaman said. “Because unfortunately when people think of accessible they think of a ramp or an elevator, but sometimes it’s much more subtle than that.”

Without a paying job, Leaman’s problems are more subtle than accessibility.

While he waits for a grant, Leaman gets by on a NASA pension. It’s not enough to support his needs though, he said.

“Well, I certainly appreciate all the gifts I’ve been given,” Leaman said. “I try to give back by trying to make the best of myself and give back to the community. All I can be is grateful, right?”

First Generation: Two Latinas On Their Way to a Four-Year University

By Stephanie Serrano

Two Latina high school seniors strive to become the first in their family to attend a university. As Stephanie Serrano reports for Next Generation Radio the two young women come from a  Reno community and zip code (89431) where most residents have low paying jobs.

Listen to Stephanie Serrano’s radio feature about the two students.

Click here to watch Stephanie Serrano at Hug High School

College Bound Latinas at Hug High

Alondra Mora and Yaqi Ramirez are proud graduates of Hug High School in Reno. CREDIT: Stephanie Serrano

Early Bird Gets The Worm

It’s 6:30 a.m. and not only are the alarm clocks going off in the Mora household but so are the roosters.

Alondra Mora, a petite, curly-haired brunette, 18-year-old high school senior, begins her day.

Multi-tasking is Mora’s special trait. She starts by making breakfast for herself and her family. Waiting for the tortillas to be ready to flip, Mora steps over to the sink to begin washing last night’s dishes.

She makes breakfast with eggs from her family’s backyard chickens and also takes advantage of leftovers to make her lunch for school.

“There’s six of us and then my grandparents also stay with us,” said Mora. “Food runs out super fast.”

Money runs tight. Mora’s parents are both employed in a warehouse and are constantly working overtime to provide everyday necessities like food.

Most days, Mora is responsible for driving her two younger brothers, her younger sister, her cousin and her best friend to school.

Mora and Ramirez are on an upward path

Mora and Ramirez are on an upward path. CREDIT: Stephanie Serrano

Friendship

Mora remembers exactly how she met Yaquelin Ramirez when the two were in middle school.

“I didn’t have any friends,” said Ramirez. “I was at the end of the lunch line and she happens to walk by and I was like, she is in my P.E. class. I remember asking her, ‘hey aren’t you in my P.E. class?’ She was like, ‘yeah’ and I was like ‘oh, do you want to have lunch with me?’ And she was like, ‘oh yeah’. After that, our friendship just took off. We got really close.”

Their friendship is genuine. Since middle school, they have learned that their interests and goals are the same. They go to each other for the support they don’t have elsewhere.

Whether it be help on homework or applying for financial aid, they know that they have each other to lean on if they need help.

After four years and a lot of hard work, both girls will be graduating from Procter R. Hug High School in June. They are also both planning to attend the University of Nevada Reno in the fall and be the first in their family to attend a four-year university.

Alondra Mora in the Hug High Library

Mora takes part in a discussion to defend Hug High’s reputation. CREDIT: Stephanie Serrano

Hug High

City-Data.com grades public high schools, with 100 being the best. Hug High is classified as a four.

Mora has been selected to talk at an upcoming event to defend Hug High School’s reputation.

“When I’ve gone to scholarship dinners, they always say, ‘oh where did you go to school?’ They say ‘oh, Hug High School.’ They say ‘oh don’t you mean thug high school?’” said Mora. “I think that showcases that people always associate us as being a ghetto school, when in reality it’s not.”

More than half the students at Hug are Hispanic. Many come from middle to lower-income families where college tuition is not always affordable.

Ramirez has received scholarships

Ramirez has received one more scholarship than Mora. CREDIT: Stephanie Serrano

Prioritizing

Jason Aytes has been helping Mora and Ramirez with information on scholarships.

“Working here it takes the right kind of person, but you don’t always understand the value you’re getting from that,” said Aytes, the social studies department and scholarship coordinator at Hug High. “It is completely inspirational to see these young people transition themselves and change lives, their future, their family, all of it. It’s good to see success stories.”

After countless hours of reworking essays, Ramirez received seven scholarships so far, just barely beating Mora who has six scholarships.

“It was pretty hard,” said Ramirez. “I had four AP classes and to find time, I would prioritize my homework. I would be like, ‘I have to finish my homework first, then I can go apply for scholarships’, because I didn’t want to fail my classes. Sometimes I would stay up really late doing scholarships, because I know it needs to get done.”

Mora also found it challenging, filling out scholarships while also doing her homework. Mora lives in a small, three-bedroom house with her six siblings, parents and grandparents.

“One time, I really had to read and I had a project due the next day, so I literally locked myself in the bathroom, and I was working in there because I was like ‘this is as good as it’s going to get,’” said Mora. “It’s really hard. I don’t have that quiet space where I won’t be bugged.”

Listen to Ramirez and Mora explain their ways to succeed.

Friend to Friend Support

Ramirez has also had her challenges. In eighth grade, she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, a condition where the thyroid produces too much hormones. This causes an irregular heartbeat, weight loss and for Ramirez, loss of concentration.

“In middle school, I was 80 pounds and I drastically went up to 130,” said Ramirez. “It was just really difficult to cope with, because I couldn’t really concentrate. I used to be able to read something once and get it, after this I had to reread something multiple times.”

When she was a sophomore, she had to miss two weeks of school so she could undergo treatment for her overactive thyroid.

Mora was the one friend who helped her get back on track.

“When I came back to school, she helped me a lot,” said Ramirez. “She made sure all my teachers gave her all my work that I missed. It was really nice. She helped me finish and everything they had done in class, she would help me go over it.”

Now two years later, both girls are graduating in the top five of their class. They’ve found it fun to have a sister-like competition between each other. Ramirez is second in her graduating class. Mora is fifth.