Finding solutions to help end homelessness in America

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-Written by Erik Sargent

As we roll through the winter months and the holiday season, many people are spending time with their loved ones in nice, warm homes, enjoying this wonderful time of year. Unfortunately, for an alarming number of people in the country, this is not the case.

The issues of homelessness in America is an ongoing problem, one that needs constant attention and solutions as organizations and groups work to get people off the streets and into better situations.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a single given night in 2017, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States, and approximately 65 percent were staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing program.

Homelessness increased for the first time in seven years, showing almost a one percent increase from 2016, according to the same report. So how does the nation solve homelessness? What is causing homelessness? It’s a complex issue with many layers.

Various issues leading to the problem

“Far and away, the number one cause is eviction,” said Darin Estep, vice president of community engagement for the Volunteers of America Michigan department. “There are underlying causes for eviction, but it’s usually unemployment, loss of job, or a medical condition. Almost all homeless cases result when someone does not have a support system.”

Along with the problem of eviction, drugs and alcohol can play a key role in homelessness, but another major issue is the problem of mental health.

“Some of it can be drug and alcohol related, but a great part of it is mental health issues,” said Jody Naylor, a board member for Homeless Angels, an organization based in Lansing, Mich., that provides temporary shelter for clients and helps them work toward getting back on their feet during rough patches.

“It can be people not taking their medication like they should be. A lot of our clients have mental health issues, and the other large segment is just people who have fallen on hard times and don’t know where to turn.”

One common misconception about homelessness is that it occurs during the winter months, but as both Estep and Naylor pointed out, homelessness has become such a large problem that it now has no season – it’s year round.

“It’s unfortunately a year-round problem,” Estep said. “It’s much more painful and dangerous in the winter because winter can kill you if you’re not in shelter, so it’s important to get people inside and out of the weather. But it is important to remember this problem is year-round, and we are pretty much full 365 days a year.”

Spreading the message

For organizations who provide assistance to people struggling with homelessness, aside from actually providing these services, one of the biggest tasks is making sure people in need are aware of how to get help.

For Estep and the VOA of Michigan, they work on collaborating with other agencies in the Ingham County area where they are based to ensure there is a wide web cast so people are aware they can turn to these organizations for help. This starts by word of mouth or distributing outreach cards in certain areas to spread the message.

For Naylor and Homeless Angels, they often do networking on their own, and also leave their lines open for people to contact them with issues of their own, or if they see someone struggling.

“We have a street ministry team, where there’s a team of people that actually comb the parks in Lansing and they know where a lot of homeless camps are,” Naylor said. “They work on building relationships with the homeless people in the community, because they have trust issues. Once they trust them and know that we are there to help them, that helps with bringing them in.”

Naylor and the Homeless Angels also put a lot of effort into using social media to increase their presence in the Lansing area, and receive messages on a daily basis from people in the community that will point out a person who might be sleeping in their car or in a bridge, and offer the location so the organization can go check on them.

Everyone getting involved

23032491_10155137186921647_1663434852797734851_nAt TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, we put a heavy emphasis on giving back to each of the communities we work in, trying to make a difference in the lives of the people that reside there and making the areas a better place to live. One of our top fall campaigns – Truckload of Warmth – was specifically designed to help with the issue of homelessness, and during it, our franchises partner with organizations in their areas to help provide warm weather clothing that can be distributed at shelters during the cold months.

“We have been doing this drive for several years,” said Kara Berhow, marketing and recruiting director for the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Des Moines, Iowa, location. “Within our community, there is a huge need for these winter wear items. We see that need in our schools and especially in the area’s refugee population. We received request for more than 12,000 items this year. Many people arrive in our city with nothing more than light clothing, and being prepared on a tight budget is a real struggle for families just trying to get started again.”

IMG_0281Berhow and the Des Moines location partnered with a local non-profit organization in the area to help with their campaigns, and also partnered with a local Chick-Fil-A restaurant to collect over 10,000 items that were distributed throughout the area.

“The campaign was incredibly successful, and it is a joy to watch it grow each year,” Berhow said. “Our teams are always thrilled to help with dropping off boxes, picking up donations, manning the ‘Fill the Truck’ events, and delivering the donations. The ability to give back is something that we celebrate here, and it is a blessing to work for a company that puts so much emphasis on philanthropy.”

How the public can get involved

Homeless organizations and companies working to use their resources to fight the issues of homelessness is great, but in order to make a true swing at ending it in certain areas, it takes the efforts of as many people as possible.

These organizations are always seeking volunteers, and they encourage people to contact them and ask for ways they can either assist with their efforts, donate, or provide resources to help the cause.

“I would say there’s three main ways to get involved,” Estop said. “One is to come and volunteer and see the people so you get a ground-level understanding of the problem. Another way is to simply come in for a tour, where we can show you around. Third is to just contribute. We take donations of cash, goods, and time. Any way people want to share with our less fortunate brothers and sisters, we are happy to facilitate that. That’s one of the main reasons we are here – to provide that opportunity.”

Understanding and addressing the daily struggles veterans all across the country face

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-Written by Erik Sargent

During the month of November, we stop to take time and recognize the proud men and women who have served in our military – past and present – and thank them for their courageous service to this great nation.

Freedom isn’t free, and these veterans put their lives on the line so we can enjoy the many activities each of us take for granted every day, and it’s important to show them how big of an impact they‘ve made. Unfortunately, for many veterans, life can become challenging when they return home from their service, and tough times become the norm for many veterans across the country.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans – although impossible to count because it changes so frequently – there are roughly 39,471 veterans that are homeless on any given night.

According to the National Veterans Foundation, 20 percent of the veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and studies show that only 50 percent of veterans who need treatment for these issues receive these services. Both homelessness and mental health are two major issues veterans deal with upon return from overseas, and there is a strong correlation between the two.

“Mental health is a big contributor to homelessness, and what we need to do is be able to prevent this homelessness,” said Joe Davis, director of communications, publications, and public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The VFW – and many other organizations like it – are designed to help assist veterans in getting the proper services and care they need from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, a task that in theory should seem easy, but is often difficult and time consuming. It starts with identifying the problems and the people who need help, and figuring out who can tackle the issues.

“The VA has been so badly bruised, and veterans don’t go there for the services that they’ve earned,” said Mark Sutton, public relations director for The American Legion Department of Michigan. “They go at it improperly, and they are not using expertise to help them get the benefits, and they get frustrated by the system. The bureaucracy of the VA pushes people away. As veterans, we’re all people who just want to get stuff done, and the VA is completely the opposite.”

Each veteran is different, and must be treated on a case-by-case basis. This requires raising awareness across the public, and finding out ways to at least get these veterans in line for the services that can help them with some of the struggles they face.

Some need assistance more than others, and many are more receptive, but it’s important that everyone is given a chance.

“We recognize that some veterans want to stay homeless,” Sutton said. “They just do, and they are not going to change anything they do. So trying to recognize them and get them any services we can get them, we try to do that. The second piece is finding those that are homeless but want to know what systems they can get into to get back on their feet.”

While organizations like the VFW and The American Legion aim to tackle these larger scale issues, there’s still a lot that can be done to help the cause of veterans and ensure they have a better life after their service is complete. This can be anything from small, local organizations providing shelter and resources, to people volunteering their time and money.

One instance of this can be found with the international moving company TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, where each fall, franchise locations across the country run the Movers for Military campaign. The campaign is aimed at getting veterans – homeless or those who could use a little assistance – the essential care items they need during the cold months, and making sure they are taken care of.

“We provide every day hygiene items,” said Eugenia Parlow, regional sales and marketing manager at multiple TWO MEN AND A TRUCK locations in Florida. “From soap, toothpaste, deodorants, and other items for homeless veterans and their families. The charities we work with distribute these items directly to veterans living in the streets and in homeless shelters.”

Across the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK system, there are countless veterans working in positions ranging from drivers all the way up to franchise owners, so any work with veterans is a high priority for the brand.

With the ability to use their trucks and movers to both collect and deliver goods, they‘re able to cover a lot of ground, and ensure veterans in their communities are equipped with the items they need to live day-to-day.

“Veterans have given so much of their lives and have endured the stresses of combat,” Parlow said. “Many veterans need help, and the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Movers for Military program provides items they can’t normally get through government channels. It gives them a sense of wellbeing.”

In order to help out veterans, a large government agency or a successful corporate company isn’t needed – all that you need is a willingness to give back and support those who put their lives on the line for this country.

From volunteering at veterans hospitals and shelters, to veteran-support organizations, there are places in virtually every community of in each state that have dedicated organizations working to improve the life of veterans in need.

“For a civilian to want to help out veterans, they can volunteer at a VA hospital or a medical center,” Sutton said. “They can go into the volunteer services and apply to become a volunteer at those places.”

Any type of donation involving time or money goes a long way, and can make an impact on a veteran’s life somewhere in the country.

“Get involved. Donate your time, donate your money – no matter how large or small, it helps,” Davis said. “I always like to believe there are angels walking amongst us, you just have to open your eyes and recognize what you are doing.”

How big businesses are implementing the use of translation services to enhance customer experience

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-Written by Erik Sargent 

America is more ethnically diverse than ever before. People from different backgrounds and countries make up large portions of our populations, each bringing their own unique lifestyle. With this type of background comes a growing population of people speaking different languages. Communication plays a huge part in the daily lives of millions of Americans each day, but often times, much of our population is left out due to communication barriers.

According to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau published in October of 2016, there were 40 million residents in the United States ages five and older who spoke the native language of Spanish at home. This was a 131.2 percent increase from 1990, when it was just 17.3 million people. For reference – this is 13.3 percent of United States residents.

While some of these Spanish-speaking Americans are fluent in English, many are not. This can create a language hurdle in places heavily populated with Spanish-speaking Americans, such as California, Florida, and Texas.

From a business perspective, this creates a dilemma for companies looking to branch out and extend their reach to new customers. If they aren’t able to communicate with potential customers and create a positive brand experience across websites and social media platforms, they won’t continue to appeal to a wide audience.

Often times, you’ll see companies bring on one or two Spanish-speaking employees hoping to handle the large influx of people who don’t speak English, but in heavily populated areas of Spanish speakers, this just simply isn’t enough.

One solution to increasing engagement and appealing to a wider audience is using a translation service. Companies like Amazon and The New York Times have both recently launched pages on their website featuring Spanish content, showing the trend of translation services has reached even the biggest of business.

Translation companies like Tomedes Translation work with big businesses and companies to offer translation services of all kinds, improving the communication levels and helping them to reach customers they normally wouldn’t have the ability to communicate with. Tomedes was founded in 2007, and has more than 15,000 clients across the globe.

“We offer a variety of language services – what that means is translation, proofreading, editing, transcription, subtitles, voice over – pretty much if it’s a service that is connected to a language, we offer it,” said Rivkah Miller, an Account Manager for Tomedes Translation.

Tomedes translates over 50 languages, and takes the burden off companies looking to use employees who are bilingual to communicate with customers.

Clients will send Tomedes files they need translated, and it will go through an extensive review process with the translators and project managers at the company. The work they do covers an incredibly wide spectrum, and clients find translation needs for almost anything.

“We have clients who need CDs translated, we have law firms who want immigration documents translated, we have legal contracts, and we are also getting big into the gaming and app industries as they look to go international,” Miller said. “There’s always a reason why someone would need translation and would want it done professionally.”

This type of translation service is the next step as technology increases and business become global, and it instantly makes a business more accessible to the public and people of varying backgrounds.

“It facilitates visibility, essentially, and facilitates communication,” Miller said.

For the international moving company TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, the translation process has become a main priority, as the company has 350 plus locations in the U.S. with a large number of franchises in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas.

People of all backgrounds are always in need of moving services, and for TWO MEN AND A TRUCK, it was important to get their websites translated to Spanish and begin to employ Spanish-speaking customer service representatives at their national Customer Resource Center to better handle the communication. The company recently worked with the translation service, Gengo, to implement Spanish content across all of their websites in order to be more inclusive and connected to Spanish speaking customers.

“This is just another step in our continued evolution, and in our commitment to continuously exceeding customers’ expectations,” said Dawn Kroeger, marketing and communications director at TWO MEN AND A TRUCK’s international headquarters located in Lansing, Mich. “By delivering our local websites and marketing materials in Spanish, we are working to better support the needs of the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK consumer base. We know there are loyal customers out there whose primary language is not English, so we are now taking action to provide them with the best experience possible, starting with their initial experience on our websites.”

This translation will allow the moving company to connect with more customers looking to move, and help them continue growing as a brand across the United States and international locations.

“Being in the Los Angeles market, a majority of our customers find us through internet searches,” said Stefanie Shook, marketing manager at the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Pasadena, Calif., location. “We also have a huge Spanish speaking population here and by translating our website, we are acknowledging and showing that we want to serve them with the best customer service possible.”

According to Miller, the advancement from technology has made this language translation much more crucial to running a successful business than ever before. There are numerous languages being spoken by people in the country, and many businesses in the country are communicating with customers from around the globe.

For companies like Amazon, The New York Times, and TWO MEN AND A TRUCK, their revenue streams rely on people continuing to use their services, and translating their company content into a new language will help with this.

“It’s very hard to navigate when you can’t speak languages,” Miller said. “You might have advocates who can help you, someone who does speak the language, but that’s just one person. That’s not enough.”

Breaking down the logistics and planning of severe hurricane relief

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Written by Erik Sargent

What does one do when a violent storm is barreling toward you, your home, and the community you live in? This was the question that residents in much of Southeast Texas and all of Florida have recently had to answer, as both regions were hit by severe hurricane damage in the first two weeks of September.

For the state of Texas, it was Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane that had winds reaching speeds upwards of 130 mph, causing catastrophic flooding throughout many regions of Southeast Texas. In Florida, it was Hurricane Irma, another Category 4 hurricane that completely wiped out islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and had a death toll of 80, according to World Vision.

Outside of the area, the damage you see on television is only a fraction of what happened, and only gives you a small scope of how severe these storms were. For those living in the area, the nightmare was all too real, and the hurricanes completely changed the lives of millions.

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“I’ve told reporters in the past, it’s really tough to describe the damage because television doesn’t do it justice,” said Convoy of Hope National Spokesperson Jeff Nene. “When you drive through the areas and you see the destruction, then it becomes real. But there really isn’t any way to describe it because of the massiveness.”

For Nene and Convoy of Hope, they are one of numerous organizations who are built for helping these areas rebuild and get people back on their feet after being hit with a natural disaster. Convoy of Hope was founded in 1994, and they have since served more than 80 million people through various charitable endeavors.

With the recent string of hurricanes to hit the United States, they were out in full-force, and were employing some of their best tactics to help the people in the areas affected.

Preparing for the hit

“Something that is really interesting and something people don’t think about a lot is that hurricanes are – in some ways – the easiest disaster to respond to, because you have a little bit of a warning and you can see them coming,” Nene said.

It’s this mindset that allows an organization like Convoy of Hope to be prepared both in terms of staff, and the people they will partner with. They have an operation center located in Springfield, M.O., where they can monitor oncoming hurricanes and develop project plans for relief efforts.

The operation center is in contact with emergency management at the state and federal levels of the areas, and they coordinate how they are going to get to designated areas, which area is safest to camp out in, and how they will deploy and help once the storms have passed.

“With a hurricane, what we try to do is go in early,” Nene said. “We were very successful during Hurricane Katrina, which was one of the first times we tried this technique, and it worked very well this time with Hurricane Harvey in Texas. What we do is get there before the storm and get to the Southeast side of where we think it’s going to hit, then we’ll go from there.”

Logistical planning is vital to the entire operation, and allows the designated relief teams to stay safe from potential damage from hurricanes, and also allows them to immediately deploy and begin helping.

“We were able to come in and start the distribution of food and supplies almost immediately this time in Texas,” Nene said.

Picking the right starting points for effective relief

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Tackling hurricane relief requires intense preparation and organization, and it’s important the teams who are going in to help have a plan of what they want to do so they can act quickly. For Convoy of Hope, this starts with two main areas of focus, and they implement these phases in strategic order.

“The first step for us is emergency supplies,” Nene said. “Food, water, and hygiene-type items, and we try to get these in there right off the bat. We focus on this for the first week at least, sometimes longer.”

The type of food provided to people is food that doesn’t need to be cooked, doesn’t need to be preserved, and can basically prepared with no other ingredients. This can be anything such as snacks, cereal, and other dry types of food.

From there, it turns into more of the cleaning aspect of the hurricane relief, and helping to improve the sanitation of the areas that have been hit.

“The second phase usually takes place as the power starts to come back on and people have gotten through the phase of staying alive,” Nene said. “The second phase is beginning with clean up, and we start changing the product mix. We still do some of the food and water, but we start adding things like cleaning supplies, bleach, trash bags and cans, shovels, rakes – those types of products. The other thing we do is put together teams of volunteers that will go into neighborhoods to help with cleanup.”

These teams of volunteers range from eight to 15 people, and they try to tackle tasks in certain areas one by one. Convoy of Hope has their own staff of people they send, but a major part of their relief efforts consist of partnering with both trained volunteers and partnering with organizations such as churches to provide people to work on the raw labor.

With a wide-range of groups working together, they are able to tackle the most important areas necessary during rebuild, including working with those who are unable to help themselves after the storm has passed.

“We really try to focus on the people who need help more than others,” Nene said. “So for example, the elderly, physically challenged, uninsured or underinsured – people that without outside assistance, they’re going to have difficult time. We try to focus on them [first].”

Help from around the country

While organizations like Convoy of Hope do everything in their power to make sure the right people are on-site working to clean up, a major part of hurricane relief comes with the help of those who volunteer out of their own goodwill.

One company that took matters into their own hands was the international moving company TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®. Being a moving company, they already had the necessary equipment to transport goods with their moving trucks, and the Pensacola (FL) and Mobile (AL) took matters into their own hands by collecting donations from various churches, schools, radio station, and sports teams.

“When we finished, we had over 80 pallets sorted and ready for shipment to Texas,” said Greg Micklos, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® Pensacola franchisee. “[The idea of] ‘Truck4Texas’ quickly turned into ‘Trucks4Texas’ very rapidly. I called on multiple franchises to help, and we got it! With Mobile offering a couple of trucks, we set out for Victoria, TX, and met up with our Home Office Executive Team at the Convoy of Hope relief site.”

The TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® locations didn’t stop with their assistance in Texas, either. As the destruction began to take place in Florida, they quickly began collecting supplies to help the Sunshine State. Three trucks from the Pensacola franchises and one from the Orlando franchise were able to deliver over 30 pallets of water to the Convoy of Hope collection site in Florida.

It is a testament to the company culture on display at TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, and showed how their commitment to giving back in their communities can really make a difference in the lives’ of others.

“It just made sense to do,” said TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® Mobile General Manger Billy Stovall. “In retrospect, it’s a reflection on the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® brand. When a company and the people working share the same common core values, great things happen, and this just the latest example.”

How to get involved and make a difference

While companies like this can be on-site doing work to help, not everyone has the ability to access affected areas and make a difference. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t have the chance to make a difference.

“The best thing people can do from home is to just go online and make some kind of financial contribution,” Nene said. “Those financial gifts are extremely important, because they are what power the equipment and the man power that helps with relief.”

According to Nene, although the donation of resources like food and water are helpful, the time and logistics required to get these donations to the right places ends up costing too much. Cash donations can be done online, and can be placed in the right hands to be distributed effectively.

For those looking to make a donation, visit websites like Convoy of Hope, Red Cross, UNICEF, and various GoFundMe accounts to ensure you’re making donations to reputable organizations.

Handling the mental and physical aspects of senior relocation as the demographic continues to grow

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-Written by Erik Sargent 

Moving can be an extremely difficult and emotionally challenging time for anyone, especially when it comes to seniors. Often times these moves require downsizing, parting ways with belongings and possessions they have owned for years, and leaving behind a home where priceless memories have been made.

The fall months bring a busy time for senior moves, as many retirees and seniors make the move to warmer climates in the southern and western regions of the country. According to SmartAssest.com, the five states most retirees relocate to are Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Oregon.

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With the drastic changes that come from not only downsizing but making a long-distance move of this nature, it’s important to work closely with the senior who’s making the big move to ensure they are being properly cared for, and that their emotional and physical needs are being tended to.

Senior move managers specialize in this field which involves everything from helping decide which belongings they might need to keep or get rid of, to finding a new place for them to live and helping them adjust to their new life.

“I think you have to take a step back and look at the big picture. So much of what is associated with aging is loss,” said Jennifer Pickett, the associate executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers. “You may have lost a spouse, lost physical or cognitive abilities, lost a friend, or lost driving privileges. So when it comes to having to part with possessions that you’ve had for a lifetime or a family home, it’s not uncommon for older adults to draw a line in the sand and say ‘I’m not doing this’. This usually means that it’s overwhelming, and they don’t’ know where to begin.”

NASMM is a nonprofit trade association that represents professional senior move managers, and provides training and support to their members to help put them in the best position to work with aging seniors during this big life change.

“Working with older adults is very different than working with a normal, 35-year-old couple that is moving,” Pickett said. “There are legal issues, communication issues, safety issues, and ethical issues that need to be addressed. Senior move managers specialize in dealing with these specific issues to help families and the older adult client with the tremendous amount of emotional and physical stress that is associated with a move at that age.”

Hiring a senior move manager can serve as protection for the senior who is moving, and to ensure the entire process from start to finish is a smooth one.

Senior move managers do everything from working with the client to ensure the belongings they no longer need are properly handled or donated, and not just thrown away. They also put extensive work into finding the right living situation for the client, whether that be a new apartment, condo, or senior living facility.

“That’s sort of the beauty of bringing in a third party – senior move managers come in to alleviate some of that stress,” Pickett said. “They have the knowledge, the tools, and the resources to help the family through the process. So many times, we hear of adult children who think they can downsize the family home in 48 hours, and that’s just not possible. Not only is that not physically possible, it’s also emotionally damaging to the older adult.”

Aside from the work that senior move managers do, another key piece in the senior moving process is the actual moving company itself, as they are responsible for handling the customers’ belongings and streamlining the process. One company that prides itself on taking quality care of senior citizens is the international moving company TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, and they have built their brand around this motto.

With their company core value THE GRANDMA RULE® – to treat everyone the way you would want your Grandma to be treated – they have developed a niche for moving seniors, and even implement specialized training and practices for handling this delicate process.

“Our Raleigh and Durham locations have been certified as a dementia-friendly business by the Orange County Department on Aging,” said Jeanette Gulledge, multi-unit director of marketing for TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® locations in North Carolina and Georgia. “We thought this additional level of training would be beneficial for our teams as our business continues to grow. Quality health care options continue to be an important factor in attracting a growing number of retirees to the area. With this increase in retirees comes an increase in the potential number of people with various stages of dementia.”

The moving and sales teams at the Raleigh and Durham locations were provided training by the Orange County Department of Aging, which consisted of videos demonstrating the different stages of dementia and tendencies of people who are affected. It offered various insight to what they might encounter when working with this type of patient, and opened a door for discussion with the moving team.

“Since many of us having aging parents, the videos were very relatable and served as great learning tools,” Gulledge said. “We learned that many of our movers and drivers had experience working with clients who were dealing with dementia, and they shared their own best practices for delivering excellent customer service during these moves.”

As the population of seniors (classified as people ages 65 and over) continues to rise, so too will the importance of senior moving strategies and planning. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by the year 2060.

Continuing to learn about support seniors who are making big life moves, especially those with dementia or other serious diseases, is vital. It’s important to remember these interactions are special, and should be treated with dignity and care as this stressful process can be mentally and physically exhausting.

“Older adults need to be treated with dignity, as do their possessions,” Pickett said. “If you think about your own life, these possessions define you in a lot of ways. [We] have to help these adults part ways with their possession without parting ways with the memory.”

Summer months increase the risk of wildfire damage across the United States

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-by Erik Sargent

The summer months of the year mean bonfires, fireworks, and an increase in the use of various motor vehicles for people across the country as they enjoy the hot weather. However, with the increase in temperatures drying out certain areas, this can become an extremely hazardous time, and can lead to one of nature’s most destructive events – wildfires.

Each year, you can find a story somewhere in the country about a wildfire that has spread rapidly in a rural area, causing extensive damage to everything it its path. Forests, farm lands, and homes can all be burned up in an instant, putting people’s lives in areas of wildfires at serious risk.

At first thought, it might seem that wildfires are more prevalent in desert areas along the western region of the country, but they are actually a threat everywhere coast to coast. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the five states that experienced the most wildfires in 2016 were Texas, California, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama.

“Ironically, it’s somewhere around 70 percent of the wildfires occur east of the Mississippi River,” said Tom Welle, the manager of the Wildfire Division for the National Fire Protection Association in Denver, Colo. “They tend to be smaller, but that doesn’t mean they are less dangerous. The ones that hit he news are big, thousand acre fires in the West, and those happen regularly. In the East, we get a lot of wildfires, but because of the concentration of people, you can have a smaller wildfire that puts a lot more houses and people at risk.”

The National Fire Protection Agency is a nonprofit organization that has been around since 1896, with their primary mission being to eliminate death, injury, and property loss from fire, electrical, and other hazards. One of their main areas of focus is wildfires, and they look to provide people with the proper knowledge to avoid starting them, and remain safe when they happen.

“In the wildfire space, what we primarily do is work with residents through the state forestry organizations, teaching them how to make their homes more ignition resistance – we try to keep homes from burning down,” Welle said. “There’s a lot people can do to keep their houses from burning down in a wildfire. It’s stuff that they can do themselves.”

The problem of wildfire is an issue that continues to rise, and finding the right resources to stop them in an efficient way is a challenge for Welle and NFPA. According to Welle, 90 percent of homes that are effected by wildfires are completely destroyed, and each year, we are losing more civilians and firefighter lives to the fires.

What is causing these wildfires to start? A variety of factors come into play, but it’s generally humans who lead the way.

“Nationally, I think it’s in the 80th percentile range that are human-caused, and there are a variety of those causes,” Welle said. “A great many of them occur in the Southeast, because they tend to do a lot of burning. People burn their brush or their trash and don’t pay attention to the weather conditions, and the burn will get away from them.”

Other factors that play a big part in the start of wildfires are people lighting off fireworks, starting campfires, and arson. Often times its fires that are intentionally lit, but accidentally get away from people and become dangerous.

If you find yourself in a situation where you can see a potential wildfire developing, it’s important to act quickly and efficiently to ensure that the fire doesn’t spread out of control and become deadly. One instance of reacting quickly occurred in Albuquerque, N.M., where two movers from the international moving company TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® were able to stop a wildfire in a residential neighborhood.

Movers Sam Silsby and Elijah Salazar were completing a move on a hot evening on July 3, and noticed people at a nearby home in a commotion. The two saw a fire starting in the neighbor’s yard, and immediately called 911 before running over to help with the situation.

Wildfire

“The neighbor came running out of her house looking upset,” Silsby said. “She then said to us ‘there’s a fire in my backyard’. So we instantly sprang into action and thought of what to do.”

The two both had experiences in dealing with fire prior to this situation, and knew that time was critical if they were going to prevent the fire from growing.

“First, we tried using our fire extinguisher, but it wasn’t getting the job done,” Salazar said. “We then started covering it with dirt because smothering a fire will put it out. So, the plans we discussed were starting to work. We were just thinking that we need to get this fire out quickly or it could spread and cause serious damage.”

The quick thinking by the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® employees enabled them to put out the fire before firefighters arrived on the scene, and potentially saved the lives of residents in the area. Welle applauded their decision to use dirt to smother the fire, and also mentioned how important it was that they immediately called 911.

“The smartest thing to do is call 911 or whatever the local emergency number is and be able to give them a good location of where the fire is. That is the best thing people can do,” Welle said. “If you’re not a trained fire fighter and don’t have the appropriate equipment, we don’t want to see anybody get hurt trying to do the right thing.”

To learn more about preventative measures for wildfires as well as other helpful information about all types of fire, be sure to visit the National Fire Protection Association website and use the resources they have available.

Smart allocation of money can ease the burden of college costs

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-By Erik Sargent

As more and more people stress the importance of attending college after graduating high school, potential and current students across the country have seen a constant increase in the expenses related toward earning a college degree.

From the spikes in tuition to textbooks, on-campus or off-campus housing, food, travel, and other living expenses – the price can seem daunting, and sometimes unmanageable. According to a study done by The College Board last year, the average total cost per year for a full-time undergraduate student at a four-year public, in-state school was $24,610.

For students choosing to take the route of a private, four-year school while living on campus, the cost was more than doubled, averaging $49,320.

“Hopefully it doesn’t continue to rise, but people should plan like it’s going to,” said Kathryn Randolph, the contributing editor for financial aid for the company Fastweb. “People should start saving for college as soon as possible, even if you’re currently a senior in high school. The more you save, the less you end up having to borrow.”

Companies like Fastweb use expert teams of researchers to find potential scholarship matches for future and current college students, aiming to take some of the stress out of searching for scholarship money and financial aid by organizing information for people who sign up on their website.

According to Randolph, Fastweb is just one of many tools that help students find resources to pay their way through school, but there are also many other valuable resources available to students if they look in the right places.

“Another place to look for scholarships is through your high school, and the best resource for students in high school is their guidance counselor,” Randolph said. “They will have a listing of scholarship opportunities that are local. Another thing students should do is fill out the FAFSA, which helps them qualify for financial aid. Essentially, the more research students and their families do, the better equipped they are going to be to pay for college, and the more they will understand how much it actually costs instead of going up blindly and ending up with large student loan numbers.”

When working out the payment plans for your college education, it is important to fill out the FAFSA and find out how much money you are able to receive through financial aid. Any money is helpful when it comes to paying for college, and financial aid allows you to work out payments in the future so you are able to get the education you need.

Fastweb produced a list of money saving tricks for students in college outside of scholarships and financial aid, with some important ones that included: buying or renting used textbooks, limiting the amount of times you eat out, using public transportation instead of a car, and never taking out a loan for anything but education.

Paid internship programs or part-time jobs to earn extra cash, particularly during the summer months when school isn’t in session are two additional ways to support the expense of higher education. One company that offers an extensive and hands-on internship program is the international moving company TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, with opportunities offered at their corporate headquarters in Lansing, Mich.

Students who intern with TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® are given the chance to work in a variety of business fields that can translate anywhere in the professional world, including the marketing, finance, human resources, information technology, and sales departments.

“In addition to daily department responsibilities, our interns also take part in various educational sessions we host at our corporate office,” said TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® Employee Development Coordinator Rocco Cironi. “Our hope is that not only do our interns learn more in the areas they work in, but they also have a better understanding of other departments throughout our corporate office. Our goal is for them to go back to school with a better understanding of the culture and pace of a corporation.”

The interns at TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® are given a variety of tasks to complete within their respective departments, and through other departments as well. This includes everything from volunteer work to video projects, helping set up events, and assisting in  daily responsibilities at both Home Office and the Lansing, Mich., franchise. Near the end of their internships, they complete a final presentation highlighting their summer and what they’ll take away from the experience.

This internship is designed to be extremely beneficial to everyone who participates, and TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® strives to provide as many resources as possible for the interns to use in the present and future.

“The interns have access to a vast amount of resources while here during the summer,” Cironi said. “Our interns meet with each member of the executive team to get to know them better and ask them questions about their experiences. They also meet with our directors through our ‘Lunch and Learn’ program. We want them to learn both professional skills and personal development skills while they are here, as this will help them become more well-rounded individuals and prepare them for life after graduation.”

As Randolph pointed out, there are a multitude of ways to go about handling the expenses of college education, but the most important thing to remember is be smart about your spending. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and be smart about where your money is being allocated, as this will ease the burden of life after graduation.

“One thing we like to say a lot at Fastweb is that when you are in college, you should live like a college student so you don’t have to live like a college student when you graduate,” Randolph said. “This is the time in your life when you should be buying used textbooks, looking on Craigstlist for furniture, living with a roommate, and doing anything you can to cut down on your daily, monthly, and yearly living expenses.”

Completing thorough research can help prevent business scams

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-Written by Erik Sargent

With the increasing landscape of the Internet and its capabilities, the opportunities for conducting business in any aspect are larger than ever. Unfortunately, with this type of access, the chance for running into scams is at an all-time high, and each day, people are losing out on money due to shady business tactics.

Gone are the days of picking up the phonebook and dialing up a number for a contractor, plumber, mover, or other labor service. Now you can search endless job sites and job boards, sifting through, while hoping to find the best price in your area. But how do you know if these are trustworthy services? While one business may offer a cheaper price, they might not be responsible or honest about your service or payment.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, “crooks use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. They often combine new technology with old tricks to get people to send more or give out personal information.”

Websites like Facebook, Amazon, Yelp, and Angie’s List all provide a platform for people to do research on a business, everything from seeing what the service has to offer, to finding out what other people have said about their company.

The Better Business Bureau – one of the oldest sites to offer this type of information for consumers – has been around for over 100 years, and was founded on the idea of protecting consumers from misleading advertising.

“Our mission is to help promote a more ethical marketplace,” said Michelle Michels, VP of Operations for the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Michigan. “One goal for us is that from a business perspective, we have millions of customers come to our website looking for a reputable business. For our members, that means that we’re trying to have business be directed toward them.”

The Better Business Bureau serves as the mediator between the business and the consumer, providing a platform for businesses to advertise their services, and a platform for potential customers to do their research on a company. Consumers can leave their reviews on the website from the experiences they’ve had, and business can retain their BBB Accreditation by sticking to the criteria provided.

“We have certain criteria and standards a business must meet, and they are pretty basic,” Michels said. “We ask for a business to be straight with the state they are in, that they are properly licensed, and that they remain responsive to their customers. It sounds like a simple task, but if you’re running a business, it’s hard to satisfy your customers. You’re only as good as your reputation.”

So how do consumers make sure they are getting the best deal while also avoiding a potential scam? Research, research, and more research.

According to the B.B.B., actions like reading contracts, reading terms, and asking questions can save you from falling victim to illegitimate business. It’s also important to make sure you are getting everything in writing, and not paying for a service until the job is completed.

“For consumers, this is the age of ‘If I’m going to buy something, I’m going to read reviews, and I’m going to do research’, because money is hard to come by,” Michels said. “Consumers are pretty savvy, and they go out and research things. We encourage this – not to just look at B.B.B. – but look at everything.”

One business that has built a reputation around putting the customer first and being transparent about their services is the international moving company, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®. The first and largest franchised moving company in the world, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® has been in operation for more than 30 years, and carries a 96 percent referral rating.

To match the variety of moving, packing, and storage solutions provided by the moving company, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® puts a heavy emphasis on being accessible to all customers in variety of ways, one being through their corporate customer care team which ensures an honest and beneficial relationship between the franchises and consumers.

“We seek to be transparent by sharing information we have about regulations, policies, and our core values, which directs how we interact with customers to provide the best possible moving experience,” said Rina Woodland, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® corporate customer care manager. “When customers are unhappy, we are empathetic and genuine as we work toward an acceptable solution.”

TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® took a major step toward customer satisfaction when developing their own customer relationship center, allowing customers even more opportunities to call and have their questions answered, services explained, and moves booked. The mission of the customer care team is to provide support and uphold high standards of care as they continuously strive to exceed customers’ expectations while protecting the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® brand.

This kind of up-front mentality is crucial when running a moving company due to the intimate nature of the moving, and TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® has been able to develop a world-renowned brand name around this customer service.

“In a society that expects a quick response, we are very responsive, and customers get to speak with a live person when they call,” Woodland said. “So often, a customer just wants someone to listen to them and acknowledge things did not go well. As the “Movers Who Care®” we understand we are moving people’s lives and we take this seriously. We not only listen, but we work with the local franchise toward a resolution, or help the customer understand why a decision was made by the local office. When moving, we realize that not every move can be 100% perfect. If we are able to resolve a customer’s concern, it can be positive for everyone.”

Update – August 3, 2018

According to a recent report from Good Morning America, an ongoing trend of moving company scams are being reported across the country. TWO MEN AND A TRUCK CEO, Jon Nobis®, took some time to share his thoughts on the issue.

Doing your research before paying for a service can be the difference between receiving a good service, and losing out on hard earned money from unethical business practices. Michels and the Better Business Bureau stressed making sure that you get multiple quotes and reading reviews before paying for a service.

At the end of the day, you have to use your best judgment when spending your money, and according to Michels, “trust” doesn’t go as far as it used to in the past.

“Somebody’s word or somebody’s honor unfortunately doesn’t always mean anything anymore,” Michels said. “Everything you do needs to be in writing.”

Summer months bring the most risk for drivers on the road

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-Written by Erik Sargent

Summertime means spending time outside in the sun, doing everything from going to the beach, to swimming, grilling, and relaxing. It’s a wonderful time of year, but despite the nice weather and increased fun, one sad reality often goes under the radar – road safety.

While most people would assume that driving during the winter months with snow and bad weather would be the worst time, it’s actually the warm summer months that create the most hazardous driving conditions for the average person. This can be attributed to many factors, and it’s important to realize the risk of summertime driving.

“Summer is the most hazardous time of year for driving,” said Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “July and August are the deadliest months, with an average of 116 people killed on the roads every day during this time frame.”

Rader and the IIHS are a nonprofit highway safety research organization funded entirely by automobile insurance companies. Their goal is to do conduct research on driving habits, road conditions, and vehicle safety to assist in their mission of finding ways to reduce crashes and make the roads safer.

“Risks are the same all year round, but the problem with the summer months is there are a lot more vehicles on the road, and people driving more hazardous miles,” Rader said. “By that, I mean driving in the summer for vacations and recreations, sometimes on unfamiliar roads or driving on the weekends. This kind of driving is more dangerous than the daily commute to and from work.”

According to the nationally recognized insurance company ESURANCE, the factors that can increase the dangers of driving during the summertime include more teens being on the road, drivers congesting the roads with vacation trips, roadway construction, and more vehicles and motorcycles being on the roads.

Another unfortunate factor that comes into play with summer driving is the amount of people driving under the influence of alcohol.

The popular automotive site, Cars.com, conducted research in 2014 that showed there were 10,322 alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the summer of 2012, with one drunk-driving fatality occurring every 51 minutes. Similarly with nighttime driving, 35% of fatal nighttime crashes were related to alcohol.

Not getting behind the wheel drunk is just one of many steps that need to be taken by civilians in order to improve the safety of the roads in the summer.

“If everybody buckled up, if everybody obeyed traffic laws like speed limits, and if nobody got behind the wheel drunk, the summer of summer deaths in crashes would be substantially lower,” Rader said. “We see the same patterns over and over in the crashes that happen during the summer. They often involve speeding, drunk driving, and occupants not wearing their safety belts.”

With the increased number of commercial vehicles roaming the roads and highways in big cities, it’s important companies hire safe drivers and make sure they are doing their part to also keep the roadways safe for the public. One company that makes sure it not only finds the best drivers, but also awards them for it, is the international moving company TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®.

As it currently stands, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® has more than 2,800 trucks on the road throughout their system, with their coverage spanning across 350 plus locations in the United States alone. That’s a lot of miles covered, and it’s important to have the best drivers behind the wheel. TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® makes sure to recognize the best drivers in the system with their Safe Driver Award, which is earned by the best drivers in the system.

TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® recognizes the responsibility drivers carry every time they get behind the wheel,” said TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® Risk Management Support Team Lead Shawn Smith. “For that reason, we are pleased to reward those individuals who make it a priority to keep themselves and the public safe.”

Key areas of criteria the company looks for when handing out the award include no preventable accidents, no violations in personal or company vehicles, no driving under the influence convictions for three years, and no “How’s My Driving” complaints.

“The Safe Driver Award was developed to recognize and reward drivers throughout the system who have made a noticeable commitment to keeping themselves, their teammates, and the public safe every time they get behind the wheel,” Smith said.

With populations continuing to increase globally, the economy shifting upward, and the ever-changing landscape of technology, the risk of driving in the summer – and year round – will continue to be prevalent. While there’s way eliminate the risks of the road, you can prevent a lot of trouble by making smart choices.

Making sure you are healthy, making sure you are alert, using the proper safety precautions, and following the rules of the road are just a few things you can do to make sure you’re doing your part in keeping yourself and others safe while driving.

“It’s important to for people to recognize that while crashes during the summer tend to be the most hazardous, crashes happen relentlessly all year round,” Rader said. “People need to take precautions to make sure they are always safe on the road.”

Southern California sees major spike in commercial business moves

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-Written by Erik Sargent

When it comes to the moving process, people generally think of small, local moves, usually with homes, apartments, or condos consisting of a few people and their belongings.

There are countless factors to take into consideration when moving a business, mainly the ability to stay in operation, along with transporting belongings and equipment, and changing company info.

According to the Market Intelligence Blue Book from Coldwell Banker Commercial – a company that specializes in tracking commercial real estate moves and helping assist with the process – Southern California has seen a major spike in business moves. The report states this surge in moving is due to a wide range of factors, including low vacancy rates, increased land sale, and strong activity at ports in cities like Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“Employment is predicted to grow at a rate of 1.5 percent over the next five years, adding over 300,000 jobs across all industry sectors,” said the report of the Los Angeles market.

So how does the moving process for a business come to fruition? Meticulous planning and attention to detail are a must, and having a solid plan in place will help ease the process immensely.

One business in this region that recently completed a move was the YWCA of Pasadena. The YWCA of Pasadena is a non-profit organization that serves women and girls in the area, and focuses on empowering them through a variety of platforms.

“Being a non-profit, we have programs after school for girls in the area,” said Jessica Kubel, executive director of the YWCA of Pasadena. “The week that we did the move, we had to put our programs on hold for a few days so we could complete the moving process.”

Kubel and the staff at the YWCA were looking for a safer building for their girls that was ADA compliant, in a better location, had better parking, and more affordable rent. The recent real-estate surge for Southern California made this possible, and soon enough, they were in their new building.

The move took about a week total, with a majority of the move taking place over two days where most of the big items were transported to the new location.

“This is the first time I’ve had to move the organization, so it was a little new to me,” Kubel said. “(Some challenges were) just having have to re-do all of our I.T. servers, and making sure that our clients, supporters, and donors knew where the new location was. Other than that, it was pretty smooth.”

Finding companies that can handle moves of this magnitude can be a struggle, but one company that has made a name for itself in the commercial business moving industry is the nationally recognized moving company, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®.

With more than 350 locations across the United States and more than six million moves completed, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® has established themselves as the leaders of the moving community.

TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® was able to assist Kubel in moving the YWCA building over a year ago, providing the assistance needed and also doing it for a good cause.

“It worked out really nicely with (TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®),” Kubel said. “They were able to donate the moving services to us because we are a non-profit organization.”

TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®’s Pasadena franchise has been involved with many of the commercial business moves highlighted in the Blue Book report, and they are receiving anywhere from three to five business move requests per month.

“Usually businesses get a few different quotes, and they generally go with us because of the higher quality of service,” said TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® Pasadena Marketing Manager Stefanie Shook. “The process for a business move is very similar to a home move. We take a look at everything they are trying to move to help us get a better understanding of how many packers, movers, drivers, and trucks we will need to complete the move. Smaller businesses tend to just want to pack themselves, where larger businesses tend to need help packing.”

According to Shook, the most important factor of a business move is communication. They work to have an exact plan for the process before everything begins, and they remain available for contact at all times throughout the move.

Along with communication, Shook said they strive to provide a level of trust and peace of mind for the businesses they are moving, and they go out of their way to do all they can.

“Businesses can expect all of the same great qualities they would receive during a home move from TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®,” Shook said. “We provide peace of mind by having drug tested, background checked, fully trained and uniformed movers, all of their furniture padded and stretch wrapped, and the same level of quality care that has run our business for over 30 years.”

The Blue Book Report from Coldwell Banker commercial highlighted a few other regions of the country seeing a major boost in commercial real estate markets, including the Midwest, Northeast, and South Atlantic areas. The Midwest and the Northeast are also seeing a high number of multi-family business moves over the last year.