Headlines — Best Buddies, Diamonds in the Raw

Circa 2008/09
artwork with wording Headlines


After 20 years, the Best Buddies Ball has come to an end. This year the popular fundraiser was the most successful ever, with $3.35 million in ticket sales and auction revenues.

Performances by Kenny G and Cirque du Soleil provided the black-tie dinner entertainment for 900 guests, who gathered under backyard tents at the estate of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Celebrities on hand included Randy Jackson, Miss Universe and Robert De Niro. There were also plenty of Kennedy and Shriver children who had grown up during the two decades that the ball was held.

Sargent Shriver, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1972, is the founding director of the Peace Corps, while Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President Kennedy, is founder of the Special Olympics, and remains a longtime advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. Both greeted ball guests in the foyer of their home for the last time; the 16,000-square-foot Georgian manse is being sold for $11.8 million.

Anthony Shriver, their son and founder of Best Buddies, plans to replace the annual gala with a D.C. cycling challenge. “After 20 years of success,” he said, “you’ve got to reinvent yourself.”

The event honored Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, the first lady of Qatar, who founded her country’s Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs. She is credited with raising awareness of people who are intellectually disabled. “They are the true leaders,” she said as she accepted her leadership award.



A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition this month suggests that eating dried plums slows the development of atherosclerosis. An inflammatory disease better known as “hardening of the arteries,” atherosclerosis leads to cardiovascular disease and stroke, and is the leading cause of death in our society.

Although numerous studies explore the effects of fruit and vegetables on serum cholesterol, few look at atherosclerosis. This study appears to be the first examining the impact of a fruit on this type of disease.

“This study breaks new ground by showing a significant reduction in the development of a major inflammatory disease,” says lead researcher Dan Gallaher, Ph.D, who is professor of nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. “It also strengthens the notion of eating fruit, in particular dried plums, as a preventive measure against heart disease.”

Dried plums, often touted for their digestive health benefits, are emerging as a heart-healthy addition to any diet. Previous studies show that dried plums reduce LDL cholesterol in humans and that the fiber pectin found in dried plums lowers cholesterol in animals. The fruit has nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and boron, as well as a high antioxidant score, giving dried plums numerous health benefits from helping maintain desirable blood sugar levels to possibly reducing skin wrinkles.

“I consider dried plums a super fruit because of their unique health benefits and also because they’re superaffordable, delicious and fit easily into a busy lifestyle,” says Dave Grotto, RD, LDN, author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life.

The study was conducted over a five month period on a strain of mice that develop atherosclerosis more quickly than normal. The amount of dried plum powder shown to significantly reduce the area of atherosclerotic lesion was equivalent to eating 10 to 12 dried plums a day in a human diet. The study revealed a reduction in the area of atherosclerotic lesions in the entire arterial system as well as the aortic arch.


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The Child King is the inspirational film tale of Jeremy (Peter Johnson), a teenager with Down syndrome who embarks on a journey to the North Pole with his younger brother Jarret (Will Kellem). Along the way, they encounter a host of colorful characters, but none more fascinating than a large man with a snow-white beard, who mysteriously appears in various guises and offers to guide the boys.

The narration that parallels their adventure is their mother’s ancient bedtime fable of a child prince, banished for his disabilities by an intolerant king.

Proceeds from the sale of the DVD ($19.95) and related merchandise will go to The Child King Foundation, created to help individuals and organizations that give financial grants to those with intellectual disabilities.

Screenwriter Jeff Kerr wrote the film during a period of time when he was an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and had down time during the infamous 1993 siege of David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX. On the day of his departure for Waco, he had a chance encounter with a fellow agent whose captivating, energetic son had Down syndrome; that 3-year-old child is the inspiration behind his film.

The Child King recently won a KIDS FIRST! Feature Films for Families Award. It has been endorsed by the Special Olympics, Best Buddies and the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media. It was also an official selection at the LA International Children’s Film Festival.


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At their inaugural Stuntwomen’s Awards recently, the Diamond in the Raw Foundation celebrated outstanding women working in the stunts, action, athletics and extreme sports areas of television and film. Actress Linda Hamilton and basketball champion Lisa Leslie were among the honorees, and actress Angela Bassett served as a special presenter.

The organization gave educational scholarships to deserving teens who have risen above personal obstacles to become high achieving students. Among the six winners was Carolina Ramos, an 11th grader at the Marlton School for the Deaf. In addition to the scholarship, Carolina was excited to meet some of the celebrities especially, “because I have a dream of maybe one day becoming an actress myself.” At the event, Kristin Vontrese Lee, a 12th grader also at Marlton, performed the “Diamond in the Raw” song in American Sign Language. “I never thought it would happen,” Kristin said, “but I signed and danced to the song with a group of girls who were singing with their voices. They made me feel so inspired!”

Diamond In the Raw Foundation’s mission is to educate and expose at-risk teen girls to various careers in the entertainment industry. La Faye Baker and Jadie David, co-founders, served as executive producers, and Romell Foster-Owens produced and wrote the show.



At the, 2008 DAN! conference, one session explored the impact of environmental toxins , such as insecticides, on autism. Dr. Paul Shattock suggested that genetic susceptibility can influence an individual’s sensitivity to these toxins. He asserted that one must take into account both the country of origin and the ethnicity of the individual being exposed.

Cindy Schneider, MD, offered the audience information on the toxicity of different heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury, as well as the effects of alcohol and cigarette smoke on mother. She noted the presence of many associated symptoms in autism, such as digestive problems, allergies, sleep disorders and hyperactivity, and spoke about the way toxins can lead to neurological, immunological, and gastrointestinal problems. She also extended the concept of environmental toxins to include the study of combined toxicities, and explored the effect of exposure to them at different developmental time windows.

Richard Deth, PhD, discussed Autism Speaks-funded research aimed at providing a more detailed understanding of the body chemistry that can potentially be affected by environmental toxins. Deth described the folate and vitamin B-12 dependent methionine synthase system, highlighting how environmental stressors such as heavy metals disrupt biochemical pathways. He hypothesized that disruptions at key points of the methionine synthase system can result in autistic symptoms.

Among the factors believed to contribute to autism are genes, ethnicity, environmental toxins, the immune system, infections and diet. Conference speakers emphasized the need for future autism studies to examine the interaction among these different factors.


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