It’s Cold Outside!

by Doug Knauss, CPRP, CPSI, Park & Recreation Director, Susquehanna Township

As many of us know field use is increasing every year and the opportunity to restore athletic fields becomes more and more limited.  Many practitioners try to enforce field closures to restore fields, limit use to restore fields, or just wait and sod fields in the spring with hopes that it will take hold and be ready for the upcoming season.  Many of these approaches are unsuccessful and can cause significant backlash from your community. 

Park maintenance plans can take a page out of the golf course management handbook and grow grass during the winter months with the use of turf blankets.  You may have seen these large white mats out on some athletic fields and may have been curious about what these are and their purpose.  Turf blankets are how you can grow grass all winter long when it is cold outside.  These blankets serve as lack of a better term “greenhouse” over the area of repair.  These blankets have proven to allow grass to grow all winter and when they are removed in early spring will reveal grass in areas in need of restoration you can then limit your time of field closures.  These blankets can be customized to the size you need and can last from 7 to 15 years, over time this is an inexpensive and successful way to restore an area over sod.

We over-aerate the repair area with multiple passes of a core aerator, lay down organic material or fertilizer over the repair area, and then seed.  We then cover the area with a turf blanket and secure it to the ground with ground stakes and then you let the magic happen.  We will remove the blankets in early spring and keep the area closed for about two weeks to allow for the grass to strengthen and then the fields will be open for use.

You can perform these types of field repairs up to about Thanksgiving and then remove the blankets in the first week or two of March.  We have found over time we shrink the area of repair each year due to the strength of the grass.

So, for an economical and successful field maintenance solution turf blankets could be your solution.

Advertisement

INSPIRE the Groups You Lead!

Jeff Witman, Ed.D., CTRS
Collier Township Parks & Recreation

Effective group leadership is fundamental to success as a recreation professional. Groups can help (e.g., synergy) but groups can also hurt (e.g., groupthink).

Synergy = an interaction or cooperation giving rise to a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts (Wikipedia)

Groupthink = a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible. (Psychology Today)

 The leader can influence which way it goes. Here’s an acronym to focus on as you lead, facilitate, guide, coach, nurture, direct and serve the groups you work with. These 9 characteristics can make a difference!

I-N-S-P-I-R-E

I = Integrity

As Alan Simpson suggested, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters; If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” Fairness and honesty create a culture of integrity. Being genuine creates a bond with group members. Tip: Consider group agreements, as pictured below, to promote accountability. (These are from the leadership program at Dickinson College)

N = Nurturance

Leave people better than you found them. Be intentional about assessing where group members are and where they would like to be. You can’t nurture unless you know what’s needed and wanted. In addition, consider the creature comforts which make group gatherings more engaging and comfortable.  Tip: Establish a distinctive group identity. For example, Wellspan Philhaven chaplains recently developed the A-I-R (Acknowledge- Inspire- Reflect) frame of reference for their groups.

S = Support

Levels to consider- information, encouragement, honest feedback and assistance with tasks. The classic example with that last one: you’re moving, who shows up to help? Encourage group members to be of service to others- when you give you get! Tip- Spend some time with groups determining where they’re at. Any “baggage” they’re bringing along to your group?

P = Professionalism

The ideal- responsible, ethical and team-oriented. A key with this is focusing on the group (not on yourself) as you lead. Tip- Keep fairness in mind as you interact with the group. As Willie Stargell declared “Everybody is somebody!” Don’t let the “squeaky wheels” get all of the grease.

I = Innovation

While routines are important unless there’s novelty they will become ruts. Engage the group in determining how things can work better. Adopt an approach that change is an opportunity not a threat. Tip- Identify several aspects of a particular group where variety might spice things up- for example the music, the snack and the stretches for an exercise group. Engage participants in identifying alternatives for each and test them out in subsequent group sessions.

R = Resilience

Show some grit- persistence + passion = thriving not just surviving. Make some lemonade out of the lemons situations throw at you. Devote some effort to self-care recognizing that your effectiveness depends on being the best version of yourself. Tip- Model resilience with the attitude and actions you exhibit when “shift happens”. Demonstrate that “well-prepared people create their own weather” with a plan B or plan C that allows the group to cope not mope.

E = Energy, Empathy and Efficacy

With energy consider vitality, a combination of vim (the burst needed sometimes) and vigor (endurance). With empathy it’s about communicating your understanding of another person’s emotions. To promote efficacy determine and document that the groups you lead are, in fact, generating the outcomes you promote and promise. Tips- For energy consider a 30- minute limit on sitting during groups. With empathy institute a no disses approach where negativity about self or others is not allowed. Remember too that “silver lining” remarks are seldom helpful. If a participant says “My car needs a lot of repairs” and you say “At least you have a car” it’s not going to improve the situation. For efficacy find out if your goals are being met. With the recent Pickleball Camp at Collier Township for example the majority of participants have increased their amount of play.

A Case Study

The support group I was leading at Faith Friendship was not very supportive. Low morale, limited interaction and apparent disinterest. We needed a boost and found one with an activity that, amazingly, has been found to:

Relieve Stress

• Reduce Anxiety
• Improve Sleep
• Heighten Focus
• Improve Motor Skills
• Induce A Meditative State
• Relax your Brain and
  • Improve Brain Function

The answer was making the activity below a regular part of the group, integrating it into our themes and allowing group members to utilize it as a tool for coping. This activity, obviously, is not the answer for every group concern or problem. There are answers however if you’re willing to try new approaches. Find the attitude, activity or process that can revitalize and reinvigorate the groups you lead. it’s a win-win for participants and for you!

Coloring: Not just for kids anymore!

Scientific Literature Review: Environmental Education

A recent study conducted by Slippery Rock University found that people from historically marginalized groups may find it difficult to connect to traditional modes of environmental education, because of the history and attitudes associated with the programs. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy works to provide a space for people of all identities to embrace environmental education.

Photo by Marta Wave on Pexels.com

The purpose of environmental education is to provide learners with skills and knowledge to protect and improve the environment around them. Environmental education should be solution-oriented, grounded in the local environment, and focus on helping learners develop their own “environmental identity.” Your environmental identity helps you connect to the natural world. This could be based on your own personal experiences with the outdoors, the culture you were raised in, or even the history that you were taught about the natural world.

Studies have shown that people with marginalized identities may view outdoor hobbies or “green” activities as inaccessible or not welcoming. This is due to a lot of different aspects of conventional environmental education programs, including them mostly being located in predominantly white areas, lacking non-white role models, and focusing only on nature through the lens of white history and culture. Historically, many environmental education programs push one kind of environmental identity onto people, rather than helping them to develop their own unique identity. 

At the Parks Conservancy, we are committed to welcoming all of Pittsburgh’s people and communities to our programs and events, as well as working to combat prejudices. We strive to educate not only on scientific issues related to the environment, but also on the environment’s impact on social issues. Events like Forest Bathing in support of the LGBTQ+ community and Walking the Healing Path for members of the Jewish community affected by violence focus on bringing people together in nature. The Conservancy holds a Juneteenth concert to celebrate the Black community of Pittsburgh, while events in the “From Slavery to Freedom Garden” are generally dedicated to confronting the history of colonialism instead of erasing cultural history. 

Many marginalized peoples have strong ties to the environment, through their culture and history. The Parks Conservancy works to honor these ties and provide a welcoming space for people of all races, ethnicities, and identities to develop their own environmental identity and embrace the city’s green spaces in whatever capacity speaks to them. 

Please click the following link to read the complete study: https://pittsburghparks.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/VES-Final-Draft.pdf

5 Ways to Keep Your Information Safe on Social Media

by PSECU

Social media is a great tool that allows you to stay in touch with family and friends, as well as engage with both personal and professional online communities that are relevant to you. Keep your experience with social media positive and be proactive in protecting yourself and keeping your information safe by following these tips below.

1. Set Strong Passwords

One of the most basic things you can do to protect your information is to create strong passwords for all your accounts, including any social media platforms you use.

What constitutes a strong password?

It isn’t easy to guess. This means commonly known things about you such as your birthday, dog’s name, house number, anniversary date, etc., are not included in your password.  Also, it should go without saying that you shouldn’t use “password” as your password.

It has a mix of character types. Some sites require specific combinations, but others’ password requirements aren’t very robust. Use a combination of numbers, letters, and special characters/symbols.

• It is at least 12 characters long. Shorter passwords are easier to guess. The longer you make it, the harder it’ll be to compromise.

2. Don’t Post Sensitive Information

In an increasingly digital world, it’s understandable that you want to share major life events with your online community, especially if that’s how you stay in touch with family and friends. However, think twice about what you’re posting. Don’t post things like:

Your photo IDs. Have a new driver in your house? Starting a new job? It’s tempting to snap a photo of your new ID to share your excitement. However, these can contain sensitive information like your full date of birth (including the year) and ID number (i.e., driver’s license number or employee number.) That’s information that’s best kept to yourself.

Financial account information. Many companies have a social media presence to engage with their customers or members. While social media platforms have become a common place to interact with brands when you need assistance or want to share a good or bad experience, be careful not to overshare. For instance, if you’re communicating with your financial institution, you don’t want to share your account information over social media, such as your account number or PIN. While you can certainly use social media to reach out with general questions, keep specific account questions contained to secure communication channels provided by the company.

3. Pause Before Sharing Photos

Before you post a photo, stop and think. Consider the following:

Is it a photo you’re willing to let anyone see? Even though you may have security settings in place, it’s easy for anyone to take a screenshot of what you’ve shared and show it to anyone else they know.

Are you OK with it being online forever? Even if you delete it later, once something is online, it exists online forever. So that photo of your kid in the bathtub that may seem cute right now may not seem so cute when they’re old enough to have their own online identity.

Is there anything sensitive in the background? Laptop screens, work notes, and bulletin boards that aren’t the focal point of a photo may seem harmless but can often still be easily read. Make sure anything appearing in the background of a photo doesn’t contain sensitive information that could compromise your finances, identity, or confidential information from your workplace.

4. Monitor Your Security Settings

While not foolproof, having strong security settings is an important part of protecting your information online. This goes beyond the password tips we shared earlier and includes:

Keeping your profile private. Most social media sites have settings that allow you to limit the visibility of your posts to your “friends.” This keeps strangers from accessing information about you or gaining too much of a glimpse into your personal life.

Only connecting with people you know. Keeping your profile private is only effective if you’re truly selective in who you connect with online. Don’t connect with people you don’t know and watch out for fake profiles imitating people you do know.

Reviewing your settings regularly. Especially after an update, sometimes social media sites change their security settings and may automatically set new ones for you. This is often in the fine print of an update or user agreement you accept. Set a regular time to review your settings, making an extra effort to do so after an update is installed to ensure you know what you’re permitting on the site (i.e., who can see your profile, who can tag you in photos, and what information about you is public.)

5. Stay Up to Date on Security Trends

Social media is always evolving, so it’s important to stay current on what kinds of scams are trending and emerging so you can protect your personal information. As a trusted financial partner, we make it a priority to share this information with our members and the communities we serve regularly.

To learn more about scams and how you can protect your identity and your information, check out the security section of our blog at blog.psecu.com/tag/security.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Guided By Birds: Avian data to guide Clayton Hill restoration

by Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Forest restoration is a moving target. To measure the impacts and progress of restoration efforts practitioners must choose certain quantifiable elements of an ecosystem that can indicate habitat quality. For the restoration site in Frick Park known as Clayton Hill, we have been monitoring bird species during the summer breeding and fall migration seasons to interpret the habitat quality of the areas we are working to restore. Metrics about avian populations provide us with an honest evaluation of the function of our restoration sites because they are not something that we can directly control (as opposed to things like plant species diversity, or forest canopy cover which we actively change through native species plantings). Now, two years into our avian monitoring process our partners at the Western PA Conservancy (WPC) have compiled our first summary report about the bird species that rely on Clayton Hill for fall migration and summer breeding habitat.

To monitor the birds on Clayton Hill, we divided the whole restoration area into four monitoring units (Fig 1). We divided the site this way to control for topographic features such as aspect (north facing vs south facing), elevation (ridge top vs creek bottom), or slope (flat land vs steep hillside) that might inherently attract different bird communities. By monitoring these areas separately, we can also determine if specific units seem to be increasing or decreasing in avian habitat value. In turn, this helps us determine priorities for future restoration efforts.

While it may seem straightforward at first, any ecological monitoring is a time-consuming task. Good data is dependent on repeated sampling, and it can be challenging to acquire the human-capacity required to collect all the information we’d like. Fortunately, through the eBird app we can utilize the observations of volunteer citizen scientists to help monitor the Clayton Hill restoration area. eBird is a product of The Cornell Lab or Ornithology, and it provides a platform that birders everywhere can use to record their bird observations. Partners from the WPC and Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s (CMNH) Powdermill Nature Reserve established ‘eBird hotspots’ for each Clayton Hill restoration unit. By logging bird observation to these eBird hotspots, bird-watching park users are able to perform bird surveys on their own time in our specific monitoring units. These citizen scientists are imperative for the continued monitoring and successful progress of our ecological restoration work.

In 2020 and 2021, researchers and citizen scientists observed 116 species of birds utilizing the Clayton Hill restoration area during the breeding and fall migration seasons (Table 1, below). The Clayton North monitoring unit had the highest species richness (the highest number of unique species observed) in 3 of the 4 monitoring periods (Figure 1). We saw the lowest species richness in the “Nature Trail East” unit, but also had the fewest number of checklists completed in this area (Figure 2). Total bird abundance (the number of individual birds observed) varied across sites and seasons, however, survey effort was also inconsistent across seasons, which likely added variance to these early data. For more details, you can view the full report here.

While these data are interesting on their own, the most useful data for evaluating restoration will come from our ability to identify trends over time. These first two years of data are only the baseline numbers that we can use for future comparisons. In the coming years our dataset will grow alongside our restoration plants, and as it does we hope to discover new insights about the changing quality of the Clayton Hill habitat. In the meantime, patience is a requirement. Meaningful restoration occurs on the timescale of years to decades, as it takes plants that long to become established and even longer for them to serve their full suite of ecosystem services. As the native species that we’ve added to Clayton Hill grow, we hope they will provide food and improve habitat for a wide range of bird species. But if we grow it, will they come? Although birds have been observed to show remarkable memory for quality habitat along their migration routes (Mettke-Hofmann and Gwinner. 2003), they first have to discover a site worth remembering. For this reason, it’s important that we’re always looking for opportunities to scale up our restoration efforts and improve connectivity between forest sites.

Already, partners who’ve been working on the Clayton Hill restoration project are using initial observations of avian habitat quality to inform our next management steps. An invasive annual grass called Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) has been steadily expanding through much of Clayton North and Clayton East, and an alarm has been raised that this grass is causing trouble for ground-dwelling migratory songbirds. Given this reality, we are focusing on the habitat needs of those species when designing future projects and workplans – for instance planting shrubs and perennials that will stand up (literally) against the crushing weight of a field of bolting stiltgrass (below).

At Clayton Hill, we are several years into our work facilitating regeneration of native forest habitat but we are still decades away from our goal of achieving a stable, productive, and biodiverse urban forest ecosystem. The presence and abundance of bird species that thrive in healthy native forest communities will keep us honest about our progress, while the tireless work and passion of our many partners keeps us all moving forward in the best ways that we know how. If you’re interested in learning more, we invite you to come out for our fall World Migratory Bird Day event at the Frick Environmental Center on October 8. We also welcome all birders to submit an eBird checklist using our Clayton Hill Hotspots!

This project would not be possible without the joint efforts of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Allegheny GoatScape, the Allegheny County Bird Alliance, and the dozens of citizen scientists, volunteers, and donating organizations who’ve contributed to this project. The Clayton Hill Restoration work has been supported by funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and donations from Pittsburgh’s park users.

Consistent Patience and Perseverance, Habits Worth Having!

by Jeff Witman, CTRS, Collier Township Parks and Recreation

“Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance” Abagail Adams

“The ultimate test of patience and perseverance- waiting in line.”

The ups and downs of coping with unpredictable people and weather I encountered when helping with several camp programs this summer reminded me of two critical characteristics for success with program leadership. While there are many valuable traits- creativity, enthusiasm, passion and confidence for example- the two of particular value for facing challenges and achieving success are patience and perseverance.

The challenge of developing patience and perseverance is that you need patience and perseverance to develop patience and perseverance. It’s easy to find ideas on how to be more patient. It’s difficult though to break habits of impatience. We can “awfulize” most any situation into being the worst ever. For me, it calls for technical assistance from companies I do business with. Long waits, difficulty comprehending instructions (often magnified by my technological incompetence) and rudeness leave me a wreck- frustrated, angry and not in control. While not a cure-all some simple practices have allowed me to cope not mope with these situations. First I’ve learned to anticipate that these situations might be a problem, replace thinking these situations are intolerable with considering them an inconvenience and when the anxiety starts to rise breathing deep and telling myself this too shall pass. The key for me is to remember that the world is not going to treat me exactly like I want to be treated. Here’s a few specific ideas to practice patience. With each think of a situation where you would benefit from applying them.

• Pause/think before you speak (or hit the send button)
• Slow down (juggle fewer balls)
• Delay gratification (save some $’s, calories, guilt)

Psychologist Jane Bolton has shared the purpose of cultivating patience in yourself- “ In a word, happiness: better relationships, more success. Well worth the effort, I’d say. But effort, indeed, it takes.”

Effort also relates to persistence or perseverance. In competitive situations, we need the will to prepare to win not just the will to win. With repetition comes the strength to diminish resistance. This comes out for me with maintaining a nearly 3500 straight day habit of walking for at least 30 consecutive minutes. I’ve built up a depth of resolve that allows me to overcome challenges to my “streak.”

Angela Duckworth’s best-seller Grit details how coupled with passion, perseverance creates grit which results in sustained commitment and achievement. She suggests the following examples of perseverance. Consider how much they do or don’t sound like you:

• I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.
• I am diligent. I never give up.
• I finish whatever I begin.
• I am a hard worker.
• Setbacks don’t discourage me. I don’t give up easily.

Finally, think about a habit you would like to develop and be persistent within each domain (examples in parentheses)

Physical (daily stretching)
Social (weekly card game with friends)
Emotional (daily journaling)
Spiritual (daily prayer)
Cognitive (daily puzzle)

Patience and perseverance are different but complimentary. As naturalist Hal Borland framed it:

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate perseverance.

May you show patience in your journey toward perseverance and perseverance in your pursuit of patience. After you have considered how best to move toward “consistent patience and perseverance” fill in the blanks with the statements below:

A habit I’m going to develop is ______________________________________________.

My plan for getting it started is to_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

The benefits of this habit will be_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

I am making at least a 100- day commitment to this effort

Notes:

Here’s the full “Grit Scale” from Angela Duckworth:   https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/

This article is adapted from Signs of Habitual Thriving by Abagail Bernard and Jeff Witman (2022).

Pittsburgh Parks Prescription: Improving mental and physical health through nature

by Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels.com

Have you ever noticed that a walk in the park can put you in a better mood? Or perhaps you find that you feel happier on a bright sunny day, and during the summer months when the days are longer? Well, there’s a reason for feeling that way! Research shows that spending time in nature has definite physical and mental benefits, resulting in an improved sense of overall mental and physical well-being.

The Pittsburgh Parks Prescription (Parks Rx) program aims to support the health and wellbeing of children and families by encouraging regular park use and contact with nature. The program first launched in 2016 in partnership with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and has recently partnered with Adagio Health as well as they begin to implement park prescriptions into their services. For the past several years, Parks Rx has continued to engage community members and encourage Pittsburghers to embrace nature and all it has to offer. 

Parks Rx invites children and adults in every neighborhood to explore and enjoy their local parks. The program provides park activity ideas, resources for local park amenities, and education about the benefits of spending time in nature. Parks Rx also comes in handy for educators and healthcare professionals seeking to share resources and inspiration to get active outdoors and connect with nature. 

This year, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is delighted to announce that with the support of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Parks Rx program will continue to grow! Through DCNR funding, the Parks Conservancy and its partners will have the opportunity to increase sites issuing park prescriptions and provide training to healthcare professionals, teachers, early childhood educators, and park and recreation professionals.  

If you’d like to learn more about the Pittsburgh Parks Prescription Program, visit our Parks Rx webpage or contact Kathryn Hunninen, Senior Manager of Special Initiatives, khunninen@pittsburghparks.org.  

The Pittsburgh Parks Rx program is supported in part by financial assistance from the Environmental Stewardship Fund under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. 

Finding Your Way Through Parks & Trails with Technology

by Sandi L. Feight-Hicks

As Parks & Recreation Professionals we know every nook and cranny in our parks and on our trails.  Not every person who visits our facilities and decides to walk a trail is confident where they are or understands where they are going. 

Lower Gwynedd Township has over 25 miles of non-continuous walking trails throughout the community.  Like any other municipality, we have paper maps with the parks, trails and street names.  Once upon a time, prior to Google Maps we had written directions on our website to our parks.  It’s hard to imagine a time when we had to guess where we were going. In our life time we have seen so many advances in technology. 

I decided several years ago it was much easier for park visitors to use a google map to get accurate directions to our parks.  After creating maps for each of our parks in Google Maps, our webmaster was able to embed those images into our website (lowergwynedd.org). Today, in total our Park maps have had over 78K views. 

Since the pandemic trail use has grown tremendously, many people sought out new places to walk and explore.  I can thank Google Maps for this as well, since our trails appear on the application. Since the pandemic, I have fielded many calls asking where trails are.  A vast majority of the phone calls in the last several years have been, “where does that trail go?”, “I have seen this trail but not certain where it leads or ends” & “why can’t you make an interactive map?”

Why can’t you make an interactive map?  This question stood out in my mind.  I focus on users experience and how they will benefit.  After finding one of the map links broken on our website, I realized I had the answer. I already had a base map with all the trails. I thought about what people inquired about; reference points, entrance, exit, junctions, distance, parking, surface materials, etc.  I began to enhance the map.  I defined the trail lines, “to and from”, distance, and surface material.  At each trail head, I dropped a pin point, changed the icon to a hiker and added photos.  At trail junctions, another pin point was added with a camera, these photos were panorama.  I’m mindful of resident’s homes and backyards, as to not capture them.  Parking areas were added later along with other park amenities. Using the navigation technology in Google Maps, the additional blue fan hue indicates your orientation.  If you turn around, that fan will spin as well.   From here you can navigate by foot to the trail head and walk the trail.  In the three months the map has been live we have had over 4K views. 

This map is a living document, along with the trail identification system, and it must be maintained. From a development perspective, this was not a small task, but Township Staff have the ability to make real time changes for the real time users.  Our Park & Trail users now have the assurances that the interactive trail map they have on their phone and in their pocket is up to date and will show them where they are.

Beware of These Financial and Identity Theft Scams

by PSECU

It can be tough to know who to trust these days — fraud is everywhere. That’s why it’s important to know how to spot a scam and what to do if you may have fallen for one. The following list isn’t comprehensive, but it should prepare you for some of the worst types of fraud out there.

Tax Scams

Tax-based scams can be especially frustrating for victims. As with several other scams, tax scams impose a sense of urgency that makes you more likely to jump to a decision. Instead of getting caught up in the false pressure, take a moment and think things through.

If you receive a phone call from someone threatening government action if you don’t immediately wire money for a “student tax” or other tax you’ve never heard of, hang up. If you want additional information, follow up with the IRS and re-familiarize yourself with their operating procedures.

The IRS will never call your personal phone to demand money, and they always provide alternative means to pay legitimate tax bills when they’re due.

Census-Related Fraud

In most cases, the intent of census-related fraud is to secure personal information, up to and including access to financial accounts. Regrettably, census fraud can be difficult to detect.

The official U.S. census occurs every 10 years, but smaller surveys happen all the time to help the government track how tax revenue gets spent, among other things. If you receive an official-looking survey in the mail, it’s not necessarily a scam. You will need to look closer.

A real census survey will include a postage-paid envelope. It will also provide the option to respond online, so make sure the address reads https://respond.census.gov. Some questions on the official census forms may be personal in nature, and that’s to be expected. However, the official U.S. census will never ask you to furnish your Social Security number, and you will not get any compensation to complete the survey.

If you have additional concerns, you can determine the legitimacy of any census-related communication by calling the U.S. Census Bureau office closest to your home.

Investment Scams

This is a common story: a stranger — either through email or in person — will promise you a large return on a meager investment. They will use high-pressure tactics to convince you to get in on the investment, including made-up time limits that make you believe you have to act fast or you will miss out. Legitimate investors understand and respect the fact that heavy investment decisions take time to consider. Don’t let anybody pressure you into making a financial decision you haven’t verified or are not comfortable with.

Charity Scams

Charity scams can be particularly troublesome because they take advantage of your desire to help others and turn your good intentions into financial trouble. Notable types include natural disaster-related nonprofits and fly-by-night charities that spring up around the holiday season. Don’t let your compassionate nature make you a target. Do your research before donating to any charitable organization.

Next time someone tries to rally your pocketbook to their cause, ask them some simple questions. What’s the name of their organization, and how long have they been in operation? In plain language, what is their mission? What do they hope to accomplish and how can your money help them do it?

If they don’t have straightforward answers to these questions or have a poorly designed web presence — or none at all — it may be a scam. You can take advantage of additional resources to be sure, including Charity Navigator and Guide Star.

Child Identity Theft

The theft of your child’s identity is a very real concern. Fraud of this type requires your child’s Social Security number, which you may give out more often than you realize. For instance, you likely provide your child’s Social Security number for things like health insurance forms, travel documents (such as a passport), or tax forms.

All parents should familiarize themselves with the warning signs of child identity theft. For instance, if your family has applied for benefits for a child and your application is denied on the grounds that payments are already being disbursed, you may already be affected. Limiting access to your child’s personally identifiable information is key to avoiding this type of fraud.

Keep a close eye on forms your child brings home from school — some of them may ask for information about your child. Fully understand how your school, and any other institutions they interact with, will use this information. Look for the phrase “opt out” and take advantage of it if you’re uncomfortable providing the requested information. Your record-keeping skills may be unimpeachable, but not everybody else’s are.

Additionally, be sure to inquire about your child’s credit report, if you haven’t already, when they turn 16. If one exists and it has errors, this is your chance to fix it before they make credit inquiries of their own for student or auto loans.

Technology-Related Scams

Just as it has made life easier, technology has presented us with new risks. These include unsolicited telephone calls promising “free trials” or “can’t-miss” investments using urgent language. Another technology-related scam includes claims that your computer is “infected” with malware and offers to help “clean” it if you agree to download software or provide account passwords.

Skimmers are another way scammers use technology to their advantage. These small devices are typically found at ATMs, pay-at-the-pump gas stations, and even at retail point-of-sale machines. The devices collect data from your cards so the scammers can use the information for their own gain. If you see anything unusual or something that looks out of place, do not swipe your card. Instead, inform management immediately.

Banking Scams

There are countless ways that scammers will try to gain access to your bank account or financial information. Because of this, it’s important to be vigilant at all times.

Common banking scams range from scammers giving you an unsolicited check that authorizes a purchase or loan application in your name when cashed, to free trials that come with an automatic debit to your account.

Another method is impersonating your financial institution. Become familiar with what your bank will and will not ask for over the phone or include in a text message or email.

In general, be wary of emails or texts requesting personal or account information — that’s a classic sign of attempted banking fraud. If you ever receive such communications, do not provide your login credentials. A good rule of thumb is: if you receive a call from your bank about anything, tell them you’re not available and will call them back, hang up and call your bank’s customer service line. If the call is legitimate, they’ll be able to help you, and if it’s not, you’ve just avoided becoming a victim of fraud.

If you receive any kind of communication from your bank that you suspect may be fraudulent, report it to them immediately.

Don’t Make Yourself a Target

Knowing which behaviors make you a target for scams is the hardest part of the battle. From there, it’s a matter of exercising caution where your finances are concerned. If you take nothing for granted and know which questions to ask, you can keep your personal and financial information safe — and help your family do the same.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.

Celebrating PA State Parks and Forests Week

Snippet: PA State Parks and Forests Week is a time to get outside and play. It is also a time to consider the other benefits our public lands provide to us – and to give back to them in a way that lets you use your “outside voice.”

by Pam Metzger, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

I bet your mother said the same thing to you as mine to me when I posted a question about there not being a “Kids” day if there was a “Mothers Day” and a “Fathers Day.” “Because EVERY DAY is Kids Day,” she’d say.

You might react the same way to the idea of celebrating PA State Parks and Forests Week. When you are immersed in outdoor recreation, EVERY week is Parks and Forests Week! However, in 2018 (the 125th anniversary of the state parks and forests systems), the week between May 23 and May 30 was officially designated as such by Proclamation of the Governor.

And the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation has been encouraging its celebration ever since.

Why those dates? May 23 represents the anniversary of the establishment of the Commonwealth’s first state park. And while Valley Forge has now gone on to become a national park, the area was designated as a state park first – on May 23, 1893.

And May 30? That is the date on which the Forestry Commission was formed by the General Assembly tasked with forest fire and to establish a forest reserve system. Their first purchase of 7,500 acres in Clinton County (which eventually became Sproul State Forest) happened five years later.

What does it mean to “celebrate” the state parks and forests? Chances are good that you will take any excuse you have to go out and enjoy the public lands near you. After all, Department of Forests and Waters (now DCNR) Secretary Maurice K. Goddard made it the goal of the agency to place a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian. So you don’t have to work hard to find one of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks or 20 forest districts.

Still, “celebration” takes on a few forms additional to recreation. We – as you – take care to remind everyone that time spent in the outdoors is vital to our health and well-being. In fact, we commissioned the creation of several videos on the subject of the outdoors and emotional, mental, and physical health, including one in Spanish. Find them (and share them, please) on our YouTube channel, easily accessed at https://ppff.online/utube-playlist-benefits-videos (along with a video on the economic benefits of those same outdoor spaces).

Finally, to celebrate the outdoors means to “use your outside voice” to speak for those places. Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests alone face a $1.4 billion backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects. Unstable dams, accessible recreation amenities no longer wheelchair or stroller friendly, trees lost to invasive species like hemlock wooly adelgid or emerald ash borer, restrooms and other buildings crucial to visitor contentment compromised. The opportunity to recapture some of that deficient backlog, in the form of $175 million from the American Rescue Plan, is within our reach.

Let’s all celebrate PA Parks & Forests Week by encouraging our state representatives and senators to support HB 2020 and SB 525. Go to https://ppff.online/take-action to send a message.

%d bloggers like this: