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Joseph Erbentraut
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Joseph Erbentraut has been writing ever since he had access to his mother's typewriter while growing up in rural Wisconsin. Enamored with the keys' clickity-click sound and the simple beauty of black, perfect words against a purely white background. The medium later became a computer and the young writer's life of reporting launched with the "publication" of the Sixth Grade Times, which offered in-depth coverage of school-wide assemblies, birthday parties and breaking playground gossip. Overseeing a staff of five with an angsty teenage fist, he sold issues for a dime apiece and caused quite a stir with one particular series of bag-lunch exposes.

A decade later, Erbentraut earned a B.A. in Journalism & Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and moved shortly thereafter to Chicago, a city he has grown to adore.

Entries by Joseph Erbentraut

This App Is Helping Connect Refugees With Missing Family Members

(0) Comments | Posted September 3, 2015 | 4:44 PM

With the number of refugees globally hitting an all-time high this year due to the conflict in Syria and other countries, many family members are being separated from one another, with the odds of a reunion appearing heartbreakingly slim for many. 

One mobile app could prove helpful for many refugees looking to locate their missing loved ones, however.

Launched in 2008 by Danish brothers David and Christopher Mikkelsen, Refunite is a free family-locating platform that maintains an anonymous database of more than 405,000 users and a project of the Copenhagen-based nonprofit group Refugees United.

How it works, according to PBS’ "NewsHour," which featured the app this week, is that new users searching for a loved one are asked detailed information about that person that is included in the database, such as their hometown or even the name of a teacher they had. Users may then receive information about possible matches through text messages, through the app’s website or by calling a toll-free hotline.

The platform is intentionally simple, too -- so that practically any type of cell phone, not just smartphones, can be used to access it.

While the nonprofit admits it can be difficult to know exactly how many reunions have resulted from the platform, they have extrapolated based on matched key words and phone numbers that they have reconnected about 1,500 families so far and another 100 to 150 more each month, PBS reports. 

One reunion featured on Refunite’s website is that of a Somali refugee the organization called Haroon who learned of the platform at a community forum at a refugee camp in Dadaab in 2013. He had lost contact with his brother, Jama, after his family escaped a conflict in 2007. Two years later, he received a text message indicating that a possible match with Jama had been made and that he was safe and living in Ethiopia. They now reportedly speak to each other regularly. 

The app has a great deal of international support. Partner organizations include the UNHCR, the Red Cross and other NGOs, which help register displaced people living in camps. Uganda-based mobile operator MTN and Sweden-based Ericsson are also partners in the project.

As the two explained to Wired magazine in 2011, the app’s founders hope it will become a Google for refugee search and serve as as powerful tool for NGOs working to help refugees.


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Artificial Elephant Tusks Are Being Used To Help Track The Illegal Ivory Trade

(0) Comments | Posted September 3, 2015 | 3:25 PM

National Geographic: How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa

Each year, tens of thousands of African elephants...

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How One Newspaper Improved Its Coverage Of An Underserved Community

(0) Comments | Posted September 3, 2015 | 12:50 PM

CJR: A Peoria paper is working to 'be there' in underserved community -- without adding reporters

The Peoria...

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'Airbnb For Refugees' Sees Surge Of People Willing To Help

(0) Comments | Posted September 2, 2015 | 2:33 PM

A German website that’s been described as the “Airbnb for refugees” is being inundated with individuals wishing to open up their homes to people fleeing violence and terrorism.

Founded late last year, the Berlin-based Refugees Welcome website helps users who are willing to house a...

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Danes Waste 104 Pounds Of Food Per Year. For Americans, It's 273.

(0) Comments | Posted September 2, 2015 | 12:50 PM

NPR: Denmark Might Be Winning The Global Race To Prevent Food Waste

Could the Danes hold the key...

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The US Just Made Its Largest Investment In Renewable Energy Yet

(3) Comments | Posted September 1, 2015 | 1:36 PM

Climate News Network: Solar power takes giant strides as prices fall

The U.S. government just made its largest...

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Free Online Course Connects Ex-Inmates With The Job Skills They Need

(0) Comments | Posted August 31, 2015 | 6:03 PM

Imagine this scenario: Instead of a judge sentencing an offender to hundreds of hours of community service while behind bars, they are sentenced to hundreds of hours of educational courses -- and those courses are offered for free.

Such is the vision of Mike Feerick,...

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(1) Comments | Posted August 30, 2015 | 11:30 PM


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Running Club Has Helped Bring 1,300 People Out Of Homelessness

(0) Comments | Posted August 28, 2015 | 11:47 AM

Exercise has been shown to improve mental health, decrease stress, boost sleep and even change how you see the world, but can it really help the homeless become more self-sufficient?

The work of one nonprofit seems to suggest...

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Glimpsing The Virtual Reality Future Of How We Treat Eye Problems

(0) Comments | Posted August 27, 2015 | 3:13 PM

Quartz: An entrepreneur is using virtual-reality headsets to try to cure vision disorders

Virtual reality is already being touted as a useful tool...

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This App Tells Your Friends You Got Home Safe

(0) Comments | Posted August 26, 2015 | 4:47 PM

GOOD Magazine: Now Your Friends Can Keep You Safe by Digitally Walking You Home at Night

It turns out there may be an upside...

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Phoenix Court Waives Misdemeanor Fines, Warrants For Homeless Population

(0) Comments | Posted August 26, 2015 | 4:14 PM

A program in Phoenix, Arizona, is helping the city’s homeless population address one of the biggest obstacles to its quest for self-sufficiency: lingering fines and warrants, often for low-level violations.

The third Tuesday of every month, “homeless court” is convened inside the Lodestar Day Resource Center...

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This App Tells Your Friends You Got Home Safe

(0) Comments | Posted August 25, 2015 | 1:29 PM

GOOD Magazine: Now Your Friends Can Keep You Safe by Digitally Walking You Home at Night

It turns out there may be an upside...

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How One Actress-Activist Is Working To End Dogfighting In Los Angeles

(0) Comments | Posted August 24, 2015 | 4:03 PM

For the second year, The Huffington Post is holding a week-long, community-driven effort to bust the myths and raise awareness about pit bulls, a maligned "breed" that often bears the brunt of dated, discriminatory legislation that can make it near impossible for these dogs to find a forever home. You...

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'The Dandy Lion Project', a série fotográfica que derruba os estereótipos da moda para homens negros

(0) Comments | Posted August 21, 2015 | 2:46 PM

Para os homens negros, o mundo da moda tem sido muitas vezes forjado com estereótipos, preconceitos e imagens de camisetas GG, jeans largos e correntes chamativas.

Mas a série fotográfica “The Dandy Lion Project” pretende mudar tudo isso mostrando que a moda dos homens negros e, por...

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How A Small Michigan Town Is Sending All Its Kids To College

(0) Comments | Posted August 20, 2015 | 12:17 PM

Baldwin has never been a place particularly associated with high academic achievement.

The small, rural northwestern Michigan town of 1,200 residents is the county seat of Lake County, where only 8 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree compared to 25 percent of the state overall. Poverty,...

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India Is Home To The World's First Completely Solar-Powered Airport

(0) Comments | Posted August 19, 2015 | 10:50 AM

One of the world’s three biggest polluters just took a big step toward reducing its greenhouse emissions and embracing renewable energy sources. 

India’s fourth-largest airport, the Cochin International Airport in the southern city of Kochi, announced on Tuesday that it is now “absolutely energy neutral,” The Economic Times reports. The airport is co-funded and operated by the Indian government through a public-private partnership. 

The airport’s energy neutrality is possible thanks to a 12-megawatt solar system consisting of more than 46,000 panels installed on a 50-acre site. The system can generate up to 60,000 units of electricity daily.

According to Al Jazeera America, the project took six months to build and cost $10 million, which the airport anticipates it will recover within five years. The panels are expected to last 25 years.

The panels were designed and installed by Bosch Ltd., which has a five-year partnership with the airport, according to Catch News. 

The airport began testing solar energy in March 2013, when it installed a small solar plant on the arrival terminal’s rooftop, according to The Economic Times. 

The project has been seen as a model for the rest of India, and the government is urging other airports to follow suit.

India's goal is to ramp up solar capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2022. Its current capacity is four gigawatts.

India has a broader goal to derive 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022, with 3 percent coming exclusively from solar. Earlier this summer, the government rolled out new incentives to encourage developers to turn to renewable energy.

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Humans Of New York Has Helped Raise Over $2 Million To Help End Slave Labor In Pakistan

(0) Comments | Posted August 18, 2015 | 4:46 PM

After Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind the wildly popular Humans of New York photo blog, traveled to Pakistan this summer, it wasn’t all that surprising that he would document incredible stories of people going about their everyday lives -- but the reaction of his massive following to...

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Katrina Survivor Joins ROTC After Witnessing Army's Recovery Efforts

(0) Comments | Posted August 18, 2015 | 4:15 PM

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Glenda Blanche had just begun fifth grade.

Living in the city’s 3rd Ward as one of six children of a single mother impacted by drug addiction, she already knew struggle. But nothing could have prepared her for...

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Syrian Refugee Camp's Circus School Spreads Confidence, Smiles, Hope

(0) Comments | Posted August 18, 2015 | 1:14 PM

When Mohammad “Abu Qasem” Qusam Ghouzlan arrived with his family at the Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan from his home of Syria, he thought he would be staying just a few days.

Two and a half years later, it turned out that...

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