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Sunday
Feb182018

Teenagers bake, deliver 'special' birthday cakes for children who wouldn't otherwise get them

Montgomery County chapter of Birthday Cakes 4 Free(MONTGOMERY, Md.) -- Allison Wachen and her team of bakers crowd around the kitchen counter, juggling broken egg shells, flour bags and cans of cooking spray. They’re baking two, two-layer vanilla birthday cakes in her aunt's kitchen.

No one is celebrating a birthday, though — at least not in her family.

Wachen is baking them for "Birthday Cakes 4 Free," a non-profit organization that bakes birthday cakes for people — including children and seniors in different communities — who wouldn't otherwise have them.

Wachen, 17, an avid baker who said she's always taken an active role in community service projects, was looking for a way to combine her passions when she read about the national charity organization while flipping through a magazine.

"I couldn’t even believe that people do not receive a birthday cake," said Wachen, co-founder and president of the Montgomery County, Maryland, chapter of Birthday Cakes 4 Free.

It was a thought that didn't sit right with Wachen, so she founded a local chapter with her brother. Within two and a half years her chapter’s membership skyrocketed from two members to more than 400 members.

"I think people at first, since you're a youth and you're starting an organization, maybe assume you're not as organized," she said.

Her 15-year-old brother, Robert, who will email with adult volunteers for months, added that grownups are always surprised when they finally meet him.

"I say, "Hi, my name is Robert. I'm the vice president.' [And] they'll go, 'Wait, you're a kid?'" Robert, the chapter's vice president of technology, said with a laugh.

"So I think that's a very humbling experience for me because they are taking me so seriously that they're not even considering my age; they're just looking at the organization and saying 'Wow, this is a legitimate organization and I want to help out,'" he added.

The teenagers faced some difficulties early on like finding members to help bake and deliver the cakes and finding charities that were willing to accept them. Another challenge was that some of the volunteers were too young to drive and had no income to buy supplies.

The group donates more than 100 cakes per month — and each cake container costs $1.50. That's more than $1,800 a year for the containers alone.

In the past, the volunteers have asked for grants and held fundraisers like bake sales to cover the costs of the frosting, sprinkles and cake containers. Wachen said she believes her charity gains more credibility and legitimacy as more people personally see the impact and the sheer number of donated cakes.

"It's just such a basic thing but I think on your birthday, the whole idea of having a birthday cake and having the celebration with your friends and family...reaffirms that you really have a community supporting you, but it's also something just very special," said Wachen before heading out to decorate this month's cakes with her friends and other volunteers at the Potomac Community Center in Potomac, Maryland.

Once a month, a dozen or so middle school and high school students get together to decorate the cakes at a local community center or at the home of one of their volunteers. Wachen said she always tries to make every cake as special as possible.

It is for someone's birthday after all.

"I always tell our volunteers: 'Make this cake as if you were giving it to someone in your family,'" said Wachen.

For those volunteers who can't make the cake decorating social, they have the option of baking and decorating the cake from their own home and dropping it off at Wachen's house. Wachen then collects the cakes and delivers them, with the aide of her mother's silver minivan, to 17 charities around the area.

Those charities include homeless shelters and Boys and Girls clubs in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region.

"A birthday cake, I mean, yes, it's delicious, but it's also so much more of a symbol that the community really cares about them," said Wachen.

The charity regularly receives thank you notes from the recipients; one included a note from a child who wrote, "Wow! A cake with my name on it! I’ve never seen one with my name before."

Two girls at a recent birthday cake delivery party shared a similar message.

"It's nice, that they do it for other kids," one girl said in between cake bites.

"And they don't even know us," the other girl responded.

Tarayra Staton, the program director at the Jelleff Club of the Greater Washington Boys & Girls Club, suggests the idea is so popular because the charity isn't only for kids... it's by the kids, too.

"Every month they refer to this as 'Cake Day,'" Staton explained over the sounds of young children screaming and playing in a nearby games room. "It's kids that actually make them, so when we have other kids making the cakes and giving it to our members, [our kids] really really think that's cool."

All but one of the 64 Birthday Cakes 4 Free chapters are run by adults. The Montgomery chapter is the only one run by teenagers.

"What you realize is these kids are just like you. They have the same passions, they have the same goals," added Wachen, before explaining she is acutely aware that she could be one of the less fortunate kids in the homeless shelters, a fact that makes the delivery of the cakes all the more significant.

Robert Wachen realizes how fortunate he is, too.

"When I bake birthday cakes every month, I think about the recipients and I think about the connection, and it goes way beyond the birthday cake for me," he said.

"It’s not whether you’re 'Cake Boss' and you can create an amazing three-layer cake. It's that you took the time out of your day...to make a lasting impression on someone you don't even know," he added.

For their 17-year-old cousin, Sawyer Steinmiller, vice president of finance for the chapter, it's about connecting with someone on their own level.

"I would rather learn from a kid. I would rather hang out with a kid than an adult," said Sawyer.

"And I think because we are kids and we are teens, that they feel [like it's] more personable and enjoyable."

In the fall, Wachen will be leaving for college, which means two new teenagers will be taking over the organization: Robert and their cousin Sawyer. Passing the torch will be bittersweet, Wachen admitted, but she was prepared for this inevitability since the beginning.

Two years ago, she created an executive board made up of middle and high school students from across the county, all from different races, religions and backgrounds.

"Once I leave, there are networks of people that can get their friends involved from different schools and have connections with different religious and community organizations."

In April, the group is set to deliver its 2,000th cake. The teenagers plan to celebrate it by reaching out to more schools and volunteers, and honoring the seniors who will be leaving them in the fall for college.

For Wachen, who will be trading in her baking apron for college textbooks come August, the journey from start to finish has been incredibly personal.

"The idea that you're making a cake for other people that otherwise wouldn't get one shows that people value you and would take their own personal time for someone that they don’t personally know but still think they are important," Wachen said.

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Sunday
Feb182018

JetBlue to offer free flights to families of Florida shooting victims

JetBlue(NEW YORK) -- JetBlue is offering free flights to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the families of the school shooting victims.
 
The company, which has a corporate office in Orlando, said volunteers in its Family Assistance Center will book free air travel for victims' families, according to the Miami Herald. JetBlue will also provide access to free ground transportation with Lyft.

JetBlue is also partnering with the Florida Panthers to hold a blood drive on Feb. 22.

On its company blog, JetBlue wrote, “This week’s events are felt by all of our 21,000 crewmembers, many of whom live in, work from and travel through the Broward County area, home to our Focus City, Fort Lauderdale. We want to do our part to help the community, and support South Florida through this difficult time."

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Saturday
Feb172018

Runaway dog on New York City subway tracks causes hairy situation

@NYPDTransit/Twitter(NEW YORK) -- A runaway dog wandering New York City's subway tracks created a hairy situation for transit officials and commuters Friday afternoon.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) issued a service alert around 3:15 p.m. ET announcing changes and delays to the F train "because of a dog on the tracks" at York Street station in Brooklyn. A and C train riders also experienced delays as transit workers and police spent an hour trying to search and rescue the lost pup.

The dog, named Dakota, had escaped from a dog park in Brooklyn and somehow found its way onto the subway tracks, according to the New York City Transit Police Department. Police officers and transit workers eventually retrieved Dakota to safety.

According to ABC station WABC-TV, the dog was discovered on the tracks at Bergen Street station, two stops downtown from York Street.

Dakota was reunited with its owner, who took her beloved pup to the vet for a "minor injury," police said.

Normal train service resumed about an hour later.

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Saturday
Feb172018

Belgian court orders Facebook to stop tracking users

Photodisc/Thinkstock(BRUSSELS) -- Facebook must stop tracking Belgian users who are surfing the web outside of the social network -- or face a fine of more than $300,000 a day, a Belgian court ruled.

The court also ordered Facebook to delete data that it has already gathered from these users. If Facebook doesn't abide by this order, it will face a fine of $312,000 a day, the court ruled.

Facebook “doesn’t sufficiently inform” clients about the data it gathers or explain what it does with the information, the Brussels Court of First Instance said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.

"Facebook can follow your surfing behavior without you realizing it, let alone want it, on the basis of those invisible pixels that Facebook has placed on more than 10,000 other websites," the court said.

Facebook said it is “disappointed” with the verdict and plans to appeal, Facebook’s head of public policy for Europe, Richard Allan, told Bloomberg.

“Over recent years, we have worked hard to help people understand how we use cookies to keep Facebook secure and show them relevant content,” he said.

"The cookies and pixels we use are industry-standard technologies. We require any business that uses our technologies to provide clear notice to end-users, and we give people the right to opt-out of having data collected on sites and apps off Facebook being used for ads."

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Friday
Feb162018

How to help victims of the Florida school massacre and not get scammed

iStock/Thinkstock(PARKLAND, Fla.) -- After the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history Wednesday afternoon in Florida, a number of people and organizations have found ways to extend a hand to the affected Florida communities, including GoFundMe campaigns that state officials vow to shield from any would-be scammers.

“If you think you’re going to scam people during this tragedy, you’re not,” state Attorney General Pam Bondi reportedly warned this week.

The Broward Education Foundation, which raises money for the public school system, has set up a GoFundMe page.

GoFundMe has removed campaigns with no direct connection to the victims in the shooting or their families, spokesman Bobby Whithorne told ABC News via email.

The Broward County Sheriff's Office Thursday tweeted that there have been "several fraudulent @gofundme accounts" created and posted a link to the correct one.

GoFundMe’s Whithorne said, "We guarantee the money raised by those campaigns will be transferred to the right person.”

“We will continue to monitor the platform and will stay in close touch with Florida officials.”

Meanwhile, Premier Family Health and Wellness, a health care center in Wellington, Florida, is hosting a blood drive on Friday until 4 p.m., according to a news release.

Ryan Mackman, the center’s business administrator, is a friend and former classmate of Aaron Feis, the football coach who was among the 17 people killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the news release said.

One Blood, a Florida-based blood center, Wednesday night delivered additional blood to the Broward Health North Hospital, which treated massacre victims.

One Blood said in a news release it is especially interested in donations of O-negative blood, which is the universal type and primarily used to treat trauma patients.

Public Good, an online organization that partners with reputable nonprofits to distribute various donations, is collating trustworthy sites.

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Friday
Feb162018

Watch out for 'online romance scams,' BBB warns

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Those looking for love on dating sites, apps and social media should beware of the "massive number of fraudsters" using so-called romance scams to "gain unsuspecting people's trust to steal their money," a new study published by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.

"People all over the world are being ripped off by these same frauds," Steve Baker, an internal investigation specialist with the BBB, told ABC News. "We got a real global problem."

These romance scams have cost victims in the U.S. and Canada nearly $1 billion in just the past three years, and impacted an estimated 1 million victims in the U.S. alone, according to the BBB.

Complaints from victims of online romance scams are also on the rise -- up from 21,000 in 2015 to 28,000 in 2017 -- according to the BBB. In addition, reports to the FBI about online romance scams tripled in the last five years.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates, however, that 90 percent of victims don't report the scam, meaning the actual number of victims could likely be much higher.

Romance scams often begin with a "grooming phase" where the scammer learns about the victim's life and sends text messages or notes that profess admiration, and eventually love.

One victim of these scams, who spoke to ABC News on the condition it not name her or show her face, said that she met a man on Facebook who eventually stole $1,000 from her.

"He said that he was a single father ... that he was a widower," she told ABC News.

"He said ... he had a really bad cellphone," she added. "And that’s when I said I guess I can help you."

"The second time I sent him money ... he said he was having problems paying his car," she said.

He then asked for her bank information, and she says that is when she called him out and he admitted that he was a "scammer."

"I said, 'You are a scammer,'" she told ABC News. "That’s when he said ... 'I am in love with you and that’s why I’m telling you the truth ... yes, I am a scammer.'"

Another person targeted by an online romance scam, Donna Rodgers, told ABC News that she met her scammer on the dating app Zoosk, and he pampered her with gifts during the first weeks, but then asked her for more than $1,500.

"It was overwhelming," Rogers said. She said that she didn't send the money and immediately contacted authorities.

Both Facebook and Zoosk told ABC News that they try to monitor and block suspicious behavior.

Zoosk says it has photo verification services to help combat online scams. Both companies, however, say that consumer awareness and vigilance are also key to fight and prevent online romance scams.

Baker told ABC News that anyone who may have been a victim of online romance scams and sent money through Western Union may be able to get their money back.

Information on how to get their money back is available on the FTC's website, he added.

"They don't even have to have their original Western Union receipts as long as they know how much money they sent, and the location they sent it from, and the date I think," he added. "There's a good chance they can get some money back."

Baker said that the money transfer services Western Union and MoneyGram are making "more efforts to protect people."

If you were scammed as far back as 2004 all the way through January 2017, he recommends filing a claim on the FTC's website.

"I don't know if people will get full refunds we hope that they would, but it depends on how many claims that are filed," he added.

Baker said that he thinks there are still steps he thinks the dating sites and apps can do to "warn their victims."

"We would like for them to increase their efforts to try to get the crooks off their websites; in other words to screen profiles of folks before they appear on the dating sites," he said. "And if the dating sites find a profile they conclude is fraudulent, maybe because its paid with a stolen credit card, we would like the dating site to contact everyone who have been in contact with the profile."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb162018

How to help victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(PARKLAND, Fla.) -- After the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history Wednesday afternoon, a number of people and organizations have found ways to extend a hand to the affected Florida communities.

Cox Media, for instance, is hosting a blood drive today at various locations until 7 p.m., the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said.

One Blood, a Florida-based blood center, Wednesday night delivered additional blood to the Broward Health North Hospital, which treated massacre victims.

One Blood said in a news release it is especially interested in donations of O-negative blood, which is the universal type and primarily used to treat trauma patients.

Public Good, an online organization that partners with reputable nonprofits to distribute various donations, is collating trustworthy sites.

And the Broward Education Foundation, which raises money for the public school system, has set up a Go Fund Me page.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Feb162018

Disney's Toy Story Land opening date announced 

The Walt Disney Disney Co.(NEW YORK) -- Big news, summer travelers: Toy Story Land, one of the most anticipated family attractions in 2018, has an official opening date: June 30.

To celebrate the announcement, Disney brought a piece of the new land right to New York City's Times Square. Slinky Dog Dash is one of many attractions in the new 11-acre Toy Story Land where guests will shrink to the size of a toy and be surrounded by giant versions of childhood toys.

“With set pieces, staging, attractions and experiences, Toy Story Land represents the best of Walt Disney Imagineering’s collaboration with our storytelling partners at Pixar Animation Studios,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “This new land will place guests inside the wondrous world of Woody, Buzz and their pals -- and invite everyone to experience the joy of being a toy.”

While the original Toy Story movie was released in 1995, Toy Story Midway Mania opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's California Adventure in 2008.

Now, 10 years later, the all-new addition to Disney's Hollywood Studios is set against the backdrop of Andy's backyard. One of the main attractions includes Slinky Dog Dash, a ride for the whole family where Slinky Dog twists his coils around curves, hills and drops across Toy Story Land. Alien Swirling Saucers is another fun attraction for guests, where they will board a toy rocket for a spin through space.

When it comes time for a bite to eat, head to Woody's Lunch Box, a walk-up window serving old-fashioned soda floats along with other tasty eats and treats.

To Disney World -- and infinity and beyond!

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

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Wednesday
Feb142018

Rose gold foodie treats take over Walt Disney World

Disney Parks (NEW YORK) -- For a sweet treat that’s on trend, visitors to Walt Disney World can’t miss the rose gold cupcake at Sunshine Seasons in Epcot, or the similar versions at Main Street Bakery in Magic Kingdom and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at The Trolley Car Café.Disney ParksAt The Polynesian Resort, saddle up to the Barefoot Pool Bar for a rose gold margarita.

Disney ParksThen, it’s back to the cupcakes. The Polynesian has a rose gold vanilla cupcake with guava pastry cream at Capt. Cook’s and at Kona Café.

Disney ParksAt Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, there’s a rose gold unicorn cupcake with rose gold sponge and hazelnut cream cheese filling at Gasparilla Island Grill.

 Disney Parks

At Disney’s All-Star Music Resort, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and Disney’s Old Key West Resort, you’ll find a rose gold chocolate cupcake with strawberry buttercream filling and topping, chocolate ears and chocolate crispy pearls. These can be found at Intermission Food Court, the Artist’s Palette and the Paddock Grill.

Disney Parks
Contempo Café at Disney’s Contemporary Resort now has a rose gold vanilla cupcake with strawberry filling, vanilla buttercream, strawberry crispy pearls and a dark chocolate rose gold Minnie hat.

Disney ParksABC News is owned by parent company Disney.

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Wednesday
Feb142018

'Hobby Lobby Challenge' inspires pretty photos in big chain stores

Clay Daugherty(NEW YORK) -- In an ever-growing list of online challenges powered by social media, the latest trend proves that even amateur photographers can snap a shot in a drab location and make it look fab!

Kelsey Maggart is credited with starting the "Hobby Lobby challenge" after she shared a series of portraits on Twitter that she took of her friend inside the craft store on Jan. 26.

Maggart, who is a professional photographer, said she was surprised and happy about the attention her Hobby Lobby photos received.

"A few weeks ago my friend said he was shooting in Hobby Lobby so we both shot there, in different stores, to compare our shoots," Maggart told ABC News. "We live in Indiana, so flowers aren’t really an option for a few more months."

Maggart said that once she posted the photos she was "shocked" to see the reaction on social media.

"My social media has been crazy recently and it’s just so insane to me that I was able to inspire this many people to go out and do this shoot themselves,” she said. “It really does feel amazing.”

The craft store photoshoots have since moved outside Hobby Lobby stores and into WalMart, Michaels, Target and other retailers.

People started sharing their own pictures using the hashtag #HobbyLobbyChallenge and have now moved onto the broader based #uglylocationchallenge.

One participant told ABC News that after several of his friends saw Maggart's tweet, they challenged him to "do something like it."

"I asked my friend Samantha to do the challenge with me and she was super excited," Clay Daugherty said. "We decided to go to Hobby Lobby because we knew they had a flower aisle and we thought that would be an amazing place to do it," he explained.

Daugherty added that he wishes he had thought to post his photo first to get the same social media traction, but overall he was happy to participate.

"After I posted my tweet, some people had sent me [Maggart's] tweet of her shooting in Hobby Lobby. I was a little sad that I didn’t post the Hobby Lobby ugly location challenge first, but the pictures turned out great and I had a lot of fun," he said.

Hobby Lobby did not immediately respond to ABC News request for comment.



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