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Keys to Serenity helps Summit County children affected by addiction



Sheena Moore was 18 years old when she was introduced to OxyContin. 

A doctor prescribed the drug to manage her pain after a breast reduction surgery, and like so many others, Moore became addicted.

“Your body wants more, and then you’re not able to get more from a doctor, so you start doctor shopping,” Moore’s mother, Brenda Ryan explained. “Then they cut you off, so you go to a dealer to buy them for $30 to $40 a pill. The dealer tells you heroin is the same compound so you do that. You say, ‘Well, I’m never going to shoot it, I’ll just snort it.’ That’s what everyone says but then it goes intravenously. It’s a dangerous cycle.” 

Moore managed to get clean, but the first time she relapsed, she overdosed and died on June 9, 2016, at the age of 31, leaving behind a 5 year old son. 

“She was really open and honest about her addiction on social media, and so I knew that my daughter would want me to to be very vocal and honest about how she died,” Ryan, of Cuyahoga Falls, said. “I knew that if my daughter had to die, she wasn’t going to die in vain and I knew I was going to do something.”

Within a year, Ryan started Keys to Serenity, a nonprofit that helps Summit County families affected by overdose deaths by guiding them through the judicial system and children’s services, helping them make funeral arrangements and offering support groups and events for kinship custodians and children.

In so doing, Ryan is giving other families the guidance that was not available to her. 

“I was not prepared for the loss of my daughter as far as finances,” Ryan said. “How were we going to pay for a funeral? She left behind a little boy; who gets custody? I now have shared parenting with his paternal grandfather but how do you navigate the system? How do you get proper custody of these children and now on top of all of that, how do you deal with the stigma?”

To help, Keys to Serenity offers a number of programs, including Keys to Hope, a donation program to defray the cost of funeral expenses; Keys to a New Habit, a quarterly program that brings in local judges and other professionals to offer license reinstatement clinics, job fairs, GED programs and credit repair clinics; and Keys to Parenting Again, an informative support group for kinship providers. The group also offers the annual Keys to the Heart kids programs. 

Most of those programs were put on hold last year due to the pandemic, but Ryan said Keys to Serenity was still able to offer support in other ways as the number of families they serve continued to grow.

“Our numbers have definitely gotten larger,” Ryan said. “People couldn’t make it to meetings and so they lost their connections. The opposite of addiction is connection, so when you don’t have those connections what happens? A lot of relapses, a lot of mental health crises, and of course the drugs are just as deadly as they were in 2016 on the streets.” 

More: More than 5,000 Ohioans, including 219 in Summit County, died of a drug overdose in 2020

According to a Columbus Dispatch analysis of mortality data, at least 5,001 Ohioans died of an overdose in 2020, the highest number in at least 14 years. 

Summit County saw only a slight increase from 216 in 2019 to 219 in 2020.

But if current trends continue, the county will have even higher numbers this year. As of Tuesday,  there were 122 overdose deaths in the county and another 27 possible pending overdoses, according to the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“Fifty five percent of those ODs were people over 40, and another disturbing statistic is that 20% were African Americans, which we haven’t seen in the past. That means this is no longer a young, white epidemic,” Ryan said. 

She added that while Keys to Serenity does not keep track of the number of families it helps, the group has constantly received referrals and requests for help throughout the last year and a half.

“We are seeing more children being affected, and they’re the silent victims in all of this,” Ryan said. “In turn, we see more kindship providers who are raising grandchildren or nieces and nephews, not just because of overdoses, but because Children’s Services is taking the child away because the parents are too sick in their addiction to care for them.” 

But while the need increased, Keys to Serenity could not conduct its typical in-person outreach, and its most lucrative fundraising event of the year was canceled.

Instead, Keys to Serenity held a small online fundraiser that yielded about a quarter of what a typical fundraiser would generate. The group also received a COVID grant last year from the Akron Community Foundation. 

With those funds and additional donations, the nonprofit was able to provide 15 families $250 each to offset the cost of Christmas and never had to turn a family away that asked for help. It also held a small event last year on Aug. 31 to observe International Overdose Awareness Day on the lawn of the Packard Institute in Akron, which houses Keys to Serenity. 

Last month, Keys to Serenity was able to make up for lost revenues, raising around $7,000 at its annual fundraiser, about double what the nonprofit has made in the past.

Additionally, Keys to Serenity has applied for a grant through the Summit County Opioid Healing Fund, a result of the successful 2017 lawsuit brought by Summit County and 21 public agencies, towns, cities and villages against 11 makers and three distributors of pain pills. 

More: Want to help addiction, recovery? Summit County Opioid Healing Fund offers $500K in grants

The group also has been raising money by selling key necklaces for $10 at Reverie in Cuyahoga Falls.

The store gives back 100% of revenues from the necklaces, which were also given out at Moore’s celebration of life. Ryan sends key necklaces to families who have lost loved ones to overdoses “to form a connection and let them know they’re not alone in this. No one knows what it’s like more than another mother.” 

Keys to Serenity also is holding the third annual Keys to the Heart kids event for children affected by family substance abuse on Aug. 28 and the Keys to the Heart Fishing Derby for ages 8 and and older on Sept. 26.

Because the support group programs are held at other locations, Keys to Serenity is unable to say when they can resume, but Ryan believes the Keys to Parenting Again support group, held at the American Red Cross, will resume in January. 

The group also hopes to host a screening of the upcoming Hulu miniseries “DopeSick” starring and produced by Michael Keaton. “Dopesick” examines how Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin, downplayed its addictive qualities and aggressively marketed the drug to doctors, leading to the opioid epidemic. 

Ryan believes her daughter would be happy to know that her death has launched a nonprofit that brings awareness to addiction issues and aims to stop the stigma. 

“We need an army to fight this, and to get that army, we need the stigma to stop,” Ryan said. 

For more information, visit Keys to Serenity’s new website,

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, or on Twitter @KristaK

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Are Sallie Mae Student Loans Federal or Private?



When you hear the name Sallie Mae, you probably think of student loans. There’s a good reason for that; Sallie Mae has a long history, during which time it has provided both federal and private student loans.

However, as of 2014, all of Sallie Mae’s student loans are private, and its federal loans have been sold to another servicer. Here’s what to know if you have a Sallie Mae loan or are considering taking one out.

What is Sallie Mae?

Sallie Mae is a company that currently offers private student loans. But it has taken a few forms over the years.

In 1972, Congress first created the Student Loan Marketing Association (SLMA) as a private, for-profit corporation. Congress gave SLMA, commonly called “Sallie Mae,” the status of a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) to support the company in its mission to provide stability and liquidity to the student loan market as a warehouse for student loans.

However, in 2004, the structure and purpose of the company began to change. SLMA dissolved in late December of that year, and the SLM Corporation, or “Sallie Mae,” was formed in its place as a fully private-sector company without GSE status.

In 2014, the company underwent another big adjustment when Sallie Mae split to form Navient and Sallie Mae. Navient is a federal student loan servicer that manages existing student loan accounts. Meanwhile, Sallie Mae continues to offer private student loans and other financial products to consumers. If you took out a student loan with Sallie Mae prior to 2014, there’s a chance that it was a federal student loan under the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP).

At present, Sallie Mae owns 1.4 percent of student loans in the United States. In addition to private student loans, the bank also offers credit cards, personal loans and savings accounts to its customers, many of whom are college students.

What is the difference between private and federal student loans?

When you’re seeking financing to pay for college, you’ll have a big choice to make: federal versus private student loans. Both types of loans offer some benefits and drawbacks.

Federal student loans are educational loans that come from the U.S. government. Under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, there are four types of federal student loans available to qualified borrowers.

With federal student loans, you typically do not need a co-signer or even a credit check. The loans also come with numerous benefits, such as the ability to adjust your repayment plan based on your income. You may also be able to pause payments with a forbearance or deferment and perhaps even qualify for some level of student loan forgiveness.

On the negative side, most federal student loans feature borrowing limits, so you might need to find supplemental funding or scholarships if your educational costs exceed federal loan maximums.

Private student loans are educational loans you can access from private lenders, such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. On the plus side, private student loans often feature higher loan amounts than you can access through federal funding. And if you or your co-signer has excellent credit, you may be able to secure a competitive interest rate as well.

As for drawbacks, private student loans don’t offer the valuable benefits that federal student borrowers can enjoy. You may also face higher interest rates or have a harder time qualifying for financing if you have bad credit.

Are Sallie Mae loans better than federal student loans?

In general, federal loans are the best first choice for student borrowers. Federal student loans offer numerous benefits that private loans do not. You’ll generally want to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and review federal funding options before applying for any type of private student loan — Sallie Mae loans included.

However, private student loans, like those offered by Sallie Mae, do have their place. In some cases, federal student aid, grants, scholarships, work-study programs and savings might not be enough to cover educational expenses. In these situations, private student loans may provide you with another way to pay for college.

If you do need to take out private student loans, Sallie Mae is a lender worth considering. It offers loans for a variety of needs, including undergrad, MBA school, medical school, dental school and law school. Its loans also feature 100 percent coverage, so you can find funding for all of your certified school expenses.

With that said, it’s always best to compare a few lenders before committing. All lenders evaluate income and credit score differently, so it’s possible that another lender could give you lower interest rates or more favorable terms.

The bottom line

Sallie Mae may be a good choice if you’re in the market for private student loans and other financial products. Just be sure to do your research upfront, as you should before you take out any form of financing. Comparing multiple offers always gives you the best chance of saving money.

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Tips to do some fall cleaning on your finances



Wealth manager, Harry Abrahamsen, has five simple ways to stay on top of the big financial picture.

PORTLAND, Maine — Keeping track of our financial stability is something we can all do, whether we have IRAs or 401ks or just a checking account. Harry J. Abrahamsen is the Founder of Abrahamsen Financial Group. He works with clients to create and grow their own wealth. Abrahamsen shares five financial tips, starting with knowing what you have. 

1. Analyze Your Finances Quarterly or Biannually

You want to make sure that your long-term strategy is congruent with your short-term strategy. If the short-term is not working out, you may need to adjust what you are doing to make sure your outcome produces the desired results you are looking to accomplish. It is just like setting sail on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. You know where you want to go and plot your course, but there are many factors that need to be considered to actually get you across and across safely. Your finances behave the exact same way. Check your current situation and make sure you are taking into consideration all of the various wealth-eroding factors that can take you completely off course.

With interest rates very low, now might be a good time to consider refinancing student loans or mortgages, or consolidating credit card debt. However, do so only if you need to or if you can create a positive cash flow. To ensure that you are saving the most by doing so, you must look at current payments, excluding taxes and insurance costs. This way you can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

The most important things to look for when reviewing your credit report is accuracy. Make sure the reporting agencies are reporting things actuary. If it doesn’t appear to be reporting correct and accurate information, you should consult with a reputable credit repair company to help you fix the incorrect information.

4. Savings and Retirement Accounts

The most important thing to consider when reviewing your savings and retirement accounts is to make sure the strategies match your short-term and long-term investment objectives. All too often people end up making decisions one at a time, at different times in their lives, with different people, under different circumstances. Having a sound strategy in place will allow you to view your finances with a macro-economic lens vs a micro-economic view. Stay the course and adjust accordingly from a risk and tax standpoint.

RELATED: Financial lessons learned through the pandemic

A great tip for lowering utility bills or car insurance premiums: Simply ask! There may be things you are not aware of that could save you hundreds of dollars every month. You just need to call all of the companies that you do business with to find out about cost-cutting strategies. 

RELATED: Overcome your fear of finances

To learn more about Abrahamsen Financial, click here

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How to Get a Loan Even with Bad Credit



Sana pwedeng mabura ang bad credit history as quickly and easily as paying off your utility bills, ‘no? Unfortunately, it takes time. And bago mo pa maayos ang bad credit mo, more often than not, kailangan mo na namang mag-avail ng panibagong loan. 

Good thing you can still get a loan even with bad credit, kahit na medyo limited ang options. How do you get a loan if you have bad credit? Alamin sa short guide na ito. 

For more finance tips, visit Moneymax.



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