Not every gift needs to be bought

You have spent days shopping and hours wrapping, all in the name of giving.

The gift of service, though, is one of the best and most-needed gifts. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities around the Columbia area throughout the year, but those few extra days of vacation make the holidays an ideal time to get together with friends and family and help make a difference in others’ lives.

Electronic games suit almost anyone

The concept of electronic games has a different meaning to everyone.

Some think board games with electronic, battery-operated pieces. Others think game systems such as Nintendo or handheld pocket games such as poker.

Tax to aid mental health in the works

Ten years after Boone County voters overwhelmingly rejected a property tax tagged to fund area mental health services, boosters of a similar effort now in its infancy see significant obstacles in convincing a cost-conscious public.

Last month, voters in St. Louis approved a property tax of 19 cents for each $100 of assessed value to finance a community children’s services fund. Also, Jefferson and St. Charles counties added a sales tax of one-eighth of a cent to create a similar pot of money for juvenile mental health.

Victims would get say in parole

A proposed bill would give crime victims in Missouri the right to submit statements when first-time, nonviolent offenders request early releases from prison.

Under a law passed in 2003, an offender convicted of a Class C or Class D felony can petition for early release after serving 120 days.

Columbia colleges to graduate almost 2,500

After Holly Brengarth graduates from MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing on Friday, she will trade in her jobs at a restaurant and a doctor’s office for one as a cancer nurse at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

“I’m looking forward to having a paycheck more than $260 a month,” said Brengarth, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in the first of several commencement ceremonies this weekend. She has been elected undergraduate class speaker and plans to talk about “differences that made our class so great.”

Agency hears Wal-Mart concerns

Representatives from two sides of a familiar public debate rehashed their opinions Monday about plans to put a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the already-polluted Hinkson Creek watershed.

At the request of the Sierra Club, officials from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources recorded testimony at a meeting Monday night about storm-water plans for the proposed 53-acre commercial development.

Abstinence-only sex ed promoted

Some state lawmakers want to allow Missouri public schools to teach abstinence-only sex education.

Earlier this month, Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O’Fallon, pre-filed a bill that would remove the requirement that sexuality education curricula include information about contraceptives.

Restoring history

One brick at a time, downtown Columbia is getting a face-lift and a little government help to pay for it.

Another historic preservation project has been completed downtown, funded in part by tax credits specifically for that purpose. John Ott, owner of The Paramount Building at 29 S. Ninth St., will host an open house today to show off the results of his tax credit project, which was one and a half years in the making.

Debits help ease sting of interest

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat — and so are most Americans’ credit card bills, although so far this holiday season debit cards have a slight edge.

Time time to nurture the Christmas spirit

Well, it’s beginning to look, sound and smell a lot like Christmas. Almost everywhere you turn, multi-colored lights are twinkling from rooftops, strains of Handel’s “Messiah” are pouring through the seams of stained-glass windows, while the sweet, smell of fresh pine trees clings to the crusty air.

Frankly, I welcome the spirit of Christmas. Over the past months, my mind and soul have grown weary of war and violence and harsh words crackling across the airwaves like rifle shots firing from all directions. Sometimes, I think a sense of peace and tranquility is not something which is valued in contemporary life. Some people seem to be almost embarrassed if their households are not surrounded by noise around the clock.

District deficit $2 million lower

Money from a successful summer school program has officials predicting that the Columbia Public School District will finish its 2004-05 fiscal year with a $2.8 million deficit, a figure $2 million lower than originally anticipated.

Jacque Cowherd, deputy superintendent for the district, presented the board with a monthly financial report of the district’s revenues and expenditures within the 2004-05 budget on Monday night.

Trading spaces after the election

JEFFERSON CITY — Throughout the halls of the state Capitol, there are signs of change.

Boxes, paint supplies, filing cabinets, rolls of carpet and discarded fluorescent lights litter the marble walkways.

More flu vaccine coming

JEFFERSON CITY — More than 100,000 new doses of flu vaccine will arrive in Missouri next week, but unless you’re pregnant, sick, still in diapers or collecting Social Security, health officials say there’s not enough to cover you.

Only 100 of the doses are coming to Boone County. Sue Denny, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health, said that’s because Boone County already has more vaccines for its population than other areas of the state.

Leader of the park

On a windy December afternoon, Jim Gast walks through Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, the place where he has worked in one capacity or another for nearly 13 years. Now, the park will officially become his.

After former superintendent Scott Schulte’s retirement in March, Gast, 45, became the acting superintendent of the park. He will be officially named superintendent today.

Santa to the rescue

Barking, squawking and chatter filled Award Pet Supply on Saturday afternoon as residents lined the store to get their pets’ pictures taken for the holiday season. The event’s proceeds benefit Columbia Second Chance, a private pet rescue organization that finds homes for dogs and cats throughout Missouri.

Howdy Matchery donated his time to pose as Santa Claus.

Budget, election top school board agenda

Those eager to run for a spot on the Columbia Board of Education can file starting Tuesday for the coming election.

Three seats on the board will be up for grabs, as terms for board members Russ Still, David Ballenger and Donald Ludwig expire in April.

Laurie scandal troubles college officials

A national expert in college cheating says he has never heard of a case as extensive as the one alleged against Wal-Mart heiress Elizabeth Paige Laurie.

“It took a significant risk to involve another student so extensively in the cheating,” said Donald McCabe, president and founder of the national Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University. “I think both the extent of it and that it just involved one other person are somewhat surprising. … Certainly you hear instances of somebody paying someone else to take a test or buying a paper off of the Internet, but it’s the fact that it was such an extensive amount of work over such a long period of time that is surprising.”

Release law helps fewer than some envisioned

JEFFERSON CITY — Looking to slow the growth of Missouri’s inmate population, state lawmakers relaxed sentencing laws a year and a half ago to allow some nonviolent offenders to seek release after just three months in prison.

When the Missouri Supreme Court interpreted the law to apply to people already in prison — not just those sentenced after the law took effect — state Attorney General Jay Nixon warned that thousands of inmates could be turned loose, making communities less safe.

Rock Bridge will choose construction bid for flooring project

The annual budget for Columbia schools tops the agenda for the Columbia Board of Education’s meeting today.

Superintendent Phyllis Chase will give a report to the board about the 2004-05 fiscal budget and an update on planning for the 2005-06 budget. The board will meet at 7 p.m. today at the administration building, 1818 W. Worley St.

Fluffy, don’t eat the ornaments!

The tree is decorated, tinsel surrounds the mantel, and mistletoe hangs above the doorway. All the Christmas decorations are up, creating a spirited atmosphere within the house. The only problem is, the cat won’t leave them alone.

Pets can be detrimental to holiday decorations, but the decorations can be just as detrimental to pets.