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Founder Friday with Jenny Briscoe-Hough: the mission to deliver meaningful (and affordable) funerals

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Founder Friday with Jenny Briscoe-Hough: the mission to deliver meaningful (and affordable) funerals

In a culture that’s often intimidated by death and dying, Jenny Briscoe-Hough is determined to approach things a little differently. For the last six years, she’s worked tirelessly as the founder and CEO of Tender Funerals, a community venture with a vision of providing authentic and affordable funeral care to all Australians.

She admits, though, it’s a leadership position she had never expected for herself.

“Primarily, I’m in community development, and when you’re in this field, the whole idea is empowering others,” she said. “So it’s almost the opposite of leadership, it’s actually taking a step back. I would say the community founded Tender and I was the driver.”

Today, Tender Funerals helps thousands of bereaved families across Australia to have meaningful funerals which reflect the wishes of the person who has died, their family, and community – without having to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to do so.

The average cost of a Tender funeral is between $3,000 to $4,500, compared to bills anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000 from leading funeral providers.

But Jenny’s message goes beyond making funerals affordable. It’s a movement to change the culture around death and end-of-life by enabling conversations on rights and responsibilities, and enabling family and friends to have as much (or as little) hands-on involvement as they like.

Since beginning in Port Kembla on the NSW South Coast followed by a second location near Port Macquarie, Tender Funerals Australia is currently working with a further six communities to establish services (that operate as franchises) in Canberra, Far North Queensland, Newcastle, Perth, Tasmania and Western Sydney.

Creating meaningful yet affordable services

The idea for Tender Funerals was sparked in 2008 when Jenny found herself in the position of organising a funeral for her late mother.

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“Even though I had attended many funerals through my 20 years or so in community development, I hadn’t had to focus on the details and costs before. Then when my mother died, we washed the flowers ourselves, drove ourselves there, we even owned our own burial plot, and we still got a bill of around $10,000,” she recalled.

She still remembers how her mother’s memorial card had the funeral company’s advertising at the bottom.

Jenny elaborated, “My mother had an estate, she had a property, so we were able to cover these costs. But because I was working in a community, I suddenly found myself wondering how others might be able to afford something like this.”

Tender Funerals aims to empower individuals as they go through this already difficult process.

“They can be as involved as they want, from transporting the body to washing and dressing the body, to putting the person in the coffin. The idea is to empower people with information while giving them choices. Some might say ‘I know what I want to do’ and then, after some thought, come back to us and say ‘actually, can we do this instead?’

“It’s an evolving and transparent process. You can have the most traditional funeral in the world or you can have something entirely unique to you. But when you’re given a one-size-fits-all funeral package by a provider, it’s not so helpful.”

READ MORE: Founder Friday with Jacqui Bull: transforming Australia’s staffing market

A shrine at a Tender Funerals service. Source: supplied.

Jenny highlights an instance when Tender Funerals’ personalised, special touch was simply a family photo.

“We had a funeral once for a young man, and all he had wanted was a family photo, but they could never get the family together. So they took a photo at the funeral, we printed it out, and put it in the coffin,” she said.

Other instances have included simple ceremonies in people’s backyards.

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“Anything could be a funeral ceremony, it depends on the intention you bring with it,” Jenny added.

The initial challenges

However, it wasn’t an easy road getting Tender Funerals off the ground. The biggest challenge was “to get people to understand what we’re trying to do.”

“For years, I was applying for grants and getting knocked back. Then one day, my friend and artist Lynette Wallworth said to me ‘we’re going to have to make a film and show them,’” Jenny explained.

“It’s very hard to describe in words what happens when you put your hands on the body of a person you love, and every cell in your body understands that person has died.”

The resulting documentary Tender, released in 2013, shared the stories of community-based funerals (including the death of their community centre’s former caretaker) to powerfully demonstrate their message onscreen.

Tender Funerals was able to secure funding from Social Enterprise Finance Australia (SEFA) and the Vincent Fairfax Foundation. Their model, they say, is made viable by families able to pay full price at Tender Funerals and further support from community donations.

Jenny and team at Tender Funerals Port Kembla. Source: supplied

Changing the culture around death

“An important thing that Tender does for people is that it wakes up something inside of them, the knowledge that they are going to die,” Jenny observed. “Now of course, some funeral days are really tragic and really sad. But it also helps us realise that this life is limited.

“When planning these services, we ask people, ‘are you religious?’ And if they say no, we do follow up with ‘do you have a spiritual practice?’ and often the answer is yes, because each person has different things that connects them to their soul.”

Some of the people who visit Tender Funerals have recently experienced the death of a loved one. However, as Jenny notes, there have also been individuals who want to be proactive about their end-of-life.

“Sometimes we have people ring up, saying they want to have this conversation with their children, but the children don’t want to have it. There’s still a reluctance around this,” she stated.

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“But we say that you can change the culture with just one funeral. People might first come to Tender and not have a clue what to do, but unfortunately if they have to come again, they’re able to say ‘I know what I’m doing.’ We’re empowering them with information.”

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READ MORE: Founder Friday with Liz Agresta: the secrets to building a $15m beauty empire 

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

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At collapsed Baltimore bridge, focus shifts to the weighty job of removing the massive structure

BALTIMORE (AP) — Teams of engineers worked Saturday on the intricate process of cutting and lifting the first section of twisted steel from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which crumpled into the Patapsco River this week after a massive cargo ship crashed into one of its supports.

Sparks could be seen flying from a section of bent and crumpled steel in the afternoon, and video released by officials in the evening showed demolition crews using a cutting torch to slice through the thick beams. The joint incident command said in a statement that the work was being done on the top of the north side of the collapsed structure.

Crews were carefully measuring and cutting the steel from the broken bridge before attaching straps so it can be lifted onto a barge and floated away, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said.

Seven floating cranes — including a massive one capable of lifting 1,000 tons — 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats were on site in the water southeast of Baltimore.

Each movement affects what happens next and ultimately how long it will take to remove all the debris and reopen the ship channel and the blocked Port of Baltimore, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

“I cannot stress enough how important today and the first movement of this bridge and of the wreckage is. This is going to be a remarkably complicated process,” Moore said.

Undeterred by the chilly morning weather, longtime Baltimore resident Randy Lichtenberg and others took cellphone photos or just quietly looked at the broken pieces of the bridge, which including its steel trusses weigh as much as 4,000 tons.

“I wouldn’t want to be in that water. It’s got to be cold. It’s a tough job,” Lichtenberg said from a spot on the river called Sparrows Point.

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The shock of waking up Tuesday morning to video of what he called an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline falling into the water has given way to sadness.

“It never hits you that quickly. It’s just unbelievable,” Lichtenberg said.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

One of the first goals for crews on the water is to get a smaller auxiliary ship channel open so tugboats and other small barges can move freely. Crews also want to stabilize the site so divers can resume searching for four missing workers who are presumed dead.

Two other workers were rescued from the water in the hours following the bridge collapse, and the bodies of two more were recovered from a pickup truck that fell and was submerged in the river. They had been filling potholes on the bridge and while police were able to stop vehicle traffic after the ship called in a mayday, they could not get to the construction workers, who were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The crew of the cargo ship Dali, which is managed by Synergy Marine Group, remained on board with the debris from the bridge around it, and were safe and were being interviewed. They are keeping the ship running as they will be needed to get it out of the channel once more debris has been removed.

The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk.

The collision and collapse appeared to be an accident that came after the ship lost power. Federal and state investigators are still trying to determine why.

Assuaging concern about possible pollution from the crash, Adam Ortiz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, said there was no indication in the water of active releases from the ship or materials hazardous to human health.

REBUILDING

Officials are also trying to figure out how to handle the economic impact of a closed port and the severing of a major highway link. The bridge was completed in 1977 and carried Interstate 695 around southeast Baltimore.

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Maryland transportation officials are planning to rebuild the bridge, promising to consider innovative designs or building materials to hopefully shorten a project that could take years.

President Joe Biden’s administration has approved $60 million in immediate aid and promised the federal government will pay the full cost to rebuild.

Ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore remains suspended, but the Maryland Port Administration said trucks were still being processed at marine terminals.

The loss of a road that carried 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters, but also U.S. consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

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Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C.; Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tennessee; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed.

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The Texas attorney general is investigating a key Boeing supplier and asking about diversity

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The Texas attorney general is investigating a key Boeing supplier and asking about diversity

DALLAS (AP) — The Texas attorney general has opened an investigation into a key Boeing supplier that is already facing scrutiny from federal regulators over quality of parts that it provides to the aircraft maker.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said it began looking into Spirit AeroSystems because of “apparent manufacturing defects” in parts that “have led to numerous concerning or dangerous incidents.”

In a statement Friday, a Spirit spokesman said, “While we do not comment on investigations, Spirit is wholly focused on providing the highest quality products to all our customers, to include the Boeing Company.”

Paxton asked the Wichita, Kansas-based supplier to turn over documents produced since the start of 2022 about communication with investors and Boeing about flaws in parts and corrective steps the company took.

The request goes into detail in seeking internal discussions around Spirit’s efforts to create a diverse workforce “and whether those commitments are unlawful or are compromising the company’s manufacturing processes.” Paxton asked for a breakdown of Spirit’s workforce by race, sexual orientation and other factors, and whether the makeup has changed over time.

Since a Spirit-made door-plug panel blew off an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max in January, some conservatives have tried to link aviation safety to diversity at manufacturers.

Paxton is a conservative Republican who this week agreed to pay $271,000 in restitution to victims and take 15 hours of training in legal ethics to settle felony charges of securities fraud. Paxton did not admit wrongdoing in the 9-year-old case.

The Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation into Boeing Spirit after the Alaska Airlines incident. An FAA audit of manufacturing procedures in Spirit’s factory gave the company failing grades in seven of 13 areas.

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Boeing is in talks to buy back Spirit, which it spun off nearly 20 years ago, as part of a plan to tighten oversight of manufacturing in its supply chain.

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