Monday, March 30, 2015

Volunteering: What's the Big Deal?

Seems like everyone needs volunteers these days. As someone with kids in school, college students to fulfill service hours for my courses, and running a nonprofit which survives on volunteers, I am constantly in need or being needed to volunteer.  We live in a busy world with busy people. Technology has catapulted us into light speeds of tight schedules. There seems to be "no time" for many to do much of anything outside taking care of themselves, or their families and working. Is it possible to let loose and make the time to serve others? Why should we?

We are all on our own journeys. Journeys that lead us many different places.  People enter and exit your life to bring meaning and awareness about the world around you. Sometimes if we just let go,  take the time to help out someone in need, we find that we are not only having a positive impact on others...but, also on ourselves.

This is called volunteering.

This weekend at the STEAM Studio, I was once again reminded of how helping out someone you may or may not know can have a lasting impression. We hosted an incredibly bright group of youth through the HALO Foundation. These teenagers are currently homeless, yet their positive attitudes and excitement to explore were not only exciting to watch, but rewarding to work with. They learned new skills through coding/programming, and how to express their creativity by designing their own dream room.

Here  are what some of the volunteers had to say and points we were reminded of throughout our time together:

  • Open Up  
"I always enjoy working with HALO, because the kids have so many experiences that I didn't have at that age and their views and experiences of the world are quite different from my own.  Getting to share how we think about design and architecture felt like opening them up (as brief as it was) to another tool for their toolkit.  It was really a treat to see their imaginations run and discover how 'dope' a space could be." Grace Phillips, Gould Evans Architect

  • Just Come 
"When I showed up to volunteer at the STEAM studio yesterday, I thought I would be buddying up with a teenager to practice coding.  However, when less students showed up than expected, I was given a new task.  There was a need to organize the closet of materials that the students use for projects, and I happily accepted the challenge. Organization has always been important to me, because I think that having things in neat order can make any life challenge seem more manageable.  A clean and uncluttered space allows me to clear my mind and breathe a little easier.  Part of teaching will be remaining flexible, and my volunteer experience helped me put that into practice." Trang Bui, Kappa Delta Pi Member, Department of Education Graduate Student

  • Someone May Surprise You 
"They were engaged with something they didn't know how to do (coding and sketching) and the glimpse of the vulnerability spoke to me deeper than anything else.  Seeing them be uncomfortable or unsure of themselves but putting themselves out there with strangers was impressive.  While none showed enthusiasm at the start, I was thrilled with the amount of times I heard "this is dope".  Luckily, I know that is a compliment!  What I also appreciated was one young man being excited to earn a certificate after 1 hour of coding and wanted to share it on Facebook.  I'm glad sharing something academic that he was successful at proved to be worthwhile." Jana Burnside, Department of Education Graduate Student, Rockhurst University

  • Grateful and Not Taken for Granted
"In hindsight, there was great poignancy in these kids’ ideas, drawing dream rooms that are at once very removed from their day to day existence, and at the same time, extremely indicative of the fears and struggles that they face on a day to day basis.  We have to remind ourselves what it must be like to be in their shoes, having woken up that morning in a homeless shelter.  We all felt very connected during the event, but thinking more deeply about their ideas tells us how far apart our existences really are. We all need to be thankful for our blessings." David Reid, Gould Evans Architect and Designer of the STEAM Studio

After our new friends left the STEAM studio, Aubony Chalfant, a HALO Center Facilitator explained that she had a hard time convincing them to come that morning. She said this was typical of teenagers when encouraging them to try new things. But, she shared that none of them wanted to leave and asked when they could come back.  We all agreed that we didn’t want to them to leave either, and look forward to being together again.

Volunteering may take you next door, across town or to another country. Whatever you are chosen to do, whoever you choose to be with, no matter how big or how small, volunteering benefits both parties. It's not a formula, it's a feeling. You will walk away with a healthier attitude, a more open mind and making a difference in someone's life...especially your own. 

It's a big deal.
"We all need somebody to lean on..."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

LENT: How YOU Doin'?

We all enjoy our "Friends" who can help us laugh, support us and keep us stress free.

Who doesn't love Joey? He makes everyone laugh! Laughter is good for the soul. In fact, the Bible reads that "A glad heart makes a cheerful face," Proverbs 15:13. Have you laughed this past week during Lent?

Speaking of you doin'? How's your Lenten promise going? 

I hope this last part of Lent finds you free of stress, full of life,laughter and love for this season of renewal and growth, and above all, closer to God. But, we all know that springtime can also bring about some stress: busy schedules, Spring Break, Easter, new sports seasons, new interests and the end of school in clear view with summer in a blink of eye. Not to mention the daily texts, emails, phone calls, posts, and other mobile device distractions which can impede our Lent promise. 

Sorry, if I just stressed you out.

"So, no one told you that life was gonna be this way..."  

Stress. We all have it. Some more than others. How can we cope and avoid it?  Dr. Amanda Chaney,  a licensed, board-certified naturopathic physician who owns, Chaney Integrative Family Medicine and is the Wellness Director at Woodside Heath and Tennis Club, recently published an article about stress management. When I contacted her to ask for permission to publish her talented insight, she was thrilled to share her words of wisdom about this foe of ours.

Dr. Chaney explains, "Stress is an internal state, not an external one. There is no stress 'out there' in the world. Stress is in our thoughts about the world out there. If we ever hope to actually reduce our experience of stress in a lasting way, it can only be by changing how we think about our world."

Dr. Chaney's Tips to Manage Stress:

  1. Talk about it, or write it out, what's worrying you: One way to become more aware of your thoughts is to observe your stream of consciousness as you think about a stressful situation. Do not suppress any thoughts: instead just let them run their course while you watch them and write them down when they occur.
  2. Speak a stress-free language: People who handle stress well tend to employ what stress experts call an "optimistic explanatory style." They don't beat themselves up when things don't work out in their favor. Replace the word "expect" with "hope." Expectations can only be used for those things over which you have the greatest personal control. You can expect to quench your thirst with a drink of water. You cannot expect to get the job you just interviewed for. You can hope to get it.
  3. Don't be so serious: There's nothing like anxiety to annihilate your sense of humor. Remember that it's impossible to feel stressed when you're hunched over with the giggles.
  4. Once a day, get away: When you're having a hell of a day--good or bad--checking out for 10-15 minutes can be revitalizing. Find a place where you can be alone (definitely ditch the cell phone) and wipe the slate clean for a few minutes.
  5. Identify at least one good thing that happened today: It's a scenario played out every evening all over the country: come home from work and start venting to your spouse or roommate about your day. Instead of creating a negative atmosphere the minute you walk in the door, try starting off the evening with your family or friends exchanging good news. Something good happens every day!

Amen, Sister!

This Lent season and beyond: Don't stress, find a reason to laugh
It's free medicine. 

  • Three journal apps that can help with Dr. Chaney's first and last tips.
    • iMoodJournal-  This cool app is an ultimate mood journal, personal diary and charting too; It will help you discover the cause of your ups and downs and help you see insightful info into yourself.
    • Step Journal- Want to know yourself better? You can customize your dashboard and record events of your life. Choose activities you want to keep track on and Step Journal will keep it private. Or if you want to share excerpts from your journal you can easily do so through Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare.
    • Everyday TimelineThis app is a smart personal journal with photos, videos, maps calendar, checkins, tagging, search, etc. It can import your activities from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare. It backs up to Dropbox, Evernote or Email. It can work offline and sych automatically. It has a great feature “Blast from the Past” which allows you to remember what you were doing a year ago. Other details included in description and reviews.

SPECIAL THANKS to Dr. Amanda Chaney for sharing her wisdom about stress management and keeping us healthy: mind, body and spirit!

Here's some Uncle Kracker, who reminds us how natural, free and easy it is to smile.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Girly Girls: Let Them Be

Let's stop worrying about if she is a tomboy or a girly girl and focus on letting her be...
confident, genuine, happy and inspired to learn.

It's already starting...

"Mom, is pink a stupid color?" Um, what? That is the question my second grade daughter asked me the other day. So, I asked her why she would think that.  She started explaining that a few girls said pinkish colors were stupid and so was looking all fancy and "girly."  I asked her if she liked those colors and looking fancy sometimes. Without skipping a beat, she said, "Yes! Of course I do." Then my youngest daughter, piped in, "I don't!" We know she likes to wear blue and green, playing outside and get dirty. It's interesting, she's so confident acting more like a "boy" (some would call it). Yet, my older daughter is already questioning her choices in colors and clothes because they are more like a "girl."

At the STEAM Studio, we have been creating a balance, for all types of girls through our different programs. One of the clubs we offer: STEAM Club for Girls, is always favorite, it fills up very quickly. In fact, Kansas City Star wrote a fantastic article about us. My hope and dream is that these girls grow up to enter the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But, you know why they come? It's the art and designing piece.

Two startling facts: 
  • "Looking back to 1984, women represented 37 percent of all computer science graduates, and today, that number is 12 percent. Both of these trends are bad for women and minorities, who are at risk of being left out of the best opportunities, and bad for our economy as a whole. It’s well-documented that diversity of thinking breeds creativity, which we sorely need during this time of change." -U.S. News
  • "Government efforts to entice female students into science and engineering courses have failed. Data from UCAS reveals 87 per cent of new computer science undergraduates and 85 per cent of new engineering students are male." - Chris Phillips, Information and Research Director

What's going on? Why is it still difficult to encourage girls to get excited about STEM? Because they need the "A", from STEM to STEAM. Girls enjoy expressing themselves, being social (in many different ways). Many enjoy crafts, building and making things. Yet, often STEM programs are developed and the curriculum is written by men. Perhaps, these men have the best intentions, but do they know what it's like to be a girl?

Technology, science, engineering and math can be scary to both sexes, but rarely do we see companies and developers catering to the needs and wants of girls. Sometimes when companies do come out with a product which could encourage and inspire girls into these areas at a young age, they are slammed. Remember the "Lego Friends" controversy. People were coming from all angles, ridiculing Lego for making it so "pink" and "pretty." SO WHAT? There are many girls who would love to build a pink cafe out of legos and guess what? They can now!  I have one daughter who enjoys the Lego Friends series and my other daughter continues to play with her brother's Star Wars and action heros legos. Does that mean one is right and the other is wrong?

Of course not.

I enjoy dressing up for work. I will wear high heels until my feet give out. Working out is an event I look forward to everyday. Does that make me materialistic? Image conscious?

Of course not.

I buy and wear dresses in feminine colors, because I like them, not trying to make a statement. High heels usually come in fun and unusual styles, which interest me. If I didn't work out I would go crazy. I do it because it allows me to release stress and try to remain as healthy as I can. I'm a girly girl who teaches science and technology courses in higher education. I am a girly girl who geeks out over learning how things work and experimenting. What I wear and what colors I like don't define if I am interested in science, technology, math or engineering. My brain decides that.

When did pink become stupid? When did being a "girly girl" become bad? You know what encourages girls to enter STEM careers? Confidence, motivation, encouragement, hard work and the opportunity to do so, not their favorite color or what they wear.  It's important to offer activities which reach out to all girls, those who want to engage in designing and engineering more crafty products and those who would rather dig in the dirt or learn how to code. Those interests even overlap,so why not offer it all? What is not encouraging is telling a girl she needs to be less girly or less boyish.  Let's not make it a matter of looks or colors, but a matter of brains and what they would like to do with those brains.

I've seen the laughs, the smiles, the risk taking and the determination when working on the projects related to STEAM through the eyes of our future women.  Therefore, I will continue to research, talk with girls and find ways to promote our STEAM programs for them all. I know it's important; as a science and technology educator, as a woman, as a mom, and as a girly girl. 

It's a subject we need to deal with. 
You can bet I will put on my big girl panties and deal with it, 
who cares if they are pink or blue?

May we raise up girls who feel strong. Listen to this beautiful song by the Celtic Women, who sing "You Raise Me Up". 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Krishon: The Man With The Plan

Krishon is always on the move...helping others.

At the STEAM Studio, we expect and pray for helpful, motivated and professional volunteers. When I say pray, I mean it. We service kids, K-8 who demand and need our undivided attention. We are specialized in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. These volunteers just don't fall from the sky...

Or do they?

Let's be honest, as much as I enjoy teaching kids that come through the STEAM Studio and as much as I hope they enjoy being there, they aren't there to see me. They are there to have fun and learn, through hands on activities in the wide open spaces which inspire them to design, create, and evolve their ideas and projects. These kids love working with high school and college students because these relationships are unique and exciting to them.

About two months ago, I had contacted Brandon Jones, a friend and teacher at Rockhurst High School to interview some potential high school young men who could successfully support and develop the coding, programming, designing and risk taking curriculum at the STEAM Studio with me. But more importantly, be role models, be "men for others" and bring out the best in the future generation.

He connected me with Krishon Harris, a freshman at RHS. I have been in awe at how much sincere effort Krishon has put in with every single student he has worked with during the after school clubs. Beyond his hours at the STEAM Studio, he researches and practices with new technology he knows the group is interested in without me even asking. 

The kids look forward to seeing him each week. He exhibits calm demeanor when there are technical issues and many questions, and responds thoughtfully to everyone. If he doesn't know the answer he figures it!

This is Krishon-here is his plan for helping others.

How I Got Here
"I am so interested in technology because technology is always there to fix problems or give assistance, even if not necessary. I'm young, so I am always fixing technology, which has helped me become interested in tech."

Paying it Forward
I like that when volunteering at STEAM Studio I get to help kids learn stuff that I had to figure out myself through trial and error as a child. 

You Rang?
At the Rockhurst High School Tech Desk, I help students with their iPads, meaning if any problems arise, I help figure them figure it out. I also read and experiment with the iMacs during free times. I am most advanced in handheld devices, identifying computer parts, and troubleshooting Windows and Mac computers. I have no experience in computer engineering but have read enough to be able to figure out. 

Straight Talk: I Don't Know It All.. ( what kid in high school admits that?)
I have yet to learn a coding language and therefore coding is definitely a category I am learning more about. I predict that in the future, teachers will use technology to have lessons and videos  to help students outside of school and students can help each other.

Krishon is the real deal, the type of volunteer and role model you hope to appear in your organization. He doesn't fly by the seat of his pants, he always has a plan to help others. He motivates the kids he works with to soar and see their potential as he shows his own. I'm thankful God sent him to the STEAM Studio.

Believe in yourself and you can help others fly!

One of my favorite U2 songs "If God Will Send His Angels" 

U2 ~ "If God Will Send His Angels" '97 by seasonwitch