Category Archives: Community

We’re BACK!!

It’s been a long time since we posted here but we’re back! Well, we never really left, but things just got very busy with Maximizing Character…Yay! Since we left off in 2014, we’ve been busy cultivating character in our local community. We’ve facilitated after-school character development programs in the school system for two years, had three annual youth fashion shows, and for the first time, facilitated a life skills course during summer camp at the College of William and Mary! Can you say…Go Maximizing Character?! In 2016 we officially became a non-profit youth organization, a huge achievement for us, and we are not slowing down! We are looking forward to ending 2017 on a positive note and entering 2018 with exciting new initiatives for youth and families in an effort to cultivate character in every arena–home, schools, our local community and around the globe.

Speaking of around the globe, last month Maximizing Character participated in its 4th International Character Day! This year we decided to take the advice of the founders/organizers, Let it Ripple, and do a social media campaign featuring the hashtag,  Cultivating Character. This month we are spreading awareness about bullying prevention, breast cancer, domestic violence, juvenile justice and of course, the importance of good character during Character Counts! Week.

We hope that you will join us on this journey to do What’s Good by Maximizing Character! Until next time…Here’s to Character!

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Celebrating Family and Community Engagement

Family Learning Project

Family Learning Project

Recently Maximizing Character teamed up with the local public school system and local businesses and programs for the Annual Title I Family Learning Project. The event was held at the Air & Space Center. The objective of the event was to expose families to various educational opportunities within the school system as well as in the community. Goals of the event included emphasizing the importance of parent and community engagement and its impact on student success as well as provide a meaningful educational experience to the families, showcasing community resources and fun learning activities.

Families were also afforded the chance to tour the entire museum at no cost that evening. According to Ms. Epps, Title I Coordinator – Family Engagement, many of the families had never visited the museum or other community attractions possibly due to a lack of funds or knowledge of such places. Hosting the educational event at this popular area attraction was deemed a success according to the post-surveys that were completed by the participants.

Maximizing Character leaders and Character (Youth) Ambassadors attended the event, providing information about character education, life skills and community service opportunities with the program. The leaders and Youth Ambassadors greeted the children and their families, shared information, answered questions about Maximizing Character services and engaged the youth in an activity called “Know Your Character, Show Your Character”. Youth participants also had a chance to engage in coloring their own “All About Character” poster or take it with them. The children and families were encouraged to “Do the Right Thing, All Day… Every Day!”

The event proved to be a success and Maximizing Character was proud to be a part of the school system’s efforts to promote parent and community engagement! In a statement made during the event summary, Coordinator Ms. Epps said,

“Thank you all for another successful Title I Family Learning Project Event (this was our 8th year!) as we took over the Air & Space Center! The families were engaged with wonderful activities and resources and were VERY excited about exploring the exhibits. We had 739 participants! We also had 26 community vendors! Thank you again for all that you did to make this event a success.”

G.I.R.L.S. (Giving Individuals Real Life Solutions)

This past school year Maximizing Character had the opportunity to help establish a Girls Group with a group of energetic middle school girls. It was a pleasure to work with them as they were transitioning from childhood into adolescence. These young ladies were selected for the group based upon academic and behavioral challenges they had experienced. The objective of the girls group was to empower these future leaders, helping to keep them from “falling through the cracks” academically and socially. I had the opportunity to share my passion for character building while also teaching the girls to love themselves, enjoy their youth and invest in their education and future success.

Each Monday afternoon I would travel to the school, greet the girls who were usually finishing up their tutoring with college students from the local university, and begin our group session together. During G.I.R.L.S. Group, we engaged in activities and discussions about character development, boys, effective communication, self-esteem and other topics critical to this age group. I was truly “in my element” during those sessions. The girls asked questions about relationships with peers, boys, how to communicate with fussy parents and how to envision a successful and fulfilling life. Maximizing Character G.I.R.L.S. Group projects and activities included developing a “vision board”, role playing scenarios about bullying, communicating with peers and adults, drama-free living and open discussions about self-worth and how to interact appropriately with boys.

The program started off slowly, canceling a few of the first meetings due to low attendance and attempting to build new relationships with the diverse group of girls. However, after the Christmas break, the program seemed to take off, allowing me to interact more often with the girls and build camaraderie with school staff and the girls. By the end of the ten weeks, the girls appeared to be more comfortable with initiating discussions and activities with me, had improved their grades and behaviors and were eager to exchange social media information in order to keep in touch with me and the Maximizing Character Ambassadors.

On April 30, 2014, Maximizing Character graduated its first G.I.R.L.S. Group! The group had a small ceremony in one of the classrooms at the school where Mrs. Manning, the Student Advancement Coach, who implemented this program, the boys’ group, parents and volunteers joined together for a light dinner and awards ceremony. The Maximizing Character G.I.R.L.S. Group graduates were presented with a certificate of participation, a “Character Couture” bracelet and a bag of goodies. It was a great school year and I wished the girls well as most of them would advance to high school. As a result of the success of the M.C. G.I.R.L.S. Group, we were asked to facilitate the program again during the 2014-2015 school year! I am so excited about the opportunity to mentor a new group of girls!
Girls

Hope for Mental Health

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Advocating for individuals affected by homelessness and mental illness in Phoenix, Arizona at a National Healthcare for the Homeless Conference, 2008

Mental illness is real. If the recent events in the media haven’t caught your attention over the past 5 to 10 years, please recognize that there are an estimated 54 million Americans who are affected by mental illness. We must address its effects on our families, communities and nation. Those affected are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, neighbors and friends. It is imperative that society engages in the conversation about mental illness and how it affects those who experience disturbances in their thoughts or behaviors.  It is important that families talk about the reality of mental illness, no longer sweeping it under the rug for fear of the stigma, leaving our loved ones to suffer in silence or pretend that the mood swings and the voices in their head aren’t real.

For those who are experiencing mental illness, there is help. There are mental health professionals and agencies in just about every community across the country. There are family members, clergy and support groups to help individuals cope with mental illness. There is hope that more resources will become available as society becomes more knowledgeable and accepting of mental illness. There is also hope that our nations’ leaders will implement a plan to provide support and care to those in need. We need every member of our nation to recognize the warning signs of mental illness, know how to access the appropriate resources and how to cope. Let’s do our part to support and care for those affected by mental illness.

Helpful Resources:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/

www.nami.org

http://www.nimh.nih.gov

www.thenationalcouncil.org

Put Down the Phone!

I Forgot My Phone

Yesterday my co-worker shared a video (see the link above) with me that caused me to truly re-assess the way I spend my time and life energy. At first glance, it just looks like a typical day with people doing typical things, and in fact, it is typical…for this day and age. In each scene of the video there are cell phones actively being used. The video captures the essence of what has happened in our technological world. We are so busy using our phones that we neglect to truly engage in life’s moments.

I’ve heard many people use the term “live in the NOW” and I began to embrace this philosophy when I realized that television, computers and social media were beginning to take over my life. However, I have to consistently remind myself of this mantra because it is so easy to pick up the gadgets or turn on the T.V. to “engage” in the events of the day. The video demonstrates the sad reality that many of us have become disengaged with humanity. Not only have we allowed our phones and cameras to dictate our way of life, but we are missing out on the beauty and joy of engaging in memorable life events.

Remember that couple that got engaged on the beach in the video? At the very moment that his bride-to-be said yes, embraced and attempted to kiss him, the young man was engaged in taking the, oh, so popular “Selfie” pic. The scene with the children at the playground…one little girl was engrossed in some type of activity on her phone while she swung back and forth on the swings. And those two groups of people who were celebrating a birthday and having dinner…most of those folks had their heads down, interacting with their phones or were busy snapping pics and probably uploading them to some social media page. It was appalling to see, but it was so true.

After watching the short video I was ashamed at how many times I had been guilty of some of the same things. In my response to my coworker, I said that it should be everyone’s New Year resolution to put the phone down sometimes, especially during life’s most precious and memorable moments. We must exercise balance when it comes to technology otherwise it will deprive us of a wonderful, full life. Remember to live in the Now and Engage in Life with Humanity. During this New Year, accept the gift of the Present and Live!

Character Kids 2014

It’s a new year and a new opportunity to dream again! This year I’m excited about adding a youth council to my character education program. I look forward to seeing what great things will become of this merging of young and mature minds. I think that it is so important to allow youth to have a voice. I’ve learned so many things from my own children, like how to keep things simple when I want to make a “mountain out of a molehill,” or that I really don’t understand “everything” that they are experiencing these days in school, even though I’ve “been there, done that”. Sure, I agree, for the most part, that there is nothing new under the sun, but surely 21st century youth are experiencing some issues that those of us over 35 never imagined we’d have to deal with during our youth.

Take for example the terms, cyberbullying, road rage, knock-out, Internet, cell phones, website, tweets, Twitter, Facebook and any other 21st century term you can think of. They were unheard of when I was growing up over 35 years ago. We may have seen a form of road rage, and yes, cell phones and computers have been around for much longer than someone younger than 20 may realize, but most of these terms, issues and products did not exist, at least in their present form, 30 years ago. Youth are dealing with the age of technology, knowledge and major life issues that require consistent adult guidance, advocacy and wisdom as well as their own voice to express how these issues affect them. After all, they will be leading our world in a few years, so it is imperative for adults to listen to what they have to say and gain some insight into their perspective of life.

My hope is that the youth council will not only represent the Maximizing Character program by exhibiting good character in their respective homes and communities, but I hope that they will become global leaders. One way that I believe that adults can give youth an opportunity to express themselves and develop into productive citizens is through role play, service learning, mentoring opportunities, designing and implementing projects and through cultural arts. Through these modes of expression, youth can develop their communication skills, increase their capacity to lead others and develop social responsibility. 21st century youth also have an opportunity to make sense of their current environments, the world and establish a worldview.

I’m rooting for our youth and expecting great things from my group of character leaders as well as those children and young adults that we hope to impact as we promote excellence in character. I look forward to shining our light as we travel from school to school, community event to community event and even as we connect to children and families around the world in order to support an important cause or create positive change in areas affected by poverty, disease or injustices. Keep checking in with us this year to see what the Maximizing Character youth group is up to. Here’s to 2014! Elevation, Manifestation and Multiplication!

A Season of Peace

The holidays are chock full of activities and events from decorating and shopping to celebrating the season with parties and parades. Some of the most memorable holiday activities, however, are during the times spent with family and friends. Swapping old, embarrassing stories, listening to holiday music, joking around with family members and sharing holiday dinners are some of my favorite things to do with my family. However, for some people the holidays are not necessarily the best times of the year. For some individuals, the holidays may evoke a time of sadness, loneliness, indifference or bitterness due to the loss of a loved one, old family disputes, or growing up without a family to share the holidays with. Holidays may even evoke feelings of anxiety at the thought of dealing with difficult family members, co-workers or acquaintances. Despite these feelings there are some positive ways to handle such circumstances that allow one to enjoy the season and interact with others with an attitude of “peace, good will toward all men.”

There will always be some outspoken, unpredictable member of the family or a colleague who just has to compare the children, make unrestrained comments about someone or some sensitive subject or overindulge on the holiday beverages and pick a fight with someone. And yes, there’s Cousin “so and so” and Uncle “you know who” who just irritates everyone. Don’t shy away from the holiday festivities because of a few unique individuals in your circle. Instead, treat yourself to some good company, food, laughter and great memories. After all, laughter is good medicine and each of us deserves the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry!

There are some positive ways to enjoy oneself during this and all seasons without allowing the past or certain individuals to hinder your joy. The first thing one can do is to take a deep breath and decide that nothing or no one will stop you from experiencing the goodness of life. It is always a person’s choice to not participate in holidays or certain traditions. However if there is a desire to participate but one of the aforementioned reasons has been a hindrance, choose to move past those reasons and enjoy this time making new memories while continuing to cherish the former (good) ones. Prayer, meditation, exercise, listening to music, reciting a special scripture or affirmation or browsing and reminiscing through old pictures of loved ones who have gone on before us are ways to cope with the holiday season. Whatever seems to give you comfort and joy, tap into those resources and celebrate well.

Sometimes spending time with family and friends, even the most difficult ones, is better than isolating oneself and feeling miserable. The shared time with others is great encouragement. If you did not have a family unit to celebrate with while growing up or at some point in your life, consider celebrating the holidays with close, trusted friends or co-workers or if you are old enough and have started your own family, create your own special memories that will be handed down and cherished for generations. And for the family member or co-worker that “plucks your nerves” as some of the older folks would say when I was growing up, greet them with a short salutation, a smile and move on if you can. Avoid getting riled up and jumping to your defenses too quickly…sometimes that’s just what the other person is looking for…some type of response to keep things going. Obviously one must stand up for oneself if, for some reason, something is said or done that clearly is unacceptable and has to be addressed. Remember to guard the Golden Rule and refuse to focus your energy on “foolishness”. If they happen to spark up a conversation with you, listen to what they have to say rather than tune them out but keep your guard up, you don’t want to get caught up in negative talk. Change the conversation or politely move on. When it is all said and done, let Love guide your relationships!

A Big Payback

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Today I shared a special occasion with one of my niece’s. Today she signed her National Letter of Intent to receive an athletic scholarship! I was a proud aunt and family member. The informal ceremony brought me to tears. This was my “baby” sister’s daughter and it was such a blessing to see my sister reap the rewards of her good parenting, mentoring and support. As I engaged with the family, taking pictures, videos, sharing hugs and congratulations, I realized that this occasion did not happen by chance. It took a lot of years of preparation and dedication to get to this day and this is just the beginning.

My sister and her family have spent many years playing sports, mainly basketball and football. There were other sports in the past…soccer, t-ball and baseball, but my niece, who stands at 5’10 ½ according to my sister, was drawn to the game of basketball. My sister played the sport during middle school and continued throughout her college days at the shipyard apprentice school. I guess you could say that my niece decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She was awkward for many years on the court, learning the rules of the game and how to maneuver her body at the same time. She played each season faithfully while keeping her grades up…at least until mid-high school when, one day she woke up and her friends, boys and “all things teenager” finally sparked her attention. Despite a few setbacks, my niece got her grades back up and continued to play the game and pursue her goal of playing college ball.

Just like many parents whose day is encompassed with school activities and sports, dance lessons, music lessons and other extra-curricular activities, my sister, her husband and their children successfully managed to participate in sports and other activities while maintaining good grades and still find time for family and friends. Sometimes I wonder how they do it, but over the years I watched my sister and her husband effectively and lovingly communicate and organize their schedules so that their children could get to and from practices, get dinner, homework, attend church and other daily events and keep their sanity.

One of the other things I noticed about my sister and her husband is that they are not overly obsessed with winning or their children’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely encouraged competiveness and they keep note of their children’s stats, but there is a balance of good sportsmanship and personal drive in their children. As parents they never yell at the referees, coaches or their children. I’ve watched them display patience with my niece, in particular, when others around them suggested that she be more aggressive on the court. My sister continued to encourage her to play her best and to be herself. I watched my niece play her favorite sport with passion, without the aggressiveness that sort of comes with the territory. My mother deemed my niece the “Gentle Giant” as a result of her laid-back attitude on the court.

This family, my family has truly demonstrated dedication, discipline, sportsmanship, patience, encouragement and support and faith. This day didn’t just happen because of talent and being in the right place at the right time, it is a culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice, practices and games, meetings, crazy schedules, fundraisers, volunteer work and travel. My sister and her husband have invested and sacrificed much time and money to enjoy the benefits of this blessing. I was honored to share it with them.

Got Character?

205_fairness-stickerDeveloping character can be a challenging process. It is not always easy to do the right thing when everyone else is “doing it”. As I mentioned last month, since I have started the Maximizing Character youth program, my own integrity has been challenged. I have been confronted relationally, professionally, spiritually, financially and physically to consistently do the right thing. Don’t worry. It’s a good thing. I’m up for the challenge.

There are times when we all want to fit in and not necessarily stand up or stand out. In most cases, we want to blend in with the crowd at the sporting event by wearing casual apparel as opposed to a tuxedo or ball gown. Ok, that wasn’t a good example, but hopefully you get the point. Kids, for example, want to fit in by wearing the latest designer clothes and shoes or they don’t want to be the snitch that tells the school administrator what they know about the latest school crime. For me, starting a program focusing on people’s character has been a challenge in and of itself. I’m challenging myself and others to do a self-evaluation of the behaviors and motives that cause us to do what we do. This is not always a popular topic in society. People actually want to hear about the latest “dirt”, scandal, celebrity gossip or breakup. Stories that involve a lack of character seem to hold the spotlight more than the good news that peers through the rubbish.

As I watch the news and observe the lack of character in politics, business and entertainment as well as the increase in violent acts—increased bullying, children killing their peers and adults, acts of suicide as a result of being bullied, youth acting out dangerous and even life-threatening scenes from the latest video games or movies, I have to ask myself, what can I do to help reduce the occurrence of these events? Obviously I can’t help everyone, but I can create positive change in my sphere of influence. In the past few months I’ve learned that it is fulfilling to be able to take a stand for what I believe in. I believe it takes a resolute mind and steadfast determination to do what is right, walking in integrity.

As I encourage myself, I also encourage my readers to continue to do the right thing. Don’t quit. Don’t forfeit the intrinsic benefits that come with possessing good character. Commit to developing a better you, not only the external you that we as a society tend to focus on, but also the internal you, the essence of who you are and want to be in order to make a positive impact in the world. It starts with one. Got character?

Flowers for Causes

Happy Character Counts Week! In honor of this special week I spent some time with some special girls to make Flowers for the Causes. My friend Shawnie invited me back to another Girl Talk session to create paper flowers in honor of National Bullying Prevention and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I jumped at the opportunity to share with her cheerleaders again because not only did I have a blast during last month’s visit, but we had the opportunity to also celebrate Character Counts Week!

I was amazed at the fact that the girls had never made such flowers before. Some had never heard of or seen this particular craft before. I learned how to create these little flowers as a young girl with my mother and during a few activities in school. I had to quickly remember that the times have changed and that arts and crafts are not necessarily at the top of a teenager’s list of things to do these days. After briefly providing directions and showing the girls an example of a flower I had previously created, the girls began to delve into the project.

The girls kept me busy, distributing tissue paper, ribbons and scissors and helping them fold their paper, accordion style, in order to get the flower to “blossom” just right. As I assisted the girls with their project, I listened to their responses. Some of them were frustrated about how their flower was evolving, while others were excited about their creation. I made sure to provide extra care and assistance to the girls who were having difficulty creating their work of art. By the end of the Girl Talk session, most of the girls were amazed  at how a few pieces of paper could be transformed into such a beautiful creation.

Blue, Green and Pink were our colors for last night’s activity. Blue represented the Pillar of Character for the Day: Trustworthiness- meaning reliable, dependable, and deserving of trust or confidence. As my friends at Character Counts would say, “think true blue”. Blue and Green represented Anti-Bullying and of course, pink represented Breast Cancer Awareness. The flower making event was a fun and creative way to acknowledge and celebrate the causes. It was also a great opportunity to remind the girls that as growing flowers they must carry themselves with honor and worth, take care of their bodies and blossom in their various gifts and abilities. PhotoGrid_1382399130630