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.”
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!
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.
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!
This weekend I had the honor of representing Maximizing Character at the Mothers Against Violence Walk for Life. We were one of the vendors sharing and educating the community about the importance of character-building in an effort to reduce the violent culture that exists in the surrounding neighborhoods. The event appeared to be a success although we were delayed in setting up and had to fight the windy conditions.
During the event an enthusiastic group of participants, young and old, met at the starting point, one of the city’s main department buildings and proceeded to embark upon MAVs 2nd annual Walk for Life. With a police escort and water depots situated along the path, manned by high school cheerleaders and other volunteers, the participants walked along some of the toughest streets in the city. Their purpose was to draw attention to the increased violence in the area such as homicide, gun violence and beatings among other crimes and the need to create positive, effective change in the community.
The walkers and volunteers, along with their police escort crossed the finish line donned with an arch of pink and black balloons as the vendors, including Maximizing Character and other community supporters applauded them. The walkers and community members held a brief rally nearby, featuring the founder of Mothers Against Violence and other community leaders who encouraged peace, change and shared stories of the lives lost to violence in this particular community. Pictures and displays of the victims and their stories lined the stage area. It was heartbreaking to see so many young people included in this memorial.
As the rally ended, community leaders and members proceeded to the “block” where the vendors awaited to share vital communication information such as victim and legal services, health and wellness, bullying prevention and educational, insurance and business information. Maximizing Character was among the educational services. We stressed the importance of establishing core values, starting with parents and caregivers teaching these in the homes. Teaching healthy respect and citizenship so that these behaviors spill over into the communities and schools was also encouraged. Our program emphasized that it is imperative that community members “take back their community” by setting expectations and standards in and outside of their homes. The hope is that eventually the incidents of violence in the community will be reduced. Maximizing Character founders and Junior Assistant conversed with community members, listening to stories of those affected by violence and offering a word of encouragement or directing them to helpful resources. We handed out character-building literature to the parents, encouraged good citizenship amongst the children sharing treats and giveaways with them, although most of the adults frequented our table for the treats too.
As the Walk for Life participants, event volunteers and community members circled the block to gather information, the final portion of the event had already begun the block party. People danced in the streets as the DJ entertained them with a mix of top forty, R&B and hip hop music. The food that was being prepared on the grill by MAV volunteers had a savory aroma that drew the crowd to form a line along the block. The people smiled and interacted with one another in a pleasant and neighborly manner. While it was a moving event, remembering the lives that were lost to senseless violence, Maximizing Character came to bring hope to the living. As we prepared to leave the event, I had the opportunity to meet the founder and say goodbye to some new friends. I thought about the vision at my church and smiled. Maximizing Character was fulfilling the mission of “building community, restoring hope and transforming lives”.