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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.”

Speak Life!

I believe that our words frame our world. We should be careful about what we say about ourselves and to others because those words will produce a positive or negative product. If a parent tells a child that they are worthless long enough the child may begin to first think and then believe that they are worthless. If you confess that you are sick all of the time or constantly tell yourself that you don’t have what it takes to accomplish your goals, 9 times out of 10 you are a sickly person or you are not satisfied with your life. Remember, if you don’t want it, don’t say it. Commit to changing your language and speak life into the atmosphere. Speak positively over your life and over those lives that you have been fortunate enough to connect with.

I’ve had to learn this valuable lesson the hard way. Growing up I did not understand this principle so I said whatever came to mind, good or bad: “I’m broke,” “There is no way that I can accomplish that!” “I’ll never finish school, this is taking too long!” And so…I was broke, had low self-esteem for a period in my life, causing me to stop pursuing my goals and I had mismanaged my time and resources in my early years of college because I was focusing on the wrong things. While the situations in my life may have been true at that point in time, it did not mean that they had to be that way forever. I had the power to change my life with my words – spoken as well as written…I just didn’t know it.

Flash-forward 20 years and I’m living a Wonder Full life, I’ve accomplished many goals that I had set for myself as a teenager and young adult and I’m on a mission to continue to leave a positive legacy on this planet. My life began to take a positive turn as a result of changing my language about myself and the world. I became more aware of the words that came out of my mouth and the words that I began to write on paper…goals, visions, positive changes that I desired to make in my life. I envisioned the life that I wanted and I began to produce what I saw. No, my life is not perfect and I still have to be mindful of what I think and say. No, it’s not magic but I will declare that it all happened by faith~my unwavering faith in God. A faith that convinced me that God would hear my specific prayers, hear the words that I spoke into existence and see the words that I frequently wrote about the life I desired, and honor them. My Pastor and Teacher taught me that “everything begins with a thought.” When my thoughts changed, then my Words changed and my Life changed. If You Don’t Want It, Don’t Say It, but if you Do Want It…Speak It Into Existence! Speak Life!

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!

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?

Bullying: Our Experience

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month. During the course of this month I hope that readers will take this opportunity to participate in the discussion about this nationwide concern. All across the nation schools, organizations and the media are tackling this topic in hopes of making people aware of its prevalence and to provide strategies to reduce the occurrence of bullying behaviors. Although the issue of bullying has become a national issue in recent years, bullying is not a new issue. It has been going on since the beginning of time. However, in this day and age, bullying has evolved into a form of violence that not only plagues youth and young adults, but it occurs among adults in the workplace and other arenas. Additionally, with the evolution of technological advances, cyber bullying has emerged, causing a whirlwind of problems such as suicide, low self-esteem among youth and other forms of violence.

The issue of bullying is one that I know all too well. Not only have I known individuals and groups who have been affected by this issue, but I was a victim of bullying many years ago. My twin sister and I dealt with bullying during the 70’s and 80’s. Although times have changed and we did not have to experience cyber bullying, the effects were still the same. Hurt, fear, lack of confidence and low self-esteem are just some of the feelings that come to mind when I think about being bullied.

My sister and I did not deserve the pushing, shoving, name-calling, lies and rumors that took place in an effort to hurt us or provoke fights. I’ll never understand what went on in the minds of the elementary and middle school aged students who bullied us. I remember asking the loving adults in my life why this was happening and what had we done to deserve the hateful behaviors and comments. We simply wanted to make friends and go to and from school safely.

I’m sure that there are children (and adults) out there today who shared some of the same feelings I did thirty years ago. Last year one of my sons experienced bullying for the first time as he entered middle school. He recalled being fearful of going to the bus stop and to ride the bus. There were all sorts of “initiations” for the new comers and it scared him. Initially I had no idea that there was a problem. The school year got off to a good start. However as we entered the third or fourth week of school, he began to have asthma attacks and spent several days home from school. For the next month or so he would ask to stay home, citing that his stomach hurt or that he was not feeling well. One day it occurred to me that something was wrong. I had gone through a similar situation with my oldest son and it wasn’t until I opened up the lines of communication and asked questions that I was able to find out what was really going on.

My son revealed that kids were hitting others at the bus stop and on the bus. He, and the kids his age, were being told to switch seats and were often being “removed” if they did not get up. My son shared that one of his biggest fears was coming home after school, especially on Fridays, deemed “Freshman Fridays”. He shared that the older kids would chase them off of the bus and hit or beat them up as part of the “initiations”. I was horrified and it broke my heart to know that my son was experiencing this.

My son’s account of what was going on, mainly in my neighborhood at the bus stop, brought back the memories of my own experiences with bullying. I remembered that my mother advocated for my sister and me when we were bullied. She went so far as to go to the police regarding one incident. I truly believe that because of her actions, support, encouragement and positive affirmations, my sister and I are women who are now thriving in life. We have been able to move on, learn from the experiences and help others. That being said, I went straight to the school. We were blessed to receive the prompt support and response of my son’s school administration. When my son experienced another potential incident, this time during school, his sixth grade assistant principle stepped in again to squash the situation.

I hope that the bullying awareness and prevention goes beyond the month of October. In the meantime, I urge you to support the various activities, events and discussions that may take place in your community or online. Most of all, I encourage you to stand up for those who are experiencing bullying or may be potentially targeted.

Restoring Hope for the Living

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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”.

Character Not Violence

MAVEventThis weekend I will be participating in a Walk-for-Life with a non-profit called Mothers Against Violence. As I prepare for the event as one of the vendors for their block party, I thought about the message that I want to share with the parents and their children. This event will be taking place in an urban community where violence is commonplace. While this event seeks to bring awareness to the violence that is rampant in our local community and all over neighborhoods in the country, I want to bring a message of hope.

Violence is such a general word with so many meanings. In this day and time violence is everywhere. It is evident within private homes, in our schools, the workplace and of course, the media (you didn’t think I’d leave them out did you?). Violence equates to murder, abuse whether physical, emotional or verbal. It can be domestic or international. And by the way, yes, bullying is considered a form of violence. I’m not only referring to the nationally recognized issue that schools and communities are so diligently fighting to end, I’m also referring to the type of bullying that takes place daily among adults in the form of domestic violence or other forms such as intimidation in the workplace.

Since my passion is to make a difference in the lives of youth and families, I’ll stay in my lane and focus on the connection between character and violent behaviors. I believe that character begins in the home with the primary caregivers. Whatever you are doing and saying, trust, that if there are children in the midst, they are watching and learning. With that being said, the example has to start with the adults. We all know this, but how many of us pay close attention to our response when someone treats us unfairly in the checkout line, cuts us off on the highway or inflicts some type of injustice upon us? Our precious resources, youngest citizens and future leaders and caregivers behave based upon what they have seen and know from their day to day experiences. If hitting, yelling and cursing are behaviors that they see and hear regularly, chances are they are going to do the same thing. I’m amazed at parents who behave this way at home and then act amazed, even dumbfounded when their children begin school and in a matter of days they get a call from the teacher reporting poor behavior. This behavior did not just show up at school. In most cases, the behavior was already going on or manifested as a result of what the child learned from the only examples they have ever known.

During this upcoming event my goal is to remind parents and children that violence is real and that the different forms of violence can be reduced by making positive changes in their daily behaviors and attitudes. Establishing values in the home, teaching and modeling respect, responsibility, honesty and fairness and other values are ways to start helping children develop character. Spending time with the family conversing about potential dangers and exploring solutions, engaging in necessary safety drills or role playing in order to learn conflict resolution skills are other ways that youth and families can reduce violence. And might I add that sometimes it’s the caregiver who needs to be taught or re-taught some basic character virtues in order to produce a non-violent, compassionate, intelligent, talented and productive life that influences their children. As I join Mothers Against Violence in the Walk-for-Life this weekend, share information and have a little fun in the process, I hope that families will leave with a sense of empowerment to take back their homes, communities and schools.