Monthly Archives: December 2011

Goodbye 2011

Goodbye 2011! You were a year full of great moments and near tragedies. Each day created new memories, all locked away in my heart for future reference. There were lessons learned and wisdom passed along. I began several pursuits, some were completed and others are left for the new year.

One of those that will continue will be this blog. I began several months ago with the goal to write two times a week on topics that touched my mind, body, and soul. I’ve found this blog to be something that I look forward to writing, a worthwhile effort that gives as much back as the time I put into it.

I want to thank the people who took the time to read what I’ve written. To those who have commented, thanks for your feedback. You’re always welcome to come back, and it never hurts to share what you’ve read with others.

Goodbye 2011!

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Filed under General Interest, life

Holiday Message

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! As I write this I’m on my way to spend quality time with my family in Virginia. This holiday season has been a blessing for my family and I, with much to be thankful for. I realize that every year is different. I experienced new challenges, each more complex than the next. The successes I’ve had have each been more fulfilling than the last. No doubt this past year has been the best of all my years on this earth. I wish the best for you and your family as we prepare for another year. May you reach the goals you set and may you find a new level of happiness. Good luck and God bless in 2012!

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Filed under General Interest, life

Summer Food on the Move

When the kids are out of school the heat on parents turns up.  I referred to this yearly event in a previous blog as the Parental Heat (PH) Index, an unscientific measurement of stress and concern parents experience when thinking about what to do with their children over the summer.  One concern, among the many, that go through a parents’ mind is what to feed their child.  Now that is an obvious, every day, consideration that parents have but it is multiplied two times over when summer arrives.

Consider this – During the school year a parent can get their child dressed (sometimes a challenge within itself), out the door, and onto the school bus without having to feed them.  That parent can do that because of the National School Breakfast Program (NSBP).  Additionally, that parent doesn’t have to worry about feeding their child at lunch because of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).  Parents can feel secure that their child will get two meals at school.

Indeed, this was the purpose when the National School Lunch Act was created in 1946, as it was purposed to provide “a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children…” (P.L. 79-396).  For the parents of 22.3 million children that security evaporates during the heat of summer.  For these parents, the free and reduced meals that their child was getting during the school year are gone now that school is out.

Just like sunblock, a solution was devised to ease the summer heat families feel.  The Summer Food Service Program was authorized by congress in 1975 to get food into the stomachs of hungry children when school is not in session.  However, in 2011, only 3 million children received a meal.  Why?

Challenges to getting kids to sites that serve summer meals include:

  • Children’s lack of interest in leaving home, or needing to stay home to care for a younger sibling
  • Lack of awareness of the program
  • Lack of activities to keep kids engaged
  • For rural areas:
    • Transportation
    • Limited concentration of children
    • Limited ability by local organizations to prepare meals locally
    • Dislike with accounting and paperwork required
    • High cost of the program overall

I live in a rural county in southwestern Florida, where the challenges facing the summer food program are evident.  In a nearby town, the only grocery store recently closed.  Now people who relied on that grocery story have to travel 20 minutes to reach the nearest grocery store.

Yesterday I asked the following question to the folks who blog over at The Hunger Forum: What can be done to get summer meals to kids in my area, especially considering the added challenge of living in a rural area?  They’ve already posed the question to their readers and received some great feedback.  An idea with great potential came from CitySquare in Dallas, TX.  CitySquare has collaborated with several other organizations to run “Food on the Move”, a mobile summer food service program.

I can’t wait to see what other replies The Hunger Forum receives, but I also figure why wait.  I pose the question to you readers, what creative ideas do you have to solve the rural challenge?

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Filed under General Interest, hunger, poverty

The Parental Heat Index – What’s your level?

I know it’s still December but that doesn’t mean it’s not too early to start planning for the summer, especially if you’ve got kids.  As a child summer was a great time, a break from waking up early in the morning and a chance to have more free time.  However, when you’re a kid you can’t understand what summer means to your parents, at least not until you become a parent yourself.  I’m a parent now and I see the other side of summer, the side that as a kid I was blind to.

Summer can be a stressful time for a parent, especially those that work full time.  The kids, who would usually be at school most of the day, are now at home with nothing to do and it’s the parents’ responsibility to fill that empty time with something constructive.  That responsibility is made even more challenging to fulfill because you still have to go to work, bills still have to be paid and food still has to be put on the table.  Parents of kids all ages face this dilemma, which I’m referring to this as the Parental Heat index – PH for short.  PH levels rise to a 10 when parents are most concerned about their children, such as when a kid get their driver’s license, and lowers to a 1 when a parent is least concerned, such as when a child is sleeping.

PH levels rise considerably during the summer for all parents, but especially for those that are low-income earning.  The activities which kids can get into may not be an option to low-income parents because there is a fee.  There’s no more school breakfast or lunch, so the kids of low-income parents are now eating more from home.  If the child is young, 5 or 6 years old, then there’s no way a parent can leave them on their own.  If the child is older, 15 or 16 years old, then a parent may spend their day concerned with thoughts of what their adolescent teen is doing.

I have great memories of my summers growing up, but also memories of parents going to work and gone for the workday.  I managed to stay out of trouble and never once came close to burning the house down, although my little sister sure tried once.  That’s right!  She once microwaved a bag of potato chips, fried the whole microwave, and had the entire house smelling of burnt electrical wiring.  This fact, having multiple children not microwaving potato chips, can cause the PH levels to go through the roof because now there is a concern of what to do with all the kids.

The challenges and stresses of low-income parents don’t go without solutions.  Great programs exist to help low-income parents.  The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program is one of them, and it’s a program that I’m currently exploring to address hunger in my area.  In the county that I live 77% of school age children would qualify for the program.  77%, that’s a percentage that blew me away when I discovered it!

I implore you to see what’s going on in your local area, especially during the summer when PH levels of so many adults go on the rise.  Let’s work towards keeping the PH levels reasonable.  To me the Summer Food Service Program is a solid place to begin.

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Filed under hunger, poverty

I’m Choosing to be a Teacher

I recently read a blog posting titled Choose Teaching – be a teacher by Mike Tidd, a teacher in the United Kingdom.  Mike is a geography teacher and his blog is focused on education in the UK.  The title of his blog is what caught my eye and inspired this posting that you’re reading.  I was recently offered and accepted positions to teach as an adjunct professor at both Miami Dade College and Broward College starting in January 2012.  My decision to be a teacher is an interesting one.

Almost a year ago, in January of 2011, I first stepped foot on the North campus of Miami Dade College (MDC).  I was there on my first day as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.  I’d never been to MDC and my thoughts driving to the campus that day ranged from the usual – “where am I going to park” – to the silly – “what will my new colleagues be like”.  As I walked around campus that first day a feeling of comfort and ease washed over me, I knew that I was in the right place.

I came to MDC to positively impact the lives of students, and I believe through the work I’ve done with VISTA I’ve accomplished just that.  In June 2011, about half way through my VISTA year, I began looking for opportunities to remain at MDC.  I felt like there was much more to be done, more lives to be touched and more dreams to be fostered.  It was around this time that I met a retired professor, she’d taught for 30 years at MDC, and although retired, still taught a few classes a year.  She and I had a conversation about her teaching life, and afterwards she encouraged me to look into teaching at MDC as an option.

Her encouragement was a revelation to me, I’d never thought of teaching as something for me.  As a matter of fact when I think of teaching I think of my 4th grade teacher, she was my favorite teacher in grade school.  I met with other fulltime professors over the summer to get their input and thoughts about what teaching at MDC meant to them, and to better understand the role of teachers at the college level.  If I was going to decide to teach then I was going to give it all my effort.  In September I decided to submit my application to MDC, shortly thereafter I also applied to Broward College.

I’m choosing to be a teacher because the mission of the college fits perfectly into my own personal experience – Opportunity Through Education.  I’m choosing to be a teacher because I believe in investing in the future of others, I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if someone hadn’t invested in me.  I’m choosing to be a teacher because I want to make a help someone reach their goals of graduation and personal growth.

Above all other reasons, I’m choosing teaching because I care.

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Filed under education, Miami Dade College

True Challenges and Difficulties of Earning a College Degree

Growing up on an Indian reservation allowed me to recognize the value of education and compelled me throughout my college years to stay focused on earning my degree.  I’m proud to be one of the first in my family to be able to say I’ve succeed in college.  Until recently, after joining AmeriCorps VISTA, I believed I’d overcome difficult challenges in earning that degree.  Working at the Miami Dade College Single Stop program has forever changed my perception and given me first-hand knowledge of the difference a college degree can make to people living in poverty.

When I visit classes at 8 a.m. it is not uncommon to find students who have just gotten off the graveyard shift trying to refocus for the days lecture.  Just after 5 p.m. I see the tired faces of people who have just worked all day walking in from the parking lot.  In between those hours I’m speaking with students who face outside the classroom issues such as homelessness, hunger, and health problems.  These people have given the words difficult and challenge new meaning to me, and their determined pursuit of a degree is their defining characteristic.

Despite their determination, those outside the classroom difficulties and challenges can prevent them from achieving their degree.  It’s difficult to study at night when the light bill hasn’t been paid.  Who can think about chemistry or trigonometry when there’s no food in the refrigerator?  Paying for books or tuition becomes secondary when the rent is due.  These students lack access to resources, and that is where the Single Stop program comes in.

Single Stop is a program that connects students to government benefits, such as SNAP, and offers them free access to financial counseling, legal assistance, and tax preparation.  I’m charged with several responsibilities at the Single Stop program, primarily SNAP outreach and volunteer coordination.  Building the volunteer program from scratch has not been easy, at times it has hectic and confusing, but it has been rewarding and beneficial for my efforts concerning SNAP outreach.

Since my VISTA year began in January of 2011 I’ve been able to recruit and train 141 student volunteers and I’ve supervised their completion of 1921 volunteer hours.  Each of these volunteers has assisted Single Stop with SNAP outreach.  Whether it was providing a friendly face at an information table in the student services building or welcoming students into the Single Stop office, each of these volunteers has helped to progress the mission of Single Stop and Miami Dade College.  Each of these volunteers has given their time to help address the difficulties and challenges that many students at Miami Dade College face.

The students that attend Miami Dade College are more than capable of earning their degree.  With a program such as Single Stop, and the volunteers that support it, addressing their outside the classroom issues attaining that degree gets closer to happening.

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Filed under americorps VISTA, Miami Dade College

Greatest Lesson of Howard Schnellenburger

When I became part of the football team at Florida Atlantic University in 2003 I knew a few things.  I knew there were winning, losing, and the next game.  I knew there was passing, running, blocking, and tackling.  I knew there were touchdowns, field goals, and safeties.  I knew I wouldn’t be scoring any of those touchdowns, field goals, or safeties because I was an offensive lineman.

Enter Howard Schnellenburger.

I first met him in his office at FAU’s Tom Oxley Center, the walls were covered with pictures of past success and there were football artifacts all around the office.  I, being 17 years old at the time, was completely overwhelmed.  I’d never actually spoken to him before then, so when he used his voice to say “Hello” I went from feeling overwhelmed to feeling emasculated.  His presence filled the room and he told me to call him Coach, which I do so to this day.  Coach offered me a scholarship to attend FAU and play football at the end of that first meeting, I gladly accepted.

Despite all that I knew, what I did not know was the significance of football to life.

My freshman year at FAU was the most challenging time for me, both on the field and in the classroom.  After putting on the pads and starting practice I realized that I was mentally and physically not ready to play in a real game.  After starting classes I felt challenged and ill-equipped, my ability to get the grades I’d desired was not developed.  I considered quitting football during this first year to focus on just classes, it felt like it was all too much to handle for my 18-year-old mind.

Despite what I knew, I’d yet to learn what dedication and perseverance meant for success.

FAU’s football program was fledgling, only having just playing its first ever game in 2001, when I arrived.  I’d watch college football on T.V. all my life.  There were huge stadiums filled with fans, competitive games, with players and teams celebrated for their success.  All FAU had that resembled that was a football, pads, and helmets.  There was no history, no games on T.V., and no stadium.

Despite what I knew, Coach had a vision and a dream for FAU.

The years that have passed since 2007, my last as a player for FAU, have allowed me think about what playing for Coach meant.  I bought into the team, committing myself to our on the field success, and was rewarded with a conference championship and bowl victory.  I devoted myself in the classroom, improved my self-expectations and grades, and have since gone on to graduate with a master’s degree.  All this was predicated by the vision and dream of Coach, a man of foresight and armed objectives.

Coach retires from FAU and football two days from today.

His greatest lesson is that to live a life of significance you must be dedicated and have perseverance to achieve the vision and dreams you set forth.

Related Articles:

Schnellenberger learned from legends before becoming one. (Sunsentinel.com)

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Filed under college football, FAU, reflection