Monthly Archives: January 2011

South African Group Instills Song, Rhythm in Hearts

(Ashley Bradfield is a Program Instructor in the Scholars Program.)

As a new employee at For Love of Children, I had no idea what to expect on my first day of workshop training with my future students. My official title is Program Instructor, and I will be facilitating workshops for the next five months with a group of 8th graders and 10th graders in the Scholars Program.

After an interview with the staff, I knew this was a place I could see myself working, and working well. I have turned down countless jobs since graduating from college a year ago, much to the dismay of my frustrated parents and my empty bank account. But from the moment I walked into the brightly painted room, saw the smiling faces of the four women I would be working with, and met some of the students, something seemed new and exhilarating about this place.

The first workshop showed me that I couldn’t have been more accurate. Throughout the day on Monday I kept hearing buzz about some South African group that was going to be joining us. “Oh man,” I thought to myself, “I already don’t know what to expect and now there’s a group from SOUTH AFRICA coming?!……Sweet!” I guess it’s a good thing I like surprises because, in this line of work, we must be well equipped to take full advantage of surprises and teachable moments.

4 p.m. hits and the FLOC middle school students start flocking in. I introduce myself to a few and begin learning some names when I notice the smell of McDonalds wafting into the room. I follow the scent of Big Macs and french fries down to our largest room and find a group of youth I do not recognize. “Aha! The South Africans are here!” Now, I really start getting excited. FLOC students keep asking me what all the excitement is about. “I don’t know, but it is going to be awesome, super awesome,” I respond with confidence.

Once we are all situated in the room, our chairs and bodies facing the front where an imaginary stage has been set, Dr. Leslie Jacobson, theatre professor at George Washington University, introduces the much-anticipated South African youth group, Bokamoso. Bokamoso, which means “future” in the South African language Tswana, is a youth foundation that aims “to transform the lives of youth and empower community leadership in Winterveldt, South Africa” (www.bokamosoyouth.org).

Photo Courtesy of Bokamosoyouth.org

We are about to experience months worth of their hard work, reflection, creativity, and dedication.

A group of about a dozen youth, ages 19 to 26, gather at center stage and begin humming an internationally recognized tune, “Amazing Grace.” Already, I am impressed and moved by the voices of these youth–I can tell they harbor raw artistic talent. The next hour and a half I spend with them will only prove their talent even more.

After the opening “Amazing” scene, the group launches into a play that tells the stories of several young people from the town of Winterveldt who are coping with the issues that they are facing as they grow up. We meet a young woman who is struggling to take care of a dying mother and her siblings, while simultaneously supporting her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, an intelligent and promising young man, is given the opportunity by a hopeful professor to attend university in Capetown. He must decide whether he wants to follow his teacher’s dreams for him, or his own.

We see another young woman learning how to deal with the temptations of living in the big city of “Jo-burg” while staying true to her Winterveldt roots. The final character we meet is jealous of his friend’s opportunity to attend university. A talented cabinet maker, he is failing in school but has big aspirations for himself. He begs his professor for another chance, which he receives in the form of an apprenticeship with a local craftsmen.

The stories of these young people are bound by one common theme—the desire to achieve success. Throughout the play we are exposed to their personal struggles in reaching this goal. How will they attain success? What does success mean? Where will they find success? Who can help them reach their goals? Through rousing song and dance, Bokamoso shows us that success is different for everybody and that we are the ones in charge of our futures. They leave us inspired to create our own destinies, make our own choices and accept different versions of success, while also putting a little more song in our heads and rhythm in our hearts.

I left that Monday feeling extraordinarily inspired. Not only did I get the opportunity to experience the creative work of an incredible group of youth from all the way across the Atlantic, but I also got to see them inspire and excite a group of youth from right across the highway from my house.

The connections that were built and the amount of talent that the FLOC students were exposed to during this two-hour workshop are immeasurable. During our reflection period after the Bokamoso workshop, the 8th graders I spoke with were impressed and excited by all the upbeat dancing. This is great news for me, as I come from an artistic background and plan to incorporate all sorts of modes of creative expression into my workshops with them. I am now confident that my ideas will be a hit with this group. I feel blessed that my first workshop experience with FLOC was unique, and I am eager to continue the creative traditions and inspirational lessons that Bokamoso shared with us in their success play and interactive activities.

**The youth from The Bokamoso Youth Foundation will be giving a performance Friday, Feb. 4 at George Washington’s Marvin Center Theatre. For more details, please visit the events page of http://www.bokamosoyouth.org **

FLOC Students Meet First Lady Michelle Obama

(Natalie Torentinos is FLOC’s Recruitment and Outreach Assistant. She is currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.)

Two students in For Love of Children’s programs had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and get a big hug from First Lady Michelle Obama at the first National Mentoring Summit at The Library of Congress Jan. 25.

Michelle Obama delivered the keynote address at the summit and announced The Corporate Mentoring Challenge, an initiative led by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to encourage U.S. companies to launch mentoring programs, expand existing employee mentoring programs or provide resources to support local ones.

The corporate community is being called to action to bring one million new mentors and tutors to community programs over the next three years. The following national corporations have already accepted the challenge: Comcast, AT&T, Viacom, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Bank of America, Deloitte, Ritz-Carlton, Prudential, Travelers Insurance, IBM, State Farm, Jack in the Box, NIVEA, Great Wolf Resorts, American Eagle Outfitters, and HSBC Bank USA.

“This is a program calling on businesses of all sizes to allow their employees to mentor for short periods during the work day, giving kids positive role models and offering employees a way to give back,” said the First Lady.

“The idea that we have behind all these initiatives isn’t simply to create a series of one-time experiences for just a small number of kids. It’s about encouraging more caring adults to step up and make mentoring a part of their lives.”

The First Lady’s words and the summit’s purpose couldn’t have been better exemplified by its special guests.

Sitting on stage for the entire speech – just feet away from the First Lady, Cabinet Members Eric Holder, Kathleen Sebelius and Arne Duncan – was Anthony C., a fourth grader at Tubman Elementary and his FLOC tutor, Peter Hahn. Hahn is Vice President of National Engagement for United Way Worldwide, a founding partner of the Summit.

Former FLOC student Erica L. also attended, along with her first tutor, FLOC Executive Director Tim Payne. Erica is currently a sophomore at Montgomery College who has been connected to FLOC for the last 11 years.

“I never thought I’d have the chance to meet The First Lady face-to-face,” Erica said, adding that it was a special moment for her and Payne.

“Tim was my first tutor – I’ve known him and watched him grow, and he watched me grow too.”

“Who would have thought 11 years ago, some organization taking a shot on a young tutor and a special student would lead to opportunities like this? To see Erica and Anthony meet Michelle Obama was priceless,” wrote Payne.

The First Lady’s closing remarks at the summit encapsulate the experience of many FLOC tutors and their students, by saying that mentoring is “lend[ing] our experience and our wisdom in the hopes that it will give someone after us the strength to reach a little higher, and dream a little bigger.”

Thank you to Peter Hahn and the National Mentoring Partnership for giving FLOC this amazing opportunity! We look forward to working with you!

Urban Gardening: Maximizing Use of Small Spaces

(Lydia Hastings is working at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center as the Marketing AmeriCorps VISTA. She originally joined the OEC staff over the summer as the Kitchen Coordinator.)

With harsh winter winds and blustery cold conditions outside, it’s nice to bask near a warm, sunlit window. Spring is on its way, and right now is the perfect time to use that warm sunlight to start sprouting seedlings for your garden.

While most people are not thinking of their springtime planting with old man winter pounding on their door, the last months of winter are the perfect time to plan out your garden and start germinating seedlings. Whether your plants are destined for an outdoor plot or you are just trying to spruce up your home, now is the time to be thinking about getting plants ready for the spring soil.

Indoor planting can be tricky and growing an actual garden inside may seem overwhelming, but urban gardening is completely feasible with the right knowledge! The first thing to think about is location. Generally, plants tend to do best when they are able to get outside and be in direct sunlight. If your home has a balcony or small porch that could hold plots or boxes, these locations would be perfect for a garden set-up during the warmer months. During these colder months, however, a sunlit window or choosing plants that thrive in shaded areas is preferable. Finding a good location in your home will allow your plant to flourish and provide a friendly atmosphere.

The next step is choosing your plants. This means planning out your garden space. Just like when you design a room, you should try to design your garden. Are you looking for plants to add color to your house or do you want your garden to be more practical, with herbs for your cooking? Do you want to snack on the fruits of your labor, with plants such as strawberries and peppers, or are you looking to brighten up a room with greenery and flower displays? Try searching your local greenhouses and garden shops to get help with types of plants that may be best suited for your end objective. Also, look into seed catalogs, such as Seed Savers Exchange or Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, to help you get a larger scope of plants and seeds that are available to you.

Along with designing the plant variety is the planning of the containers. If the ultimate goal for your seedlings is transplanting them into an outdoor plot, then small germinating containers may be all you are looking for (discarded yogurt containers work great for this.) If your plant needs a more permanent, durable structure, then there are several options to consider. Whether it is boxes or pots, hanging baskets or antique heirlooms, make sure it blends aesthetics with functionality. The last thing you want to do is kill your plants by placing them in too small of a container–or in something that will not allow for proper water runoff. If the container does not have a hole in the bottom to release excess water, try putting two inches of gravel on the bottom of container so the root systems are not drowned in excess water.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! Many plants thrive in symbiotic relationships — this means plants deposit or use certain nutrients in the soil while another plant benefits from those contributions. Some examples of symbiotic relationships are the combination of growing parsley and tomatoes in the same soil or strawberries and spinach. Roses with garlic are a great symbiotic pair and so are beans with most herbs. By doing a little investigating you will find many plants thrive with the interaction of another species. This concept is called Companion Planting and it allows for plants to work together to increase the yield and growth within their lifespan.

Bring a little of the outdoors and springtime inside your home during these cold winter months. Have fun with your garden and be sure to look into local venders to see what grows best indoors. For more information or inquiries about the Outdoor Education Center’s garden projects, contact Lydia Hastings at lhastings@floc.org.

The MLK 25 Challenge

On Jan. 17, volunteers all over the country celebrated the 25th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Day by participating in various service projects for schools and nonprofits.

To promote public service year-round, the Corporation for National and Community Service has launched the MLK 25 Challenge, asking all Americans to take at least 25 actions throughout the year to serve their communities and help others.

You can learn more by watching this video.

Follow this link to see a list of 75 possible ways you can serve.
http://mlkday.gov/twentyfive/index.php

Volunteers Give Back on MLK Day

(Natalie Torentinos is FLOC’s Recruitment and Outreach Assistant. She is currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.)

Volunteers all over the country came together on Monday to pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy by making a difference in their local communities.

On the 25th Anniversary of the Martin Luther King Day, often celebrated today as a day of service, For Love of Children was honored to host 35 volunteers from Greater DC Cares. This nonprofit organization is one of the region’s largest volunteer coordinators. For the MLK Day of Service, volunteers were recruited to paint a tutoring space and assess the reading level of children’s books for FLOC’s library.

Pamela Clarke, volunteer Project Manager with Greater DC Cares, coordinated the project at FLOC.

“Throughout the year we try to honor the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King by giving back to the community,” Clarke said, “Today we are mobilizing 2,000 volunteers for community service projects in DC, Maryland and Virginia with schools, non-profits, and soup kitchens.”

Greater DC Cares recruits volunteers by utilizing an online system of regular volunteers and organizing community outreach efforts to connect with new ones. Volunteers are often encouraged to build teams for service projects.

“We reach out to universities, other non-profits and corporations for volunteers. Corporations also provide supplies like paint or ladders. On the calendar we have about 175 non-profits we regularly work with, but at other times we have as many as 300,” Clarke said.

Azundai Chatman is a dedicated DC Cares volunteer who helped create a spreadsheet of leveled books so they could be added to FLOC’s library catalogue. She regularly participates in service projects on MLK Day, and wore her shirt from last year’s project at Cornerstone Elementary School in Southeast.

“I was looking forward to doing something a little different this year,” Chatman said. “I heard about FLOC before and wanted to come. I’ve heard it’s a good organization.”

Working alongside Chatman was Shaylen Foley, a volunteer in her second year with DC Cares. She too wore clothing from last year’s service project, evidenced by colorful spots of paint splattered on her jeans.

“I felt like, I have a day off work this year, so I might as well do something worthwhile with my time and give back,” Foley said.

Another book leveler was Josh Lasky, a first-time DC Cares Volunteer who came with The George Washington University’s Ultimate Frisbee Team, made up of current students and alumni members.

“Obviously it’s an important day for everyone, but our group has been aligned towards service for as long as I can remember,” Lasky said. “We’re about having fun, but we’re also about doing things together so we can give back. During our alumni weekend, this is good thing to do. This is my first year doing this, but the movement is growing. More people are signing up this year.”

Lindsay Mason helped paint FLOC’s tutoring space, transforming it from a lavender shade of purple to a bright daffodil yellow. A social worker by trade, she feels strongly that it takes everyone to give back to their respective communities.

“We’re all working together as a team,” Mason said of her fellow painters. “It’s a lot of fun.”

One of those painters, Tori Pearson, is also a social worker and in her second year participating in the MLK Day of Service.

“Some just see this as a day to stay home from work. For me, I would like people to look at the bigger picture – this is a day to give back,” Pearson said. “This is what Martin Luther King stood for, bettering our communities and helping others.”

From everyone here at FLOC, we’d like to thank all the volunteers who came out to do just that.

To learn more about Greater DC Cares, please go to http://www.greaterdccares.org/HomePage/index.php/home.html.

Leaders in Action Students Learn Vital Wilderness Survival Skills

(Lydia Hastings is working at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center as the Marketing AmeriCorps VISTA. She originally joined the OEC staff over the summer as the Kitchen Coordinator.)

It was a chilly, cold evening, with snowflakes flying through a sky full of shades of gray, when eight Leaders in Action students pulled into the parking lot of the Outdoor Education Center for their end of the season Wilderness Skills Course. Luckily for the students, they were greeted by smiling faces, a warm fireplace and hot cocoa to indulge in. Instead of the bitter cold elements of old man winter, the students would spend the night in the cozy warmth of the OEC’s Lodge.

The students came to the Center to participate in a weekend-long Wilderness Skills Course and wind down from the hustle and bustle of their fall semester. For most of the students, this was their first introduction to the OEC and a new experience of being away from home for a night. LIA staff and students made the most of their time by playing entertaining games and enjoying the warmth of the fire as they relaxed in the lounge. They roasted s’mores, popped popcorn, watched movies and by the end of the evening all were ready to climb into their bunks and sleep the night away.

The following day marked the beginning of the wilderness survival skills session. With the sun up and winter gear on, the group made their way into the chilly elements to test their knowledge of basic survival skills. Each student received an essential ‘Survival Kit’ and they were taught how to use the tools found in the kits. Later they learned different techniques for building a fire out of materials found at-hand as well as the importance of building shelters and how to create different shelters in different areas. The students were able to show off their newfound knowledge when they were split into three teams and asked to create their own shelters. Working together and building leadership skills, the students collaborated on their wilderness refuges. After the shelters were constructed using natural material found in the woods, the group got a chance to look at each other’s shelters and explain their own creations. Prizes were awarded for the different elements the students incorporated into their shelters, ranging from “The Most Rustic” to “The Most Luxurious”.

The students also learned how animals survive during the winter months and the importance that camouflage has on both protecting animals from predators and allowing animals to catch pray. This idea was reinforced when they had to then camouflage themselves in the wilderness to keep for being ‘spotted’ by their peers during a hike in the woods.

Overall the students learned invaluable tools at the OEC that they will be able to take with them in life. Armed with new skill sets, not only for the woods but for working together in the world, the LIA students are more prepared for upcoming challenges. The OEC prides itself on teaching the values of sustainability and cultivates imagination in all who wish to find it.

OEC’s Land is Full of History and Silent Pleasures

(Lydia Hastings is working at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center as the Marketing AmeriCorps VISTA. She originally joined the OEC staff over the summer as the Kitchen Coordinator.)

A common theme resonates with the hundreds of people who visit the Outdoor Education Center’s (OEC) wilderness retreat every year – punctuated by peaceful wind through the trees or the running waterfalls — and that is the unfamiliarity of being surrounded by woods and wildlife. It’s easy to take these silent pleasures for granted and assume they will be there for all generations to enjoy. However, it takes a lot of foresight and planning to ensure that these areas stay as pristine as when the early settlers found them.

With population growth and land development on the rise, there are fewer wilderness areas and open spaces around Washington, DC. Despite these trends, the OEC and Rolling Ridge Foundation (RRF) have made a wilderness experience possible in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Children and adults alike can come and reconnect with nature through the dedication of the RRF and foresight of the Niles family, who purchased and donated the acreage to ensure this land would not be developed. Instead, it would be utilized for education and the enjoyment of nature.

Henry and Mary Cushing Niles are to thank for this great contribution of land the OEC now enjoys. They first bought a parcel of land on rolling ridge in the early 1950s for a second home. As the years passed and their love for the area grew, so did the acreage. The family continued buying small parcels of land and by the 1970s, the property’s boundaries reached upwards of 1,400 acres. The Niles’ wished to have the acres open to the public for education purposes. They wanted to see it continue to stay wild and have it enjoyed by all who visited the property. It was around this time the Niles family created the RRF and turned over 600 acres to the foundation. The RRF began leasing the land out to nonprofit organizations looking to expand on outdoor education and humanitarian purposes.

According to Anna Hess’s Natural History of Rolling Ridge, by 1993 the entire property was handed over to the RRF, with the exception of a few acres that were sold to the National Park Service to add to the Appalachian Trail Corridor. In 1971, For Love of Children began leasing some of the property in order to bring inner city DC students out into the wilderness for exploration and adventure.

Today, the OEC leases 250 acres of land (in addition to the 100 acres owned by FLOC) and still brings students into the field to experience nature. The OEC is dedicated to showing their participants the most authentic wilderness adventure experience possible. The Rolling Ridge property is an invaluable parcel of land filled with enchantment and the silent pleasures its visitors can enjoy for years to come. Without the foresight of the Niles family, none of this would be possible.