Working with the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati I am so fortunate to be around people who are completely dedicated to enhancing the lives of others. I’ve seen so many children who in their brief years already have to learn out of necessity how to find their inner strength from overcoming personal hardships. They do that because of the nurturing guidance of YMCA staff and volunteers.
Rebecca Kelley, executive director of the Community Services YMCA, had shared this story with me. It’s a story she shared at the 21st Century Community Learning Center Conference in Washington D.C. earlier this year. Rebecca was speaking about the influence of supportive partners like JCPenney on her branch’s ability to help young kids succeed but the story itself is what inspired me.
could be any of a number of Cincinnati area children who benefit from YMCA led afterschool programs.
“Her smile captures your eyes first, then her dark brown eyes hold your attention,” Rebecca explained. “Monnasia attends the YMCA’s CincyAfterSchool program at her school, where she experiences nine research-based program components. With help from JCPenney tutor volunteers, she’s improving in math and reading scores. She enjoys expanding her knowledge and skills in global learning via the foreign language club, Skyping with students from Ireland, and salsa dancing that brings other cultures to life. She serves on her program’s Youth Advisory Council to develop her leadership skills and engage in service-learning. Right now, Monnasia is enjoying Cincinnati Public Schools’ Fifth Quarter, an extension of the school year for four weeks of instruction and enrichment delivered by school staff and community partners.”
Then Rebecca explained how the little girl so excited about learning told her YMCA CincyAfterSchool coordinator that drawing her self-portrait made her sad and proud at the same time. Monnasia was at the global family portrait project at the Cincinnati Museum Center; and, while she liked opening her mind to other cultures, it reminded her of incredible pain. The kind of pain no child should have to endure.
“You see, Monnasia’s family portrait looks different. She’s homeless.” Rebecca went on.
“Although Monasia receives support from caring adults and staff, as well as JCPenney’s generous gift cards for school supplies and clothing in the past, Monnasia has to think about which house she’ll be sleeping at this week. When her school principal and YMCA site coordinator announced she would be honored as one of 28 CincyAfterSchool All-Stars, she had to figure out more logistics than most 12-year-olds on how she would get to the event and make it safely to her lodging that night.
“In nominating her for our All-Star Award, the principal noted how Monnasia has discovered her spark through the YMCA ArtWheels program. She’s exploring college and career options already, and learning which classes she needs to take to fulfill those dreams in her eyes. She demonstrates care for others by reading to Kindergarteners and listening to 1st graders read. We know she’s going to succeed!,” Rebecca concluded.
Members of Miami University’s Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity walked 40 miles several weekends ago. A significant distance for anyone to trek in just two days, the fraternity’s Freedom Walk traced only a small portion of the brave and treacherous journey of their ancestors who escaped the deplorable conditions that were known as slavery.
Along the way, the eight students and some alumni passed known Underground Railroad safe houses and significant historic landmarks such as the grave sites of Underground Railroad conductors.
“The Freedom Walk was an awesome experience for everyone involved,” said Fraternity President Donovan Potter. “Reflecting on how we completed the 40 miles and experiencing the hunger and soreness that we felt, put it into perspective about how slaves had to endure all of that without the benefits that we dad. We were able to stop and get something to eat, readjust our shoes, and not have to worry about someone trying to capture us. It is very heart-warming to know that our ancestors endured the treacherous weather and wilderness just so we can have the life that we live today. This venture over the weekend is going to be an experience that will last us a lifetime.”
Kappa Alpha Psi also used the event to help raise money for the Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Donations are still being accepted. To give online, visit http://www.freedomcenter.org or send a check to The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) at 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202. The Fraternity asks that you please note on the check that your donation is on behalf of the Freedom Walk.
(pictured) Top Row : Stephen Buchanan, Greg Jordan
Middle Row: Alex Tyree, Donovan Potter, Andre Rudolph
Bottom Row (left to right): Callen Reese, Glenn Miller
Not Pictured: Tyrone Jones
It started out as any other day for the group of Bloomfield Elementary School students. That is, until the door opened and 130 pounds plus of pure love stood before them, his tail wagging like a windshield wiper caught in torrential rain.
Brock, the greater than life teddy bear whose mission in life seems to be spreading joy and friendship, is a jet black Newfoundland who has become quite a celebrity among school age children throughout Butler County area schools.
Together through reading and activities they encourage children to think responsibly and make good decisions. It was actually Robin’s idea – Brock just happily tags along. You could all his a job with ‘perks’.
They’re actually a small nonprofit called R.S.B. Character Education (created to help Robin raise enough funds to keep the program going) aimed at teaching kids lessons in character values. How do they do that? Well, Brock’s Adventures is a series of books drawn by Robin’s now 17 year old son featuring everybody’s favorite larger-than-life teddy bear and local recognizable venues specific to local neighborhoods. In the classroom, Brock sits quietly while Robin first reads a book to the kids sitting round and then has a discussion about choices. Petting and hugging times comes after they’ve listened and participated.
The second part of the lesson comes after Robin and Brock leave. Kids can earn the status of ‘Brock’s buddy’ by completing character building activities throughout the month.
Robin recently received a grant to produce videos for teachers, giving classes more flexibility in teaching the lessons. Through the video program students will earn a visit from Brock through their completion of character building exercises.
So what drives this mother of four – that’d be two human kids and two that have four legs (did I mention the Altyeo’s just got puppy Brody, another Newfoundland, to be a teacher’s aide also?) – to give so much of her time and energy to her program?
“I had worked for the Butler County Juvenile Court and saw so many young people making bad decisions that were life changing. To teach kids that they have it in them to make good choices is really rewarding,” Robin said. “I hope Brock’s Adventures helps them to pause and think about the consequences of their decisions.”
I’d say by the number of Brock’s Buddies – she definitely has.
For more information on Brock’s Adventures, please visit their website.
(right – Brock & his illustrator, Scott Atyeo)
Earlier this year, Ian Martin, a senior at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts, was one of 40 area teens recognized by the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati as a Character Award recipient. The Award recognized young people who exemplify the core values of the YMCA – caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.
Growing up in a single parent household for the majority of his life, Ian has grown to appreciate some of the smaller things in his life. As the oldest of four children, he made up his mind at an early age that he would be somebody great. Ian strives to constantly be a positive role model to his siblings and others around him. He has volunteered at the U.S. Bank Boys and Girls Club in Avondale since he was 13 years old, tutoring and providing homework assistance to children. Ian also served as president of the One Voice Poetry Club and Keystone Club. In 2009, he was selected as the Cincinnati Youth of the Year. Through networking he has established volunteer connections with Ceasefire Cincinnati at the Urban League and is currently part of the YMCA Cincinnati Youth Council as Vice Mayor.
I spoke with Ian about some of his life choices.
What motivates you to give back and be all that you can be?
“My mom is a single parent and I have three siblings. She is a strong woman and encouraged us to do better than she did, to go 10 or 12 steps above her. She taught me to aim for the sky. My mom also taught us to value the smaller things and always be grateful. I remember people who were extremely helpful to me and my family so I feel an obligation to give back. It is rewarding to know I can help someone like I’ve been helped. It’s a cycle.”
In my younger years I also had teachers who told me that material things didn’t matter. It is what is in your heart that matters.
What do have character values mean to you?
“I believe character values are the person you are, taking the initiative in your community, school and home to make them better. Character values are your motivation to succeed in all categories. They include having responsibility to take up actions that others may not be willing to do.”
Tell me a little more about your volunteer work and your passion.
“I had to grow up real fast and was always real quiet. I actually went to the Boys and Girls Club first before I became a volunteer. A woman there asked me if I’d consider poetry. I was the only guy in their poetry club but I found a passion for it. Now I write plays and monologues too.
As a volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati I help kids with their homework or we play games in the gym. It is helpful for them to have a youth there who can relate to them. I think I’m making a small but powerful impact and that’s more than good enough for me.”