Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Future is Now...When Is That, Exactly?

A key concept we are consistently repeating to our students is that they are the future. The hang up is, most people are barely living in the present. If we cannot be mindful of our present selves, how do we connect that to our future selves? It's all about i n t e n t i o n. The world is full of hustle and bustle, where do we make our mark? How do we set those goals? All of these questions are part of the process of awareness and figuring out what it is that we must do in order to serve ourselves and our fellow people. If you believe in it, you can make it happen. The only person stopping progress, is you. Failure isn't the attempt to do something and it not working the first few, or hundred times. Failure is giving up.

Just something that has been on our minds at ALEC.

Our students are learning to overcome their obstacles, and so are we.

Stay Warm!

The ALEC Team

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A wrap on the first half of the year

Hello, it’s me, chiming back in! With the year coming to a close, I wanted to pop back in to reflect on a terrific first half of Brashear Kids After School programming.

Since I began back in August, I have certainly learned a lot. From getting introduced to Pittsburgh, Brashear, ALEC, our staff, Allentown, our partners, our neighbors, families, and kids, I have certainly had my hands full! Each day has been an adventure, and I am thankful for the wealth of knowledge and experience everyone has provided me with.

From homework help, to managing behavior, to dreaming up and facilitating Dude Time lessons, to watching other passionate educators engage with the students, and to watching these amazingly talented, incredibly kind-hearted, sometimes goofy kiddos learn, develop and grow each day... the past four months have surely been quite the treat. We could not have had as much learning, fun, or success without the help of our partners at Venture Outdoors, the YMCA Homewood, Strong Women Strong Girls, Big Brother Big Sisters, and many many more. 

A special Happy Holidays wish to my core team: Ms. Dianna and Ms. Christa! These two ladies have been so patient in getting me on my feet, and so inspirational with the unique talents they bring to this program. Without them, ALEC would not be nearly as amazing as it is today.

As we look towards the New Year, I cannot wait to see what it has in store. I look forward to continuing on with these adventures, meeting new faces along the way, and growing just a little bit with each step.

Happy holidays, and have a safe and happy new year!
Ms. Arielle

Monday, December 17, 2018

More Holidays at Brashear

The Holidays have continued from Halloween and moving into our December seasons at Brashear. December has been quite the month! We have had our Holiday Open House, The Holiday Concert at Grandview Elementary, and soon our Holiday party that we hold each for our ALEC students.


One thing you've got to give the staff and students at ALEC, is credit for being creative. Who knew you could turn a giant brick wall into a fire place? Now we know, thanks to Ms. Arielle. Each year we also like to customize or ALEC Holiday tree with ornaments that are handmade by our students. It isn't just the tree we put up every year, it's also the tree of every child that is a member of our ALEC family.

An example of a tree ornament made by one of our ALEC youth.

The Holiday Open House was held last Wednesday, our neighbors from The Hilltop Alliance joined us, as well as a very generous gift donation from the police officers at Zone 3. The gift donations that we receive go towards our annual Holiday Assistance Toy Distribution that assists families during the Holidays in the South Pittsburgh area. Find more information about that event on the Brashear website, The Brashear Association . 

This past Friday was also the Holiday concert. There was a lovely array of arrangements performed by the students at Grandview K-5. The ALEC staff always enjoys any opportunity to support our students in any way that we can. One of our 5th graders was also featured in a flute solo of Jingle Bells. 

One of our Grandview 5th Graders performing Jingle Bells on the flute.

Stay tuned for more Holiday antics at ALEC! 

Until next time, 

The ALEC Team 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Isn't it funny how most people automatically jump into a winter mentality as soon as November hits? Why is that? Maybe because of the early presence of Christmas decorations subtly switching our brains to snow, lights, ciders, school delays and family time. Whatever the reason may be, let's just pause and take time to remember that this is a very enjoyable time of the year, yet, can be also tense. There is a sense of urgency and impatience that seems to battle the spirit of helping your fellow person. Balance is a universal concept, one that we must learn to maintain ourselves.

It's very easy to fall prey to the rush of trying to make everything and then some happy for your loved ones, or, maybe you're feeling a little down due to some sudden complications. There is this pressure to be almost superhuman which can unfortunately, leave a lot of people feeling a little more stressed than blessed.

So, how do we take care of ourselves during these times? Using our ARMS, of course! ARMS stands for Acceptance, Rest, Mindfulness, and Self Care. ARMS is a self taught practice that I've learned over my few or many (depending on who you're talking to) years on this earth. A hard head makes a hard lesson, and it's very easy to relate to wanting to succeed above and beyond and really create the fantasy of joy that you want to experience with your loved ones and for yourself; Sometimes, you can't do everything.


Acceptance doesn't mean, settling, there's a huge difference. Accepting that you are doing your absolute best, and learning to acclimate to your environment inspires our brains to think creatively, quickly, and strengthens our ability to something great out of something not-so-great. This is a valuable life skill that can be learned at any point in our lives. The best method towards acceptance, is stepping back, taking note of your environment and trusting yourself to move accordingly.


A well rested mind and body is what keeps our immune systems working properly and also promotes a healthy mental state. Rest isn't just about getting a good 6-8 hours of sleep, it's also about knowing when to make time for yourself during the day to simply breath and regroup. Our culture is so based on rushing that it is seen in many communities as "weak" to take a few moments to yourself. The time you take during the day doesn't have to be long, it could even be a 10 minute moment to just have some quiet, listen tom music, take a walk, a snack break, whatever it is that comforts you and grounds you. If you aren't sure of what methods to try, YouTube is an amazing resource to finding methods of relaxing, either longer guided meditations or quick on-the-go sessions.


Mindfulness is the practice of living in the moment, awareness of yourself and awareness of others. Super easy, right? Not at all. It's easy to remember these positive notions when things are going well, when it's quiet, when you have control of everything around you and what to expect. The true practice of this comes when you're sitting on the Parkway during morning rush hour and someone decides that they're just going to cut you off without a turn signal. Or, while you're doing your holiday shopping someone bumps past you without even saying "Excuse me". It's easy to just assume the negative, that said individual (s) are rude and thoughtless. What about considering the possibility they might be having as hectic of a day as you. It doesn't excuse the behavior, however, it helps to have an understanding window before you jump into being stressed or irritated. These are things that will eventually build up and wear you down. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't acknowledge your emotions, actually the opposite. Mindfulness is acknowledging those emotions, and learning a healthier way to accept your situations and move on in a more positive and productive framing that is not only self preserving, it may one day help someone else realize something about themselves. 

Some ways to practice mindfulness is really starting to examine what makes you tick. Why do certain things cause stress, anxiety, fear, or anger? You might not ever know the reason why, and that's okay, but knowing yourself is what will put you on the path to gaining the ability to pause, reground, and move forward in a way that you deserve that will better yourself.

Self Care 

There is nothing wrong with selflessness, however, we must learn when to take care of ourselves. It's a lifelong balancing act. There is a difference between taking care of yourself, and only thinking of yourself. The best way to be selfless, is to make sure you are able to take care of yourself so that you are able to be there for others when it's called upon. A great way to start such a routine is taking some time in the evening to pamper yourself, find something that you enjoy where you can unwind and reset. It's best to start this routine before you go to bed, as it will help relax your muscles and quiet your mind.

Hopefully, you're able to try practicing your ARMS, and like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it will be.

Take care of yourself during the holidays and the rest of your days.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Friday night was our annual Fall trip to the Pittsburgh Benedum to enjoy the opera, this year, it was Hansel and Gretel. Our Partnership with the Pittsburgh Opera has been ongoing for quite some time now, and it is really a great opportunity for our youth to see what else Pittsburgh has to offer and perhaps discover a new interest that they might not have realized they were into. Even one of our students has performed as an extra in the past. It is nearly impossible not to have a smile on your face when you see the excitement of everyone, even the parents! We are so grateful for this partnership and their generosity with the Brashear Kids through out the years. 

 Each year, we have a prep class called an "Opera Workshop" we have a fabulous instructor, Ms. Marilyn, come in to summarize the performance for the students which includes: a study guide, getting to know the main characters, the history of the writer, its origin, as well as some sound samples from the performers as well as opera house etiquette. 

Hansel and Gretel is originally written by The Brothers Grimm, a famous pair of German writers. The original story is a little darker than the more popular versions that we are familiar with. Engelbert Humperdinck (try saying that one ten times fast!) composed a musical version that was transposed into an opera format that was a little more suitable for younger audiences. 

Despite the cold weather, everyone was all smiles!
Intermission time

Because of a no photography rule and the request of phones being turned off, we weren't able to take any photos during the actual performance. However, if you'd like to see some professional photographs of the performance, you can find them here.

Thank you for all of the parents that showed up to support our Family Opera Night, we hope to see you all again this Spring, and if you weren't able to attend, there's a chance in the Spring time. Performance info TBA.

Happy Veterans Day!


Monday, November 5, 2018

Learning to Celebrate Our Loved Ones

Last week was a packed week full of holidays including Halloween, as well as Dia de Los Muertos. Translated as 'Day of the Dead", Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. The holiday is predominantly celebrated in Central and South America, however, due to the melting pot that is the USA, we are learning more and more customs and the holiday is becoming better understood and celebrated by North American families.

So, what is Dia De Los Muertos? Day of the Dead sounds kind of scary and evil, doesn't it? Absolutely not, many cultures handle the passing of loved ones very differently. Some decide on more solemn sentiments while others celebrate the life their loved one lived, and understanding that their passing isn't a "Good bye" more of a "See you later".

This year, we taught the students about the holiday and it surprisingly helped a lot of them understand that it's okay to be sad, but to understand everyone has different beliefs, and one way to help them feel a little less sad is to celebrate their loved one, instead of only mourning them. We took this as an opportunity to learn some Spanish vocabulary, as well as cultural practices from our neighbors in Mexico. We crafted colorful calaveras (the Spanish word for skulls) into papel picados and recuerdos (papel picado is a small, colorful piece of paper that is cut, designed and attached to typical altars or items made to commemorate a passed loved one; Recuerdo means "memory").

There were plenty of touching mementos that provided some comfort for our students, as well as some hope that these thoughts from the heart are received by those we have lost.

No matter how you choose to honor a loved one, take this time of the year to reflect on the memories you have, let them know that you are thinking of them and they are still loved until you see them again. Most people unfamiliar with the purpose of Dia de Los Muertos would think that a bunch of a brightly colored skulls or altars with flowers look strange or wonder why a culture would celebrate something as scary as death. It isn't a celebration of death, it's a celebration of family, legacy, and life. 

Until next time, 

Miss Christa 


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Easy Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Happy N O V E M B E R , Everyone ! 

We have so many things going on ALEC that we can't wait to update you all on. Until those materials are ready, we'd like to share a recipe. As many of you know, we focus on healthy eating and lifestyle education to our students so that they may receive that key foundation and be introduced to it as early and consistently as possible. One of my favorite methods is introducing healthy as well as f u n snacks and foods that are also uncomplicated and easy. 

I have been vegan for almost 12 years, and I've learned that word either inspires curiosity, or avoidance. The great thing about working with kids, is that they are pretty much curious about anything. While it isn't my intent to push my personal dietary beliefs on others, I do like introducing our students to healthy alternatives and if they enjoy it, it's something they can take home and share with their families. If it's something they don't enjoy, they at least tried it and having that sense of open mindedness and understanding is vital to any person. As someone who has experimented with many cooking methods, one misconception is that vegan food is expensive, and it can be-if you let it. I am a big fan of stretching my resources and when I share recipes with our students, I take many factors into consideration; such as is these a recipe that will feed an entire family, are these ingredients near by, what is cost effective? These are things I'm constantly asking myself, I can only imagine what a parent or guardian would wonder as well. 

One of my biggest secrets is that I low key get in the pumpkin spirit. I might not be sporting Uggs or a Pumpkin Spice Latte, that doesn't mean I don't break out with "Pumpkin-Everything" recipes. Anything from Pumpkin muffins, and cookies to pasta sauce and curry. You can do just about anything with pumpkin. Since I don't have a personal pumpkin patch (bless those who do), I've found going to the grocery store and getting pumpkin puree works just as well. 

So, without further rambling, here is a quick and simple recipe for Pumpkin Spice Pancakes! 

Image courtesy of Simple Veganista

These vegan pumpkin pancakes are:
  • healthy
  • dairy free
  • eggless
  • fluffy
  • freezer friendly
  • ready in 15 minutes!
The ingredient list is minimal, with just:flour, pumpkin puree, a little sugar, non-dairy milk (soy, almond, cocout, or rice milk are great options), vanilla extract, spices (optional, nutmeg and cinnamon are always great with pumpkin) and baking powder.


  • 1 1/4 cups flour 
  • 3 tablespoons organic cane sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, or cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 heaping cup 100% pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 – 2 tablespoon oil, for pan
  • pure maple syrup, to serve


Pre-heat: Pre-heat griddle to manufacturers instructions, usually about 350 degrees for pancakes. Alternately, if using a stove-top griddle/skillet, heat over medium heat. Preheat oven to 200 degrees (for keeping pancakes warm), place cookie sheet on middle rack while oven is warming.
Mix: In a medium size mixing bowl, add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and spice, mix well. Add in the pumpkin puree and non-dairy milk, mix well.
Cook: Add enough oil to coat the griddle/skillet. Using a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop batter and place on griddle. Let cook about 3 minutes, edges will bubble slightly and start to look leathery, flip and cook another 3 minutes. Add oil to the griddle/skillet, and repeat until batter is gone.
Place finished pancakes on a the warm cookie sheet, place in the oven to keep warm while cooking the remaining pancakes.
Serve with syrup and you're ready to go!
Please remember, you don't have to make this recipe entirely vegan if you choose not to. Some may have certain allergies and these are great suggestions to substitute ingredients that you would normally avoid. I hope this recipe finds its way into many happy tummies! 
Enjoy the pancakes and the first day of November!
Ms. Christa 


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