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 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween at ALEC

Hello and happy Halloween! This is Ms. Alex, here to talk about what we've done for Halloween here in Allentown.

The last few weeks at ALEC, we've been getting into the spirit of Halloween with different parties and activities for our students and for the community.

We were so lucky to have some students from Duquesne University come visit the Brashear Kids during our Halloween party to hang out and share treat bags with all of our students. We played music and had a dance party, played "Ghost in the Graveyard," and painted pumpkins! (Which were actually acorn squash, but that's okay.) 

On Monday October 21, we held our Lights on After School event at Grandview Elementary. This was a chance for us to invite our students, their families, and our friends from the neighborhood to join us and have some fun with our community partners.

We had guests from Venture Outdoors, the Y Creator Space, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the United Way, and the Hilltop Alliance Methodist Church who all brought activities and information for everyone who attended.

Our own Miss Christa had a craft where students could decorate calaveras (the Spanish word for "skull") and learn a little about Dia de Muertos. 

Students were also able to decorate trick-or-treat bags to carry around the event and collect treats and candy. Think pre-Halloween trick-or-treat (because why just get candy once?).

Today is finally Halloween, and our students will probably be super excited to leave after-school with us to go home, dress up, and get as much candy as possible. I can't say I blame them!

Happy Halloween from all of us at ALEC! Be safe and have fun!
-Miss Alex 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Down the Rabbit Hole With Miss Christa - Why the Loud and Rude Kids Are Our Future

Hello Hello and Happy Tuesday!

With Halloween (my absolute FAVORITE) holiday coming just around the corner. I was thinking about who I might want to be. Does anyone remember Rufio, from the movie Pan?

I was so influenced by Rufio's character and it hasn't been until recently where I've actually reflected on the reason behind that; Rufio was a natural leader. He was strong and took on the responsibility of his brothers to make sure they were safe and happy in the absence of their original leader. Rufio went through a magnificent metamorphosis throughout the movie. Initially, he was headstrong, arrogant and frankly a little rude. When he realized that these traits weren't productive for him, he changed his tune and became the leader that he truly was.

My experiences with varying youths have shown me those very qualities. Youth that are seen as stubborn, rude, bossy, or simply marching to the beat of their own drum are sometimes seen as disruptive. My question is, how are we helping those youth grow into the leaders that they have the potential to be? Are we providing a structured environment that encourages thinking outside of the box, but also being mindful of how their actions effect others? Are we saying "Stop yelling, stop being so rude?" or, are we maybe actually hearing what the youth is saying and finding a way to redirect that energy?

While difficult at times, I believe it is possible to recognize "negative" behaviors, and find ways to redirect those behaviors into qualities that will benefit the youth displaying them and teaching them how to use those qualities for something constructive for themselves and their community. Our leaders

I was raised to embrace being myself and learned from an early age that it's okay to be different and there will be people different from me. That is one of many lessons that I am eternally grateful for learning. Just like everything else, every one has a role to play and there is a niche for our personalities. It's all about finding what fits you.

Because I had some amazing influences in my life I was able to value my unique personality and use those abilities to help those around me.

So, the next time you come across a Rufio, or maybe you're raising or teaching one right now, not all hope is lost. It takes a village to raise a child <3

Take care, Everyone

Miss Christa

Saturday, October 6, 2018

All About the Dudes

Some of our dudes... just being dudes!
Hi there! Ms. Arielle here. I wanted to jump in and share with you all one of my favorite moments of this week: Dude Time!

This week, we had our first round of Dude Time. Dude Time is an hour of the week dedicated to
providing our boys an opportunity come together and unwind.

As someone who is trained as a teacher and used to working in classrooms, I have been getting a bit of the teaching bug while watching all of our amazing outside partners and AmeriCorps teachers facilitate lessons with our kids. While I am so fortunate for all of the work that our teachers put in (shout out to Mr. Ryan, Ms. Kelly, and Ms. Emily from Venture Outdoors, Ms. Julia from the YMCA, our mentors at Strong Women Strong Girls, and of course Ms. Alex and Ms. Christa,) I sure have been itching to teach a lesson or two! I took the opportunity to lead Dude Time this week, and it ended up being even more rewarding than I expected.

This unit, Dude Time will focus on super heroes. It turns out that behind those cool suits and neat
powers, super heroes have a lot of life lessons to share with us. This week, we honed in on the fact that even super heroes have weaknesses. Yes, you read that right, super heroes have weaknesses too! As part of the lesson, our boys defined weakness and discussed different weaknesses that super heroes have. We then transitioned into discussing that if super heroes can have weaknesses, it’s probably okay for humans, adults, and young boys to have weaknesses too! Our next step in the discussion was to identify our own weaknesses. My question to the boys was, “What are some weaknesses that you, or just general people in society have?”

One of the things I love about our Brashear Kids is how silly and playful they are. With that being said, I was fully prepared for some goofy answers to this question. I was not at all prepared for what would happen next. Right away, the boys dived below surface level and revealed some of the biggest
weaknesses that they currently battle with. From struggling with asthma, ADHD, and anxiety, to being fearful of getting hurt or falling behind in school, our boys put on their brave faces to discuss their weaknesses with each other.

I’ve always known that all kids are pretty special, but it was right at that moment that I felt truly inspired by our dudes. I have no doubt that they’re going to turn into spectacular young men, and I cannot wait to watch them unfold throughout the year.

And with that, I am done raving about how proud I am of our kids……….. for now. I’m going to pass the mic back to Ms. Alex and Ms. Christa!

Until next time,
Ms. Arielle

Friday, September 28, 2018

Whew, What a (First) Week

Well, here we are! It's a Friday, and that means we finished our first week of after school programming. We made a lot of new friends, and our returning students met some new faces as well! 

We wasted no time jumping right in to homework time to make sure our students completed all of their work, and we also had some fun! 

Miss Arielle getting involved with some students. 

On Monday, we spent some time learning names and making sure everyone felt welcome here at ALEC. 

On Tuesday, we did some activities to brighten things up around the center! We made cards for Miss Maggie and her baby, wrote biographies about the students, and took pictures of everyone to hang up on our walls, so that everyone feels like a part of the team here.

All of these students let their personalities show in these pictures.

We learned that worms can be cool!
On Wednesday, students were able to pick between making art with Ms. Christa and gardening outside with Ms. Alex. This was a way to practice picking an activity to stay with for a 5-week period, like we will when programming with Venture Outdoors and the YMCA starts, and an opportunity for students to have choice in their day. 

On Thursday, we learned about Oobleck with Ms. Christa, and she discussed viscosity and physics (some really cool stuff). We then made sure everyone finished all of their homework for the week, and then went into free time! This allows the students have some time to decompress and choose their activity for an hour.

We had a great first week, and we can't wait to see what next week has in store for us! We're very excited to start working with all of our outside partners.

See y'all on Monday!



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