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

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.

Rest 

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

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.

ALEC




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!

ALEC




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.


INGREDIENTS

  • 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

INSTRUCTIONS

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

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