A Year in Review

The alarm went off at 4:00 am, seconds before the telephone rang for the wake-up call. We had 25 minutes to dress and get down to the lobby for our shuttle to the airport. The early morning hustle, while familiar to me, was a burden to Jonesy who prefers the 6:30 wake up. It was easier to jump out of bed this morning than my normal roll out because a week in New York City was the reward for the early hour.

Last year, I began this blog. The goal to write daily. I hoped to gain 10,000 followers my first year. I made one of those goals. 11,000 people have checked in this year and I am grateful. My daily writing was replaced by a sporadic offering. It seemed as just as the blog found its rhythm, life became a little more complicated. Hectic to the point of it being difficult to find the time I wanted to sit and put thoughts into words. This complicates the writing process.

However, the things that have pulled me away from this project have given me perspective and experiences, I believe, will enrich this space for the better heading into the second year.

In July, I shared the story of Speciose Nyiramana. As a result of that interview, I became the Chairman of the Board of Foundation for Connecting Communities. This 501c organization has the mission of connecting low-income, minority, and immigrant families to established American families for mutual socio-economic success. Through the Family2Family mentorship, families are sharing in life together. The Foundation provides services to help new American families better succeed in their new home. With a focus of helping establish employment, financial security, community involvement and cultural understanding, FCC’s mentor families are explaining American financial systems, helping with employment applications, teaching those with no experience how to use the appliances in their homes, and explaining why there are so many choices at the grocery store. In return, the mentee families are sharing cultural understanding and insight to their home countries. Mutually beneficial, this program is changing lives and communities for the better. It has been the most rewarding position of my life.

With a heart for children, I knew I wanted to be involved with the children of these families in a purposed way. Specy, in our interview, stated,”I have a dream of having a place where our families’ children can go to get help with school, become connected in real ways to American kids to help in their success.” From that conversation SMILE2 was formed. A program of FCC, SUPPORTING Minority, Immigrant, Low-Income students through Educational Empowerment (SMILE2) was born.

Each week, 31 new-American kids come together with about 12 peer and adult volunteers, as well as a myriad of invited guests , to work on Math, English Language, Reading and Leadership skills. Meeting each Thursday night from 6-8, as a community, we work together to improve interpersonal communication skills, but actively seek to fill in the gaps many of our students have as they enter the school system. Our students range in no English language to extremely fluent, but lacking in literacy and reading comprehension. Our goal is to improve these basic skills to give them the confidence and foundation that is needed for success inside and out of the classroom.

In addition, we provide enrichment opportunities through trips like taking our students to do question and answer sessions with authors like Kwame Alexander and visiting Lipscomb University to see theatrical performances of Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse. We have special guests who introduce the children to a range of activities and experiences like yoga, cooking, dance, and art. The children have received guests like officers from the Police Department who shared what training is needed to become an officer and medical professionals sharing instructions on dental health and disease prevention through hygiene.

These kids, ranging in ages from 4-18, as well as the volunteer kids who are middle school and high school students have become a rich part of an already full and blessed life.

These programs have been where I have spent much of the time I would have used for writing. I have needed to process the stories I have gained in this process, while also being in desperate need of a cultural education. As we head into year two I look forward to sharing with you what I have learned, who I have met and the ways I have changed through these beautiful relationships. With these programs now running with experience and needing less prep time, I look forward to having the time to write.

The day I pushed publish on this blog, I suggested to Jonesy that we take a trip to celebrate if I could secure 10,000 followers. Your support, encouragement, reading and sharing has made this year a success. So, as we touch down wheels at LaGuardia airport, I say thank you. Thank you for being a part of a joyful life! Stay tuned–big things are happening!

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