Tag: community

Backpacks: Here, There, & Everywhere!

Backpacks: Here, There, & Everywhere!

It’s February!  For most, that means more winter weather (and maybe some snow!), hearts, pink and red, Valentine’s Day, heart health awareness month (Go Red) and all the other stuff in between.  For me, it means backpacks, and lots of them, at school, at my house, at community dropboxes…basically, here, there, and everywhere!  This is because February is the month I partner with Circle K of SIU and coordinate a backpack drive for my school and the local Boys and Girls Club.  I collect gently used and new backpacks to provide for students that cannot afford them.

Circle K is a branch of Kiwanis International which is under the same umbrella as Key Club, a club that is often a student organization in high schools, including the one I teach at.  I remember being an active Key Club member in high school.  I loved the community projects Key Club helped with and the volunteer work that came along with it.  This is why I feel especially happy to partner with this Registered Student Organization (RSO) at my local university.

Here’s a chance for you to declutter your house and free up some space: Donate any new or gently used backpacks, duffle bags, and totes to my Backpacks for Success project.  You can find locations at the SIU Student Services Building, SIU Morris Library, SIU Student Center, and the Neighborhood Co-Op.

With your help and the support of many others I have been able to see firsthand what a difference these backpacks make in the lives of students.  Many of them have heavy books to carry and cannot afford the expense that comes along with buying a backpack, plus it’s something their family is unable to fulfill for them.  This is why it is my hope to help provide to those that need backpacks so that they have the basic necessities to be successful in school.  It touches my heart to see so many who are willing to change the lives of students and the world’s future generations by donating a backpack.  With each backpack, we are changing a life, and with that change we are making it possible for a child to feel more prepared and successful in their school environment.  Thanks to all who donate – please spread the love by sharing this post!

~jj

#ProjectKindnessBook

#AlwaysChooseKindness

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What is SUCCESS?

What is SUCCESS?

I had to laugh at myself when I typed success because I started teaching in the middle of the year (January) so I shuffled to get my classroom, lessons, and several activities ready over the two week Christmas break.  It was a lot of work to clean out someone’s classroom (who had left a lot behind) and find a way to decorate and organize it so I was ready to teach.  I wanted it to be a very inviting and comfortable atmosphere for my students.  As I completed my bulletin board one evening over break, I got the entire thing laminated, cut out, and put up when I realized I had forgotten a ‘c’ in success.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I was overwhelmed with annoyance at how I had misspelled ‘success’ after being in a hurry.

Fast forward a few months and I was talking to my husband who had the question, “What is success?” asked during an interview.  I thought about it for a few moments before saying, “Making other people see the value of making the world a kinder and happier place for all.”  A bit vague, yes, and probably not what most think of when they define success, but it could mean volunteering during the busy times before schools and universities begin or giving directions and a friendly smile to someone new on campus or at school.  After all, there are a lot of new people in unfamiliar places that may need help, have questions, ask you for directions, and feel nervous and stressed about the new chapter they are beginning.

With the beginning of many new chapters for those around us, it is a great thing to consider success in this way of light.  We have lots of first-time college students, middle school/junior high students headed to high schools, young children starting school, and lots of people who are embarking on new adventures and journeys whether it be new jobs, traveling to new places, or struggling with a new diagnosis or unforeseen challenge (for some of us, it may be the unknown of a little thing called the Solar Eclipse 😉 ).  If when we see new faces at school, at work, in passing, or in our community, people took the opportunity to be welcoming and helpful it would help my ‘definition of success’ expand as more people would be helping each other.  Give directions to a stranger, smile and say hi to put a person at ease, provide exceptional service, let someone know you are happy to help if they need it, etc.  This time of year is often very stressful for many of us and we can become extremely focused on our own hectic and chaotic schedules that we may forget to help those around us.  I challenge you to help others this month as they embark on new adventures (and new challenges) so that together we create a kinder and happier world for all.

~jj

#ProjectKindnessBook

#AlwaysChooseKindness

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Is it possible to add more to your plate?

Is it possible to add more to your plate?

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There’s so much to be said about making it to the other end of the tunnel at the end of the year, at least most teachers can relate to this!  I loved every minute of being back at my old high school as a teacher.  It was a new challenge, a new learning experience, and more than that a new way to give back to my community and the people in it.  I must say not only did I survive happily through the exhaustion, chaos, and craziness of the school year, but I managed to do a few side projects as well.  After all, life is supposed to by crazy busy, right?!

I finished my #ProjectKindnessBook which is titled Giving Back: Lessons from an adopted immigrant on why a happy life is about helping others, eloped to Ireland, and coordinated a backpack drive in my local community to help students in need.  I was so excited to have lots of my own projects to do this summer including sort pictures, which has been on my ‘to do’ list for ages.  And, then I was asked to serve as the community member for the SIU Carbondale Homecoming Committee which is where I do a lot of my volunteer work aside from other misc. volunteer projects I get myself roped up in!  I pondered it for the night, curiously cautious about whether I wanted to give more free time.  A lot of it over summer.  I thought to myself how the heck can I be signing up to give my time to another project?  It’s summer and I need to catch up on MY life. And then, I realized just how extremely selfish that is and was to think.  I have so much more than the average person and the ability and control to always add more too my plate if I prioritize my projects correctly and use my time wisely.  And, you have that same exact power!  You can add more to your plate than you probably ever thought or realized.  You can seek projects to get involved, find ways to give back by fulfilling disparities within your community, and realizing that life is bigger than you and your life, but about what you can do for others.  At the moment, I felt like I needed some rest and relaxation after being a full-time beginning teacher, being newly married, writing a book, and then I remembered that my rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation in life comes from giving back and doing things for others in my ‘spare’ time.  I use spare time loosely because I don’t seem to allow too much of that in my life.  (Though, don’t let me deceive you, I plan on having a few fun days this summer with family and friends, enjoying the local wineries, and spending time with my husband – who usually helps along with the crazy projects I commit to and doesn’t get annoyed by all the extra time I spend doing things for others.)

The moral of the story isn’t that I make myself do good things or make myself give back or make myself have a passion for my community.  It isn’t that I am this phenomenal person who is selfless.  It’s just that giving back has become second nature to me in life.  I have gotten so used to it being part of my life and who I am.  It’s become my passion.  I challenge you to join me with your pictures of giving back.  Use these when you tag your pictures: #BeKind, #GiveBack, #HelpOthers, and #ProjectKindnessBook.

~jj

#ProjectKindnessBook

#AlwaysChooseKindness

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Diversity can change the world!

Diversity can change the world!

If you know me, you know I love diversity.   The first time I remember heavily considering and thinking about diversity is in 8th grade when I begged my mom to move high schools so I could be in a more diverse district filled with lots of ethnicities and different cultural experiences.

I love diversity because I love what it brings to my life, and more than anything I love what it teaches me.  Similarly, I remember as we headed to Ireland to elope that I recall how noticeable the diversity was in London and Dublin.  From the waiters and staff that helped with our wedding to the many people that we met, the vacation was filled with Muslims, Indians, Americans, Romanians, and many others.

These experiences have further reminded me how much I appreciate and love to be immersed in projects and opportunities that expose me to people and students with different opportunities, educational backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, and experiences.

I hope others are able to learn and appreciate those they are surrounded by and the communities in which they live.  It is so easy to judge those who are different, but I personally prefer to learn from them, and I hope you do, too!  We can learn why they do things the way they do, why they wear the clothing they do, what their religion means to them, how their journey brought them to where they are now, and so on.

Back to the whole high school story which is what set me on my path of wondering about diversity.  We eventually moved and I loved my new high school that had so much more diversity, my alma mater, and where I now have the privilege of working.  I once again was lucky enough to witness the diversity at prom.  I realized how lucky I am to be in a place that offers so much diversity and experiences for me to grow.

It is so easy to judge those that are diverse or different than us, but I hope at some point we learn to embrace them because of the many great things they can teach us.  I challenge you to think about this next time you are helping someone from a different culture, someone that isn’t like you, or someone that may be far different than you are used to.  All the diversity we see and have among us is what brings people together to invent new things, find new cures, expand community projects, teach our students, and ultimately to change the world!

~jj

#ProjectKindnessBook

#AlwaysChooseKindness

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Finding meaning among structured chaos!

Finding meaning among structured chaos!

This new adventure at my old high school has proven to be a very fun one.  I love getting involved and supporting the students.  The atmosphere is awesome and that’s probably what I love most about being there.  There are great ways to give back and that’s what I find really cool about it.  I have the opportunity to impact the lives of young high school students and that’s pretty remarkable.  I have the chance to inspire, motivate, and encourage them to follow their dreams and find something they are extremely passionate about.

Since joining the CCHS team, I have helped at a robotics competition (which I knew very little about), volunteered to judge our school’s talent show, and on a more personal level I have begun working on a project to collect backpacks for Carbondale students who cannot afford them.

I have learned that some things work really well in the classroom and some ideas don’t come to fruition the way I anticipate them to.  I have taken notes and written pointers, hoping to improve projects and activities for next year.  I have gotten to know my students much more, and that’s something I really enjoy.  Beyond the quizzes, handouts, projects, presentations, and work that I do with my class, I hope I leave a small imprint upon their life that inspires them to go out into the world and do something for others – to give back, be kind, and be willing to offer a helping hand to someone else.  I hope I inspire my students in ways that help build their self-esteem and confidence.  More than anything, I want my students to know they can come to me when they need a listening ear.  After all, teachers are not only there to teach their students, but to motivate them, mentor them, and offer positive reinforcement along the way.

I challenge teachers who feel stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted (which I do!) to remember to channel the reason why you entered the profession to begin with.  You have the power to do so much in your classroom.  While there are benchmarks to make, topics that have to be covered, and work that has to be completed, remember that your students need you.  They need your support, kindness, and help because while you’re pushing papers around and doing work, you are also shaping a person.  We, as educators, have the ability to change a student’s life!

As this second semester wraps up, be sure to consider your role in your students’ lives and in the community.  As a new high school teacher, I feel a bit overwhelmed, at times lost, and sometimes surrounded by structured chaos.  Sometimes adding more stress, more projects, more chaos, or more anything seems impossible, but it is actually always possible. With a wedding in less than a month (that has turned into something far bigger than I wanted or anticipated), the publication of my #ProjectKindnessBook, and planning meaningful lessons, I feel like my life is zigzagging in lots of directions.  Some days I feel defeated, but I keep swimming.

~jj

#ProjectKindnessBook

#AlwaysChooseKindness

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Make #GivingTuesday and #SmallBusinessSaturday an everyday thing!

Make #GivingTuesday and #SmallBusinessSaturday an everyday thing!

There are lots of organizations, big and small, all around the world that would LOVE to receive a donation from you this #GivingTuesday.  I got at least five or more emails asking for donations today.  I usually give donations to big and small companies or organizations throughout the entire year, but more times than not my time and money goes to local initiatives and events.  I do on occasion reach out to larger organizations because I like helping both in some capacity, even if it’s a very, very small amount it can make a profound impact.  Kind of like being a teacher, while you may only work with a student for thirty minutes, one hour, one day, one month, or one year, the way you approach and work with that student can leave a footprint on their life forever.  It’s the beauty of teaching, giving quality service to others, listening to those around you, and reaching out to those in need – you have the power to make a difference in the life of someone else.  And, to me, that’s pretty cool!

One thing I chose to do this year for the holidays was to give money to the Shawnee Hills Arts Council when I ran their Reindeer 5k to provide additional funding to performing, visual, and literary arts.  Not only was it a great way to give back to a local organization, but it also fell on #SmallBusinessSaturday which is a vital day for many small businesses and communities that depend on that economic boost each year.  It is so easy to order from online retailers where the prices may be a few dollars cheaper, but those few extra dollars you might spend at your local toy store, pet shop, or restaurant really boost your local economy and help money stay in the area.

Another donation I am planning to give this holiday season is my hair – literally!  It is almost time for me to head to the chopping block so that I can donate at least eight inches of hair to a woman in need.  This is something that you can give no matter what time of year.  You can make the commitment to grow your hair out without coloring it to send to an organization that will help change the lives of others.

You can do similar things in your local area to keep your economy thriving.  #GivingTuesday and #SmallBusinessSaturday aren’t just once a year if you make the commitment to help improve your local economy – volunteer, buy local goods, go to your Farmer’s markets, eat at your local restaurants, and make a commitment to helping with events, initiatives, and activities in your area.  After all, your local economy depends on your support and willingness to make a difference in the many lives and communities in which you are a part of.

~jj

#ProjectKindnessBook

#AlwaysChooseKindness

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Make the days count!

Make the days count!

Summer is here and I want to make sure I get lots done rather than lounging too much.  I started yesterday by making my “Summer To Do List” to keep myself accountable.  I want to be sure I have some volunteering in my schedule as well as get some overdue projects completed!

I also don’t want to let myself sit in front of a screen for an extended period of time without moving, whether it be a tv screen or a computer screen.  I have noticed that many parents have made plans to keep their children from having too much screen time this summer.  Remember it is equally as important to follow the same rules, don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk as well.  Make sure you get up and move periodically – if you are watching your favorite show, game, or movie get up and move rather than sitting for two or three hours.  Your body and brain needs the stimulation and movement.  Plus, by making the days count that means you are also adding some fitness into your day! It makes you feel less stressed, less grouchy, and more energetic to get through the day.  So keep a list or schedule that utilizes your time wisely so you aren’t spending too much time on social media, sitting around the house, or not getting your goals accomplished.  If you aren’t sure what to omit from your schedule consider scanning newsfeeds less than the typical five, ten, fifteen, or more times a day.

Consider getting involved in your community, volunteer at some local events, and show your family the importance of giving back to others.  If you love fitness, find a Relay for Life, American Heart Association, or other charity walk or run to participate in.  If you love cooking, consider cooking or baking treats for your local police station.  There are endless options and your kids can even help or tag along so they see the value in appreciating others.

Whatever you do, make sure you make your summer days count and work for you!  If you do, you will feel much better at the end of each day.  So, if you are like me, start that “Summer To Do List” so you can make each day count.

~jj

#ProjectKindnessBook

#AlwaysChooseKindness

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