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Community and Being a Reward Volunteer: The Family Service Center

This is a sponsored post but the story and opinions are all mine. This post is sponsored by Reward Volunteers for National Volunteer Month.

Two things happened in the last few years that made me consider my own community efforts and what, if anything, I could be doing more of for my neighbors. First, I learned the origins of a house that was directly across from the school I was working at that had some amazing history attached to it. While it’s not on any historic registry, I found out that a Black woman named Eva Carroll Monroe founded the Lincoln Colored Home in 1898 to set up an orphanage for Black children since all the other orphanages in town were solely for white children. Eva’s work as a social worker was highlighted as she realized that Black children were left to the streets or taken to juvenile jails. The current owner of the house, Lee Hubbard, took me on a tour of the dilapidated home expressing how much he would love to see it restored. At the time, it didn’t even have a Wikipedia page, but my husband, Russell, worked on that.



The second thing was a chance meeting with a friend of mine named Brooke who worked at the Family Service Center. She knew some of my own interest in the Lincoln Colored Home, but she also knew of my own background as a birth mom as well as a teen mom. Over lunch one day, Brooke asked me if I was interested in being a community volunteer on the Board of Directors. I joined the Executive Director and the president of the Board for lunch at FSC and, upon my tour, I noticed a large picture of people who were instrumental in getting FSC started with their mission. It surprised me that so many of the photographs were of Black community members in Springfield and that the photos were so obviously old. The biggest surprise came when I realized that the photo at the top of one of the founders was none other than Eva Carroll Monroe.

That did it for me. I was hooked.


Not only was this something that was historically significant for me as a Black woman, but it fit into my ideology of caring for marginalized children in society. Their mission of supporting strong families for strong communities drew me in, and I have given my time to volunteering for them for almost three years now. Organizations do their Board of Directors very differently and there are others I’ve considered but they are sometimes prohibitive in what they require as far as massive donations to sit on them.


The Family Service Center is a meaningful volunteer opportunity for me because of what it allows me to give back in terms of my time and energy. We are deeply invested in continuing the mission of the Center so our monthly meetings consist of fundraising, business partnerships, staff development and many other things. One of my favorite parts is being able to celebrate with the families they serve after an adoption is complete or when a family has been reunited. At my first board meeting I learned that the adoption judge in town completes each legal proceeding by telling the families the same thing: “I hereby order your family to now go get some ice cream to celebrate this.”


Giving back, in this way, doesn’t cost me anything other than my time for those meetings or attending the events we plan whether it’s a Trivia Night or our end-of-the-year fundraiser each May when we invite the community to celebrate with us, our families, and the staff. I use Reward Volunteers to log my hours and keep a record of the good I’m helping to put back into the world. What’s great about that is how encouraged I feel when I see other people doing similar things for their communities. There are prizes available but, honestly, I rarely sign up for those simply because it’s more fun for me to see various opportunities that are out there. 

I urge my friends and everyone I know to become engaged locally in whatever ways they choose. It’s poignant that the Family Service Center is something to which I had multiple ties and that’s exactly how I tell people to do this. What do you already care about? What has affected you personally that you’re now in a place to do something about? It won’t necessarily start with a story of an abandoned house lost to history or an inspiring Black woman who made change in tangible ways for this town. That one belongs to me.

What belongs to you?

Find out more about Reward Volunteers by clicking this link.


When It Comes to Sexual Harassment, Schools Are Not Immune

Evie Blad interviewed me for this piece in EdWeek and I'm putting it here as a testament to the #MeToo movement, an initiative of over 17,700,000 women who have reported a sexual assault since 1998. Tarana Burke started it to support survivors and end sexual violence.

Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in Los Angeles earlier this month.
—Damian Dovarganes/AP



As women everywhere have been reflecting on their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault, Evie shared the intereview she did with me and showed that school administrators should have a deep understanding of the culture and climate of their buildings and the teachers and staff therein as a place where not only children are educated but that those doing the educating are safe. 

From her piece: 

"Early in Kelly Wickham Hurst’s teaching career, some of her colleagues warned her about an older male coworker. He came in early and sometimes cornered women, telling inappropriate jokes that at times led to uncomfortable physical contact he brushed off as accidental, they said.

The Springfield, Ill., middle school had a wave of young, newly hired female teachers that year, and they believed its administration didn’t take their concerns about the man seriously, Hurst said.

“I paid attention to it but I thought he’d never do this to me,” said Hurst, who retired after 23 years and founded an advocacy group called Being Black at School."

You can read the piece in its entirety here. You must be subscribed to EdWeek.


It's Amazing What I Didn't Know About Sex

This is a sponsored post from a collaboration between Amaze and The Mission List. It's a review of Amaze but all experiences are mine.  

When I was 10 years old I attended a Catholic School in Chicago. While it was a great education for academics it left something to be desired when it came to discussing health and sexuality. In fact, it was that age when my friends and I, on the playground one day, had a discussion of things we'd been learning and I recall saying, in the hautiest possible tone, "You know what? I will NEVER have an abortion." My friends all agreed and this discussion went on for some time. Of course, that's what we were taught to say. What we didn't know was that abortion had something to do with the consequences of sex.



Naturally, I was pregnant twice by the age of 16. Suffice it to say, I didn't get a healthy education about protecting myself from STDs or pregnancy and when I was pregnant I finally understood the connection. That was far too old for me to finally get it. Obviously.

What I know, as an educator, is that teaching abstinence is, statistically, the absolute wrong way to teach sex education. What I didn't know or understand could fill a book. Hell, it could fill several volumes and once I did finally get the right information I was pissed that it wasn't offered to me. By the time I understood it all I wished someone would have just had those awkward conversations with me even if they were weird. (Because of this, I taught my own children while they were young and we used all the anatomically correct words for body parts.)

So, listen up parents of young children: I have something for you to review along with me: is the perfect tech companion to having those talks about sex with your children. As I reviewed it I thought some of the cartoon videos were a bit corny but they work and they share correct information (sometimes with a robot who is demonstrating how a condom works I KNOW THAT SOUNDS CRAZY BUT WHATEVER IT WORKS.)

You can also check out the hashtag #MoreInfoLessWeird on Twitter. is a collaborative effort from three reputable organizations in the field of sex education: Advocates for Youth, Answer, and Youth Tech Health. Parents can use whatever part of the site they'd like to supplement their own discussions of sex education and there are some pretty amazing categories like puberty, sexual orientation, gender identity, personal safety, healthy relationships, STDs and HIV, and pregnancy and reproduction.

Their site is really cute and colorful (this here is a screenshot, you can't click on it) and I also appreciated how they addressed issues of personal safety like being safe on the Internet.

 Like most things on the internet, you can find them at their website, their Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a YouTube channel, and on Snapchat.  

Their video series is appropriate for 10-14 year olds and they cover the basic mechanics as well as more complicated and complex topics around relationships and consent. THESE ARE REALLY IMPORTANT. I wish I didn't witness as many unhealthy relationships as a school educator that I did but so often I found myself counseling young couples about how manipulative and destructive they could be when they came to me for help. We have all known those people in a relationship where it's absolutely toxic for them to be around one another but it's hard to get guidance on it when they think they know and understand the signs to watch out for when they turn violent. 

What I like about AMAZE is that it's easy to navigate and their information is plentiful. You, as a parent, are the primary sexuality educator of your child and they just want to arm you with what you need for those conversations. 

For me, the easiest way to be reminded was to like their Facebook page. Go check it out! There's lots of curated content over there or you can check out some of their videos like Where Do Babies Come From? or Birth Control Basics. Either way, you can find out if something is helpful to you in talking to your children. If you're a teen, hit me in the comments with what you think of it. I'd like to know.

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