The University of Dayton, “Learn. Lead. Serve.”

16″ x 20″ watercolor on clay board
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As a high school student, I never thought I would attend a religiously affiliated college after working so hard to make it clear that I was adamantly against organized religion. It’s amazing what unexpected things young love will make you do, like transfer to a pricey, Marianist, Catholic college. I stood at the entrance of the University of Dayton at the start of my sophomore year asking myself, “What have I gotten myself into? I’ll be turning papers into professors in habits and dragged to mass every week.”

What I expected to basically be a limiting and strict academic convent actually was a liberating catalyst for my interest in activism and service. The University of Dayton was a place for all of my bitterness to be transformed into positive energy and talent that has resulted in outcomes like this blog.

Although I didn’t walk across the graduation stage a converted Catholic, I did leave UD a changed woman for the better. I gained a deep appreciation for faith and those who had devoted their lives to a greater good. Service and community were integrated into the classrooms, the residence halls, even spring breaks, and often professionally after graduation. I liked that folks at UD partied as hard as they prayed. And although bowing my head during prayers was a mere show of respect, I knew the religious leaders on campus I had come to revere understood me, embraced me, and stood by my side.

I never went to a single mass, and insisted on using the crucifix permanently anchored by my door as a place to hang my keys. Nevertheless, the person I became as a result of my time at UD would not have happened anywhere else. So, I’m honored to continually create artwork, like this collage, for the University. I might drop it off myself and spend a weekend with my last link to the current student body, my freshmen residents. Surprise surprise, I was an RA!

Venezuela, part 4

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas, $220
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I thoroughly enjoy seeing strategy and policy in action outside of the offices they’re created in. While in Caracas, my group had many formal meetings about government infrastructure and politics, but talking to those who were on the receiving end of all the planning is how I was most impacted.

These children were sitting outside in the garden of their rural Bolivarian school listening to a local farmer’s instructions on how they would cultivate a vegetable garden in the space designated for their class. Collectively, the school is working to grow enough food to be self-sustaining. For a country that imports roughly two thirds of its meat and produce, teaching its young citizens how to make use of available farm land is an important part of a community-specific education.

Although the farmer teaching this particular class is part of the faculty, meeting with all 200 students (preschool through seventh grade) throughout the year, the overall education is well-rounded and comprehensive. Keeping in mind that this school is in a rural town of 1,200, I was pleased to find it was striving to stay abreast of the times and soon would have their entire computer lab online. At a glance, the curriculum seemed to balance the sciences and arts well. They also ensured that students were exposed to a change in scenery with field trips to museums in nearby cities.

Major bonuses, such as visits to the science museum in Caracas, were used as incentives in student government campaigns by children aspiring to be a part of the direction of the school. I was amazed that when we met with the principle to talk about changes implemented in the school since Chavez’s rule, we were also greeted and addressed by the 7th grade class president, a 7th grade congresswoman, and the head of the environmental committee (appointed by the student government after being caught littering on the playground). These children proudly contribute to the school in a unique capacity beyond as students.

The school seemed to run around the clock since, in the evening, tiny chairs and desks were pushed to the sides as adults met for literacy and GED classes. The entire outfit seemed very advanced for a poor and developing nation. I definitely left inspired.

Social Marketing University seminar

Fellow blogger, Nedra WeinReich, emailed me a few days back about a seminar she will be conducting in March that I thought I would share with you. Nedra is the president of Weinreich Communications and author of “Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide.” Her company “helps nonprofits, public agencies and other organizations move beyond the usual educational approach to changing health and social behaviors. Using social marketing, [they] persuade individuals to take action for health or social change by addressing the values, needs and desires that motivate them.”

The seminar will be held in Washington DC March 28-30. If your nonprofit could use a boost by learning to take advantage of the latest marketing techniques such as online social networks and blogging (surprise, surprise), then Nedra’s training seminar can offer the guidance your organization needs to step things up.

How do you help people adopt behaviors that will make them healthier and better off? How can you create positive social change?

At Social Marketing University, you will move beyond the usual educational approach to changing health and social behaviors. Using social marketing, you will learn how to persuade individuals to take action for change by addressing the values, needs and desires that motivate them. It’s about understanding and connecting with your audience by applying the same effective marketing tools that companies like Nike and Apple use.

Who doesn’t want to learn Nike and Apple’s secrets? Sounds like I should be there.

To entice you just a bit more, Nedra has offered my readers $75 off their registration (discount code: PJ75). You’re welcome!

Urban Harvest brings colorful gardens to unexpected places in Houston

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Urban Harvest)
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This post was supported by Serenata Flowers. Have flowers delivered to your loved ones for any occasion.

You might have imagined this citrus tree on a farm surrounded by a lush green landscape, when actually in its backdrop were towering Houston skyscrapers just a mile away. Thanks to Urban Harvest, this tree gets to inhale an abundance of air pollution in an much needed area.

The organization is “dedicated to strengthening communities through gardening…launched as an effort to ease urban hunger, but now also addresses,

  • neighborhood revitalization
  • environmental education for the young and old
  • supplemental income for low-income residents
  • farmers’ markets
  • horticulture therapy and
  • organic horticulture business partnerships”

You can find Urban Harvest gardens in schools, parks, housing projects, religious institutions, vacant lots, and therapy centers. Believe me, in a city that seems to have enough asphalt and concrete to blanket the earth, colorful and nutritious gardens freckling the landscape are welcomed by all.

To accommodate a variety of needs to ensure that as many gardens are erected as possible, Urban Harvest delves into grade school education, adult gardening classes, nutrition and exercise, growing food for donations, selling produce for income, gardening as therapy, and community development. I never realized what a diverse tool gardening could be in an urban setting. It’s also very fitting in a time when illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, run rampant due to poor eating habits, and our environment is in such desperate need of nature’s touch.

Louisville and Seattle schools hoping to maintain ability to racially integrate students

4.25″ x 11″ watercolor, Seattle skyline
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From the classroom to the conference room, racial diversity is a term carefully studied and implemented. My takeaway from this concept is that it’s strived for and regarded is a mark of excellence. But the means of getting there are not as morally clear as the end result itself.

Earlier this month, two cases were heard by the Supreme Court regarding affirmative action voluntarily utilized by public schools in both Louisville, KY and Seattle, WA to create racial integration. The 1954 case of Brown vs. the Board of Education led to actions ensuring schools opened their doors to all students. Schools, like many in Louisville and Seattle, continue to implement such practices. In these cities, race is one of many factors considered in deciding where a child attends school. This might result in denied acceptance to the school of a student’s choice because no more room is available for a student of their race.

To some, this practice seems noble, especially when many communities self-segregate. Since racial diversity is so highly regarded, we owe it to our children to secure that their lives are not void of people of other ethnicities, right? Apparently, that depends on who you ask.

Seeing racial integration through to fruition without bringing into question what is unconstitutional is not clear (per the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment). Should a student be denied acceptance to a school in his or her own neighborhood because their race “quota” has been maxed out? On the flipside, should we allow for segregation to potentially grow organically if communities are left mold their own student body? How do you achieve racial integration without racial means? Is it truly academically beneficial to a student to attend an integrated school? Who is to judge? These are all tough questions with no easy answers.

Supposedly, all public schools are equal, so it shouldn’t matter which school a child attends. Anyone who believes this has clearly not stepped foot into two schools on opposite sides of any city. The intention is good, but the ironic method to achieve it, using race to eliminate discrimination by race, is debatably ethical.

There seems to be a split down the middle of opinions on the topic. So, in the spirit of constructive debate, I invite your thoughts. Where would you stand if your child were placed in these circumstances? What if you were the same parent, only you had experienced, first-hand, the Civil Rights Movement as a minority? Please share your stance and/or personal experience.

Thomas Edison House open its doors for a holiday viewing

Inside the historical home he once occupied, Thomas Edison himself appeared to watch his admirers from a hanging frame while his genius was praised. The standard admission fee was waived yesterday evening to entice inquisitive visitors to browse the extensive collection of Edison’s inventions and personal belongings at the Thomas Edison House.

Carefully arranged throughout the small shotgun building in Butchertown, Louisville, Ky were items such as Edison’s phonograph above. Guests also found examples of his movie projector, the Kinetoscope (click here to see glimpse of the first copyrighted film called “Record of a Sneeze”), Edison’s sewing machine, incandescent light bulbs, as well as the bed he slept in. The house induces a time warp back to Edison’s occupancy in 1860’s with a meticulous restoration of the original interior.

The Thomas Edison House is a privately funded nonprofit offering more to the community than wine and cheese around the holidays. In the spirit of Edison’s untiring creativity, the Invention Convention Program enables school age children to create and develop their own new inventions. Field trips to the 1850’s Edison House also offer a myriad of angles for teachers to work into their lessons plans (certainly a more effective way to get a science lesson to stick in a student’s head).

If you’re ever passing through Louisville, or if you’re one of the many residents still in the dark about the hidden treasure, I highly recommend stopping in.

Martinis and Mistletoe for the arts

Hand crafted art, sugar rimmed Martinis, Godiva Chocolate, solo guitar, and Santa; the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft hosted quite a unique of mix entertainment this evening. The enormous 2 story contemporary museum sheltered a full house from the bitter cold. I’m sure the free flowing vodka helped keep the bodies warm. The annual “Martinis and Mistletoe” drew in a crowd of art patrons ready to show their financial support with sales of the museum’s well stocked artisan inventory.

“The Mission of the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft is to promote excellence in the art and craft heritage of Kentucky through:

  • Education outreach to Kentuckiana (that’s local jargon for the Louisville/Southern Indiana area) schools
  • A permanent collection gallery
  • Three exhibition galleries featuring Kentucky, regional, national and international artists
  • A gallery shop representing hundreds of Kentucky artists
  • Professional development and scholarships for artist

I wasn’t sure what to do first: try on jewelry, pick out pottery, drink a Christmas cocktail, or remind Santa how exceptionally good I’ve been this year. Actually, I didn’t have much time for any of it. I was busy sketching the event (which turned out to be hazardous as I accidentally dropped my pen on the guests below me while rendering this last sketch). Keep the “painting journalist” away from the martini bar.

Highlights from the “Engaging Our World” conference

Whatever your social justice concern, you would have found educated voices speaking about it at the “Engaging Our World” conference. Paul Loeb, who researches and writes about citizen responsibility and empowerment, was a key guest speaker. Other participants included many faculty members at the University of Louisville, representatives from various nonprofits, and religious/spiritual leaders.

To squeeze in as much as possible, I brought along a friend to divvy up the workshops. Between the two of us, we heard panelists field questions on environmental issues (panelists sketched above), watched an Oxfam video presentation, learned about the cleft palate corrective surgeries that Dr. Mark Chariker performs (glad my friend was assigned to that one),

listened to representatives from “Women in Transition” explain how they help women rise above poverty (speaker and conference attendee sketched above), attended a lecture on Humanity and Sustainability, and created models of “ideal communities” with ACTIVE Living that best enable active lifestyles that fight obesity.

The conference planning committee didn’t just stop at booking knowledgeable speakers and organizing wonderful workshops. Everything was covered, down to the biodegradable, sugarcane fiber cutlery used at lunch. My friend took her knife back to Columbus to test the claim that it would decompose in her compost pile.

I left the conference feeling a mix of shock at the reality and severity of numerous looming issues while also inspired by the enthusiasm generated by the participants. Although possibly skewed since I am devoting an increasing amount of time to these issues, it still seems that many of these topics are gaining momentum and beginning to move mountains.

Technorati tags: Oxfam, Engaging Our World, social justice, Paul Loeb, University of Louisville