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Share your love…and your pancakes with an exchange student

How would you like to re-discover the Four Mile Historic Park? Or Pikes Peak? How about learning a new language or adding global recipes to your cookbook? Hosting an exchange student will give you these opportunities and many more. Since 1998 Education, Travel & Culture has been dedicated to promoting world peace and understanding through intercultural education and student exchange. ETC places 400 students, from 15 different countries throughout the U.S. every year. Many of these students spend a year right here in Colorado!

From Jefferson County to Aurora and Commerce City, volunteer host families provide these foreign teens with a window in which to view and understand American life and culture. Students become a member of your family and participate in your family’s daily activities, chores, bond with their host siblings, and join in family conversations all while increasing you and your family’s cultural awareness.

Colorado Host Family: Carson, Maggie and Yeonsoo:

“Carson and I have loved being host parents this year! We are a young family, I just had our first daughter this past October. It was fun to have Yeonsoo around for the pregnancy and infancy stages, she has a lot of fun with our baby and can be very helpful! Having Yeonsoo has helped me get out with the baby more and stay more involved in the community which combats the loneliness and isolation many first time moms feel. We have loved learning about Korea and I am finding myself cheering for Korea in the Winter Olympics! Carson and I love to travel and we plan on visiting Yeonsoo in Seoul as soon as we can. I truly recommend being a host parent to any young mom, it has been a great experience for us!”

For more information about how you can become a Host Family visit www.edutrav.org or email Sarah Rohler at srohler@edutrav.org

The Abolitionists: Supporting this movie could safe a life

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.” The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea.

“It made a difference to that one.”

Did you know that there are an estimated two million children around the world who are victims of sex trafficking? Did you know that it is the 3rd most lucrative crime in the world? Did you know that every 30 seconds, another child is forced into sexual slavery?

When the makers of the movie “The Abolitionists” and founders of the organization “Operation Underground Railroad” approached Robin Roberts of Good Morning America about bringing this horrific problem to light, she said, “That’s a strong cup of coffee so early in the morning.”

It’s a strong cup of coffee any time of the day. You might not even like reading this. You might not like thinking about it. I know I don’t. But I can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. This is even happening in the United States.

Before being able to watch an advanced screening of the movie “The Abolitionists,” I had heard of Operation Underground Railroad. But I never imagined I could do anything to help these poor children. After watching the movie, I know I was wrong. I can be like that man throwing starfish into the ocean. I can support this cause so that more rescue operations can be undertaken to save these children.

So far, Operation Underground Railroad has made a difference for 521 children in the past two years. The children have been freed and sent to loving places where they can be cared for and treated for the trauma they have faced. 161 traffickers have been arrested. THAT’S making a difference.

Here’s how you can help:

Go see “The Abolitionists” on Monday, May 16th, 2016. If you don’t want to see the movie, just buy a ticket to support the cause and give the message to Hollywood that they need to release this movie nation-wide in as many theaters as possible. (The movie is rated PG-13 and is not graphic. Click here to read my review of “The Abolitionists.”)

If it is past May 16th, 2016, you can donate directly on the Operation Underground Railroad site. Each rescue mission costs about $50,000, so every penny is needed and greatly appreciated.

Just for sharing about The Abolitionist, you could win a gift basket worth over $200! The basket contains:

  • A Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream and Sorbet Maker (my favorite ice cream maker!)
  • Exclusive Transform Your Life, Transform Your Wardrobe eCourse from Ice Cream Inspiration (not yet released to the public!)
  • Beauty Bundle including Bare Minerals Eyeshadow, Fresh Tinted Lip Balm SPF, Bobbi Brown Mini Mascara, Bobbi Brown Mini Eye Cream From Deux Bella

Visit “The Abolitionists” post on Ice Cream Inspiration to enter.

Just share. It costs you nothing but could save a life.

-Melissas Howell. 

Preventing Child Abuse in Colorado: One Mom’s Story

Gloria was a single mother of a one-year-old daughter, Stephanie. Her boyfriend had recently left them. Gloria was not working, and her boyfriend had been paying all of the bills. Gloria did not know what to do or how to support herself or her daughter. Someone concerned about Gloria and Stephanie reported their situation to child protective services so that they could get the help they needed before a difficult situation became worse. Gloria and her daughter were perfect candidates for Colorado Community Response (CCR), one of their county’s voluntary prevention programs, designed to help families who may be at-risk for child abuse or neglect.

Gloria opted to enroll in CCR and was connected with a home visitor who would support her throughout the program. They talked through her situation and came up with two goals to help her move forward. The first goal was to get Stephanie enrolled in a child care program so that goal number two – for Gloria to get a job to support herself and her daughter – could also be achieved.

Gloria was unsure about putting Stephanie in child care. She had always stayed home with her, and she was concerned because Stephanie was showing some behavior issues – throwing temper tantrums and sometimes hitting. The Family Resource Center in the county where Gloria lived was beginning a Nurturing Parenting class, and Gloria agreed to enroll in the program. Gloria’s experience in the class helped her become more comfortable with the idea of enrolling Stephanie in child care; she wanted her to learn age-appropriate social skills. One month into the program Gloria called her home visitor with the wonderful news that Stephanie had been accepted into a child care program. She could attend three days a week and was even given a scholarship!

Once Gloria had achieved her first goal of enrolling Stephanie in child care, she worked with her home visitor to start applying for jobs online. Gloria was interested in applying to Whole Foods, so they completed the online application together. Gloria secured an interview there that went well, but in the meantime Stephanie’s child care center also offered her a job. Gloria took the job at the child care center so she could be close to her daughter. In securing this job, Gloria had completed her second goal!

Having someone believe in her and work with her to set and achieve her goals made a huge difference in Gloria’s life. The CCR program also helped Gloria pay for one month’s rent and buy baby care products for Stephanie, which helped her buy the time necessary to focus on reaching her goals in order to ensure her independence moving forward.

Gloria’s story is not unique. While the specifics may vary, every parent struggles at some point, and no parent knows everything about raising a child. Knowing where to get help and having a network to lean on can make a huge difference.

Everyone plays a role in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. In cases where you suspect child abuse or neglect is occurring or at risk of occurring – or if you need help yourself, call the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect hotline at 1-844-CO-4-KIDS. All callers are able to speak with a call-taker 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and all calls remain confidential. Calling the hotline can help connect families to the wide variety of programs like CCR that are offered throughout Colorado by the state and its 64 counties – all with the goal of protecting Colorado’s children by building and supporting strong families and thriving communities.

You can learn more and find a variety of tips and resources at www.co4kids.org.

  Guest post by Kristy Helms, Home Visitor with Colorado Community Response                        

Bring This Engaging Environmental Education Program to Your Child’s Classroom!

For the last ten years, I’ve spent the majority of my professional life teaching teachers how to use environmental education resources.  I enjoy lighting up a group of busy teachers with enlightening, energetic activities.

When my own children began to attend elementary school.  Naturally, I wanted their teachers to use Environmental Education activities, specifically Project Learning Tree (PLT).  I approached the principal with a simple question, “What is the best way to offer PLT to the teachers?”  Together, we came up with a plan.  I would come in and give a 1 hour in-service training to the entire teaching staff, the school would purchase K-8 PLT books, and I would act as a PLT coach meeting with each grade level to plan out what activities would meet their needs. 

 During the first planning session one teacher remarked, “I love how some activities cover more than one subject. We can use these for literacy too.”  Environmental Education activities are full of multidisciplinary learning.  In the hands of motivated teachers, these activities have great potential.  Over the course of the planning session however, something else became very clear; teachers have incredible demands on their time.  In an effort to bolster confidence in the PLT program , I offered to come back and teach an activity of their choice to each of the classes in the grade.

Two weeks later, I taught  the 3rd grade classes.   It was awesome!   In evaluation, one teacher told me, “The activity went perfectly with our science unit. It was more insightful then lessons taught in the past.”  Another teacher mentioned, “It was so helpful to see how you ran the activity. I wasn’t sure how to visualize it.”   After working with 2nd grade,  I received  notes from the kids.  One boy drew an amazing picture of each plot we visited and wrote, “Thank you for coming to teach about living and non-living things. My favorite part was measuring that tiny plant in the sand pit!”

Several weeks later my appreciation for the teachers’ efforts in trying PLT and the kids’ eagerness to learn came together.  While  attending an after school event a blonde-haired boy came up to me.  I recognized him as one of the 3rd graders I’d worked with.  He looked up at me  and began to sing the life cycle song I’d taught him weeks before.   The principle  happened to be standing  next to me, and with a grin shook his head and said, “Wow, that’s pretty impressive.”

In a profession where effort often seems to outweigh product, being in the mix with the kids and teachers spurred my enthusiasm for Environmental Education and its potential for the improvement of young minds.  PLT is still the backbone of Environmental Education.   Teachers still want it and children still need it. One of my favorite remarks from the kids I worked with was simple and complete: “Thanks for teaching me about science.”

As Environmental Education teaches children about the dynamic natural world around them let’s remember to be just as dynamic in our approach to spreading Environmental Education into lives of the teachers and children who need it.

Kyle Koyle is the CO Project Learning Tree Early Childhood CoordinatorFor more information about Colorado Project Learning Tree and our teacher workshops visit www.coloradoplt.org or email pltcolorado@gmail.com.  Find them on Pinterest and Facebook.

Valentine’s Day Family Volunteer Opportunity

Make Valentine’s Day even more memorable by throwing a Valentine’s Day party with Volunteers of America. The women in the Irving Street Women’s Residence have all been chronically homeless. While they help them get their lives back on track, families with kids of all ages are needed to make them feel loved.

When: Saturday, February 13th from 10:30AM – 1:30PM.

What: VOA will be cooking a spaghetti lunch and throwing a Valentine’s Day party. After lunch, they will have the ladies and volunteers help with a craft project.

Where: Irving Street Women’s Residence is located at 601 S Irving St, Denver, CO 80219.

Sign up here to make this Valentine’s Day one that the ladies will never forget!

Volunteer your family for Snow Buddies to help seniors shovel their sidewalk

Do you want to teach your kids to volunteer while also being active?

Volunteers of America Handyman Program is in great need of volunteers for shoveling seniors’ walkways and sidewalks in their annual Snow Buddies program.

snowbuddiesThis program seeks to assist seniors 60 and better, living in Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties with snow removal throughout the winter season. Volunteers and senior clients are matched when they live within 2 miles of each other. Volunteers are asked to shovel sidewalks and walkways for their senior buddy when it snows 2+ inches within a 24 hour period.

Many of these Seniors can no longer complete this task themselves and need your help staying safe this winter.

Volunteers of all ages are welcome! (16 and under must be accompanied by an adult.)  All that is asked is that you supply your own shovels.

Interested? Have questions? Contact Kimberly at 303-297-0408 or email snowbuddies@voacolorado.org.

Finding My Home After Being Homeless, Giving Back

Just a few years ago, I was homeless. It’s one of those things that I never thought could happen to me and my kids, but I was out of a job and couldn’t afford a place for us. I relied on the help of my family until I realized that the financial burden was too much for them. And, I didn’t want to be a burden, so I made the difficult decision to move to a homeless shelter with my boys.  

I remember feeling at the lowest point in my life when I couldn’t even afford enough bus fare to get my family back to the shelter one day. I just had enough money for two tickets, so I had to send my boys ahead of me—alone. I had to trust that they would get on the bus and be fine. All I could do was stand at the bus stop and cry. I was terrified. No parent should ever have to experience something like that.

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since that day. My life really turned around after I connected with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. My case manager found me and my family a safe, comfortable home. When I heard about the Coalition’s job training program, I jumped at the opportunity. It felt really good to be working again, rebuilding my skills and boosting my self-confidence. I felt like I was given a fresh start.

Within a few months, I had a new job, a new home and a new beginning. We made it. I was able to keep my boys with me and keep them in school. I realized that homelessness doesn’t make you any less of a parent. I still wanted the best for my kids. But now, I can focus on where they’ll go to college, rather than worrying about if they have enough to eat.

I am so thankful for the help I received from the Coalition. I want to make sure other families, like mine, get back on track. In my new job, I am helping families get the housing and care they need, helping them schedule appointments, or arrange child care, or find transportation. It really means a lot to me to be able to give back.

As we all celebrate together with our own families, I hope that we’re all reminded that there are some families out there that are still struggling. I hope that you will consider giving back and making a difference in your community, too.

-Alfreda. 

The mission of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is to work collaboratively toward the prevention of homelessness and the creation of lasting solutions for homeless and at-risk families, children, and individuals throughout Colorado. The Coalition advocates for and provides a continuum of housing and a variety of services to improve the health, well-being and stability of those it serves. Since its founding more than 30 years ago, the organization has earned state and national recognition for its integrated healthcare, housing and service programs. The Coalition’s comprehensive approach addresses the causes of homelessness, as well as the consequences, offering critical assistance to more than 15,000 individuals and families each year. Learn more about supporting the Coalition at www.coloradocoalition.org.

Disheartened by the news? This student who helped the homeless will inspire

It is difficult not to feel disheartened by the mass shootings, wars and suffering that surrounds us. With so much bad going in the world, and have resolved to find the good and share it.

Meet Veronika Scott, a 24-year-old from Detroit who, thanks to a college class assignment, came up with an idea that would end up changing the lives of hundreds of homeless people. What started as an idea to design a coat that transforms into a sleeping bag has become so much more, thanks to a homeless woman who yelled at her after being given a coat.

Get inspired by this CEO and founder of The Empowerment Plan, which empowers women to become more independent. We need more people like Veronica who do more than apply a band-aid but seek to heal. #WomenInspire

Don’t miss our feature on this Denver mom who became homeless with her children, how the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless helped her rebuild her life and what she’s doing to give back.

How you can help the Syrian refugees without leaving Colorado

 The decision to house Syrian refugees in Colorado is a divisive one but whatever your stance, as winter looms, aid organizations are appealing for extra assistance with relief efforts. If you’re trying to wrap your head around ISIS and what is really happening in Syria, this article about how a refugee gets to America (explained by an actual refugee) and accompanying video about Syria’s 4-year-long Civil War are eye-opening.

One mom saw and is fulfilling a need. About two months ago, Cristal Logothetis was horrified when she saw a picture of a 3-year-old boy who drowned as his family left Syria. That single image moved her to act. Since then, she has led a successful IndieGoGo campaign and founded a nonprofit, Carry the Future, to help displaced Syrians and other refugees. Three weeks ago, she and nine other women flew to Greece and gave out 3,000 baby carriers. Go to the website to find out how you can donate yours to help the cause.

 The Today Show also shared these ways you can assist Syrian families and children:

The UN Refugee Agency: Its winter plans include distributing sleeping bags, thermal blankets, raincoats, socks, clothes and footwear to the most vulnerable refugees. “Harsh weather conditions are likely to exacerbate the suffering of the thousands of refugees and migrants landing in Greece and travelling through the Balkans,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said.

Save the Children: Supplies food for Syrian kids and supports education in Syrian refugee camps.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders: MSF is operating two rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea that can carry hundreds of people to land.

Unicef: “Another bitter winter is beginning,” the organization warns. It delivers vaccines, winter clothes and food for children in Syria and neighboring countries.

International Rescue Committee: The group is in Greece, where thousands of people are arriving per day. Aid workers provide clean water and sanitation, and help new arrivals navigate the transit process and understand their legal rights.

World Food Programme: The agency says it is struggling to meet the urgent food needs of millions of displaced Syrians.

Mercy Corps: Refugees are most in need of clean water, sanitation services, temporary shelter and food, the agency says.

Aylan Kurdi & Syria’s Child Victims of War: A fund named after Aylan himself. Money goes to “Hand In Hand For Syria,” a U.K. based organization that works with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

CARE: As winter approaches, the biggest needs are warm blankets, clothes and proper shoes for migrants and refugees in Europe. The group also reaches Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen and those displaced inside Syria with food, hygiene items and emergency cash.

This organization got an A+ on Charity Watch — 90% of your donation goes to refugee aid.

7 Organization Tips for Winter + Savers’ New Donation Drops

Are you ready to hunker down with your cozy sweaters, steaming hot chocolate and a roaring fire? 

Before settling down for a long winter’s nap, we’re sharing some awesome tips for getting organized and we have just the place to send your castaways.  Lupus Colorado and Healing Minds have partnered with Savers thrift stores to open four new Donation Drop Spots in the greater Denver area that provide convenient locations for community members to donate their used goods.

donationstationThe new Donation Drop Spots are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are located at:

  • Benefit Healing Minds:
    • 5820 S Parker Road, Aurora, CO 80015
    • 2730 S Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO 80222
  • Benefit Lupus Colorado:
    • 15700 East Briarwood Cir, Aurora, CO 80016
    • S Parker Rd & Twenty Mile,  Parker, CO 80134

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7 Organizing Ideas

Meighan Meeker, owner of Simply Put Organizational Solutions for the Home, LLC is a professional organizer for home or office. She provides these tips (and is offering an exclusive 50 percent discount for Mile High Mamas:

Start in the basement & garage. Store items by category in clear, labeled plastic bins on shelving units. Categories such as outdoor/garden, sports/fitness, clothing, house wares, and photos/memorabilia, make it helpful to remember where to find things. Dontate items that you have not used in the last year or more.

Get organized for the holidays. Get rid of old light sets and decorations that no longer bring you joy. Every time you buy a new decoration think of an older one that you can donate. This goes for all home décor. Your style and tastes change over the years. Do not hold onto things that no longer have a place in your home, let someone else enjoy them.

Organize your office: Go through your filing cabinets and drawers. Shred all your old, unecesssary papers. Downsize the amount of post it notes, binders, pens and other office supplies cluttering your drawer space. Donate books collecting dust, or that you can easily borrow from the library.

Organize your kitchen. Go through each drawer and cabinet to get rid of any food that has expired, utensils, water bottles, serving platters, appliances, or other kitchen ware that you have not used in the past year.  Allow yourself to only have one small “junk drawer.” Keep countertops clear of clutter by placing items such as schoolwork, mail, and invitations neatly away in decorative bins or file folders.

Organize your closets.  Donate anything you have not worn in the last year, that no longer fits, is not in style, or not your best look. Do this for every member of your household. Organize your clothes by putting tops on the top bar and bottoms on the bottom bar by sleeve or pant length, from light to dark colors.  You will be able to find what you need more easily.

playroomOrganize the playroom.  Decide with your children what books and toys can be donated to charity.  Making them part of the process will help motivate them to keep things more tidy and remind them of what they own. Reinforce that there are other kids who can enjoy the favorite toys they have outgrown.

Organize your photos and memorabilia.  Keep a bin of artwork and memorabilia in each family members room.  Go through the items accumulated over last year and keep a few of the most special pieces.  Add them to their permanent memorabilia bin stored in the basement.  Think of what items they will want to truly take with them when they move into their own first house or apartment, otherwise, get rid of it.  It is also a great time to organize and label vacation and holiday photos into protective photo boxes to easily enjoy, share and preserve for years to come.

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Savers is also on a mission to create a better world through reuse by inspiring local communities to donate reusable items to local nonprofits instead of throwing them in the trash. Through its commitment to sustainability, Savers has become one of the largest recyclers of used goods in the world, keeping more than 650 million pounds of reusable items from landfills each year. In partnership with Mile High Mamas.