Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Secret Millionaire: Teaching Our Kids About Poverty & Need

When we were very little, I remember driving through the worst section of a big city with my family. We were lost, I believe, and my dad was gripping the steering wheel of our 1970s station wagon tightly as he navigated unfamiliar streets. Scroungy looking men were hanging out on the corners, and my mom locked our car doors and whispered a tense command to the back seat: "If I say the word, duck."

Poverty was generally unfamliar to us. It is not that we were rich. I grew up in a middle class suburban neighborhood - extremely blue collar. My town's claim to fame was that we had the world's biggest limestone quarry. Every day, around 10 am, a dynamite blast would shake the walls of our ranch-style home. My parents were public school teachers, and, while money was tight, we always had clean clothes and new shoes when we needed them, and a hot-cooked meal on our table every night.

My first real experience with poverty came during my time as a college student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Just blocks to the west of our school was one of the city's toughest housing projects: Cabrini Greene. During my freshman year, I tutored a young boy named Roy who lived in the projects. In most ways he was just like any other 2nd grade boy, except he had grown up being used to shootings and violence. Now, when I thought of the dangerous projects, I also thought of Roy.

I saw poverty face to face when I worked at the Pacific Garden Mission on Chicago's south side. Women would come to the mission after many nights on the street or just after they had been released from prison. Their skin was weathered and their hair dishevelled. Their eyes were tired and hardened by the difficulties they had seen. I was often asked to spend time talking with the younger woman. Maria was a runaway. She was tired and angry and defiant. Her hair was greasy and her nail polish chipped. She looked away from me when she talked and wiped the stray tear from her eyes. She spoke of being lost and scared and afraid. When I returned the next week, Maria had gone. She was back on the streets. Now, when I thought of homelessness, I thought of Maria.

It is hard, as a mom, to know when and where to introduce my daughter (who lives a very comfortable suburban life) to the realities of poverty. I want her to be safe. I want her to avoid danger. Yet, I also want her to be grounded in the awareness of the world around her and the needs of people who have had a harder road to walk. Many of us have opportuntiies to take our kids on international trips or to help out with a charity. My one good friend takes her daughters to serve food at a soup kitchen. She is helping put a face to the concept of hunger.

Because this concept is near to my heart, I was pleased, this week, to watch my first episode of ABC's Secret Millionaire. Each week, the show features a wealthy individual or couple who want to bestow some of their wealth to some deserving individuals. They go undercover and are sent to some of the worst neighborhoods in our nation. The week that I watched, a very wealthy businessman went to Los Angeles's Skid Row neighborhood.

During their stay, they interact with both the needy residents and the volunteer organizations who are working to make a difference.

The show was inspiring. Not only did it highlight the work being done for those in poverty, but it put a face on the homeless and the underprivileged. The most remarkable thing about the episode that I watched was not the change that this millionaire was able to make in the neighborhood by writing checks for thousands of dollars. The more significant change happened in his own heart. He began to see not just an area with shady characters and dangerous dark alleys, but real people who are struggling and hurting and needing. He began to see faces, not just issues. He began to see a lot more like Jesus.

Secret Millionaire is not a Christian television show, but it could be.

It is just one way to teach your child, and maybe yourself, a little more about poverty and the ways we can join together to make a difference.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Confused by Your Child's Media Choices?

I am always on the look out for web-sites that will make my job as a parent easier. I was looking for information on the content of a movie I wanted to watch with my daughter. I remember the movie being very strong and powerful, and I thought she could easily handle it, but I couldn't remember why the movie had earned its R rating. This web-site is extremely helpful in giving specific content about an array of media choices, from DVDs to games to tv shows and the internet.

Commonsensemedia is designed to help parents review media choices both before and while their kids are involved in them. It allows kids, parents, and educators to review material.

Their mission statement is helpful:

"We exist because our nation's children spend more time with media and digital activities than they do with their families or in school, which profoundly impacts their social, emotional, and physical development . As a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume."

Here is the link if you'd like to "favorite" this site for future use.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hot off the Press! Creative Journal for Christian Teens

Aletheia is a magazine that takes teens seriously. It gives them a voice. It listens. It allows them to imagine and communicate in creative ways. What a great idea!

When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who told me I was a good writer. Not only did she notice this talent in me, but she recruited me to be a part of a competitive writing team. It was that teenage experience that caused me to gain confidence and to pursue the career I enjoy today.

Perhaps that is why I see such potential for teens in the world of creativity. I love to recognize that spark in younger people and give them a gentle nudge to make their unique voice heard. This new magazine offers opportunities, not just for teens to hear the words or advice of others, but to become published contributors!

Aletheia takes its name from the Greek word for "truth." Creativity here is about truth telling through poems, short stories and photography. The issue boasts an impressive amount of full-color illustrations. The layout is sophisticated and simple. The magazine seems to refuse to be bound by typical "teen" themes, but explores liturgy and nature and Scripture.

I especially loved one contribution that featured a creative piece next to the profile of the teen who created it. I think that many young people will be encouraged by seeing someone unique and fun and hip who is also committed to God and to the craft of writing.

The magazine is the creative brain child of publisher and editor Nicholas Muzekari who wants to "nurture, teach, enlighten, and strengthen Christian truth and values." The magazine is in its initial stages, but has an accompanying web site that details submission guidelines for your teen and creative contests!

Nicholas is the self-proclaimed "proud father of three homeschooled children in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and have been writing and creating artwork for as long as I can remember." He has his BA from Temple University and a Writing Diploma from the Institute of Children's Literature in Connecticut.

He says, "I have put all of my gifts and experience together to create Aletheia Writing Magazine. It is my sincere prayer and hope that it grows to become a wonderful resource and opportunity for young Christians who love to read, write, and create artwork."

Thanks, Nicholas!

I hope many of you will check out this creative work and pass it on to the teens in your life. All it takes is one simple word of encouragement from you to help pave the way for the next creative writer or artist!

Here's the link: http://www.aletheiawritingmagazine.com/. Why not purchase a subscription today!?