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More Happy Songs

August 22nd, 2016

One of my high school students wants to see more happy songs in the world, so Emily wrote her on song!

Managing Chaos: Tips for Parent Coaches and Volunteers

August 19th, 2016

Originaly published by Becky Post at

If you have a child in an out-of-school-time sport or club, you may have been recruited to coach or lead that activity. If you have stepped up and taken on a volunteer leadership role, good for you! You are modeling great skills for your kids—and you are contributing to your community.

Many parents are happy to pitch in and teach religion classes or lead scout troops, but the challenges quickly become apparent. One of the biggest challenges can be what teachers call “classroom management.” If you are not a professional educator, you might call it “chaos.”

Managing the chaos is important, for many reasons. Disruptive young people can easily dominate the situation, ruining the experience for other kids and derailing your activity plans.

Setting behavior norms for your group depends on you taking charge, according to youth development experts Ann Saylor and Susan Ragsdale, authors of Groups, Troops, Clubs, & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.

They recommend establishing a four-step process:

  • State norms in a simple, positive manner. For example, “Respect the personal space of others,” instead of “Don’t touch others.” Or, “Listen while the leader speaks,” instead of “Don’t whisper to your neighbor.”
  • Refer to the norms and use them consistently.
  • Post the norms where all can see them.
  • Most importantly, develop the norms together.

Saylor and Ragsdale’s book is packed with guidance and tips to help you take ownership of your class or group, while channeling young people’s positive energy and ideas. Using games—like the following—can be a great way to establish norms that the kids can truly own.

In and Out Game

Ask the group the following: How are you expected to behave? What rules and expectations are “in” and what rules are “out”? Break your group into two teams: the “In” group and the “Out” group. Give each team five minutes to list the various behaviors expected for their assigned word (in or out). For example, the In group might say that an “in” behavior is to respect their elders while the Out group might say an “out” rule is whining for what you want. Invite the groups to share their rules out loud. Record their ideas and then, as a group, review and determine the rules and expectations that should be in place for this program and this group.


Ragsdale and Saylor also recommend that your group come up with consequences when norms aren’t followed. They write, “Establish high expectations (You can do it!). But in setting high expectations and consequences, make sure the consequences match the violation and aren’t a ploy for attempting perfection.”

They recommend the following sequence for dealing with challenged norms:

  • When norms are challenged, walk over to where norms are posted and tap the norm in violation.
  • Ask the group what needs to happen next.
  • Do what is necessary (perhaps the simple tap on the norms will get things quiet or you’ll need to follow through on a consequence).
  • Ask if they’re ready to move on and continue to live by the guidelines they’ve created.
  • Move on.

Image via Tom Williams on Flickr.

Helping with a Move

August 17th, 2016

Shared by middle school student Aaron Geyer:

Just at the start of 2016, a family was notified that they had a month to pack up, find a place to

live, and move out because their landlord had decided he would make more money selling the

house than renting it out. The family wasn’t sure what to do. They really had nowhere to go.

Their 6 kids still had to go to school, eat, and sleep. How could they manage without a house?

Thankfully some kind people who attended their church secured a place for them to stay for a

few months. It was a tiny little house behind the church. Although they were very grateful for the

house, they knew it would not work out long term for their family. With their youngest being

only about a year old, and their oldest being a senior and everything else in between, it just

wouldn’t work out. Finally a distant family member told them that the father’s childhood home

was on the market at a very low price. The father couldn’t be more excited! His childhood home,

a good deal, convenient location relative to school, work, and church. It was almost too good to

be true, and as he was soon to discover, it was. He was about to find out why it was listed at such

a low price. “A fixer upper” would be a bit of an understatement. The house was in a deplorable

state. Mold, dust, asbestos, nails dangerously poking out of the floor, were just a few things that

made the house “less than hospitable.” In fact the house would have been better just to have been

demolished. But it had sentimental value to the family, plus they didn’t have that kind of money

lying around. So they started down the arduous road of renovating the house. One of the

youngest sons in the family has a trake that basically means he has a little hole in his throat with

a little filter to keep things out so he won’t suffocate. That’s why they had to do an especially

good job getting the house fit to live in. The main question now was “how?” Only the parents

and the two oldest kids were old enough to do that kind of work. And it would take months or

even years to get the house ready to live in. Some people form there church heard about the

problem and mentioned it to the youth minister who asked some of the kids in the youth group if

they wanted to help clean up the house. Of course all the kids were eager to volunteer and in a

couple of weeks a group was sent out there. The group stayed there for several hours and worked

very hard pulling up old moldy carpet ripping out boards and insulation, getting rid of old rotting

boards, disposing of old furniture, and more. The group came back a second time a few weeks

later and went through the same process again. At this point the house wasn’t perfect, but it was

a start. Thanks to the hard work of the kids the family should be able to move into the house soon!

Back to School Ideas: Tips for Getting Kids Excited about the Season!

August 12th, 2016

By: Susan Ragsdale

originally published at

When I was little, going back to school consisted of 4 basic factors:
  • Readjusting to the school bed time/get up schedule (getting back in the routine)
  • Eating breakfast
  • Getting “school ready” (academically): notebooks, pencils, crayons or in later years, calculators, backpacks and making sure summer readings and assignments were completed


  • Getting “school ready” (physically): new haircut, a few new outfits for the back-to-school wardrobe and good tennis shoes

That was it. As I think about readying for school (as an adult), I realize my parents had it fairly easy. I loved school. I looked forward to it–to friends, to certain subjects, and to teachers who opened up doors to magical places of adventures and excitement. As a child, I loved words, stories, and learning by games, which to me was a chance to compete, be fast, and master something! My parents didn’t have to work hard to get me excited about going to school, but most parents aren’t fortunate enough to have this problem ;)

As I think of what contributed to my own self-motivation and how my parents fed into my excitement, I can identify 3 things.

1. I always imagined the good. As the school start got closer, I began to imagine the friends and teachers I was looking forward to seeing and favorite subjects I would be taking.

Tip –> You can help your children “imagine the good” at the dinner table. Ask them to recall favorite memories from last year. Look at the yearbook or photos of fun moments. Talk about teachers they had. Ask about which other classmates that are looking forward to seeing the most.

[Related: Sign up for ParentFurther’s free e-newsletter to get your free copy of Table Time! our family dinners toolkit. Learn more >>]

Tip –>Invite one to three of your child’s special friends over for a play date. Help them reconnect before the first day of school while also taking advantage of the opportunity of getting to know your child’s favorite friends. Host a back-to-school bash for the neighborhood – make it a Popsicle party to keep it inexpensive and fun.

2. I found ways to evoke excitement. For me, the new year always held a hint of promise: new things to learn, new people to meet, new things to try – clubs, sports or pursuits I was interested in.

Tip –> Take your children to the school playground to play. Create a fun moment while also building a subtle bonding to school vibe. Start playing school games together at home like hopscotch, 4 square or jump rope games. This will help them hone skills, and at the same time prepare them for the “language” of jump rope rhymes and schoolyard play so they feel confident and ready to play with friends.

For older youth, squaring away basketball skills or running sprints can serve the same idea of giving a head start. How good it feels to come into the year ready and ahead of the game instead of behind!

3. I always loved to stir my curiosity and challenge myself.

Tip:–> Ask your child: “What classes are you excited about?” “What do you want to learn more about?” “What do you want to discover?” ” What are you looking forward to?” And when they say, “I don’t know,” push and keep pushing: “Think about it. You can come up with something.”

Tip –> When picking up required books to read, why not add a “fun” book, one they want to read on their own, as well (like a comic book, magazine, or graphic novel) to your shopping cart? Encourage healthy things that they are curious about and want to explore.

Tip –> Set a fun goal to go along with school goals. It’s easy to set academic goals (for every A you make, you’ll get 50¢), but what about goals of their own choosing that challenge them to master a skill or learn something new? A personal best perhaps? Or maybe it’s simply a fun goal that comes as a result of accomplishing something at school: if you do X, Y, Z at school, we’ll celebrate by doing B (something they want to do).

Brain research tells us that novelty and challenge are two of the things the brain needs to thrive. Exercise those brain muscles by playing games and being active at home. Here’s a small list of some different ways you can help activate brain cells:

What do you do to get your children geared up and excited about going to school?

______________________________________________________________________More Resources:

To learn more about feeding the brain and what it needs to work at its best, check out these articles:

[Photo credit: bitjungle on Flick’r.]

A Parents’ Must-Have, Back-to-School Guide

August 5th, 2016

by susan ragsdale

originally published at

The months of August and September are a whirlwind of activity for families with children and teens who are going back to school. A new school year brings new routines, which can require many layers of preparation—physically, mentally, and emotionally. We’ve collected some of our most-requested back to school resources to help you make a seamless transition into the new school year—and beyond.

Tips for All Parents – Before school starts:

  • Make sure your child is properly registered for school, particularly if he or she is going to a new school.
  • Ensure that your child is finishing (and finishing well) any summer homework that has been assigned.
  • Schedule doctor and dental appointments. Many kids need certain immunizations before school starts. Athletes in middle and high school need an athletic check up. Find out if your school requires certain medical forms for your child’s doctor to sign.
  • Get any school supply checklists from your child’s school. Many schools post them on their school websites.
  • Confirm any before and after school care that your child needs during the school year so that you don’t have any surprises on the first day of school.
  • Get the dates on your calendar for any back-to-school activities (the meet-your-teacher date, student orientation, parent orientation, and any other activities) offered by the school.

Two to three weeks before school starts:

  • Start shopping for school supplies. Make sure your child knows what the budget is. Get a copy of the new school year calendar. (Most school districts release them around this time.) Read through the entire calendar and highlight any dates (school conferences, parent orientation, school holidays, late-start, and early-release days). If you keep a family calendar, transfer all these dates unto your calendar.
  • Visit your local library with your child. Check out books about going back to school. Some books to consider for kindergarten to grade 3: Little School by Beth Norling (preschool), I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child (preschool to grade 2), Welcome to Kindergarten by Anne Rockwell, First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. For high school:Bound by Martin Spethman and Chuck Klein, and the Everything College Survival Book by Michael Malone.
  • Plan some play dates for your child before school starts. Often kids get disconnected from their school friends during the summer because they don’t see them every day. Help them reconnect by inviting old school friends over to play.
  • Schedule a haircut for your child if you haven’t already done so.
  • Help your child ease back into “learning mode” with these brain sharpening activities.
  • Decide on a quick family getaway. Visit an amusement park, a state park, or a water park, and have fun as a family.

One to two weeks before school starts:

  • Visit your child’s school; find your child’s classroom. Look for the cafeteria, the bathroom, the gym, the outdoor playground, and the front office. Anxiety goes down when kids get the chance to walk around a school before it starts. For those entering middle school or high school for the first time, have them walk through their schedule with you.
  • Review the basics. Do your young kids remember their ABCs? Do your incoming fourth graders remember the multiplication table? Review them.
  • Help kids clean up their rooms. Many become disasters over the summer. Now is the time to get them organized so that your child can easily find his or her clean clothes.

[Related: Click here to get simple tips for getting your kids to help out with household chores.]

  • Store school supplies in an easy-to-locate place. Families often stock up on extra school supplies because of the sales and then forget where they stash them.
  • If you have a high school junior or senior, mark the dates for ACT and SAT exams on your calendar. Consider finding a test preparation class for your teenager.
  • If you have a high school sophomore or junior, research colleges and universities.(Seniors should have their final list by now.) Find out when college fairs and college nights will be held at your school or in your community.

[Related Article: Education and Earning Potential .]

  • Start changing your child’s sleep and eating schedules to match the school’s schedule.Most kids have gotten into a summer schedule where they sleep in late and eat breakfast and lunch at odd hours.
  • Go to any orientations and meet-your-teacher events so that your child knows what to expect from the new school year.
  • Fill out all school paperwork. Parents often get flooded with forms from the school, either before school starts or right after it does. Fill out these forms right away and get them turned in before they get lost in the shuffle of other paperwork.
  • Create a route for getting to school. Even if your child rides a bus, get a copy of the bus schedule and follow it with your car. That way your child can see where the bus goes and where it stops. (Some kids get very anxious about their bus routes, particularly if they have to change buses or the bus stops at multiple schools.)
  • Take your child grocery shopping. Together, find healthy foods for snacks and school lunches.

[Related Article: No Cooking Required: Healthy School Lunch and After-School Snack Ideas.]

  • Create a homework space. Find a place for your kids to do homework. If it’s a designated space for homework (such as a desk in their room), help them set it up with supplies. If it’s a shared space, create a folder, backpack, or box where they can keep track of their homework supplies.
  • Set up a homework time now. Get kids in the habit of reading books during the homework time so that when school starts, they’re ready to start doing homework again.
  • Get excited about school starting. When kids see that you value education, they’ll be more apt to value it as well.

A Day at 2nd Harvest Food Bank

August 3rd, 2016

by Chris Geyer

I was privileged to go with campers, parents, volunteers & staff from Barefoot Republic Camp came together to help serve our city and be the hands and feet of Jesus.  One group helped sort food at Second Harvest Food Bank while the other cheered on and encouraged participants in Safe Haven’s Hike for the Homeless fundraiser.

I will be telling the story of what I did at the second harvest food bank and what I learned there. After we met we got into cars and drove there. It was a little cold that day but I didn’t mind. When we arrived they told us what to do and then we worked hard! After five hours we sorted and boxed enough food to feed over 5,000 people! We worked hard but got it done. When it was over they explained their history. Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee opened its doors in 1978 with commitment from several community leaders. The purpose of the organization was to provide a central distribution center for companies, groups and individuals who wished to help provide food for hungry people in Middle Tennessee. Second Harvests mission is to feed hungry people and work to solve hunger issues in our community. Modeled after the first food bank established in Phoenix in the 1970s, Second Harvest was designed to collect food that would otherwise be wasted, inspect and sort this food and distribute it to soup kitchens, pantries, and shelters serving the hungry. During the first year, this process resulted in a total distribution of 160,000 pounds of food to 75 member agencies. Today, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee is one of the largest and most comprehensive of over 200 food banks and food distribution centers nationwide. During the 2014/1015 fiscal year, Second Harvest distributed more than 29 million pounds of food to over 450 Partner Agencies, providing more than 24 million meals of food to hungry children, families and seniors throughout our 46 county service area. When they were done telling us their story we went back to the church and met with the other half of our group and talked about what they did which is another story for another time! And then we ate food had a bible study and then left. As I drove home I reflected on the day and thought about how good I felt. And remembered what Jesus said, “If you give to the poor you give to me.” And then decided to help there again someday.

Happy Birthday, Purple!

August 1st, 2016

Our purple book, Great Group Games for Kids, is 6  years old this month!  Whoo hoo!  Six candles – how can it be 6 years since we penned this book in some of our favorite Nashville coffee shops?  We’ve led games from this book from Texas to Illinois to Florida to Maryland to New York, and everywhere in between.  The games keep us laughing and learning with amazing youth and adults from every kind of school and afterschool organization.  We are blessed to learn from all of YOU, and look forward to many more birthdays of educational resources we are blessed to put together.


Not familiar with it?  Here’s a description:

Building on the popularity of the bestselling Great Group Games, this new collection for the younger set shows teachers and group leaders how to make even the silliest activity meaningful. Complete with details on timing, supplies, set up, and suggested group size, this is the perfect grab-and-go resource for anyone working with elementary school age children. Far from frivolous, each “play with purpose” game concludes with discussion questions to build positive identity, friendship skills, and a host of other character traits kids need to succeed.

Tips for Raising Culturally-Aware Kids

August 1st, 2016

By: Susan Ragsdale

originally published at
Why is it important to teach our children about our culture? Why is it equally important for us to spend time learning from others? How do we want our children to interact with others who come from different places—who have different backgrounds? How do we teach them tolerance, acceptance, and kindness? How do we ensure our youth get to know people as people and not just “buy into” whatever the current prevailing stereotype suggests? As a parent, you’ve likely pondered or begun to ponder all (or even some) of these questions.

We all know it’s important to prepare our children to thrive in an ever-changing, and increasingly-diverse population. And doing so can be a balancing act between maintaining pride and love for one’s own culture while remaining curious, tolerant, and accepting of those who are different from us. Ultimately, the goal for any parent trying to raise culturally aware kids is to equip them with the attitudes and skills necessary to be able to live together peacefully with others, even amidst differences.

Helping youth develop skills to interact effectively with others and be able to work in diverse teams with others who don’t necessarily share the same cultural norms are important skills researchers have identified as “21st century skills”. You can read more about 21st Century Skillshere.

As you continue to prepare your child for life in a diverse world, remember that your child will be more open to learning and exploring if you are open to playing the part of “willing parent”. Being willing to take your kids to see people of other cultures (and interact with them) helps children grow up in an accepting atmosphere. And your willingness as a parent to interact with others goes a long way toward combating the fear of the unknown.

Consider these ideas (from experts as well as from other parents) to introduce your child to other cultures and to teach them to respect the differences they will surely encounter as they continue to grow and learn.

Tips for parents with children under the age of 5

  • Give them opportunities to be around others. Kids in this age group are fearless. Having your child around others and showing (or practicing) your comfort level with all kinds of people sets the stage for acceptance. For example, one mom, Susannah Fotopulos, takes her 4 ½ year old to a pediatrician’s office that has an immigrant population so that he can be around people of different colors and sounds. One father, George Hovaness Donigian, recommends you take your child with you to a variety of festivals or events. Take them and say, “We’re going to meet some people who grew up in a world different than ours. They may dress differently, eat different foods, speak a different language. And if we’re lucky, we may hear them speak it, and then we can ask them about it.”
  • Build an eclectic music library. One easy way to explore the best of other cultures is through music. From lullabyes from around the world to musical series, you can take your family on a music tour around the world without leaving home through Putumayo, a site dedicated to introducing people to the world’s music.
  • Read from an assortment of books. When reading to your child and teaching her how to read, pull from a variety of books and authors to introduce the rich, diverse world we live in and how we differ.

Tips for parents with children ages 6 to 9

  • Teach them to be respectful in learning names. Don’t take the shortcut and “Americanize” a name. Teach your child to say it correctly. Let the person know you want your child to say his name the right way, and ask him to say it slowly and repeat it if necessary.
  • Diversify your holidays. Consider various ways to diversify your holidays. Perhaps you can try a new custom, play a cultural game, or explore how another culture celebrates holidays (such as the lighting of the Menorah candles).
  • For example, one father, Steve, buys his advent card from the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. It is stuffed with little dolls from around the world. As he pulls out each doll, he explores with his children the country that doll comes from and they look up the location on the map.
  • George, an Armenian father, shared that in his culture’s folklore, the Virgin Mary ate spinach, and that spinach is what caused her to go into labor. For his family, it is a tradition to have spinach on Christmas Eve (which for them is on January 6th).
  • For New Year’s, Steve passed along his Greek family’s tradition of having a King cake. There is a special way to slice the cake. The first slice is for God, the second is for the dad, then mom, and then each child, from oldest to youngest. Hidden within the cake is a coin. Whomever gets the coin in her slice of cake is considered to be blessed for the year.

Tips for parents with children ages 10 to 15

  • Use food as a way to learn about other cultures and traditions. Look at how homes take a common food, like rice, and make it in different ways. Spice it up at home with different recipes and verbalize the connections to the cultures who make rice that way. You can also hit up different booths at festivals, or go out and experiment – try new foods (sushi, noodles, eat with chop sticks).

[Activity: Download our International Rice Passport Challenge. ]

  • Teach them to stay curious and to show interest. Teach your child to find ways to ask questions that open up a door to get to know the person. For example, when meeting someone new you could ask, “Where does your family come from? What is your heritage?” Or when asking how to pronounce a name, you can follow up with asking if their name has a story or meaning.
  • Maintain a “see people as people” philosophy. One mom of a multicultural family, Kathy, says that the very first lesson she wanted her children to learn from her was that they choose who they are, and that who they are on the inside is what counts. She recommends that parents teach their children the vital truth that “people are people.”
  • Seek the humor. When misunderstandings happen (a mispronounced name, a seemingly naive question), teach your children to find the humor in the situation. Sometimes it’s best to take things lightly. Be open, have conversations, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek to understand where someone else is coming from.
  • Model acceptance and openness. Create an “open door” policy at home. Open your doors to multiple people from different walks of life. When your teen sees that you are okay with people who are different from you and that you are willing to learn from them, it goes a long way to sending a message of acceptance and tolerance.
  • Too much to have an “open door” house? Tone it down. Invite just one friend who gives you a cultural connection. Even having that one person’s perspective opens up the world that much more. It might be that your child will make a connection, or it might be your family as a whole. Be open to befriending others and be open to learning!
  • Above all else, be sincere! If you have biases or prejudices, your teenagers will pick up on it so be sure to deal with your own “stuff.”

Tips for parents with children ages 16 to 18

  • Teach them to ask questions and not just assume. Sometimes language is the only barrier between people; it’s not intelligence, just language. Pictures, gestures, and a sense of humor can help greatly when working to overcome language barriers. And don’t forget: just because someone has an accent doesn’t mean you have to speak louder or more slowly to him. Don’t assume! For example, one mom, Meredith, tries to teach her kids not to assume anything about customs. At their school, some girls wear head covers. She encourages her girls to seek to understand why they wear them by asking questions: What does it mean? Why do you wear one? Do you even have an option to not wear it?

Explore more on how to talk about and introduce the idea of diversity here.

  • Encourage your child to learn a language other than his own. “When you speak one language, you are one man; speaking two languages makes you two men,” says Nerses Kamajian, an Armenian grandfather. Being able to speak more than one language opens up a door to new friends and new possibilities.
  • Challenge your child to explore more about other cultures than just the foods. Invite them to find something different that appeals to them about the culture – a custom, a game, a ritual. Later, share together what you learned, experienced, and liked.
  • Give them the gift of an immersion experience. The most wonderful gift we can give our children is an immersion experience so that they become aware that “our” culture is not theonly culture AND that other people share similar concerns as us, but from different experiences and perspectives.
  • Be a tourist in your own town. Go to ethnic grocery stores, visit mosques, museums, or attend services from a different culture/religion, etc. Visit, learn, explore.
  • Check out local inter-faith groups that sponsor week-long (or longer) service or cultural trips to other regions of the country or to other countries. For example, living on an American Indian reservation for a week, or going on a Habitat for Humanity trip to Mexico. Living with a different culture is an impactful way to help people become sensitive to others and develop empathy.

Explore More Ideas for Building Culturally Responsible Kids:1. Raising Your Family in a Diverse Culture.

2. Make a World of Difference: 50 Asset-Building Activities To Help Teens Explore Diversity.

3. Educational Games from Around the World.

Don’t Brainstorm. Sprint!

July 29th, 2016

I ran across this article that is an alternative to brainstorming.  Thought you might find it interesting too!


Visiting to Make a Difference

July 27th, 2016

by Lydia Suggs


Since I was little my family and I have always gone to nursing homes in my community

to visit. We would sing songs to them, rub lotion on their hands, bring them cards, and just visit

with the elderly. I think it is a problem in society today that no one really cares or wants to visit

them and it breaks my heart.  Last month, my mom and I drove to the Ridgetop Nursing

Home in Ridgetop, TN intending to visit with some people there. As soon we walked in there

was a little elderly lady sitting in the lobby not doing anything. I walked up to her and gave her a

card I had made and talked to her for a while. As soon she noticed me her face lit up and she said

that she was happy to see my smiling face, she the card I gave her and kept it like it was a

piece of gold. After that me and my mom walked around in rooms and talked to some residents

there and I gave out more cards. Another highlight was that my mom got to pray over one of the

residents there who had been sick for the past 6 years.

Just being there was extremely humbling.  I thought it was amazing that they are in there

for years but they never complain. They are precious in Gods eyes therefore they should be in

ours. Jesus loves them and we should too and it is the right thing to do. To think that the little

card I made them made a difference in their life was very encouraging.  They are so lonely

because the majority of their families do not visit them and it is so disheartening. The smallest

things whether it is a card or a flower or even a smile can always make a difference in someone’s

life. I definitely hope I have empowered you to make a difference in your community.

Sheldon on Making a Difference

July 25th, 2016

making a difference - sheldon strip

The Best of Both Worlds: Thoughts on Being Latina and Raising Bi-Cultural Kids in America

July 22nd, 2016

By: Susan Ragsdale

originally published at

It’s National Hispanic Heritage month, and I can think of no better way to celebrate than by honoring my friend, Carol, and asking her for her insights and perspective on what it means to be Latina in the United States. As Carol and I talked for an hour over coffee, I asked her about where she grew up, her home now, her family and her work. Here is Carol’s story.

Carol grew up in Costa Rica where her dad owned and ran a grocery store. Ten years ago, she moved to Nashville, TN, where she currently runs the YMCA Latino Achievers program. At home, she and her husband have a 14-year-old son who spent four years of his life in Costa Rica and 10 in Nashville.

What was it like to move into the United States?

When I came here, I was suddenly identified as a “Latina,” a label, a check-mark on a box. I had to check it; there was no other option. That check-mark shocked me – it tried to define my identity and denoted me as separate, not a part of the whole. I never thought I could be limited to fit into a boxed description. I stopped being recognized as Carol. I felt disconnected and sometimes I didn’t even feel like I was a person.

When you are told you are something so many times, when you are constantly asked to check that box, it begins to imprint in your mind that you only fit in this box along with a limiting definition. And if you aren’t careful, you might begin to believe that.

Coming here turned out being a great opportunity to discover and define who am I today. I learned to reframe my internal dialogue (the way I thought about myself) so I wouldn’t lose who I really was. I had to question myself constantly: “Is this my truth?” “Is this who I am?” “Is every Hispanic stereotype true about myself?” I started analyzing the information bombarding me. I sorted through everything so that it was ME who was defining my dreams and my reality.

What’s your experience like now?

For the most part, I am treated with respect. There is much I enjoy about my work and the opportunities around me, but I still encounter those instances where I feel that people hear my accent or see the color of my skin and assume things about my intelligence or personality. I know those first 5 minutes in meeting someone creates impressions so I am conscious of giving the best of myself in every interaction and especially in those first 5 minutes.

What’s the gift of being Latina in the United States?

Latinos are “Citizens of The World!” I am bi-cultural. I am able to recognize how the beauty of both cultures, where I grew up and where I live now, have enriched my life with gifts and challenges. The trick to living well with both is to accept yourself and both worlds. It is a great gift in my eyes.

Empathy. I feel I am able to understand people a little better because of my experiences. When you travel, I believe you develop a more empathetic point of view because you learn to recognize and are more aware of what makes people uncomfortable or vulnerable, and you can connect with them.

Being Latino opens a window to the world. I have discovered that as a Latina I ignite curiosity: “You’re from where?” I can open a window to an unknown part of the world to others. In this BIG world, there are other perspectives to think about or see on any given issue. For example, here at 3:00 p.m., people are at their desks. In Costa Rica, people are sitting with friends drinking coffee. This difference is an opportunity for me to share differences and let other people see through my eyes the world I have known.

What does it mean to be a “Citizen of the World?”

Our philosophy is that we’re world citizens who happen to be born in particular places. We are here to be part of and take care of the whole world. We are here to experience the WORLD God created for us – all of it. We have a great opportunity to enrich our lives by knowing, learning from and experiencing other cultures and friends. Being world citizens is how we live. We try to be curious about everything that is around us not only in this moment and in this space because we know that everything we do affects the world globally. We are interconnected.

How do you pass along your own cultural traditions to bi-cultural kids?

In my work, I want to pass on the message to be proud of who you are, take advantage of the best of both worlds, and use your gift for the betterment of your community. Know that your existence can make a difference in someone’s life.

What does it mean to “be Latino/Latina?”

Family: Being Latino means traditions. Stories about heritage and family live together. It’s important to know those stories–like how your grandparents worked the lands, or what they had to do to bring the family together. Being Latino means knowing what a cup of coffee symbolizes: to sit down, connect, and check in. Coffee is the only thing that all of Latino America has in common. The values and traditions may differ from country to country but everybody has coffee, drinks it, and connects over it. This is a rich part of who we are.

Embracing your roots: I want bi-cultural youth to know their roots and history and to [connect with and be inspired by] their rich history. Our history includes very smart people who built pyramids, contributed to art and music, and so much more! There’s a whole legacy that comes from the culture.

Embracing where you live: I want youth to reconcile the American side with the Latino side. I believe we are a beautiful result of genetics and environment. I want our kids to embrace our country’s organization, structure, our quest for achievement. America was built on people who came from all over the world and managed to work together. Unity should not just be another word in our vocabulary but a motto for life. I want youth to make a plan and work their plan for the betterment of all.

Embracing your story: More than anything, I want everyone to personally embrace his or her story and love who you are, because at the end of the day, it’s just you! You are with yourself 24/7. You might as well love yourself.

My son is able to translate two ways. He has perspective and is able to find the middle ground. He is aware of intrinsic things–things he didn’t learn from a textbook. He learned these things for himself, from being immersed in both cultures. He has flexibility of thought; he can see solutions in ways that maybe his dad and I don’t. This is part of his story of being bi-cultural (and awesome).

What would you share with other parents to help them embrace some of what you’ve talked about?

1. Listen to your kids. They are transitioning; they are switching on and off and living in a complex world trying to define who they are and what they believe in and what their values are and what they believe is true for themselves. To be able to listen to them and their opinions – the war in Iraq or the neighbor next door – is essential. What do they think? What are they feeling? If they are also navigating a system at the house and a system at school, then they are switching back and forth in two systems. Be patient but persistent to make connections with your kids; listen and guide according to your core principles.

2. See the challenge of living in two systems as an opportunity for your kids. Kids have a greater capacity to navigate two worlds. They are flexible. They can bring understanding and unity to help things move smoothly between different systems. Try to be open to learn from your kids and be open to new ways. We want them to be better than we are. Be patient with yourself, your ways, and the ways that push back from other systems. Hold onto your values, but also be open to new expressions and new ways. When you’re wiling to learn, you put your guard down: “I want to understand what you are saying and where you are coming from.” That willingness is key for growth and understanding to happen within the whole family.

Share your stories. Your history and YOUR story is important. How were you raised? Where did you come from? What about your parents? What lessons have you learned? Parents should make a conscious effort to share learned lessons with their kids.

Remember: Society is made up of families. Families are miniature versions of a society. We can make society better by making the family stronger and more aware as we share what we’ve learned.

Carol Cubillo-Seals is Director of the YMCA Latino Achievers program in Nashville, TN. She can be reached at

The #growildchallenge

July 18th, 2016

By Caleb Boss

The #growildchallenge started when I was assigned to create some ideas for a service project that I would later carry out.  While I developed ideas the thought of how much the wild is neglected popped into my head.  The thought that a lot of the wild areas today are being cleared to make way for buildings.  Thoughts about how many animals are dying from pollution we create.  So I decided that I was going to make a service project that helped the wild.  I started thinking about service projects like cleaning up the highway or making awareness signs but then I realized that that would only affect a small number of people.  That got me brainstorming about how to affect many people, the immediate answer was social media.  That was when the basic idea of the #growwildchallenge was formed, and then it developed into this:


As you now well know the one of the main reasons I chose to create this challenge was because of buildings taking over wild areas.  I now hope that by issuing this challenge we can help grow back the wild.  Also I helped plant three bushes and some flowers to help kickstart the challenge.  So I challenge you to go do your part in growing the wild by participating in the #growwildchallenge and telling friends about it too!  The more people we reach, the more good we can do!


A Horse, of Course!

July 15th, 2016

Look around. In your youth group are there any teens with disabilities? More likely, not, for two reasons:

  • Only 5–7% of young persons, ages 5–17, have special needs. Although seemingly small, it’s definitely a significant number.
  • All too often a disability leads to social isolation, especially in the teenage years. Those youth become increasingly “invisible.”

In church we talk the talk about being inclusive, about accepting others; but we expect people to come to us. You are in a position to help your youth walk the walk, to reach out to young persons who are otherwise marginalized.

You have a surprising helper—horses!

Hershey Here!

Hershey, Here! is a book about Saddle Up!, a therapeutic riding center that serves children, ages 2–19, who have disabilities. Hershey is one of the horses. He’s the main storyteller, but, of course, since he is a horse he needs a little help.

Look around! In your area there may well be another “Saddle Up!” Across the world there are more than 850 similar centers. Some serve adults and some, “wounded warriors,” as well. Here’s a link to see where in your area such programs may be:

You might begin a conversation with your youth group about ways to connect with persons of all ages, but especially other teens, who have special needs, by introducing the group to Hershey, Here! or to one of the programs in your area.

Many youth admire horses; some are passionate about them. Let the horses open your youth to

  • becoming more aware of persons with special needs;
  • being more willing to reach out and include those teens;
  • looking for ways to serve such individuals either now or later in their lives;
  • embracing opportunities to be advocates for people on the margins.


—Crys Zinkiewicz, today’s guest blogger, is the author of Hershey, Here! and is also Hershey’s Pony Pal, one of her various volunteer jobs at Saddle Up! Crys’ career was as an editor of resources for youth ministry. To contact Crys or to order the book, visit

Clean up at Treasure 2 Farm!

July 13th, 2016

by Calli Carroll

I have been going to Treasure 2 Farm since I was 7 years old, taking riding lessons. I love being around horses and love hanging out with my friends. At Treasure 2 Farm I can do both! So it only made since that I should help out there. Treasure 2 Farm has been doing renovations for a while now to make it look nicer, and it is going great, but there was a need for organization. I decided to take it upon myself to fulfill that need.

On May 2nd, I went to Treasure 2 Farm and I organized all of the medicine and bathing supplies. I then cleaned the rest of the tack room! It was important to have the medicine organized and put up on a high shelf.  You need to be able to access the medicine quickly when needed for any of the horses. You must also have it high so that small children cannot get into it.

The owner of Treasure 2 Farm, Lindsey Carney, has 4 children. She is fun, but strict when needed, she is also very funny! I learn a lot there and she helps me improve on the skills I already know. Treasure 2 Farm is located in Chapmansboro,TN. I feel like me helping, impacted the farm in a way that it helps everyone to be able to get to things quicker and more easily to keep the horses they ride healthy and clean! In the meantime I got the privilege of being the help that was needed! In doing this project it makes me want to do more to help the community and inspire others to do the same.

Treasure 2 Farm “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”   Matthew 6:21