Monday, December 22, 2014

Indoor Adventures with Venture Outdoors

When bad weather comes, it can challenge after school plans and require creative thinking. Our recent visit from Venture Outdoors faced such a challenge, and showed that adaptable activities can keep the rain from dampening your fun.

After a few icebreaker questions to bring the group together our visitors, Alex and Ben, introduced the game that the students and instructors were about to play. Called "Evolution", the rock-paper-scissors tournament action had our kids up and moving, looking for their next contest and their next chance to advance.

After energizing everybody, it was time for a change of pace. The next activity that our Venture Outdoors leaders set up was a critical thinking game in the style of Mastermind. Instead of matching a sequence of colors, however, we were challenged to match various pieces of litter with the time that each would take to decompose in nature.

The results were eye-opening! Some of the smallest and most common items found littering the environment can survive for centuries without breaking down. With some new information to think over, we began our last activity, "Toxic Sludge". This game, we were told, required crossing the room without stepping in the toxic sludge that was the carpet. The only refuge we had was the cardboard piece that we each got. Somehow, we would need to work together to get to the safety of the stage.

Our plan to pass pieces along the line were complicated by the rule that any cardboard would be lost to the sludge if nobody was touching it. Eventually we all made it, by communicating and coordinating, to make a path and not leave anyone or anything behind. Ben and Alex told us how our efforts in Toxic Sludge were like the planning and consideration needed when going out in nature. The students learned about the importance of Leave No Trace, and how to practice it.

The Venture Outdoors and the Brashear Association partnership is a pilot program to develop outdoor and nature focused lessons to educate youth and help them build life skills. The students at the ALEC after school program had a great time with the guys from Venture Outdoors and look forward to their next visit!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Brashear Kids Visit the Hardware Store

We celebrated our last week of 2014 programming with a little field trip in our neighborhood. We walked to the Hardware Store! The Hardware store is a fun technology based community collaborative with a co-working component.  They strive to serve the neighborhood and community around them through media services, web and mobile solutions, brand management and workforce support.

We started our session off with snack and listening to Josh Lucas share what the Hardware store does and how they help the Allentown town neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The students had fun asking questions about the space and asking who works there. Josh informed the students we would be making a youtube video about our neighborhood and how to be good neighbors. They were very excited and asked lots of questions like "Are we going to be famous?!" and "How many views will we get?" 

Next they each were given the opportunity to stand in front of the green screen and say their name and how they can be a good neighbor or what they love about their neighborhood. They especially liked this part because they could watch themselves on the video monitor. A few students did jumping jacks, some made silly faces or dances, and others practiced sweet ninja moves.

The students drew what they wanted their background image to be on the green screen. Some chose castles, others helicopters and one a dragon egg.  A few made fun thank you cards for Josh and the Hardware Store team for having us in their space.

We had lots of fun on this little field trip and we are looking forward to future collaborations together.  Our fun YouTube video featuring our students will coming soon! A big thank you to Josh for allowing us to visit their space and to be creative together.

To read more on the Hardware Store and what they are about please read this article, or follow them on twitter and facebook.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brashear Kids and Our Police Friends

When Brashear began to partner with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh back in May and ALEC was born (more on ALEC here) we realized we had a heavy police presence due to having the Pittsburgh Zone 3 Police next door to us. Our students seemed to have a dim view of police. They saw them more as strangers than friends. We talked to Commander McNeilly about this perception our students had, together we agreed that this was not what we wanted for our children and for our neighborhood. We scheduled a few visits and things started to turn around.

Police officers began to smile and wave to our students more, a few took time to stop and ask them friendly questions about their current activities in our after school program.  One officer noticed a child was having a rough day, he asked the child's name and just had a relaxed conversation with the student, it took their mind off the small thing that had upset them in the first place.

Through curious questions and silly stories they were able to begin to humanize the officers and together we turned strangers into friends. Officer Eric Baker's visit was a fun one.  The students were so excited they could barely contain themselves and often blurted out questions before another student was finished with their turn.  He talked about his dreams and aspirations when he was their age and how he became a police officer.  Officer Eric shared his favorite parts of the job and even the difficult aspects. There were other questions like "Do you have a dog?" and "What is your favorite food?"

He took us to a squad car to explore and see inside.  The officer showed the students his computer, the lights, the horns and what makes this car different from other cars. They crawled in and out of the SUV giggling and laughing.  Below is the example of what they said when given the opportunity to use the loud speaker on the squad car for.

(Full Disclosure: Ms. Amber and Mr. John did not go to jail.)

When a police friend walks by our storefront windows, the students excitedly jump to the window to wave crazily at them until they wave back.  The little gestures that the Zone 3 Police have shown that they care has made a world of difference in our students lives.

We understand that our police friends have a difficult and trying job and sometimes they have rough days, but the times that they stop to smile at a student or praise their sidewalk art are great days and you can tell from their smile it meant a lot to the child. 

Thank you so much to all our police friends who work so hard and still find time to ask about sidewalk chalk pictures.  You are appreciated and we look forward to more visits in the new year. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

10 DIY Gift Wrap, Boxes & Bows

Reuse, revamp, and up-cycle this 2014 holiday season! We just recently held a Gift Making Class at our afterschool center in Pittsburgh, PA. Our elementary aged students had a blast making gifts for parents and siblings. We also decided to make boxes and personalized wrapping paper. This inspired today’s round up!

When it comes to the holidays we know we’ll be spending money on gifts but sometimes it’s easy to forget how much our wrapping items can add up. Buying tape, wrapping paper, holiday cards, bows, gift tags, and boxes can be an expense not everyone wants to participate in. That’s where this post can help.

Below are 10 ideas on how to make your own boxes and bows & how to reuse paper bags and newspaper for wrapping. Plus, we have a bonus for you at the bottom!

If you like this, make sure to check out our previous post, 5 Gifts Under $5.

For these boxes you finally have a chance to reuse toilet paper rolls, revamp extra wrapping paper and card-stock (time to reuse those holiday cards from 2005), and up-cycle a cereal box.

1. DIY Pillow Box by Right@Home 
2. Pyramid Gift Box by LinesAcross
3. Gift Box from a Cereal Box by Blight Design

Put those Trader Joe’s bags to good use. Or, do what I did and ask your colleagues and friends for their paper bags. I just love the look of a simple brown paper bag with a little hint of color. You can also spice them up with doilies, twine, white paint, etc. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity. Also, don’t underestimate wrapping with newspaper. You can get real classy with it!

4. Recycled Brown Wrapping Paper by Spearmint Decor
5. Make Your Own Holiday Wrapping Paper by Go Forth
6. DIY Kraft Paper Gift Wrap by Wit & Whistle
7. Gift Wrapping Ideas by Adelle

While you’re looking around the house for supplies, why not utilize the magazines that you have been hoping to find a use for by making homemade bows. There are different ways to make bows, so mix it up! Oh, and keep that newspaper out that you used for wrapping gifts.

8. Make Bows from Magazines by Whole Living
9. Make Origami Bows from Magazine Pages by How About Orange
10. Make a DIY Gift Bow from Newspaper by Kaitlyn Davis

BONUS #11!

Don’t forget about a gift tag. Try these cute, free gift tags! Just stop by your local hardware store and take some green paint chips. Well, you might as well grab a few different colors while you're at it.

11. Paint Chip Gift Tags by Create Craft Love

Don't forget to check out these awesome 5 Gifts Under $5 too. Now go and make the season a little brighter with these from-the-heart diy wrapping hacks!
Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! 
- Corey

Friday, December 12, 2014

Namaste this Holiday

Tonight's yoga class at BYS goes to benefit... US!
Catch a class with Kristi Rogers tonight and feel extra good knowing you are benefiting the Brashear's Education Department and making awesome after school activities happen for the children in the Allentown neighborhood. 


ALEC Holiday Windows

In case you don't live in Pittsburgh or you haven't driven by ALEC lately we thought we would just put this here to show you how awesome our student's window art is. I am pretty proud of them! 
Under the supervision of our Americorps KEYS member, John, our students have been actively, and enthusiastically, participating in this cooperative art project that is on our front windows. Their art is on display for all of Arlington Ave. traffic to enjoy. We have had several neighbors pop in and commend our students for their work as well as our Zone 3 police neighbors popping in to share their admiration for it.

To find out how to do this project check out our Thanksgiving Paint by number project.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014


We are so thankful to KDKA for spotlighting ALEC, Allentown Learning and Engagement Center, and the work the Brashear Association does there. To get a better idea of what we encompass watch this short clip! 



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