Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hiking with Venture Outdoors

Due to ALEC moving locations, we have not been able to hang out with the kids as much as normal. However, this week we were able to take the kids on a hike with Venture Outdoors to help wrap up the school year!

The kids loved the wide range of activities Venture Outdoors has done with them over the last several months. Here, the kids are taking a break from their hike and have surrounded Miss Ashley as she explains a riddle she wants them to solve.  It was a tough one, but the kids managed to figure it out!

Along the way, the Brashear Kids learned many new things about nature! In the top photo, Mr. Eric and Mr. A.J. found some Woodpecker markings on a tree. The kids asked why Woodpeckers were pecking at the tree and the Venture Outdoors staff explained the process of how Woodpeckers find their food.  The kids were fascinated that the woodpeckers found their food in trees! While on our hike, some of the kids found some weird looking rocks.  You can see in the bottom photo, two of kids checking out the weird rock.  The Venture Outdoors staff was able to tell the kids that the rock was called slag, which is the leftovers from iron. The kids thought the rocks looked a little funny but also thought it was cool that rocks could be made from iron!

At the end of our hike, the Venture Outdoors staff awarded the kids with certificates for completing the Venture Outdoors programs! They were very excited about their certificates! The kids learned alot and their love of nature grew during their time with Venture Outdoors. Thanks Venture Outdoors!

- Jen

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Peanut Butter Roll-ups

Walking to ALEC after school can be difficult when we walk by 2 tempting bodegas that offer candy, sodas and chips aplenty to little eyes. At ALEC we have a fairly strict "no outside food or drink" rule. This is largely in place so that we know what is going into our students bodies while they are with us. If we let them, they would eat little candies, ice cream bars and hot cheetos all day long. 
We teach them that sweets are not necessarily bad, but lots of bad sugar is not good for our bodies. We practice moderation in our space and with our students. 
"Our goal is for the students to prize 
healthy snacks as highly as a candy bar."
It is a an uphill battle most days but we have found one snack that is pretty much a win all around. 
Peanut butter burritos! 

This snack is simple and easily customized for any allergies or for food preferences.  I began asking the students to make their own burrito after I had made it a time or two.  This made them feel like they had invested in their food that day and built excitement for a healthy snack. 
The number of students that initially declined the snack dramatically reduced after I began asking them to make their own snacks.  They all wanted to make it and create it their way. It can be a little messy with the peanut butter, but I felt that even their hand eye coordination improved when it came to spreading peanut butter and guidance by a teacher.

We encourage the student to wash their hands prior to the snack preparation, so they can sprinkle their ingredients on. The honey is the one item I leave for the teacher to administer as students can go a little over board with the sweetness. We also always have our snacks monitored by a staff member. 

What you will need:
Flour tortillas
Natural peanut butter

1. Spread about a tablespoon of peanut butter on a flour tortilla, ask the child to spread around getting all the way to the edges so that it will roll up and stick like a taquito.
2. Lightly sprinkle cheerios and fruit evenly on the peanut butter. Not too much or you have made a taco because it is too full to roll. 
3. Drizzle honey around the roll up and roll closed like a taquito. Give each child a napkin upon completion so they can carry it around without the extra mess.

A few substitutions for allergies or preference:
For the wrap: gf tortillas warmed, rice cake (this cannot roll but is just another alternative)
For peanut butter: almond butter, Sun butter or just honey although we suggest having a protein in the wrap.
For crunch: other light cereals, granola, puffed wheat,  various nuts
For chewy: other dehydrated fruits like raisins, blueberries, strawberries etc.
For honey: agave

One of the great things I love about this snack is that many students have shared with me that they have requested mom to put the ingredients on their family grocery list.
Students can easily make  this snack at home and since the neighborhood we work in is a food desert these are all items that can be bought at the local family Dollar or even dollar store.

Thanks so much for checking out our recipe. Did you catch our Easy Vegan Smoothie recipe for kids?
Keep checking back here for more recipes and adventures in out of school time programming.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Lend an Ear: End of the Year

The students of the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center after school program have enjoyed many educational lessons during this past year, but learning sign language with Michelle Walker's Lend an Ear is a favorite.

During our last visit from Ms. Michelle, the students reviewed what they had learned all year.

They had little trouble remembering what they had learned in previous visits.

They reviewed vocabulary words, common phrases, and a signed performance of "If You're Happy and You Know It"!

The kids had a great time, but they had a surprise for Ms. Michelle- they made thank you cards before she arrived!

The Brashear Association is very grateful to Michelle Walker for her contributions to the ALEC program. Volunteers and partner organizations greatly enrich our program schedule and give our students wonderful learning experiences.

- John

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cooking Together: Quelcy Kogel and 3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cups.

Quelcy Kogel came to visit ALEC, Allentown Learning and Engagement Center, in April to share a homemade sweet treat with our students.  They were over the moon excited to make homemade peanut butter cups since Reeses cups are a common favorite among the students we work with in Allentown.

Quelcy is another amazing and talented local Pittsburgh chef to partake in our Cooking Together series. Quelcy blogs over at With the Grains and is also a local food stylist and photographer.
Along with Quelcy came Kyle, her boyfriend, who is a local urban farmer and bee keeper.

Quelcy understands we all want a sweet treat now and then and kids are no exception.  When we told the students that they were making homemade Peanut butter cups that day at Cooking Together they perked right up and immediately started asking lots of questions to make sure we weren't "tricking" them.  

Quelcy also brought a few Food magazines to show the students what a food stylist and photographer does as well as how she blogs and why she shares her creations with the world.The way she explained it to the students was that she makes food that people see in pictures and advertisements look pretty and styles it in a way that you would want to eat it. 

She started out by asking the students what they thought was in a Reese's cup. They responded with Peanut butter and chocolate. Then she asked a student to read off the ingredients of a Reese's Cup and asked the students if they had heard of those other ingredients before and if they knew what they were. They did not know what those other ingredients were, we then further discussed if we need them in our body.  We decided that minimal ingredients and less foreign things in our body is the best for us.

She began by preparing her paper baking cups in muffin tins and then melting organic dark chocolate baking chips in a double boiler. While continually stirring, she discussed the differences between milk chocolate and dark chocolate with the kids. They liked watching her stir and melt the chocolate. Once the chocolate was melted she poured a thin layer of chocolate into each paper cup and placed in the freezer to harden a bit. 

Next was the peanut butter! Quelcy and the students discussed what peanut butter is made of and whether or not it should have other ingredients besides nuts and salt.
Once the first layer of chocolate had hardened in the freezer she pulled it out and place peanut butter in each cup and drizzled a little honey. She stirred the peanut butter and honey together and placed in the freezer.

During our freezer-wait time, Kyle shared about bees and bee keeping since we had honey in our recipe.  He shared how he got started keeping bees and why bees are important to us. He also explained how to get the honey from the hive. For every new tid bit he shared our students, and teachers, had a question for him. 

Photo courtesy of Quelcy Kogel.
Photo courtesy of Quelcy Kogel.
Photo courtesy of Quelcy Kogel
Kyle also shared a little about his urban farm in Hazelwood and the importance of fresh, local produce to our communities.  You can read more about the Hazelwood Urban Farm on their facebook page and here. The kids were very excited about the dried out comb he brought to show them and his bee gear and learning all the tips and tricks of how to handle bees. 

The time came for the last layer of chocolate to harden and set, then it was snack time!
Everyone was extremely excited and eager to try the peanut butter cups. They were a hit among the students and adults alike. One student had to answer some extra bee trivia before he could take a leftover cup home with him. They were amazing!
In my personal opinion these were far superior to the store bought Reese's cups. Far Superior!

Here's how you make amazing Peanut butter cups at your out of school time program or at home!

3 Ingredient Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

  • Dark chocolate baking chips
  • Creamy natural peanut butter
  • Honey
  • Optional: sea salt to sprinkle on top

  • Line a standard muffin tin(s) with paper cupcake liners.
  • Melt half the chocolate using a double boiler 
  • Distribute enough melted chocolate into each muffin cup to form a thin layer. If the chocolate is not level, drop the pan repeatedly on the counter, and it will flatten. Place the pan in the freezer for 15 minutes to harden the chocolate.
  • In the meantime, stir the peanut butter and honey together with a spoon or in a food processor (or blender) until mixed. Adjust the honey quantity to your liking.
  • Place a spoonful of the peanut butter mixture into each cup. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  • Melt the remaining chocolate, and portion small spoonfuls of chocolate into the cups, one cup at a time, immediately dropping the pan repeatedly on the counter to flatten each cup. 
  • Allow the chocolate to cool slightly and then sprinkle with sea salt if you choose. 
  • Chill the peanut butter cups for more bite, or leave them at room temperature for a softer, creamier texture.

Thank you Quelcy and Kyle, it was a wonderful Cooking Together day, the students and adults enjoyed it immensely! 

Check out Quelcy's blog, With the Grains and Kyle's Hazelwood Urban Farm adventures to learn more about our special guests.


ALEC Wish List

As we shared recently, ALEC (Allentown Learning and Engagement Center) is in the process of moving to a larger space to expand the number of students we reach on a daily basis and the overall program outreach.  We are faced with a few new challenges. Summer camps begin in a month and we need a few more items in addition to the items we had in our previous space to make camps happen this June.

So we put together a wish list to see if any friends in the community might be able to help with these needs. Either by donation of new or second hand items or through cash/gift cards to purchase items from Home Depot, Ikea or Construction Junction. Any little bit is appreciated.

ALEC Wish List:

Tables! We have a few small ones but we will need more to accommodate our youth for homework, lessons, art and everything else in between.  We prefer the durable plastic folding tables as we need to set up and tear down easily, depending on the lesson and what the students are doing for the day. These tables will allow for easy transitions from homework to game times.
Tables needed: 5-6

Chairs! If we have more tables we will need more chairs. These must be folding as we need to put away chairs from time to time and will need to take up as little space as possible.  It is preferred that they are very durable as they have the potential to be set up in our future outdoor classroom, and the students will be using them often.
Chairs needed: 30-40

Cooking Demo Island! Since cooking and healthy eating is a big part of our programs and a central focus we are in need of a sturdy (and tall) cooking demo table or kitchen island with a large prep area and storage underneath. At our last space we utilized some tall glass ikea tables. Fragile tables with very little support and kids are not a good combination and we shattered a couple tables.
Cooking Demo Island needed: 1

Shelving! We have a lot of art and programming supplies! We would like to utilize wall mounted shelving as it will take up less space and can go a little taller than many free standing units.
Shelving: a few units, 

Extension Cords! We have many tech offerings and larger rooms than we had previous, we need ways to connect our computers and other electronics to the wall outlets easily. 
Extension cords needed: varies due to length

Desks! We will need additional staff desks as we relocate staff from over sized desks in our South Side office to the new space. Minimal and space saving design is preferred.
Desks needed: 2


Hooks! We could use super sturdy coat and storage hooks for our kitchen area and general maintenance items to keep counters and the floor clear of clutter.
Hooks needed: 5-20

Pencil Sharpener! I cannot tell you how many little plastic pencil sharpeners we go through and/or lose each school year, too many to count. It is time to get sturdy and reliable wall mounted sharpeners.
Pencil Sharpeners needed: 1-2


Chalkboard Paint! Our space is beautiful, clean and white. I would like to have a few offerings for a little extra creativity and for instructional lessons. Chalkboard paint would be an excellent creative outlet without taking up space.
Paint cans needed: 1-2
DONATED by Black Forge Coffee!

Silverware! We strive to teach our students to live sustainable lifestyles by daily practice in ALEC, however this is lost when we have to use disposable silverware. We would greatly appreciate sturdy and reliable (non-bendable) silverware that we can use for years to come.
Silverware needed: enough for 50-60 students 

TV with HDMI Capabilities!  We are adding an additional classroom and this means we have to choose one classroom to receive our existing tv for power point lessons and educational clips. It would be largely beneficial to both groups to have a means of a large viewing screen rather than utilizing a small laptop or ipad for lesson presentations.  An overhead projector might also work, as long long as it has HDMI capabilities. Gently used is welcomed.

We are so very grateful for an amazing community of friends and neighbors who continue to love and support the work The Brashear Association does in the South Pittsburgh communities. 

If you are able to assist with any of these items or cash/gift cards or have further questions about the listed items, please contact Amber Rooke at or call ALEC at 412.620.8282.

Thank you so much for your love and support to the Brashear Kids!


*Stock Photos from various sources.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hugs and ALEC Updates

A few ALEC students really "embracing" a new game.
I recently came across this picture and was reminded how much our students like being around each other.  They may not always get along but they like ALEC, they like our staff and they like having fun with one another. I mean look at them hugging on each other up there. It's great! 

We're Moving!
We are currently in a time of transition as we move from our old space, 1206 Arlington Ave, to right around the corner to 827 E. Warrington, in Allentown. It's a short move but will provide us with an additional classroom, an outdoor space, gardening options and a few more opportunities to expand our programs. We are eagerly looking forward to this next phase in the life of ALEC but missing our students at the same time during our brief hiatus away from them.

We cannot wait to share our new space on the blog and all the new opportunities we will have. We are also looking forward to Summer Camps with our students.

John shared the "Shrinking Circle" game, pictured above, here.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Vegan Smoothie Recipe

We have a big focus on healthy eating in our education programs. Our instructors learn very quickly what the students like and what they clearly could care less about. When it comes to snacks we are always trying new foods and veggies while incorporating the tried and true favorites. 

One of those favorites is our go-to smoothie recipe. It is a tropical tasting smoothie that is so simple to make. The question "Are we having smoothies today?", with eager anticipation for the response, is an every other day occurrence in our programs.
I have gone back and forth several times with giving our smoothies fun names. What it comes down to is that sometimes, given the ingredients or amount of ingredients, it doesn't taste the same every time and every now and then I slip a new ingredient in to try it out with our kids. I like that the students can pick out what fruit they can taste in their smoothie or if they want more bananas and so on. 

Our students also love helping to make the smoothies. I usually ask for one to two students to assist with the smoothie and let them "make the recipe." I show them our ingredients and they put in the ingredients and choose how much of each they would like to include. 
Asking students to make their snacks gives them more of a sense of ownership and allows them to be more adventurous in their food choices.  

Easy Vegan Fruit Smoothie Recipe:

Frozen Bananas
Frozen Strawberries
Frozen Blackberries
Pineapple Juice (12-16oz)
2 Cups of Water or ice

In a large blender place the desired amount of bananas, strawberries and blackberries. Pour the juice and water over the top. Blend until smooth. Serve in cups. 

This is an easily customized recipe and you really just make it up as you go. I think the juice is what makes this recipe a favorite, it gives it that nice tropical flavor. I you have a child who is allergic to pineapple you can substitute it for orange juice.  The water also allows for a smoother consistency. 

How to Freeze Bananas:

Cover a baking sheet with waxed paper and place cut 1 inch sections of fresh bananas on the sheet making sure the bananas to do not touch one another. Place in a freezer over night. Store frozen banana slices in a large ziploc bag to be placed back in the freezer for later use with smoothies.

The frozen bananas give the smoothie a more ice cream like consistency.  The kids love this.   

Tip: Earlier in the year I had a little difficulty introducing smoothies to some new students because it was "weird."  One day I made a big show of putting one single small scoop of sherbert into the smoothie mixture to be blended up.  From then on the kids thought the smoothies tasted like ice cream and I never put it in there again. I let the frozen ingredients do the work. It's a sneaky thing but it did the trick and most of our students beg for smoothies regularly. 

Note: Although this snack is a little naturally sweeter than other options, we have not noticed a major change in our students behavior or unusual spikes in hyperness. In fact it seems to help them focus a little more with full bellies and a good source of energy. 
Many of our staff and Duquesne University volunteers also look forward to smoothie days as we all try together. 
This is a filling snack for after school or during summer camps.  Brashear Kids and staff highly recommend it. 



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