Helping St. Louis

A Blog About Helping Each Other

Supporting Education With Comments

Posted by Schevus on February 18, 2009

I feel that education is the cornerstone for significantly improving St. Louis and the nation, so I did not want to move on from it quite yet. With smarter, better prepared youth coming out of our schools there is no limit to the advancements and progression we might see. Because of this importance, I wanted to offer an easy tangible way for you and I to support the education system. Thus the Supporting Education With Comments event.

What I would like you to do is leave a comment sharing a positive or negative experience you have had with a school, teacher, student, or the education system. If it is a negative experience, what might be done to improve the situation? If it is positive, what might make it better still?

For every unique comment that fits this criteria, I will donate $1 to the Active Minds Institute and $1 to the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation up to $50 total (25 comments with the possibility of extension if we reach that number). Comments will be accepted until 11:59 PM central time 31 March.

I look forward to hearing your experiences!

Update:

In light of only receiving one comment submission, I have donated $10 to each charity. Thank you Nessie!

Posted in Contests | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Bit Of Good News

Posted by Schevus on February 4, 2009

I just happened across this post which has some good news to share. Apparently the St. Louis area will be receiving $14.8 million in federal grant money. Here is an excerpt from the post:

The money is being provided through the Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), which was enacted in 2008 to assist state and local governments in addressing the impact of abandoned and foreclosed properties in the nation’s communities.

Hopefully this money will do some good for revitalizing the less trendy parts of the city. I guess we will have to wait and see.

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St. Louis – Education

Posted by Schevus on February 4, 2009

All too often when talking about the declining quality of education in America public schools take the lion’s share of the blame. Certainly there are many aspects of public schools that could be improved, but ultimately many of the shortcomings of our youth’s education are caused by parents. This point is one that President Obama makes regularly. No matter the quality of the school a child goes to, if the parents are not actively involved there is no guarantee that the child will be engaged and productive at that school.

I know that many families are single parent homes with the parent struggling just to make ends meet, let alone being able spend enough time involved with their children’s schoolwork or activities. I think if you absolutely cannot devote time to your children’s education then it is important to get them involved in a program that will serve to fill that role. There are many varied mentorship and after school programs that serve this purpose. If you need help finding one, please leave a comment and I will try to help.

Getting back to public schools, as I said there are definitely problems that need to be addressed. Many public schools are underfunded, which can result in loss of extra-curricular activities, lack of basic supplies, outdated equipment and books, or in some cases not even enough books for all students. It is pretty obvious to anyone that students need some basic amenities for education to be really successful. In many cases teachers spend large amounts of money out of pocket so that their students have the supplies they need. Obviously this burden should not fall on the shoulders of teachers.

Aside from material issues, public schools are often accused of dumbing down the curriculum. This is normally blamed on the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Basically the act states that students must progressively do better on standardized tests from year to year or the school will lose funding and face reforms to “get back on track.” Taking away funding from schools that are not “performing well” seems incredibly foolish to me, but I digress.

Based on these guidelines and fear of lost funding, many schools are accused of “teaching to the test,” rather than actually trying to educate students. Certainly curriculums must be tailored so that they focus on the information covered by the test, and this might limit flexibility.

In an effort to bring back some flexibility, the charter school movement was born. Charter schools are granted a charter to operate in a more unique way or to target certain special needs or at risk groups. Charter schools have their proponents and critics (I happen to be an ardent supporter), but one key point is that they are still open to the general public and still fall under the NCLB act.

After a cursory search, it does not look like St. Louis currently has more than a few charter schools. A friend of mine is currently in the process of setting up a new charter school called the Active Minds Institute.

So, what can we do to improve the quality of education in St. Louis? I have already mentioned what I feel is the most important solution, which is increased parent involvement. Every parent has the ability to improve the education of their children by taking the time to work with them. They also can improve situations at the school by becoming involved in PTA/PTO groups or simply by opening lines of communication with teachers and staff. Schools often welcome volunteers for various activities.

You can become involved in the charter school community by joining a committee at Active Minds, or even starting your own charter school.  Charter schools almost always welcome donations to improve their programs and also normally appreciate volunteers.

If you are interested in donating, but would prefer to improve the public school system, you can donate to the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation. Here is their mission statement from their website:

The St. Louis Public Schools Foundation seeks to fund projects and activities with a measurable impact on academic achievement, high school graduation rates, and the successful transition to post-secondary goals, such as college or entry into the workforce to ensure that each student has the opportunity to become a productive citizen.

Finally, you can volunteer for a mentorship, tutoring, or after school program designed to help at risk or underprivileged children. I have participated in these programs in the past and they are extremely beneficial for the participants. I will do some further research and try to highlight some of these programs in the St. Louis area in a future post.

If we work together we can make our education system better and keep it from continuing its slide compared to other developed nations. Our future depends on it.

Posted in St. Louis, St. Louis Charities | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

St. Louis – A Dismal Picture

Posted by Schevus on February 3, 2009

St. Louis is a city plagued by problems. The city is hemorrhaging jobs, the crime rate is extremely high, the education system is so poor that it lost its accreditation, there are large swathes of dilapidated buildings and neighborhoods, and the city is largely segregated and racial tensions are very prevalent. Now, I am not trying to say that St. Louis is significantly worse as compared to any other city, but only that there is plenty of room for improvement.

The “urban revitalization” of St. Louis is much vaunted, but seems to focus heavily on the trendy downtown areas. If you travel for 5 or 10 minutes past those areas you will inevitably find extremely run down neighborhoods. You cannot watch the evening news without a report about a murder or other violent crime. The news also brings stories of continuing layoffs and business closures.

I would like to write more on what might be done to ease some of the issues I have mentioned. This will require a level of commitment, research, and outreach that I have not yet attempted to devote to this blog, so I cannot guarantee success. That said, I would like to see real change and real good come to St. Louis, and I will try to do my part to make that happen. I will still continue to write about things you as an individual can do to help the community and beyond as well as other charitable happenings in St. Louis.

I honestly believe that if we all work together that we can make the St. Louis area a much better place. It will take much sacrifice by many to accomplish, but the reward will definitely be worth it. In this new era of our nation we must put aside our differences and come together as one people to propel our respective cities and our country forward. We cannot sit idly by as our infrastructure and society stagnates and festers, hoping that someone else will solve our problems. I ask you to join me in moving our city forward.

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Lend A Hand

Posted by Schevus on January 28, 2009

I was awoken early today by a frantic call from my sister-in-law. She was coming home from work and her little Dodge Neon was stuck in the snow trying to get into our back alley. I live in southern Illinois and we currently have about 8″+ of snow. We don’t get much snow normally, so 8″ in two days is a lot. On top of that the city does not plow or treat the side streets or alleys, so it is literally like off-roading to navigate them.

So, I donned my warmest winter garb and trudged down the alley to help dislodge her. The main issue was that she could not make it into our alley to park and the side of the street out front was packed with plowed snow. When I made it to her car another guy had stopped and he helped me push her car to turn her around. I was very grateful to have the help. As my sister-in-law made her way back up to the front street I waited to make sure my helper could get his own car out to the main street without assistance.

When I got out front she had tried to force her way into the plowed snow and was stuck again. I managed to push her out of that and we cleared enough snow to be able to get her parked. As this massive winter storm rolls across the country I just want to issue a reminder to look out for those around you. If someone is stuck and needs help, consider helping them. I am sure they will be very grateful, and you could save them the exorbitant cost of a tow truck coming out. Thank you anonymous stranger!

Posted in Misc | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

New Addition

Posted by Schevus on January 24, 2009

Since my wife has been back from her deployment we have added a new addition to the family. We adopted a 2 1/2 year old Brittany Spaniel mix from the Belleville Area Humane Society on Wednesday. He has been dubbed Scout. Here are some pictures of him when we were visiting at the Humane Society.

Scout and Eva

My wife Eva and Scout

Kaylee, Eva, and Scout

Kaylee (our Cocker Spaniel), Eva, and Scout

Eva and Scout

Scout

Unfortunately Scout has some intestinal worms so his body weight is really low. When we found him at the shelter he had only been there a couple of days and was very nervous and shaky. He was not keeping food down, and the workers there had to tinker with food combinations that he could tolerate. Right now he is eating a mix of Alpo canned chicken dog food and Moist and Meaty dog food. He is on medication and should make a full recovery in his new home.

In addition to picking Scout up, we also donated about $130 of supplies to the Humane Society. We donated dog treats and raw hides, cat treats, cat toys, kongs with peanut butter, and cleaning supplies. In addition we discovered that they accept aluminum cans so they can profit from recycling them. This works well with my new recycling scheme. Unfortunately the Society does not have a wish list on their website, but if you are interested you can let me know or contact them.

The realization of just how hard animal shelters are faring became quite real during the time we spent there. I overheard many phone calls of people looking to drop off pets only to be denied because of lack of space. If you are thinking about a new pet, please consider adopting. Also, if you are looking to get involved, shelters are always happy to have volunteers. You can find information about volunteering at BAHS here.

Posted in Animal Shelters | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Shalom Outreach Society Meeting Results

Posted by Schevus on January 16, 2009

We had an excellent meeting last night, with near full attendance from our members. There is much to do for Tri-Ball-Athon 2009, but everything seems much more relaxed this year as we are able to start much earlier than we were last year.

I need to call the parks department to see about getting a field reservation. Hopefully it is not as much hassle as it was last year. We are concerned about getting sponsorship money with the tough economic times, so we will be holding some of our meetings at “targeted” locations to try to influence them to become sponsors.

Our next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 on 12 Feb at Jefferson Bistro. Anyone who is interested in joining (or who might just want to check us out) is welcome to come. This is a social meeting, so it will be a good time for new members to relax and get to know everyone. If you are looking for a fun way to get involved in the community come by and have some good, cheap food and a drink or two.

In addition to planning for Tri-Ball-Athon, we are also looking at doing a service event for the clients at Shalom House. This will provide a good way for Outreach Society members to get to know the clients and really get a feel for what all of our hard work is going toward.

As always, if you are interested or have any questions about Shalom Outreach Society or Shalom House do not hesitate to ask me.

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Feeling Idle

Posted by Schevus on January 14, 2009

I have been feeling idle lately as far as my charitable efforts are concerned. I really feel like I need to DO something. This presents something of a problem because my wife returns from her deployment on Friday and I am sure I will want to spend plenty of time with her. On top of that my commitments for Shalom Outreach Society will be increasing dramatically soon as we ramp up for Tri-Ball-Athon 2009.

I feel this way periodically and I am not really sure why. I suppose I read scores of stories of people struggling and suffering and it just continues to build until I feel like I have to do something about it. Normally I can find a way to channel my energies positively, but with my unique constraints currently, nothing is coming to me.

I have been considering gathering and distributing sandwiches / snacks and possibly throw blankets to the homeless downtown, but I think that will take more time to organize and accomplish than a day and a half – though I will probably do this sometime in the near future. I really feel like I want more personal time actually on the ground.

So, any ideas?

Posted in Charity | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Small Green Changes

Posted by Schevus on January 13, 2009

I am far from being a “green” fanatic or anything like that. I do not have grass growing on my roof and I do not limit my showers to a minute and half. That said, I have recently made some small changes to try to limit my negative impact on the world itself.

My changes happened when I resolved to use only one paper towel to dry my hands at work instead of two. We have automatic dispensers, so it does not give you a very large sheet, but if you are conscious about how you dry your hands one will do the job. I would say 90% of the people I see use two. This is most certainly a small change, but the paper saved is adding up daily.

This got me thinking about the economic repercussions of using fewer paper towels. If I use less, that is less that my company / the custodial company has to buy which saves them money. However, that means that the company that produces / sells the paper towels is losing money. If everyone dropped from two towels to one, that would be a significant economic impact on that company. I have no real point here, just thought it was interesting to trace the impact of even small actions.

Apart from my musings, I have also started sorting cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. I have a bag of each collected so far and need to make the trip to drop them off. I drink a fair bit of soda, and also a lot of bottled water (sorry greenies, I prefer the taste – at least I am recycling now?), so this is a moderate change I would say. I am thinking about also sorting glass. Maybe I will do that when we are in our new house.

Finally, I have made the switch to compact florescent light bulbs (not completely, but I have taken the plunge). I have thought about this for some time, but I really do not like the light that they put out. I am suffering through with less light rather than adding more or brighter bulbs for now.

Will these changes make a huge impact on a large scale? No, but hopefully they are adding to the larger pool. Have you made any green changes?

Posted in Misc | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Youth Investment

Posted by Schevus on January 12, 2009

When I was in school (not all that long ago, despite how long it feels to me), there was not a big push from faculty to get kids involved in the community. All we had was a senior project that was supposed to be – but not required to be – civic in nature. I was not really active in my community until I joined the Air Force and was exposed to its “whole person” concept.

I realize that many schools were probably better than mine at promoting community involvement, but I think it is important that all schools plant the seed in the minds of students. Many colleges currently require community activity, and even more strongly recommend it. With Obama’s ideas about furthering civic investment in return for educational incentives, volunteerism among college students is likely to increase substantially.

As I have mentioned before, America’s youth offers a deep well of potential for community building. Additionally, those who learn the value of charity as kids are more likely to continue with it into adulthood. Volunteering is also a good way for youth to build valuable skills such as leadership, teamwork, innovation, etc.

Do Something is a site targeted toward teens to get them involved in their communities. This is an excellent resource for parents, teachers, or teens themselves who are looking for ideas. The site offer easy ideas and guides for many areas of interest including  animal welfare, disaster relief,  discrimination, education, the environment, poverty, and more.

Do you know of any other good resources for teens or kids interested in community involvement?

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