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The ones left behind: A camp for grieving kids

The loss of a loved one leaves many holes for a family to fill - emotional, physical, even financial. Too often, kids are both the ones most impacted yet least equipped to work through the situation.

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Changing Their World with Words

When you think of the word “urban,” what comes to your mind? Poverty? Crime? Predestined failure? Hopelessness? In New York City something radical is happening. A new reality has been created where students know and believe they can change the world with words, arguments and ideas.

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The New York City Urban Debate League is a program that empowers underserved students while immersing them in public speaking, research techniques, critical thinking and communication skills. Over the last 10 years, alums from the program, on average, have higher GPA’s, high school graduation rates, college acceptances and more scholarships than their peers.



As one of the nation’s first, largest and most successful debate programs, The NYC Urban 
Debate League has grown from a single program serving one school, to a program now serving 100 schools and over 1000 students. The program is an all-volunteer network; from the debate judges to the tournament staff, debate coaches and teachers. This volunteer model also makes it possible to offer summer debate camps to students for free. Traditionally, summer debate camp tuition is $3,000 - $5,000 for each student. Camps offer students the opportunity to participate in lectures, lab sessions, practice debates and speeches as well as college tours, trips to law firms and a tournament at the end of each camp. There is no shortage of fun as the learning atmosphere is balanced with games, raffles and also prizes. This year the NYC Urban Debate League camps were attended by over 250 students.

The hours students spend researching, debating and presenting in the debate league prepares them for a seamless transition into college. 90% of urban debaters graduate on time and 95% of high school seniors in the program are accepted to college - many of them recieving partial or full scholarships. Students also learn compassion and leadership skills. One of the greatest benefits of the program is that it gives students an opportunity to make their voices heard.





“I grew up in the South Bronx.  I always told myself that no matter what was to happen I would make something of myself and I’ve been on that path of doing just that. I have been doing debate for the past 3 years.  It all started as an extracurricular activity but after winning first place in my first debate tournament I became interested in the challenges of public speaking and wanted to see where this could lead me in my future.  Which is why I love the New York City Urban Debate League. You won’t find any activity that makes you think and question so many ideas, read & research so many books, write and speak about the biggest problems in our world, and meet and compete against students across the nation.  As President Obama stated in his speech to American students in 2009 ‘You may not know you could be a President or Supreme Court justice until you joined your school’s debate team!’  Which is why another one of my role models is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  She was also a young hispanic women from the South Bronx who wanted to make more of her life, joined her school’s debate team, went on to college and law school and became the first hispanic justice on the supreme court.”
 




"Due to my involvement in debate the HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) staff took interest in me and accepted me to Hamilton College via their HEOP program which I received a full scholarship to Hamilton College.  In the letter they said they were most impressed with my debate achievements and being captain on the debate team!  Debate has given me so many skills and knowledge.  We learn about things we do not learn in class and we compete against the best in the nation.  I would not be valedictorian of my school if it wasn’t for debate!  In college I hope to keep on working to help debaters in the Bronx."
 
- Erika Marte, 2011 Gates Millennium Scholar, 3rd Place Best Speaker and Semi-Finalist Best Team at the New York State Debate Championships






"I have set myself apart from my peers by overcoming a language and cultural barrier to succeed as a student, a debate team member, and a community leader. Throughout the course of my life, I have always been drawn to challenges. For example, when I was four years-old and still living in the Dominican Republic, I convinced my mother to take me to a tutoring program in our neighborhood. The problem was that the program was for high school students—not pre-schoolers. I was curious about what the big kids were learning, and I begged my mother until she complied. When I started school the following month, I was the only kindergartner who already knew how to read and write. That experience was my first introduction to the power of learning and the power of persistence. 



Such challenges continue to enrich my academic life and performance. 
 As a debate coach for the New York City Debate League, I am committed to broadening my community’s educational endeavors. Students learn public speaking and argumentation skills which they in turn use to compete in debate tournaments throughout New York City. Because we come from a crime-ridden community, it is heartwarming to see these students transform, from individuals predestined to fail because of limited resources, into newly changed enthusiasts with a positive outlet for expression of their ideas of the world. Through debates featuring U.S intervention in the Syrian conflict and U.S.-Chinese Relations, participants learn about social issues including human trafficking, discrimination, poverty and corrupt politics. Perhaps the most gratifying of all is knowing that I served as a catalyst to creating the new reality that these students now inhabit—a reality where they can change the world with words, arguments and ideas.

My involvement with the New York City Debate league has served as a catalyst for all of my successes. I have completed  1,780 hours of community service and travelled around the country and world to places like Washington D.C., Atlanta, Costa Rica, Finland, Russia and Sweden. I have also been the Scholar of the Year at my school for three consecutive years and will be graduating as my class’ Valedictorian.  Additionally, I will be joining Columbia University’s Class of 2018 this fall as a Coca Cola Scholar, New York Times Scholar, Ronald McDonald Scholar, Dell Scholar and the most prestigious, Gates Millennium Scholar. I am looking forward to all of the opportunities that the New York City Urban Debate league will open to my future academic and social endeavours.”


To find an urban debate league in your area visit the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues

Changing Their World with Words

When you think of the word “urban,” what comes to your mind? Poverty? Crime? Predestined failure? Hopelessness? In New York City something radical is happening. A new reality has been created where students know and believe they can change the world with words, arguments and ideas.

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A Second Chance

It was a bolt from the blue. Phoenix-area mother Sonia went to the hospital with complications arising from her pregnancy, and ended up in a coma, leaving her children and mother scrambling to make ends meet and hold the family together.

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Local Program Makes A Big Impact

If you were to ask Kevin Watkins what one word he would use to describe himself 5 years ago, he would say “shy”.When Kevin met his “Big Brother”, State Farm Ohio Auto Estimatics Inspector Tom Headley, he was 14 years old, in the 8th grade, and a self-described tall skinny kid…and yes, very shy.

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In 2009, a local State Farm office in Newark, OH launched an initiative called “State Farm Diplomats” in partnership with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Licking and Perry Counties. Employees were invited to become a “Big Brother” to a middle-school aged child and maintain the relationship until the “Little” graduated from high school. Tom raised his hand! Fast forward five years, and Kevin recently graduated from C-Tec (Career and Technology Education Center – Licking County) with a certificate in Firefighting/Emergency Medical Services and from his home school Utica High School! 

First Impressions and Life Lessons

When Kevin and Tom first met, they would simply walk around town or go out to eat. Over time, Tom would introduce Kevin to different environments; he specifically recalls going to the Amish country and being introduced to the “motorcycle community”.



Kevin expressed an interest in purchasing a bicycle, priced well out of his price range. Tom used the opportunity to help Kevin research options and put him to work to pay for his purchase. Tom initially paid for the bike, but Kevin worked to pay for it. As Kevin put it, “Two of Tom’s favorite saying are “Listen to me boy when I’m a talkin’ to ya” and ‘ya gotta work for what ya get’”. Kevin sanded doors, and “cut a lot of grass” to pay for the bike. His hard work to pay for it was reflected in the bike’s condition…it never had a scratch!

Kevin is no stranger to hard work. Throughout high school, he worked on a farm for 5 years caring for over 200 dairy cattle. During the summer he was up at 4:00 a.m. and would work until 7:30 p.m. He earned his helicopter landing license, is a Jr. Firefighter with the Newton Township Fire Department (or a knowledgeable bystander as Kevin calls it), and is certified in CPR and First Aid. While he has yet to deliver a baby, he can!
 
Following high school graduation, Kevin now works at Bayer in the Fabrication and Welding area. He was hired on the spot and is currently working to earn his Welding Certification. All those years of sanding doors, cutting grass and milking cows have led to a hands-on career, “give me something to put my hands on and I’ll do it”.

A Match Made In…Newark
Tom and Tina Headley have fully embraced the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, but things didn’t always go according to plan. As Kevin got older and began working before and after school, it became more and more challenging to connect with his Big Brother.  Kevin’s busy schedule didn’t always leave time to make the two meetings per month recommended by BB/BS.  According to Tara Shannon, Match Support Specialist with BB/BS, “we were going to close the match”.  Tom dug in his heels and refused to let this happen, and insisted they keep the match open.  “Tom reminded us of our initial request…stay matched with your Little until they graduate from high school,” said Tara. Tom was willing to honor his commitment, so Big Brothers/Big Sisters honored theirs. 
  


It’s A Family Affair

Tom and his wife Tina made the Big Brother/Little Brother experience a family affair. Tina recalls she and Tom were out of town during Kevin’s high school graduation so Tina’s parents went to Kevin’s graduation party. Kevin’s mom and his siblings are actively involved in the partnership as well.



Had it not been for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Kevin says his life would have taken a different course. “I would have hung with a different crowd, and probably not graduated,” Kevin shared.  In addition to being older for his grade, he was working before and after school.  He could very easily have made the decision to drop out and continue to work, but Tom and Tina wouldn’t let that happen.  With their support and encouragement, Kevin stayed in school. Tom told Kevin on several occasions, “You have to stay in school and graduate if you ever want to make anything of your life.”   

Even though the formal “match” aspect of the relationship has ended, Tom and Tina are still actively involved in Kevin’s life, and probably always will be. Together, they participate in the annual Big Brothers/Big Sisters Bowl for Kids’ Sake. For the past four years they have hit the lanes and even earned “Top Performer” status by raising the most money for the organization. Kevin and Tom take pride in giving back to the organization that has given so much to them.



Tom and Tina continue to be involved in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. They were recently matched with Gabe, a 6-year old from the local community. And in the spirit of paying it forward, will involve Kevin in their relationship with their new “Little”. 
They all just recently visited the Columbus Zoo.

If you ask Tom what was the most rewarding part of being a Big Brother to Kevin, he will respond, “Seeing him grow up. The first time we met I was a head taller than Kevin and now he is a head plus taller than me.  As Kevin puts it,  “he’s the big.”  

“Graduation, getting that diploma, and making something of himself; that’s what the program was all about!”

Local Program Makes A Big Impact

If you were to ask Kevin Watkins what one word he would use to describe himself 5 years ago, he would say “shy”.

When Kevin met his “Big Brother”, State Farm Ohio Auto Estimatics Inspector Tom Headley, he was 14 years old, in the 8th grade, and a self-described tall skinny kid…and yes, very shy.

Read More

Bloggers share their #StartLiving stories
Building on our story about people who overcame family losses, a group of personal finance and parenting bloggers, coordinated by financial blogger Miranda Marquit (pictured), are sharing their own stories and opinions about how to use life insurance to fulfill dreams, prepare for the unexpected and otherwise start living. (You can follow and join the #startliving conversation on Twitter, as well.)

Visit Miranda’s blog, read the stories.

Bloggers share their #StartLiving stories

Building on our story about people who overcame family losses, a group of personal finance and parenting bloggers, coordinated by financial blogger Miranda Marquit (pictured), are sharing their own stories and opinions about how to use life insurance to fulfill dreams, prepare for the unexpected and otherwise start living. (You can follow and join the #startliving conversation on Twitter, as well.)

Visit Miranda’s blog, read the stories.