Our impact on the ones around us...

Greetings from California!
It’s been eight months since I moved back east, so it was time to take a west coast trip. 
I flew in yesterday morning and will be here for the next week.  My priorities: see my friends, eat some delicious food (mostly avocado) and go STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING (SUP is one of my all-time favorite activities that I fell in love with in California)!!
But before I venture through California, I wanted to share some pictures and thoughts from this week…
(Right before we landed in Orange County)
(California Benedict - already working on the delicious food part ;)
(Mel’s great idea to put Liz’s wine berries - or so we think - on top of a bagel with cream cheese)
(This awesome Fourth of July breakfast from Milkcrate Cafe on Girard & Columbia in Philly)
(My favorite bridge complete with awesome light reflections in the water)
(Fourth of July picture with these beautiful ladies - Mel has the sweetest friends from college!!)
(Bought an entire 7-Eleven pizza on the Fourth - I loved this pizza in college, but not sure how I feel about it anymore - a whole pizza was probably too much.)
(Pretty butterfly checking out our plants)
(Our deck, which we’ve now turned into “Earp Street Harbor Park”)
(My latest creation from the CSA veggies - kusa stuffed with and surrounded by a mixture of lentils, quinoa, marinara sauce, yellow neck squash, scallions, cabbage, chard, Herbs de Lizcious, turmeric, salt, and pepper, then baked for 1.5 hours at 375 degrees  - it was actually pretty amazing…you should try it!  I put the mixture on top of my salads all week!)
(Spaghetti squash growing in the field)
(Liz’s beautiful flower patch)
(Liz and Arya chillin’)
(Cool stickers from the Temple Outdoors Club and Tree House Books that I found in my closet this week)
Now for the serious stuff…
We had our summer/fall Students Run Philly Style season kickoff race on Tuesday night.  The weeknight race was fun and reminded me of high school cross country.
(Group picture of the Students Run crew) 
The only picture I remembered to take:
During the race, I started thinking about how Students Run affects these teens and if we, the leaders and the organization as a whole, are truly making an impact on the community.  The program normally has over 1,000 students involved during the school year, but we have a smaller turnout over the summer.  Students sometimes show up to summer practice tired and groggy and don't feel like running in the heat.  When they have this attitude, I worry that summer practices are more burdening than beneficial since a lot of children are completely free of obligations from mid June through September.  Once we start running, however, something amazing happens.  All the kids start chatting and socializing and students who didn't want to run at the beginning of practice are running ahead of everyone else and they want to an extra ab workout at the end.
Students need a break from school over the summer, but for kids who live in areas where they can't freely go outside or can't get to their friends' houses (which is common in Philadelphia), summer break can be a secluded, lonely time.  Sometimes this leads them to negative outcomes, whether as individuals or as a group.  We NEED positive social interactions as human beings to thrive and be happy, and to avoid getting into trouble.  Positive relationships and interactions are so important to children, and especially at-risk teens.  Students Run provides this need all year.  My deduction: we ARE making an impact on the community in a good way.
I recently watched a TED talk that reinforces the importance of positive relationships and necessity of playing an active role in students’ lives.  My roommate loves teasing me for watching TED talks all the time.  They’re like my Netflix - I’ll watch them after work to unwind, while I’m making dinner, or before bed, but sometimes I find talks that really inspire me.  This was the case with the talk by Linda Cliatt-Wayman.  Her talk discusses the public schools in Philadelphia, specifically her role at Strawberry Mansion High School.  It hits close to home, not only because it’s about Philadelphia (it’s also close to Temple’s campus and not far from where I volunteer now), but because of the change that this principal is trying to make in urban youth education and communities.
You can watch the talk for yourself here, but basically, Linda tells her story about how she transformed the school through interactive leadership.  She gets to know students by talking with them in the lunchroom, by personally singing to them on their birthdays and by telling them she loves them all every day.  Her personable behavior makes students feel special - something they may not be getting at home or in other places.  When students don't have any positive relationships and interactions in their lives, it's near impossible for them to stay away from bad influences that lead to a dark path.  I like being part of a group that brings joy into students' lives and motivates them to be the best people they can be.  That's why I want to support Students Run both physically and financially and spread this positivity throughout Philadelphia.  If you have any interest in urban youth development or public education, I highly recommend checking out Linda's talk.
(One of the Students Run leaders posted this in our Facebook group and it seems appropriate for this blog post)
As you can tell by now, I’m super sensitive when it comes to children.  I'm also this way with animals.  Children and animals remind us what life is like through an unfiltered, yet optimistic, lens.  With children, they’re our future and have the ability to change the world for the better.  Animals, on the other hand, can bring so much joy into our lives and provide companionship when life gets hard.  And my cat of 13 years did just that.
On Wednesday, my sister called me at work to tell me that my cat wasn’t doing well and the veterinarian thought he should be put to sleep.  There are few things I’ll leave work for, but my cat is definitely one of them.  So I biked back to my house in Philly, got in my car and drove home to see Creamy.  Anyone who’s known me between 2002 and now knows about Creamy, whether you’ve met him or not.  He had a sassy yet gentle personality and was always a huge mama’s boy.  To say I was obsessed with him was probably an understatement.
His mom was a stray pregnant cat that we found near our dad’s auto body shop.  We took her in and within weeks she had her four kittens in our house.  To our parents resistance, Liz and I each kept a kitten.  Creamy and I bonded immediately.  He’d sleep in my bed every morning before school until I woke up and would walk around the house crying whenever he couldn’t find anyone.  When he was two or three years old, he showed up in our front yard with something obviously wrong.  We took him to the vet and turned out that his jaw was broken.  We never knew what happened, but he was likely hit by a car (he spent his days outside and his nights inside).  A year later the same thing happened, except the vet found shards of metal in his leg, meaning he was shot by someone.  In both cases he was seriously injured, but made sure he got back to our yard so we’d find him there.  He had to get surgery for each injury, so I’d sleep on the floor with him in my mom’s office while he was recovering.  He was such a great cat.  He’d comfort me whenever I was upset and would always make me laugh at his goofy personality.
It turns out that Creamy had cancer in his jaw and things got pretty bad this week.  He always came back to me when he was hurt, so I made sure to come back to him one last time on Wednesday.
He had a long, adventurous life, so by the time I got home, I was ready to say goodbye and I think he was, too.   My connection with him turned me into a cat person and made me a more compassionate person all around.  Is it crazy to say that I wouldn't be where I am today without him?  Well, I think that's the truth.  My last tribute to Creamy:
RIP <3
So my takeaway from all this is…whenever I’m feeling frustrated or impatient or upset about something, I think about the children and animals around us.  Do I want them to live in a world of retribution or pessimism?  No - I want to protect them from all the evils of the world.  Our moods and attitudes are contagious and can be just as influential as physical interactions with others.  By being happy and positive, we can influence others to do the same and make the world a better place.
(Spent some quality time with Creamy’s mom on Thursday) 
Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now and leaving you with this:
(My friend posted this the other day and I absolutely love it!) 
Happy weekend! :)

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