Monday, January 10, 2011

Lincoln's Challenge Academy

Tomorrow my grandson leaves for Lincoln’s Challenge Academy in Rantoul, IL. He just turned 16, the same age as his uncle when he attended Lincoln’s Challenge ‘Program’ in 1993. Lincoln’s Challenge was a brand new pilot program ran by the National Guard in 1993. The National Guard still operates it and 39 states now have a Challenge Program however, under a slightly different format. I’m still not sure they have all the quirks worked out.

The idea is that with a structured, disciplined program teens will learn focus and self-discipline while acquiring a GED and life skills. Today, the offer ACT and SAT assistance and testing as well. In 1993, when I was very much a militarized, commercialistic robot, I thought this was a terrific idea for young men (Lincoln’s Challenge did, and still does, accept young women). Today, I’m a bit more skeptical but I can only advise in the current situation. More than anything, it’s a way to remove teens from their non-productive and possibly dangerous environment and give them a look at something different.

My problem with the current Lincoln’s Challenge Academy is the same problem I had with Lincoln’s Challenge Program eight years earlier—the mentor portion. The program provided the mentors in the beginning. Unfortunately, the adverting for mentors in the inner cities of Chicago and Rockford wasn't the same as the downstate communities. Consequently, most of the young men and women from some of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago and Rockford were plopped right back where they came from without any follow-up. They received ideas of their possibilities without any support or direction to reach their potential. They spent five months building a future and came out with a pocket full of dreams and $2500.

Many fell right back in where they had left off. I remember writing a letter to Governor Edgar pleading and demanding that the inner city kids, my son one, have the same chance for success as the downstate youth. I explained that if the young men and women were self-motivated and disciplined enough to follow the right path without a mentor, they wouldn’t have needed Lincoln’s Challenge in the first place. All to no avail. My son was in prison within two years, as were many others.

Today, Lincoln’s Challenge requires the teens to find their own mentor prior to even being accepted in the program. How hard is it to understand that if the youth had mentors already the program would be inconsequential? Being somewhat of a social justice activist in the past several years, I’m reaching out for my grandson to men in that arena, however, it’s a lot to ask. Hopefully, someone will respond and he will emerge from this taxpayer sinkhole with better prospects and support than my son, who by the way is a fine, working father himself now.

I’m writing this also as a call to the men in our communities. Take a moment for the young men and women in your neighborhoods. How can you help them help themselves? How can you step out and reach them without waiting for them to ask? Many of the youth in our cities don’t think they need help, don’t think there’s anything wrong or that they are helpless. Even if you don't believe in the military approach, this IS a program doing SOMETHING for our youth. Take a minute and look at the Lincoln’s Challenge Academy’s website and think about being a mentor, think about contributing a bit of your time to our future, because that’s exactly what these youth are—the future of America. What will it look like?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

My name is Donna and I'm a PC

Thursday night I bought a new laptop, and I suppose this could be considered my first. I'm a PC girl. Have been since 1992 when I first started using them. Back in 2006, a friend was thinking of buying her first ever computer and asked if I would help her choose. Of course, she'd asked everyone else she talked to as well. One day she came to me with the decision to buy a Mac laptop and ask that I go with her to help pick which one. I knew nothing about Mac's but was happy to go along. I'd heard Mac's were the industry standard for anyone who did graphic design—which I dabble in, along with the web design that pays for my writing habit—so I didn't mind getting a closer look. The trip to the brilliant glass Michigan Ave. Apple store resulted in a $3000 impulse buy of a MacBook Pro.

I hated that machine from day one. Over the past four years, I've realized I probably had a lemon since many of my friends have Mac's and absolutely swear by them. I had not one day of peace or operating smoothness with that laptop. Keyboard keys popped off and the track pad went berserk within two months of the purchase. The five hour battery NEVER lasted more than three, even after replacing it TWICE. The disc drive went out one month after the 3-year extended warranty. Upgrading to Snow Leopard so CLEAR mobile internet would work made the entire Adobe Suite inoperable. These things happen, however, in my opinion, they SHOULDN'T happen with a $3000 piece of machinery which is touted as the best.

There was not one single document created on that machine that was opened on a PC and stayed in the same format it was created—little boxes where all the apostrophe's or quotations were supposed to be. Many out there may say it was more likely operator error and I tend to agree. However, no matter how many times this operator attempted to work it out, it didn't happen.

It's probably fairly clear now why I say that the new Toshiba Portege can be considered my first laptop. I am ecstatic with it. I downsized from a huge 17” screen to a mere 13”, which I can actually carry around all day without back and knee damage. It has all the power required to run the graphics and web authoring software. It has an 8 hour battery that I'm currently testing. So far, we're at four hours. It has built-in WiMax, so when CLEAR has 4g everywhere, I'm all ready to go. Right now, I'm in the woods of central Wisconsin using my CLEAR 4gPlus which operates on 3g when 4g isn't available. It's coming though, and me and my new, first real laptop are set.

My name is Donna and I'm a HAPPY PC!!!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Universal Kick-in-the-Butt Jumpstart, December 15, 2010, Day 167-Nomad Existence

As noted in previous entries, I am purposely homeless to assist forward movement, which was to teach abroad. In 167 days, I purchased my passport, completed TEFL certification, vacationed, and researched teaching abroad job boards. I’ve been stuck, until the universe decided on the kick-in-the-butt-jumpstart.

It’s said, when making dramatic lifestyle changes, for example, quitting smoking, you should tell people for support. I’m not sure the benefit is support. I think it’s accountability. The more people you tell, the more hold you accountable. The actual benefit to accomplishment of your goal is vanity and embarrassment. This only works if many people are involved. As a smoker, I’ve told a few, repeatedly, that I was quitting. When I started again, it was simply an “oh well” when confronted.

I’ve not read The Secret. I don’t believe that merely thinking of something will manifest it in my life. Every season I change my computers wallpaper to a Western North Carolina scene, where I hope to retire (soon), establishing a constant visual reminder of my dream. I’m not any closer to the reality. Action is the key, coupled with a large amount of accountability (read: vanity).

Since June 2010, I’ve told everyone “I will be somewhere” by January. I’m still homeless in Kenosha. Activity has flourished in the past two weeks. I’ve applied for jobs in Taiwan, Costa Rica, Italy, and Germany; housesitting positions in the Smoky Mountains, Wyoming and Australia; installed Skype so I can tutor online. I’m writing daily, and have even submitted. What happened? Vanity!

In July, I relinquished one of my workshop leader positions with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance (NWA), and this month, I relinquished the other. I’ve been with them eight years, starting as a writer. I acquired the first workshop when our facilitator retired, the other after campaigning for an offenders or ex-offenders group, resulting in a unique one at St. Leonard’s House. Additionally, I perform most of NWA’s tech stuff: website maintenance, the monthly newsletter, weekly update to workshop leaders, and most recently, development of Every Person Is a Philosopher Blog. I am fairly well known around the organization. So, when they dedicated the annual holiday party to me on December 15th, day 167 of my nomad existence, sending me off with poems, reminisces, warm wishes and hugs from people all over the city of Chicago, I felt the drop-back-and-punt-type kick in the butt from the universe.

Hence, the flurry of activity to make the future actually happen. When asked what I’d done with all the well wishes from that tearful send off, what will I say? Nothing? I’ve done nothing? I’ve done nothing with several opportunities, but my vanity won’t allow me to be that embarrassed.

Whether I teach abroad, volunteer and live in a National Forest, visit writer’s retreats, or do that North Carolina retirement thing, I’m moving forward thanks to that reliable universal-kick-in-the-butt jumpstart. Thank you!