Monday, June 24, 2019

Weekend thoughts from the Bend

I haven’t experienced people looking at me differently or fearing me because of my race.

I think back to my teen years and what I remember is growing up in a predominately white community with about eight African Americans in a high school of about 2,000.  That was nearly 25 years ago.  I had an acquaintance in high school named Aaron, he seemed like a great guy, we joked about stuff in class, but never had any serious conversations about race or prejudice. We were just two classmates.

During my freshman year of college in Bloomington,  I made friends with some other people from small towns and we bonded quickly with a girl named Jada on our floor.  Jada was black and we were white.  Jada was from a larger town, we were all from small towns.  We might have been a bit young and a bit dumb, but I think we all learned a lot from each other. 

We were open.  We asked questions.  Do you want to be referred to as African American? How come some people are offended if we call them black? How come you don’t wash your hair every day? They seemed like simple questions. We asked questions of her, she asked questions of us.  We learned.

After a year and a half in Bloomington I transferred to IUSB, but it wasn’t until several years later that I noticed a shift in my thinking once again. 

The day after graduation, I started at a local credit union on the west side of South Bend. I didn’t know anyone. The first few days, I was really cognizant that nearly everyone who walked through the door didn’t share the same skin color as I did.  I wasn’t scared. It was just an observation. It reminded me of conversations I had with Jada.

Two years later I moved to the west side of South Bend. I thought I never would.  Even 17 years ago they had more homicides than LaPorte and I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in a town that was so unsafe. But I don’t feel unsafe.  However, I have noticed some things.

I notice people don’t ask questions. I live in a very mixed neighborhood.  I love my neighbors and I wouldn’t want them to change.  We look out for each other, exchange pleasantries, and I think genuinely care about each other. I hope that they feel they can depend on me and that our lines of communication are open.  I think we can learn from each other.

Last week there was an officer involved shooting in our city where a white police officer shot a black man.  Since then, there has been an unrest and racial tension. I wish I had the answer to make everything better. I wish that people could have conversations that would make them understand and appreciate one another. Would that be enough?

How does our city go about repairing the hurt in our community? How do we continue to trust local law enforcement that should be keeping us safe? How can we as a community each take responsibility to make a change? Please share your thoughts…

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Homeless, Lime Bikes and Tents...Oh My....

I like to work out in the community as much as possible. It gives me a chance to see my fellow volunteers and appreciate the community in which I live. 

I believe that the current administration has done a lot for the City of South Bend.  The downtown area has a new feel to it.  It’s lively and people are constantly walking around to meetings, the coffee shops or the various downtown restaurants.  South Bend is a community of just over 100,000 residents, but if you hang out enough downtown, you are sure to see a few familiar faces.

Lately, I haven’t enjoyed working downtown at all.  I’ve noticed a real increase in the number of mentally ill people and homeless.  While they know their limits as far as going into establishments and panhandling, it doesn’t stop them at businesses with outdoor seating.

I’m sure I will receive mixed feedback on this blog.  I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about the whole issue.  Back when I was in 7th grade I remember seeing homeless people in Chicago and I would give them money and feel bad for them and the fact that they didn’t have money, a home or food to eat.

I guess somewhere during the time I was 13 and now, I’ve lost some compassion. Because now, I’m just highly annoyed.  Over the past few days, I’ve been sitting outside a downtown coffee shop, drinking the beverage I paid for, and have not been able to be at peace while working. 

Instead, I’ve had people come up and beg for money.  I’ve had a homeless person practically spit in my face as he talked so incoherently I couldn’t understand a word he said. I watched other patrons get up and leave because they were uncomfortable as he approached them. 

Today, one guy would not leave me alone to work so I got up and left.  I walked about a block down to work from another establishment, which happened to be hindered by the same problem, different people. Again, I was not the only one who was uncomfortable. 

Public parks and outdoor spaces, which have been developed largely for those who live and work in South Bend, seem to be unsafe.

About a month ago, the Lime Bikes made a debut in the Bend, as well.  What a cool idea for those in the city to be able to use the bikes for a minimal fee.  They lined certain areas downtown, in parks and along the Riverwalk.  How cool.  Oh wait, some people are playing by the rules while other people seem to find bikes that people forgot to lock or they’ve made their own adjustments to them and are riding along for free. 

There is a well-known mentally ill homeless man on the West side of South Bend and I saw him riding down the street on a Lime Bike.  I have to admit the look on his face was priceless.  It was pure joy, like watching a young child ride a bike for the first time.  But it’s not how the bikes are intended to be used.

Maybe I need more education on the subject. I know that we have the Homeless Center in South Bend and I have been a supporter of the organization in the past.  I commend them for feeding those who live there and trying to help them get on their feet.  But during the day, they need to leave the shelter and look for jobs.  Is downtown loitering where they end up?

I also have questions about the tent city that popped up under the bridge last year.  Now, I may have my facts wrong on this because I caught a bit here and there on the news, but maybe didn’t get the whole story.  The people in the tents were there and not in the Homeless Shelter because they had addiction issues and were not sober enough to be at the shelter. Correct?

So I think Mayor Pete and his administration made arrangements for these people to live in alternative housing.  I have an issue with this. People make choices every day.  They work or they don’t work.  They pay bills or they don’t pay bills. If they are choosing to drink or do drugs, which inhibits them from staying at the Homeless Shelter, why are we allowing them to live in alternative housing?

I obviously don’t have all the facts and I don’t have all the solutions either.  All I know, is that South Bend as a whole is trying to be a fun, safe place to live. But some things need to be done to make out community feel safer.  Does anyone else share my feelings? Or can anyone shed light on any of the topics listed above? I feel like there needs to be a better balance...

Friday, May 20, 2016

Awesome motivational speakers visit Michiana

Well Michiana, if you were one of the lucky ones sitting in the Century Center this morning listening to the speakers at the Lead Michiana conference, you are probably thinking about work and life a little differently this afternoon.

I consider myself very lucky to have been able to attend the conference this morning, because I got to hear several great speakers including Darren Hardy and Les Brown.  These are motivational speakers who travel all over inspiring professionals to be great and they were right here speaking in Michiana. How exciting is that!?!?

Justin Maust, host and founder of Lead Michiana, is an inspirational speaker and trainer, team-builder and coach in the area. Many of you may be familiar with his company, Leader Legacy, or his involvement with 5Star.  I believe one of his goals today was to get across the message that, “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown.” And I think there was a lot of growth within the approximately 1,000+ attendees.

Several years ago, I read the book, “The Compound Effect,” by Darren Hardy.  It was a great book that made me think about how making small changes over time can have a great impact.  It was shortly before that or shortly after that I began subscribing to the magazine, “Success.”  It’s a monthly magazine that was brought back to life by Hardy, with inspiring messages about entrepreneurs and tidbits and reminders of how we can improve ourselves.   I highly recommend it. 

He was one of the speakers today.  His words and messages did a great job of keeping my interest for the time that he was up on stage, encouraging listeners to become, “stunningly successful SuperAchievers.” This can be done by finding the kryptonite that threatens our productive futures. Basically, what hinders our productivity? These are mainly distractions including friends stopping by, emails chiming in, phones ringing, etc.

He encouraged us to be world-class at a few things instead of mediocre at many and gave us some suggestions on how to accomplish that task. Did you know that for every distraction we have, it takes us about 23 minutes to get refocused? For those of you who attended, I’m sure you have come to appreciate the new thought of sprint/ recovery!

Les Brown’s message came with moments of contagious laughter; and I couldn’t help but smile when he laughed! He’s one of a kind. His style of mentoring comes in the form of stories, some with a bit of mixed in religion. His message can be wrapped in to two words that when I hear the name Les Brown, I’ll automatically think, “It’s possible.”  After all, born in an abandoned building in Miami and growing up in poverty, he’s decided to create his success instead of blaming his circumstances.

But one of the things that will probably always stick in mind and one that I will probably share with students I work with from now on, is this phrase, “someone’s opinion of you does not have to be your reality.” Wow, what powerful words.  How often do we give others the power to allow their opinions to become our beliefs?

It’s possible to live your dream. It’s a simple message from a man who touched many today.

If you didn’t get the chance to attend the 2nd Lead Michiana event, you won’t want to miss it next year. After all, how many leaders in Michiana like Justin Maust have the vision to bring these great influential people to the area?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

April is Financial Literacy Month...where did you learn to be financially savvy?

Have you ever made a poor financial decision? Do you wish that at some times in your life you had more guidance on the fundamentals of financial literacy?

Well, I can say yes to both of those questions, but for the most part, I’d say overall I’ve been rather lucky as far as my financial upbringing.

As a child, my parents gave me an allowance for completing assigned chores.  My brother and I were taught to save up for items that we wanted, but we were also given the occasional toy if we were out shopping with our parents. 

When I was in high school, I worked several nights a week at LaPorte Hospital in the kitchen, delivering trays to patients and scrubbing pots and pans, along with patient trays.  Glamourous work? I’d say not… but it did teach me great work ethic, teamwork and probably most importantly, how to manage money.

My parents were very generous and paid for my car insurance and gas as long as the car was used to get to work and to school.  My part of the bargain was that I agreed to save at least 60% of each paycheck and I could spend 40% for going out with friends, etc. It seemed very fair and by the time I was ready to start college, I had a pretty good amount saved up.  I was proud of the money I had saved.

Not all kids have parents who teach their children about saving money and budgeting for needs and wants. Not all parents were ever taught how to succeed at this, themselves!

The month of April is Financial Literacy month and it really got me thinking about what that means, especially since I accepted the position as Program Manager at Junior Achievement.  My goal will always be to help students learn about financial literacy, entrepreneurship and job readiness.  I feel as though we owe that to each student in the area.

As the JA Program Manager for St. Joseph and Marshall Counties, I recruit volunteers to enter the classrooms in these counties and teach curriculum that has been developed to help students learn how to save money, how to determine the different between wants and needs, how to start a business and how to know which career is something he or she might be interested, among other things.

It’s been an eye opening experience for me and a very rewarding one, as well. Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and please consider how you can impact someone else’s life as far as financial literacy is concerned. A little bit of your time volunteering or a few dollars donated for classes in this area can mean a lot to students who might not otherwise be introduced to this type of learning.

If nothing else, think about your own financial well-being and how you can make well informed decisions! Happy Financial Literacy month… for a few more days J Let's make sure that students today learn how to become financially savvy tomorrow!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Today marks a day of change!

A few years ago I began reading Success magazine and the writings of Jim Rohn, DenisWaitley, Brendon Burchard and others.

When I read their thoughts, it became clearer to me that I was just floating through life.  I decided that I needed to change some things in my personal life and I lost some weight and started exercising each day.  I started my 50 state, 50 half marathon by age 50 walking challenge and made small changes that have made differences over time. After about two years, I felt back in control of my personal life and felt good about the goals I was working on.  These continue to be things I work on today.

Once I got my personal goals established, I realized I was floating through my work life.  The passion I once had for my job just wasn’t there anymore and I realized that I just wasn’t being my best self. The motivated, happy person I had been when I accepted my position at the Foundation had disappeared and I no longer felt like I was doing my job the way I once had.  So, I decided it was time to work on my work life. After all, I spend more time at work than almost anywhere else. The only thing that beats the amount of hours spent at work is time spent sleeping!

I sat down and really thought about what type of job I wanted to get.  What could I be passionate about?  There were several questions I asked myself and I came up with the following list of things that I’d like in my next job:

1) It has to have something to do with building relationships or partnerships

2) I’d like to work with kids if possible  (For the last four years, I have been volunteering at Wilson Primary Center in South Bend for Boys & Girls Club.  I work with students from K-4 every Tuesday and it’s been a blast.  They are quite often the highlight of my week.)

3) It has to have some fun

4) It has to make a difference in the lives of others

So I started looking for jobs that I believed were a good fit for me and I’m happy to say that Junior Achievement is just that.  I will be working primarily in St. Joseph and Marshall Counties recruiting volunteers to work with students and teach them about entrepreneurship and economics. I’ll be doing some training and some actual classroom work and I am really psyched about this new challenge.

Today marks my last day of employment at The Medical Foundation. I’m thankful for the last seven years there and all the things that I have learned. Most importantly, I’m thankful for all my co-workers (yes, all!) because I have learned something from all of them during my seven year journey there.

So as I begin another chapter in my life, I am looking forward to the changes that are about to happen, but I won’t forget the people and experiences that have brought me to this point. Thanks ya’ll, it’s been an awesome ride J and I’m sure many of us will keep in touch!

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Can Breathe...I Obey the Law

I believe in the Freedom of Speech. It is what allows me to formulate my opinion and to make it public just as I am doing in this blog.

With that said, I happen to disagree with many of the public opinions I have seen following the Michael Brown case and most recently the case of Eric Garner.

I was raised to respect authority and to obey the law. For this reason, I can honestly say that I have never had an unpleasant run-in with police.

Had Eric Garner not resisted arrest, police would never have had to use additional force. Mind you, I’m not giving police officers the green light to use excessive force, but life is made up of choices. Eric Garner chose to break the law, he chose to resist arrest.

This weekend in South Bend, Indiana, the Women’s Basketball team chose to wear shirts supporting Eric Garner.  The shirts read, “I can’t breathe.”

While it is their right to express their Freedom of Speech, I am disappointed in their choice to do so on this topic.

December 13th was the 11th anniversary of the death of two local Mishawaka Police Officers, Brian Verkler and Thomas Roberts. The basketball team claims they didn’t realize the coincidence, I don’t think it matters.

Police officers should be respected and appreciated for putting their lives on the line each day.  Only they know how it feels to have a split second to react to a suspected criminal. Hindsight is 20/20 and the media and public can rehash and scrutinize the actions of police repeatedly.  If only officers had the luxury of taking a few minutes to really study the situation and ask questions before they have time to react. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.

In the case of Michael Brown, I can’t even begin to believe the backlash from the whole situation. It saddens me to see what they are doing to their town.  Because a young man was shot, a young man who was believed to be making poor choices, hard-working residents have lost their businesses due to looting. 

I’ll never understand how that makes sense. People are outraged at what they consider the “wrong doing” of one person, so they continue to wrong others.

I haven’t blogged on this topic because I’m so tired of hearing about it that I could scream.

But Saturday’s display by the Lady Irish was somewhat upsetting. Over the years I have gotten to know several of the surviving family members of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty and no one seems to be outraged about the violence shown to them. Where was the outrage when they couldn’t breathe? They weren’t breaking the law. They were trying to serve and protect….

These recent stories and the decisions of both grand juries not to indict have tarnished the thousands of police officers who help others on a daily basis.  Remember, we don’t know the whole story of what happened.  We only know what the media has focused on.  The grand jury has the most information, much of what is not made public.

It’s not about hiring more minority police officers, it’s about respecting authority and making choices that are good and honorable. These two cases could have totally been avoided had better choices been made.

I hope you will consider joining me to support our local police officers on Sunday, December 21st at Eddy Street Commons between Noon and 3pm. For more information visit


Monday, November 24, 2014

The Pamster...

34 houses and apartments, 42 vehicles, and 29 couches. You might be wondering what those numbers signify. Those numbers signify change, something Pam Russell didn’t mind.  Most of us resist, back away and struggle to accept change, fighting it every step of the way. But that wasn’t the Pamster.  She loved change. (ok those numbers might be a little high!!! :))

Pamster’s passing is a big change for us, the ones she left behind. And how we choose to handle that change as we move forward is something each of us has to work on. I remember when she was first diagnosed with cancer and after our family knew, she posted something on facebook about it at the end of January 2010.  She wrote that the cancerman had gotten her, but she thought it would be ok. She was ready to beat it. The Pamster truly was a trooper, not only with her dealings with cancer, but also her other numerous procedures including her beloved Twila and Trudy Titanium… which is what she referred to her knee replacements.

She continued her treatments with optimism and humor, often referring to her breast cancer as taking Mavis and Martha, the “mamms” away.  She went through surgeries, several rounds of chemotherapy and several bouts of radiation.  Throughout the last 4 years, the Pamster fought hard against the cancerman, but it was a battle she just wasn’t able to overcome.  

On Friday, she lost her battle with cancer, leaving behind her three daughters, Tearsa, Katie and Beth, and their families, Rob, Jack and Ella, Matt, Joey and Lauren.  If you’ve ever been around the Pamster, you know that she loved her grandkids very much, always wanting smooches from the kids. I remember walking into her house one afternoon and there was a tent in the living room. It seemed a little odd to me, but it was nothing of the sort to her, she was simply getting ready for camping out with Jack and Ella. I believe they had plans to roast marshmallows over the stove and tell stories before bed.

A few summers ago, I stopped by at lunch time and she was outside in the pool, measuring cups all over the deck, because of course Joey and Lauren were coming to swim and they loved to pour water from the pool into the buckets.

It’s these stories that we’ll have to do our best to keep alive, because if there is one thing that’s for sure, it was that Pam loved her kids and her grandkids.

Tearsa, when I think of you, I think of the strength that your mom represents.  As you continue to get your principal’s license, it reminds me of the work your mom did while raising the three of you.  She attended school to become a teacher, and I am sure it was hard to balance school and home, but she did it.  Your mom had several students whom she formed special relationships with, because she knew that those kids needed someone to believe in them.  For those of you who don’t know, Pamster was an alternative education teacher at Penn High School for many years. She saw potential in her students and encouraged them to succeed, something you do with your students, Tearsa.

Katie, your initiative to return to school was something that made the Pamster very happy.  I think she saw a lot of herself in you.  She thought your studies in New York were fabulous. And while you don’t knit or sew, your creative side is a lot like your mothers. Your knack for making jewelry and for seeing things with a creative eye, very much comes from your mother.

Beth, what I remember most about you growing up, was the Kingsbury house.  I’m not sure exactly how old you were when you lived there, but I’m thinking you were around 6th grade.  You were so tall and we used to watch out the window as you flipped around doing gymnastics in the front yard for hours. Your mom, your sisters and I were amazed at your determination.  No one could tell you that you couldn’t something, you were out to prove them wrong! You were a huge support to your mom during the last few years, and if you didn’t already know it, your phone calls made her day. She loved your goofy stories or just your quick recaps of the day.

The Pamster always called me “Weensie” and at times it would embarrass me to be out in public with her yelling across the aisle, “Weensie, look at this…” It makes me a little sad today to think that won’t happen again.

As the holidays draw closer, it’s another change our family will face. But we’ve got a strong, close knit family and I know that although it’ll be different, we’ll embrace this change like the Pamster would.

I prefer to think of her today in Heaven with my Grandpa and my Nana and all the others who were welcoming her on Friday. And while we will all miss her here, I take comfort in knowing that she is no longer in the pain she has been.  And I know that I have another caring angel on my side…

Rest in Peace, Pamster…