Category Archives: Greater Harrisburg Area

Project A.S.K.

Saving the Children

Project A.S.K.

We are going to take a little trip today. A trip down memory lane. I want you to take a second, close your eyes, and think about grade school. Go back as far as you can. Try to picture your classmates. Picture the odd one. The kid that kind of smelled funny. The one that seemed to always wear the same clothes. The one that maybe other kids made fun of, and didn’t seem very smart. The one that had holes in his or her shoes, or never had a jacket. Now take a minute and think about how you would react if you saw that kid today. Not the person they may have grown into, but the child that you remember. You as an adult may realize that there is a very real possibility that he/she needs help. That something just isn’t quite right. That the situation this child finds his or herself in, is through no fault of their own.

 

All too often a scene just like this one plays out, and when it does, people are quick to admonish the parents. “Who lets their kid go out like that?” “Why don’t they buy that kid some shoes?” “Why isn’t he wearing a jacket, it’s freezing out here?” People seem to forget about the child that’s freezing right in front of them. It doesn’t matter how that child ended up in this position, he/she needs help right now.

 

Just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania there is a program that does exactly that. It is called Project A.S.K., and they help kids. They help any child that needs them within the West Shore School District. I mean it, every single one, and they’ve been doing now for 5 years.

 

As I tell you about Project A.S.K.’s methods and partners I want you to keep thinking back. Don’t forget about that kid. As a matter of fact I want you to expand the journey. Try to remember all of them. As you progressed through school, people come and go. Some move away with or without notice. Some just seem to fall off of the face of the planet. Sometimes we are the ones that move. Whatever the reason we don’t usually continue our path through school with the people we started it with. The only constant, is that there was always at least one kid that would have benefited from a little help. Think about that for just a minute. The sheer amount of people that pass through your life during your school years. How many different children do you think you saw or knew that may have been picked on or ostracized for a crappy situation entirely outside of their control?

 

Do the kids in your memories, the ones that needed help, seem a little below average? Were they always struggling to complete their assignments? Did they have trouble comprehending what you thought was common sense? Step into present day for just a minute. Think about a time you were having a particularly bad day. Maybe you were running late and missed breakfast. Maybe you spilled something on your clothes. How hard was it for you to concentrate that day? Were you more concerned with whether or not people could see the stain, or hear your stomach rumble then you were with the office meeting? Did you have trouble doing your work that day? Now try to sympathize with those children from so long ago. Were they not as smart as everyone else, or were they just hungry? Were they ashamed and embarrassed of their old or torn clothing and unable to concentrate?

 

I’ve recently learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The Hierarchy depicts human needs as a tiered pyramid with the most basic needs at the bottom. The needs at the bottom of the pyramid (Food, water, warmth, sleep) must be satisfied before needs higher up can be attended to. To quote the current president of Project A.S.K. “In the face of hunger, bullying due to the lack of clean clothes, improper clothing for the climate and multiple other issues, learning to multiply 3 x 3 can seem impossible.”

The needs of students and children.

The Mission

My high school has over 2000 students with 17% below poverty line, 1000 in my middle school with 19% below the poverty line, and 600 students in my elementary school with a whopping 42% below the poverty live. This isn’t yesteryear’s problem. Those are today’s numbers. I know putting it in those terms make it seem like a societal or governmental problem, like if we raise the minimum wage or stabilize the rising cost of living we can reduce those numbers. Maybe that’s true, I don’t know. I do know trying to go that route Will Not help any of the children in school now. By the time those things begin to make a real change current students will have children of their own.

 

This is a problem that we cannot fix by treating the cause. Going straight to the root is forgetting that there is a kid freezing right in front of you. Figuring out why so many families struggle to make ends meet does not feed children starving right now. It does not put kids in clean clothes and let them walk the halls head held high, instead of trying so hard not to be noticed.

 

Project A.S.K. operates completely without judgement, behind a firewall, and under a cloak of anonymity. The idea is to provide assistance while hiding the identity of the recipient of said assistance. They do this by working through a social worker, and the school nurses. They don’t want students to be pointed out to their peers as needing assistance, in whatever form it may come. One of the ways this is accomplished is all 14 schools in the district is kept stocked with what is called Nurses Supplies. This is a bit of a misnomer because they are actually supplies for needy children, to be distributed as needed at the nurse’s discretion. In this case “needy children” does not necessarily mean poor or under nourished, it literally means a child with a need. Throughout the year things happen. Pants rip. Someone gets sick on themselves or someone else. Food and drink is spilled. There is a stock of season appropriate clothes kept on site, in as many different sizes as needed, dictated by age of students. Everything from boxer briefs for boys and bras and panties for girls, up to pants, shirts, leggings, and even socks. Complete wardrobes are kept on hand for whatever occasion. Sometimes the occasion is that a student showed up for school in shorts and a t-shirt when it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside. There is also a supply of bottled water, granola bars, cereal bars and other snacks. Any student can request items from the nurses with no restrictions. The ability to give these things to absolutely anyone who asks, helps encourage kids in trouble to come ask for things without fear of ridicule.

 

Anything outside of those basic necessities comes through the social worker. Parents or even the students themselves can request help from the social worker, and whatever she can’t find through regular programs will get forwarded to Project A.S.K. or one of its many partners. It takes a village to raise a child, in this case it takes a village of charities and nonprofits to fill all of the holes in government programs. Project A.S.K. has fulfilled all manner of requests from basic school supplies of a kindergartner, to a senior who had all of the required credits but still needed a cosmetology kit to graduate VoTech. The district social worker identifies need within the community, and provides a buffer between the students and the volunteers of Project A.S.K. This buffer stops unfortunate events like the complete public embarrassment of a high schooler when a volunteer sees them in the grocery store and asks them how they like their new clothes in front of their friends. Because sometimes even the most well-meaning individual can, entirely unintentionally, cause more harm than good. That is the last thing Project A.S.K. wants to do.

Project A.S.K.

 

The important thing to remember is the kids. Could some of the parents asking for help be gaming the system? It’s possible, but it doesn’t matter, because only the kids matter. There are children within the program that don’t take the clothes they are given home because they are afraid their parents will sell them. But because of the social worker, who genuinely cares, they have a safe place to come to school shower and change into their good clothes. Think back to those kids you have been remembering. Would a few extra sets of clothes changed their life? What about easy to prepare food to take home over the weekend? Remembering those children, what would you do to help them?

 

If you continue to come back to this site you will hear much more about Project A.S.K., and the other groups they work with. I have been close with the family that started Project A.S.K. in 2013 as Compassionate People Who Care before they joined CCU and rebranded for many years. I don’t see that relationship changing anytime soon. The current president is my girlfriend, and I am helping revamp their warehouse inventory management program. So if there is anything you wanted to know that I didn’t cover, it may be coming soon, but you could always leave a comment below and ask. I know the biggest question is going to be “Why only the west shore school district?” Honestly it’s only because they aren’t big enough to take on any more territory. If they thought they could handle it they absolutely would. One of the things they always say is, “If you can put together a group to do the same thing in your area, we will teach you how. We will lay out exactly what we do and show you how to do it.”

 

If you would like to help Project A.S.K. in their mission you can snail mail  checks or money orders, payable to Project A.S.K., to C.C.U., 413 S. 19th St., Harrisburg, PA 17104. Unfortunately, they are not able to accept digital donations at this time. Or contact C.C.U. directly at (717) 230-9550 to make donations or volunteer your time.

 

If you are interested in expanding Project A.S.K. to your area, and are looking for the building blocks to do so, let me know and I will put you in touch with their president, I have an in.

Throwing a Harry Potter Themed Party.

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If you have been following along then you know that I want to work with charities, and that I know a few people involved in local charities. My girlfriend’s family founded a great charity based just outside of Harrisburg called Project A.S.K. (Assisting Students and Kids). They mainly provide necessities such as clothing, lunch money, or basic school supplies to underprivileged kids in the local school district. It’s through working with them that I met, stay with me here, my girlfriend’s mother’s best friend, who we will call MJ. Did you follow that? MJ sits on the board of Project ASK. I know this is a little round about and confusing, just try to bear with me for a few minutes.

 

Hanging Candles 2 HP

 

MJ asked us to help her throw a surprise birthday party for her husband. As a group we have decorated, catered, and hosted many parties and special occasions in our church, or for fundraisers for Project ASK, so this wasn’t at all an odd request. MJ does a lot for other people, she is generous with her time, and genuinely cares, so of course we offered to help her.

 

Luggage Cart

Luggage Cart Decoration For Harry Potter Party

 

She wanted to make it special, even bordering on over-the-top and that’s what she got. After a few questions about her husband’s likes, dislikes and hobbies it was narrowed down to either a “Lord of the Rings” theme or a “Harry Potter” theme. We quickly dismissed “LoT”, I mean really, how would that look? How would you decorate for that? Random rock formations around the room covered in goblin blood? A stray battle axe or arrow here and there? That sounds awesomely boring and not even a little safe. You can’t have random axes AND an open bar, someone will get very hurt, and that someone often ends up being me. Besides we thought going with Harry Potter opened up many more options for decorating.

 

Getting the decorations together took about a month of sporadic planning here and there. Then about 3 weeks of build time with the first week being mostly purchasing supplies and doing a lot of printing. After that we were kind of sequestered in our own groups with our own projects. My main job was recreating the pictures that hung in the great hall. My girlfriend’s mother who we will call M, and another one of her friends that we will call J, are both retired and worked on this project like it was a full time job. They actually did most of the DIY projects from M’s craft room, putting in about 8 hours a day, for at least two weeks. My GF did all of the planning and most of the designing and generally helped in all of the projects. She helped me make the pictures and she came up with the fantastic creations below.

 

Book of Monsters

 

Book-of-Spells.jpg

 

Picture-Wall-HP.jpg

 

I know all of the initials can get irritating, but as I am writing this I realized I haven’t asked anyone if they care if I use their names. I may be going overboard but I’m just trying to be respectful of them and their privacy.

There were a few things that we purchased from amazon, such as one of Harry’s brooms, and of course the Talking Sorting Hat, and a Golden Snitch that we hung from the ceiling in front of a broom like it was being chased, and of course Hedwig, but most of the decorations were hand made. M and J were particularly proud of the way the wands turned out. They should be because they were amazing.

Place Settings

 

The venue was divided into two areas. One was the dining area, and the other had the bar, bands, and dance floor. The dining area was decorated as The Great Hall. We hung plastic sheeting on the walls that gave in that block wall look, and over 100 L.E.D. Candles from the ceiling with a thin wire. The second area had representations of a few shops from the movie, the sign in table and luggage cart, and elements of  Quidditch hanging from the ceiling.

 

Honey Dukes Candy Shop

HoneyDukes Candy

Apothacary

Slug & Jiggers Apothecary

 

Ollivander's Wand Shop

Ollivander’s Wand Shop

 

The party was a huge success. The guest of honor was thoroughly surprised, and MJ was ecstatic about the level of detail that went into recreating elements of the movies. Their grandchildren got to keep a few of the wands, and everyone got to take a golden snitch home with them.

 

Party Favors

 

Aside from all of the hard work the volunteers that helped us put in, the things that really helped make this possible were Etsy sellers, and M’s Cricut Printer. Most of the designs for the labels on the HoneyDukes candy or on the Slugs and Jiggers jars and containers were created by someone from Etsy, then printed and cut out by M’s Cricut printer. The wings that you see glued to Ferrero Rocher candy for 80 guests, would have been impossible without the Cricut.

If you have any questions about exactly how we made anything feel free to leave a question in the comments. There are far too many pictures to post them all here. It would take almost a week to write out all of the projects step by step here, and since there were so many people and places involved I didn’t get pictures of individual steps on any of the projects except the picture wall.

Experiencing Life

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The act of building and running a website can take up a lot of your time, especially if you are new to the process. There is an extensive amount of behind the scenes work that can’t be seen by simply visiting a site. Endless research on techniques for design or advertising. It’s enough to drive a person out of their mind if they don’t take a break every once in a while. Regular 9-5 jobs come with vacation time, and with good reason. You need to take a step back when you are running your own business too. You need to get out, experience life, and spend time with your family. So that’s exactly what I did, and what this post is about. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about what you need to do, it’s about what I did. Be jealous, ‘cause it was amazing. I’m going to gloss over the drive out, it’s not really pertinent to the story at hand.

 

You know that list that some people have, the celebrity crush list? That list is the reason we ended up where we did. My girlfriend’s birthday was coming up and I wanted to do something special for her. Her list consists of Ty Pennington which offered no opportunities for a gift. Wolverine, not Hugh Jackman, but Wolverine which was also no help. Her last and probably biggest crush just happened to be coming to town.

 

Poison Bandanna

 

She absolutely loves Bret Michaels, she had never been to a rock concert, and Poison was coming to the area June 24th. So I got floor tickets as close as I could, 9th row, and reserved a room so we didn’t have to worry about the drive back so late at night. Having the room also allowed us to have a few drinks together if we wanted during the concert. Instead of one of us drinking alone, and one being the designated driver.

 

Room Number

 

We got to our room at the luxurious Renaissance Hotel in Allentown Pa. with a couple of hours to spare before the event we were attending began. Basically just enough time to get cleaned up after a long drive, and still arrive at the venue early enough to get a bite to eat.

 

T.V.-Wall.jpg

 

The room was well decorated, and quite comfortable. It’s miles beyond my usual side of the highway, middle of nowhere motel. I don’t know about you, but I have never stayed in a hotel of this caliber before. This is the kind of place with gourmet room service. If I need a hotel, the kind of place I usually stay is lucky to have vending machines and the ice machine is always broken.

 

PPL Center

Taking a few pics waiting for the show to start.

 

The Renaissance Hotel is inside the PPL Center which greatly improves the entire experience. There is a door from the hotel lobby directly into the venue allowing us to skip the huge security lines and be some of the first people inside even though doors opened 30 minute before.

 

There were 10-15 concession areas open serving a pretty wide range of arena foods like hot-dogs, nachos, soft pretzels, and quite a bit more. Of course each one had beer, but you had to keep an eye out for whatever you were drinking, because they didn’t all carry the same selection.

 

PopEvil

 

Pop Evil was the opening band. They put on a great show. Towards the end Leigh Kakaty walked the crowd and actually ended up in my row and shook my hand. I’ve been to quite a few concerts and festivals over the years, and met a few band members here and there. It’s always a cool experience. I know, they are just people, but they are people I was listening to on the radio 20 minutes ago.

 

Rick Neilson

 

Cheap Trick played next. Rick Nielsen is amazing to watch. His rapport with the audience is legendary. At 70 he was running around the stage, throwing a seemingly infinite number of guitar picks into the crowd, with the energy of someone 50 years his junior.

 

Bret Michaels

There was no guessing who the spectators were here to see. Seats didn’t begin to actually fill up until Poison was due on stage. Even then they didn’t stay occupied for long because everyone was on their feet for the duration of the set. The energy and excitement could be felt throughout the stadium.

 

Seeing Poison live was incredibly nostalgic for me. They were one of the last on a list of bands that I grew up following and idolizing that I had yet to see live. To be able to share that experience with someone so special made it that much more enjoyable.

I feel like maybe I should apologize for the quality of the photo’s. I didn’t originally plan on posting this, so we only had our cell phones with us for taking pictures.