Our buddies at Thurston Woods are wonderful mentors for our little ones in kindness and in reading. It came as no surprise that the mentors asked their teachers to add an extra service component to our Reading Buddies day in November. In addition to reading, snacks, and art this time we also packed care kits for the individuals we serve through St. Vincent de Paul. We contacted our lead, Ms. Ladonna, at SVDP to see what the diners needed. We collected the items and then our big and little buddies packed the bags together. The care kits were handed out over Thanksgiving. We are really looking forward to seeing our buddies again in 2018!
This year, we participated in Family Volunteer Day. It's an international day to celebrate the power of families and their ability to make a true difference in their community. This project was funded by donations from our families and supplemented with a grant from generationOn, a division of Points of Light Foundation. Our monthly taco night was a little bit more special with lots of families and special extras like t-shirts and hats provided by Disney.
Thank you to everyone who participated and we hope that this day encouraged many families to get out there and make their communities a better place with their love and care!
We were presented with a really unique experience in November by Skylight Music Theatre. Their production of Annie was in the final stages of rehearsal and for their very long technical rehearsal they asked us to come in provide their cast with a potluck dinner. Annie? Our kids? YES!
Families from Toddlers and Kids on a Mission gathered together to serve 70 cast members and then were able to tour the theatre, including enjoying listening to one of the songs from Annie. It was a day to remember!
This was our second year participating in the citywide Make a Difference Day. We even got to return to the home that we spruced up last year in 2016. The purpose of this event is to visit yards of the elderly in the fall to get to all those tasks that have become hard for them.
It was an absolute pleasure helping Miss B with getting her yard ready for the winter today. We had 10 families (lots of big and little hands!) trimming bushes, raking leaves and chopping down brush. Miss B was beyond appreciative. She remembered us from last year and was overwhelmed at all of the families who came out to be “such a blessing” to her. A highlight was being able to sing “Happy Birthday” to her! (She recently turned 90!!!) Thanks to all the families who came out in this cold weather to make warm memories!!
Our leadership gathers monthly to strategize and brainstorm but this month, we gathered for education. The non-profit organization Just Ministries led us all in a poverty simulation. We were all assigned new names and new lives and for an hour, we tried to make life work as that person while managing an income that was below the poverty line. We had to drop our kids off at school, go to work or look for employment, pay our bills, buy groceries, and arrange for transportation. Our leadership has varying levels of professional and personal experience with persons living below the poverty line and so at the end, when it was time for debriefing and processing, we had a lot to talk about. We were very grateful for the insights we gained from this training and we are newly motivated moving forward to find and create projects with the lessons we learned.
Co-Founder and Development Director
Perseverance. Mixing colors. Sign language. Budding friendships. Snacks.
What do these five things have in common?!? Thurston Woods Reading Buddies, of course!
Our third year of building relationships with our Reading Buddies program at Thurston Woods Campus began today. Children, educators and parents shared a morning full of joy getting to know one another. The photos speak volumes about the love, compassion and patience that come from the children.
We started our time together with a read-aloud called The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, and focused on the importance of trying hard and keeping a “can do” attitude. We used sign language to sing “The More We Get Together.” Then the little buddies partnered with their big buddy mentors who read self-selected books to them.
Ms. Nicole continued our theme of perseverance by sharing a quote by Artist Georgia O’Keeffe: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” Jointly, the partners mixed color and created “tints” to paint an O’Keefe-inspired landscape to donate.
Snacks and casual chit-chat wrapped up our time together before the Thurston Woods students picked a take-home book and headed back to class. Kudos to the children for demonstrating what it means to treat one another with love and respect! My heart is filled with hope.
Thurston Woods Reading Buddies Project Manager
Toddlers and Kids on a Mission Co-Founder and Managing Director
My kids, ages 7 and 4, are familiar with the idea of helping others -- we have been the beneficiaries of much help from our community of friends and family in recent years, and we talk often about paying it forward -- but this was their first experience serving food to others at a soup kitchen/meal program.
Earlier in the day, we read the book "Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen" by DyAnne DiSalvo, which opened up some discussion about what we would be doing at All Peoples Church that evening, as well as a little bit about the folks that might be coming there for a meal and why they may be choosing to come.
After a quick drive, we had a few extra minutes before we had to be at the church, so we walked over to the beautiful Darius Simmons Memorial Garden across the street. We were greeted by a lovely woman who was tending to vast vegetable gardens, and she offered to have us pick some ripe and ready sweet tomatoes. My 4-year-old daughter was very interested in holding the little bucket while we picked tomatoes and listened to a few stories about the garden and the Kids Working To Succeed program. After a few minutes, we thanked the gardener and headed over to the church.
After donning our hair nets, aprons and gloves, we were happy to incorporate those tomatoes into the taco dinner that would be served. My kids were eager to chop the tomatoes and take on any and all tasks they could find. I was really happy to see them jump right in with helping hands, joining the other families and kids who were there to serve. Kids are "do-ers" with such big hearts!
We served meals to many folks, young and old, ate a bit ourselves, and then helped clean up before heading out. On the ride home I asked my kids if they had any thoughts or observations about the meal program or what they had done. My 4 y.o. said that, as she served peaches with a long-handled slotted spoon, "some people used their manners and others didn't. One lady said, 'Gimme some peaches,' and that hurt my feelings." I could see that she was a little puzzled by this, given how much we harp on good manners as a family, and I took this as an opportunity to tell her that I'm sorry she felt that her feelings were hurt and that sometimes we don't know what someone else is going through or what kind of a day they're having, and sometimes it means they may not be thinking about their manners. Or, maybe that particular lady hadn't had a good meal in a while and she was just plain hungry. And sometimes it's hard to be polite when you're really hungry... my daughter seemed to be thinking about times when she feels hungry and maybe at that moment she felt a twinge of empathy...
My 7-year-old son observed that "It was fun and a lot of work!" And later he commented, "Almost all of the people that were there tonight were black... and I don't know why." Using words that I thought he'd understand, I explained that the church is in a predominantly black neighborhood and that many of Milwaukee's neighborhoods are pretty segregated by race. I asked him, "Do we have very many black people in our neighborhood?" and he replied, "No." I tried as best as I could to explain a little bit about housing discrimination (we have talked many times about Jim Crow laws, oppression of people of color and the Civil Rights Movement, so this was not a totally new topic for my kids). I also told him that while those unfair laws have changed now, some of the same problems still remain. It has been hard to change the patterns that were set back then, but it doesn't mean we should stop trying to change them. It's important to build relationships and get to know people who don't look like you or live near you, especially if we're going to try to solve some of the really tough problems we face in our city.
So, more than just the idea of helping others... more than just that good feeling we get... I am glad that my kids are getting a glimpse into the lives of others who may look different than they do or live in different neighborhoods, and a glimpse into some of the difficulties that others face, and my hope is that through continued conversations that are often a little uncomfortable, my kids will become leaders in building relationships and making positive change.
Our first ever Friends Across Nations (FAN) Playgroup kicked off on September 18th. The kids got to enjoy a Teddy Bear Picnic, and thanks to generous donations from members of Love and Lift, Inc., each child was able to take home their very own teddy bear. It warmed my heart to see the kids faces light up as they played with their teddy bears during our "picnic" and then have a dance party with their bears. It was wonderful to see moms from different backgrounds jump right into conversations, and be able to connect while sharing in the joy of seeing our kids have fun together. It was a beautiful day, and I look forward to the friendships that will begin to blossom as our first session continues into the coming months.
-Hilary (FAN Playgroup Leader)
The Saturday before 9/11 Day 2017, families from Toddlers and Kids on a Mission and Human Equality Love Project gathered in that spirit of giving many of us witnessed in 2001. We packed 50+ veteran care kits. Along with the extra supplies, those kits will be given to the Milwaukee VA Medical Center for distribution to local vets in need. Veteran Stu made a special appearance for a read aloud and passed out books for all our helpers to take home.
We volunteer frequently and we want our children to believe that volunteering is a natural part of life just like going to school, visiting Great Grandma Shirley in Texas, and brushing their teeth. Every experience is different for our family and we believe that every time does not have to be a huge light-bulb/a-ha/mountain top moment. So, this is what our family took away from volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul in August:
My husband recalled his college days working in food service in the dorms. He had an especially proud moment when he realized he could use an ice cream scoop to serve rice.
I served dinner to a man handling a solo parenting night with his kids and a few of their friends (6 kids in total). He didn't sit down for long but all of the children were well-behaved, kind, and he kept a smile on his face the whole time. RESPECT.
Our extroverted son got to talk to lots of people and really enjoyed wolfing down leftover brownies when he thought we weren't looking.
Our daughter felt very important serving the lettuce. When she got her dinner at the end she really loved it. (Nice job, Jobea!)
The dining room is in need of more coffee mugs for visitors. If you have any mugs that you could spare in your cabinet, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll pick them up.
20+ families gathered for our second annual Meet and Greet. The purpose of this event was so parents and kids could socialize and also so we could introduce ourselves, in person, to families who were curious about us but haven't jumped in. We know this event didn't cover all of you so here's a digital meet and greet for those who missed out. *If you'd like to feel more like you were there, please ask your child to blow bubbles by your side as you read and feel free to sip on coffee or munch on a frozen popsicle.*
A HUGE thanks to all the families that donated supplies for the children at Our Next Generation.
Q: When do you have missions?
A: We have to schedule them according to the needs and availability of our partner organizations. After that, we consider what would be most convenient for our families. Everyone on our leadership is a parent and so they consider the need of their family's schedule. Project managers who are working parents or who have older kids tend to schedule weekend and after-school events. Other project managers consider daytime, weekday events ideal and plan around the all important nap. We also factor in attendance at prior events. If we have consistently low turn out for a certain time-frame, we are less likely to schedule more events then.
Q: How old should my child be before they volunteer?
A: We have children as young as infants at events. Their parents are happy to be participating in a service opportunity in a welcome, supportive, and understanding environment. They are building their network of like-minded parents and starting a lifelong tradition with their child. We encourage parents to join us when they feel ready and when they feel their child is ready.
Q: How do you choose your events?
A: We believe in partnering with established and effective Milwaukee agencies. We look for events that will allow children a chance to genuinely help and also get to know lots of different neighborhoods and people in our city. We also keep a careful eye on current events and topical concerns of families and parents. Many of our project managers have come to us because they have a passion for certain topics and will design events for our families accordingly.
Q: I would love to join your leadership team. How does that work?
A: You are welcome to join us and we want to help you decide if we are a right fit for you. Our board looks at big picture issues and is responsible for our fiscal health. Our leadership team is made of all our project managers who plan and lead events. Please email Lynn@toammke.org to start a conversation.
Toddlers and Kids on a Mission parent and board member, Debby, arranged this engaging weekend mission in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity. As our children's hands are too little to do the actual work on a Habitat site, we were invited along to take a tour and meet the construction volunteers. We extended our gratitude for welcoming us and, most importantly, for improving the lives of Milwaukeeans, by bringing lunch for everyone!
There is nothing quite like summer in Milwaukee! I always look forward to exploring all the outdoor summer fun the city offers and I cherish the early evenings talking with neighbors while all the kids run around and play. The event last Thursday was the best of both worlds. It provided my boys with a lot of fun activities, while simultaneously allowing us to meet some neighbors who are newer to not only the Milwaukee area, but also to the United States.
For this event, Toddlers and Kids on a Mission families and refugee-status families participated in a Toddler Camp that ran simultaneously to a school aged camp run by Leslie Osborne. The Toddler Camp was a way for us to welcome our new neighbors to Milwaukee, in a loving and kid-friendly environment. The day began with families being greeted with playdoh, coloring pages, and chalk to pass the time before camp started. Then kids were able to get a snack as they settled into a story featuring woodland creatures that demonstrated what it is to be a good friend and neighbor. This was followed by a craft which involved making an owl paper bag puppet. We ended the camp with some active fun which included bubbles, dancing, singing, and parachute games. For the families that could stay a little longer, we were then showered with love from our new friends in the form of food. They were so excited to share their native dishes with us, and the food was absolutely delicious!
It was an amazing day, and I loved seeing families from different backgrounds having fun, laughing, and talking with each other. There were smiles on everyone’s faces, and I think that is a universal sign of a successful day!
This event was just the beginning of what Toddlers and Kids on a Mission hopes to be a lasting friendship with our new neighbors. Look for upcoming events that will take place this fall!
-Hilary Kim, Toddlers and Kids on a Mission Project Manager
Saturday was a gorgeous day and my family was poolside for the most of it. Admittedly, I was dreading trying to get my four-year-old to leave the sounds of summer, and go to All People's Church to help serve.
"Time to go guys, it's time to go be helpers." The reply: "Ok, Mama." Not a request for five more minutes or a final trip down the slide, just pure compliance. My family left with no complaints and we were in the car and ready to go in miraculous time. Audrey filled the drive with questions of how many kids were going to be there and what we would get to do.
As soon as we got to the bottom of the stairs, Audrey was asking for her apron and my husband, Dustin, let me put a hairnet on him with a minimal eye roll. We were greeted warmly by Miss LaDonna and the rest of the staff, who made us feel right at home. When the meal started I got to watch Audrey eagerly follow her dad around with a stack of cups, chatting up guests, as they poured drinks. I have to credit my families enthusiasm to the energy and spirit of other TOAM families. I loved listening to the other children figure out how to share tasks, "that way we can both help." I'm so glad we ditched the pool and had this experience together.
The Kids Working to Succeed Program at All Peoples Church is focused on sustainable gardening, education, building work ethic, and responsibility for Harambee neighborhood youth. They ask that community partners provide lunches for this program throughout the summer.
Toddlers and Kids on a Mission started helping out with the sack lunches in 2015 and on our garden tour today we were just amazed at how they've progressed in three summers. Last summer, APC asked for donations of paving stones and this year, we walked over a paved path that is built over 4 feet of rock layer that helps the gardens stay watered with absolutely 0% use of city water. Amazing. Ms. Linda, our guide, taught us about rainwater collection, hoop houses, and companion planing. We even got to taste some raspberries and mint.
Thanks to the hard work of our families and especially the kids, we assembled 45 lunch bags in record time.
If your children are like mine, birthdays are on their minds 365 days per year. One day my daughter Mia wants a science project themed party, and the next day she thinks a rainbow unicorn party is a better idea. She also enjoys planning a birthday celebration for her almost-two year-old sister.
Birthdays are important milestones for children and their families. We recognize the growth and maturity the year has brought, and we cherish the memories made. We celebrate one another together.
For this event, families from Gigi’s Playhouse Milwaukee and Toddlers and Kids on a Mission came together for a community birthday party. Together, we baked over 50 cupcakes, filled 24 treat bags, decorated birthday cards and collected many party decorations including hats, banners, candles and balloons.
With the assistance of the Birthday Party Club led by Jaime Wooten, we will provide Meta House with a Birthday Party in a Bag. Meta House provides support to women to overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol, and they offer a setting where children can remain with their mothers during treatment. Today’s mission provides Meta House with the goodies needed to make birthdays extra special for the children.
Thank you to all of our families who joined us today! Happy early birthday to our friends at Meta House!
Co-Founder and Managing Director of Toddlers and Kids on a Mission
This week we traveled to the LaVarnway Boys and Girls Club at 15th and Center in Milwaukee. Lynn found this project on United Way's Volunteer United site , a collaboration with the Non-Profit Center of Milwaukee. We were expertly lead by Volunteer Coordinator Sophia in unpacking, sorting, and boxing groceries for 100 families. The food was provided by donations from corporations and private donors through Feeding America. Feeding America partnered with the Boys and Girls Club starting in 2015 in an effort to reach greater amounts of Milwaukee families living with food insecurity.
"Yeah, we were really doing grown-up work."
This project was great for so many reasons. Kids can tell when they're given an authentic task and for this project it was so obvious to them that they were a vital part to the success of the mission. What they did, the teens and adults did. What the teens and adults did, they did. Also the project focused heavily on EQUALLY dividing up different foods. Need I say more?
Thank you to all who helped. I hope you slept as well as we did that night!
Our family really enjoyed the opportunity to serve food at All Peoples Church. When I think about attributes that I hope my children someday embody, I think of: giving, caring, loving, and kindness. I think we saw all of these virtues displayed that evening. The kids talked about how fun it was to all work together. I hope my children see that serving people in our community is improtant and rewarding.
-Jamie and Josh Eral
Annie Wegner LeFort, founder of The Mindful Palate joined Toddlers and Kids on a Mission to lead families in a cooking class. We gathered in the great hall of Christ Church Episcopal, Whitefish Bay to prep, cook, and enjoy vegetable soup. Afterwards, we took the remaining 10 gallons of soup to a St. Vincent De Paul Meal Site and served the soup along with sandwiches and dessert to people living with food insecurity.
Thank you to Suzie Beck for joining us with her daughter and sharing the following reflection:
After our experience with The Mindful Palate, my four-year-old daughter Audrey couldn't stop talking about it. She exclaimed,"Mom, there were so many helpers! Just like we're helpers!"
The opportunity to meet new friends and work together really resonated with us. Cooking and playing side-by-side with new faces was such a treat. The children's giant smiles, as they chopped and stirred, showed me how proud they were to accomplish their goal."There were so many veggies. Good thing we all had knives." Audrey's retelling of our afternoon showed me that we're doing something right.