Making a Difference: Our Ember Project team with Safe Place for Youth

At LumenSparQ, we believe in the power of community and the ability of individuals to create positive change. This month, we had the opportunity to collaborate with Safe Place for Youth (S.P.Y.) for Lighthouse Volunteer Day. Our dedicated Ember project team, consisting of middle schoolers Phoebe, Lily, and Fia, joined forces with other volunteers to transform a new house into a safe and welcoming home for 15 teens facing housing insecurity. We are excited to share the inspiring details of our impactful day!

Left to right: Phoebe, Lily, and Fia meet with SPY staff Karina and Thea
Left to right: Phoebe, Lily, and Fia meet with SPY staff Karina and Thea

One of the fundamental aspects of establishing a safe environment is ensuring comfortable living conditions. The Ember Project grant played a crucial role in this by providing bedding and towels for the new house. As our student team arrived at the site, they immediately got to work, channeling their energy into preparing the home for its future occupants.

Phoebe, Lily, and Fia enthusiastically engaged in preparing the beds and setting up the bathrooms, transforming empty rooms into cozy and inviting spaces. Taking care of these essential tasks provides stability and comfort for the teenagers who will soon call this place home.

A well-stocked kitchen is the heart of any home, and our team recognized the importance of ensuring the new residents had access to nourishing food. Together with other volunteers, they diligently organized donated goods, filling the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets with essential supplies. Their efforts guaranteed that the teens would have a place to find sustenance and gather with friends around a shared meal.

Education and personal growth are vital for young minds. Our Founder, John Umekubo, helped to organize the bookshelf with donated books. With a new mini-library in the house, the teens can explore new worlds, expand their knowledge, and discover the joy of reading. John also worked with others to assemble and prepare the beds.

John and Karina building beds.
Founder John Umekubo worked with SPY staffer Karina to build beds.

Recognizing the importance of an outdoor space for rejuvenation and reflection, other volunteers planted vibrant plants in the garden surrounding the house. This touch of greenery will provide an opportunity for the residents to connect with nature and find solace amidst their challenging circumstances.

Understanding the impact of small gestures on well-being, our student team went the extra mile to dress up the bathrooms. By adding decorative touches and personal care items, they aimed to create an environment that not only met the teens’ basic needs but also fostered a sense of dignity and pride.

Our collaboration with Safe Place for Youth during Lighthouse Volunteer Day was a memorable experience that exemplified the power of collective action. This small community of volunteers made a significant impact in preparing a new home for these unhoused teens. They transformed an empty space into a warm, inviting environment where these young individuals can find stability, comfort, and support.

We are grateful for the opportunity to work with organizations like Safe Place for Youth, and we are inspired by the unwavering commitment of individuals who share our vision of creating a better world. Together, we can make a lasting difference in the lives of those in need and empower them to overcome adversity.

Together, let us continue to illuminate lives and spark positive change in our communities.

Delivering New Tools to RISE High

At LumenSparQ, you know our mission is to spotlight and support local heroes in education. We had the privilege of visiting María, our newest Lumenary, at RISE High this month. RISE High is an incredible school that serves students who have faced various challenges in their academic journeys. We were excited to introduce new maker resources as a gift to María to enhance their learning experience.

New maker materials including an inkjet printer, Cricut Maker, and a heat press.
A trunk load of supplies and tools for drop off at RISE High

During our visit, we had the opportunity to deliver an inkjet printer, a Cricut Maker, and a Cricut heat press to the one-room classroom in Hawthorne. Along with these creative tools, we provided supplies for making stickers, vinyl heat transfers, t-shirts, and more. The aim was to empower the students to explore their creativity and engage in hands-on projects that foster their artistic abilities, entrepreneurial pursuits, and critical thinking skills.

We were delighted to involve the students in the design process, seeking their valuable feedback on designing a storage cart specifically tailored to accommodate these new tools in their classroom. They provided insights on the organization, accessibility, and mobility aspects, ensuring that the cart would serve as a functional and convenient resource for their creative endeavors.

Students at RISE.
Students help us to brainstorm ideas for a maker cart.

At LumenSparQ, we believe that providing the right tools and resources can unleash a student’s full potential. By equipping RISE High with these new tools, we hope to inspire a passion for creativity, problem-solving, and innovation among these remarkable students.

Our visit to María and her students at RISE High reaffirmed the importance of our mission. Witnessing the excitement and determination in their eyes, we were reminded once again of the transformative power of education and the profound impact that dedicated educators and supportive communities can have on students’ lives.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to María and the entire RISE High community for welcoming us and for their dedication to nurturing these bright minds. They are fostering an environment where students can flourish and find success, even through the challenges they may face daily.

As we continue to focus on our mission, we are honored to stand alongside educators like María, who are making a tangible difference in the lives of their students. We look forward to witnessing the good work and achievements that will arise from the creative journey embarked upon by the students at RISE High.

Together, let us illuminate the path to a brighter future through education, innovation, and unwavering support for our local heroes and the young people they serve.

2023 Ember Project Team

We are thrilled to announce the 2023 Ember Project team: Phoebe, Lily, and Fia, eighth-graders at Westside Neighborhood School. These remarkable students are committed to raising awareness about teen homelessness and providing essential resources to support the young women at Safe Place for Youth (S.P.Y.).

S.P.Y. is dedicated to empowering young people experiencing homelessness by creating lasting, community-driven solutions that address social and racial inequity. Team Feebelily has already made a significant impact by bringing S.P.Y. to their campus for a homelessness workshop attended by the entire middle school. They also worked diligently to collect donations from the community, resulting in numerous boxes of new feminine products for those receiving support at S.P.Y.

Boxes upon boxes of amazon products donated to S.P.Y.

In recognition of their outstanding work, LumenSparQ is pleased to provide an additional $1000 worth of materials to S.P.Y. This includes new bedding and small care packages to provide comfort and support to those in need.

We are immensely proud of Fia, Lily, and Phoebe for their meaningful and impactful work, and we congratulate them on this well-deserved recognition. Their dedication to creating positive change in their community is truly inspiring, and we look forward to seeing the continued impact they will make in the years to come.

A Visit with Naomi Lara

We are so pleased to introduce our newest Lumenary, Naomi Lara, principal of Da Vinci RISE High in Hawthorne. We recently had the opportunity to visit her and her incredible team at one of the three RISE campuses and were inspired by the dedication and compassion they demonstrate in supporting their students.

With just a single instructional space, the Hawthorne campus provides a warm and supportive environment for students from diverse backgrounds, including those from foster care, those recently out of the criminal justice system, credit-deficient students, and transfers from local high schools where traditional schooling is unable to meet their needs.

Naomi is a passionate and inspiring leader who brings a wealth of experience to her role as principal. She has an unwavering commitment to her students and their well-being, and she works tirelessly to create a safe and inclusive learning environment where all students can thrive.

During our visit, we had the opportunity to observe one of the faculty members working with students during class. We were uplifted to witness the level of engagement and enthusiasm among these learners. Naomi and her team have created something extraordinary at Da Vinci RISE High.

Teacher received donated electronics kits for their curriculum.

As we left the campus, we were thrilled to be able to forge another connection between schools by donating a stack of Little Bits electronics kits that another school generously provided. We believe that supporting and empowering educators and students is crucial to creating a brighter future for all, and we are honored to be able to facilitate these connections and provide resources that can make a real difference in students’ lives.

We are excited to continue to support Naomi and her team as they empower and uplift students in their community. Stay tuned for more updates on Naomi and her full story as our newest Lumenary.

Success for the LMS Book Club Campaign

We are thrilled to announce that our recent fundraising campaign was a great success! Thanks to our donors’ generosity, we raised enough funds to purchase books for each student in the Lennox Middle School Book Club, run by our Lumenary, María.

The Lennox Middle School Book Club is an integral representation of our mission to “spotlight and support local heroes in education.” Each month, the club selects a book for the students to read, discuss, and engage in deep, meaningful conversations about important and thought-provoking topics such as homelessness, racial bias, recent immigrant experiences, gender equality, and social justice, to name a few. These discussions not only provide the students with valuable insights and perspectives but also help to foster critical thinking and encourage them to take an active role in their own education. The new books we can purchase, thanks to the generosity of our donors, will provide a valuable resource for the students and help enrich their educational experiences even further.

We are so grateful to our new and continuing donors for their support of our mission. Your generosity allows us to continue supporting our local heroes, and we couldn’t do it without you. Thank you for helping to make a positive impact on the lives of these students.

Making Connections

Growing up, my parents often stressed the importance of getting to know others to build my “network.” Doing so would create these connections that might bring about opportunities related to future work or even joint projects because of some shared interest or passion.

I didn’t realize the importance of networking then, particularly given my introverted nature and unwillingness to initiate conversations and engage in what I thought of as “small talk” with others. I also believed this game was a bit manipulative or misleading at the time. That there was always some ulterior motive for making connections to use this resource solely for my benefit.

It wasn’t until adulthood and professional work that I understood the importance of building relationships, particularly with people with different outlooks, talents, and experiences than my own. I could learn from them and their experiences while offering back my skills and knowledge to them. It was a sharing of ideas and a collaboration.

When we started LumenSparQ, it became apparent rather quickly that connections were vital to keep our engine running and help us continue moving forward. The initial donors were all people our board members knew personally and were part of the network we had each created during our respective careers in education.

But often, the connections we make have nothing to do with giving a donation or supporting our projects financially. The relationships we have, and the interrelationships we build, can bring value without money changing hands. We have recently experienced a number of these interrelationships between our partners.

Buford Elementary is a school you may remember from our Ember Project recipient, Zoe, and her story. The school recently had a new fifth-grade class form because of overflow from two other existing classes. This situation led to a new empty classroom with no supplies or resources.

At the same time, we had two local independent schools with a large number of surplus books generated through their rotation of supplies and inventory. This process is something they have the good fortune of doing on an annual basis. Two separate, simple conversations between LumenSparQ board members and their connections created the opportunity for supplies to quickly shift from schools with surplus into the hands of a teacher and a classroom of students eagerly awaiting reading materials.

In addition to this fifth-grade class, some of the donated books intended for younger readers went into the hands of pre-service school psychologists who use these resources while working with children at their assigned school sites but have no budget to pay for them. It is truly a win win win.

In the coming weeks, a similar interrelationship will form between two middle school faculty, one that teaches robotics in a private school setting and the other a STEM faculty member at a public school. We will help to pass along some lightly used and current robotics equipment from one organization to the other and hope to build a lasting connection between two passionate teachers.

These simple acts cost nothing and yet carry so much value, now and into the future. These connections are as vital to these communities and our mission as any monetary support. As the saying goes, “It’s as much about who you know as what you know.”

The Value of a Sensory Regulation Course

“What is it? It looks like a colorful play course!” inquired the after-school staff.

I replied, “It is a sensory regulation course, and it is used to help students use it as a tool to regulate big emotions. “Wow, we need that, “ he said, “We have some kids with big emotions after school.” “Then this is the place to let off steam and walk out the wiggles while teaching about regulation too.”

To be fair, it is normal for students to have big emotions throughout the school day. Many of our students start the school year feeling excited, but students also feel anxious, worried, nervous, and fearful. So teaching students about regulation, which means knowing when our bodies are in a calm state, and dysregulation, when our bodies feel out of control or uncomfortable, is an important concept. Sensory-regulation courses allow students to move, jump and practice calming breathing techniques to help them regulate their bodies and minds. A two- to four-minute break on the course can help a student return to the classroom calmer, focused, and ready to learn. This tool, paired with learning about feelings and learning tools to help calm ourselves in challenging moments, can help students manage themselves while in school.

This summer, the LumenSparQ board and a group of amazing parents and students worked on painting a three-part regulation course on the 156th Street Elementary School campus. The idea is not new and has been catching on in many districts. When all students are allowed to practice regulation as they motor through, jump, pause, and breath on a course, it can support them in moments of big emotions or the need for a break.

Our volunteer painters working on one of the course elements for 156th Street Elementary School

When students return to school, I would love to say they just come with new backpacks, hopes for a good year, and excitement. The reality is many of our students bring an array of challenges and emotions, which range from anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, and fear. These challenges have been exacerbated by the economic or physical losses due to Covid. Our fantastic teachers are challenged to create a safe environment for all students, offer support and help students navigate challenges so they can learn. Having additional tools can support our students and help us breathe more easily.

Below are additional resources to learn more about Sensory Regulation Courses:

Sensory Regulation Courses (also called Sensory Pathways)

Zones of Regulation:

Sensory Regulation Course

We shared the story of our Lumenary, Ms. Dudley, over one year ago. But as with everything pandemic related, it seems time moved slower than anticipated. As such, it’s taken until now to fulfill our gift to her. This past week, we completed three custom Sensory Regulation Courses on the campus of 156th Street Elementary School.

A future blog post will dive deeper into what a sensory regulation course is and how it can help students to reflect, relax, and refocus, particularly when emotions run hot and they need an outlet.

For this post, we are sharing a few photos and short videos. Here are the three courses we planned out this past spring:

The quad area in front of the office has an outer track of steps and pauses, and an inner track for stepping, jumping, and stopping for a yoga pose.
This small seating area is for meditation and grounding.
On the playground, students and teachers can use the Zones of Regulation to self-regulate, then check out the maze, the alphabet trail, and hopscotch.

With over 45 volunteers on a sunny summer day, we mapped out and painted the courses. We are grateful for the time and effort provided by these community members. Their dedication is a testament to Ms. Dudley’s work.

In these last days of summer, before we all returned to school, the LumenSparQ board and the school’s parent liaison came to campus to stencil in keywords and paint the yoga characters. Below is a short video:

Please check back with us soon. We will follow up with a more extensive post on Sensory Regulation Courses, how they work, and how to use them with your students.

Paying It Forward

Buford 4th grader shares the art lesson with his 2nd-grade friend

After experiencing an enjoyable hands-on lesson on the use of color through clay and paint, as taught by our Ember Project student, Zoë, the fourth-grade students at Buford Elementary School had a desire to share their newfound knowledge with others.

Using surplus clay from their time with Zoë, students from Ms. Lewis’ 4th-grade class prepared an art lesson for the second-graders. Prepped with information from Zoë and some of their own research, the new “teachers” presented works from artists like Andy Warhol, Simone Legno, and Takahashi Murakami to show how color can impact works of art in various ways.

Fourth-grade leaders illustrating the works of various artists.

The younger students were overjoyed to see their older schoolmates in this leadership role and readily engaged with them when it came time to dive into the clay. Students from each class paired up so the more experienced children could assist the younger ones in their creative explorations. Below are some of the highlights from the day.

Thank you, Zoë, for inspiring these young learners to continue spreading the joy of art.