Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Eve celebrations for kids

first night fireworks

Looking for something fun to do on New Year's Eve? Check out First Night Charlotte for kids.

First Night Kids takes place on South Tryon and Levine Avenue in Charlotte from noon to 5 p.m. Kids of all ages will be able to participate in dance, theater, history, music and more. Performances will be held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, outdoor terrace of the Charlotte Convention Center, The Green, Bechtler Museum, Mint Museum and Levine Avenue of the Arts. Below are a few of the featured events that will occur throughout the day:

12- 12:30 p.m.:
Fireman Jim: NASCAR Hall of Fame: High Octane Theatre
Fireman Jim’s Safety Show features safety practices proven to save lives.

12- 12:45 p.m.:
Percussion Petting Zoo: The Green: Upper Tier

12- 4 p.m.
Caricatures by Lena: Convention Center Stage-MLK Street: Outside Tent
Within 5 minutes or less, Lena will capture the crowd around her.

12- 4:30 p.m.
Thistledown Tinkers: Bechtler Lobby
Thistledown Tinkers is a traditional Celtic duo that plays high-energy Scottish and Irish folk music.

2:30- 1 p.m.
Fettucini Brothers: Convention Center Stage-MLK Street- "Big Top" Fettucini Variety Show
The Fettucini Brothers, Alfredo and Alfresco perform a comedy, juggling and variety entertainment show.

1- 1:30 p.m.
Magic by Glen: Convention Center Stage- MLK Street- "Big Top" Fettucini Variety Show

3:30- 4 p.m.
Strength and Elegance: Convention Center Stage- MLK Street- "Big Top" Fettucini Variety Show
Strength and Elegance is a Cirque Du Soleil inspired duo with acts consisting of partner acrobatics, hoop dance, pole art and aerial acrobatics.

4- 5 p.m.
Hyundai Sonata Car Giveaway and the kids countdown. Main Stage- Levine Avenue of the Arts performing

For a complete list of events, visit First Night Charlotte.

Photo: Observer file photo

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Uncovering ancient Mayan tomb all in a day's work

Chipping away at an ancient Mayan tomb and uncovering cherished artifacts that reveal a culture's past have become the norm for students at Davidson Day.

For the past few years, a handful of students in Mat Saunder's class have had the opportunity to travel to Belize and work alongside some of archaeology's most well-known, like Marc Zender, a lecturer in the department of anthropology at Harvard University.

This summer's June trip lead to an interesting discovery - a tomb that was home to three prominent Mayan figureheads.

Jason Chinuntdet, 16, a junior at Davidson Day, recalls seeing remains of a middle-aged woman and an elderly man found in the tomb, as well as the artifacts they were buried with.

"There were dog tags with hieroglyphs and nothing like that had been found, which was really cool," Jason said.

Jason said he had a preexisting interest in paleontology, so he thought exploring the archaeology field would be beneficial.

The majority of this year's group consisted of students traveling to the site for the first time, but they went because they are interested in becoming archaeologists.

"I want to pursue a career in anthropology or archaeology, so it was the perfect opportunity for me," said Sierra Thorson, 16, a junior.

While on site, the students worked on lower parts of the temple being excavated and helped to discover a shell pot containing dried paint. Researchers had an idea the Maya people would have used these shells for paint, but were able to confirm this with their findings, Saunders said.

"In my 11 or 12 years working in Belize, I've never seen anything like it," said Saunders.

During the day, students would come together for mini sessions to discuss their findings and also learn new material that would help them better understand artifacts, like learning to read common hieroglyphics.

"On site when we were digging, we would be able to find outer facing walls and you could really start to see the structure come together," said Samira Zoobi, a sophomore on her second trip to the excavation site.

And when they weren't brushing away soil or moving heavy capstones, the Davidson Day students visited with students at Succotz Primary School. There, they would exchange stories about daily life in the United States and in Belize.

Following their experience in Belize, the students presented their findings to about 180 professionals at Maya at the Playa, a conference in Florida geared to archaeologists. Saunders said it was the first time the tomb had been presented publicly.

The Davidson Day group plans to continue their work in Belize this summer, expanding their trip from two weeks to a full month. In April, they will also host the Maya at the Lago Conference, which is a four-day event that features lectures and workshops on topics centered around Maya.

"I'm looking forward to uncovering more things," Sierra said.

Continue to look for stories like these of inspirational youth, there's plenty to be found in the Young Achievers section!

Have someone in mind who fits the Young Achievers mold? Email me at, or call 704-358-6043.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homemade holiday gift ideas

Christmas is only two days away, are you prepared?
Rather than focusing on one individual today, I thought it would be refreshing to share the latest Christmas gift finds with all of you young achievers, in case you are scrambling to prepare gifts for your parents or friends. Below are cheap, yet thoughtful crafts you can construct in no time that will please most anyone. Happy holidays everyone!

Holiday craft ideas:

Hot cocoa in decorated mug - Tie a red ribbon around a basic mug and place a bag of homemade cocoa inside. It's all about the presentation, really. If you don't have time to make your own cocoa, just use a store bought hot chocolate mix. If you do have a few spare minutes, the recipe is below!
Ingredients: Mix together, 2 cups nonfat dry milk powder, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips, 1/2 cup powdered nondairy creamer, 1/8 teaspoon salt. This will make about four cups of mix.
Best Hot Cocoa Mix

Mixed Cd's - Create a play list of your recipient's favorite music, then personalize the CD case with song lyrics, photos or stickers.

Photo frame - Decorating a photo frame is quick and cheap, yet captures a memory that is priceless. Take a few things from around the house (with a parent's permission) like buttons, broaches or beads and use a strong craft glue to adhere the items to your favorite frame. Parents and friends will love to see that you took time to create a meaningful gift they can display forever.
Memory Lane Picture Frame

Sticky notes - Who doesn't enjoy stationary or sticky notes? This craft is extremely easy and has a very practical use. Take your favorite ink stamps ( or markers) and print shapes on the sides of sticky note cubes. When they memo cubes are dry, tie them up with a holiday bow and place them under the tree. Any hardworking parent or studious friend will be thrilled to receive this craft!
Printed Memo Blocks

Ideas found on Disney Family Fun. For more ideas, recipes or printable decorations, visit Do you have any holiday gift ideas or favorite crafts? Post them below in the comments field so everyone can enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seeking a helping had

Sarah Barry, a senior at South Mecklenburg High, admits the stresses of being a teenager can sometimes be overwhelming.

She said she also sees her friends battle the demands of juggling classwork, a social life and extra curricular activities. Often, they feel alone and "don’t realize how many people out here care about them," Sarah said.

“If teens don’t start learning how to make good decisions ... now, they will struggle with those decisions when they are older. Making unhealthy decisions now can also have major implications on their lives down the road," Sarah says.

It's important to realize that asking for help is OK and realizing even the seemingly most composed individuals need a hand sometimes - we all do.

With the help of Teen Health Connection's Teen Advisory Board, and members of the Youth Expressions Summit, I have compiled a list of resources for teens that may need a helping hand.

Girl Talk

Teens Taking Action

Teen Help Card:
Abuse/Emergency Housing:
Child Protective Services.....704-336-2273*
Rape Crisis.....704-375-9900*
Shelter for Battered Women.....704-332-2513*
The Relatives (Youth Crisis Shelter)....704-377-0602*

Counseling and Support:
Behavioral Health Center.....704-444-2400*
Mobile Crisis Team.....704-566-3410*
Rape Crisis.....704-375-9900*
Suicide Hotline.....800-784-2433*
Teen Dating Violence.....704-336-3210
Teen Health Connection.....704-381-8336
Time Out Youth.....704-344-8335
United Family Services.....704-332-9034

Pregnancy and STI Prevention/Support:
Florence Crittenton.....704-372-4663
Mecklenburg County Health Department.....704-336-6500
Planned Parenthood.....704-536-7233
Pregnancy Resource Center.....704-372-5981
Teen Health Connection.....704-381-8336

Health Care:
Center for Disordered Eating.....704-381-4673
Mecklenburg County Health Department.....704-336-6500
Teen Health Connection.....704-381-8336

Academic Resources:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.....704-416-0100

Alcohol and Substance Abuse:
Alcoholics Anonymous.....704-332-4387
Anuvia Prevention and Recovery Center.....704-376-7447
McLeod Center.....704-332-9001
Narcotics Anonymous.....704-366-8980*

Referral and Information Services:
Center for Prevention Services.....704-375-3784
Gang of One.....704-432-4264*
Support Works.....704-331-9500
United Way Information Dial.....2-1-1
United Way Mobile.....866-744-7778

* denotes 24-hour availability

Photo: Teen Leaders at the Youth Expressions Summit at UNC Charlotte on Nov.19. Todd Sumlin -

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unconventional field trip teaches Woodlawn students about service

Class field trips to the zoo, history museums or theater plays are common, even expected in elementary school.

But students at Woodlawn School are straying away from the norm and turning field trips into service projects. Once a month, the Woodlawn third grade class packs up for an unconventional trip to 5th Street Ministries. The organization is a homeless shelter that serves more than 150 meals per day to the less fortunate.

"I had never been to a homeless shelter before, so I was a little nervous to go to the shelter," said Benjamin Vaughan, 8. "It’s also difficult to know that people in the world are going hungry."

As students serve up helpings of meat and veggies to those in need, they learn about volunteering, homelessness in the community, stereotypes and respect. Each student has a different role at the shelter every month. Some dish out candy and food, while others pour drinks or greet guests. Often, students will make table decorations, like paper turkeys, for the holidays, said their teacher, Jamie Pohlmeyer.

"I learned how important it is to help others in need by giving them lots of food so they will survive without a home," said Paige Berini, 8.

Paige is often in charge of pouring water, plating food and handing out candy to guests. She said the most difficult part of the volunteer work"is seeing all the really young kids being homeless and seeing the homeless with no food or water except when they go to 5th Street."

Recently, the third grade class collected $245.81 from a school-wide bake sale that they donated to the shelter.

"The hardest part was to see that so many people need food, water and shelter," said Micah Shepherd, 8. "Especially the kids."

Photo: Zach Kellman (left), Gabriel Cox, Paige Berini and Bryce Adams serve lunch at Fifth Street Ministries. Courtesy of Angela McKenzie, head of Woodlawn School.

Learn more:
For ways you can help out, visit

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Seeking wisdom from youth

Today, we get a bit of advice from Dhruv Pathak, 18, a senior at East Mecklenburg High. Dhruv recently participated in the Youth Expression Summit. Y.E.S. was designed by teens and focused on the most common issues students encounter, like bullying, dating, immigration, peer pressure and personal health. Aside from the summit, Dhruv also participates in Young Democrats, Academic World Quest and is president of the chess club.

Q: Why is it important for teens to express their emotions and educate themselves on healthy lifestyles?
"Teens definitely need to express how they feel because if you keep it bottled inside of you then it's going to eat away at you and probably cause you to make irrational decisions that can hurt the people around you. Telling people how you feel can help solve your problems, not saying emotion is always negative, but when it is it really does help. Everyone wants to experience all they can in life, if you don't live healthy physically and mentally then that dream is going to be thrown out the window.

Q: What keeps you motivated?
"What keeps me going is knowing that there is always a proverbial light at the end of every tunnel. In other words, there is always a reward for hard work."

Q: To be considered wise, what must you know?
"I feel like you must know that if you don't accept help from others then you are just winging life and that isn't a positive."

Q: What is an obstacle you have had to overcome?
"My incredible shyness which caused me to be awkward as well."

Q: What is a motto in life you tend to live by?
"I live by an Aesop quote, he once said, 'that no matter how small the act of kindness it is still appreciated.'"

Q: What are three things everyone should have with them?
"Three things everyone should always have with them is an open mind, ambition and tenacity."

Q: What's one thing worth remembering in tough times?
"During tough times you should always remember that there is always hope, no matter how grave the situation might be there is always a way out."

Q: Tell readers a fun fact about yourself:
"I am constantly analyzing the world. I'm always developing theories on human nature. Why do we act the way we do? What got us here? Why are we here?Are all people really equals?

Q: What is the greatest thing you learned at Y.E.S.?
"One person can make a change, no matter how small the change may be, it is still a change regardless."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Young Achiever continues to excel

About two weeks ago, while I was covering a youth summit event for the Local section of The Observer, I ran into a Young Achiever I had written about.

I had told Yash Mori's story in the Nov. 1 issue of Young Achievers. At age 16, Yash, a junior at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, has started a website business, runs the school’s video production club, is a member of JROTC and student council and is a student ambassador.

Quite frankly, he does just about everything.

At the youth summit, I was pleased to hear Yash say he had been asked to speak at the U.S. Small Business Administration's youth entrepreneur series on Nov. 17. He said he received a call from the organization the day after the article ran. They hope to send him to New York for a larger youth entrepreneur conference in the future.

"I was able to tell my story and I got a lot of contacts through it," Yash said. "It was great."

And in the meantime, if you know (or are!) someone you think has an inspiring story, email me at or call 704-358-6043.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Teens learn to express themselves

Today we get advice from Sarah Barry, 18, a senior at South Mecklenburg High. Sarah is a member of Charlotte Planned Parenthood's Teens Taking Action program, co-editor of the yearbook, member of four honor societies and an athlete.

On Nov. 19, Sarah participated in the Youth Expressions Summit (Y.E.S.) along with 300 students ages 12 to 19. Sarah was one of about 12 teens to help plan the youth event held at UNC Charlotte.

The program was designed by teens and focused on the most common issues students encounter, like bullying, dating, immigration, peer pressure and personal health.

Q: Why is it important for teens to express their emotions and educate themselves on healthy lifestyles?
"If teens don’t start learning how to make good decisions to promote an emotionally and physically healthy lifestyle now, they will struggle with those decisions when they are older. Making unhealthy decisions now can also have major implications on their lives down the road. In order to make the healthy decisions that are best for them, teens need to be able to understand and express their emotions."

Q: When you're tired and don't want to work anymore, how do you keep going?
"Oh wow, this question’s an interesting one for me. To be honest, the first thing that came to my mind was the ridiculous amount of diet coke that I drink. It’s the one vice I let myself turn to when I’m tired or stressed. But other than that I try to think back on some of my past accomplishments. I remind myself of how great and proud I felt after all of the work that went into reaching them and tell myself that I’ll feel the same way once I get through putting my best effort into whatever I may be working on."

Q: To be considered wise, what must you know?
"To be considered wise one must be able to understand their thoughts and feelings and be able to share advice with others while being aware that not everyone has the same beliefs, cultures and backgrounds."

Q: What has been the greatest obstacle you have had to overcome?
"The greatest obstacle I have had to overcome has been learning how to balance several groups of friends, school work, family and extracurriculars. I had to learn how to manage my time and relationships in order to be able to accomplish everything I have wanted without giving up time for my friends and family."

Q: What is a motto you tend to live by?
“Just do the best you can and that won’t go unseen," from the Avett Brothers song “Please Pardon Yourself.”

Q: What are three things everyone should always have with them?
"Chapstick, either a cell phone or money to call home and an open mind."

Q: What's one thing worth remembering in tough times?
"If you face your difficult situations with courage, you will only come out stronger in the end."

Q: What is a fun fact about yourself that readers may not know?
"I got involved in Teens Taking Action after I wrote an article for the Charlotte Observer on teen pregnancy in the media while I was a part of the Explorers program."

Q: What is the greatest thing you learned at the Y.E.S. event?
"...To never burn any bridge because you never know when you are going to have to cross it again. As someone who is always looking for more opportunities for myself, I found this incredibly insightful and a great piece of advice for the future."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Week to end hunger culminates in friendship garden

What a better way to give back than with fresh veggies from the garden.

That was the idea behind The United Way Young Leaders group as they participated in a Week to Fight Hunger from Nov. 14-21.

One of their many community service projects they led during the week was the friendship garden at Sterling Elementary on Nov. 20.

Students were able to harvest vegetables to be used by Friendship Trays, a group that delivers more than 600 meals daily to elderly, handicapped and convalescing individuals in the Charlotte area.

Especially during the holiday season, many organizations like the United Way and Friendship Trays, depend on the kindness of strangers to help those in need. Look below for ways you can help in your community.

How to help:
United Way:
Friendship Trays:

Top: Abi Carberry, 6, crouches beside a row of produce in the friendship garden at Sterling Elementary. Photo courtesy of Barrie Terrell, United Way of Central Carolinas.
Bottom: - Abi Carberry, 6, and Avery Taylor, 5, help clean up the friendship garden at Sterling Elementary.