Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Giving Back: Mentoring

I've mentioned in previous posts that I am a mentor with an organization based in Washington, D.C. called College Bound.  College Bound is a program for students in the 8-12th grades, who attend public school in the District and prepares them on their journey to college. 

The program is structured in a way that the partners (mentors) meet with their students (mentees) once a week at four sites around DC for 2 hours per week.  Most of the time is spent assisting students with their homework and various projects for schools.  Those partners who have older students typically help them prepare for college entrance exams and work on admissions essays.  In addition to tutoring, it is encouraged that partners forge a bond with our students and do things with them outside of the weekly site visit. 

This is my second year volunteering with the program and it's been a rewarding experience.  My mentee is in the 8th grade and she's been quite a challenge to work with.  When I met her she was failing English.  She still has a long way to go but I've learned to be supportive in trying to help her with what she's not being taught in school.  It amazes me that she's 13 and does not know the basics concepts of grammar or how to spell simple words that my 6 year old nephew knows.  The problem stems from no one correcting her, so she simply did not know.  There are so many problems with the DC public school system that I'm not going to go into right now, but all these kids need is someone to show them a little support and guidance.

With that said, College Bound is always looking for new Partners to make a difference in the lives of these children.  I always find it interesting that less than half of the Partners are Black, while I'd say 98% of the students are Black or Hispanic.  Not that there is anything wrong with having mentors of other races but it's extremely important for our children to be able to see someone who looks like them, who have gone to college, who have careers and can tell them first hand about their experiences and how they made it to where they are in life.

If you live in the DMV and are interested in becoming a mentor, please visit College Bound's website to get involved.  They are in dire need of mentors as there is a waiting list for students because of the shortage of mentors.

I hope everyone who reads this post set a goal for the New Year to become a mentor in 2010.  It's a rewarding experience and it only requires a couple hours of your time each week.  There are kids out there who just need a little guidance from you to help them become a better person.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Great Gifts For A Good Cause

With the holidays quickly approaching, I wanted to share some suggestions on some great feel good gifts that I've come across.  I found some great websites that have amazing, yet affordable gifts all under $30, where the proceeds go to charities in the United States as well as abroad.

American Diabetes Association
Gift of Hope: Katie's Cure Necklace - $24.99

Show support for the fight against diabetes. Sterling-silver pendant engraved with words driving the quest for a cure: Hope, Faith, Strength, Ambition, Research and Perseverance.

The FEED Project
FEED 10 Pouch- $25.00

Made to be used as a clutch, makeup case, or pencil holder, the FEED 10 pouch provides food and job skill training to 10 women through the UN WFP’s Food for Assets program. It measures 8.5” long by 5” tall and is accented with luxurious plum recycled-nylon lining, an interior organic canvas credit card holder, gold zipper, and FEED’s signature natural burlap exterior.
Click here to purchase

(I actually purchased the white version of this bag at Bloomingdale's in November. It included 3 Bobbi Brown lip glosses for $50. It's no longer available on Bloomie's website but they may still have it at the store) Follow them on Twitter: @FEEDprojects

Global Girlfriend
Amber Attraction Recycled Glass Necklace - $24.95

With each Amber Attraction Recycled Glass Necklace purchased, Global Girlfriend will fund 1.0 percent of a microgrant for a woman in a rural community in Africa to launch a small business, through Camfed.
Click here to purchase

Susan G. Komen For The Cure
Orange Ginger Ribbon Candle - $28.00

25 percent of your merchandise purchase price will benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure® in the fight against breast cancer.
Click here to purchase

World Aids Day Limited Edition Hand Salve - $12.50

Limited Quantities Available - 100% of Kiehl's net profits from the sale of this item will benefit amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. Protects against and repairs the appearance of severe dryness. Forms a glove-like protection barrier against moisture loss. Allows Skin to actually draw and absorb water from the air.
Click here to purchase

(I love this Hand Salve, makes your hands feel silky. I purchased mine from Saks but they are also available at Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, and Kiehl's stores nationwide for a limited time)

Habitat For Humanity
Natural-Black Pulire Peace Tote Bag - $12.75

10 oz. organic cotton tote bag. Features include 29" rope handles with durable metal eyelets and an 8" gusset. A unique peace symbol as well as the Habitat For Humanity logo appears in black on one side of the bag.

(Great to use as a recyclable grocery bag)

Click here to purchase

Please feel free to add any other gifts for a good cause.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Keeping Up With The Jones

As you may know, I get a lot of my inspiration from my friends and people I associate with but I also am inspired by those I follow on Twitter.  Today, one of the young ladies I follow posted the tweet below:

@jdantv You have to remember that this is the first generation of blacks that may not do as well as their parents...

When I saw the first part of her comment, I thought about a conversation I had with a friend not too long ago about this very same topic.  It seems as if the children of middle-upper middle class families are not doing nearly as well as our parents.  Even though we have the education, in most cases, we have not reached the same level financially as our parents.

As I think about where my parents were at my age, they had been married for like 5 years, my Mother was pregnant with me, they had a nice home, both had a Masters degree and a law degree and were gainfully employed.  Growing up, I lived in a nice size house, my parents took international trips every year, drove nice cars, were members of certain organizations and they had all of the accoutrements that came along with being part of the upper-middle class.

Although, I try not to compare myself to my parents it's hard.  I know that I've accomplished a lot over the years and have a rewarding career, but I can't help but feel like I still have not made it.  I try to look at all of the positive things that I've done and relish in the fact that I am where I need to be.  I'm not trying to keep up with my parents or their friends.  I'm definitely not trying to keep up with the Jones or the Johnsons or the Witherspoons.  I'm just trying to be me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Savvy Shopping Tips

With the holidays quickly approaching, I figured I'd share some of my secrets to becoming a savvy shopper. Being that I'm a person who thoroughly enjoys shopping and puts a lot of time and effort into buying gifts, I know that it can also become quite costly.

Before I list my tips, my first suggestion is to set a budget. With the economy being the way it is people will understand if you have less money to spend on them this year. If you only have $20 to spend on someone, it will just require a little more creativity. I know I appreciate thoughtful gifts more than ones that you could tell someone just picked up without any thought. Let's not even talk about giftcards to places where I don't even shop.

Sources for deals:

1.) Use Your Network

Today most people have a PT job or a "side hustle". Find someone who works for a retailer where you like to shop (i.e. Bath & Body Works, Saks/Neiman's/Nordstrom, Victoria's Secret) and ask if you can use their discount. I'm not saying ask any random stranger, ask someone you know. You can typically save anywhere from 20% - 50% off of the retail price.

2.) Shop Online

If you have an idea of what you're looking for, GOOGLE it. I'm sure someone will be selling it online. When buying online look for offers such as free shipping & returns or codes to save a certain percentage. I usually visit to find coupon codes for just about anywhere.

There's always eBay. I've gotten some amazing deals on eBay. My most recent deal was buying a pair of brand new (with the tags still attached) pants that retailed for $228 for only $9 + $4 for shipping. What they say about one man's junk being is another one's treasure is so true. I've been buying and selling on eBay for nearly 10 years.

3.) Deal of the Day Websites

I get emails from Living Social DC every day with all kinds of promotions. I've seen everything from deals on restaurant gift certificates, to yoga lessons (I purchased 8 hour long yoga classes for $50 at Vida Fitness), to discounted facials & massages to tours around the city. The best part is these deals can be used for yourself or given as gifts. No one would ever know you didn't pay full price. Another website that's been in the news recently is Groupon. Groupon is similar to Living Social but they have a larger client base and more locations across the US. They pride themselves on having ...exclusive, unbeatable deals on the best things to do, see, eat, and buy in Washington DC.

4.) Just Be Creative

While it may sound cheesy photo gifts are always nice. If the person's a writer use a nice photo and turn it into note cards with envelopes. If they like to travel, have their vacation pictures compiled into a photo book, make sure to add captions. Buy a photo storage box that has room for a picture on the front. Make sure to add in a photo to personalize it, then they can add whatever pictures they want inside of the box. My favorite photo sites are Kodak Gallery, Snapfish, and MyPhotoAlbum. They always have special offers for new users.

Hopefully, my tips will help someone. There are still 17 days left until Christmas. Happy shopping!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Changing it up...

Over the past few months, I've used my blog as an outlet to write about everything from relationships, to current events, to ways I like to give back but I've steered away from writing about one of my other favorite topics which is fashion.

I've never been one who is flashy or dresses in such a way to stand out from everyone else but I have always prided myself in having nice things.  I've always followed the trends and take pride in being able to identify one designer from another.  I also enjoy splurging on an "It" bag or pair of shoes once in a while.  Everyone has their vices, for some it may be food, others sex, mine I love to shop.

It always amazes me when the subject of shopping comes up and someone says "Oh I'd never pay that much for such and such."  To me I pay for quality.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying expensive always means better but in some cases it does mean better quality.  Of course something that is hand-made is going to be more carefully crafted and will cost more than something mass produced in a factory. 

For example when I was in college I used to buy Nine West and Enzo Angiolini shoes because they were cute and cheap.  After wearing them for a season, I noticed how badly worn they looked and had to throw them away.  Now, I typically like to buy Italian-made shoes.  True, they may cost me 4 times (it would be more if I actually paid full retail price) what I paid for the cheaper brands but they last much longer.  Same thing with clothing.  True I could find a cute wrap dress at say New York & Company or Express but they won't last as long as a Diane von Furstenberg.  Her prints are classic and the materials she uses, mostly silk and wool blends, wear well and the prints are timeless.

I feel as though as long as my bills (i.e. mortgage, student loan, phone), if I want to splurge once in a while that's ok.  Especially considering that I've maintained a part-time job working in retail since my sophomore year in college, wow can't believe it's been 10 years, which has allowed me to be able to buy practically whatever I want and to travel abroad. 

Going forward, I'm going to try to incorporate more posts about how I've come to being a savvy shopper (hence the name change) as well as share some tips that I've found helpful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009

Today, December 1, 2009, marks World AIDS Day. I'm glad that there are days like this that encourages people to know their status and to go out and get tested.

Living in the DMV (DC, Maryland & Virginia) area it's scary to hear the statistics out there about the number of HIV/AIDS cases there are, especially in the District of Columbia. Despite the staggering the numbers, the truth is those are only the numbers of those who've actually been tested. There are so many reckless people out there who are infecting their multiple partners and have no idea that they even have the virus.

It kills me that people still think you have to look sickly and have lesions all over your body or be some crackhead to have HIV/AIDS, that is so far from the truth. They think the only people who live in a certain area or live a certain lifestyle are the only ones who are affected by this disease. I guess people won't realize that isn't true until they see for themselves that HIV/AIDS knows no color, race, religion, socioeconomic status anyone and everyone is a target.

It's so easy to go and get tested. In many places it is free or covered by insurance. There should not be shame in saying that you get tested for STDs and AIDS. It doesn't mean that you're a slut, whore, freak, or even that you're engaging in risky behavior, it just means you want to be informed which is admirable. I'm not afraid to admit, I get tested every year regardless of whether I'm dating anyone because it's just something I feel is important. I've made it part of my annual routine.

After all these years, it saddens me to think so many people think they can beat the odds just because. Wake-up people, AIDS is everywhere! Studies show there were more cases of HIV/AIDS in DC than in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The only way we can do something about this epidemic is to get tested and to know our status.

We've all heard the old adage ignorance is bliss. When it comes to taking 5 seconds to protect yourself against the consequences then your ignorance is just plain stupidity. Get tested before it's too late.

Interesting Websites: (Find a Site Near You)