It’s 2:45 on a Wednesday afternoon, and that means school is out at Highland Elementary in Sanford, NC. But not all of the students are hopping on buses or heading to the carpool line. In the school’s auditorium, students are filing in, putting their book bags in designated bins against the wall and settling into the center of the floor for the daily Devotion and Prayer. This is how the Fort Bragg Armed Services YMCA Before School/After School program begins each morning and afternoon. And from 5:45 a.m. until 6:45 p.m. “Ms. Vera” is there to make sure that the children get all the care, guidance and encouragement they need.
Vera Davis is the Site Director at Highland Elementary, where she provides child care to 67 Highland students who are children of military personnel and employees at Fort Bragg. When speaking with the children and parents who depend on this program, it becomes apparent that this is not your typical child care situation.
As CPT Ted Kuchta, who has been stationed at Fort Bragg for the past four years, puts it, “I am super picky about who watches my child, but the interaction and engagement that occurs here is amazing…the children love Ms. Vera.”
The hours of the program are also particularly well-suited for military families, whose schedules often don’t mesh with those of traditional childcare providers. Just ask Staff Sgt. Kathy Genevia, a single mother of two who has also been stationed at Fort Bragg for the past four years.
“There are days when PT [Physical Training] starts at 6:30 a.m. or we may have a class that runs long in the evening,” she said.
In addition to the flexible schedule the program provides, the parents also find that it helps their children to make productive use of before- and after-school time, which in turn allows them to have more meaningful time as a family when they get home.
Nine-year-old Leanna Genevia says the after-school program is a quiet place to do homework, which makes time at home more fun.
Spc. Nick Booth, who was recently transferred to Fort Bragg, said he notices a huge difference since his son joined the program.
“Family time in the evenings is better now,” he said. “We’re not just trying to get all the homework done. Instead we review what he has already finished and we have plenty of time to talk and play, too.”
Ms. Vera doesn’t mind the long hours each day, because she recognizes that through her work she is able to “make a difference in someone’s life.”
Vera Davis, now 61 with two daughters and two grandsons, was born and raised in the Netherlands. Her parents had moved there from Indonesia, and she remained there until meeting her husband who was in the U.S. Air Force. They moved from the Netherlands to Louisiana to Germany before finally being stationed at Pope Air Force Base and remaining in the Fayetteville area when her husband retired.
Ms. Vera has been working with children for the past 21 years and has been with the Fort Bragg Armed Services YMCA since 2002. She started the before and after school program at Highland three years ago and hopes to see it expand in the coming years. Ms. Vera says the program provides many advantages for military families over traditional child care situations. For instance, the program is on-site so there is no transportation, which gives parents peace of mind during the afternoons. Additionally, she notes that the fact that the program is run by the Fort Bragg ASYMCA gives military families a sense of comfort and community from day one.
As Ms. Vera put is, “The program is just one big family…kids, parents, and counselors.”
Parent Kathy Genevia agrees. She has been impressed with the care and follow-up from Ms. Vera. “She texts, emails…she’s very informative and makes sure to check up on the kids,” she said.
As much as Ms. Vera is loved and respected by the parents, her biggest fans are the 67 children in the program. Whether the kids are coming in or going home, they are quick to share a hug with Ms. Vera or tell her about their day. When asked to describe Ms. Vera, 8-year-old Logan’s eyes light up and he quickly offers his thoughts.
“She is great! And nice! And very funny!”
Seven-year-old Keenan explained that he had completed two drawings the day before. “When I showed them to Ms. Vera she said that they were amazing and that I would be an artist one day.”
It’s impossible to watch the daily interaction between Ms. Vera and the children and not leave with a Grin on your face.
However, it is also very noticeable that there are things about the program that can be improved, and unfortunately these are beyond Ms. Vera’s control. Her arts and crafts supplies are very limited and she often has to get creative to come up with ideas for art time; The games, books and school supplies on hand are old or in short supply; and perhaps the most glaring issue is the lack of computers and internet capability. This is a major problem when the children are trying to complete homework, because many of the older students require the use of a computer and an internet connection to finish their assignments.
But there is good news! Grins has worked with the Fort Bragg Armed Services YMCA and Ms. Vera to come up with a comprehensive list of supplies that will help continue making this program even better! And we can all be a part of the process. The Fort Bragg ASYMCA has created an option on their website where people can donate directly to the Before School/After School Program, and from now until the end of the year, Grins will match any donation that is made.
The families that I had the privilege of meeting at Highland Elementary are kind, tough, and resilient and sacrifice so much to do the important work of protecting our country. This is a chance for us to give something back to them in a meaningful and tangible way, and more importantly it is a chance to help some amazing kids and the amazing woman who helps them each day. Please visit https://www.asymca.org/fort-bragg-nc/get-involved/donate and designate your gift to “Before & After School Program.”
The reasons to drink Grins are endless. Ranging from the practical to the downright fun, we’ve come up with hundreds of reasons why folks should enjoy the Official Beverage of Happy People. Here are 10 of our favorites:
10. A bottle of Grins has 21 less grams of sugar than a 12oz can of coke. Considering the fact that the average American consumes 44 gallons of soda per year a switch to Grins would result in an annual reduction of almost 22 lbs of sugar from the average American diet!
9. Grins has been known to make wishes come true…just look!
Want more hair?
Lost Your Dog?
8. A 12oz serving of grape Grins has one-third of the amount of sugar and calories as a 12oz serving of pure 100% Grape Juice.
Grins Grape vs. Pure 100% Grape Juice
7. Grins is the official beverage of the moon…at least that’s what we heard. We’ve reached out to the moon for confirmation, but have yet to receive a response.
6. One bottle of Grins is an excellent source of Vitamin C! Vitamin C is highly concentrated in our immune cells, making it an essential part of a healthy diet.
5. The Grins Board is made up of some of the finest minds in the beverage industry.
7. Grins is colored with fruit and vegetable juice. According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, artificial colors have been linked to an increased incidence of ADD and ADHD…come to think of it, I often find myself overlooking important details when I’m not drinking Grins!
3. Grins “out-tested” other leading beverage brands.
2. Grins is a favorite product and proud supporter of the US Military
Click the link below to read about Grins’ relationship with the Patriot Foundation, which provides scholarships and support for the children and surviving spouses of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
1. Grins is The Official Beverage of Happy People!
We have all had that moment where we hear a statistic on the news and cringe. Across the world and even in our own backyards, there are unfortunate truths that, when brought to light, evoke feelings of compassion and a desire to serve. Most of us however, are unable to turn these feelings into action. We are paralyzed by the scale of the situation, and we think that the world’s problems are too big for one person to solve.
Thankfully, there are individuals who seize such opportunities and are determined to make a difference. Eleven-year-old Langston Peoples is one of these individuals. So when Langston learned that 1 in 4 kids in his hometown of Winston-Salem were in danger of going hungry, he immediately wanted to find a way to help. “I was thinking about what my Grandfather Thata says a lot. He says, ‘There is always someone who needs our help. It is our task in life to find a way to help.’”
With his Grandfather’s words playing in his mind, Langston began brainstorming with his mom, Sahana Peoples, about ways he could help. Pretty soon, Langston was putting his thoughts into action. He set up a neighborhood food collection program to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC, and now has the designation of Block Captain. Block Captains are essential to the Second Harvest Food Bank, because it is their consistent, year-round effort that helps avoid shortages.
I am lucky enough to be one of Langston’s neighbors, so I have seen him in action for well over a year now. The neighborhood knows him now as the Food Dude, a nickname he uses in his monthly reminders. Langston coordinates monthly pick-ups in our neighborhood. To date, he has collected 2,379 pounds of food! But Langston has not stopped there. In addition to collecting monthly donations for the Food Bank, Langston also saw a need at Vienna Elementary School, where he is a 5th grade student. Langston learned that some of his fellow students were at risk of going hungry when they were not in school. So Langston coordinated additional food pick-ups, requesting items that were specifically intended to go into the “Weekend Backpacks”, which are packed with food and sent home with the kids who need them each Friday.
Langston “The Food Dude” Peoples has made an incredible impact in a very short period of time, and his passion and dedication to service suggest that this is just the beginning. It’s people like Langston that make us all grin, and that is why he is the Grins Person of the Month!
Running a small business teaches you a lot about the importance of persistence and optimism. You need to show up every day and get it done, whatever “it” may be. Each little step is important to achieving the end result, but that end result may not show up for weeks, months, or years. That’s why optimism is critical. You have to believe in what you’re doing, or you’ll be very tempted to throw in the towel before you reach the finish line.
I’d say all of that applies to something I did in my off-work hours this past Sunday. I ran my first marathon. Now I didn’t do this on a whim or anything, I have run a few half marathons before, and I trained for about 12 weeks leading up to the race with a goal of running under 3 hours and 5 minutes (the time needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon). On Sunday morning my wife Kaitlin and I woke up early and made our way to the race for the 7am start. I felt great. My training had gone well, I had avoided injury, and now all I had to do was go out there and, as Kaitlin said, “finish it.” Over the next 3 hours 12 minutes and 11 seconds (spoiler alert, I didn’t qualify) I learned a few things:
1. A marathon is 26.2 miles!
This sounds obvious and of course I knew the length going in, but there is a HUGE difference between 18 miles (or 20 miles or even 22 miles) and 26.2. I had been warned by others that the marathon was a different animal, but my longest training run was 22 miles and I did not think another 4.2 would do me in. Boy was I mistaken!
2. The first 13.1 miles is not the time to PR
As someone who has run a number of races of varying lengths, I know better than to expend too much energy early on, so I was committed to not overextending myself early in the race…then the gun went off. I was cruising through the first few miles like they were nothing and I ended up running the fastest half marathon of my life. One problem: I had to run another! By the time I hit mile 15 I started to fade and when I got to miles 18-19 I knew I was in trouble!
3. It helps to have great support
The course for my marathon was on the American Tobacco Trail, which is very wooded and secluded. This means that it is not a spectator friendly event, but Kaitlin and our friends Kristin and Derrek were up for the challenge. They drove to different remote points on the course where they waited with some great signs that helped keep my morale up and my thoughts positive. Every possible source of encouragement and motivation is important during a marathon and their efforts certainly helped carry me through the middle miles.
4. The miles you are most proud of may not be your fastest
As I mentioned before, I really hit the wall around 19 miles. My legs just weren’t responding and my energy level was dwindling. I was hoping for a second wind, but I could tell it wasn’t coming. To make matters worse, miles 20-22 were a continuous incline. So by the time I was on my last 4 miles, I was completely spent. There was a moment when I thought that finishing may not be in the cards, but I kept thinking about Kaitlin’s words, “finish it”, and I decided that the only way I would stop running was if I collapsed. By mile 25 I felt like I was crawling and looking back at the splits on my watch I saw that it was in fact my slowest at 9:20, which is a far cry from the 6:45 miles that I averaged for the first 13. But looking back at it, mile 25 was probably the best mile I ever ran. I can barely remember it, but the effort that it took to run that mile far exceeded any in the thousands of miles I had run prior. I will always be proud of that 9:20 mile.
5. You can’t do it all on your own
As much as a marathon may be a personal achievement, in my experience it was certainly a team effort. Kaitlin encouraged me throughout my training, and pushed me out the door to run many Saturday mornings when my motivation was lacking. She was also there with me at the end. As I approached the last half mile of the race I saw Kaitlin cheering me on, and I asked her to run with me. This was not premeditated and I do not remember doing it, but at the time I was existing solely on instinct and my instincts were telling me that she was as much a part of this as I was and I wanted her to be a part of it at the end. Kaitlin peeled off sometime before I crossed the finish line, but she gave me a huge boost that carried me through to the finish. Just as I crossed the finish line, my legs gave out. I barely kept myself from hitting the ground and a Marine helped me to a chair. Then Kaitlin and my friend Derrek helped me hobble to the runner’s village for some much needed hydration and caloric intake. The marathon is a humbling race, but for me it was a great opportunity to learn just how supported I truly am.
Training for and running my first marathon was a great experience even though I fell short of my goal. I was in awe of the elite runners that were miles ahead of me, and I was proud of the dedicated runners that were soldiering on miles behind me. I will definitely run another marathon, and at some point, I will qualify for Boston. But for now I need some rest, some ice, and a cold Grins.