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OCT/NOV 2010 Real Solutions for Real Families FEATURED SPONSOR Fitness for the family at Omni 41 OUR KIDS Volunteering in our communities TOT SPOT Socializing your toddler A PUBLICATION OF NWI.COM/PARENT GIVE BACK Throughout Northwest Indiana, families are reaching out to help those in need Volunteers with the Lakeshore Area Regional Recovery of Indiana (LARRI) help with area community projects.
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Page 1: NWI Parent

OCT/NOV 2010

Real Solutions for Real FamiliesReal Solutions for Real FamiliesReal Solutions for Real Families featured sponsorFitness for the family at Omni 41

our kidsVolunteering in our communities

tot spotSocializing your toddler

a publication of


Throughout Northwest Indiana, families are reaching out to help those in need

Volunteers with the Lakeshore Area Regional Recovery of Indiana (LARRI)

help with area community projects.

Page 2: NWI Parent

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Page 3: NWI Parent
Page 4: NWI Parent


There are abundant opportunities in Northwest Indiana to volunteer your time and resources to others in need. And giving back is not only gratifying for adults—it’s a blessing to your children as well.

20 OMNI 41 HEALTH & FITNESS CONNECTION With programs and activities that cater to every age group, Omni 41 has encouraged generations of local familes to get fit, have fun and stay healthy.

departments16 KID BITS The T-Ford Performance Horse Ranch on

Gary’s West Side, and NWI’s BackPack program

18 OUR KIDS Three Northwest Indiana children who demonstrate a remarkable spirit of volunteerism

10 HEALTH CHECK Tips for handling eczema, and free/low-cost hospital programs to keep your child thriving

12 SCHOOL NOTES Making a difference in your child’s school classroom, one student at a time

14 TOT SPOT Providing your toddler with face-to-face interactions in an age of online social media

16 MEAL TIME Recipes, ideas and advice for bringing a meal to a family that needs a break

24 FAMILY ROOM Still waters run deep: when an obligation becomes a shy teenager’s quest

in every issue14 Editor’s Letter

2 2010





october/november 2010

20october/november 2010


Page 5: NWI Parent

Papalote Museo del Niño is the originator of the Mexico: Festival of Toys exhibit, with support from Maseca and Distroller. Interactive exhibit experiences were designed and developed by Chicago Children’s Museum.

Now at Chicago Children’s Museum!Now at Chicago Children’s Museum!

MetLife Foundation is the Lead Sponsor of the Mexico: Festival of Toys exhibit.

In celebration of

Located at Navy Pier!



Page 6: NWI Parent

4 2010

Last year, right around this time, my then-16-year-old daughter informed me matter-of-factly that she would be putting together a Halloween costume, because she and her

friends were all planning to go trick-or-treating. Inwardly, I thought, Today’s teens are so greedy. She should be staying at home handing out candy to the little kids, not collecting it for herself. Back when I was 16, I wouldn’t have been caught dead trick-or-treating! Outwardly, I said with a sigh, “Trick-or-treating at your age? You know I can’t be trusted with that much chocolate in the house—especially when it comes in the form of teeny-tiny Milky Way bars!”

But her response surprised me. She and her friends had decided to use Halloween night as an opportunity to canvass local neighborhoods and collect canned goods for people in need. And sure enough, they filled up their little wagon three times over that night, eventually donating eleven

grocery bags of food to area food pantries—and they’re planning a repeat

performance this year, too.Despite the fact that times are

tough for a lot of Northwest Indiana residents, there is good news: our children are nurturing an awareness that we are all in this together—and

it is resulting in a culture of caring that is truly contagious. Just check out the outstanding local youth volunteers (“Our Kids,” page 8) who are making a difference for area teens, individuals with disabilities and those who are hospitalized. Or smile along with columnist Rick Kaempfer, who is equally amazed at how his painfully shy son has blossomed into a beloved soup kitchen helper (page 24).

I encourage all of you to take up the cause, any cause, whether it involves sinking your heart and soul into a full-time enterprise to help at-risk youth, such as the couple who built a horse ranch on Gary’s West Side (page 6), or merely volunteering your extra time to help out in your child’s classroom (page 12) or to bring a meal to a family in crisis (check out tips and recipes on page 16).

Wondering what volunteer opportunities are available nearby? Our “Planting the Seed” feature on page 18 gives you plenty of food for thought, and even offers tips on the types of activities that best suit children of different ages. (Hint: Thanksgiv-ing is coming up, and we’ve listed several organizations that can use your help to feed those who need a helping hand this year.)

Finally, our thanks to the featured sponsor in this issue, Omni 41 Health & Fitness Connection. Their commitment to the health and well-being of our Northwest Indiana families will be even more evident on November 14, when they hold their Children’s Health and Fun Fair. Read more about their exceptional facility on page 20.

The approach of Halloween means many things to many people (see: teeny-tiny Milky Way bars, above), but it also heralds one universal truth: before we know it, the holidays will be here. This year, let’s all work to make this a true season of giving. We owe it to our kids—and our communities.

Kathy MacNeil

Check out, where you’ll find:• fresh new articles and information every day• entertaining and inspirational blogs by area parents• our comprehensive calendar of events• local destination and resource listings• the place to sign up for our weekly “New Arrivals” email

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Page 8: NWI Parent

6 2010

kid bits

feeding familiesNWI’s BACkPACk ProgrAm meets the Needs of huNgry kIds

The commencement of the new school year means the return of the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana’s BackPack program for eligible students in Lake and Porter counties.

The BackPack program was officially approved by Feeding America in 2006 and last year more than 140 of its members served over 190,000 children.

students who receive a free or reduced lunch at school are eligible for the program, which is designed to meet the needs of hungry children at times when other resources are not available, such as weekends and school vacations.

The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana has been taking part in the program for several years and currently serves schools in gary, hammond and Portage. “We’re trying to expand it all throughout Lake and Porter counties,” says Megan sikes, communications manager for the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.

students pick up their food items every Friday when they leave school. The food varies from week to week so kids don’t feel as if they are getting the same thing all the time. “We try to rotate different foods in there,” sikes says. “We try to make it as nutritional as possible.”

The food is also kid-friendly—nonperishable meals that don’t require the use of a stove and items they can easily make on their own in case Mom or Dad isn’t there.

sikes says the program is among the most popular at the food bank. “It’s the one everyone wants to volunteer for and pack boxes for kids,” she says.

Methodist hospitals donated two boxes of backpacks for the cause. “If these families don’t have enough money for food, they are unlikely to have money for backpacks,” sikes says. “These children can use these bags to carry their books for school.”

According to, the BackPack program concept was developed at the Arkansas rice Depot after a school nurse asked for help because hungry students were coming to her with stomachaches and dizziness. The local food bank began to provide the school children with groceries in nondescript backpacks to carry home.

This year, the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana also sponsored the summer Food service Program for the first time. This program provides breakfast and lunch to children during the summer when they are no longer receiving meals from school. —ROB EARNSHAW

Wedged tightly between the Indiana Toll Road and the South Shore commuter rail tracks is an oasis for children on the city’s crime-plagued West Side.

The T-Ford Performance Horse Ranch, where a truck driver and his postal carrier wife offer horseback riding and rodeo skills classes, charges only whatever local families can pay. “People say, ‘How do you fix the streets?’” says Tim Ford, owner of the ranch and lifelong West Side resident. “I’m going to start with these kids. This is how we’re going to fix it.”

Ford, 38, has eleven horses and is currently training five boys and one girl in horsemanship. “I teach them there’s another side other than being in the streets,” he says. “It’s easy to get in trouble, but it’s hard to get out of it. It teaches you responsibility. A horse can’t take care of itself. You’re responsible for a life.”

The kids have to care for the horses and the ranch itself. Grades of C or higher are required, and, if the kids receive a bad grade, they can’t come to the ranch for a week. “If they don’t do

their chores at home or get in trouble at home, they can’t ride here either,” he says.

Tiffany Ford, Tim’s wife, speaks with pride about her husband’s influence in the neighborhood. “He teaches the kids what you should expect from a man,” she says. “The boys and the girls need that.”

The couple often skips date nights, dinners out and carryout meals, in-stead putting the money they would have spent into the youth program. “This is our life,” Ford says.

Nine years ago, Ford called Keilani Jackson and told her to bring her then-5-year-old son, Landrick, outside of her West Side home. “Tim came down the alley on one of the horses,” Jackson says. “My son’s eyes got about this big and he’s been into it ever since. He lives, eats, breathes it.”

Now 14, Landrick is preparing to enter his freshman year at Thea Bowman Leadership Academy. “There’s a lot of kids not really doing anything interactive or educational, just playing in the streets, getting hurt with gangs and stuff,” Landrick says. “With this, you can take the horses places, go to other states and it’s fun.”

His mother says the ranch is a bless-ing. —Lauri Harvey Keagle

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Wedged tightly their chores at home or get in trouble

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Page 9: NWI Parent

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Page 10: NWI Parent

MICHELLE vELEz, 18Michelle Velez’s time in girl scouting has been golden.

Velez, daughter of Jacinto and Sylvia Velez of Griffith and a recent graduate of Griffith High School, is a recipient of the Girl Scout Gold Award, which recognizes accomplishments in scouting and community volunteerism. It is the highest attainable award for scouts aged 14 to 18. She and other scouts were honored at a Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana ceremony last June in Rosemont, Illinois.

Velez, a member of Troop 238, enjoys the community service aspect of her activities. “It makes me proud that I was able to accomplish the honor. Being in Girl Scouts, I have learned a lot of life skills that have prepared me well for the future.”

Her two brothers are Eagle Scouts. “Scouting is part of the family,” Velez says.

Among other contributions, her scouting activities included helping organize a health fair, Teens for Teens Health and Wellness Fair at St. Mary Hildebrandt Hall in Griffith. Her troop arranged for vendors and free health screenings focusing on issues teens face today.

Music also is part of Velez’s repertoire. While in high school, she was a band and choir member, achieving golden honors in the Indiana State School Music Association competition in soloist and duet categories. Velez took part in the Colgate Country Showdown at this year’s Lake County Fair in Crown Point, performed at Griffith’s St. Mary Western Days and Rockin’ Rail Fest and sang the National Anthem at a Gary RailCats baseball game.

She also was a member of the student council and booster, art and drama clubs in high school.

She plans to attend Purdue University Calumet but so far is “keeping options open” on her course of study.

8 2010

our kidsby Sue bero

Community spiritsJUSTIN RHINEFIELD, 17Justin Rhinefield is notching benchmarks of success in more ways than one.

The Valparaiso High School senior, who is the son of Jeanette and Jeff Rhinefield and has achieved scouting’s highest rank, Eagle, is volunteering his time and talent to support Opportunity Enterprises, a nonprofit organization that formed in 1967 and helps create life choices and opportunities for individuals who have unique challenges and abilities.

Rhinefield’s goal is to make three benches (large enough to seat eight people) for the organization’s Lakeside facility at Lake Eliza. The benches, which are to be completed by fall, will contain storage compartments so clients can participate in activities outdoors.

Volunteering is a large part of why Rhinefield became a scout in first grade. “I think scouting has been one of the most important things that have helped shape who I am,” Rhinefield says, adding that he plans to stay involved in scouting.

His Eagle Scout activities also have included assisting with a Memorial Day concert at Valparaiso’s Memorial Opera House and helping to build a playground and

setting up and ushering at a jazz concert for Opportunity Enterprises.

Rhinefield’s volunteerism extends to other areas. He is a class mentor at school for the Hope Club, which assists special needs students, and assists with the youth group at Valparaiso Methodist Church. “I like the feeling of helping other people. I’ve been taught to lend a helping hand. It makes me feel good when I can help others,” he says.

sue Bero, freelance journalist and mother of two adult sons, lives in schererville with her husband, Bill.

JEFF ROSS, 16Jeff Ross’s spirit of volunteerism goes beyond expectations.

Ross, son of Frank and Nanett Ross of Crown Point and a junior at Crown Point High School, volunteers for the St. Anthony Medical Center Auxiliary. His duties include escorting patients, delivering flowers to rooms and “anything they want me to do.”

Ross just spent a month of his summer vacation assisting at the Crown Point hospital, where he previously had performed 40 hours of high school-required community service. Ross has logged more than 100 hours of service thus far and plans to return during Christmas, spring and summer breaks and possibly on weekends. “At first, it was for 40 hours, but then I took on more shifts. I really like everybody I work with and enjoy helping the patients—they’ve always been good to me,” Ross says.

His family moved to Crown Point after previously living in California and Washington State. He has an older brother who serves with the Coast Guard and a younger sister, who is a high school freshman. “I feel good about helping to set an example for my sister, Nicole, and hope to be making a difference,” Ross says.

The honor student, who competes in track and field at school, also has volunteered his services at the Lake County Animal Shelter.

Ross plans to go to an engineering college and to become a computer or electrical engineer. “I enjoy seeing the smiles on patients’ faces when I bring them flowers. I always try to make conversation with people when I’m in the elevator to help bring a little light into their day.”

Page 11: NWI Parent


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Page 12: NWI Parent

by erIka roSeby erIka roSe

health check

10 2010

Sibling Class Sept 17, Nov 19, 10-11am Community Hospital, Munster Prepares parents and children (ages 3 to 10) for the arrival of a new sibling. Includes a tour of the Family Center. Free. Register at 219.836.3477. Breastfeeding Class Sept 20, Sept 28 and Nov 22, 6:30-8pm Community Hospital Outpatient Centre, St. John Taught by a board-certified lactation consultant, this class provides education and support for women who want to breastfeed. Free. Register at 219.836.3477.

Taking Care of Baby Oct 4, 6-8:45pm Community Hospital Outpatient Centre, St. John Topics include health issues, safety, immunizations, crying and survival tips, all taught by a Community Hospital neonatal nurse clinician. Adoptive parents are welcome. Free. Register at 219.836.3477. Grandparents Class Oct 5, 6-8pm Community Hospital, Munster

Review basic baby care while learning some of the new practices and recommendations for infant care. Intended for today’s new grandparents. Free. Register at 219.836.3477. Infant CPR and Choking Class Oct 7, 5 and 7pm St. Anthony Medical Center, Crown Point Instruction and practice in infant (newborn to one year) CPR and obstructed airway training. Class size limited. $10. Register at 219.757.6368. Breastfeeding Class Oct 12 or 13, Dec 7 or 8 St. Anthony Medical Center, Crown Point Topics include the role of the partner in breastfeeding, methods for feeding the baby while the mother is away, and suggestions for when the mother returns to work. The class is included in the medical center’s childbirth series, but may be taken separately. $10. Register at 219.757.6368.

Baby Care Class Oct 14, 7-9:30pm St. Anthony Medical

Center, Crown Point For parents, grandparents, caregivers. Topics include bathing, diaper changing, home safety and advice on when to seek medical attention. $10. Register at 219.757.6368.

Infant Massage and Baby’s Development Oct 18, 7-8:30pm Fitness Pointe, Munster Therapists from Community Hospital’s pediatric therapy department will give an introduction to infant massage and will provide handouts and answer questions about your infant’s development in the first year of life. Free. Register at 219.836.3477. Keeping Baby Safe and Healthy Nov 10, 5:30-7pm St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago Addresses such topics as when to call the doctor, how to childproof the house, what to do in an emergency, and nutritional needs of babies. Information on child seat safety will be available. Free. Register at 219.836.3477.

WEllNESS AND SAFETYMost astute new parents have their pediatrician’s number on speed dial, in case a medical issue arises as they navigate the daunting new role of parent. But prevention and wellness practices by educated parents, siblings and caregivers can prevent many of those middle-of-the night calls. Area hospitals are happy to educate parents and caregivers in such topics as baby care, breastfeeding, infant massage, performing infant CPR and handling choking, often for free or at a nominal fee, so check with your local health care facility for updates on classes.

erika Rose is a freelance journalist

who primarily covers health news in

Northwest Indiana. erika and her

husband Kevin live in Highland with their

two girls, morgan and Alexandra.




Eczema is an umbrella term for a group of skin conditions, the most common of which is atopic dermatitis, a term often used interchangeably with eczema. Pediatrician Dr. James Goldyn, of Northwest Family Health Care in Hammond, estimates that about 30 to 50 percent of babies are affected by eczema in their first year. Though the cause is unknown, the condition tends to run in families, especially those genetically predisposed to allergies and asthma. Like allergies and asthma, eczema is an overreaction by the immune system to unknown triggers.

Some common triggers are weather and typical allergens such as house dust, animal dander, pollens and molds, and metals in costume jewelry. Soaps,

which tend to be harsh and drying, are a big offender, too.

The good news is that the condition is not contagious and can be effectively managed. Goldyn recommends steering clear of harsh soaps and sticking with a mild cleanser such as Aveeno or Cetaphil. Goldyn also advises ditching the diaper wipes when possible, reserving them only for convenience when on the go. He says that diaper wipes contain irritating chemicals and are simply too harsh for baby’s skin, so it’s best to use

plain lukewarm water and a soft towel to clean the diaper area while at home.If over-the-counter moisturizers aren’t helping to keep the rashes at bay,

ask a doctor about using an over-the-counter steroid cream, such as 1 percent hydrocortisone, in addition to a moisturizer, and ask about the safety of repeated use. Don’t use steroid creams—even over-the-counter products— on the face, Goldyn says.

Right after bathing, while the skin is still damp, Goldyn advises parents to apply the over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone cream followed by a moisturizer on top to help seal in moisture. Also, avoid lengthy baths and showers. Keep baths quick and the temperature lukewarm, he says.

Page 13: NWI Parent

A world with less breast cancer is a world with more birthdays. That world gets closer and closer at every Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event. Visit or call 1-800-227-2345 to make strides and create more birthdays in your community. Together, we’ll stay well, get well, find cures, and fight back.

For information, call 219-793-1030 or register online at

Making Strides of MerrillvilleOctober 10, 2010Hidden Lake ParkRegistration: Noon • Walk: 1 p.m.

Making Strides of ValparaisoOctober 17, 2010Old Fairgrounds Park - Butterfield PavilionRegistration: Noon • Walk: 1 p.m.

©2010 American Cancer Society, Great Lakes Division, Inc.

Page 14: NWI Parent

12 2010

school notesby trIcIa DeSPreS

Tricia Despres has worked as a fulltime freelance writer for the past eight years. she lives with her husband,

Paul, and two children in Bolingbrook, Illinois.

“After spending time in a room with twenty to thirty kids, I had a whole new appreciation for teachers,” Wagenblast laughs. “I saw what they go through and what is expected from them, and I knew I wanted to be there to help in any way I could.”

In fact, Wagenblast is just one of the increasing number of Northwest Indiana parents finding that they are needed for much more than planning Halloween parties and chaperoning field trips. Instead, the role of room parent has evolved into parents playing an active role in their child’s education, both inside and outside of the classroom.

“The more load you can take off the teachers, the better your child’s education will be,” says Hammond parent and frequent volunteer Nicole Swart. “It’s been wonderful to be able to work with kids in the class-room, some who just needed an extra push that they might not have been getting at home.”

As class sizes continue to increase and funding for education continues to plummet, teachers find themselves in a desperate situation. More and more, educators are finding it necessary to turn to parents for the extra help they so desperately need.

“These days, administrators expect so much more out of the curriculum, and so much time is spent on assessments,” explains Swart, who estimates visiting her children’s school three

to four times a week. “There are so many wonderful teachers out there who go above and beyond their job descrip-tion. But the fact is there are not enough hours in the day to do everything they need to do. Teachers just don’t have the time that they once did.”

For Traci Coil, a teacher at Valparaiso’s Hayes Leonard Elementary, parents are utilized as true partners in the educational process in her second grade classroom. Often, parents meet with students in small groups to work on everything from math to reading. “The children love this sort of one-on-one attention,” Coil says. “It also enables students to work on projects that I simply might not have time for. For example, I regularly have the parents sit down with the students to read the Scholastic News magazine and it often turns into a pretty in-depth discussion.”

Parents are also being utilized outside of the classroom. Last year, teacher Amanda Alaniz asked

parents of her sixth grade students at Willowcreek Middle

School in Portage to sit down and read a newspaper article with their

child in their

own home in the hopes they would better understand the value of nonfictional text. Alaniz also regularly invited parents into her classroom to lead small groups on a favorite subject. “These groups were not sorted by ability, but rather on interest,” Alaniz says. “At the junior high level, it can be tough to get parents into the classroom. Yet, these sorts of projects, where parents can share their expertise and celebrate their child’s successes in the classroom, are something they seem to find very intriguing.”

And with more parents working than ever before, sharing their profession with a classroom of children makes for a wonderful educational opportunity to volunteer. In recent years, Coil has welcomed police officers, firemen and music teachers into the classroom. “The fact is that we just can’t go on field trips like we used to, so we need to find ways to bring all sorts of outside experiences into the classroom,” Coil explains.

“For a guy, the idea of planning a party just isn’t our thing,” laughs Wagenblast, a father of three. “But I love being able to come in and share some of my knowledge. And frankly, it’s easier to find an hour during the day to come in and volunteer when you make the commit-ment way ahead of time.”

Indeed, making the decision to devote the time it takes to participate in the classroom setting is some-thing parents should put a lot of thought into. Teachers and parents agree that honesty is the best policy when it comes to committing to volunteer in the classroom.

“I always let the teacher know right at the beginning of the year that I am here to help and the amount of time I will be able to devote in the classroom,” Swart says. “Be upfront and honest, and don’t overextend

yourself. All in all, volunteering has been incredibly rewarding for both my husband and me. It has given both of us a chance to see my children in another perspective. There is nothing like seeing them,

firsthand, succeed in the classroom.”

the room parentAs chief financial officer of a local beer

distributor, valparaiso resident Todd Wagenblast has experienced his share of

stress in the workplace. Yet, it wasn’t until he spent forty-five minutes volunteering in his child’s classroom that he truly realized

the plight of the American teacher.

Changing roles in Changing times

Page 15: NWI Parent

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Page 16: NWI Parent

tot spot 2010 14

Jamie Bissot is a freelance writer who lives in Northwest Indiana with her husband, two kids and a bulldog. You can catch more of what she has

to say on her blog, “oh, the Places We Will Go,” at


While social media can be a time-trap to keep you in the house and away from the outside world, it also opens doors that may not have been previously accessible. Jennifer Matuska of Chesterton is a local

blogger who understands the benefits of social media and uses it to her advantage. “For me, social media is what saved me. Being a parent can be isolating, and if you aren’t capable of leaving the house to meet with other parents for whatever reason, having things like parenting blogs and Twitter can be lifesavers. I went through some extremely difficult times with pregnancy-related depression as well as postpartum depression. If it weren’t for the relationships I formed online, my life would be drastically different than it is today. But being able to take those online friendships and turn them into weekly play dates certainly has made a difference,” Matuska says.

Joy Minocha of Valparaiso is the coleader of Mothers and More of Porter County, a group providing socialization opportunities for both mother and child. The group uses Meetup, an online meeting website, to coordinate events. “When someone is fresh to an area, they’d love to meet other moms for their own socialization and others with kids in the same age range for their children’s socialization. Sometimes it’s hard to know that such a group exists without the help of the Internet. Social

media makes everything a bit more within arm’s reach. It’s really all right at your fingertips; you just need to take the initiative to go find it,” Minocha says.

THE REWARDS OF SOCIALIzATIONMinocha believes there are many benefits of playgroups for children. “They [children] learn to socialize and play outside of their comfort zone with the benefit of having Mommy close by. They make friendships that will carry them from infancy to the toddler years through school age. They are well adjusted and learn a bit of independence prior to starting preschool and know the value of friendships. My daughter talks about her friends from playgroup all the time.”

Minocha also thinks the benefits are immense for parents. “For moms, it’s almost like a weekly sanity check. It lets you feel as though you’re not the only one going through certain phases with your children. It’s hard for parents to deal with at times, so it’s nice to have a sounding board to bounce ideas and suggestions off of,” Minocha says. “Who better to get advice from than a fellow mom and friend?”

So, while Facebook and Twitter may seem like a good way to stay indoors, it’s what you make of it that matters most. Matuska believes that by using the Internet to find people you want to interact with, you are using social

media as it was intended—turning online relationships into real-life relationships. “If used right, social media can be truly rewarding and meaningful, and expand your time with people in the real world,” Matuska says. —Jamie Bissot


In an age of Facebook statuses, tweets and blog posts, striking the balance between online life and life in the outside world is important now more than ever, and parents have to make a concerted effort to expose their children to a variety of face-to-face social settings. However, social media and other online resources can also provide

opportunities for social interaction that did not even exist a few years ago.

Parent SuPPort oPPortunitieSin northWeSt


You can find several playgroups and parent groups on Meetup,

including Mothers and More of Porter County. For more information,


YMCAoffering many varieties of child

care and classes, your local YMCais a great place to locate social

opportunities for your child.

GYMborEE pLAY And MusiCof dYEr

Let your children tumble and sing their way around the room as

they socialize and explore their surroundings. For more information,

call 219.864.0266 or visit

LoCAL LibrAriEsStory times, unique craft times

and more for children of all ages. For more information on the Porter

County Library System, visit or call

219.531.9054. For information on the Lake County Library System,

visit or call 219.769.3541.

Mops(MothErs of prEsChooLErs)

this international faith-based organization brings moms together

“to celebrate the joys of motherhood and to encourage each other through the challenges.” You can read more

about MoPS at

bELLAboo’s pLAY And disCovErYCEntEr in LAkE stAtion

Classes and workshops for children ages 18 months–8 years. For more

information, visit or call 219.963.2070.

Page 17: NWI Parent

LEVIN EYE CARE CENTER Pediatric & Family Vision Care Vision therapy for learning related vision problem Stroke/Brain injury Vision Perceptual testing Testing & Treatment for crossed, lazy eyesContact Lenses Large Eyewear Fashion Selection Management of Eye Diseases Lasik Referral

Can Your Child Pass this Test? Does your child:

Have trouble reading? Have difficulty with spelling? Work slowly? Have a short attention span when

reading? Omit numbers, letters, or phrases? Misalign digits in number columns? Have poor handwriting? Confuse left and right? Rubs his/her eyes frequently? Repeatedly confuse words with

similar beginnings and endings? If you checked any of these symptoms, it is a sign that your child may have an undiagnosed vision problem. Please call us today to schedule an appointment. It could make all the difference!Thank you for voting us the

BEST EYE DOCTOR in the region for 2010.

ì My daughter was not doing well in school. She rarely picked up a book to read. The school told us they wanted to test her for a Learning Disability. About halfway through vision therapy, Jessica was doing her spelling homework and she said, ì I can see the words on the list!î , and she spelled all the words correctly. Now she can do her spelling homework by herself. Jessica can read faster. Her teacher said that she has noticed an improvement in her reading comprehension.î ñ K.S.

Steven A. Levin, O.D., F.C.O.V.D. Board Certified & 37 Years Experience in Vision Therapy

National Optometrist of the Year Award &National Academies of Practice

1334 119th Street Whiting IN 46394


From Struggling to Success÷ The Results of Vision Therapy!

Back to school, is your child ready...

1 6 T H A N N U A L

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Steven A. Levin, O.D., F.C.O.V.D.Board Certified & 37 Years Experience in Vision Therapy | National Optometrist of the Year Award & National Academies of Practice


Can Your Child Pass this Test?Does your child:����


If you checked any of these symptoms, it is a sign that your child may have anundiagnosed vision problem. Please call us today to schedule an appointment. It could make all the difference!

Thank you for voting us BEST EYE DOCTORin the region for 2010.

Back to school, is your child ready?

“My daughter was not doing

well in school. She rarely

picked up a book to read.

The school told us they

wanted to test her for a

Learning Disability. About

halfway through vision

therapy, Jessica was doing

her spelling homework and

she said,“I can see the words

on the list!”, and she spelled

all the words correctly. Now

she can do her spelling

homework by herself. Jessica

can read faster. Her teacher

said that she has noticed an

improvement in her

reading comprehension.”

– K.S.

From Struggling to Success…The Results of Vision Therapy!

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Page 18: NWI Parent

16 2010

by barb rueSSSS

meal time

LIKE TO COOK?Sometimes the family needs dinner tonight. Other times, it’s a bigger help to have something they can keep in their freezer and use at their convenience. Don’t worry—we’ve got ideas for both situations!

Cooking for tonightYour goal is to make something that is easy to reheat and serve. It’s also a nice touch if you can round out the meal with a salad (don’t forget the dressing!), some bread and even a dessert. If you don’t have time to make everything yourself, that’s okay—the thoughtful touch of a full meal will mean a lot on its own. This recipe includes some veggies and is great with corn bread on the side.

Chili maC 1 box wagon wheel pasta1 pound ground turkey2 teaspoons minced garlic1 small onion, diced1 bell pepper, chopped1 cup frozen corn kernels2 tablespoons chili powder

(can be reduced if spiciness is a concern)

1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon oregano 1 can diced tomatoes with chiles (tomatoes

without chiles may be substituted) 1 small (8-ounce) can tomato sauce 1/2 cup water 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.

2. Spray a large skillet with nonstick spray. Add the garlic, onion and bell pepper—cook for two minutes. Then add ground turkey and cook until the turkey is no longer pink.

3. Stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano and salt to taste. Add corn. Cook 3-5 minutes more until all veggies are soft.

4. Add tomatoes, sauce and water. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir in the drained pasta and cheddar cheese to combine.

Bring dinner to the house in a casserole dish or foil baking pan. Reheat at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or reheat individual servings in the microwave.

Other suggestions for dinner tonight:Baked potato bar: Bake the potatoes, wrap them in foil and bring prepared toppings in individual containers.Homemade soup: If you have some large Mason jars, they are the perfect container;

then the soup can easily be saved for multiple meals.

Cooking for tomorrowWhen my brother and his wife had their first child, I went to their house and filled the freezer with cooked meals—all wrapped for the freezer and clearly labeled with defrosting and reheating

HELpIng FamILIEs In nEEd— OnE mEaL aT a TImE

Some days it’s hard to keep up. And it’s even harder when life’s big events happen—new babies, family members in the hospital, returning from a long vacation. The next time you know someone who could use an extra hand,

consider this most basic of needs: feeding their family. Whether you are a whiz in the kitchen or consider opening a jar of Cheez Whiz to be your personal specialty—you can pitch in and give back to the dinner table.

special deliveries

Page 19: NWI Parent

Upcoming Exhibits and Events at Lubeznik Center for the Arts

September 7 Fall Classes Begin Choose from engaging new options for kids and adults including Art at the Zoo, Creative Dramatics and the popular Young Artists’ Studio.

September 28− October 28 In the Shadow of Cortés: From Veracruz to Mexico City History and art collide in this educational exhibit featuring the work of historian and author Kathleen Ann Myers and former National Geographic photographer Steve Raymer.

November 13−February 13, 2011 Beyond the Arches: Selected Art Works from the Collection of McDonald’s Corporation An enthusiastic supporter of the arts, McDonald’s collection includes 2D and 3D contemporary works by regional, national and international artists.


17 2010

instructions. Here’s one freezer recipe I used that can easily feed two people or a crowd:

meatloaf muffins1 pound ground beef1 pound ground turkey2 zucchini, shredded1 cup bread crumbs1 egg, lightly beaten1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Salt and pepper Ketchup

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.2. In a large bowl combine

everything but the ketchup, mixing gently but thoroughly.

3. Spray muffin tin(s) with nonstick spray. Place approximately 1/3 cup of meat mixture into each cup of unlined muffin tin. Press lightly and spread ketchup over the top. Makes approx 18 muffins.

4. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until no longer pink.

Freeze them in a plastic bag and write the date plus reheating instructions directly on the bag. Freeze for up to three months. To reheat, take muffins directly from the freezer, place on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes (or simply reheat individual servings in the microwave).

Other suggestions for the freezer: Most pasta dishes freeze well—think lasagna, turkey tetrazzini or beef and noodles. Beyond pasta you can make spaghetti sauce, pot roast or barbecue pork.

Upcoming Exhibits and Events at Lubeznik Center for the Arts

September 7Fall Classes BeginFall Classes Beginat the Zoo, Creative Dramatics and the popular Young Artists’ Studio.

September 28− October 28In the Shadow of Cortés: From Veracruz to Mexico Cityeducational exhibit featuring the work of historian and author Kathleen Ann Myers and former

November 13−February 13, 2011Beyond the Arches: Selected Art Works from the Collection of McDonald’s Corporation and 3D contemporary works by regional, national and international artists.


17 2010

cup of meat mixture into each cup of unlined muffin tin. Press lightly

prefer to stay out of the kitchen?There’s still plenty you can do to help feed a family:

• Organize a meal train—chances are, if the family needs one meal, they could use help for a week or two. Gather your troops and assign people weeknights to keep the family fed for an extended period of time. every other night usually works well, since they are likely to have some leftovers.

• Give a gift card from a local restaurant that delivers. no muss, no fuss and can be used anytime.

• Bring takeout or visit your grocery and purchase a pre-made meal. trust me, the food will be appreciated no mat-ter who cooked it.

• Make something that you can handle. When my youngest was born, some-one brought a tray of sandwiches, with veggies and chips. it was actu-ally a nice change of pace—especial-ly nice if the weather is hot.

• How about bringing breakfast? If you supply the family with boxes of cereal, yogurt and bagels, then your contribution feeds them more than once!


• Ask about allergies and preferences. You need to know if you’re cooking for picky kids, or individuals who should avoid spicy foods or have a dairy allergy.

• If you’re cooking for young kids, don’t forget dessert or a special treat.

• Use containers that don’t need to be returned.

• Clearly label containers with reheating instructions, even if you tell them at the door—they’ve probably got a lot on their minds.

• Include paper plates, utensils and napkins to make cleanup easy.

Barb lives in Crown Point with a hungry family that includes three kids. You can find her out running, on Twitter and on her weekly food blog, “Food with a Dash of Fun,” at

Page 20: NWI Parent

18 2010

Teaching children the importance of volunteering can lead to a lifetime of giving back

Long before the last scarecrow comes down and the jack-o’-lantern on the front porch turns to mush, retailers will be in full-blown yuletide overdrive, frantically turning the calendar page from one marketing-blitzed holiday

to an even more profitable one right around the corner. Ready or not, the “season of giving” will be upon us, and more than ever, many parents may indeed feel themselves unprepared to process it all on behalf of their impressionable children. After all, “giving” in the world of nonstop holiday advertising certainly resembles a

hypermaterialistic pursuit of ever more stuff than it does any notion of selfless altruism and goodwill.


ut this disconnect between competing notions of giving actually may be just the opening parents need to introduce the concept of volunteerism. On one hand, the comically over-the-top consumerism of the holidays helps illustrate plainly—even to a child—just how far off course the seemingly benign notion of “giving” can stray. Meanwhile, ready examples of need and want, while amply demonstrated throughout the year, often seem more pronounced when observed against the backdrop of holiday plenty. Combined with an abundance of charitable opportunities around the holidays, the season gives families

a chance to discuss the notion of giving back and find some way to put those ideas into practice together.

As with any other important life lesson, parents should be prepared to field the questions their kids may come up with about volunteering, and should be ready to confront some of the unique challenges that may arise when trying to get their young ones excited about helping out.

DONATING AND vOLUNTEERINGFrom contributing a dollar to the church collection basket to dropping a few coins in the Salvation Army kettle, most kids are exposed to the concept of giving to good causes from an early age. But they may have

questions about why one might want to take the time to visit with seniors or do a few hours of work at a food pantry rather than just write a check.

Without minimizing the importance of monetary contributions, this is a good opportunity for parents to explain—or better yet, illustrate—how sometimes a gift of one’s time can mean more to a person or organization in need than even a few hard-earned dollars might. Particularly in the case of a face-to-face encounter, it may be helpful to point out how the human connection is something that simply can’t be bought.

INTERESTS AND ABILITIESOne of the surefire ways to get a kid excited about volunteering is to find an opportunity that somehow dovetails with his or her interests. For ex-ample, a child who loves animals may relish a chance to work with sick or abandoned pets at a local shelter or veterinarian’s office. Likewise, a child who is a born entertainer may like the idea of performing for a group of seniors at a local nursing home.

Whatever a child’s interest or talent, the key for parents is to try and find an activity or charity that hooks them, because the longer they con-tinue to volunteer out of a love for the underlying cause, the more likely they are to develop that next level of emotional commitment to the people they’re helping and the work they’re doing.

Page 21: NWI Parent

19 2010

DEDICATION AND FOLLOW-THROUGH Speaking of commitment, the notion of sticking with a volunteer activity may be the most important lesson for parents to instill in their kids. Of course, the best way to hammer home that message is to model it, which is why it’s important for parents to be equally committed to any activity that they settle upon.

Children especially have to understand how impor-tant volunteers become to charitable agencies and the people they serve. The deci-sion to volunteer is not one to be made lightly, lest that decision end up causing more harm than good when one backs out or serves half-heartedly. Of course, there will be instances when volunteer and charity turn out to be a sub-par match for whatever reason, but the idea going in should be that this is a commit-ment to be honored— even when it’s not always fun or convenient.

This can be one of the trickier lessons of volun-teerism to pass along, but it’s also one of the most vital for kids to learn. For this reason, shorter-term volunteer assignments are often a good place to start, so that kids can get a sense of what it means to stick with a commitment without feeling as though they’re locked into a seem-ingly unending position. Like many other aspects of volunteering, this is one point that will likely have implications far beyond the scope of any specific charity work a child may perform.

Thanks + GivingBetween the football marathons, the post-holiday retail strategizing and the gluttonous overabundance of starchy side dishes, it can be pretty easy to lose sight of the true purpose of Thanksgiving. sometimes the best reminder of everything one has to be grateful for is to spend some time with folks who have very little. Maybe that’s why Thanksgiving for many families has become an ideal opportunity to put down the cookbook and the remote control for a few hours and start a new holiday tradition—volunteering together to serve a meal to those who are less fortunate. on a day that has come to symbolize gastronomic excess, perhaps a shift at one of these area organizations can provide a healthy serving of perspective instead.

SOUP AND SERENITYFIrsT PrEsByTErIANChUrCh oF CroWN PoINT218 s Court stCrown Point219.663.2255

SOuTH lAKE COuNTYCOMMuNITY SERvICES1450 E Joliet stCrown Point219.663.0627

ST. CLARE’S KITCHENhoLy NAMECAThoLIC ChUrCh11000 W 133rd stCedar Lake219.374.7160

CAFé MANNAsT. TErEsA oF AVILA1511 LaPorte AveValparaiso219.464.4042

While a volunteer experience that involves the whole family may sound like a wonderful idea, the fact is that many charitable organizations simply aren’t set up to offer opportunities for younger children. That’s why, in addition

to gauging a child’s interests and abilities before settling on something, it’s also a good idea to do some preliminary research to get a better notion

of exactly what options might be available for different age ranges.

Finding a FitPlenty of organizations and agencies throughout Northwest Indiana can use a helping

hand, from a few weekend hours to a longer-term commitment. Whatever their interests, families can explore opportunities to work together to help out area charities like these:

AGES 1-4At this young age, kids

won’t be able to do much in the way of physical labor or anything that might require independence, but they’re often eager to pitch in and

help out with the group. The idea here is simply to plant that seed of doing good and helping others, so even an

activity that involves them just observing the rest of the family in action can have the desired effect.

Some possibilities include participating in a charity

walk, visiting residents at an area nursing home, or riding

along for meal deliveries from a local food pantry. Whatever the activity, explaining what the family is doing and why

can help reinforce the positive message.

AGES 5-12As kids begin to get

older, not only are they able to do more, but the range of opportunities

available to them expands as well. At this stage, they may want to choose a volunteer idea

from a list of possibilities in order to find

something that aligns with their interests. These might include

making cards or writing letters for overseas military personnel,

working with animals at a local shelter, serving food at a soup kitchen, participating in a beach or park cleanup day, or even just gathering old

books and toys for a donation.

TEENSBy the time they reach junior

high and high school, the volunteer options available to kids are generally limited only by their busy social and academic calendars. Teens are more likely to seek out

specific causes or campaigns that reflect their growing

education and interest levels. volunteering at this age can also be a means of making new friends with similar

interests, and can be a nice addition to upcoming college and scholarship applications.

Some of the previously age-restricted opportunities that may now be available

include volunteering at a local hospital or building houses for underprivileged families with a group like Habitat for


Humane Society Calumet Area421 45th Ave, Munster


St. Margaret Mercy Healthcare Center

5454 Hohman Ave,


Lakeshore Area Regional Recovery of Indiana


Moraine Ridge Wildlife Rehab Center570 N 450 E, Valparaiso

American Red Cross of Northwest Indiana

791 E 83rd Ave,


Food Bank of Northwest Indiana2248 W 35th Ave, Gary


Salvation Army—Porter County799 Capitol Rd, Valparaiso


Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana6114 Ridge Rd, Gary


the most important lesson for parents to instill in their kids. Of course, the best way to hammer home that message is to model it, which is why it’s important for parents to be equally committed to any activity that they settle upon.

Children especially have to understand how important volunteers become to charitable agencies and the people they serve. The decision to volunteer is not one to be made lightly, lest that decision end up causing more harm than good when one backs out or serves half-heartedly. Of course, there will be instances when volunteer and charity turn out to be a sub-par match for whatever reason, but the idea going in should be that this is a commitment to be honored—even when it’s not always fun or convenient.

Teaching children the importance of volunteering can lead to a lifetime of giving back

Long before the last scarecrow comes down and the jack-o’-lantern on the front porch turns to mush, retailers will be in full-blown yuletide overdrive, frantically turning the calendar page from one marketing-blitzed holiday

to an even more profitable one right around the corner. Ready or not, the “season of giving” will be upon us, and more than ever, many parents may indeed feel themselves unprepared to process it all on behalf of their impressionable children. After all, “giving” in the world of nonstop holiday advertising certainly resembles a

hypermaterialistic pursuit of ever more stuff than it does any notion of selfless altruism and goodwill.


Page 22: NWI Parent

20 2010

For drivers flying by the Omni 41 Health & Fitness Connection on Indianap-olis Boulevard in Schererville, it would be easy to assume that the massive cam-pus is little more than a giant fitness factory (or, for those who go far enough back, a big groovy roller rink). But that outward appearance, while certainly accurate in terms of the wide range of offerings inside, doesn’t really get to the heart of what has helped make Omni such a long-term success at serving gen-erations of athletes and healthy families in Northwest Indiana.

While Omni can undoubtedly boast an impressive scale—with its 200,000-square-foot facility serving close to 9,000 active members—the staff at this 37-year-old Region institution knows that the true measure of delivering a great fitness experience goes far beyond simply size alone.

Longtime members know, of course, that they’ll have 24/7 access to the lat-est in cutting-edge fitness equipment and technology, impressive facilities (two pools, racquetball/handball court, tennis court), as well as a burgeoning sched-ule of diverse classes and programs (over 80 per week). But the reason many of them have been around so long has less to do with the tremendous scale of the place than it does the helpful, courteous staff and the family-friendly environ-ment that have long been Omni hallmarks.

In fact, it may be the unmistakable family atmosphere that most helps Omni stand out from its peers in the area health club game. With special family hours on weekends, an elaborate educational playroom facility, and a range of programs and activities that cater to every age level, Omni helps make fitness a family pursuit.

special sponsor feature

When it comes to health clubs, many proprietors are tempted to focus solely on the “bigger is better” mentality, trying to

assemble the widest array of up-to-date equipment and expert instruction. Of course, no dues-paying member wants to shell

out every month for the same ancient treadmill that he or she might have spotted at the neighbor’s last yard sale or access to a pool that resembles little more than a glorified bathtub, but in order for a fitness center to truly fulfill its mission—to

become a place where members feel not only physically healthy, but socially welcome and emotionally satisfied as

well—those rows and rows of high-tech machinery need to be complemented by a warm, inviting atmosphere.

big fun on 41

Page 23: NWI Parent

FAsT TrACkOne of the more popular new additions at Omni in recent years—for adults and children alike—has been the Parisi Speed School. While Parisi offers programs for both kids and adults, the philosophy behind its youth area is to get kids focused on developing their individual athletic skills, which in turn can help build char-acter and self-esteem as well. The director of the Parisi program, Michael Kopec, believes “speed training that starts at a young age can have a lasting effect on kids as they grow and develop, both physically and socially.”

“Childhood races in many cases are the beginning of a social hierarchy,” he ex-plains. “The fastest kids normally are the most popular kids being picked first in sports and games, while the slower kids often feel left out and eventually stop even trying to participate. We are able to teach kids who initially lacked in athletic per-formance and give them the skills to compete, offering them a whole new world of opportunities and fun.”

Parisi is a personal development company that has been training children and adults for over twenty years, and in the two years since the franchise has been op-erating at Omni, it has quickly emerged as one of the club’s most popular offerings for youngsters. Working with kids ages 7 and up, the Parisi program focuses on ac-tivities designed to improve speed, strength, flexibility, endurance, agility, nutrition and self-confidence. Starting with an orientation and multidiscipline evaluation, prospective participants get an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses against a number of performance benchmarks. From there, the program focuses on improving those areas where kids may be lagging, helping them to gain new confidence in not only their athletic skills, but their ability to work toward and achieve a goal.

While the Parisi Speed School has trained more than 250,000 participants over the course of its history—including a number of first-round NFL draft picks—the idea is not necessarily to mold every child into an elite athletic specimen, but rath-

er to simply give every child the opportunity to perform to his or her optimum personal potential.

“From the serious athlete with aspirations of high-level sports to the kid picked last on the playground, all kids can benefit from gaining physical and mental strength,” Kopec says, stressing that one of the program’s goals is to appeal to children at every skill level. “Nobody sits the bench at the Parisi Speed School.” —MarK LoeHrKe

FAIR WARNINGBoth the Parisi speed school and the Planet kids Playroom will be among the many omni programs and activities geared to-ward healthy kids and fit families that will be spe-cifically highlighted dur-ing the omni 41 Children’s health and fun fair on November 14 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. the fair is free and open to the public. Program specialist Lisa resney says the focus for this fall’s event will clearly be on the club’s dedication to providing a place where the entire family can em-brace wellness together. the “fitter than your 5th grader Challenge” is a perfect example of omni’s dedication to families and their wellness experience. • “our goal is for families to have fun, and to take away lots of great informa-tion about omni 41 and our booths,” resney says. “We love it when folks are pleasantly surprised by how much omni has to offer kids and their families.” • In addition to tours of the omni facilities and program areas, the fair will feature parent resource booths ranging from eye care specialists to mental health providers, as well as games, arts and crafts activities, and free refreshments. • resney says, “this will be a great way for families to spend some time together and have some fun without breaking the bank.”


221 US Highway 41Schererville, Ind.

21 2010

Growth OpportunitiesNot every child is ready for

something like the Parisi program right off the bat,

of course. For parents with younger children, finding the time, energy and responsible child care to get in a little exercise can be a strenuous workout in its own right. That’s why these days, most health clubs offer some form of on-site child care, allowing parents the peace of mind to know their little ones are in good hands nearby. But Omni 41 truly takes this service to another level with its Planet Kids Playroom.

The Planet Kids theme was developed last year in conjunction with a major overhaul of the playroom, as a way to incorporate more educational opportunities centered on the environment and how kids can help take care of it. The reconfigured space goes far beyond a bare-bones playroom experience, offering not only the traditional fun and games, but themed educational quarters targeting various topics (sun, earth, water and air) through lessons, stories and craft projects. The Planet Kids area is divided into four different rooms based on age level: Seedlings (6 weeks–walking), Sprouts (walking–2 years), Branches (2–4 years old) and Green Leaves (5–12 years old).

With over 25 years experience working with children in various capacities and 12 years at Omni, playroom supervisor Lynn zajicek oversees an operation that now serves over 300 members and their children every week. But no matter how many kids come through the door, zajicek and her staff of 18 remain committed to the ideals that she’s held for the playroom from the beginning—that is, Planet Kids is not just somewhere to “park the kids” for a couple of hours, but a place where kids can come to have their own physical and mental growth experience while their parents do likewise.

zajicek has come to find as much fulfillment in her day-to-day work as many of the kids in her charge likely do. “I try to create and train other staff to meet the specific needs of families and individuals in order to encourage and nurture physical, social, emotional and intellectual growth within a safe environment,” zajicek says. “Omni has allowed me the opportunity to merge my talents and passion with others and make a difference to the families and individuals that I come in contact with.”

Page 24: NWI Parent





Purchase tickets at the Star Plaza Theatre Box Office, your local Ticketmaster Outlet or by phone: (800) 745-3000

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Page 25: NWI Parent

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Page 26: NWI Parent

Ican still see the look on my oldest son’s face when he heard he was going to have to do community service in order to be confirmed by our church. He didn’t say the words, but his facial expression screamed: “I can’t do that!”

It’s not that Tommy is anti-community. It’s that he’s painfully quiet, and most community service projects involve having to speak and interact with strangers. Tommy doesn’t even speak and interact with his family. I pinch him twice a week just to make sure he’s still breathing.

So, when we looked at the possibilities on the long list of community service projects they gave us, one of them jumped out at us: volunteering at the library. “What do you think about that one?” I asked.

He grunted and shook his head. “Nah.”Just as I was searching the list for something even more appropriate for

him, like “taking a vow of silence,” he pointed to something that I never thought he’d consider. “What about this one?” he asked.

I thought I must be seeing things. “You’re accidentally pointing to ‘volunteering at the soup kitchen.’”

“I know,” he said.“Do you know what that is?” I asked.“Sure. They serve free food to people that can’t afford it. Right?”“Yeah,” I said. “But you wouldn’t go there to eat the food. You’d go

there to serve it.”

“I know,” he replied, rolling his eyes at me. “I’d like to try it.” So he did.

We found out that they needed help on Tuesday nights, and right then and there Tommy committed himself to doing it the rest of the school year. I drove him to the Catholic Charities soup kitchen every Tuesday, and every week he came out of there with a big smile on his face. (I should point out that this is a boy who also never smiles.) “Are you actually enjoying this?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said. “They put me in charge of the beverages.”

On the way to and from the soup kitchen, the two of us began to have long conversations about being thankful for all of our blessings. He was now able to put a face on the word “poverty,” and began to realize that poor people really aren’t any different than we are. “It feels

good to help,” he said. “People really seem to appreciate it.”When he broke his leg and couldn’t help for a few weeks, he really

missed it. The moment that cast came off, he was back in there, helping out on Tuesday nights. This, despite the fact that there were only a few more weeks until his confirmation and the religious education program told him he had already completed the requirement. “I want to keep on doing it,” he said.

And he did, and he continued to come out with a smile on his face. “I’m making some good friends,” he told me. “I’m getting to know some of the regulars.”

Confirmation came and went in May, but Tuesday night has continued to be soup kitchen night at our house. And to tell you the truth, I’m so proud of my boy that I could burst.

family roomby rIck kaemPfer

Rick Kaempfer’s business card says author/writer/blogger, but his real job is “stay-at-home dad” for his three school-aged

sons. For more adventures-in-parenting tales, check out Rick’s “Father Knows Nothing” blog at

CoMMUNITy SERvICEA reLIgIous eduCAtIoN requIremeNt

BeComes A LABor of Love for A shy teeN

24 2010

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