Thursday, May 5, 2011

Students are Canning Hunger in the Midsouth

Students are canning hunger in the Memphis community

By Jess Nabakowski      March 7, 2011                   
       The Memphis community has many needs, but thanks to local high school students, hunger doesn’t have to be one of them. CANstruction, a non-profit organization that collects food for local food banks and shelters, is teaming up with five Memphis high schools to build their way to the end of hunger in this community.
         Canstruction, which is a competition that has been sponsored by the Younger Members Group of the American Society of Civil Engineers West Tenn. Branch since 2007, is not just a local competition. Canstruction officials report that CANstruction takes place in 100 cities nationwide, and since 1992, has raised more than 15 million pounds of food for local food banks and shelters across the country.
   “Canstruction allows students to not only work with professional engineers and design and build their own structures out of cans of food, but it puts the opportunity to make a great change in our community in the hands of students,” said Jamie Nabakowski. Nabakowski, 24, is a graduate of the University of Memphis and a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Memphis, and has been assisting Bartlett High School with their construction project.
     Bartlett High, along with Collierville High, St. Agnes Academy, White Station, and Harding Academy are the five schools that will compete in Canstruction at the University of Memphis this year. Although this is fewer schools than have competed in the past, with 11 schools competing in 2009 and 10 in 2010, the competition is a great way for schools to get involved and positively influence teenagers in contributing to their community.
  Sheri Greer, an Algebra teacher at Bartlett High and sponsor of the Canstruction team, has been working for several months with a group of about 10 students. She said the process starts with a $300 allowance that the University of Memphis gives to each participating high school. The schools use this allowance to purchase cans of food in different sizes.
     “We also have students bring cans to school, and donors from the community give cans as well,” Mrs. Greer said.
  This year, Bartlett has constructed the food pyramid. They started with large cans of fruits and vegetables and stacked canned meats and dairy products on top. Jars of peanut butter and packs of Ramen noodles made up the sides of the pyramid.
   “The pyramid is solid and made completely of canned foods,” said Logan Mays, a freshman and Canstruction team member at Bartlett High School. Mays said he wanted to be a part of Canstruction because “it’s good to be able to help the community, and it also looks good on college applications. It’s good for everyone.”
   Bartlett’s Canstruction team was made up of freshman and sophomores who wanted to participate in the competition. “I wanted to be a part of Canstruction because I am interested in engineering, and it’s a good way to see kind of what they do,” said Corinna Carter, a sophomore at Bartlett. Carter said she hopes to be an architectural engineer one day, and Canstruction is a unique version of that.
The Canstruction teams met for several months in order to prepare for the competition. They carefully picked out cans according to size, label color, and type of food, and on Friday morning Bartlett, Collierville, St. Agnes, White Station, and Harding competed in the final competition.
   The teams are judged in five different areas: Best use of labels, best meal, best structural ingenuity, biggest meal [most cans] and judge’s favorite,” said Carol Dodge, 25, who is the president of ASCE Younger Members Group and engineer for Memphis Light Gas and Water. Carol was also in charge of the CANstruction competition this year.
This year, Bartlett High, who created a food pyramid, won the “Best Meal” award. St. Agnes, with their Chuck Taylor tennis shoe structure, won the “Structural Ingenuity” competition, White Station, who made a game boy out of their cans, won Honorable Mention. Harding Academy, who created a piece of watermelon and a picnic, won “Best Use of Labels.” Collierville High, who created a scene from the movie Bambi, won “Judge’s Choice” and “Biggest Meal.”
  After the competition, the structures will stay on display in the lobby of the Administrative building of Herff College of Engineering, and then all the cans of food will go to local food banks and into the pantries of people in need. To date, the Memphis competition alone has raised 50,000 pounds of food for the Memphis Food Bank, and Canstruction, nationwide, raised two million pounds of food in 2010 alone.
  “It really is a great way to provide for the need in our community,” Nabakowski said.
  For more information about the Canstruction Organization and upcoming Canstruction events, visit the the Canstruction website . Or, or more information on the local competition that was conducted at The University of Memphis, click here

Sunday, April 24, 2011

CANstruction Award Ceremony- Video

This is a video of the awards ceremony from CANstruction Competition 2011.
White Station High School- Honorable Mention
Harding Academy- Best Use of Labels
Bartlett High School- Best Meal
St. Agnes Academy- Best Structural Ingenuity
Collierville High School- Judge's Favorite and Most Cans

CANstruction Photos and Survey

These photos are from the CANstruction Competition that took place at University of Memphis Herff College of Engineering on March 25, 2011.

Now that you've seen the photos, take the survey!
Are you familiar with CANstruction?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Birthday Survey

In honor of Candle Wishes Memphis, please share your favorite birthday memory! Click the link below.

Birthday Memories Survey

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview with Director of Candle Wishes, Melissa Shaeffer

Melissa Shaeffer is the director of Candle Wishes for the Memphis area. In an interview, Shaeffer shared her heart for Candle Wishes, and different ways the community can get involved. This is what she had to say:

Q:What is the purpose of Candle Wishes?
Shaeffer: Candle Wishes meets the needs of children, as well as allowing the community to get involved and share God's love with the kids.

Q: Why did you choose to start Candle Wishes in Memphis?
 Shaeffer:When I read about Candle Wishes, it spoke to me because I work with the kids in the city of Memphis, and I was looking for a way to get them involved with the local churches. It was successful in Murfreesboro, and I thought it would parellel with what was going on in the city of Memphis.

Q: What happens at a Candle Wishes party?
Shaeffer: The kids experience a normal" birthday party. They get to play with their families and other kids. They open their presents and eat and have cake. It's a happy, fun time. They last about an hour.

Q: What does it take to make a Candle Wishes party happen?
Shaeffer: We spend about 4 months collecting names from schools and churches of kids who would benefit from Candle Wishes. Then, we have to find donors or sponsors for each kid. This year we had 25. Then we find volunteers to work the parties, and a lot of times, different places will sponsor the actual party. Volunteers also help set up the parties, serve food, and play with the children at the parties.

Q:Now, what would you like to see in the future of Candle Wishes?
Shaeffer: I would really like to see Candle Wishes grow thorughout the city. There is no number goal, but just to see Candle Wishes in different communities. 12 different communities, and 12 different locations. Also, we hope to reach out to different organizations and children's homes, as well as the schools and churches.

Q: What is the greatest need in Candle Wishes right now?
Shaeffer: Well right now we need volunteers behind the scenes, to help with publicity and funding. We also need volunteers to sponsor the children.

O:What does a sponsorship look like?
Shaeffer: Well, the kids get needs and wants for their birthday, so a sponsor receives a list of different things they need and want. A normal sponsorship is about 100 dollars, and this might be school uniforms or other clothing items, shoes, and then sometimes a big present like a bike or computer.

Q: They need for people as the face of Candle Wishes is apparent, but what about people volunteering behind the scenes? Is their a need for help with publicity and fund-raising?
Shaeffer: We do need people to help us come up with ideas, and be involved with the details of fund-raising, like a fund-raising board. We are actually working under Jenny's [Murfreesboro Director of Candle Wishes] board. Some of the fund-raisers coming up were their idea, and we need to have a board to work with fund-raising here.

Q:What ways could people get in touch with you, or find out more about Candle Wishes?
Shaeffer: They can go to the Candle Wishes website  and find my email address and phone number. They can reach me through either of those.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Group Turns Birthday Dreams Into Reality

Group Turns Birthday Dreams Into Reality

By Jess Nabakowski

Candle Wishes Organization, a faith-based, non-profit organization which started in 2002 in the Murfreesboro, Tenn. area, has brought to reality the birthday dreams of thousands of underprivileged children. In 2010, Candle Wishes made its debut in Memphis, Tenn., with hopes of reaching more children and making more wishes come true.

Jenny Williams, from Murfreesboro, Tenn., is the founder and executive director of Candle Wishes. She wanted to do something for her local community that would benefit everyone involved and give back to the community.

 “Through Candles Wishes, children learn that there are caring people in the world. When hundreds of families and children experience that kind of changed attitudes, a community becomes a better place to live,” Williams said.

Williams got the idea from the Salvation Army Angel Tree program. She used the same list of families for Candle Wishes, and started doing “birthday parties” at a pick-up drive for families on that list. Families would come pick up the presents in black bags. “As the amount of donors and sponsored children grew, they started doing actual parties with wrapped presents,” Williams said. Volunteers, sponsors, and donors from the local community make candle Wishes possible. It is very hands on, and allows the donor or volunteer to be involved throughout the whole process.

Although Candle Wishes brings birthday dreams to life, they also provide the children with essential need such as clothes and shoes. Now, kids in Memphis will get to experience the blessing of Candle Wishes.

Melissa Shaeffer, director of the Memphis branch, read about Candle Wishes in Thread magazine, and wanted to bring it to Memphis. That was in 2009, and after a year of meetings and planning, Candle Wishes Memphis held its first party in January of 2010. The parties are at different community groups, such as churches and civic clubs.

Because Memphis’ Salvation Army list has approximately 2,000 families, at this point it is just not possible for Candle Wishes Memphis to provide for all of them. The goal of Candle Wishes Memphis is “12 different parties, 12 different months, 12 different communities, but it all depends on the community,” Shaeffer said. Kids are sponsored solely by donations and monthly sponsors, so without the community, Candle Wishes is not possible.

Jessica Campbell, 23, a Candle Wishes sponsor, turned her sponsorship into a bonding experience with her own daughter, Zoe. “We shop together for the presents. It’s a fun experience for us,” Campbell said. “I chose to sponsor a child because we take something as simple as birthday gifts for granted, and I wanted to be a part of giving a little girl her special day.”

Right now, Shaeffer gets a list of children in need from schools and churches in the Memphis area including: Galloway Baptist Church in Galloway, Tenn., Hawkins Mill Elementary, and a couple others in the area. Because the organization is so new to the area, she and other volunteers are still working to get the word out.

“We’re looking into possibly sponsoring children of different children’s homes in the area, children of jailed parents, and other organizations that support underprivileged children. Candle Wishes is still growing here. We’re trying different things,” Shaeffer said.

The benefits of Candles Wishes are not just for the children. Donors and sponsors get to participate in a ministry where they can see first-hand the results of their giving. They can come to the parties, they can see the children open their presents, play games with them, and celebrate with them. It is a very hands-on ministry, and that is what makes Candle Wishes unique.

Candles Wishes brings birthday joy and fulfillment that many underprivileged children do not know otherwise. It also brings joy and fulfillment to those who sponsor, donate, and volunteer. “The future of this organization rests in the hands of the community. It’s a great opportunity, and the goal is reachable. We just need to get the word out; get support,” said Campbell.

The next Candle Wishes party will be at Christ Church in Bartlett, Tenn. on Feb. 26. To find out more information on the organization, or how to become a sponsor, donor, or volunteer, check out the Candle Wishes website or facebook page.