Stretch for the Stars Fitness and Wellness Workshop 2017

Janice Jimenez, Jen Andersen, Megan Mclure, Kristi Welsch, Brooke Reeves, Erika Black, front Ellen Young, Vivian Konstantakos

Janice Jimenez, Jen Andersen, Megan Mclure, Kristi Welsch, Brooke Reeves, Erika Black, front Ellen Young, Vivian Konstantakos

We had our fitness and wellness workshop this past February with 11 girls, aged 7-12. This workshop was a lot different than other ones, there’s something about working with these girls that made it feel different. I guess part of it was being there as a woman and thinking, I hope that in 20 years, these girls are here able to stand where I’m standing and be able to do this, be able to stand and help those next in line.

We started off with a yoga session, which for young girls, in my opinion could probably lead to disaster. Honestly, I was waiting for one of them to go from downward dog into a cartwheel, kicking their mat neighbor in the face. Thankfully, not one girl opted to transform a yoga class into gymnastics. Although we started off the session in a little bit of chaos, girls finding their mats, new girls joining and possibly the excitement of it all. For some, maybe uncertainty, we did have one girl say their dad didn’t want them doing stretching. Excuses.Excuses. But who can blame her, it’s something new. You’re too scared to try it, so you just make up an excuse. Been there. Done that. Like every day. Teacher Erika though, took the reigns and started with a breathing/calming exercise. She had everyone rub essential oils on their palms and inhale the oils. One by one the girls did it, some scared they were allergic and yelled out their allergies and honestly, a bit of panic. Erika assured us all that there wasn’t anything harmful. Slowly but surely they were all doing deep breaths in the palms of their hands. The girls were finally somewhat calm and participating in the exercise, most of them anyone. Even if they didn’t participate they were quiet and at least listened. Erika then put on some stunners- yellow shades and said, “never take yourself too seriously.”

 

After yoga we had a Family Medicine doctor from Swedish to come and talk to the girls about positive lifestyle habits, food, sleep and exercise. When she talked about food one girl was very concerned about her habit. So with courage she said, “What about spicy foods? Are they bad for you? I love spicy food.” Gotta love a 9 year-old asking about spicy food!

Throughout doc’s talk volunteers made some smoothie samples for the girls to try. Actually, it was 2 smoothies and 1 juice. We started with what they would probably deem disgusting- coconut milk and frozen blueberries and cold pressed flax seed oil. They drank it, but the jury is still out on that one! A lot of skepticism was felt when we brought out a green juice, loaded with pineapples, apples, spinach, cucumber, lime, celery and avocado, but several of them loved it. Personally, it’s one of my faves. We ended with what I would consider a dessert smoothie- coconut milk, yogurt, fresh raspberries and the key ingredient… chocolate chips! We should’ve used dark chocolate chips versus milk chocolate, but we’re pretty sure they licked their cups with that one! After some awesome smoothie options we carried on to a separate room and the experience they were all waiting for… shopping!!!

Off they went to the retail space we created, over $10,000 in merchandise picked specifically for each girl with idea of keeping a fit life but with style. They rifled through the racks, looking for their favorite colors or items that were pre-selected for them, almost a bit overwhelming for each of the girls. It wasn’t easy for them to make decisions but very easy to give a flat out “NO” to a selection. But what was heard from almost every girl… I get more? And that’s the thing, they did get more.

They got new things. They got things with tags. They made decisions about what they wanted, what they would take home, what would be theirs. Not decisions they ever get. Reflecting on their excitement and what the choices we can make every day, it’s hard not to be thankful. It’s hard to not think of the small choices we make daily that we take for granted- massive wardrobe selections, food choices, where we live, what we can buy and what we can choose not to like because we’re fortunate to have these choices, unfortunately they don’t have many choices and often it seems like the only thing they want is to actually be a choice, for someone to choose them. For someone to be with them forever. A forever commitment to them is a decision some may do, but not enough are willing to make this commitment and to those that can, those are my heroes. Those are the people that will be able to give these girls the opportunity to give to those that are unfortunately next in line.  

Here are a few thank notes F-factor received from the kids after the workshop! 

Back To School Fashion Workshop

August 29, 2015

Volunteers arrived promptly thru the worst wind and rainstorms our area has seen in a long time.  Many of the volunteers were preparing for their first time in one of The F-factor’s signature programs a Back to School Fashion Workshop.

The volunteers had so much to anticipate but even more so the 14 boys who would soon fill the workshop space.

Like the weather that Saturday afternoon a storm of uncertainty, insecurity, and fear is present in the lives of foster children.  I saw this in their eyes when I met the boys one week prior to register them for the workshop. They were mostly reserved and not interested in speaking with me.  I fit the “profile”: adult, stranger, introduced as a person who wants to “talk” with them.

In foster care there are always new faces, people who want to talk, taking notes, evaluating, ready to make decisions for their lives.  The kids have not had it easy and there is an enormous lack of comfort in “the system."  At this time I walk into their lives, sit down with them for ten minutes and hope they accept me.

When registering them for the workshop, I introduce myself and invite them to join me in the Back to School Fashion Workshop.  I explain this an event where they can pick new clothes and shoes they like the best.  I assure them this is all about clothes, theirs to keep, and fun science experiments to get them ready for the first day of school.  A wave of relief crosses their face, most of them would nod their head yes and then be willing to make eye contact.  I gently begin to inquire about what they want to wear? Ask their favorite colors? What do they enjoy doing while hanging out with their friends?

A young boy said “Anything like Justin Bieber”   …That was his answer to every question I asked!

Instantly I knew one of my tasks in the coming week was to find gold high top sneakers… Just like the Biebs.  Some boys wanted to dress like hunters, basketball players, dancers, they shared their favorite sports teams and their love for Legos.

The boys anxiously await day of the workshop.  We settle their excitement by telling them it is  something to look forward to, they can hardly wait!  Just talking to them about clothes and shoes and what they like to do, they are jumping at the opportunity to be in the workshop. 

The workshop day is here! Over $12,000 of inventory lined the room; racks of hand picked to suit their style based on their profiles from our earlier meeting.  They kids will choose two complete outfits, 3 accessories, in addition a package of plain white T’s, one pair of pajamas, and two duffle bags.

The workshop begins!

I greet each of the boys by first name at the door, we shake hands.  Their ages range from a young seven years old to thirteen.  I introduced “my friends” (fashionably dressed volunteers) their eyes are in a gaze taking in the room that has been transformed with Zumiez posters on the wall, hoodies, fall jackets, rain coats, jeans, and shirts hung perfectly on hangers as they would in the stores. Seventy T-shirts in all colors and sizes were perfectly folded and displayed across two tables. A selection of more than fifty shoes, wallets, watches, and hats displayed for the boys to choose.

We form a large circle around the room and jump into ice-breakers and introductions. Immediately following the boys break off into stations to find clothing to suit their personal style and inspire them to look and feel their best.  Volunteers act as personal shoppers organically pairing with the boys making suggestions of what items to mix and match.  The vibe was energetic and extremely positive.

This is what the day was about… allowing the boys to choose.
What shirts and jeans they wanted.
Their choice in color of socks.
If they want a wallet that was blue, black, or brown.
Nike or Addidas shoes.
A snap back or fitted hat.

Foster care aside.
Therapy aside.

It was their space to express themselves to be excited about how they dress and showing off sweet dance moves in their new shoes. 
Have something to hold and the first to own it.
Empowered to make choices.
Empowered by Fashion.

After the boys picked their clothes, they built rockets to blast fifty feet in the air from a launcher and another group practiced science experiments erupting volcanoes. 

Each kid had the opportunity to stand in front of the photo backdrop in new threads to have their school photo taken.  A small chalkboard held by the boys illustrated what they want to be when they grow-up "Basketball Player", "Dancer",  "Astronaut", "The next President Obama."
I love seeing the ambition!

Near the end of the workshop and with this much excitement we were sure to have an appetite. One of our excellent volunteers grabbed 30 cheeseburgers and fries for the boys to share a meal.  The Ryther staff and my friends sat with the boys we had casual conversation while munching on food.
The workshop is complete.  The boys return to their cottages.  We return the remaining clothes.

What started as a harsh and stormy day ended with the clouds parting, the winds calmed, and the sun shined on each of their faces.

I’m confident it was a good experience.  We watched the kids share perfect finds with their peers. Dance in their new sneakers.
Smile from ear to ear.
They ooh'ed and ahh'ed at the rockets!

They had a place to be themselves, to be kids.
Feel safe.
Be unconditionally accepted.
Be excited about a watch or pair of shoes.
Even the chance to dress like Justin Bieber.

They were kids, exactly as they were supposed to be.  Feeling nurtured, excited about science, and surrounded by people who care about them. 

We have to ask ourselves:

How will they treat society and other men?

How will they treat their wives?

How will they treat themselves?

My hope is they feel confident and cared for every time they put on their new shoes.

I hope these young boys, to be men one day, always have a shirt on their back.

I hope they walk with strength and ambition.

I hope they look back on this day and think of the community that is here to support them, and the thousands of smiles we shared! 
~ Ellen Young, Founder

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  
-Frederick Douglass

 

Poplin Style Direction weighs in on The F-factor

In the F-factor's most recent workshop Stretch for the Stars, we welcomed 12 girls living in foster care at Ryther Child Center to experience a day of fashion, fitness, and fun! 

A success on many levels!  The girls who walked into the workshop space shy and timid, left dancing, smiling, and sharing the dreams of their future.  The volunteers for the workshop were energetic, and for one day they were a part of the girl's lives in a positive and caring light. 

The F-factor partnered with the amazing Mellicia Marx founder of Poplin Style Direction.  Mellicia's expert eye in fashion brought this workshop to another level. Including her contribution of hours of shopping to help prepare, during the workshop she coordinated fashionable looks for the girls. See her write-up here at Poplinstyle.com

The fun didn't stop at fashion! Ever dance zumba?  You should at least try!  Make sure you dance Zumba with Shanyn! Shanyn Emerson is an outstanding supporter of the F-factor and during the Stretch for the Stars workshop she led the group of girls and volunteers thru a 4 song set of zumba dance moves, raising our heart rate!  Catch her blog posts here

When you work this hard, one must satisfy the appetite of good food!  Makini Howell owner of Plum Bistro in Seattle led a hands on food demonstration for the girls.  They made smoothies and yogurt parfaits - Yum!  Makini's influence on the girls led them to putting one vegetable in their smoothie, and get this! The girls liked it!  Nice work Makini! 

Two Sea Gals, the Seahawks professional cheerleaders, Makheeba and Brittany made an appearance. They shared with the girls the importance of eating right and staying active. Each of the girls had their photo taken with the Sea Gals and shook their pom-poms!  With delight the Sea Gals taught us the touch down cheer they dance during the games! 

It was an unforgettable day for the girls, the volunteers, The F-factor is extremely proud to have this opportunity thanks to the community support we receive! 

Want to volunteer or get involved?  
Contact ellen@f-factor.org  
 

New Year!

It's the start of a new year!

We were able to fulfill the wish lists of 40 foster kids, so they were able to have the Christmas they deserved. Everyone should have the chance to get one thing on their Christmas wish list, and we were able to do that for these foster kids. Even though it was Christmas, we were still working hard to play the role of Santa, and deliver presents to these children.

Outstanding youth citizens include Cayden (10) and Catalina (7) Cole who hosted a hot chocolate stand in their neighborhood, to raise money for foster children.  Needing no encouragement from their parents, it was their idea to do something for other kids and they did it well!  Raising over $75 in hot chocolate sales Catalina and Cayden know how important it is to support foster children, their mom was a foster child!  Way to go Cayden and Catalina!

We are hoping to expand our reach in the community, and try to get more people involved with The F-factor this year. We have some exciting events planned for 2014 and we can not wait to get started. 

A big thank you to everyone who supported us last year, and we wish you a happy New Years!

-The F-factor

The Giving Spirit

For the holidays, The F-factor fulfilled wish lists, and delivered gifts to foster youth. We received requests for toys, posters, books, clothes, and shoes, and we made it our job to deliver and make their holiday wishes come true. 

The F-factor was fortunate to work with Girls Giving Back, a shelter renovation organization, and Teresa Valley and her community of donors brought together a majority of the gifts for the kids.  A particularly inspiring group of second grade girls rallied donations in lieu of their Holiday gifts, and individuals and families have embraced the giving spirit providing gifts of clothes and toys for foster kids. 

With help from the community we were able to cross off items on the wish list, making us one step closer to making a child's holiday. 

Thank you donors and supporters!

Happy Holidays from The F-factor!