• Today is: Friday, April 20, 2018

Avonworth girls club prompts students and staff to #bethekindkid

Candy Williams
April18/ 2018

The venture started three years ago with two first-grade girls.

Julia Nardozzi and Amelia Lucas approached teacher Maureen Frew with the idea to start an after-school club to make things and sell them.

Frew, a maker education specialist at Avonworth Primary Center and a teacher in residence at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, agreed it was a great concept. Together, the three of them formed Jam Enterprises – “Girls who make. Girls who care.” – using the initials from their first names.

Since then, the JAM movement has grown to include 50 girls in kindergarten through 5th grade who meet once a week and decide what to make.

“They price the product, they make the product, sell the product and distribute the product,” Frew says. “Each month, we donate to a local non-profit cause.”

JAM’s most recent project has caught the excitement of Avonworth School District from students and teachers to secretaries, custodians, and lunch ladies.

They have all been sporting white T-shirts with the printed message #bethekindkid, with kindness being the April theme of the entrepreneurial girls.

The #bethekindkid T-shirts have been the only item outsourced due to the high demand for orders, already in its second printing.

Imogene and Ellie Boggess suggested donating T-shirt proceeds to the American Cancer Society in honor of their late father.

A portion of this month’s project will benefit the American Cancer Society, which is close to the hearts of two sisters in the club, Ellie and Imogene Boggess. Their father, Jeff Boggess, a teacher at Avonworth High School, died in 2015 from leukemia at age 37.

“We wanted to honor his memory,” Frew says.

Ellie and Imogene’s mom, Stephanie Boggess, says the club has been important to her daughters, especially as they deal with the loss of their father.

“A lot of families have dealt with it – it’s a difficult path,” she says. “Helping out is part of the JAM experience. It’s beautiful to see the girls posting photos with their T-shirts on social media. It’s exciting to see them having an opportunity to come together and be positive.”

Ellie agrees.

“JAM really is all fun,” she says, “and you get to help people who really need it.”

The sisters were a big part of the kindness idea, along with two other sisters, Ady and Aria Burgoyne.

“Not everyone in the universe has a friend, says Aria, a kindergarten student. “So I wanted to make a product that could be a friend. Something that you could keep, forever.”

Mom, Shannon Burgoyne, says her girls love being a part of JAM Enterprises.

“It makes them proud of themselves to be able to make fun projects and contribute to charities,” she says. “It’s empowering to them.”

The T-shirts have been one of the most popular sales. The girls are looking forward to visiting the high school soon to meet and donate shirts to 10 girls chosen to be positive role models.

Among other products, the club creates and sells Tin Bins that contain small travel games, like the Finger Twister; first aid kits; a bookmark making kit; or a 3-D puzzle. They recently launched an online store.

The club’s charitable support includes donations to the Ohio Township Fire Dept., Meals on Wheels, Animal Friends and to area families in need.

JAM members hope their club continues to grow and spread to other schools.

“Most importantly, the girls don’t want the movement to be a fad,” Frew says. “They want it to be a foundation that kids live by.”

Kidsburgh Heroes: Annie Yonas and Griffin Kerstetter mark 7 years of quilt-making for Pittsburgh homeless

Christopher Keough
April17/ 2018

In 2011, Annie Yonas and Griffin Kerstetter were friends who separately found themselves struggling with the revelation that some don’t have a place to call home.

“I was reading a book about homelessness,” says Annie, who was 7 at the time.

“I was listening to the president’s state of the union address,” says Griffin, then 8.

The O’Hara Elementary School second-graders started asking questions of their parents, trying to understand such a perplexing concept, and looking for opportunities to help. Eventually, they came up with the idea for their HomeLost Project with the tagline “making quilts and raising awareness.”

All those years ago, when the girls’ eyes first opened to homelessness, Annie’s father and Griffin’s mother, both professors at the University of Pittsburgh, were working on a research project with Adrienne Walnoha, the chief executive officer at Community Human Services, which serves the homeless and working poor. The parents brought their daughters’ questions to Walnoha independently, not realizing the natural collaboration in the offing.

“At first, I thought, ‘I don’t think when I was in second grade I would have thought about this or understood it at all,’ ” Walnoha says. “I also was really struck by the fact the girls were thinking they would be able to impact other people in such a big way.”

The parents introduced the girls to Walnoha, and the three of them started brainstorming how to move forward.

Annie and Griffin wanted to be able to hand homeless kids something they could take with them, something like a stuffed animal. Walnoha convinced them a more functional gift might be better. They decided to make quilts out of T-shirts with the idea that a quilt could be a security blanket as well as a source of warmth.

“It’s a very simple process,” says Annie, now 13. “You get two squares from each T-shirt.”

HomeLost Project
Annie Yonas and Griffin Kerstetter with a collection of T-shirts in the early years of the HomeLost Project.

Soon after, with the help of Annie’s mother, Jessica Burke, the girls incorporated the HomeLost Project as a nonprofit.

“I couldn’t spell homeless,” explains Griffin, now 14. “I drew a house and wrote ‘lost’ next to it.”

The girls run the show. Walnoha’s role in the HomeLost Project is strictly advisory.

“Griffin and Annie are both very strong individuals,” she says. “We meet and talk, but they really decide what they want to do. They have their own ideas and concepts.”

The T-shirts, which originally came from the girls’ second-grade classroom, now come from all over, including Community Human Services and local organizations that have leftover shirts from events they have sponsored. They also solicit T-shirts through a Facebook page and a professional website that Griffin built herself. The website includes instructions on how to cut the T-shirt squares, as well as how to make a quilt. Donations are arranged through Community Human Services.

They have collected so many shirts that these days they keep them in a storage locker.

Bob Nelkin, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, met Annie and Griffin years ago at a sleep-in in Market Square sponsored by Community Human Services. The girls were there with college students who were cutting T-shirts for quilts. Nelkin was impressed with the young ladies and offered them support.

“I said, ‘If you guys are interested, I’ll get behind this, and we’ll get lots of volunteers,’ ” Nelkin says. “I didn’t expect it would be going on for seven years.”

HomeLost Project
At regularly scheduled sew-ins, groups of volunteers work with Annie Yonas and Griffin Kerstetter to build quilts from T-shirt squares.

Working with the United Way Women’s Leadership Council, HomeLost Project brings in people of all ages, including many families. They set up large tables with sewing machines where 40 to 50 people sew the T-shirt squares together. The girls figure they have produced more than 300 quilts since 2011.

Seven years later, Annie and Griffin recently took home the first “I Do What I Can” award, a collaborative honor from the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and The Fred Rogers Company. The award was part of the Good Neighbor Day Awards ceremony.

While they are still very young, Nelkin is impressed with how Annie and Griffin have grown. He credits multiple influences, including their parents, for their maturation from the shy, reserved girls he met at the sleep-in in 2011.

“They found a safe space with their families,” he says. “Some of this is instinctive, and some of it is taught.”

Kids can only achieve awareness like Annie and Griffin when allowed to experience the world as it really is, Walnoha says. Their parents haven’t tried to hide life’s less happy things from them, she says, and have gone to great lengths to discuss the tough issues.

The girls, in turn, have met the world head-on, interviewing homeless families themselves to learn how homelessness happens and what the girls can do that might be meaningful to them.

Now students at Dorseyville Middle School, Annie and Griffin expect to keep working on the HomeLost Project until they head to college when they’d like to hand it over to another generation. They hope to be welcomed back to participate in quilt sew-ins, of course.

They are under no illusion that their quilts will solve the scourge of homelessness.

“I’m not sure there’s a way to solve the problem,” Griffin says. “But there’s a way to improve it, and we all have a role to play.”

Babies love books: Here are the year’s best bets

Kidsburgh Staff
April17/ 2018

Even if babies don’t quite understand all the words, they love cuddling up on a warm lap, looking at pictures and listening to the rhythm of language.

It’s never too early to begin reading aloud to babies. It’s a simple way to make your child smarter and have a better chance at future success. According to the 30 Million Words Project, kids who hear more than 30 million words by age 4 are better prepared for school. With 85 percent of a child’s brain developing in the first three years of life, reading together is that much more important.

But it’s fun, too, for the babies and the readers.

Every year since 2000, a panel of Pittsburgh librarians and child development experts has selected the 10 Best Books for Babies published the previous year.

The 2018 book list guarantees quality reading for babies from infancy to 18 months.

This year’s top 10 books were selected from more than 100 titles submitted by publishers, committee members and local librarians.

“The important thing is to shower your child with sounds and language, warmth and affection,” says Lisa Dennis, coordinator of children’s collections at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and chair of the committee. “Word by word, book by book, you’re preparing your baby for educational success and lifelong enjoyment.”

The committee considered whether the story sounded good when read aloud, and the level of reader participation and interaction. Did the text have interesting language and introduce new vocabulary? Were illustrations engaging for children?

You can judge for yourself with this list of Best Books for Babies:

best books

100 First Words by Dawn Sirett (DK Publishing). A mix of photos and illustrations in bright colors on big, sturdy pages offers plenty of opportunities to point and say the names of body parts, clothes, toys, colors, food and pets.

best books

El Autobús by Chris Demarest and Carlos Calvo (Houghton Mifflin). Simple phrases in Spanish and English accompany energetic, stylized illustrations in primary colors outlined in black to showcase the sights and activities of a busy urban environment.

best books

Black White by Tana Hoban (Greenwillow Books). Animals, toys and everyday objects appear in crisp black or white silhouette in this wordless board book perfect for sharing with infants.

best books

Cat Nap by Toni Yuly (Feiwel & Friends). Interesting perspectives and sly humor enhance the story of a playful kitten’s interactions with a tired but tolerant older cat.

best books

Getting Ready by Child’s Play, illustrated by Cocoretto (Child’s Play International). Varying textures and bright colors make familiar objects in this board book fun to interact with and perfect as a springboard for conversation and object identification.

best books

Littles: And How They Grow by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by AG Ford (Doubleday Books for Young Readers). Bouncy rhyming text and plentiful illustrations catalog the ways that babies are loved, fed and cared for by all kinds of parents and families.

best books

Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions (Abrams Appleseed). Clear, engaging photographs of a group of expressive babies are paired with text that encourages listeners to identify individuals and mimic the emotions displayed; a mirror on the last page allows babies to see themselves.

best books

Mouse Is Small by Mary Murphy (Candlewick Press). Shaped pages flip easily, simply drawn animals are cheerful and charming, and changing background colors add interest, making this brief board book an engaging first narrative for little listeners.

best books

Peek-A-Boo Zoo! by Jane Cabrera (Little Bee Books). The familiar game takes on an exotic appeal as a ring-tailed lemur plays peekaboo with a variety of other animals; clever die-cuts and interesting patterns enhance the simply composed paintings.

best books

Up!: How Families around the World Carry Their Little Ones by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Ashley Barron (Owlkids Books). Cut paper collage illustrations give a three-dimensional feel to pictures that show babies in a variety of countries being toted by parents, siblings and other relatives.

A little help? Be My Neighbor Day recruits family volunteers

Kidsburgh Staff
April17/ 2018

Who knew better than Fred Rogers the importance of being a good neighbor? “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” promoted the idea of helping others in every episode.

Daniel Tiger welcomes a new generation of kids to his animated neighborhood. In a special “Neighbor Day” episode, Daniel sees how one kind act can lead to a chain reaction of kindness.

That’s the idea behind the family volunteer weekend offered through WQED’s Be My Neighbor Day.

Families can sign up for volunteer opportunities for all ages, neighborhoods and time commitments, from 30 minutes of snack bag assembly at Heinz History Center to 5 hours of cleaning at Family House. Kids might enjoy washing a firetruck, cleaning a playground, playing games with seniors or making greeting cards.

Visit Pittsburgh Cares to browse through volunteer options and sign up for one or two for your family team.

All the volunteer activities are planned the same day – Saturday, April 21.

As a reward for those good deeds, volunteers are invited to a free Thank You Day event on Sunday, April 22. The day will highlight activities for families with little kids, including a story time and visits by Daniel Tiger and Katerina Kittycat.

Maker Monday: Rain-Making Experiment

maker monday
Sally Quinn
April16/ 2018

This fun and easy Maker Monday STEM project explains how rain is made. With shaving cream representing clouds and food coloring giving a visual of rain sinking through via gravity, kids can learn a lot about weather.

Before working on the Rain-Making Experiment, talk to your kids about the cycle of water — evaporation into the air, creating clouds, and how gravity returns the water back to the ground in the form of rain or snow. Explain how clouds are made up of tiny droplets of water or ice so insubstantial and light, they float in the air. When billions and billions of the droplets come together, they make clouds.

It might be fun to illustrate the cycle in a drawing. A fun, printer-friendly placemat for kids with more detailed information can be downloaded from the US Geological Survey website.

maker monday


Clear glass or plastic jar

Shaving cream

Food coloring


maker monday

Fill the jar about 3/4 full with water. Add a layer of shaving cream on top. We found that if you make the shaving cream too thick, it takes a while for the “rain” to develop. Just an inch or two is plenty.

maker monday

Dot the top of the shaving cream with food coloring.

maker monday

Watch as the food coloring sinks through the “cloud” making trails of “rain” in the water.

For more Maker Monday projects and other fun stuff for kids, visit the Kidsburgh Activities page.