The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 28: The Kanjias’ First Snow

We were put in a hotel when we first arrived, since no house was ready for us. To me, Worcester looked like the cleanest city in the world. I loved it.

I felt the hotel would be our home for a while, but it was only for three days. The children and I would leave the room to look at the trees that beautified the place like flowers. Flowers were not visible then, it was the colorful tree leaves that showed. Yes! It was fall — a season I would learn more about — and the leaves had changed colors. Our case worker, Chris Lamboi, was also from Sierra Leone. We thought he was going to be a very good source for development and enlightenment into American life.

Our apartment was ready, Chris came to tell us. I could not believe we were already leaving our luxurious room. Our bundles were not much; I had acquired nothing to bring over here. I had a few books and my neckties. And my photo album. Theresa, my wife, would tease me, saying, “You take delight [only] in [old] photos, addresses and phone numbers.”

This place was very cold for us, and we had no heavy clothes for it. We huddled in the corner of the room and waited for Chris to come back and take us home. Once he picked us up, we drove across the city, looking everywhere. My two kids asked me loads of questions. I didn’t know what to say, except to make up answers from what I’d learned.

For example, Mary asked, “Daddy, what seasons do they have here?” I tried to say what I knew. I said with confidence (but not in correct sequence), “Summer, winter and spring. We have the dry and wet seasons” in West Africa.

Our new house was on Ellsworth Street, not far from Kelley Square. The traffic was quite confusing. I had never seen such crazy traffic like Kelley Square, with no traffic lights. That was not my worry because I had never seen a traffic light in Sierra Leone. In Senegal and Gambia, sure, but never in my homeland.

Chris spent a long time talking big during our ride. He said he had been driving in Worcester for ages with no accident record, and that Kelley Square was no trouble for him. But we sat at the intersection for more than 10 minutes waiting for Chris to drive through. At last, we were free. It was evening.

Augustine’s last chapter: Goodbye, Gambia Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

A Mother’s Journey [Part 34]: The gift of reflection

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January but has transformed considerably since. During her journey she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Giselle Rivera-Flores

The holidays are officially here, and while many people are out enjoying their gift shopping and hot cocoa sipping, maybe even relaxing by the fireplace after a long day at work, I am frantically wondering, “How the hell am I going to get this all done?”

Work has become life. It gets harder and harder to turn off that Woopreneur switch inside. Finding a balance between work and life has been a struggle from the beginning of this journey, and while I often do well fitting both business and leisure time into my day, it’s becoming increasingly hard to do.

The struggle, though, helps remind me that above all, family comes first. I try to remember that to achieve professionally, we must achieve personally. Creating memories and building upon the foundations of what is important to our family is an essential part of happy success.

Considering the time of year, I want to give my fellow entrepreneurs some friendly advice about surviving the holidays and getting work done before it’s time to put on that ugly sweater.

Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The original Woopreneur, or scroll down to explore more of her story

A Mother’s Journey [Part 33]: The original ‘Woopreneur’

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January but has transformed considerably since. During her journey she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Giselle Rivera-Flores

When people find themselves pulled in a million directions, it is often difficult to stop for a moment and reflect on your journey. When you have your eye on the prize, nothing else matters.

Lack of sleep and tough-to-navigate schedules become part of the plan. Eventually, it feels natural. People ask me for advice all the time. They ask about the nitty gritty of social media and marketing, but the question I’m asked most often is, “How do you have time for everything?”

Although from the outside looking in this all seems like organized chaos, the answer is simple:

This is my life.

Read Giselle’s previous chapter: The network effect Or scroll down for more

A Mother’s Journey [Part 28]: The great debate

Editor’s note: Since last September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January but has transformed considerably since. During her journey she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Giselle Rivera-Flores

William Shakespeare might have been a fan of The Learning Hub. Among the many things he’s remembered for writing or saying was this nugget: “to climb steep hills requires slow pace at first.” That is how The Learning Hub intends to grow. Not all at once, but with each step.

While I feel The Hub has an immense level of potential to skyrocket, I continue to promote our brand and work steadily to make it more about quality than quantity. At first, anyway. Like the nature vs. nurture debate, the quality vs. quantity question has been held as a pivotal point in determining the early success of a business.

Many argue for better quality — to me, pushing out bad material, products or services into the market is uncalled for — while others support the notion that quantity — or market share — is the biggest component of success. Promotion, promotion, promotion! Putting your business out for the world to see is said to be the most effective way of launching a successful venture.


Catch up with Giselle’s most recent chapter, The Book of Hub, or scroll down to begin from earlier in her inspiring quest.


A Mother’s Journey [Part 27]: The Book of Hub

Editor’s note: Since last September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January but has transformed considerably since. During her journey she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Giselle Rivera-Flores

It seems the education system struggles to provide students in public schools STEM and STEAM [STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; the A is for Art] education. While public schools deal with higher teacher-to-student ratios and a constant budget crisis, The Learning Hub has found a willing partner in local public libraries, which are helping to fill the void of missing after-school programs and in-school study options in many inner cities.

Public libraries have always been valued as an important element in any community. Creating a space filled with unlimited knowledge and resources, these local libraries are shifting what they offer the residents of their communities. Attractions in any city, libraries have the ability to revitalize a community by bringing different groups together, addressing social issues and introducing things like historical artifacts to an audience that may never reach a museum. They also make business and entrepreneurial resources more accessible.

The library is one of the most versatile tools that can be used to enrich any area, especially inner cities.


Catch up with Giselle’s most recent chapter, The kernels of wisdom, or scroll down to start from earlier in her inspiring journey


A Mother’s Journey [Part 26]: The kernels of wisdom

Editor’s note: Since September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January but has transformed considerably since. During her journey she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Nelson Mandela, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and global human rights icon who died in 2013, famously claimed that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

With our Maker Monday classes at Worcester Public Library the last few weeks, I could see this happening firsthand.

Not only have we engaged our students and participants with stimulating lesson plans and interactive maker classes, but we are forming relationships and bonds with children who do not always have steady influences from positive role models.

We want our students to grow and have a well-balanced life, and while our core mission is to educate and open the doors of opportunity, we are also on a mission to create a space for peer interaction.

Education is a powerful tool, for sure, but so is the act of compassion.


Catch up with Giselle’s most recent chapter, The full head of steam, or scroll down to start from earlier in her journey from concerned mother to fledgling entrepreneur


A Mother’s Journey [Part 25]: The full head of steam

Editor’s note: Since September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January but has transformed considerably since. During her journey she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Two classes into Maker Mondays at Worcester Public Library and I can feel the buzz surrounding The Learning Hub gaining an enormous level of momentum. Students have already started to request early signups for the upcoming schedule of free, interactive learning classes.

The first Maker Monday, on Aug. 1, explored the diverse lands of art and impressionism. While I spoke to the students, as young as seven years old, their eyes lit up with excitement. Hearing about the struggles of Vincent van Gogh and his love for Paris, they learned about the impressionist movement — and even painted their very own Starry Night interpretation.

With each brushstroke, they asked questions and spoke about their own love for painting. Some students stayed past class time to perfect their masterpieces and grab materials to take home.

We — as in me and my assistant tutor Samantha Butera — start each class with a lesson lecture about our topic as we ask our students questions in regard to their previous experience in the area. For our van Gogh paint lab, many students did not know of his name, nor did they know that van Gogh’s Portrait of a Man in a Top Hat hangs on the expansive walls of Worcester Art Museum.

Maker Mondays featuring van Gogh, with Giselle, left, Samantha Butera, right, and the gang at Worcester Public Library.

Courtesy Giselle Rivera-Flores

Maker Mondays featuring van Gogh, with Giselle, left, Samantha Butera, right, and the gang at Worcester Public Library.

We made it a point that by the end of the class, each student understood some element of van Gogh’s life and work, and a greater appreciation for the arts in general. Although it was our first class, we had an attendance of 13 students and a reinvigorating level of energy for learning in a space they’ve visited a million times before.


Catch up with Giselle’s most recent chapter, The starting line, finally, or scroll down to start from earlier in her journey


Sun Serial: A Mother’s Journey | Part 24 — The starting line, finally

Editor’s note: Since September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January. During her journey she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

 

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Only a day away from our first Maker Monday class at Worcester Public Library, and we find ourselves launching this program during a fortuitous time of economic development in Worcester. The city has faced many challenges but I feel like there is no greater time to boost the morale and needs of our community than now.

Maker Monday — a four-week series of STEAM [STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, classes, with Art incorporated] courses at the library’s main branch — are just the beginning of The Learning Hub’s latest launch.

With hourlong classes for 9- to 12-year-olds centering on Van Gogh, the science of clouds, creative writing, food sustainability and environmental literacy, we look to leverage what we consider the city’s greatest educational needs into a viable, fully comprehensible early-development tool for students. The free classes will be held from 11 a.m. to noon on Aug. 1, Aug. 8, Aug. 15 and Aug. 22.

Breathing new life into the interactive programs of the library, we will strive to keep students engaged, excited and yearning for new learning material. For the nonprofit Hub, once envisioned as a tutoring center on Pleasant Street, this venture with the library is a first step in our goal of reaching and helping many young people.

giselle_vangoghIt is fair to say that our journey has not been one without a few potholes, but throughout the path less traveled, our entrepreneurial spirit has given us the motivation needed to create and integrate a program that can make a difference in the lives of many.


Read Giselle’s most recent chapter, The stemming of the tide, or scroll down to start from earlier in her journey

Sun Serial: A Mother’s Journey | Part 23 — The stemming of the tide

Editor’s note: Since September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January. Her journey, though, is far from over.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Giselle Rivera-Flores

The Learning Hub has encountered many obstacles and triumphs over the last six months. And while the business continues to evolve in different directions, our initial goals of reaching students with a curriculum of interactive maker classes and affordable tutoring is still underway.

Our business model has changed and it has whittled the very meaning behind the name itself – bringing together resources as a malleable hub for learning in different communities (rather than in one hard-to-afford location).

We are ready to begin our maker class schedule at the Worcester Public Library, with a launch date of Aug. 1, But while we organize and implement our program here in Worcester, we will also look to other inner cities facing the same educational challenges to spark our program within those communities.

Dan Ekberg, a SCORE business mentor assigned to me through the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce’s StartUp Worcester program, has been a great resource for The Learning Hub as it approaches its new future.

The dual goals of reaching a vast market of students and keeping our maker classes free for participating students entail a bit more capital to run than I personally can fund. Ekberg has advised us on the usage of grant funds to propel our mission forward, and although I am a writer, I am most definitely not a grant writer.

SCORE can connect me to a great network of talented and well-versed business mentors who can lead the way in the world of grants.


Read Giselle’s most recent chapter, The Pleasant Street exit, or scroll down to start from earlier in her journey.

Sun Serial: A Mother’s Journey | Part 22 — The Pleasant Street exit

Editor’s note: Since September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a nonprofit tutoring collaborative that began officially in late January. Her journey, though, is far from over.

Inspiration isn’t always found in between the layers of research entrepreneurs shuffle through while trying to build the master plan of their business or during the sleepless nights filled with brainstorming. Instead, it can be found through the connections made by promoting and networking the business.

A startup, to me, is like your first born.

It is a young, highly ambitious bundle of ideas, packaged into a delicate wrap of blood, sweat and tears, and while no one outside your network can truly understand the magic behind this first born … you can. You can see its potential to be innovative, to create change and ultimately fill the empty space of human need.

Samantha Butera has joined the Hub team.

Courtesy Samantha Butera

Samantha Butera has joined the Hub team.

And while you’re pouring your time and energy into this ever-evolving idea, it is hard to imagine that anyone could share that same level of dedication and determination to make this intangible something into a viable product or service with an enormous platform of potential. But every so often, the world of networking brings you in contact with someone who not only shares the same vision, but also has the skill sets to help launch your startup into the next phase.


Read Giselle’s most recent chapter, The momentum conundrum, or scroll down to catch up from somewhere earlier in her journey.