BY: KIMBERLY BABIN
Fullyalive101 is a conversation about health and wellness in mind, body and spirit. We believe that joy, success, and happiness all come from curating a life that explores fun, unique and creative ways to live FULLY ALIVE, to live the life you were born to. In this series, we are celebrating visionaries who embody this spirit and help others to live an awesome, empowered life.
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Alexis Astorina is a mother of four who believes in turning dreams into a reality. As a volunteer and parent, she identified a need in her community for additional art education and other learning opportunities that could reach more children, and has worked tirelessly to transform that vision into a reality, creating multiple after-school clubs and activities granting new possibilities for hundreds of area youths.
“There are times where it often feels overwhelming, but because what we are doing has such a huge positive impact on our school, the students, and our families, it makes it feel very much worth it. It fuels me to keep going.”
fullyalive101: What inspired you to create the clubs and activities?
AA: I have one high school student, and three that are in elementary. When my children first started attending Colene Hoose (Normal, IL), I was very happy with the school, but was disappointed that we only had one after school club, chess.
I volunteered with the Art Masterpiece Program for several years, a program where parent volunteers come into the classroom during the school day and present an art lesson and activity based off of works of fine art. What I found though was that there were not enough parent volunteers available during the school day, and many classrooms were being left out of this learning opportunity entirely. I wanted to expand our art education into the after school hours with the hopes that we could reach more children, and no one would be left out that wanted more learning experiences.
fullyalive101: What has the creation process entailed to take the clubs from an idea to a reality and kept them going with such rapid growth and high interest?
AA: I approached our principal, Dr. Adam Zbrozek, two years ago and spoke with him about my concerns and asked for his help in creating more after school learning opportunities for our students. He agreed, and the following year we put everything into action.
Dr Zbrozek was able to secure a grant so that we could purchase Lego Education robotics kits. Our first year doing the clubs we had to have a lottery system due to the fact that so many students showed interest, and we did not have enough robotics kits to meet the demand. The plan from the start was to leave Art Club enrollment open, but it was not anticipated that we would end up with a total of 203 kids that signed up. We worked incredibly hard to find the volunteers, space for the clubs and storage, and to make it so we could accommodate and allow all of those students the chance to participate. At the end of the year we put on two large art shows for the Art club kids.
We have parent volunteers that also come in each week to help with the set up and clean up, and assist with helping the kids with their art projects. I work with Hoose's retired art teacher, Mrs. Caslow on planning the art projects to make sure they are educational. Last year an ISU grad student named Kayla Hueneburg planned all of our projects, and she has volunteered in assisting me again this year as well. The Art Club has lead and assistant teachers in each room that consist of a few school staff members but are mainly made up of parents and grandparents.
Going into this school year, I had a feeling our numbers were going to increase for both clubs. I spent my entire summer filling out grant and donation requests and proposals, and asking companies to donate art supplies. I had several families that donated their State Farm volunteer grant money to our clubs as well. All of this was a huge help, because this year we have 250 kids (out of a school population of 520), that signed up for Art Club. We had 200 students sign up for Lego Club. We were able to keep enrollment open to all of the students because we had the funding necessary to buy more art supplies and also to purchase more Lego kits.
fullyalive101: How have children, the school, and the community benefited from the clubs?
AA: It has increased school spirit a lot among the students. The children are extra excited on club days. They talk about the clubs constantly, and their feedback has been that they love what we are offering. I have children that approach me and want to talk with me about art and the projects we have done. The only complaint I ever receive is that our clubs don't run long enough, but I think if we gave them a choice they would have us run them all year long, going on every school day.
My hopes are that our community, and others, will see what we are doing and be inspired to start up more after school clubs in their own schools. I want to show that what we are doing is possible. It's a lot of work, but the reward for the children is life changing.
I want for parents to love their child's school, and I want for parents to feel like they belong and are welcome to be involved. Our art rooms for Art Club are run by a few of our school's staff, but the main bulk of our volunteers are parents and grandparents of our students. The children at our schools are benefiting greatly.
It's my belief that by offering children high quality educational after school programs, that this extension of their learning day will help in all aspects of their learning. There is a lot of research that has been done on after school programs that shows a wide range of positive benefits to children.
We have our art work up at the Normal Public Library right now. I have had feedback from them that there have been more children coming into the library, and they have seen families sign up for library cards that didn't previously have them. Sharing the children's art work, and sharing overall what we are doing with the community has been all very positive. It's been fun as a parent to see our school get recognition for all of the hard work we are doing to improve our school.
I would love to have the opportunity to help and assist other schools in starting up after schools clubs. I would be willing to come in and volunteer or offer advice for anyone that was interested. In an ideal world, all schools would have after school club and opportunities like this. I’m willing to help in any way I can.
Fullyalive101: What does living “fully alive” mean to you and how do the clubs support that idea?
AA: I put all of my free time into my work on our school's clubs. For me, the work I do on the clubs is very personally rewarding. It's rewarding to see how it impacts so many children.
For me, living fully alive involves helping others. I am passionate about this work and what I am doing, and I have put my whole self into it. I believe that at least part of the success of all of this has to stem from the fact that I have put my full heart into it. There are times where it often feels overwhelming, but because what we are doing has such a huge positive impact on our school, the students, and our families, it makes it feel very much worth it. It fuels me to keep going.
I often get asked how I am able to do all of this, on top of two jobs and a large family. Volunteer work is a choice, and if it speaks to you and what you are doing really matters to you, then you are always able to find the time.
Putting everything I have into our after school clubs makes me feel like I am being authentic to my true self, and that drive gives me the energy I need to get it all done. To me, being fully alive requires one to not live in fear of failure or the unknown. It means having the courage to dream big and actually following through on making it a reality.