Saturday, November 21, 2015

Basket Brigade

Each year in our county something very special happens the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Numerous volunteers converge on our local state college to deliver Thanksgiving baskets to families in need in the communities in our county.  This year at my school, 3 of our service clubs collaborated to create 2 baskets each. I also sent home the event flyer inviting club students and their parents to participate by creating a basket  and/or helping to deliver baskets as a family. I am proud to say 2 of our students and their parents showed up along with my school principal and myself.  All of us together, along with dozens of other volunteers contributed to the almost 600 hundred baskets which were collected and delivered.

This grassroots project was started 19 years ago by a gentleman named Jay, who had attended a conference that encouraged people to give back and make a change in their community.  The Basket Brigade was his brainchild.  His idea involved collecting addresses only, no names, of families in need, create a basket (think laundry basket) with everything required for a Thanksgiving meal (no perishables, include a gift card for a turkey) and deliver it to their home. No judgments, no questions, just Happy Thanksgiving from someone who cares about you.

My District Counseling Specialist has taken a huge role in this project and Jay told me today he is in the process of  handing off the Basket Brigade to her.  Around the beginning of October each year, our Counseling Specialist sends out an email to all our School Counselors asking for the addresses of families in need.  Families are not told about the baskets, as there is no guarantee there will be enough donated for all the addresses collected. This information is compiled in a data base, sorted by region of the county, and Mapquest directions are printed for each address. Baskets are collected throughout the month of October and November and on the Saturday before Thanksgiving a huge staging area is set up in the parking lot of our state college who has partnered with Jay in this venture.

 Long before the anyone else arrives at the college, event organizers have laid out baskets in the parking lot, set up tables for doughnuts, registration of volunteer delivery drivers, notes for baskets, and the addresses of families divided by region.  People begin arriving around 8:00 a.m. dropping of baskets, visiting and eating doughnuts before the distribution of addresses, the send-off message, and instructions.

Our instructions were safety first and to go with a buddy. The police had been notified, and were aware, we would be out in the neighborhoods delivering today. Then they asked us to remember the house we deliver to make look nicer than our own, but we don't know that family's story.  Some homes may look abandoned, but there may be families that really live there.  We were told not to leave baskets as that has caused problems in certain neighborhoods.  One of our addresses turned out to be a 4 unit apartment building.  We had no idea which door to deliver to, so I called Jay.  He said, "Just choose one, or look for one with kids."  So we did.  There was a  mom putting two dirty, bedraggled kids in a car.  I asked her if she lived at 316.  She said she did, so I said, "Happy Thanksgiving from someone who cares."  She gratefully took the basket, then said, "We sent food to my daughter's school last week."  My husband told her,  "Good things come back to you."

And it's so true.  Good things do come back to you.  Not always in the physical, tangible sense, but in knowing that  nearly 600 families in our county will be having a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration because I, along with dozens of others, gave up 3 hours on a Saturday to be part of the Basket Brigade.  It was an amazing experience and I look forward to getting my school more involved next year.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Making your data POP with infographics!

Well ,it has been a little more than a quarter of the school year and have been faithfully using my Google form for tracking my Daily Counselor Activities.  In looking at my data, I realize several things.  First, how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to have an administration that values what I do and allows me to do the job of counseling. My data clearly shows that more than 90% of my time is spent in direct services to students. Secondly, as much as I like my Google form I have to do some revising to make some of my data a little easier to summarize and share.  I will share that next week.

But today, I want to focus on presenting your data.  I love the graphs created automatically in Google forms for use in my PowerPoint presentations, however I wanted something more. I was looking for something with a lot of visual appeal and an "at a glance" look at how I spend my time in my school counseling program.  I

Sharing Data with Others
Before I even began looking at my Google form "Summary of Responses" I had been thinking about how to put my quarterly data in some sort of cool "infographic" format. I had seen lots of awesome charts folks had made but didn't know how to go about making one of my own.  So I used my favorite search engine and typed in "infographic charts" and two  free web-based programs came up. I have tried them both and have displayed the features and some of the cons below.

Attempt #1 with Canva before using Piktochart
The first infographic I tried was Canva. I really struggled to find a template in which to share my data and eventually created my own.  Not being a terribly creative or artsy person I felt my first attempt was "too wordy" and not the sort of thing I was hoping for with an infographic. However, my shortcomings are not the shortcomings of Canva.  After playing with Picktochart I felt a little more inspired and went back to do some editing on my original document.  I also easily made a graph in Pictochart and wanted to try and
Attempt#2 chwith Canva after using Piktochart
do the same in Canva.  I found that was not possible.
Some features of Canva are:

  • about 20 free templates, lots more for a fee of a few dollars ( it warns you when you go to download your creation if you have pay elements)
  • more than 200 free text frames
  • more than 120 free photo frames
  • large library of clip art (over 1,000,000 pieces, however personally I found it difficult to navigate and many have a fee)
There are some funky things with adding text and changing text size and color in some clip art you can download your creation as a PNG or a PDF file and keep it private. 

The main thing I did not like about Canva was you cannot create a graph in the program.  I tried making a graph in excel, then uploading the graph to Canva and I could never get it to work.  I am sure there must be a way, but I couldn't figure it out. And to be quite honest after trying to copy my graph to Paint and make it a PNG file and that didn't work I said, "Fooey!"  and moved on.

There are tons of other cool ways to use Canva like creating all sorts of awesome social media posts, marketing materials, presentations, posters, blog graphics, and e-books.

The chart to the left I created with Piktochart.  I had a little easier time making this one, using the same drag and drop technology with template elements like frames, graphics and text. Your project is also organized in blocks for ease and flexibility of organizing your ideas.
Some features include:

  • more than 30 categories of icons to choose from
  • more than 40 frames in which you can drop in your photos
  • you can upload images from your computer
  • you can insert charts,  graphs, maps, and videos
  • you can CREATE graphs right there in your document!!!
  • over 75 backgrounds to choose from you can adjust for color and opacity
  • over 240 cool text frames in which you can edit for size, color, and font

Piktochart is free, but with limited templates; only about 10.  However, for just $39.99 a year, educator's account, you can get over 400 templates for free with no watermark. When you download your creation with Pictograph it is public on the web.  The only way for it to be private is if you buy a subscription.  With Canva, the download of your creation is free and it is private, but the price of some of its elements can add up over time so, it might be worth it to buy the educators version. The Picktochart  educator's version gives you access to over 400 free templates, no watermark ,and the ability to keep your creation private.

Piktochart allows you to create incredible infographics, presentations, posters and reports.  However, if you are interested in creating graphics for your social media posts you will probably want to stick with Canva.  If you are really artistic and interested in learning more about design, Canva also has a design school and newsletter for those who enjoy a creative challenge.

After playing with both Canva and Piktochart, I see their strengths and will be using each for the tasks for which they are best designed.  Take some time and play with both. It's fun and the finished products are amazing!

Happy Creating!!!