All posts by Ariel Graham

Ariel Graham is a freelance reporter and blogger. She graduated from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Media & Communication in December of 2011. Prior to moving to Dallas, she worked for AM 790 KFYO in Lubbock, Texas, as a commercial voiceover actress, board operator, and producer for “Lubbock’s First News” & “The Chad Hasty Show.” She also wrote a weekly technology blog “The Geek Girl Report,” as well as various news stories and podcasts for the station. She is currently working on her new blog “Super Geek Girl Report,” and in her free time, she enjoys drawing, video editing, and playing video games.

KIB recognizes individuals, businesses

Over a dozen Irving citizens and businesses were recognized for their efforts in helping beautify the city during the 2017 Mayor and Keep Irving Beautiful Awards reception hosted at First Baptist Church of Irving on Monday, Aug. 7.

Keep Irving Beautiful (KIB) is a non-profit program dedicated to educating the citizens of Irving on litter abatement, recycling and beautification to make the city a cleaner, greener place to live. Every year, KIB partners with Irving’s mayor to hold an awards banquet to honor both individuals and organizations who went above and beyond in their efforts, either through volunteer work, corporate sponsorship, or contribution to the community.

Principal Kelly Giddens of Barton Elementary School received the Educator Award. Nominated for her commitment to both her school and the environment, Giddens led her students in trash pickup and recycling efforts. In 2016, Barton Elementary was named the top paper recycler in the district, recycling over 86,000 pounds of paper on campus, or nearly 100 pounds per student.

“It’s a great honor, but I feel like I can’t accept it just for myself,” Giddens said. “This is the doing of my students. We have 800 students at Barton Elementary and they are all very environmentally conscious. We have a Green Team that’s been in place for many, many years. Last year when they recycled so much paper, I knew then, immediately, these kids are invested in not just Irving, but Earth. It’s exciting to see kids so young want to be involved.

“I wish other communities did the work that happens here with Keep Irving Beautiful. It’s vital because we all know that resources are limited. We know that unless we take care of each other, we take care of the environment and our city, it won’t be what the people who came before us worked so hard to create. Everybody’s got to be involved and do their part to make things wonderful for the generations to come.”

Brandon Morton, an adjunct professor of biology and sustainability coordinator from North Lake College, also received the Educator Award. During his time at the University of North Texas, he served on the President’s Sustainability Council and co-authored a wind turbine project for the nation’s first Platinum LEED certified football stadium. Today, he promotes a number of green, eco-friendly initiatives on the campus of North Lake College.

“It’s really heartening to be surrounded by peers and the community that also care about keeping Irving beautiful,” Morton said. “I think one of the big successes with KIB is that they work cross-sector. They’re working with non-profits, schools, churches, businesses, chambers, colleges. It’s really all over the spectrum. It’s one of the cornerstones of the organization.”

KIB itself also received recognition earlier this year, earning the Keep America Beautiful (KAB) President’s Circle National Award as well as the Keep Texas Beautiful (KTB) Gold Star State Award. These are the highest honors KAB and KTB can award an organization.

The committees also recognized City of Irving Code Enforcement. KAB named the department 1st place in Overall Community Improvement, and KTB named them 2nd place in the Government Program Category.

“It makes me really proud of all of my team members, both the KIB group and the code officers that are out there in the trenches every single day doing what they do,” Code Enforcement Director Teresa Adrian said. “It can be considered a thankless job sometimes, but they don’t look at it that way. We really appreciate the partnership we have with our citizens and the ability to go out there and hopefully improve the quality of life for folks in our city.

“Everybody has a goal of making Irving more beautiful. Regardless of how they’re going about doing it, it really is a joint effort and a shared vision for Irving.”

Additional winners are as follows:
Boy Scout Troop 508 – Youth Leadership Award
Baptist Benevolent Ministries of Irving – Faith Group Award
FASTSIGNS Irving/Las Colinas – Business and Industry Award
Verizon – Business and Industry Award
Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce – Media Award
DFW Humane Society – Civic Organization Award
City of Irving Water Utilities Department – Green Government Award
Detective John Shingle – Civil Servant Award
Barry Allen – KIB Hometown Award
Councilman David Palmer – KIB Hometown Award
Shareen Altum – Lifetime Achievement Award.

Irving police teach women’s self-defense

Irving police officers taught women how to fight back against would-be attackers during the Girls Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) Camp held Monday, Aug. 7 through Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Irving Police and Fire Training Academy.

During the free four-day course, women of all ages learned how to defend themselves and their loved ones from attacks. The RAD system is a comprehensive, women-only course that focuses on awareness, prevention, and risk avoidance while incorporating self-defense techniques like strikes and escaping holds.

Counselors were also available to talk to the women about what to do if they or someone they love are assaulted as well as steps they should take to protect themselves.

“The techniques are designed to complement a woman in the way she would naturally fight,” Officer Jill Smith said.

“Not every technique will work for every person, regardless of age or size. But we teach many different types of techniques so that somebody’s going to find something or several things that will work for them.”

Smith emphasized that giving women a variety of techniques to choose from not only allows them to pick and choose what works best for them, but more importantly gives them options other than panicking when confronted by an attacker.

“What we do is we give people options,” Smith said. “There are no guarantees, that’s what we tell everyone, and we tell the girls this as well. But we give you tools for your physical and mental toolbox. If you’re ever in a situation where you have to use something, you’re going to have a lot of options instead of just panicking and screaming.”

This summer course saw primarily younger girls from tween to teenagers. Helen Granello, an 11th-grader at Lancaster High School, was one of the attendees. She was surprised to see such a young group, but was also very pleased that young people were learning how to defend themselves.

“Whenever I first came in, I saw 10-year-olds and I thought that was a really good thing,” Granello said. “It’s good to teach your children this, because [predators] are trying to get them younger and younger. I think it’s a really good skill to learn, especially nowadays.”
Although this course was mostly attended by younger girls, Smith says women of all ages can attend this course and that many come back to the course to refine their skills even further.

“We get a lot of people who will come back for practice and train throughout the year with us,” Smith said. “They get better and better. They build a lot of confidence, and the more they do it, the easier it gets for them.”

In fact, Smith encourages participants to come back and take the course again as many times as they need to feel confident in the techniques.

“We don’t want to instill a false sense of security in anyone. Every time you practice this, every time you do it, you’ll gain more ground. You’ll get better at it, and that’s what it takes to be able to succeed in defending yourself,” she said.

According to the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council Foundation, last year there were over 2,500 reported cases of sexual assault in North Texas alone, with 87 percent of the victims being women. Smith said women need to take steps to protect themselves and to prevent becoming just another statistic.

“There’s not always somebody that you can go to for help,” Smith said. “Sometimes it is going to take the police a little bit of time to get there if you need help from us. I want to be there for you all the time, but it’s not always possible. There’s plenty of time in life when we’re alone in our house or apartment, or alone walking around the mall parking lot, anything like that. It’s important that you learn how to take care of yourself in different situations, and that’s what is great about this program.”

The next round of RAD classes starts Oct. 9 and runs through Oct. 12 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sign-ups will be available on the City of Irving website in September. Those interested may also contact Officer Smith at

Irving ISD welcomes over 300 new teachers

Irving ISD welcomed nearly 330 new teachers to its ranks during the 62nd annual Back-To-School Luncheon presented in the Nimitz High School cafeteria on Wednesday, Aug. 2.

New teachers and professionals joined the staffs of every Irving elementary, middle and high school. They were welcomed to the district by members of the city council, school board, fellow teachers, and Superintendent, Dr. Jose Parra. 

“I can give all of you, as new staff members, the assurance that we will give you the support that you want, the feedback you deserve, and the students that you’re going to come to love,” Parra said. “Our kids will give you more than you could ever dream they could, if you give them that first. I think that’s the amazing thing about our students and our school district. They appreciate the smallest kindness and will always give you more than you think they can, if they think you care about them in the least.”

The event was sponsored by Michaels’. The company gave all the incoming teachers gift cards to help prepare their classrooms for the school year. The district also gave out its annual “Spirit Award” for the group with the most school spirit. This year’s recipients will be teaching at Britain Elementary School.

For many of these teachers, Irving ISD classrooms will be their first teaching positions. Emily Hartwig will be teaching 7th grade humanities at Ladybird Johnson Middle School. From a family of educators, Hartwig is looking forward to teaching in the same school district her father taught in years ago.

“Both of my parents are teachers and I’ve always been around education,” Hartwig said. “One day, I just started thinking about what I really wanted to do, and I liked helping kids, so that’s kind of where I landed. My dad actually taught for Irving ISD for 13 years. He loved it. He felt like they really backed new teachers and they make sure that they provide the resources to build teachers. Coming in as a new teacher, I wanted somewhere that would provide the resources and support me along the way. That’s why I chose Irving ISD.”

Hartwig enjoys teaching middle school students in particular, because she believes they are at an age where their teachers can really make a difference to their futures.

“I feel like they’re at a point where they’re starting to look towards the future and looking towards what they want to do as a career,” Hartwig said. “I feel like I can really help lead them down whatever path they choose and let them know that they can succeed however they want to with whatever path they choose.”

Incoming teacher, Jeremiah Fincher, has taught 6th through 8th grade for the last eight years. This year, he will be teaching Texas History, World History and PE at Ladybird Johnson Middle School.

“My whole family were pretty much educators: my grandparents, my mom, my sister, aunts, uncles,” Fincher said. “It’s basically what I’ve wanted to do my whole life.

“Irving is very unique. It’s in a big area and is a big town, but it’s really got a small city vibe to it.”

Jordan Schneider, another first-time teacher, will be teaching 8th grade English, language arts and reading at Crockett Middle School.

“I worked with youth in a really poor community and saw how teachers treated their students,” Schneider said. “It just wasn’t a really good environment, and I realized the students needed somebody who cared about them. It was too late for me to change my major, so I decided I was going to get my alternate certification, because I can’t complain about something if I don’t do something about it.”

Valley Ranch Library celebrates 50th anniversary of “The Outsiders”

The Valley Ranch Library hosted a 50s-style sockhop on Friday, Aug 4, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the influential young adult novel, “The Outsiders.”

Written by 16-year-old S.E. Hinton, the book was first published on April 24, 1967. It tells the story of Ponyboy Curtis and the conflict between two gangs in the 1960s in rural Oklahoma. Ponyboy and his brothers are the Greasers, a gang of low-income working class teens. Their rivals the Socs, or Socials, are wealthy teens from the other side of town. When one of the Socs is killed by a Greaser, Ponyboy’s life is changed forever as he learns death and pain can affect anyone, no matter what their background.

“It’s a story about social classes,” Annette Burford, youth librarian at the Valley Ranch Library, said. “It’s about bringing differences together. There’s no perfect lifestyle, there’s no perfect group of people, and I think the message S.E. Hinton wanted to get across is that everybody comes from a different walk of life, but everyone is basically the same. Everybody has problems, everybody has conflicts, everybody has the same emotions. It’s important for kids to understand that no matter what walk of life they come from, nothing should hinder them from doing what they want to do, regardless of their background.”

Although the book is 50 years old, Burford believes its message is just as relevant today.

“It’s really different [today] as far as teen angst and problems people go through,” Burford said. “But it‘s all part of life, and everybody goes through it.”

The book was considered highly controversial at the time of its publication. It was ranked #38 on the “American Library Association’s Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999” for its portrayal of gang violence, underage smoking and drinking, and strong language. Despite the controversy, The Outsiders was adapted into a film in 1983 directed by Francis Ford Coppola and also had a TV series adaptation in 1990.

Mindy Ewing, a volunteer with the Valley Ranch library, saw the film when she was a teenager.

“I saw the movie for the first time in the theater when it was showing,” Ewing said. “It’s one of those things that sticks with you. All teens have conflict, no matter what clique you’re in. You’re not always a Greaser, and there’s not always knife fights, but there’s always some kind of clique conflict between teens. I thought it was encapsulating of what we were feeling without us being able to express it.”

In addition to being directed by Coppola, the film also boasted a cast of up-and-coming stars, including Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise, and Diane Lane.

“Being that I saw [the movie] back then, I have grown up with all these actors,” Ewing said. “They’re very young, and it’s almost hard to realize that those people you’re seeing there are really famous actors now and that this was one of their first big breakout roles.”

The party was held as part of a tri-annual book party series held at Valley Ranch. The library held similar events this year for The Chronicles of Narnia in January and Alice in Wonderland in March.

“The parties are a great way to introduce classic books to a new audience, whether it is families who are new to the country or tweens and teens who haven’t yet encountered the book in school,” said Marianne Follis, the head librarian of Valley Ranch Library. “By creating a party, we give the books fun and memorable points of access which will hopefully stay with the attendees.”

“Human Library” comes alive at West Irving Library

Library patrons had a unique opportunity to ‘borrow’ people during the “Human Library” presented at the West Irving Library on Saturday, July 22.

The Human Library project invited individuals to ‘check out’ real people from various ethnic, social, and marginalized communities, and ask them questions. The project has featured a wide variety of humans, from sexual abuse and traumas survivors to Muslims and transgendered individuals, all with the purpose of educating the community and helping to dispel harmful stereotypes surrounding those groups.

The event was held as part of the library’s city-wide Summer Reading Challenge and this year’s theme was “Build a Better World.”

“The Human Library was started in Denmark and it’s designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudice by talking to people who have dealt with them,” said Linda Opella, librarian at West Irving Library. “Everyone has a story to tell, and this is just a way for them to tell their story to other people and other people can say, ‘Oh, that’s really interesting. I never thought about it that way,’ or ‘I never looked at it that way.’ Hopefully, it can challenge stereotypes and prejudices and change minds.”

This was the first Human Library event held at the West Irving Library and featured three local individuals. Sylvia Nordeman, a communication specialist for the library, was one of the storytellers at the event. Nordeman suffered two miscarriages before giving birth to her son, all within a span of two years. She wanted to share her story to help people understand what it is really like to go through a miscarriage and how they can help those who have experienced it.

“When I had my miscarriage, I felt like there were so many things that people didn’t understand about it,” Nordeman said. “People were very reluctant to talk about it. People just wanted to sweep it under the rug. I thought it would be so much better if we could have an open conversation about it.”

Patrick Booth, a drug addiction counselor from Lewisville, Texas, walked away from his job in the corporate world to travel the world as a missionary. Booth has visited 11 different Latin American countries and has written a book about his adventures titled The Long Road Home.

“When I sold my business and went out into the mission field for a year visiting those 11 different countries, I was blogging. At the end of it, I just felt that this story was bigger than me,” Booth said. “I put it down into a book specifically so I could share it. I want to continue to share it because my story is really beyond me.”

Susan Sullivan, a web designer who currently lives in Argyle, Texas, walked away from the corporate world to start a farm where she raises chickens and bees. Through her story, Sullivan hopes people will gain more interest in learning where their food comes from.

“I like telling my story because I like to talk to people about the food they eat, where it comes from, teach people that you can eat food that’s ethical and sustainable, and that animals don’t really need to suffer,” she said.

Although the stories were different, all three participates learned others were just as happy to share their own stories.

“It was really nice to be able to hear not just their interest in my story, but also hear how it connects to their individual stories,” Booth said. “I really feel like everyone has a story that they can share, so it was nice to be able to hear their inspiration and be inspired by them as well as to share my story and let them be inspired by me.”

“Tea with the Sheriff” discusses Dallas County Sheriff Department programs

Officer Paul Lehmann with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department discussed how his department is helping to “Build a Better World” during “Tea with the Sheriff,” hosted at the East Irving Library on Thursday, July 27.

During the presentation, Lehmann first went over services the Sheriff’s Department is required by law to provide. These services include keeping the Dallas County Jail, serving warrants and subpoenas, coordinating extradition of prisoners, and providing bailiffs for county and city courts. While these services are necessary for any Sheriff’s Department, Lehmann wants to focus on the programs that are not required by law but were created by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department to help the community.

“If a judge tells you to go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), people go to AA because they’re told to and they want to get out,” Lehmann said. “Even though we offer AA, for all the good it does, that’s been left out of the kind of things I put in to the ‘Build a Better World’ (program). These are the things that the Sheriff’s Department is trying to do, on its own, to ease the workload and ease problems we’re finding in the community.”

One of those problem-solving services is the homeless diversion program, which is designed to help homeless and/or mentally impaired individuals stay out of jail and get into programs that can help them.

“If you are mentally ill or homeless and picked up on the kinds of charges that mentally ill and homeless people tend to get picked up on, which is shoplifting, trespassing, things like that, there is a program in place now to identify you and will divert you over to a judge who will let you out of jail without bond, on the condition you go to drug counseling or you go to mental health services,” Lehmann said. A similar program was also created to assist prostitutes, offering to let them go free if they agree to seek help for whatever initially drove them to prostitution.

Lehmann discussed many other services the department provides, from education and vocational training for inmates, to roadside assistance with the Courtesy Patrol, to community outreach with programs such as Citizens’ Academy, Homes for Hounds and Kids and Cops. Many of these services came about as a result of officers observing problems in the community and deciding to do something about them. 

“One of the things about working in law enforcement that I will say is probably a benefit – you don’t have to complain,” Lehmann said. “If you get involved in this line of work, a lot of times you can actually do something about the things you’re complaining about.”

Rose Mary Cortez, branch manager of the East Irving Library, organized the event as part of the library’s “Build a Better World” summer reading program. She said after hearing about the many programs the Sheriff’s Department provides, she wanted to let the public know about them.

“I had heard about the different programs [the Sheriff’s Department] offers our community, and so many of them we are not aware of as just general citizens,” Cortez said. “This was a good opportunity for us to let everybody else know what a wonderful job they’re doing to build a better world in our community.”

Cortez feels events like this are important to help improve the public’s perception of law enforcement as a whole.

“I think if more people knew about [these programs], it would really help our community to make a better contact with them and to understand they’re not just sitting in an office or giving out tickets,” she said. “They’re really helping our community.”

Judith Osegueda, a clerk at Cedar Valley College and a criminal justice student, was very impressed by all the different services the Sheriff’s Department offers.

“I didn’t realize how much the Sheriff’s Department did for taxpayers,” Osegueda said. She would like to see more law enforcement outreach to the Hispanic community as well as the public at large. “I feel that my people are not well informed, even me. I used to be intimidated by sheriffs because they have a reputation of being mean. It’s really good to have the first-hand information and know that they’re not here just to pull me over, give me a ticket, and put me in jail.”

Irving Historical Society celebrates Mary Schulze’s 100th birthday


A birthday party honored one of Irving’s most famous children on Sunday, July 16.

The Irving Historical Society celebrated the 100th birthday of Mary Schulze, daughter of one of the founders of Irving, C.P. Schulze, by opening up Mary’s Playhouse to a backyard birthday party. The playhouse, part of the Irving Heritage House, started off as a humble chicken coop and was later repurposed by C.P. Schulze into a playhouse for his daughter. Mary used the playhouse not just throughout her childhood, but well into her adult years as well.

“Mary used this [building] when she was a little girl as a playhouse,” Patty Caperton, chairwoman of the Mary’s Playhouse committee, said. “Then when she grew up, most of her career was in teaching and as a librarian in Corpus Christi. But when she would come home to visit, this would be sort of her quiet place of contemplation.”

Over time, the playhouse fell into disrepair. When the Irving Heritage Society decided to renovate it in 2012, the building was beyond repair. The old building was razed, and the new playhouse was recreated from the ground up, using much of the wood and materials from the original house.

Mary’s Playhouse was re-opened to the public in November of 2015 and has since been used by the Historical Society to help educate guests, especially children, about what life was like for children growing up in Irving in the 1920s. While the Heritage House offers tours of the playhouse every month, Caperton said that the birthday party is one of the first larger-scale events to be held at the playhouse.

“We like to show the children in the community about their history, and that there were little boys and girls around and having fun,” Caperton said. “For today’s event, we were trying to look at popular games in the 1920s.”

Children participated in games such as croquet, checkers, sack races and fishing. They also took tours of the playhouse and learned about the various toys and games children played in Mary’s time.

Gail Norris, an independent business owner and member of the Irving Heritage Society, brought her grandson, 13-year-old Jordan Davis, to the event.

“I learned more things about Mary’s Playhouse than I thought I knew,” Norris said. “It’s been a barrel of fun.”

Norris added that Irving schools should consider bringing more students to the playhouse so kids can learn about the city’s history first-hand.

“[We need to] get the schools to know about these events and come to the playhouse and learn the history,” Norris said. “A good way to learn about Mary’s Playhouse is as they show you around, really listen so you can tell others. The first Sunday of every month is a good chance for all the kids to start.”

Parents can help educate their children about local history by taking them to Irving Historical Society events.

“Our teachers have been great in telling the kids about their history,” Caperton said. “But I think if parents would just take time, like on a Sunday afternoon, and bring their kids over and let them see [history] first-hand, I think that gets kids excited, because then they have a memory of what toys were like and who these real people were back then.”

Non-profits join forces for Irving Kids Charity Golf Classic

CORRECTED: The golf classic was postponed due to weather to Friday, July 21 at 12:30pm.

Local charities teamed up to support kids during the 5th annual Irving Kids Charity Golf Classic Kickoff Party, hosted at the Cool River Club in Irving on Thursday, June 8.

Originated by David Pfaff and Andy Nadel, the event is a collaboration between five different Irving charities: Irving YMCA, Irving School Foundation, Irving Healthcare Foundation, Irving-Las Colinas Rotary Club, and the La Buena Vida Foundation. Attendees raised funds for these charities by participating in silent and live auctions throughout the evening. The proceeds from the event and the golf event will be divided equally between all five organizations. Last year, the event raised over $200,000 and this year the goal is $250,000.

Crystal Scanio, executive director of the Irving Schools Foundation, feels this event is unique because the charities are working towards one common goal instead of competing against one another.

“Usually charities compete for money,” Scanio said. “Asking five charities to work together to raise money for one great cause was very different. But it’s completely worked out, and it’s a great partnership between these different charities to raise money for one great product, which is our children.”

For some organizations, the Charity Classic is their biggest fundraiser of the year. John Munoz, executive director of the Irving YMCA, explained that his charity’s portion of the funds will be used to ensure everyone can participate in YMCA programs.

“The money we raise from this event goes to help us provide scholarships and financial aid to individuals,” Munoz said. “That way, they can take part in the YMCA programs, whether they are kids getting free swim lessons, or cancer survivors coming to the Y for a free 12-week program so that they can find their new self, or members who need help because times are tough for them. We provide scholarships so they can all be part of the Y and the community.”

Joy Goodrum, executive director of the La Buena Vida Foundation, hopes the funds will go a long way toward providing new housing for young at-risk women in Irving.

“Irving Schools are telling us that there are female students who have no place to go,” Goodrum said. “As of right now, we don’t have the funds to be able to start a new apartment for them. This [event] could mean the start of a new apartment, which could change the lives of at least four young ladies who are enrolled in our Irving high schools.”

But it is not just one night out of the year that these five charities work together. Many of them collaborate on events year-round. Laura Manning, senior officer of the Irving Healthcare Foundation, said her organization has been working with the Irving Schools Foundation to help fight childhood obesity and this event will be a big help.

“We need the money to help support programs to fight childhood obesity,” Manning said. “Our main focus right now is diabetes. We’re trying to catch people early when they’re young, learn healthy eating habits, learn about fitness, and try to keep that from being a problem later in life.”

John Munoz of the YMCA said collaborating with these other non-profits throughout the year is part of what makes Irving so unique and it is the kids that matter most.

“Irving is really one of the most unique places in that all of the non-profits all year long work together,” he said. “We’re not very territorial. We all know that we’re here to service the kids and the community, and so we all band together to do whatever we can to help each other.”

Crystal Scanio added other cities can learn from Irving about how non-profits co-operate and not just compete.

“I think this could be a really great case study for other cities to see that you can work together, as long as you have a common cause,” Scanio said. “We’re all working for the best that Irving can be.”

Young men graduate high school with a little help

They could have easily been forgotten. Instead, a group of four young men celebrated a milestone at the La Buena Vida High School Graduation Party held at the Irving Hispanic Chamber of Commerce building on Monday, June 5th.

“All four were looking at having to drop out because they had no way to get to school,” said Joy Goodrum, executive director of La Buena Vida. “They had nowhere to live to get ready for school, and they had no transportation to get there.”

La Buena Vida is an Irving-based non-profit organization that helps homeless and at-risk students by providing transitional housing as well as skills to succeed in school and life.

The organization also operates La Buena Vida House, the first homeless shelter specifically for teens in Irving, which opened its door back in 2015.

La Buena Vida has provided over 17 students with transitional housing. This year’s graduating class consists of three young men from MacArthur High School and one from Irving High School.

Members of the Irving Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as members of the community all came out to congratulate the graduates, many bearing graduation gifts. J.C. Gonzales, chairman of the board for the Irving Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, explained how the chamber became involved with La Buena Vida.

“Joy serves on our board and last year there was not one dry eye in the board meeting when she was sharing what her experience was with two of the young men graduating,” Gonzales said. “Those two young men were on the telephone trying to find relatives and trying to get a hold of someone so that they could attend and watch them cross the stage, but no one answered the phones. The only person there was Joy.”

Gonzales personally wanted to help the kids out, as he understands a little bit about the situation these kids face.

“I come from a challenging background and sometimes growing up, I felt alone and no child should feel that way,” Gonzales said. “When we see these young men go through those challenges, I want to help them out and be the person that I needed when I was growing up.”

Marquis M. and Brandon D. were two of the four graduates of this year’s class. Both graduated from MacArthur High School. Marquis is currently working at Tom Thumb and wants to compete in the Special Olympics, while Brandon is planning on studying to become an electrician.

“It’s really a blessing,” Marquis said. “I’ve just met a lot of people like Miss Joy and her friends and they really helped me to get there. It’s changed my life forever.”

“It’s meant a lot to me, because they helped me get through some tough times throughout high school and they help me finish it when the time came down to it,” Brandon said.

Michael W. graduated from Irving High School last year and is currently working at Whataburger while looking at attending classes at North Lake College. He talked about the challenges he faced that led him to La Buena Vida.

“Me and my dad, we had some problems,” Michael said. “He had to kick me out of his house, and I ended up homeless on the street. But then, the rec center told me, ‘We’d like for you to join this program.’ They gave a call to La Buena Vida, and I met Miss Joy and Mr. Ben. They gave me a talk and they said I was in.”

He added that finally getting to walk across the stage was a surreal experience.

“It was pretty crazy, seeing everybody congratulating you,” Michael said. “High school was a great experience, but you got to move on from it. It’s just part of life.”

Libraries fight summer slide, host reading program

Young people celebrated the start of summer during the Summer Reading Program Kickoff Party, held at the Valley Ranch Library on Wednesday, May 31.

The library launched the start of its summer reading program with a carnival for students, which included games, treats, and a magic juggling show. All four branches of Irving public libraries will be participating in the program, designed to encourage kids of all ages to read throughout the summer.

Young people 12 and up are asked to read a book of their choosing for 20 minutes a day for 40 days. Every five days, they can earn a prize by showing a librarian their completed log.

Malani Heaton, management analyst for the Valley Ranch Library, explained the program helps students develop the habit of reading on a daily basis.

“That’s why the children’s program is built on having the children read 20 minutes a day,” Heaton said. “We really want to get them in the habit of reading every day, not just ‘OK, I’ve got to hurry up and finish my five books.’ It’s more about reading a little bit every day, so they can stay in that practice.”

In addition to the reading challenges, all branches of the library will feature free programs and activities for children and adults based on the theme “Build a Better World.” Children’s activities range from magic shows and science experiments, to LEGO challenges and live animal shows, all of which are designed to help kids learn more about the world around them.

Teen readers have their own theme for this year’s reading challenge: “Out of This World.”

“Their challenge is to read for five hours, and for every five hours they read they can then get a prize, but they can only do that once a week,” Heaton said. “We do have some teens who are voracious readers, and they’ll come in and they’ve read 25 hours that week, but they can only cash in five hours a week.”

Teens can also participate in a number of crafts, movie screenings and other space-themed events throughout the summer.

Studies have shown that students who do not read during the summer have a harder time keeping up when they resume classes in the fall. Marianne Follis, manager of the Valley Ranch Library, explained this ‘slide’ is why they encourage students to keep reading throughout the summer months.

“We think it’s so important for kids to read all summer long,” Follis said. “There’s something called the ‘summer slide,’ and if children don’t actively read during the summer, they can regress six months to a year in their reading level. We try to have as many fun things and incentives as we can to bring students into the library and get them excited about reading.”

Heaton has seen the effects of the ‘summer slide’ first hand.

“I used to be a teacher,” she said. “At the beginning of the school year, the first six weeks you spend trying to recover what they lost during the summer and get back to the same level they were when they left school. Studies have shown that kids who read during the summer, they don’t slide back as much.”

Adults can also participate by reading four books of their choosing, or by reading with or to their children. The idea behind summer reading programs is to excite people of all ages about reading and to encourage families to read together.

“Even if your child can’t read, you can read to them, and they can earn prizes that way,” Follis said. “It’s so important for early literacy for parents to read to their little ones, and also it’s important for parents to model that reading is important.”

Everyone interested in joining the Summer Reading Program can sign up at any branch of the Irving public libraries.