Fundraising continues for students who hope to travel to the East Coast this summer with See Life Adventures founder and director Carolyn Ballenger. Students are, front row, Jeilynn Mathey, Marissa Montealegre, Evan Mayer. Back row is Julie Montealegre, Carolyn Ballenger and Ashley Corbeille. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Carolyn Ballenger had a sense of desperation in her voice.
For the past 20 years, the retired Hammond school teacher has escorted students on a two-week “adventure of a lifetime” trek to the East Coast. There, the kids took part in a science, history and literature program with personal experiences that are both visual and motivational while designed for critical thinking.
The activities include whale watching, a visit to the history of Revolutionary War, the home of Louisa May Alcott, a visit to historic Salem, Mass., white water rafting, zip lining, and a visit to the Sea Coast Science Center, among other hands-on adventures. The kids, with chaperones, stay at a newly purchased “Adventure Barn” in Sumner, Md.
“The kids always have a blast while learning about our country,” said Ballenger, of Portage, who started for the Hammond Schools in 1971 as a physical education teacher.
During her education career, Hammond schools’ elementary students took part in a project called “Whales,” with kids creating a 60-foot humpback whale from black trash liners. Each morning, the students blew life into the “whale” using a simple window fan.
In 1992, this project sparked an idea: Let’s make it a lifelong memory by taking the students to watch real whales off the East Coast. “See Life Adventures” was born, with Ballenger becoming its founder and president, and money has been raised each year through grants and donations to help kids in need.
This goal for this year’s trip, which leaves on June 15, is to provide an opportunity for children of U.S. military personnel and veterans, especially kids of wounded warriors. But three of those children and their families don’t have enough money to make the trip, which costs each child roughly $1,000.
Two of those kids, 13-year-old Ashley Corbeille and 11-year-old Jaylan Mathey, have ties with the American Legion Post 100 in Lake Station. Another child, 11-year-old John Doll, has ties with the American Legion Post 279 in the Miller section of Gary.
Both American Legions have donated $100 toward each child’s trip, but more money is needed to make it a reality on June 15.
On this Memorial Day weekend, Ballenger is hoping that generous readers, veterans or veterans groups, and military-minded businesses will step up to make donations on behalf of these three kids.
“We really want to take them with us, and they have their hearts set on going,” she told me, noting that her organization has recently received its 501(c)(3) status to allow all donations to be a tax deduction.
On the trip’s brochure, students and parents have voiced support for the program, praising its once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I sent a little boy on this trip and a young man came home,” one parent stated.
“I really admire you for all the time you have given to the kids at the school sand for your dedication to giving these children the chance to see places that they would not normally get to see,” said parent Cora Flagg.
If you’re interested in helping the cause, contact Ballenger at 743-8829 or 763-3585, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A ‘Facebook vacation’?
If you use social media, especially Facebook, you’ve seen posts from “friends” of the most seemingly wonderful, memorable, and envious vacation photos.
Smiling faces, cheerful poses, amazing action shots — you know the routine.
“And here we are in Hawaii buying fresh pineapples with the kiddies!!” the mother boasts in yet another “Look how fabulous OUR life is” status update.
Unlike such vacation photos from previous generations — for instance, the snore-fest slideshow of small square photos rotating in a humming carousel — today’s digital photos can be hand-selected, heavily cropped, and even Photoshopped to look more impressive on the Internet.
It’s called taking a “Facebook vacation,” which glamorizes even the most mundane and boring trip, including Memorial Day getaways with the family.
“In a way, living your travels in real time for an online audience is like producing your own reality show. And in this version, everything is glorious all the time,” states a story I watched from NBC News.
This includes acting more demonstrative and ridiculously outrageous simply because you know you’re being captured for photos and videos to be posted later online. Or, more likely, within seconds.
This also includes doing things, staging scenarios, or ordering food and drinks that are more photo-friendly, like a shot of your wife trying to down that cowboy hat-sized margarita while dancing on a bar top. Or posing the kids to do something they would NEVER DO in their life otherwise.
Which photos or videos would collect the most “likes”? Which ones would receive more comments from envious friends, followers, or out-of-state family members? It’s called “trip editing,” I learned.
“You look beautiful! What a tan! Your kids are having so much fun!” you hope they will say.
“We have a social pressure to portray what we’re doing as positive,” Eleazar Eusebio, assistant professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, told NBC News.
As social media expert Chris Kraft explains, “Facebook is just a digital postcard.”
“They don’t sell ugly postcards in the hotel gift shop, do they?” asked Kraft, from Splash Media, Inc. “It’s only natural for us to want to show our friends the best part of our vacation. We don’t want anyone to know it really turned out like the wheels off Griswold family vacation to Wally World.”
Maybe so, but I’d much rather see those type of real-life, awkward, and hopefully embarrassing photos and videos on social media, vacation-warts and all.
If anything because they’re a refreshing reprieve from all the other “My life is so darn wonderful” images that barrage our inbox, news-feed, and apathy.