New York, New York

A week ago (boy time flies!) I had the delightful privilege and honor to stand before a room of my peers in the workforce development sector. I was invited to New York City to join JobsFirstNYC as a guest speaker for a group of seven organizations who focus mostly on helping young adults, who are out of school/work, build workplace skills and find quality employment.

These orgs are doing really powerful work so I’ll link them below. You have to check them out!

Anyhow, so when I got the invite to be flown in from Chicago and have my hotel taken care of in Manhattan hunni, I was like, “girl, yes!”

Sidenote: You never know who’s watching you and taking notes. You never know when – who you are might open doors you hadn’t considered.

This moment has been in the making since April 2017 and I didn’t even realize it. In early 2017, I gave a speech in Chicago about employer engagement, strategies to building and maintaining relationships and overall success driver best practices for doing good work, tracking good work and using data to make sound business decisions. I was introduced to a consultant, Marty, during that meeting.

In 2017 I got a call from Marty with a request to talk to some individuals from New York over the phone. We had a great conversation about emplyer engagement and data.

Several months later, I recieved a request to do an event for New York. They offered a phone or live video conference for me to present. Unfortunately my schedule was insane so it didn’t work out.

Fast forward to April 2018, I was contacted by that same consultant friend, this time with an offer to visit New York and it worked in my schedule!

Taking a Water Taxi past the Brooklyn Bridge

The whole event was amazing. There was a lot of community learning happening as organizations shared with me and each other. There were great takeaways and action planning. This learning community takes times on a regular basis to meet and share their wins and losses, lessons and challanges. Instead of being competitive, they intentionally choose to collaborate. It’s inspiring, not only in our work but in our world.

At the event, I used my time to give an overview of my work, my team, describe our culture of metrics/data and share strategies for strengthening key internal/external feedback loops. I wanted to learn too and in addition to answering questions throughout the day to help as much as possible, I also took notes on ideas a few in the group offered me because who wouldn’t hear of an idea that could increase productivity and efficiency then do nothing!?

Action Planning Session

PS. If you’re not familiar with the work I do, here’s your chance to learn a bit more about Cara Chicago.

Walking through Cara’s Service Delivery Model

This space of helping individuals with barriers to employment, not only get back to work but thrive and walk with them as they transform their lives is such vital work. To sit in a room across the country and experience the synergy between my work and theirs was encouraging! I hope my insight will indeed help some individuals who sat in that room, along in their personal and professional journeys.

View of Lower Manhattan from Water Taxi

Outside of this really stellar part of my trip, I also had a few hours each day to explore New York City and boy did I! I walked all over town through Midtown and Brooklyn, Chinatown and Little Italy, Soho and Tribeca, Hell’s Kitchen and Lower Manhattan to name a few. My little legs were tired from all the walking but so worth it. And I saw crazy things, ate good food and had fun along the way!

Brooklyn Bridge

Manhattan Bridge

I already have a list of places to visit for next time. I look forward to more opportunities like this, more speaking engagements (I had a blast) and more cities to explore.

Thanks New York!

Organization list/links as promised:

Madison Strategies Group– connects individuals with quality employment, maximizing their unique talents to achieve advancement and independence.

Seedconational nonprofit organization that advances economic opportunity for people, businesses and communities in need.

Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation – partners with transportation and culinary employers to offer credentialing options for young people leading to a career pathway.

Green City Force – with partners Con Edison, C+C Apartment Management, and NYCHA’s REES focus on career pathways in the sustainability sector.

The Knowledge House – partnering on the Bronx Digital Pipeline with Hostos Community College and Per Scholas, developing pathways into cutting edge technology jobs by mobilizing pipeline partners who contribute to the Bronx tech ecosystem.

Roundabout Theatre Company in partnership with the IATSE union and The Door provide training and job placement for young people interested in technical theatre careers.

Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center partners with employers to train for careers in hospitality and food service. Isaacs Center also offers trainings in community health and education and child development.

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Travel Untangled: Starved Rock State Park

Illinois is an interesting state. Most people who don’t live here know of Chicago, maybe Springfield then the rest fades into oblivion. Well, I suppose some who do live here also think that way. 

Over the weekend I got to visit a natural treasure of the state that I would recommend to residents and visitors alike: Starved Rock State Park.

Council Overhang

Starved Rock is a little less than a 2 hour drive from Chicago…located in Oglesby, Illinois. On almost 3000 acres of land include miles of hiking trails, canyons and waterfalls…something for all ages. 

The local towns to Starved Rock are the size that city-people like me call “charming.” On a shuttle tour, we learned the grain silos in town are considered the skyscrapers. Imagine my surprise. 

Random grain silos from Google lol
Sears Tower photo taken by me Monday during Chicago River Architectural Boat Tour

I had the best, most relaxing experience during my visit to Starved Rock. 

We hiked through a few canyons, saw some beautiful waterfalls flowing into hidden dips and valleys from the Illinois River and learned of the history of Starved Rock, named for a rather tragic 1760’s incident in Native American history. 

Illinois Waterway Visitor Center

This family trip was also my nephew Malik’s first big adventure. In fact, our group ranged in age from 2 months to 60+ and we all enjoyed every minute. 

The park is free to enter and has free parking. They offer guided hikes, guided trolley tours or people can go explore on their own. They said on a busy holiday, they can get 400,000 visitors. They have a hotel and cabins on site for booking. They also have campgrounds for anyone interested in roughing it for a night or two under the stars. There are restaurants, live music at The Lodge and during our stay, we saw two weddings get hosted. 

I’m telling you, this place has so much to offer. 

Here are some more photos from our trip. Visit Starved Rock! You won’t be disappointed. 

Me & Dad with one of our guides
Me in Ottawa Canyon
Mom & Dad enjoying the view of the canal

Above is a victory photo.  My mom has been through several health things in the last few years including hip replacement surgery in February on Valentine’s Day. She was unsure if she could handle the hiking and so were we but she did it! This particular canyon and hike through Ottawa was a lot of climbing up and down steep steps, taking extra care in slippery and muddy areas, stepping on jagged rocks to cross water in our paths and she friggin (I wanted to use a stronger word here but I know mom will read this lol) rocked it ALL!!! I’m so proud, as we all were. This was a major accomplishment on the journey and such an awesome photo to take!

Loved ones
Sister & Nephew
Me posing with my waterfall friend

Until next time! 

Reflections: From Chicago to Central America…My Journey Abroad

In 2009 during college, I lived in Central America for four months…Nicaragua to be exact, a beautiful country nestled between Honduras and Costa Rica. 

When I first landed was immediately overwhelmed by the decision I made. I didn’t know the language, missed my family and had no clue what to expect from the adventure to come. 

Connecting to people back home wasn’t nearly as easy as you’d expect, often relying on unreliable internet connections for Skype video chats or international phone calls. My boyfriend being the amazing person he is, helped to make hundreds of miles in distance feel like down the street whenever we did speak. 

My first moment of relief came a few days in after I met my host family. 

We pulled up to their home and called ‘Buenas’ inside the front gate. Maria and Alex appeared at the door and I immediately felt a wave of peace and calm over me. It was incredible and they took care of me like my own parents would over the following months that I lived there.

We struggled communicating at first with the language barrier but eventually I learned more Spanish and they got comfortable using the English words they knew. We made it work. 

Most mornings in my Nica home, I didn’t need an alarm for the neighborhood roosters were a standing substitute. We also had street vendors daily walking past our house at the sight of dawn selling fruits and vegetables. I can still hear the lady yelling AGUACATE over and over, hoping for customers to buy up her box of avocados. 

I was fortunate enough to have not just a loving host family but a friend from college lived there. Her family had settled not far from my barrio as missionaries. Having that family there was another sign that I was exactly where I should be and God would look out for me wherever I landed the world.  

I miss those days often now when I reflect back. It was a fun, challenging experience and a time of tremendous growth for me. 
Over that short time which felt like forever on days when I missed home, I really grew up. You learn so much about yourself when you travel, especially alone. 

We trekked between Nicaragua and Costa Rica – beautiful lands with beautiful people. I am grateful for the friends I knew and met along the way. 

Many Nica friends became like family and my own family and friends back home were incredibly supportive during my months away. Some days I simply missed home even when I no longer cared about the cushy comforts of living in the States. It was great to have good people near and far. In fact, my host Maria still rings me every now and then and we struggle through our broken shared languages haha. I got really good at Spanish in Nicaragua when it was everywhere I went. I needed it to survive really. I haven’t been as diligent since returning home though my goal one day is fluency.

I have been thinking about Nicaragua a lot lately as I feel my passport’s need to travel becoming restless again. I want to be moving around the world with my partner. I want us to visit new places and see new faces and soak in life in beautifully unexpected new ways. 

Me on top of a volcano

I overcame a lot of fear and doubt when I lived abroad. I did things I maybe thought I could never do. When I read over the very raw emotions I shared on a basic blog at the time, it is so clear I journeyed a long way physically, mentally and spiritually during those days away from the comforts of home. I am the better for it and it is a good reminder that no mountain is too big to climb. 

Celebrating the View

Yesterday I was bundled in 2 layers, winter coat and snow boots just in case. Chicago can be unpredictably brutal this time of year.

Today I have the extreme pleasure of penning this post from the Caribbean island of Trinidad.

This post won’t be that long because I am eagerly awaiting my ride to Maracas Beach on the other side of the grand mountain here.

This experience even from last night to today has been fun. We have no true plan or itinerary. Our goal is to go with the flow and we are. Sometimes life is like that and those can be the most memorable moments.

The country is beautiful like they said it would be. I am feeling quite nostalgic because so many things are reminding me of when I lived in Nicaragua.

The weather, the houses, the scenery, the hospitality among many other things.

I love traveling and telling people about new places they can make their own adventure to. If you have never been, consider booking your trip in the future.

It is so important to take some time to enjoy the view everywhere you are. I hope on this Sunday you take a breath, say a prayer of thanks and enjoy the view.

See you next Sunday when I take a deeper dive into all I will learn from this stunning place. For example, did you know it is illegal to curse in public in Trinidad? As in, people can actually get arrested. Stay tuned for the ins and outs of Trinidad including the greatest show on earth…Carnival.

Peace & Blessings

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Travel Diaries: The Vacay Mindset

In a few days, I will be fully emersed in the world and culture of Trinidad. I am starting to get so excited!

Naturally, during and post-trip, I will share great lessons, tips so look forward to that.

More and more I realize two of my favorite things are traveling and writing about it. I hope more doors open in the future and opportunities to do more of these two things that I love.

I spent a few hours today on YouTube learning about what to expect from the Caribbean island. I look forward to the traditional food, Carnival partying, hotter-than-Chicago weather and beauty everywhere from people to scenery.

Any opportunity to see the world and open up your mind and perspective, seems worth it to me. A trip to a new town near where you live or a new country across the world offers the same chance to evolve as a human being.

I cannot wait to share with you the experience. I hope it might inspire you to take mental and physical break from the day-to-day routine to just take a few days for yourself.

Travel is nice but a staycation is perfect too. Some weeks we just need to be kinder to ourselves and take time off to rest, relax, recoup and do what makes us feel joy. 

Actually my new motto is “I work to vacay.” I hope you will take that challenge as seriously as I do.

Talk to you soon from the West Indies!

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The Aloha Life: Giving Thanks in Hawaii

I wrote this to you from aboard a Hawaiian Airlines flight headed home Sunday evening from The Big Island,  Hawai’i,  where I spent the last week enjoying the holidays with my family.

Vacation always has such a nice ring to it. It is set on a pedestal as an escape from reality and our regular day-to-day lives. Having been to Hawaiian islands before however has confirmed to me, I can live in Aloha more often than just while on hoilday.

A few years ago I was invited on a trip to Hawaii with a girl friend and her family and even though I was stretched to afford it, I felt as though I couldn’t say no. What if that was my only lifetime chance of seeing the most exotic paradise in our country?

It was paradise indeed. I visited Oahu for a few days and stayed in Honolulu. Walked the loud and busy streets of Waikiki Beach, full of sun-tanned tourists. I saw the sites of Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor. After a few days, we hopped on a jet to Kauai and THAT was even more so  the Hawaii I dreamed of. The Hawaii you see on calendars and in peaceful movie scenes is what Kauai is made of. It was breathtaking, gorgeous, stunning.

Fast forward to this year when my own family decided we would spend our Thanksgiving holiday on The Big Island together. I was beyond ecstatic. How many people get a trip of a lifetime…twice!?!

The Big Island was much different than the others I have seen. Much of the land is covered in volcanic rock.  Far fewer lush green fields that go on for miles. Yet it was still beautiful at every twist or turn. During the day the sun glistened off the ocean, illuminating the white, black, green and red sand beaches around the island. At night the full moon felt close enough to grab right out of the sky. On the nights with no moon, the stars shone bright like diamonds.

I enjoyed the sea and the shore. The trip I shared with seven of my loved ones was my most favorite vacation yet. We did lots of activities together but I aso took time each day to sit alone, reflect, enjoy, introvert and so on. It was so peaceful and fulfilling.

Whenever my mind would start doing too much, thinking too hard or remove me from vacation I would snap back to the present. “You have this moment only. Exist here right now,” I might say to myself. It worked.

I took and posted lots of photos but never did I stop fully living in my mental and physical vacation there.

Even now as I sit on this long journey home to icy Chicago streets probably filled with snow, I am reminding myself to keep in the Aloha.

Aloha is a greeting and salutation but also a state of mind and a state of being.

Living Aloha to me means two things:

1. Life Isn’t Perfect
2. But It Can Still Be Damn Good

There were plenty things that did not happen exactly how I wanted on this trip. Life goes that way sometimes — on vacation, at home, at work, in public. Sometimes it is good and healthy to let the controls go so you can ride with the tide. Or sometimes you get the chance in those moments to stand at a crossroads and decide, whether what everyone else chooses is best for you right now. If that is not what you want or need, will you be bold enough to go another way? 

That was the damn good part. I made decisions like am I going to roadtrip with the group or chill and catch up on some reading by the pool? Do I want to climb a mile down this scary looking mountain or miss the experience because of fear? I did climb the mountain by the way. It was exhausting and scary at points but turned into my highlight of the trip.

What kinds of questions, mountains, decisions, challenges are you trying to answer, conquer, resolve and overcome in your life?

I am thrilled to say that I am on my way to becoming a regular Hawaiian island visitor.

I will do as many trips as it takes to remind and instill the Aloha in me, whatever place I travel.

May you find your Aloha.

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Kona Coffee Shop
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Oceanside at Hilton Waikoloa Village
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Polulu Valley for sunrise & mountain climbing
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Legends of the Island Luau
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Kilauea Volcano at Volcano National Park

Wake Up and Live

It is a great week to give thanks. I am especially thankful for the holiday to spend with my loved ones. We decided to take a vacation for the holiday this year. More on that next week.

This year has been full of fun, adventure, challenge and change. I have taken on a lot of mottos this year. I have lots of resolutions. I have set and accomplished many goals. I have set and failed at others. All lessons learned with grace and an open mind.

Wake Up and Live is an important one. It is so valuable to be a person of action.  It is much better and far more rewarding to actively live this life we have instead of passively waiting for life to happen for us.

Monday evening signals the beginning of my vacation. I get to take a break from the regular rhythms of everyday life. It will be a mental and physical vacay. It is so timely and welcomed.

To enjoy life, we have to get out of our own way sometimes. We have to chill on the status updates and work emails. We have to give ourselves a chance to live the fulfilling life we actually desire.

I plan to re-energize, relax and recoup this week. Each morning is a new day to wake up and live. What will you do with it?

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