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They fled from murder in El Salvador and were surprised by sanctuary in a U.S. community.

In June 2010, 14 people were murdered on the same day on public buses in El Salvador.

It is from that frightening environment that 19-year-old Araceli Velasquez fled to the United States.

"El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide in the world, and miscarriage is punishable by 30 years in prison," according to the American Friends Service Committee petition made on behalf of Velasquez. Finding safety was imperative.


But when Velasquez arrived at the United States border, she was detained.

"And then in detention, I learned I could apply for asylum because of the violence I was fleeing, so that's what I did," Velasquez said. She was denied asylum but stayed in the U.S. out of concern for her safety.

It wasn't until members of Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah in Denver got involved that Velasquez was able to live safely in the United States. The two congregations, along with the larger faith community, decided to offer Velasquez's family sanctuary among their own.

For Velasquez, sanctuary "means that I don't have to be fearful that I'll be separated from my family and that I can continue to fight my deportation in order to keep my family together."

In the United States, faith communities are able to provide sanctuary for immigrants because of a 2011 memo.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) document ensures "enforcement actions do not occur at nor are focused on sensitive locations such as schools and churches." It's not a foolproof solution — the Trump administration so far has adhered to the policy but has been known to post ICE agents near sensitive locations. But for the most part, it provides much needed safety to vulnerable community members.

Steve Holz-Russell, coordinator of the sanctuary task force, recalled starting the conversation practically. "Compared to other things we've done as a church, [deciding to become a sanctuary site] went lightning fast," Holz-Russell said. The church took a vote in June 2017, and more than 80% of the congregation favored sanctuary.

Araceli Velasquez and her son, Christopher, attend a welcoming ceremony at Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah. Photo courtesy of American Friends Service Committee.

There's a history of faith communities sheltering immigrants that reaches back centuries.

Faith leaders and activists helped people immigrate from El Salvador and Guatemala to the U.S. to flee the political violence the U.S. initially refused to recognize as human rights violations. Dating much further back, the tradition of sanctuary can be found in the Hebrew Bible and the Torah, though with a different application.

Today, claiming sanctuary in a faith community means the individual or family and the faith community decide to have a relationship that includes providing the person or people in sanctuary a place to live.

While there is precedent for claiming and providing sanctuary, there is no law keeping ICE agents from entering faith communities to carry out deportation actions. Thus, providing sanctuary is considered an act of civil disobedience.

Velasquez and her family moved in shortly after her interview with the church and temple.

The apartment where the family would be living wasn't complete right away. For about five weeks, they stayed in the youth room until remodeling was finished.

The two faith communities have worked together to make Velasquez and her family comfortable and cared for. Park Hill United Methodist Church's lead pastor, Rev. Nathan Adams, described the ongoing work as very pragmatic. Community members, he said, have been asking themselves, "What needs to get done, and who can do it?"

Temple Micah Rabbi Adam Morris agrees. From his perspective, the two faith communities have found that "we're doing good, and we're pursuing justice and compassion, but the other great part has been … deepening our relationship."

From left: Jorge Jr. Jorge, Kevin, Araceli, and Christopher. Photo courtesy of Ric Urrutia.

One unforeseen outcome of housing Velasquez in sanctuary? The upswell of support from the broader community.

More than 90 people regularly give their time as either door monitors or overnight volunteers. They have come not just from the faith community but also from the broader neighborhood and throughout Denver.

ICE is known for conducting raids early in the morning or late at night. Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah have protocols in place should agents show up at their building.

"We had a scare where ICE went to Jorge's place of work," said Rev. Angie Kotzmoyer, an associate pastor. Holz-Russell received the call from Velasquez saying she thought ICE was on their way.

Recalling that frightening day, Holz-Russell said, "I called everybody," and Adams added, "And everybody came."

Sanctuary has given Velasquez the ability to keep her family together. It has also shown her that change is possible.

"I really believe that if more churches had the experience that Temple Micah, Park Hill [UMC], and I have had, where we learn to trust one another and share with one another deeply, that that would change the politics and the laws that we have," she said.

Park Hill United Methodist Church and its board are considering sponsoring legislation around shifts in immigration policy as well as declaring support for those living in sanctuary in Colorado. Adams knows that providing sanctuary and considering legislation is just the beginning.

"We see a neighbor in Araceli and her family that are in need," he said. "I think God is providing volunteers, people who are interested and care about this, to make it possible. So, we gotta do it. We gotta put our faith into action."

Ultimately, the hopes of Velasquez and Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah are the same: that she and her family will be able to return to their own home.

Furthermore, Adams said, "we really want to live in a place where the idea of sanctuary isn't even needed."

To learn more, visit www.sanctuary-phumc-micah.com.

This story originally appeared on Greater Park Hill News and is reprinted here with permission.

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

A mother and daughter read before bed.

In a world where both parents usually have to work to support a child, it’s rare that a parent can spend the entire day with their kids. So, as parents, we have to do our best to be there when they need us the most.

TikTokker Sara Martinez says there are 3 key moments a day when a parent should be with their child: the three minutes after they wake up, the three minutes after they get home from school or daycare, and the three minutes before they go to bed.

Affective neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp is widely credited with the 9-minute theory. “It’s a common thread among parents, from those who stay at home and juggle countless tasks to working parents who face their own unique challenges,” Martinez told Newsweek.


Joanna Seidel, MSW, RSW, the Clinical Director and Founder of Toronto Family Therapy & Mediation Inc., says that the 9-minute practice is probably related to attachment theory. “The times the mother is referencing in the video are all significant—they are times of routine and transition—therefore moments where critical parenting is involved,” Seidel told Parents.

@iamsaramartinez

I always struggle with mom guilt and questioning if i was present enough. If this is true or not, I do find setting aside specific time to be present with my toddler (no phones out, etc) has made a positive impact. #raisingkids #parenting #parentingtips #parentingtip #childpsychology #raisingtoddlers #toddlerparents #toddlermom #presentparenting #toddlermama #raisingchildren

She adds that being present for children during these 3 key moments helps foster “security, consistency, and a meaningful presence—all of which is done to form a secure (emotional and physical) foundation for your child(ren).”

The 9-minute theory resonated with many of the moms who watched the video. “This is such a comforting theory for a working mom,” Marisa wrote. “I’m not perfect but I can try to be in THOSE 9 minutes,” Emmy added.

A tourist visiting Italy. (Representative image)

Americans pride themselves on living in the “best country in the world.” However, the American way of life isn’t for everyone and some prefer the more laid-back approach to life that people enjoy in Europe.

Four years ago, a writer named Roze left her tiny apartment in Los Angeles, booked a one-way flight to Turn, Italy and never looked back. Now, she documents her new life in Europe on TikTok to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

Recently, she posted a video in which she counts down 5 things that she’ll never do now that she lives in Italy. These are examples of the relief some Americans feel when they move to Europe and settle into their new, stress-free lifestyle.


1. Rush

"One of the first things that attracted me to Italian culture is the fact that people don't seem to be in a rush. There are no drive-thrus. People don't walk and eat. If you need a coffee, you sit down and drink a cup of coffee. There's always time for that."

2. Own a car

"I don't plan on ever living in a place where you need a car to get around. I don’t like the expense of a car and it’s just bad for the environment.”

3. Live for work

“I’ll never obsess about work as much as I used to do in the U.S. Now, I'm not saying that people don't work here. People work very hard, but there's not as many people who make working hard their whole personality."

@rozeinitaly

A few ways my perspective has changed since moving abroad, maybe some other American immigrants can relate? #fivethingschallenge #5thingsiwouldneverdo #5thingschallenge #americanimmigrant #movingabroadtips #expatsinitaly #italylifestyle #lifeinitaly🇮🇹

4. Trust the internet for business hours

"If you look it up on Google Maps, it says that it's open from 10 am to, I think, 7 or 7:30 pm. Does that mean I can go there at like 2:30 3 o'clock? No. What is not listed on there is that they are closed from 1 to 4 for lunch."

5. Worry about medical bills

“I just don’t plan on living anywhere where there is not some kind of universal healthcare.”

Lunchables have lead in them, parents are reacting with shock

Today's kids are busier than ever, which means parents are often feeding them something quick on those days. A quick go to has been Lunchables, a prepackaged kid-friendly meal with a sweet treat inside. Some are just made to be snacks and those contain crackers, cheese, luncheon meat and cookies or candy. But the other Lunchables come complete with full sandwiches, pizza, chicken nuggets or hot dogs and include a drink.

They made the perfect thing to grab in a pinch and fit perfectly into lunch boxes. But parents are getting a jolt as a new consumer release reveals that these solutions to a quick meal or snack actually contain large amounts of lead. Yes, lead. Turns out there isn't really a regulation on how much lead can be in foods in America outside of California. One dad took to social media to express his dismay at the discovery of this information.


Pearlmania500 says in a shocked tone, "oh my God, Lunchables have lead in them? They got 74% of the maximum allowable dose. We have a maximum allowable doses of lead? On no, that's in California because there is no federal limit so you can just put–THERE'S NO FEDERAL LIMIT TO HOW MUCH LEAD YOU CAN PUT IN A LUNCHABLE!"

@pearlmania500

Consumer reports research is out there for all concerned parents to see #parenting #schoollunch #moms #dads #grandparents #PTA #pizza #pearlmania500 #news getting harder to trust these food companies

The more he reads the consumer report, the more shocked he becomes at the staggering amount of lead found in these products our children consume. Parents in the comments are just as flabbergasted as he is.

"Thank goodness it's not in paint anymore so paint chips are now safer to eat than luncables," someone writes.

"WAIT IS THAT WHY THE CEO OF THE COMPANY SAID HE WOULDN'T FEED THEM TO HIS KIDS," a commenter questions.

"Well thank God they took the lead out of the paint and made sure the kids eat it in their lunch," another writes.

"My daughter has high lead levels and we couldn't figure out why. We changed everything except eating lunchables," someone else says.

One commenter wrote a multi-comment response to the video explaining that his college professor warned them of the high levels of lead in foods. Others were now suddenly thankful their parents couldn't afford to buy Lunchables when they were children. This will likely be something that spurs change, but in the meantime parents are probably going to toss out these quick meals just in case.

It's mu-fu-' Lunchables, man 5 dollars a pack We gon' make… | Flickr

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Jamey Stillings, Wikipedia/ Canva

There's a new way to give tough love.

The “sandwich technique,” also known as a “compliment sandwich” or “feedback sandwich,” has been a tool for delivering criticism since the 1940s. But it really became something of a workplace staple after 1984, thanks to Mary Kay Ash’s book “People Management.”

The idea seems sound enough. The deliverer of the criticism would first offer a compliment to the recipient, followed by the actual feedback, then another bit of praise. This should theoretically allow the criticism to be received without bruising any ego or hurting any feelings. Everybody wins.

But according to organizational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant, the compliment sandwich “doesn’t taste as good as it looks.”

In various interviews, podcasts, social media posts and even a Substack article, Grant has chalked up the compliment sandwich ineffectiveness to two major shortcomings.

One being that people are simply too familiar with it. So whatever compliment is given, no matter how genuine it may be, people know what’s coming next and they begin “waiting for the other shoe drop.” Knowing the compliments are obligatory can actually make someone take the criticism ever more personally.

Two: the opposite can happen. Because people tend to remember the first and last parts of a conversation, the criticism might be downplayed or outright buried underneath the positive feedback. This goes especially for narcissists, Grant notes.

Luckily there is a kind, yet efficient way to give some tough love. And it all boils down to one simple sentence:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

The phrase comes from a 2013 study conducted by researchers at Stanford,who were able to increase a student’s openness to criticism by at least 40% just by using those 19 words.

As Grant explains, this strategy works because it conveys an intention to help a person become the best version of themselves. “It’s surprisingly easy to hear a hard truth when it comes from someone who believes in your potential and cares about your success.”

Of course, using the exact words isn’t mandatory. The point is focusing on helping someone improve, rather than attacking or patronizing them.

To that point, Grant also has a few other helpful pointers, like not assuming a position of superiority, asking if the person is open to feedback first (Grant attests they usually welcome it) and lastly, keeping the language transparent, not manipulative.

At the end of the day, most people want to grow, become better people, and live up to their potential. Remembering that one little truism can go a long way.