Tag Archives: Inspiration

Clear Lake Alum Shoots for the Stars

141104_futures 2015_christin mastracchio_078

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense

Many kids in the Clear Lake area dream of a future in outer space, but for 30 year-old Christin Mastracchio, that childhood dream may become a reality very soon.

A Clear Lake native and Clear Lake High School alumna, Mastracchio knew she wanted to shoot for the stars at a young age. When she was 17 years old, her father asked her what she would pay to do for a living instead of being paid.

“I knew I loved science, math and physics. I was a cheerleader and a gymnast and grew up in awe of the space program. We moved back to Clear Lake from California specifically for the school system,” Mastracchio said.

It seemed only natural to pursue a career in the space program.

“I had read so many astronaut biographies,” she said. “I found out there were several ways to get into the Astronaut Program.”

The summer before her senior year in high school, Mastracchio was accepted into the NASA Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program (SHARP) and was also a Lunar Rendezvous Princess at the Clear Lake Lunar Rendezvous Festival, which is dedicated to providing community based support, including scholarships for higher education, youth development and educational programs, funding for the arts and historical preservation in the Bay Area Houston/NASA area.

After high school, Mastracchio took the military path, going into the Astronautical Engineering Program at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“My time at the Air Force Academy literally was rocket science,” Mastracchio said. “We had to control satellites that were launched into orbit. They spin, so we had to stop the spinning and make sure the cameras or antennas were pointed where they needed to be pointed,” she said.

She then pursued and received her Masters degree in the same major from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Mastracchio also got trained as a pilot, and currently flies B-52s during nuclear deterrent exercises out of Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. She was the first female B-52 pilot in the United States when she started. “That really got me motivated!” she said.

Her practice for Test Pilot School paid off, when, as of last week, she received her letter of acceptance. Mastracchio will begin her yearlong training at Edwards Air Force Base beginning in July 2016. “I was so excited and surprised,” she said. “They had me fly a T-38, a C-12 and an ASK-21 glider. I was familiar with the T-38 because that’s an astronaut-training plane, and a C-12 is a six-seater, two-engine plane. But I had never flown a glider before! It was strange to think of a plane with NO engines!”

Apparently, everything Mastracchio did to prepare paid off. But pursuing her dream of becoming an astronaut is not the only thing Mastracchio is doing.

She was featured in “Futures Magazine,” which is a military recruiting magazine for high school aged kids. She has also been a keynote speaker for the Society of Women Engineers.

“There’s this misconception about math,” Mastracchio said. “It’s actually a universal language. We’re getting better at encouraging girls in STEM subjects. If someone is having problems in math, I tell her to go back and relearn the last thing she felt comfortable with and go from there. Math builds on itself. A lot of times, it’s just a mental block.”

Mastracchio’s dream is, “17 years in the making. I want to encourage girls to get into STEM at a young age. Start out college with a technical major,” she said.

Whether or not Mastracchio becomes an astronaut is undetermined, but her accomplishments so far speak the most to her encouragement of future science, technology, engineering and math students.

Pearland resident survivor of plane crash, graduates from University of St. Thomas

Photo courtesy University of St. Thomas

Photo courtesy University of St. Thomas

Pearland residents Ijeoma (Ije), Zitara (Tara) and Kechi Okwuchi hail from Nigeria. But what brought them to the area is a story that is different than most.

On December 10, 2005 Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 carrying 108 souls, 60 of them students from Loyola Jesuit College, crashed at Port Harcourt International Airport in Omagwa, Rivers State, Nigeria. The crash eventually claimed every student’s life, save one: Kechi’s.

The accident occurred during approach to Port Harcourt in adverse weather: wind shear, rain and lightning. Unable to make out the unlit runway through the rain, the captain called for a go around (missed approach) at an altitude of about 200 ft., or approximately 120 ft. above the ground. This call was made about 100 ft. below the “decision altitude.”

The missed approach procedure was carried out incorrectly, and the aircraft struck the ground approximately 70 meters to the left of the runway. It collided heavily with a concrete drainage culvert, disintegrated and caught fire.

Kechi, then 16, initially received treatment in Johannesburg, South Africa, but in 2007, Kechi, Tara and Ije came to the United States to take advantage of treatment at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Galveston while her father stayed in Nigeria to work.

At age 23, Kechi has had many surgeries, and they are ongoing periodically to this day. She lost 60 of her friends and classmates from Loyola. The pain, both physical and emotional, has been tremendous. However, Kechi has never lost her positive attitude about life. “She doesn’t complain about much,” said Ije. “Our faith in God to bring us through this has never waivered.”

Because of the tragedy, Kechi and her family have been some of the fiercest advocates for airline reform in Nigeria.

In 2012, Dana Flight 992 crashed and killed 153 passengers and 10 people on the ground. Kechi made this statement on the IMO, Nigeria State Blog: “Again, more than a hundred lives are lost in the space of a day. Again, families all over Nigeria mourn the loss of loved ones.

“To all who had family or friends in the Dana plane crash, I offer my most sincere condolences as well as my prayers. I pray that the same God who still helps the families of those who were lost in the Sosoliso plane crash of 2005 will also be there for you all in this time of great sorrow, and that He will send his Spirit to minister peace and comfort to you, while giving you the strength to endure.”

Kechi also had the opportunity to speak out at the “60 Angels Symposium” in Abuja last year, making a video in which she spoke directly to the President of Nigeria. The video may be viewed at https://youtu.be/HGRmIQiaxn4.

This year may have brought Kechi one of her biggest triumphs to date. On May 16, she graduated from St. Thomas University in Houston with a degree in Economics and was tapped to give one of the speeches at her Commencement Ceremony at NRG Arena.

“Now, I know that everyone here has their reasons for pursuing a higher education, and I want to tell you mine,” Kechi said as she addressed her fellow graduates. “You see, to me, this degree is not just a degree. It is a gift to the 60 students that died in a plane crash I was in ten years ago. It represents the fulfillment of a promise I made, to those students and to their parents, that I would reach this important milestone on behalf of those they lost.

“As a plane crash survivor, I have been through many trials and have had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to make it this far. I could not be here today without help from God and from those around me. I suffered from third-degree burns over 65% of my body, so the healing process has understandably been a slow one, one that continues even now.

“Because of my accident, I had been out of school for so long, from ages 16 to 20, that by the time I was deemed ready to rejoin the student population, I was overeager and overzealous, despite the fact I wasn’t sure at the time what I wanted to do with my second chance at life. But all that time away from school had caused me to forget the struggles that came along with being a student: the rigors of pulling all-nighters for exams and preparing for presentations, all while trying to be responsible in our personal lives and disciplined in our preparation for the outside world.

“Considering this, I had to reflect on the meaning of the term ‘survivor.’ In my reflection, I realized that the struggles of a student are real, and to overcome them all in order to be here today… that word ‘survivor’ undoubtedly applies to us all.

“It was in this reflection, still, that I learned a very important lesson, and that is the fact that one cannot judge the extent of another person’s struggle based on their own experience.

“While I will not underestimate the difficulties I have faced in my journey toward full recovery, I will instead pray that you all join me in surviving all future challenges with the help of God and those around us.”

Kechi received a standing ovation.

For more information about Kechi, visit https://www.facebook.com/KechiOkwuchiTrust.

Ijeoma put her own story in book form in 2012 and called it, “Refined for Rebirth.” It is available on Amazon.com.

Zitara is currently attending Dawson High School and is, “infinitely proud,” of her sister.

Birthday party arranged by customer surprises H-E-B employee

Pearland resident Becky Carbone does her grocery shopping at the H-E-B Plus! On Pearland Pkwy, just as many others do. One of the things she enjoys is chatting with the employees she meets there.

Two weeks ago, Carbone met a young man that made an impression on her.

“I met an awesome man last week at H-E-B on Pearland Parkway,” said Carbone. “He insisted that he carry my groceries out to my car, even though it was raining.

“On our way out, he told me how much he loves his job! He told me that he can’t wait to come to work, and he said, ‘They even gave me 40 hours this week!’

“He was friendly, outgoing and helpful. As he loaded my groceries, he said, ‘I can’t wait till next Thursday!’ I asked him what was special about next Thursday. He said it was his birthday. He told me he was going to be 41, but everybody says that he looks 31. As I drove away, I couldn’t help but smile when I thought about the man’s joy and love of serving others.

“The man’s name is David, and he is mentally challenged. He has a wonderful attitude and an awesome work ethic!

“After thinking more about it, I called H-E-B to praise David, thank them for hiring him and tell them how much I appreciate all that they do for our community. I also wondered if they would allow a few friends to come by the store on his birthday and have a celebration,” Carbone said.

Management was all for the idea, and so they arranged to bring David McAnespy to the back conference room “for training” at 4:00 on Thursday (Apr. 23).

To McAnespy’s surprise, he was met with balloons, gifts, food, drinks, a cake, a banner and a room full of people, including his many friends, his mother, Patty Shriver and her husband Richard, Sean Murphy and Donna Rizzo from Hometown Bank, who presented David with four Astros tickets, Carbone and Sgt. Roy Castillo from the Pearland Police Dept.

McAnespy was so overwhelmed that he had to sit down.

“This is all for me?” he asked incredulously.

The man who works so hard and enjoys his job so much definitely felt the love that day as people he had never met before surrounded him with gifts and praise.

This is a large part of what makes Pearland so special: its heart.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pearland Police Officers Donate Time for a Child in Need

Back row: Assistant Chief Johnny Spires, Det. Chad Rogers, Sharon Baker, Mike Poulin and Officer Troy Mashue. Second row: Det. Jon Albin and Officer Eric Morton. Third row: the James family and Det. John DeSpain. Front: Jacob Albin (foreman). Not pictured: Sgt. Roy Castillo.

Back row: Assistant Chief Johnny Spires, Det. Chad Rogers, Sharon Baker, Mike Poulin and Officer Troy Mashue. Second row: Det. Jon Albin and Officer Eric Morton. Third row: the James family and Det. John DeSpain. Front: Jacob Albin (foreman). Not pictured: Sgt. Roy Castillo.

Members of the Pearland Police Officer’s Association (PPOA) donated their time on Saturday (March 28) at Back to Basic Child Care to build a wheelchair ramp for a young man who was recently injured in a car accident.

Maxwell James broke his leg in several places and has had to use a wheelchair to get around while he rehabilitates. This has caused problems with his after school care because PISD busses have a tough time navigating the parking lot at Back to Basic, located at 7408 W. Broadway.

Through cooperation between Back to Basic, W. Pearland Tire and Auto and PISD, the ramp, which connects Back to Basic with the larger parking area at the auto shop, will allow Maxwell to easily get on and off the bus. The bus will be able to use W. Pearland Auto’s parking area to drive around the business, preventing the need to back up, which is not allowed under PISD rules for safety reasons.

Sharon Baker, the owner of Back to Basic and Mike Poulin, the Manager of W. Pearland Tire and Auto, joined the James family and the officers from the PPOA as Maxwell tried out the new ramp. He gave it “two thumbs up!”

The Pearland Police Officer’s Association is the union organization for Pearland’s law enforcement. The PPOA is a member of Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA), which “protects the rights and interests of Texas law enforcement officers by providing the best legal assistance in the country, effective lobbying at state and local levels, affordable training and exemplary member support.”

The PPOA is a co-sponsor along with the Pearland Chamber of Commerce for the upcoming City Council Candidate Forum, which will be held on April 15 at 7 p.m. at Berry Miller Junior High School, located at 3301 Manvel Rd.

For more information about the PPOA, visit PearlandPOA.org.

JJ Watt Encourages Shadow Creek Titans

Houston Texans star J.J. Watt saw a little league football practicing at a park in Pearland and he decided to stay there and speak with the kids spreading encouragement and wisdom. Check out this motivational talk he gave to the Shadow Creek Titans Juniors’ team. (Credit: YouTube/Brian Horn)

Benefit for 2 Year-Old Juan Carroll a Success!

COTA Event I
Nearly 100 community members and supporters gathered for a special workout-of-the-day (WOD) at Pearland Crossfit to raise awareness and funds for a young boy’s liver transplant.  Born with biliary atresia, two-year-old Juan Carroll Jr. will need the life saving procedure before age five. Please visit www.cotaforjuanc.com for donation information and www.juanjrsarmy.org to learn more about this worthy cause.
Thank you Pearland!


Record Breaking Year for Pearland YMCA’s Operation Backpack

HillAt the start of each school year, Operation Backpack organizers from the Vic Coppinger Family YMCA collect donated backpacks and school supplies for families in need . Thanks to a record-breaking number of donations from business and community partners, additional volunteers had to be called in to help organize supplies and stuff backpacks this year according to District Community Executive Director Jenny Stephens.

“This was our best year yet in terms of donations and volunteer support. H.E.B did a phenomenal job of marketing Operation Backpack to their customers and in the end they gave us more than $30,000 to shop for supplies at their stores,” Stephens said.

In the end, roughly 2300 backpacks and about 45,000 supplies were donated to Operation Backpack this year.

“All of our community and business partners were very generous and it turned out to be a record-breaking year for us. At one point, I had to send an email to the Board of Directors to send out a call for help to help us manage the overload of school supplies. That was the most amazing part, the incredible response we received from the local community to help us put everything together.”

More than 50 employees from Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital and Memorial Hermann Convenient Care Center in Pearland were among the first to answer the call for help. Volunteers gathered for several hours on Wednesday (Aug. 13) to help sort and organize more than 1,000 backpacks full of school supplies.

Crosspoint Church sent out the word and a large group of their members came to help us stuff backpacks. Families came together to work for several hours. They were an amazing help to us,” Stephens said. New Hope Church members also pitched in to help sort school supplies. In addition, representatives from the Pearland Oiler and Dawson Eagle High School football teams also volunteered to help with Operation Backpack.

“Coach Tony Heath and Coach Eric Wells both stepped up to offer their support,” Stephens said.

Pearland Independent School District Director of Communications Kim Hocott, Vic Coppinger Family YMCA’s Member Service Senior Director Tonni Vale, YMCA of Greater Houston’s Vice President of Operations Mary Mossing and Chaplain Jamie Clark, Texas State Senator Larry Taylor’s District Director Kristyn Weaver, Pearland City Councilmember Greg Hill and his wife, Texas State Representative Ed Thompson’s District Director Amy Hill were also among the army of community volunteers who helped stuff backpacks.

The Hills were joined by their four-year-old son Ford and six-year-old daughter Isabella, two of the youngest volunteers.

“It was great to have our kids there,” Greg Hill said. “I think it’s important that our children have an understanding of what it means to give back to the community. It was also a special time for us as a family and made the experience even more fulfilling.”

Organized by the Vic Coppinger Family YMCA, Operation Backpack collects donated backpacks and school supplies and supplies them to the Pearland Independent School District for children in need so they start school with the necessary tools to be successful. The program also benefits Pearland students who attend Alvin ISD schools, Stephens said.

For more information about Operation Backpack, visit www.ymcahouston.org/operation-backpack/.

Source: The Pearland Journal

Adult Reading Center Learners Graduate and Prove the Dream of Literacy to be Real

ALCYou could feel the excitement in the air amongst all graduating students backstage. For some of them, this would be the first time they had the opportunity to wear a graduation gown and receive a certificate. This was their night to shine, and they were ready for it after all the hard work and long hours of studying at the Adult Reading Center.

The ceremony was held in the Pearland ISD Board Room on August 14. Twelve students who successfully completed their GED and two students who completed the Roots of Success program were honored.

Passing the GED exam is a great accomplishment in the life of an adult learner. A lot of work is put into it, and it requires the commitment of the students, as well as their families. The staff and teachers at the Adult Reading Center constantly hear stories of how students are managing all they have on their plates: “We hear stories daily of moms and dads who have to work during alternative hours to be able to attend the classes. Their dream is just much bigger than the challenges. And believe me when I say they face a lot of them and still don’t give up,” says Mrs. Dale E. Pillow, President and CEO of the Center.

The ultimate fulfillment of many of the learners’ goals is a transition from literacy education into the workforce, job training, or higher education. The Adult Reading Center utilizes Roots of Success Curriculum, an empowering environmental literacy and job readiness contextualized curriculum. The Center prepares adults with barriers to employment to gain access to environmental jobs and career pathways in multiple sectors of the economy.

Angie Lopez graduated along with the other adult learners and is the first in her family to receive her GED and go to college. She joined the Adult Reading Center in early 2013, by chance: “I was walking with my three year old son, Gabriel, and passed in front of the Center. He asked me to go in, because he said he wanted to go to school. Since then, I’ve never left. The Adult Reading Center is like a part of my family.” Angie just finished her first semester at Houston Community College and dreams even higher: “I want to pursue a Master Degree at the University of Houston, and become a teacher.”

Lopez is one of many stories of success at the Adult Reading Center. The organization assists the students in what they want to achieve, whether it is their GED, learning a second language, or getting their citizenship. Just like a family, the Center provides what the learners need to succeed and watches them go once they’ve reached their goal. That is what keeps the staff inspired.

To support the Center, donate, or become a volunteer, visit www.AdultReadingCenter.org or call (281) 485-1000.

Source: The Pearland Journal

Pearland Woman Wants to Help Single Moms Break Free From Poverty

By Flori Meeks

Photo By Pin Lim/Freelance

Photo By Pin Lim/Freelance

Leah Gonzales is in the process of launching Life Skills House to provide transitional housing to young women and their children trying to break free from poverty. When she was a single mother, one of the things that helped get her through the tough times was reminding herself that she was facing a season of difficulty, not a lifetime.

That message of hope is one of the ideas the 45-year-old Pearland resident hopes to get across to young, single mothers through a transitional living facility – Life Skills House – that she plans to establish in Brazoria County.

“I went through struggles but made it to the other side,” Gonzales said. “I learned different skills in the process that could help other ladies.”

Life Skills House will serve single mothers and pregnant teens ages 15-25, those striving to break the cycle of poverty and young women who were once victims of sex trafficking.

Gonzales wants to provide the women who live there the guidance, encouragement and tools they need to create stability in their lives. She wants the women there to find the kind of mentorship that she relied upon as a single mom.

“Having a personal cheerleader who believes in them more than they’re able to believe in themselves at that moment brings people along,” Gonzales said.

One of the first things Gonzales had to learn as a single mother was to make wise financial decisions. She worked as an office manager but had a limited budget to cover basic expenses for her and her daughter. “I learned to live on a little and pay for needs, knowing that later I would be able to pay for wants.”

Beyond the practical, Gonzales said, it was her faith that most sustained her. “I got involved in a church, did Bible studies and grew spiritually,” she said. “I had people at church who helped me along. I got a lot of coaching and wisdom passed on.

“I knew if I asked for financial assistance I would have gotten it, but I was determined to learn to live with what I had. God always provides what we need.”

After 16 years working as an office manager in a corporate environment, Gonzales recently became an office administrator for an international ministry that serves pregnant teens, Young Life, and she also started volunteering for the organization.

Her experiences there helped inspire her to create the Life Skills House ministry.

“God put me there and let me see the great need,” Gonzales said.

It was another volunteer experience, at a safe house for sex trafficking victims, that gave her the idea to open her ministry to women who’ve been freed from bondage.

She envisions partnering with safe houses that can recommend young women who’ve spent time there and are ready to transition to the next step in re-building their lives.

“The goal of Life Skills House has been helping women and children transition from surviving to thriving,” Gonzales said. “What I sometimes see is generational poverty that affects ladies’ choices. I want to show them that it’s difficult, but not impossible, to excel.”

Gonzales has been able to move on to a new season in her own life, too.

She is now married to Juan Gonzales. In addition to her 21-year-old daughter, she has two stepsons, ages 14 and 17. Last August, she graduated from the College of Biblical Studies in Houston with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Counseling. In February she self-published a daily devotional, Transcripts For Daily Living, that is available through Amazon for $9.

Gonzales also has made progress on her vision for Life Skills House. She established a nonprofit organization for it and recently received a $40,000 matching grant for it from the Houston-based Stoller Foundation. For every $3.50 raised, the foundation will contribute $1, with a ceiling of $40,000. So far, Gonzales has raised more than $15,000 toward that effort by the March deadline. Gonzales said she’s also applied for other grants.

Board member Dorothy Smith of Pearland, who raised four sons as a single mother, said she sees great potential for Life Skills House. “I was like a child raising a child,” Smith said. “You really need the influence of strong mentors to get you through those days.”

When she’s ready to launch Life Skills House, Gonzales would like to start with one building that can accommodate about 12 families. Over time, she hopes to add other buildings, including cottages where young women can go after making progress with the program.

“This is probably the most humbling experience I’ve ever gone through,” Gonzales said. “It’s humbling to see it come to fruition and to have people willing to come beside me and assist and buy into the vision God has given me.”

Life Skills House can accept donations at www.lifeskillshouse.org, or it can accept checks mailed to Life Skills House, P.O. Box 3161, Pearland, TX 77588.

To pay through PayPal, use the e-mail address lifeskillshouse@gmail.com for the transaction.

Gonzales said the house has taken some classes into the community to impact its target group while fundraising continues.

“I do know it takes time to get the word out to the community and it takes time to see the long-term benefits of our program,” Gonzales said. “People will catch the vision and will want to partner to make it happen.”

One of Life Skills House's Upcoming Classes

One of Life Skills House’s Upcoming Classes

Source: The Houston Chronicle

UPDATED: Community Shows Love for Survivor Joy Weiner

Joy Weiner hasn’t beaten cancer once. She’s beaten it three times and is in the middle of kicking stage 4 bone cancer now. It’s obvious she’s a survivor. Unfortunately, hefty medical bills come with that resilience.

Friends, family and the community came together today to help Joy pay some of those bills so that she can concentrate on the task at hand – getting well. The Pearland Lions Club donated the use of their building on Main Street for the event, and the Bottomless Pit Cookers served up some delicious bbq chicken, sausage, beans, potato salad and cookies. Many folks donated items for the live and silent auctions, which included some amazing artwork, jewelry, gift baskets and a gorgeous gun table.

City Council Members Greg Hill, Keith Ordeneaux, Tony Carbone and Gary Moore were there to dish out the food, as was Representative Ed Thompson, Commissioner Matt Sebesta and PISD Board of Trustees Member Charles Gooden, Jr. The Benefit was quite a success and we can’t wait to report how much was raised for this amazing person!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you weren’t able to attend the benefit, but would still like to donate, visit http://www.gofundme.com/5aaf6w or bring your donation to Home Town Bank and tell the employee that you’re donating to Joy’s account. Joy is so grateful for the support and love of her community!