I’m falling and I can’t get back up

Have you ever done something risky and dangerous? So risky and dangerous that at the time it doesn’t cross your mind how crazy it is? That is exactly how I feel today, four days after jumping 14,000 feet out of a tiny airplane with no seats and a man strapped on to my back.

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For our anniversary, my boyfriend took us skydiving in Lake Wales. When I initially told my friends about what we were going to do most of them reacted the same way, “That’s insane! If my boyfriend/husband/significant other asked me to go skydiving, I wouldn’t do it!”

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Skydiving has always been on my bucket list but I’ve always been either too broke or too scared to go. Luckily there was a Groupon available and my boyfriend snatched it. Now I had no excuses.

The whole drive over there was nerve-racking. The craziest thing that’s ever happened to me was getting detained in a Detroit airport on a work trip for having pepper spray in my bag (that’s a story for another day). The fog on the highway was terrible thanks to the insane weather Florida has been experiencing so the thought of jumping out of an airplane with limited visibility was on the top 5 dumbest ideas I’ve ever had.

We finally got there and began signing our lives away upon our arrival. I’m not sure how many times I read this sentence, “This is an important legal document. By signing it, you are giving away important legal rights,” but I’m pretty sure I baby-barfed every single time. I initialed my name about 30 times and agreed that if I die, my family, friends, next of kin, creepy stalker, etc. cannot sue the airplane, airplane engine manufacturer, skydive center, skydive instructor, parachute maker, and so on and so forth.

Enter my instructor. He tells me his nickname is Baglock.

Bag lock: This malfunction occurs when the deployment bag is extracted from the main container, but fails to release the canopy within. The correct procedure to clear the malfunction is to cut away the main and deploy the reserve.

A little skydiving humor. Get it? Ha. Ha.

He went over the procedures with me and told me everything would be fine. He’s jumped out of a plane over 4,000 times and that day wouldn’t be any different.

Baglock: “Any questions?”

Me: “How many people have thrown up on you?”

Baglock: “11 out of over 4,000. I think that’s a good ratio.”

Before I knew it, I was inside the plane at 14,000 feet, getting ready to be number 12 on his throw up list. Baglock strapped his  harness to mine and we began to inch our way to the door. I looked down and half my foot was sticking out of the plane. I closed my eyes and gave in.

Everyone asked if falling from an airplane gives you the same butterflies as riding a roller coaster for the first time. It’s not and it is really hard to explain what I went through to someone who has never done this.

Initially, my eyes were closed and we tumbled into the open air. I felt helpless, like I was falling and I couldn’t stop myself from doing so. I immediately threw my legs and head back since it is the proper position when tandem skydiving and opened my eyes.

Baglock: “That’s the airport! You see it? That’s Lake Kissimmee! There’s your boyfriend and his instructor!”

I couldn’t believe how wonderful everything looked. The fog had cleared up right before we went on the airplane and I couldn’t have asked for a more clear and beautiful day. That’s when I forgot I was falling at 120 mph. That’s when every fearful thought of our parachute not opening faded. I couldn’t stop smiling.

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After one minute of free falling, our parachute was deployed and I was even allowed to steer for a bit. We practiced our landing while we were still in the air, but since we all know I’m awkward, you can safely assume that I didn’t gracefully land on my butt. Instead, I dragged my legs like a broken Raggedy Ann doll, laughing the whole time.

Four days later, I sit on my bed looking at pictures of our skydiving adventure and I can’t believe I did it. I never thought that I had the guts to do it. Then I get scared because I could’ve died for participating in such a dangerous activity. But then I laugh because I did it.

Basically, skydiving turned me into a bipolar maniac but I can’t wait to do it again! Skydiving has now officially been checked off of my bucket list. Many thanks to my boyfriend for making this possible and to my stomach for staying cool while being flung thousands of feet to the ground.

One Year Of Feeding Children

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It amazes me how 2013 came and went in the blink of an eye and how things change. A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how excited I was because I was offered a job as a communications coordinator at a local nonprofit. I was also in my senior year of college, living with my parents and with big plans ahead of me.

Right now, I sit in my room at my house listening to my roommate talk to her friend on the phone. My other roommate is in her room, screaming because she can’t sleep over the loud phone conversation.

To my left, on a pile of gold glitter I should’ve cleaned a while ago, sits my graduation cap. To my left sits a document titled “How To Do Everything by Veronica Figueroa.” This document holds every procedure that a communications coordinator at Feeding Children Everywhere could ever need. It was my holy book and I am now revising it and polishing it up for my new coworker who will be replacing me in March.

I never would’ve thought that a month after graduation I would be revising my resume and heading into the post graduation job search, but I guess everything I do is backwards.

Looking back on 2013, I can say I have been blessed to have been a part of the Feeding Children Everywhere team and I have experienced many wonderful things, as well as some scary ones that have now become life lessons. I loved that behind my job was a mission to raise awareness of the hunger epidemic around the world. I am proud that what I did for a living mobilized thousands of volunteers to package 7 million meals that were distributed to numerous food pantries across the nation as well as the Philippines, Africa and Haiti. And as proud and happy as I am of my accomplishments, I do not feel fulfilled and passionate about these things but I do believe that I was there for the season that I need to be. All the social media, press, marketing and campaigns, communications, fundraising and stepping into an intern manager role definitely helped shape me for my future career, whatever it may be.

It is now that I ask myself the question, “So, now what?”

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in such a place of uncertainty in my life so this is new to me. Next month begins the job search and whether it may be marketing, social media or writing that I end up doing, I hope that it is something that I feel passionate about. I hope that I find something that if it were taken away, would break me.

I’ve been praying about this for a few days now and I have left this on God’s hands.

Until then.

Nonprofit Tech 2.0 Blog :: A Social Media Guide for Nonprofits

twitter-birds2If your nonprofit is not getting retweeted on Twitter, then you haven’t yet found your Twitter voice. Retweets ensure increased exposure of your nonprofit’s avatar which ultimately results in more followers and click-through rates. Twitter itself has concurred that influence on Twitter is not in how many followers you have, but rather in how often you get retweeted. You have to give your followers retweetable tweets! That said, as a follow-up to Five Types of Nonprofit Tweets Guaranteed to Get Retweeted, below are  five types of tweets that rarely, if ever, get retweeted:

1. Truncated automated tweets from Facebook.
Sorry nonprofits. There’s no short cuts in social media. Folks on Twitter don’t want to follow robots. They want to know there’s a human being behind your avatar.

ymca

2. Automated tweets announcing new photos posted on Facebook.
Who hasn’t seen this tweet many, many times on Twitter? No longer interesting and…

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Planning and God’s timing

Most of those who know me know that I write everything down on my planner. I can’t live without it and I feel lost when I leave it at home.

When I graduated high school in 2009, I sat down during the summer before college and planned out my life for the next two years. I worked hard, graduated on time and figured I’d do the same at UCF. I’ve worked hard, but I’m behind on classes because of my past internships so instead of graduating in May, I’ll be graduating in December, God-willing.

[Quick update: I didn’t get the St. Petersburg Times summer internship that I had applied for. I wrote back to Nancy Waclawek, the Director of Corporate Giving, as well as Drew Harwell, a reporter there, and they both told me that I needed more breaking news experience. It was pretty saddening but I moved on.]

Now that I look back, I thank God that I didn’t get the Orlando Sentinel internship or the St. Petersburg Times internship because it wouldn’t have led me to Feeding Children Everywhere. I was taking social media classes while I was a social media intern there and I feel like these things went hand-in-hand.

I was recently offered a position there as a communications coordinator and I took it. I had been praying about job offers because I was so unsure about my stalled “career.” What was I going to do when I graduated? I had a small panic attack during the winter break and I was constantly anxious about my future. Thankfully, I got the answer to my prayers a month into my internship. They said that I worked hard and I made myself invaluable to them. Now I get paid to do something that I love (the internship was unpaid, for those of you who keep Google’ing if its paid or not)!

It’s just really funny that to me that I planned out my life at UCF and things didn’t go the way I wanted to. Then I planned out getting these internships and building my portfolio but that didn’t happen. Then I finally decided to let go, keep praying and focus on being the best that I can be. God works in mysterious ways so before questioning his timing, just let it be. Something good will work itself out.

Habbakuk 2:3 reads, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” God won’t make you wait for something that will suck. He is just waiting for the right moment to give you His gift.

Anyway, I’m really thankful for my new position at Feeding Children Everywhere and even though I just started there and I may feel overwhelmed by certain projects, I know that I can put all my trust in the Lord.

Taking I-95 to the #DeathRace

What’s an Orlando student journalist have to do to get some innovation and inspiration in her writing life?

Drive three and a half hours to Fort Lauderdale (thanks for sucking, Mid Florida SPJ. But more on that later).

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This weekend I was able to be a part of Death Race, an event held by SPJ’s South Florida Pro Chapter. I first became associated with them through the Will Write For Food 2012 program that I was a part of this past Labor Day weekend (and I urge everyone to sign up for).

Death Race was a kind of hands-on training on writing obituaries. It’s rare the case when a j-school professor goes in depth about writing obituaries, since it’s not such a popular beat for reporters to want to cover.

Miami Herald obit writer Elinor Brecher, talked to us about her career writing obituaries and advised us on how to write them. The prize? An urn with the newspaper ashes.

Oh, and three journalists died.

Well, not really.

But these three South Florida SPJ board members volunteered to die for the day, you know, for authenticity: Gideon Grudo (managing editor at South Florida Gay News), Mariam Aldhahi (an art director with Forum Publishing Group) and Cassie Morien (web editor at Boca Raton Magazine).

And if that wasn’t eerie enough, their family, friends and colleagues were invited to speak about them in a creepy chapel, in front of a coffin, two urns, floral arrangements and pictures of the young journalists.

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Here are some of the obit writing tips that I wrote down when Elinor spoke:

1. Be sensitive to the nuance of people grieving. Be patient and compassionate.

2. Know your audience. What may fly with one family, might not fly with the next.

3. Writing obituaries IS journalism–get the right facts (research).

4. Figure out why the person you’re writing about is obit worthy? The 5W’s aren’t enough.

5. Watch out for cliches (“He was so nice. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”).

6. Listen carefully for nuggets of info. The person sharing their story might not think its important, but that could potentially be your lede.

I decided to write my obit on Mariam, but the problem was that her family lives in freakin’ Dubai. Just yesterday (I’m not even kidding) I was telling my friend that I don’t know anyone that has even lived or been in Dubai. I called her uncle in Cali and we spoke for a bit and he gave me enough information about her that I could use.

Long story short: I didn’t win the obituary contest, but I realized that writing them isn’t easy. I was originally going to approach it like a feature story (which I should have done), but I doubted myself and wrote a basic boring skeleton of an obit. Its really hard to approach a story about someone dying and make it into a nice piece that people can reflect on. So much pressure!

I am interested in continuing to practice writing them (weird) so friends: Beware. You’re all my next targets.

On another topic, I quickly want to touch on the SPJ Mid Florida Chapter run by interim  president, Bobbi O’Brien. That’s the chapter that Orlando falls under and unfortunately that includes me.

Whenever I am interested in expanding my career as a journalist or simply just learning something new, I don’t have the luxury of having a good pro chapter. Our student chapter at UCF, run by journo professor Rick Brunson, is great. We get a lot of guest speakers and internship fairs, which I’ve benefitted from. But our pro chapter is ridiculous.

I decided to look up our pro chapter on Facebook and this is what I got.

That is probably the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. The 23 member open group (so that means I can see their SPJ chapter plans) lacks creativity and innovation. It doesn’t pull and attract potential journalists.

The last post was on January 9th about the “revival” of the chapter in which O’Brien invited everyone for appetizers and drinks. If I had the option of going to this or driving three hours for free food and actually learning stuff, I’d do the latter (oh wait, that’s exactly what I did this weekend).

One of O’Briens’ posts from November 28, 2012 reads:

“Looking Long range: A workshop on social media bringing journalists up to speed on Twitter, Facebook, Storify, Pinerest, Tumblr, etc […]. Boots camps… on computer assisted reporting [and] social media […]. Create a local public records event to incorporate Tampa Bay media and SPJ college chapter students.”

I could probably give O’Brien a lesson on social media so that we could do something about that terrible group, lack of Facebok fan page, lack of website, lack of Twitter, etc. It’s ironic that these are all her ideas for journalism workshops but our chapter doesn’t implement any of these things.

All these ideas were suggested because on November 19, 2012 she posted:

“URGENT: All Mid-Florida SPJ members past, present and hopefully future!

Michael Koretzky, former president of the South Florida SPJ, current president of the Florida College Press and SPJ Region 3 director, has sent me several emails this morning demanding that I close the Mid-Florida Chapter account and mail him the check.

The Mid-Florida chapter received no prior notices of Mr. Koretzky’s intentions or this demand. The National SPJ membership officer and president have been copied on Mr. Kroetzky’s emails. But I have not heard from them yet.

I ask for input IMMEDIATELY and a meeting to review Mr. Kroetzky’s emails and demands.

Please share this information with all the journalists in the Mid-Florida Chapter region. So we can formulate a response and show that the Mid-Florida Chapter is still viable.”

First… see, Koretzky? I’m not the only idiot that misspells your name.

Second of all,  they SHOULD have taken the money because previous to that post, on October 3rd, 2012, someone posted: “Does this chapter hold meetings? Trying to find information but it looks outdated.”

AND PREVIOUS TO THAT POST, THE LAST POST HAD BEEN MADE IN JANUARY 2012. 

Holy crap my brain just imploded! What does this chapter do all year? Where exactly does the money go to? Appetizers and drinks? It’s so outdated I almost heard a dial-up tone going off.

After I graduate and become and alumna, I’ll probably still be a part of UCF’s SPJ, but I can’t attend internship fairs forever, so that’s why I wish our chapter was more active. It’s important for someone like me, who just decided to become a journalist not so long ago, to have a chapter to keep me active and current with things I should know.

I’d rather have this Mid Florida Chapter be closed than continue in mediocrity.

It’s embarrassing.

WRITING QUICKLY ABOUT DYING SLOWLY

So excited for this! I’ll probably blog about my experience about it next week. I wish our region had an SPJ chapter like this one.

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“DYING,” Woody Allen once said, “is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down.”

Sadly, writing about death is harder than just sitting at a keyboard.

While journalism schools teach students how to cover city commission meetings and write personality profiles, I can’t find one major j-school that offers a class on obituaries.

And if you’re thinking, “Well, that’s because there are lot more important lessons to learn,” check out these actual classes…

  • At Columbia University, China Seminar will “sharpen the ways we think and write about the country as journalists.”
  • At the University of Missouri, Field Reporting on the Food System explores the “ethical dimensions of the food system” and includes a “multi-day field trip.”
  • At the University of Florida, Fashion Reporting offers no course description online, but it mentions this: “The instructor has stated that there are no textbooks required or recommended.”

I’m…

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