Charity Logo

Charity Logo

Charity of the Month


In December I am riding for Heifer International. Founded in 1944, Heifer International works with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. Its approach is more than a handout. Heifer provides animals (e.g., heifers, goats, water buffalos, chickens, rabbits, fish, and bees) and training to impoverished people in over 30 countries. The animals can give milk, meat, or eggs; provide draft power; or form the basis of a small business. Communities make their own decisions about what crops, animals, and market strategies make sense for their everyday conditions and experiences.

Heifer International is based on 12 Cornerstones, such as Sustainability; Genuine Need and Justice; and Gender and Family Focus. Perhaps the best known Cornerstone is Passing on the Gift, in which Heifer recipient families pass on the offspring of their animals to others in need. In this way, whole communities can raise their standard of living.

A donation to Heifer International also can make a wonderful alternative holiday gift. Instead of yet another sweater for Grandma that she really doesn’t need, why not donate a Heifer animal or a share of an animal in her honor? Does your child really need so many new toys? Instead of five new toys, give him/her three new toys and a Heifer flock of chicks. Heifer has honor cards to let your loved ones know of your gift on their behalf.

I have set up a Team Heifer page to support Heifer International through A Year of Centuries. My goal is to raise $500. Please make your donation through If you would like more information about Heifer’s work, please visit Whether you give to honor a loved one or make a regular donation, thank you for taking steps to transform the world for the better.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tribute to My Math Team Coaches

On this last day of February, I’d like to pay tribute to my math team coaches.  They showed me that math is a life skill, a fun arena for competition, and a thing of beauty in and of itself.

Mrs. Childs

This first person I want to recognize is Mrs. Mary Childs, my 7th grade math teacher.  Although she wasn’t actually one of my math team coaches, she helped pave the way for me to be successful in math in high school.  When I was growing up in DeKalb County, we didn’t have middle schools or junior highs.  Elementary school went from 1st grade through 7th grade (public kindergarten was added when I was in about 3rd grade), and high school went from 8th grade through 12th grade.  Mrs. Childs saw that I had interest and ability in math and encouraged me in that direction.  She even loaned me some algebra books to do some studying on my own before I moved on to high school.

Mrs. Yontz

Mrs. Tami Yontz was a math teacher at Lakeside High School during my 8th grade year.  She wasn’t one of my classroom teachers, but she played an unknowing role in my love of math: she recruited me for the 8th grade MATHCOUNTS team.  I remember going to some afterschool practices, and the problems were challenging!  We went to the chapter competition, which was held at Georgia Tech.  The world of academic competition was brand new to me, and I have to admit that it seemed a little overwhelming.  For one thing, I had no idea that these kinds of competitions took pretty much all day on Saturdays!  Mrs. Yontz was very nice to give me a ride home afterwards.

Mr. Koff

In 9th and 10th grade I was on the junior varsity math team, coached by Mr. Bob Koff.  Mr. Koff also taught me geometry in 9th grade.  Everyone loved Mr. Koff.  He was a fun teacher, but he was good, too.  I have some fond memories of Mr. Koff in class.  One time he gave us a “gift” of a quiz on the last day of school before Christmas break.  It was a multiple choice quiz with questions like this:

Three non-collinear points determine a/an:

A)    Plain

B)    Plane

C)    Airplane

D)    Airplane II

E)    Hydroplane

Another time during a regular class, Mr. Koff was standing in front of the room, explaining the day’s subject matter.  Some kid walked by, stuck his head in the door, said, “Hey, Mr. Koff!” and went on his way.  Mr. Koff took off after him, I guess to reprimand the kid for disturbing class.  When Mr. Koff left the room, several of my classmates closed and locked the door and taped a piece of paper over the single window pane in the door.  On the piece of paper they had written, “No dogs allowed.”  Several minutes later, a stern voice came over the intercom: “OPEN THE DOOR!”  I think we resumed class as usual.  I don’t remember whether those classmates got in trouble, but the whole thing was pretty hilarious to us innocent bystanders.

The main thing I remember about Mr. Koff and the J.V. math team is when we went to the Woodward Academy invitational one year.  (Those Woodward Academy tournaments seem to be the most memorable for some reason.)  All of us B-teamers were in 9th or 10th grade, and so we couldn’t drive yet.  The varsity math team helped drive us to and from the tournament, but because the J.V. and varsity teams didn’t break for lunch at the same time that day, we younger ones had to rely on Mr. Koff to transport us to lunch.  There were about eight of us B-teamers, and Mr. Koff drove a compact car with a hatchback.  We didn’t think twice about all of us squishing in any which way, including one or two in the hatchback area, and of course most of us weren’t wearing seatbelts.  We went to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Today, not only would these shenanigans not pass muster, we’d have to eat at KFC.

Mr. Voris

Finally, there’s Mr. Ralph Voris.  He was legendary.  I absolutely loved Mr. Voris.  He was probably the most influential teacher I had at Lakeside, which is saying a lot, because I had many, many excellent teachers there.  He taught me trigonometry in 11th grade and calculus in 12th grade, and he was also the varsity math team coach, which was comprised of juniors and seniors.  Mr. Voris was famous for a number of things:

·         “Scoring opportunities,” as he called them.  These were quizzes, usually pop, that were on a 10-point scale.  That made it tougher, because even if you missed only one point, making a 9, that was recorded as a 90 in your quiz average.  He never wrote 0 on anyone’s paper, though; if you were unfortunate enough not to score any points, you just got a check (i.e., checkmark).  Also, you had to use a half-sheet of notebook paper for quizzes.  He intended for you to keep the other half for the next quiz; I don’t know whether he was trying to be green, efficient, or both.

·         Quotes on the chalkboard.  He wrote three or four of them every day.  They were thought provoking, even profound sometimes.  An example: “Eschew obfuscation.”

·         Mr. Voris always very deliberately differentiated between “sign” and “sine,” spelling them so that no one would get confused.

·         As fun-loving and exuberant and Mr. Koff was, Mr. Voris was just as quiet and serious.  We knew that Mr. Voris cared about us as students, but he never tried to get buddy-buddy with anyone.  When we went to all-day math tournaments, Mr. Voris brought a sack lunch and ate it by himself in his car while listening to classical music.

·         Mr. Voris was a huge classical music fan.  Jason Jones, a student a year ahead of me, told a funny story about this.  It was after school, and Jason was sitting in his car in the parking lot, windows rolled down, listening to the radio while he waited for someone.  He saw Mr. Voris come out of the building and start walking toward his car, which was parked near Jason’s.  Jason quickly changed to a classical music radio station, cranked it up, and sat there chilling.  As Mr. Voris walked by, his eyes were as big as saucers.

Thank you, Mrs. Childs, Mrs. Yontz, Mr. Koff, Mr. Voris, and all of the other math mentors I had in elementary school through college.

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