Today is Bloggers Unite in Acts of Kindness day. According to the site:
The Acts of Kindness bloggers unite challenge aims at putting a human face on bloggers who are responsible for so much good in the world. The goal is to expose their kindness and generosity as well as serve as an example to non-bloggers that volunteering for a charity, donating to a cause, or simply doing something kind for another person has a ripple effect around the world.
"Maybe 20,000 bloggers, vloggers, and photographers will make a difference."
My belief has always been that one person can make a difference. Today I could talk about volunteering to teach children how to read. I could write about putting quarters in meters about to expire -- the city of Philadelphia issues stiff tickets, I've been always ready to help others not get one. Or I could share stories about giving someone that critical connection to solve a problem. All good things that help me be a better person for sure. All things that pale in comparison with the lifetime work of a very special person.
I met Bill Strickland in Denver, August 2000. We had a very casual hallway conversation on our way to the meeting hall during Fast Company Community @ Work gathering. 101 coordinators of readers' groups convened from all over the world to meet face to face with each other and the magazine editorial staff. Bill was one of the mentors who had been invited by Fast Company to ignite the conversation. That he did with images and a human voice that left no heart unaffected. By the time he was done speaking, every single person in the room was moved to tears -- of compassion, joy, and love.
As things go, I came back home inspired to learn more. In January 2003, I met the then Managing Director of a local school, INROADS, at a round table organized by Penn State Great Valley in Philadelphia on the value of creating a sustaining a diverse work environment in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. During our conversation, I learned that he was a Pittsburgh native and had been away from the city for 20 years. Thus he was not familiar with Bill's work at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
I offered to connect the two so that a visit to the Pittsburgh marvel could be arranged. Inroad's mission is to recruit, train and develop high caliber students of color for professional positions in business and industry. It seemed like a perfect match. I'm sure Bill is quite busy with the school and Manchester Bidwell, a jobs training center and community arts program. He answered within hours with contact details for the visit.
Why am I thinking about this now? A few days ago I received an email from Meredith McGinnis at Doubleday, Random House. Her email was the best pitch I have received from anyone to date. She started by referencing my post on Three Cups of Tea that made her decide to reach out and tell me about a book titled Make the Impossible Possible. A book by Bill Strickland with Vince Rause. What Meredith described in her email touched me because I had felt it in Bill's presence, hearing his story many years earlier. Her email is a superb example of the use of story to connect (emphasis mine):
"Last November I flew to Pittsburgh to meet Bill Strickland. All I knew was that he had built a center in the middle of the ghetto, six blocks from where he grew up, and was saving the lives of troubled youths and disadvantaged adults through arts and education. Exactly what that meant didn't hit home for me until I stepped foot inside his building and met the man himself.
Bill started off his center, The Manchester Craftsman's Guild in a row-house that was donated by the local church. His method for getting kids out of trouble and off the street was simple: physically take them and show them how to work with clay. As word traveled from person to person and school to school, he no longer had to go seeking them; they came to him and his little center grew to become a world-class facility.
Designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright's students, the center is bathed in sunlight despite the cold and snowy November day, fresh flowers are everywhere, and a buzz of activity from both students and adults is in the air. The flowers are not just any flowers, but prize-winning orchids grown in their state-of-the-art greenhouse just next door. Some might ask what a poverty program needs a greenhouse for and to that Bill would be the first
to say that it is NOT a poverty program. It is a training program for poor people and why shouldn't poor people be given a sanctuary from the streets where they see no light ahead of them? By teaching them horticulture, along with culinary, computer, mathematics, chemistry, ceramics, photography, and much more, Bill is helping to change the conversation and help them see that they have a future outside of what they know. In building this world-class facility, he is helping to create world-class citizens.
Over the years I have worked with many different authors, all with their own unique backgrounds. Bill is the first author whose story has brought tears to my eyes, has received a standing ovation at every speech I have seen him give, and has even tempted me to leave my job so that I might follow in his footsteps. Luckily for me, Bill's message also shows us that we don't need to do anything that drastic. There is always something we can do right in our own backyard that will make a difference in people's lives."
Today's highlight in Acts of Kindness rightly belongs to Bill Strickland and his achievement of a lifetime. I am thanking Meredith for spreading the word so effectively. I will be reading the book with anticipation during my travels as it will ground me again on what it means to contribute. Among Bill's beliefs are:
- People are born into this world as assets, not liabilities. It's all in the way we treat people (and ourselves) that determines a person's outcome.
- The sand in the hourglass flows only one way. Stop going through the motions of living -- savor each and every day. Life is here and now, not something waiting for you in the future.
- You don't have to travel far to change the life you're living. Bill grew up in the Pittsburgh ghetto, four blocks from where he came to build one of the foremost job training centers in the world.
I still remember as it if where now the image Bill painted for us at the Denver event more than 7 years ago. He described how he had this dream of building a world class place for young people to find their possibility; how he went from person and place towing this carton model with him. Today his dream is a reality. One person can make a tremendous difference.