Reaching Out Behind Bars: Take Two

In February of 2103, I wrote a letter to a prison inmate named Dennis. It was an introduction and a note of encouragement for a man who was six years into a life sentence for drug trafficking, gun possession and murder. The letter was short and to the point.  I dropped it in the mail not knowing what would happen.  What would the response be? Days and weeks went by, no response.  Months passed and still nothing.  It has now been 16 months since that letter was sent and I still wonder if it was received, read, processed, and/or appreciated.  Is Dennis’ life being transformed in prison? I will never know.

That letter forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. It was something completely new for me at the time. I had never had a desire to talk to, empathize with, or help someone who was convicted of a crime. I will admit that I have lived most of my life with a “lock them up and throw away the key” attitude. Criminals were criminals regardless of the crime. I wanted them to be put away and suffer all consequences.  That day in February of last year I realized that my attitude was very short-sided and unfair.  People make mistakes.  We must offer grace.  Change can take place and second chance should be granted. I am not perfect. I have made many mistakes in life (too many to be counted).  I have been given second, third, and fourth chances.  I have been forgiven.  I have been helped.  My goal is to pay that forward.  I want to live my life that way. I want to help, and impact, anyone that I can.

This week, I wrote another letter to a prison inmate. His name is Andrew.  He is serving time for drug trafficking, battery, and gun possession in a California prison.  Just like the last one, I introduced myself and shared a short bio. I shared scripture and offered a few words of encouragement.  Now I wait to see if I get a response.  It could take months for that letter to reach his hands and that is okay. I have all of the time in the world.

letter to a prisoner

Our mission to positively impact the lives of other human beings has taken us down many paths. Week after week we volunteer with nonprofits, support special causes, and search for opportunities to help. We have learned to open our eyes and see the opportunities that exist each and every day to make a difference. We know that simple gestures have unlimited potential to change and improve lives.  Can writing a simple letter in an effort to communicate with a felon make a difference?  I believe that it can. I encourage you to look at yourself in the mirror and challenge your beliefs, your attitudes, and your actions.  Are you willing to step outside of your comfort zone in an effort to positively impact the lives of other people?  Are you willing to put yourself on a piece a paper and share it with a complete stranger?  If you are, DO IT!  Visit WriteAPrisoner.com or meet-an-inmate.com and reach out to someone behind bars.

 


The Gift Of Sight

It is estimated that more than 153 million people around the world have uncorrected vision impairments. Most of these impairments can be quickly diagnosed and easily treated with corrective lenses. Unfortunately, they never get corrected.  People lack the resources to obtain the proper eyewear to fix things like nearsightedness and astigmatism. The lack of glasses pushes millions of people deeper into poverty. They cannot learn because reading is difficult.  They struggle at work because they cannot see clearly. They battle headaches and other health issues that diminish their quality of life.  One pair of glasses can be powerful for one person.  One pair of glasses.

Clear vision means a better education for children.  Clear vision means greater employment opportunities and career success for adults.  Clear vision means more independence for seniors.  Clear vision improves the quality of life for all.  You can provide clear vision for those who cannot afford it and it is extremely easy.

I have been wearing eyeglasses since I was young.  I have gone through many (many, many) pairs of glasses over the years.  Thick frames and lightweight frames.  Round lenses and square lenses.  Black ones, gray ones, and brown ones.  The list goes on and on.  With each new eye exam (or cracked frame) came a new pair of glasses.  The old ones were quickly discarded into the trash and forgotten forever. I had no idea that those old glasses could make the difference in the lives of another person. Today, my eyes have been opened.

Lions Clubs International has been changing the world through eyeglasses for many years. Lions clubs collect millions of eyeglasses each year to address the need for glasses. It costs Lions less than $0.08 to provide a pair of recycled eyeglasses to change someone’s life.  Glasses are collected through boxes that are located throughout communities across the country.

Glasses

This week we donated 8 pairs of glasses in one of our local collection boxes. We will never know if these glasses will reach those in need.  We have no idea if our prescription lenses can be used by another person.  We do know, however, that the alternative to donating our glasses was dropping them in the garbage.  In the trash there is a 0% chance of helping another person.  We do not like those odds.  By making a donation, we hope that we have been able to someone the gift of sight.

If you wear glasses, consider donating your old pair.  You just might change someone’s life.

 

 


Promoting The Arts, Building Community

We get asked all of the time about our volunteer activity and organizations selection process.  Our answer is always pretty simple.  First, we keep our ears and eyes open to the need around us.  When a need is announced, recognized, or discovered we try to jump on it to help out.  We have also created a target list of organizations that we want to work with.  Those on the list intrigue us, their mission excites us, and we want to serve and learn more.  That list, once extremely long, continues to shrink with every passing week.  This week, we checked another one of those organizations off of the list.  It is fun.  It is interesting.  And after volunteering, we learned that it is awesome.

Impact 52 spends time with Wunderkammer Company

Wunderkammer Company is a nonprofit that seeks to revitalize communities through contemporary art.  An old, iconic Fort Wayne building has been transformed into a contemporary art center that is transforming the art landscape of our city.  Abstract sculptures, outside-the-box exhibitions, musical performances, historic panel discussions, and special events can be found inside the four walls, in the courtyard, and on the exterior bricks of Wunderkammer at any given time.  It is a place that gives artists, who may never find a home for their work, their craft, or their talents, a place to thrive.  When you visit, it doesn’t take long to fall in love with the organization, its mission, and the people.

We spent time on a sunny Saturday morning working outside in the courtyard.  It is going through a transformation.  New plants are going in and old ones (and weeds) are coming out.  A new vegetable garden is going in that will promote self-sustainability and urban farming.  Rocks, roots, and stumps are being removed.  There are visions of a new deck that can host bands and performances under the stars on a cool summer evening.  The courtyard will be amazing.  In order for the courtyard to become the treasure it is meant to be, work has to be done.  We dug up and transplanted plants.  We removed weeds and unwanted rocks.  We chopped up old tree roots and cleared the way for new dirt.  The girls planted and watered seedlings that will be the future of the outdoor space.  It was physical labor, but easy work. The sun felt great and so did the organization’s appreciation.

Impact 52 works in the courtyard at Wunderkammer

 

Impact 52 and Wunderkammer

Wunderkammer was founded by a man named Dan Swartz.  Those who are active in the community know Dan because he truly loves our city.  He is a huge advocate for Fort Wayne and he works really hard to improve our community.  He is a visionary with big plans for Wunderkammer Company and big plans for Fort Wayne.  We need more people in our communities around the country like Dan.  He has a genuine love for people.  He wants to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  He takes action to close gaps that exist in our society.  He is conduit of positive energy, encouragement, and laughter.  If you know Dan, I think that you would agree (and you could add a lot more).  He made our volunteer experience enjoyable.  He wore his appreciation on his sleeve. He expressed it through his actions and his words.  We worked, we laughed, and we worked.  Dan was a model example of volunteer engagement.

You need to check out Wunderkammer Company.  Attend a performance.  Walk through an exhibit.  Host a party.  Just get there.  Get involved and find ways to support the mission.  Share the vision with others.  By doing so you will be promoting the arts in our community.  You will also help build a better community in the process.


Operation: Military Kids

There are approximately two million military kids in the United States.  These are children who have at least one parent active in the military.  They face many of the same challenges and stresses as their parents: frequent relocations, deployment, and reintegration.  Thankfully there are organizations that focus on these children.  We had the opportunity to volunteer with one of those organizations this week that serves military kids right here in Indiana.

Operation Military Kids is the U.S. Army’s collaborative effort with individual communities across our country to support children and youth impacted by deployment. Regardless of whether it is a first time deployment, the second or third time or just another in a long series of deployments, Operation Military Kids’ goal is to connect military children and youth with local resources in order to achieve a sense of community support and enhance their well-being.  The program delivers educational, social, and recreation programs for military youth living in civilian communities. It also supports military kids coping with the stress of knowing their deployed parents may be in harm’s way. The program educates schools, families, and the general public on the impact of the deployment cycle on soldiers, families, kids, and the community as a whole. Each state in the United States has an OMK representative who works with other state partners to deliver programming, support and opportunities for the military kids in their respective states.

Impact 52 volunteers with Operation Military Kids

One of the tools used by OMK is Hero Packs. Hero Packs are backpacks filled by the community that contain games, toys, and resources that can be used to pass the time during a deployment. They serve as a tangible expression of support for military families from their communities.  We had the opportunity to help fill Hero Packs for children right here in Indiana.  We, along with about 30 other volunteers, created a large assembly line and filled the backpacks.  Books, stuffed animals, pens and pencils, bracelets, jump ropes, beach balls, games, puzzles, and other items were placed into the bags.  In addition, a parent packet with information about local and statewide involvement and engagement opportunities and resources was included.  All of the backpacks were boxed up and will be sent to military kids throughout our state.  It was quick, easy, and painless, yet rewarding.  There are thousands of children right now in our state that have a parent deployed. This was our way of saying “thank you” to all of those kids for the sacrifice they, and their parents, are making for our country.

Impact 52 fills backpacks for military youth

Due to the great response from our community this volunteer activity only took about thirty minutes.  The OMK Indiana director said that he normally has to recruit friends and his students to help because he doesn’t get enough volunteers.  Not on this occasion.  More than thirty people showed up to help out on a Friday night.  It was awesome to see so many people sacrifice a little bit of time for those who give the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  Men and women put their lives on the line for us each and every day.  Freedom is not free and we have all military personnel, past and present, to thank.  They not only risk their lives for us, but they also sacrifice time with the families, their children.  I often feel like I should do more to honor and thank our service men and women.  It was nice to do that this week in a very small way.

What are you doing to honor and thank our military and their kids?


A Tweet And A Trolley

Week 156 was upon us.  The last week of service for year 3 of this project was planned.  Saturday was going to be an awesome and busy day for our family.  In addition to volunteering with the Downtown Improvement District on the Spring Trolley tour, the girls had events happening all over the city.  The schedule was full and the day was set.  And then I saw the tweet.

MSS Tweet

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society of Indiana needed volunteers for the upcoming Walk MS in Fort Wayne.  My brother tagged us in the tweet hoping that we could retweet it and share it with our network.  He knew that we already had plans for the day, but he wanted to see if we could spread the word.  When I saw the tweet, I was concerned.  It was Thursday morning and they still needed volunteers for the walk that was happening on Saturday.  I felt like we needed to do something.  Yes, we could have retweeted it and shared it with our followers.  However, there was no guarantee that anyone would respond and the organization would be no better off.  We needed to do more to ensure that their needs were met.  I responded to the tweet asking for more information.  Over the next few hours a large number of tweets went back and forth as I worked to see what we could do.  After learning that the biggest need was first thing in the morning, we made the decision to change our schedule and squeeze it into our day.  Saturday just became busier and week 156 was going to be outstanding.  We were ending year 3 with a bang!

We arrived at Headwater’s park early on Saturday morning for our shift with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  The Indiana Chapter of NMSS works to improve the quality of life for people affected by Multiple Sclerosis in Indiana and northwestern Kentucky and raise funds for critical MS research.  So what is MS? Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.  It is a disease that affects approximately 400,000 in the United States.  Walk MS connects people living with multiple sclerosis and those who care about them. The funds raised at this event give hope to everyone impacted by MS.

Impact 52 volunteered at Walk MS

We helped set up the coffee and snack station, put tablecloths on tables, and worked at the registration table.  We welcomed teams and individuals to the event, collected money, and handed out t-shirts.  It was busy and it was obvious that we were needed.  There weren’t enough people to cover registration so MSS staff and board members had to help out.  We are so glad that we were able to make it work.  We had a great time.  It was awesome to learn more about the MS Society and the work that they do.  The staff was wonderful.  We felt very appreciated while we were with them.  I want to thank my brother for sending that tweet.  It gave us the opportunity to serve with an incredible organization with incredible people.  I would encourage you to learn more about the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Indiana and get involved.   Let’s ensure that next year’s Walk MS has plenty of volunteers to make the event stress free and successful.

Impact 52 at Walk MS

After a quick run to Starbucks for coffee and lemon pound cake (MaKenna’s favorite), we headed to the offices of the Downtown Improvement District.  The DID partners with the city of Fort Wayne and a wide-variety of nonprofit, public, and private sector organizations to make downtown Fort Wayne a more attractive place to live, work, shop, and do business. It’s mission is to create a strong, economically vibrant core of Northeast Indiana through beautification efforts, special events, and business development. It was time for the Spring Trolley tour and we were ready to be trolley docents.

The Spring Trolley tour gave individuals the opportunity to park their cars and ride the trolley between multiple downtown locations for fun, food, and a great day supporting local businesses.  It also connected many events that were happening in the downtown area.  Our role as trolley docents was to welcome people on to the trolley and announce the happenings at each of the nine stops the trolley made around the city.  “Next stop, Parkview Field, home of Fort Wayne Tincaps.  You can shop the gift shop today for your favorite Johnny Tincap merchandise.”  You get the picture.  It was like being the conductor on the Polar Express.  “Next stop, the North Pole!”  We also had the opportunity to talk with patrons about the fifty new sculptural bike racks that were placed around the city.  It was a great afternoon in beautiful downtown Fort Wayne.

Impact 52 serves as trolley docents

The Downtown Improvement District is amazing.  We love the people.  We love their work.  We love their events.  If you live in the Fort Wayne area, you have probably attended one of their events. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?  Go.  Enjoy downtown.  It is growing and thriving.  Maybe you can volunteer too.  It is an easy way to get involved in making our city a better place to live!

We had an unbelievable day serving with these two awesome organizations.  The day was busy and tiresome, but looking back on it, we would not change it for anything.  It was a great way to end our third year of service.  It would have been easy to make excuses and say that “we were too busy” to take on the second volunteer activity.  We refuse to use that excuse.  We hope that you will too!

 

 


Stamping Out Hunger

Every May, letter carriers in cities all over the United States participate in the largest single-day food drive in the nation. The Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive involves thousands of Post Office branches, and mailmen and women, in all 50 states and Washington D.C.  Letter carriers collect non-perishable food donations left by mailboxes and in post offices and deliver them to community food banks, pantries, and shelters in our community.  It is a simple and easy way to help those who face hunger every day in our community.

Over the last few years, I have come to know many of these people.  Individuals who have experienced job loss, financial distress, and despair.  Families that battle daily just to put a meal on the table. Children whose stomachs rumble and tumble as they try to sleep at night.  I know these people.  I have had the opportunity to look into their eyes.  I have heard their stories.  They are people who you know too.  People that you speak with at work, at a youth sports event, and at your church.  They struggle and you never know it.  These individuals are a part of the 50 million people who face hunger every day in America.  Crazy number isn’t it?  Well, you should know that almost 17 million of them are innocent children.  We cannot be okay with these statistics.  We cannot sit back and pretend that it doesn’t happen.  It happens and in an instant you could be in the same situation.

Impact 52 participates in Stamp Out Hunger

We prepared a small bag of non-perishable items and placed it at our mailbox.  We donated some canned vegetables, macaroni and cheese, and boxes of rice.  It wasn’t much, but it was something.  Someone once said that “chips make chunks” and in this situation that is true.  If every person who has a mailbox (think about that number for a minute) donated two or three items every May, we could truly stamp out hunger in our communities.

This week we didn’t invest a ton of time with a nonprofit serving.  We simply made a food donation.  We thought it was important to shine a light on this yearly event.  It is the largest one-day food drive in the country and it could be much larger, more impactful, if more people knew about and more people took action.

Now you know.  What will you do? Will you help “Stamp Out Hunger” next year?

 

 


Hope On The Farm

It was a beautiful evening in Northeast Indiana. The sun was shining.  The sounds of a tractor could be heard in the distance.  The smell of the old barn brought back memories from my childhood.  It was great to be on a farm, especially this particular one.  It is a special place.   A place of responsibility.  A place of healing.  A place of hope.  I was at Brickley Farm, home of House of Hope Northeast Indiana.

Impact 52 volunteers at House of Hope NEI

House of Hope Northeast Indiana is a residential home, school and farm for teenage boys, ages 13-17. This Christ-centered home, on a farm setting, is a place where teenagers in crisis are healed and restored to their families. Most of the teens are behind in school and have been in trouble with the law.  They are heading down the wrong path, making bad decisions, and causing tension within their families. The House of Hope team helps each teen develop to their maximum potential as they work their way through a structured program, designed to correct negative behaviors and to heal fractured family relationships. The organization not only works with the boys, but their families as well. Parents are required to participate in the program through parenting classes and weekly counseling. Once healthy boundaries have been established, the boys will return home every other weekend so families can work on specific issues as they progress through the program.

The boys participate in nearly every aspect of life on a working farm. Chores teach the boys about accountability, responsibility, and hard work.  Each task plays an important role in the healing process. They feed and care for the animals, clean pens, bale hay, and gather eggs (just to name a few).   In addition to their daily chores, residents are responsible for cleaning and maintaining a self-serve store that is open to the public. They also track inventory and learn many business related skills through a subsidiary company calledBrickHouse Farms, LLC.  BrickHouse Farms offers premium beef and pork, fresh from the farm.  The meat is high-quality and delicious.  I have had the opportunity to enjoy it on more than one occasion.

I was invited to spend some time with the boys over dinner.  We sat around the table like a family and engaged in conversation.  I shared my testimony and our story, the life lessons that I have learned, and some of the challenges that fill my life. I wanted them to know that we all struggle.  We all make bad decisions and say things that we shouldn’t say.  They needed to hear that no one lives a perfect life and that we must embrace our mutations and the things that make us different.  We smiled.  We joked. We laughed.  In a short amount of time I connected with these young men.  They all have a story.  It would be easy to write these boys off and label them as troublemakers.  It happens often in our society.  It does not happen at House of Hope.

I asked each young man where he would be if he would not have come to HOH.  The answers, though not surprising, were hard to hear.  Each said that their future was unknown.  They believed that they would be in jail, struggling with family, or possibly dead.  They understand that they have been given a second chance and they are taking advantage of it. Today, they are talking about the future.  They want to finish high school, go to college, join the military, and become entrepreneurs.  They have vision.  They have dreams.  They have hope.

I made a very small investment of time for this week’s volunteer activity.  I didn’t help with animals.  I didn’t make the meal.  I didn’t gather any eggs.  I just sat down at dinner and took interest.  Sometimes that is all that we need to do.  We just have to take time to show people that we care.  Take interest in the lives of others, especially children.  Lend an ear and listen. Share your story, your testimony so that others can learn from your mistakes and your journey. It can make a difference.  Our youth need to know that we care.  They need our attention. I was only at House of Hope for a few hours, but the time was impactful.  Maybe not for the boys, but definitely for me.  House of Hope Northeast Indiana is an awesome organization that is changing lives of teenage boys and their families.  There is no judgment. There is no quit.  The staff is caring and committed.  The farm is a great teacher and producer of tasty food.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to volunteer with them.  They truly are providing hope on the farm!

Impact 52 on the farm


Serving An Easter Meal

She sat alone, quietly waiting for her meal to be served.  She didn’t have much.  Her clothes were tattered and worn.  The shoes on her feet had seen many nights and more than a few miles.  She looked at me intently as I handed her a small cup of fruit punch.

“Thank you” she said with a smile.  “and Happy Easter!”

Her meal was served and in the matter of minutes it was gone.  We asked if she would like more and she responded with a quick “yes please.”  She consumed a second plate of food, and then a third, and then a fourth.  Over the course of an hour or so she had eaten a lot of ham and potatoes and a few pieces of pie.  As I watched her eat, I could not help but wonder when she had eaten last and when she would eat again.  We have worked with our city’s homeless population on many occasions and I did not recognize her.  I worked third shift at The Mission for awhile and she had never come in for breakfast.  She was a new face.  I do not know her story and I probably never will.  But I can tell you that I had never been so happy to see someone eat.

Impact 52 serves an Easter meal

Volunteering at The Fort Wayne Rescue Mission is always a rewarding experience.  We are big fans of the organization and the work they do.  They provide three meals daily for anyone in our community who needs it.  They provide short-term shelter for men in transition and long-term shelter and programs for those looking for life-long transformation.  The Rescue Mission changes lives through the power of Jesus Christ.

This experience was even more special since it was Easter.  What better way to celebrate the resurrection of Christ than by serving others.  We served drinks and desserts, cleaned tables, and threw away trash.  We served as a family.  We served with friends.  We  served because we care.  We served because we love.  We served because we should.

If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” - Philippians 2:1-4


Donating Hair To Bring Hope

I have never seen Kelsi so excited to get a haircut. She was up early on a Saturday morning, prepped and ready to go before I had my first cup of coffee. The anticipation of a cut and color was great, but that was not the reason for her excitement.  She was going short and donating her hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths.

Impact 52 donates hair

Beautiful Lengths is a partnership between Pantene and the American Cancer Society, the largest nonprofit health organization committed to saving lives from every cancer and improving the quality of life for people facing the disease. The role of Pantene is to help women grow long, strong, beautiful hair and provide the funds to turn this hair into free, real-hair wigs for women with cancer. Since its beginning in 2006, Pantene has donated 24,000 free real-hair wigs to the American Cancer Society’s wig banks, which distribute wigs to cancer patients across the country.  In all, women have donated well over 400,000 ponytails across the globe.  Last week, Kelsi joined that group of women.

In the end, eleven inches of hair were removed from her head.  Knowing that her hair will benefit cancer patients around the country is awesome.  I am extremely proud of her desire to impact others.  She walked through the door after her appointment with a big smile and short, brown hair.  It took me a few minutes to realize that it was my daughter (moving from blond to brunette messed this old man up). She looked beautiful as always and I could see the joy of the donation in her face.  As a family, we have talked about hair donations for a few years.  Unfortunately, I am not a candidate for this particular giving activity.  My hair continues to fall out every day.  If I cut my hair and donated it I might be able to help a prepubescent teen have a terrible peach-fuzz mustache.

Impact 52 donates hair for cancer patients

Hair to be donated by Impact 52

Most mornings, people around the world struggle to make their hair look fabulous.  They wake up with bed head, complain about their cowlick, and work persistently to sculpt the perfect masterpiece.  While this happens, those with cancer face the challenges of hair loss and the insecurities that come with it.  They would give anything to have a bad hair day.  To us, it is just hair.  To others, it is so much more.  If you have it to give, give.  When you donate your hair you can bring hope to someone who needs it.

Impact 52 after the hair cut

 

 


Pink Shirts and Pink Balls

The Pineapple Volleyball Club held its first annual Pink Crush Classic volleyball tournament this week.  The event featured 124 youth volleyball teams from all over Indiana and the Midwest.  The event showcased awesome talent, extraordinary teamwork, and a commitment to community.

Impact 52 volunteers at the Pink Crush Classic

Tournament proceeds and a portion of merchandise sales went to the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.  The Vera Bradley foundation is a 501(c)3 organization that raises money for breast cancer research.  To date, more than $20 million has been contributed towards finding a cure since the foundation was formed in 1993.  We need a cure.  Breast cancer has affected just about every person and every family in some way.  One in eight women in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.  One in eight!  Think about 8 women in your life and know that at least one of them will get that dreaded breast cancer diagnosis at some point.  I know that you are not surprised by these numbers.  Breast Cancer awareness has greatly improved over the last ten years and we now see pink everywhere.  It is a popular cause to support and we could go into a long discussion about the organizations and companies that support the cause for the wrong reasons.  That is what makes the Vera Bradley Foundation so amazing.  They put their money where their mouth is.  87 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to research.  And in their words “we don’t just fund research, we fund results.”

Our volunteer experience was easy.  Erica worked the front desk and greeted tournament goers while accepting entry fees.  I worked the Vera Bradley table where players and families could sign up for the “Serve the Zone” competition.  All funds raised from the ball serving competition went directly to VB.  We are not sure how much money was raised over the total weekend.   We were just glad that we could help out.


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