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.


Reconnecting With Old Friends

We stood in the shadows of the downtown library talking about the happenings of life.  We discussed the recent challenges that we have encountered and the obstacles that lie ahead. We smiled and laughed at bad jokes and off-the-cuff remarks.  Just like two childhood friends that reconnected after many months, we enjoyed great conversation and the time together.  Here is the crazy thing.  My “friend” isn’t a childhood comrade, a co-worker, a trusted confidant, or a BFF.  Actually, this friend is actually a stranger.  He is a person whom I have met multiple times on the streets of our city.  He is an alcoholic.  He is homeless.

Drew has been on the streets of Fort Wayne for more than 15 years.  Alcoholism is his demon.  It led him to stray from his family and it led him to become a resident of the streets.  He has spent time in jail due to public intoxication and disorderly conduct.  He has frequented the hospital on many occasions due to near death experiences.  At one time he was pulled from the icy waters of a downtown river in the middle of winter. Sobriety is a fleeting object that he cannot grasp onto long enough to complete the programs of the local shelters and detox centers.  He is happy at home with his people on the streets.  Despite his many shortcomings, bad decisions, and his attitude at times, Drew is my friend.

The welcome was warm and gracious.  He seemed happy to see me. I had not seen him since I left the Rescue Mission many months ago.  If you didn’t know, in addition to our homeless outreach efforts through Impact 52, I worked third shift at the local men’s homeless shelter for approximately five months.  Drew would come in for breakfast on many mornings.  We talked about the harsh winter filled with tons of snow and extreme cold temperatures.  He almost lost his toes to frost bite in January.  Fortunately doctors were able to save his little piggies.  His friend and “roommate” was not as lucky.  He lost three toes to the extreme cold.

Drew talked about a trip to Kentucky to see family.  His eyes lit up as he talked about his children and his grandchildren.  It is obvious that they have a special place in his heart.  His time in Kentucky was not fun and good times.  He was arrested while visiting and detained for a long time.  After getting out of jail he started home, but he ran out of money and became stranded.  Thankfully there are people who care for him.  One man so much that he got in his car and drove all the way to Kentucky to pick him up.  Drew could not stop talking about his “church friend.”

The conversation came to an end and we said our goodbyes.  I told him that I would continue to pray for him and keep him in my thoughts.  I asked him where he was staying and he responded with a smile, “Aaron, you know if I told you I would have to kill you.”

Someone is embarrassed of her father's faces

Someone is embarrassed of her father’s faces

This reunion with my homeless friend came on behalf of the great people at Elevate City Church.  Every other Wednesday a group from ECC goes downtown to provide a warm meal to those in need.  Elevate City is our church.  It is our home.  We do not talk a lot about our faith here on our blog.  We have our reasons.  Service, volunteerism, and caring about others does not have to be about religion.  Whether you are a believer or not, you can live a life of purpose.  That is our focus.  If you are looking for a church in the Fort Wayne area where you can belong before you believe, where you come as you are without judgement, and where you can impact this city, Elevate City Church is the church for you.  We would love to have you join us on a Sunday as our guest.  I guarantee you will be moved by Pastor Kyle’s message and the love of ECC’s people.

It was great to spend time with Elevate’s homeless outreach team.  It was awesome to spend that time with MaKenna, who has a big heart for those on the streets.  We had a great time serving those in need and reconnecting with old friends!


A Park Clean-Up To Recognize Service

This week we joined the mayor and 40 other volunteers at Klug Park to celebrate “Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service.”  One thousand mayors around the country came together to recognize the importance of volunteerism and service in our communities.  This day of recognition was full of press conferences, cameras, publicity, and service.  We were there for the service.  While the mayor spoke in front of all of our local media, I filled out the waivers so that we could get started.

Photo courtesy of RSVP Volunteer Center

Photo courtesy of RSVP Volunteer Center

After the pomp and circumstance was over, we went to work.  We spruced up the park by picking up trash, debris, and tree branches.  The girls and I filled up more than seven trash bags in less than one hour.  It is awesome to see the snow melt, but the treasures (or mess) that is uncovered is less than desirable.  When finished, the entire park was clean and new mulch was spread throughout the playground.

Bags and bags of trash and sticks

Bags and bags of trash and sticks

Week after week I am inspired by the giving spirit of my beautiful daughters.  There is no task too difficult and no need too big for their hearts.  They are not afraid to roll their sleeves up and get dirty to make a difference in our community and in the lives of others.  At the ages of 15 and 13, they truly are world-changers.  I am very proud of them and I cherish the moments we have to serve together. We work.  We talk.  We laugh.  We work.  This experience, like most that we have encountered, was enjoyable.  Being together is enjoyable.

Beautiful ladies making a difference

Beautiful ladies making a difference

It is great to see the mayor recognize the need for service in our community.  However, it would be nice for our city to see him do the actual work.  Instead of his fancy suit and tie, he should have been in jeans and a sweatshirt.  Instead of rolling up his sleeves to shovel one load of mulch for the ultimate photo opportunity and then leave, he should have worked side-by-side with the volunteers during the entire event.  He missed an opportunity to lead through real, intentional action that would demonstrate his true support of service to our community.  His missed the opportunity to be a servant leader.  Instead, in the eyes of this citizen, it was all just a publicity stunt for a city official.  It appeared to be a check-off-the-box moment.

Don’t just check off the box.  Get involved.  Find your passion.  Commit to making a difference.  Serve with your family.  Recruit others.  Share your story.  When you do, our community becomes a better place.

 


Organized Chaos For A Great Cause

Every spring hundreds of people gather at the Mason Temple in downtown Fort Wayne to support a great cause.  They come together to support an organization that works tirelessly to end and prevent child abuse in our community.  The organization is SCAN (Stop Child Abuse & Neglect) and the event is the Brown Bag Lunch.

SCAN is a nonprofit organization that has been making a difference in our community for over 38 years through various programs and services that center around family. They believe that all families have value and that child abuse can be prevented by working to help parents with support, teaching, and practice. This organization has positively impacted families and protected children through services like parent education, abuse detection, crisis intervention, and in-home parental monitoring, just to name a few. Eighteen Northern Indiana counties benefit from the services provided by this first-class organization.

This was our second time volunteering at the Brown Bag Lunch.  Last year I scooped pasta noodles into a to-go container as part of the assembly line.  This year I helped load lunches in vehicles in addition to making a couple of deliveries myself. I will admit that the event is chaotic.  When you walk into the Masonic Temple, it can be a bit overwhelming.  You quickly realize, however, that the chaos is well-organized.  It is so organized that more than 150 volunteers prepared and delivered 2900 meals to our community in just a few hours.  In the end, the event raised over $29,000 dollars for the organization which will directly impact the lives of children and families in our area.

Impact 52 volunteers for SCAN

I firmly believe in SCAN and its mission.  The Brown Bag Lunch is an important fundraising event for the organization and I am glad that I could help in my small way.  I want you to mark you calendars for next March.  Volunteer for SCAN, prepare meals, and enjoy the organized chaos for a great cause.

 


Do Not Go Barefoot: A Note To The Disgruntled Volunteer

This is a note to the disgruntled volunteer.  You know who you are.  You have made attempts to get involved with a local organization, but you have been unsuccessful because the organization has failed to respond.  Emails have been sent, applications completed, and phone calls made, but no reply.  Complete silence.  Maybe you have spent time with a nonprofit organization, but your volunteer experience was far from good.  Actually, it was terrible.  You didn’t enjoy it.  You did not feel like you, or your time, were valued.  There was no sense of fulfillment.  You are frustrated, unhappy, and ready to throw in the towel.

This note is for you:  DO NOT GO BAREFOOT

Let me explain.

I was recently in the market for a new pair of running shoes.  Yes, I do run.  I had been wearing the same shoes for a long time and amassed a large number of miles in them.  The seams were starting to separate and the bottoms were as smooth as a baby’s bottom.  I was long overdue for some new kicks.  I started the process by researching some different types of shoes, runner recommendations, and pricing.  I wanted to have an understanding of what others were saying about the millions of options that exist.  Although this information helped, I had to get into the stores.

I visited the first store with a particular shoe in mind.  I had seen it online and had heard about its awesomeness from some runners in my community.  I loved the look and thought it was the shoe for me.  As I perused the store, there it was displayed in all of its glory.  It looked as good as I had imagined and I couldn’t wait to try it on.  I approached store staff and requested a size 15.  He looked at me and said “sorry sir.  Those shoes do not come in a size 15.”  Bummer.  I was disappointed that those shoes were not a viable option. I looked around the store not seeing anything else that caught my eye so I moved on. Strike one

Impact 52: don't go barefoot in volunteerism

I entered the next store and quickly saw two different shoes that I wanted to try on.  The first, no size 15 (no surprise). The second was available and I tried them on.  They felt terrible.  They were too narrow on the side and my toes felt cramped.  There was no way that I could run comfortably in those shoes.  Once again I left a location without shoes.  Strike two.

Store number three was no better.  I did not like most of the available options (mutant size shoes are usually the ugliest) and those that I tried on were not a good fit for one reason or another.  My search continued.  Strike three.

Using the baseball analogy of three strikes and your out, I should have been done.  I could have quit, given up, but I didn’t.  I needed, and wanted, new shoes.  I should have mentioned earlier that I truly dislike shopping.  I just do not enjoy it in the least.  But I continued on.  Finally after a few more stores, I found a pair of shoes that met my needs.  They were the right size, appealing, comfortable, and supportive.  I made the purchase.   It has been weeks since I laced those shoes up for my first run and I have been extremely happy with them.  Persistence paid off.

So you are probably wondering what the hell this has to do with volunteering.  Here it is.  Selecting an organization for which to volunteer and buying shoes is a similar process.  You will research an organization and hear others (probably us) tell you how great they are, but you will not know for sure until YOU get involved.  When you do, you may learn that a particular organization is not the right fit for you.  It is uncomfortable, ugly, and definitely not what you expected.  You will be disappointed and frustrated. You will decide that you need to move on.  You try another organization and you get the same result.  It may happen over and over again until you find the organization that best fits you.  You just cannot quit.

We have worked with over 120 nonprofit organizations and causes over the last three years.  Most experiences have been great, but some have not.  We have felt under appreciated during some experiences and felt like we wasted our time on others.  We learned that some organizations are not a good fit for our family and we probably will not go back.  We may not even recommend them to others searching for a place to volunteer. We are okay with this particular level of dissatisfaction.

You are going to have bad experiences and you will become frustrated.  I guarantee it.  But you cannot give up on serving your community and those in need.  Do not throw in the towel.  Keep shopping until you find the organization that meets your needs as a volunteer.  It will look great, feel great, and be extremely comfortable.  If you needed new shoes, I know you would shop until you found the right pair.  You would not go without.  You would not go barefoot.

Do not go barefoot on volunteerism.


A Little Free Library

Thirteen new libraries have popped up around our city over the last six months.  These libraries are making books available in the neighborhoods where children live and go to school.  Areas of our city that need books to help improve the literacy rates of children in need.   These libraries are not large brick buildings with thousands of books, movies and music. There are no coffee shops, computer labs or genealogy departments.  Not even a library card is needed.  The libraries are small, convenient, and impactful.  They are Little Free Libraries.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit that promotes literacy by building free book exchanges around the world.  Each exchange, or library, is a “take-a-book, leave-a-book” gathering place where children, and adults, can share their favorite books and stories.  A Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book while leaving a book behind.  Most libraries look like large, fancy bird houses perched on top of a post.  Some are creative in shape and color, some are not, and all have a clear door so the books can be seen.  It is place that builds community, promotes literacy, and makes reading convenient.  It is estimated that there are more than 12,000 Little Free Libraries around the world.

Literacy initiatives have a special place in our hearts.  As a parent, I have personally seen how a good book can expand the imagination of my children and improve their knowledge.  I have written a book to teach children, and adults, a powerful lesson that may not be learned through other mediums.  I have spent the past five years going into schools to read to students in an effort to show them that is important, needed, and cool.  As a family, we have donated a countless number of books to organizations and schools whose libraries were scarce and in need of books.  I have spoken at conferences and forums about the importance of closing the reading gap in our students.  Most kids not reading at grade level by the end of third grade will never catch up.  They will always be behind and they will always struggle.  We saw this week as a great opportunity to promote reading once again.

Impact 52 supports Little Free Library

We visited a few of the thirteen Little Free Library locations around our city and donated some new books.  Each library visited received a copy of Linnie Mae in addition to a few other titles.  We didn’t spend time building a library this week (hopefully some day).  We just felt in our heart that this initiative and this organization needed some promotion.  The Rotary Club of Fort Wayne is the local group behind the push of these libraries in our community with a goal to put 100 new libraries in our city.  I am excited to see how we can get more involved in this initiative.  If you are a business owner, nonprofit executive, or home owner in the Fort Wayne area and you might be interested in putting in a library, let us know.  We would love to help you with it.

I strongly encourage you to learn more about Little Free Library.  We must do our part to help our educators improve the literacy rates of children in our communities.  It is our responsibility.  You can help do that making books available to children, especially those who do not have access to them at home due to family situations and poverty.  You can do that through a library that is little and free.


Perspective Through a Paintbrush

I sat in my car in the parking lot of a local home improvement store.  It was Saturday morning and I was there to pick up supplies for this week’s volunteer experience.  After turning off the car, I sat quietly in my seat and began to reflect back on our volunteer work.  I thought about many of the projects that we have completed for others that center around home improvements.  Each one of those projects taught us, especially the girls, new skills and new trades.  One particular skill that we all seem to be mastering (okay, not really but it sounds nice) is painting.  Over the last 3 years we have done a lot of painting projects for neighbors and nonprofits in need.  We’ve scraped and painted an entire two-story house and garage to eliminate code enforcement issues for a disabled man.  We have added color to a bedroom that is home to four women who are recovering from the addiction.  We scribed motivational quotes and images on the walls of an organization that works with troubled youth.  We have even beautified our city by putting a new coat of yellow on fire hydrants.  As I sat there in that moment, I realized just how awesome each of these experiences were in our lives.  Each experience a teacher and we, the Brown family, the students.  This week, we put our painting expertise to work and once again we were schooled.

Impact 52 paints for a neighbor in need

Emma is an 81 year-old woman who has health concerns.  She has lived in the same house in Fort Wayne for almost 55 years.  A house that was home to a large family with ten children at one point in time.  Today, the house is in bad shape.  The foundation sags, the carpet is stained and full of holes, the floor boards are weak and ready to give, and the walls are in need of fresh paint.  That is where we come in.  We had spoken with Emma’s daughter and agreed to paint Emma’s bedroom, a bathroom and the kitchen.  Unfortunately, we were only able to paint the bedroom and the bathroom on this visit.  We spent a lot of time moving furniture that was supposed to be done and cleaning up the walls and floor so that we could effectively paint.  We had three wonderful men from Elevate City Church help us with this project and we are so grateful that we did.  They were a huge help.

Impact 52 and friends from Elevate City Church

The task of painting really doesn’t change much.  We trim, we roll, we drip, we clean, we roll…you get the picture.  What does change, however, are the lessons that we learn from each painting job.  We have done a lot of painting and every time is different.  This week the lesson was “be grateful with perspective”.  Let me explain.

We realized just how blessed we are to have a family that cares for us and is willing to do anything to help us.  Emma has children who are not willing to come over to help her with things like painting and cleaning (two things desperately needed).  Her daughter told us that she has four able-bodied brothers who could help with those things, but they refuse to by making excuses.  We are very grateful for our family and friends who are willing to give up four or five hours on a Saturday to paint a complete stranger’s home in less than favorable conditions.  Thank you Ray, Chad, and Bryan for your kind hearts and giving souls.  We truly are thankful to know you and call you our friends.

The experience also gave us perspective, especially the girls.  Life has been a challenge for us over the last few years. Stepping inside Emma’s home and seeing its condition made our troubles seem insignificant.  We have a nice home with a roof that keeps us warm and dry.  Yes, it is smaller than the houses that we called home for many years and we have had to adjust.  But it is safe, secure, and stable.  For me, I have a new perspective of what is dirty and what is not.  Kenna’s room is often very messy, but not as dirty as I once thought.

We will schedule another visit to Emma’s in the coming weeks to paint the kitchen.  She needs our help and regardless of the situation, that is what we will provide.  I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and embrace the uncomfortable.  You, too, can gain perspective through a paintbrush.


A Second Chance is Everyone’s Business

For more than two years, Blue Jacket has been on our target list of organization’s that we wanted to learn more about and volunteer with.  It is an organization that specializes in second chances.  And who doesn’t need, and deserve, a second chance at some point in life?  We all do.  We all make mistakes.  We all error.  We all mess up.  As I sit here thinking about the second chances that I have been given during my lifetime, there are a lot of them.  I have been the recipient of grace many times and I am sure that you have too.

Blue Jacket is a nonprofit organization that provides adult ex-offenders, and other hard-to-employ individuals, the tools and opportunities to be productive members of our community and society.  They restore hope and confidence in those who are carrying guilt and feel that there is no better tomorrow.  Through job readiness and employment services, men and women who have been in prison become better equipped for today’s workforce.  A four-week Career Academy puts these individuals on the right path by focusing on doing the right things and acting the appropriate way.  Employment opportunities will follow once the attitude and proper actions are in place.

Impact 52 volunteers with Blue Jacket

One way that Blue Jacket supports its clients is through its clothing store.  This store offers a large inventory of business professional clothing to Career Academy clients at no cost.  It gives each person the opportunity to dress for success which makes it easier to gain employment.  The store is open to the public which means that community members can also have fashionable, professional dress available to them at bargain prices.

This week we volunteered to help with merchandising within the store.  Each month mannequins are redressed and new outfits are hung on the ways to create a new, fresh look for shoppers.  Each month the clothing featured centers around a theme.  For march, the theme is Saint Patrick’s Day so we focused on the color green.  We worked through the racks and racks of clothes to find as many green options.  Using the long hook on a stick (well, the girls used the stick.  This mutant-like, extra tall person didn’t need it) we removed the previous months outfits from the display area and replaced them with green ones.  The girls used their fashion expertise to create a few combinations that highlighted a green blazer, white lace shirt, and black skirt.  They enjoyed putting the outfits together.  We had planned to help with other store tasks, but unfortunately Kelsi became sick and we had to cut our volunteer experience a little short.  Despite the shorter than expected time, we fully understand the impact that Blue Jacket and the clothing store has on those who use it.

Impact 52 merchandises clothes for Blue Jacket

Impact 52 and Blue Jacket

Blue Jacket needs professional volunteers who are willing to conduct in mock job interviews and participate on an employer roundtable.  Both of these events are important pieces to the Career Academy’s success.  I encourage you to reach out to the great folks at Blue Jacket.  The staff is unbelievable and the services that they provide to our community are best-in-class.  Get involved and help someone who is trying to successfully re-enter society. You can make a difference.  Second chances are everybody’s business.

Will you do your part?


Just Another Week

Two years ago during a week in February I did something that would change my life forever.  At the time, I was clueless to impact that action would have on me, the recipients of my act, and on the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands, of others.  You have heard the story before.  I have shared it here many times and it is probably the best story that has come out of the last three years of this project.  It is the story of two coffees that were bought for two complete strangers.  Two coffees that only cost me two dollars, but those two dollars might be the best investment I have ever made.  Two coffees that provided hope for someone that good things could still happen.

I am not going to tell you the entire story (you are probably sick of hearing it and reading it.)  I will tell you, however, that I have shared the story with thousands of people over the last two years.  I have shared it with groups large and small, young and old, and the reaction is always the same.  Those that hear it are moved.  Usually moved to tears. Women and men have openly wept as I have spoken because they can feel the true impact.  The story speaks to them.  That is why I share it so often.  It changes the lives of others just like the experience change my life.  It isn’t easy to share it as I often have a hard time getting through it without my voice cracking and my eyes welling up.  It truly was a life-changing experience.  It was validation that small things matter. It proved that you do not have to change your life to change the life of another.  It taught me that there are no small gestures.  Simple, yes.  Small, no.  A single random act of kindness can make a difference.  That experience catapulted me, and our family, to live each day with purpose.  We embrace each day and understand the opportunities that present themselves.  Every day centers around positively impacting others.  We, as a family, truly want to be kind to others every single day.

This week, we participated in the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation’s week-long event of kindness.  Just like two years ago, the week was amazing.  Each day was filled with simple acts to offer a hand, help, and create smiles. Each night we would discuss the day’s events around the dinner table and talk about the responses of others.  We opened doors for others, helped stranded motorists alongside the road, gave out some cards, acted silly at the drive-through window at a few restaurants, and many, many more.  Oh, yeah, we also bought coffee for others.  Surprised? It was a great week of bringing smiles to the faces of others through random acts of kindness.

But I have to be honest with you.  It was just another week for our family. We try to be kind each and every week.  The acts that we performed this week did not stretch us outside of our comfort zones.  We have already made the commitment to impact others every day of the year.  Yes, we had a great time participating.  It was even more fulfilling to see so many others share their acts of kindness with us through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and email.  That is why the week was so awesome.  Not because we, as a family, did anything special.  But because so many of you did.  It feels good to be kind, doesn’t it?  So let me ask you a question.

Why wait until one week in February to be nice to people?  Why not wake up every morning focused and driven on being kind?  That is our challenge to you.  Be kind every day of the year.  Make others your priority.  Put an emphasis on bringing smiles to the faces of others.  Do not wait until a foundation proclaims a special week.  DO IT EVERY DAY!  When you do, you will realize that Random Acts of Kindness week is just another week.


A Very Sweet Valentine

The last few weeks have been all about love.  Last week we shared encouragement and kindness through handwritten love letters.  This week we handed out sweet treats for Valentine’s Day.  Erica used her unbelievable skills in the kitchen (yes, they are unbelievable) to make some of our favorite desserts….Rice Krispie treats, chocolate covered pretzels, and sugar cookies…..for some special people in our community.

Impact 52 delivers sweet treats

The goodies were packaged and delivered to various locations on Valentine’s Day.  The Lutheran Children’s hospital staff received the baked goods while many of the children received cards and handmade bracelets.  It was awesome to see the excitement of the nurses when they saw the Rice Krispie Treats.  Everyone loves a good Rice Krispie treat, right?  Cards and other treats were delivered to Miller’s Merry Manor.  This senior and nursing home has become near and dear to our heart as we have made deliveries there many times in the past.  Again, the reactions and responses of staff and residents was unforgettable.

We wrote in our last blog post that the world needs more love.  This week we want to re-emphasize that notion.  Our world is filled with hatred, bigotry, conflict, war, and deceit (just to scratch the surface).  There is not enough love.  When you take time to show others that you care, that you are thinking of them, and express genuine love for them, you make an impact.

Everyone wants to be recognized.

Everyone wants to acknowledged.

Everyone wants to be loved.

We encourage you to love others.  Giving is an easy way to express it.  When you Give, you love.  When you love, you impact.  Give. Love. Impact.  It can truly be that simple.


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