Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cowabunga, Miss America

In case you’re older than, say 12, you may not use the term Cowabunga much, if at all.  According to Wiktionary, Cowabunga is aslang expression of surprise or amazement, often followed by ‘dude’”.  I heard the term several times last Saturday when I went tubing at Mississinewa Lake with my five and six year old nieces, Katelyn and Kamryn.  As we were cruising past the speed of light (at about 10mph), they were all white-knuckled, watching the wake roar by them while screaming, “Cowaaaaabuuuuuungaaaaa!” That day my definition of Cowabunga forever changed to “an expression of pure joy”.  And it made me wonder…if asked, would you or I know our last Cowabunga moment?

One Cowabunga moment I had as a teen was when I organized my closet like the Dewey Decimal System.  (Yes, I just admitted that publicly, don’t judge.)  One day I went to the mall and saw a friend of my sister’s wearing my sweater!  Leaving the mall angry and frustrated, I knew I needed to do something about it.  So, I went home and immediately began organizing my closet by clothing type.  Then I made an entire check-out system…just for my sister.  I even gave it a title, Wardrobe Wearabouts. This way I knew what clothing of mine she had and when she returned it.  Problem, check.  Solution, check.  Cowabunga!
Having solved the closet problem, I was feeling pretty good and looking forward to my next Cowabunga moment.  But, due to less than superb coordination skills, soon realized that I would never be able to discover one athletically, thus I ventured down the arts path. 

It wasn’t until a music course in college where I hit a brick wall of sorts.  My professor said in order to get an “a” in the course each student had to sing on key.  Now, just for clarification, I am an amazing singer in my car…when I’m alone…and the radio is turned up…really high.  Apparently, that fact wasn’t good enough for said music professor.  So, he worked with me each and every day after class.  Practice, practice, practice makes perfect, right?  And on the last day of class he said, and I remember this vividly,  Dawn, I’m giving you an ‘A’ for all of your effort.  But, honey, you just can’t sing!”  
There it was.  I was neither coordinated enough to be an athlete, nor talented enough to be an artist.  I could never be Miss America.  Not that I ever even wanted to be Miss America, but obviously all Miss America’s have some sort of stage-worthy talent.  And I did not.  But, that turned out to be an amazing Cowabunga moment for me. 

It was and still is true.  I really don’t have a stage-worthy talent.  Many people don’t.  Just because you’re not on a court or a field getting killer stats or performing on a stage getting a “standing O” from the audience, doesn’t mean you’re not gifted.
In fact, here at the Community Foundation, we meet people every day that are gifted with generosity.  They donate money to help our youth or elderly.  Yes, they even fund athletics and the arts.  They donate their time to make events like Synergy 2012:  People are GOLD a reality, so our community can be even better for our kids…and their kids.  They are generous with their talents by first discovering what talents they have and then by sharing them with others.  And, the best part is that most of their talents aren’t stage-worthy. 

My discovery began with Wardrobe Wearabouts, but nowadays I can organize just about anything.  I can see the big picture and implement the smaller processes it takes to make it happen.  And each and every time I get to share that talent, I want to thank that music teacher who was never able teach me to sing on key.  It was because of that reality that I was forced to discover what else I had to offer.   And it is the opportunity to share that very gift every single day that gives me joy and makes me want to scream just like Katelyn and Kamryn, “Cowaaaaabuuuuuungaaaaa”!  When was your last Cowabunga moment?
Peace, Blessings, and Cowabunga Moments to all,


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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bill Cosby, Mermaids, and Graduates

Mermaid by Kylie Alexander
I used to work for Universal…as in The Universal.  You know the one with all of the movies, music, and video games.  I was their National Implementation Manager for their lesser-known education division.  I had a home office here in Grant County from 1998-2002 where I would conduct my regular business between flying in and out of Indy and Fort Wayne airports.  Then one afternoon, something happened. 

I was watching Bill Cosby give one of his commencement addresses on C-Span.  He was telling a story of his college Psychology class arguing about whether the glass was half full or half empty.  Of course, the class couldn’t come to an agreement, so Bill decided to ask his elderly grandmother what she thought.

The conversation went something like this, “Gram, my Psych class was arguing about whether the glass is half full or half empty.  What do you think?”  After a long pause, she replied, “Well, Bill, I suppose it depends on whether you’re drinking or pouring.”

And, I know it’s crazy, but my life was changed that day.  It was then that I realized that I might be living in Grant County, but I wasn’t really a part of Grant County.  There really wasn’t one talent I had that was being poured back into my community.  And I felt bad about that.  Because mermaids have a lot to pour back into their communities; that’s what we mermaids do.  Or so I learned later from a story by one of my favorite authors Robert Fulghum. 

As Fulghum tells it, a young pastor finds himself in charge of 80 energetic children ages 7-10 one evening while their parents are off doing “parenty things”.  With a need to create some sort of organized chaos, he explains the rules of a game called Giants, Wizards, and Dwarfs.  “You have to decide now, which one you are…a giant, a wizard, or a dwarf”, he explains.   As the children quickly decide and groups begin to conspire together regarding their winning strategies, the pastor feels a young girl tugging at the edge of his pant leg.  With all of the innocence and confidence in the world, she asks, “But where do the mermaids stand?”  Sounds like a logical question to me, but the pastor thought otherwise.

She was told by the pastor, “There is no such thing as mermaids”.  But, as if educating this youthful pastor, she exclaimed, “Oh, yes there is, I am one!”

She knew she wasn’t a giant, a wizard, or a dwarf.  She didn’t quite fit into any of those confined categories, but she refused to leave the game like a loser would just because those that set the cookie-cutter rules weren’t aware of her uniqueness.  She had her identity, her dignity, and she wasn’t a quitter.  So, again she asked, “Well, where do the mermaids stand?”  Although she may not have been able to articulate it, she clearly knew there are those that are just a tad bit different, those that march to the beat of a different drummer, those that choose the road less traveled. 

“Where do the mermaids stand? Answer that question," wrote Fulghum, "and you can build a school, a nation, or a whole world on it."

In Grant County, we’re building a future on it.  You see, on Saturday night I had the privilege of attending Project Leadership’s Red Rubber Ball Banquet celebrating another year and the second graduating class of their successful 21st Century Scholars Mentoring Program.  The Community Foundation has been a part of this program since its inception in 2002 and is proud of the accomplishments they’ve made over the last ten years.

As I took my seat, I realized that I was in a room filled with future high school and college graduates.  They all have identities as unique as their fingerprints and great dignity in participating in all that Project Leadership and life has had to offer so far.  And none of them are quitters.

What we know for sure is that 25 of those students have just checked “Graduate from High School” off of their “To Do” list thanks to the support and encouragement of the mentors that have helped guide them along the way.  These kids have resumes, plans, and major goals.  They may not come from a two-parent home with the average 2.4 children and a white picket fence, but they work hard, are blessed with mentors who believe in them, and have dreams.  Big Dreams.  

And, these big dreams, along with people who believe they can achieve them, can make all the difference.  How do I know this?  Because when I re-read this Giants, Wizards, and Dwarfs story, I could actually hear the voices of a few teachers, and at least one counselor in my life, who said to me, “There is no such thing as mermaids.”  And, folks, I’m here to tell you, that’s simply not true.  Mermaids do exist. 

I worked hard, was blessed with mentors who believed in me, and had big enough dreams to tell them, “Oh, yes there is, I am one!”  And, guess what,  I had dinner with 200 others on Saturday night.  Thankfully, mermaids are alive and well right here in Grant County. 

Peace and Blessings,

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Momma Needs a New Pair of Shoes

I’m no Imelda Marcos.  I don’t have 3000 pairs of shoes.  And, I definitley don’t have a shoe musuem.  But, I do have one fewer pair of shoes this week; thus, momma’s need for a new pair of shoes.

It all started out rather innocently.  I went over to my brother and sister-in-law’s home Sunday night to catch an episode of The Secret Millionaire (ABC, Sundays at 8:00).
It’s a fascinating show where millionaries go incognito into an impoverished community and agree to donate money to the causes they see that are truly making an impact. 

Of course, as the Executive Director of the Community Foundation, the concept of this show intrigues me.  We work with non-profits in Grant County all the time.  We see true servant leaders giving their all to make a difference. 
This is what happened on Sunday night as I watched The Secret Millionaire.  The co-founders of Anytime Fitness went to Oklahoma City where they visited the Oklahoma City Youth Wrestling Foundation and Llimbs for Life.

While at the Wrestling Foundation they learned that the organization not only helps the local children with fitness, but also provides free tutoring.  It’s during a tutoring session in reading that they learn of a young child who now lives with his aunt because his mother just died of a methamphetamine overdose.

During a visit to Limbs for Life they play a game of floor volleyball with club amputees and are amazed to realize that the players don’t consider themselves disabled.  Instead, they feel blessed that the organization can provide them with artificial limbs instead of keeping them wheelchair-bound.

If that’s not enough to put a lump in your throat, wait for their return visits when they reveal that they are, in fact, millionaires, and award each non-profit with a hefty check to keep doing what they are doing.

Now, I’m not saying that I was crying by the end of the show.  I mean, I heard that the pollen count was really high on Sunday.  Yeah, allergies, that’s it.  I had a horrible allergy attack near the end of the show. 

It made the tv all blurry and everything, which is why I probably didn’t notice my brother’s dog stealing my flip flop and eating it like a Scooby snack.
Stupid allergies.

Peace and Blessings,
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Imagine Whirled Peace and the Americone Dream

Just admit it, we’ve all enjoyed a pint (or two) of Chunky Monkey or Cherry Garcia.  But, did you know that Ben and Jerry’s most recent invention isn’t an ice cream flavor at all?  In fact, some think it’s better than any flavor combination that could be invented.  It’s…wait for it…the Ben & Jerry's Euphori-Lock and features the phrase, "I'm terribly sorry, but there is no 'u' in 'my pint.'"

That’s right, for a mere $6.64 plus tax, you can be the proud owner of your very own combination lock for your favorite Ben and Jerry’s pint.  Never again will you run to the freezer to find that some evil family member beat you to the spoon. 
Instead, as of last week, the Euphori-Lock went up for sale.  While at first I was, well, euphoric, in even thinking about never again having to share my pints of ice cream, a project I’ve been working on this past week caused me to think again.

A huge collaboration of volunteers has been working on a project called Synergy 2012.  Some of you may have been involved in past Synergy events and the legacy continues.
The team that I am working with has been responsible for creating the Summer Passport…A list of 40 activities that all kids should do this summer.  (Grab your own copy here!)  The really cool thing about this passport of experiences is that for each 10 experiences that a student completes, they can enter their name in a drawing to be held at IWU's Track and Field on August 4th at 7:00 p.m.  And the big drawing is for up to 100 plane rides!  That’s right, plane rides!  How cool is that?

But, what many of you may not know is that August 4th is actually the launch date for The Passport:   1000 Things All Grant County Students Should Experience Before They Graduate. 
So, a group of us have spent the week formulating what these 1000 experiences should be.  And, I have to admit, it’s been fun. But, more importantly, we’ve been intentional in the types of activities that were chosen.  Our first priority was to integrate the experiences with the 40 Developmental Assets.  Developed by the Search Institute in 1990 and grounded in extensive research in youth development, resiliency, and prevention, the Developmental Assets represent the relationships, opportunities, and personal qualities that young people need to avoid risks and to thrive.  Thrive!  What community wouldn’t want that for their children?

So, it’s been exciting work for sure.  But, the one element that kept sticking out to me was that of relationships.  All of The Passport experiences that we’ve created were purposely made to do with others, specifically adults.  But why?
Dr. Peter Benson’s book, Parent, Teacher, Mentor, Friend: How Every Adult Can Change Kids’ Lives is a call to action, inviting every caring adult to change the life of a young person.  His research indicates that relationships with adults are critical to our youth and make a profound impact when there is positive engagement for longer than a year.  Current research indicates that most 12-18 year old children have no long-term and meaningful relationships with adults outside their family. 

Well, that’s just not good enough for the children in Grant County, Indiana.  We need them to thrive!  So, what did we do?  We decided to provide adults, all adults, with a practical and easy recipe book for how to connect with kids…and that’s The Passport.
Our hope is that all of our students will now have a catalog of lots of different things they can do—all with a trusted adult in their life.  And, yes, eating ice cream is one of them.

So, research suggests that we all should really take our $6.64 plus tax and donate it to a charity, then make a conscious choice to share a pint of Imagine Whirled Peace or the Americone Dream with someone pint-sized instead.  So, help a child thrive, buy a pint of ice cream, and grab two spoons…you’ll be glad you did.
Whirled Peace and Blessings,


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