This is one of those things that was passed around via email a long time ago. I have no idea where it originated but it touched me so deeply that I kept it and like to share it with those who may also appreciate it. I hope it has special meaning for you too.
The beauty of the human spirit, its ability to heal and its ability to touch others, is a wonderful thing. I think the older I get and the more life experiences I am exposed to, the more I appreciate that.
Many of you may know I do a lot of work for the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati. There have been so many days I’ve been uplifted by the people who I’ve met, those who have reached out to make a difference in the lives of others and those whose lives have been positively impacted by their generosity.
The Fischer’s are one in many examples. It was about three years ago when the most unthinkable of tragedies struck home for them. In a split instant, their world was turned upside down. Andrew, adventure seeking son to Lois and Wayne and brother to Amanda and Alan, was killed in an accident.
I sat in a room at the Clippard Family YMCA as Lois stood before other parents and guardians with their children, sharing her story that just four years ago she would never have imagined she’d be telling.
It was the story of a young man completely engulfed in life. Andrew was an Eagle Scout who loved exploring, challenging himself and others while learning about giving back and making a difference. Some of his greatest pleasures were times spent at summer camps rock climbing, caving, swimming, fishing and growing through friendships.
It was in Andrew’s senior year at Colerain High School that his life was tragically taken from those who loved him, but the Fischer’s are keeping his memory and passion alive through the hearts of other young people.
Andrew’s Scholarship Fund was set up to give elementary students in the Northwest School District whose families otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it, full scholarships for a week at the YMCA Camp Ernst. In its first year, the Fischer’s collected enough to allow 8 kids the opportunity to go to camp. Last year 11 kids received scholarships. And in 2009, Lois looked out into a room of 16 kids, many of whom have never been to camp before. Lois’ friend, MaryAnn Herbster; sister, Kathy Jacob; and Clippard Family YMCA staff helped raise the money.
“We really wanted to do something to honor Andrew and this is a perfect way,” said Lois, who has been office manager of the Clippard Family YMCA since 1999. “The volunteers and staff at the Y have been so supportive in helping to raise funds so that we can send more kids to camp. It’s a good feeling to know Andrew’s memory is making a positive impact on the lives of other young people.”
Yesterday I was spending some time with the man I visit in an area nursing home. He was reading to me from a large print Readers Digest. One of the pages he found had this on it:
‘Can a poor person really learn to be as optimistic as a millionaire?’
Answer – ‘Absolutely. Try this simple exercise: For the next three days, notice and write down five good things happening in your world. It might be that the trees are especially beautiful this spring day, or that your child’s teacher told you that your kid has really nice manners. After three days, you’ll see that good things are part of a pattern in your life. You’ll notice more good things, and that perpetuates the pattern. This will make you more optimistic.
Simple, but profound. It was a great segway to begin an important brief conversation with him. The circumstances we’re presented aren’t what make us who we are or what direction we travel. It’s the choices we make and how we choose to live our lives. Yesterday my friend in the nursing home chose to tell me how much he enjoyed time with his son. He chose to look out his window and notice the squirrel hanging upside down from his bird feeder.
Today I’m choosing to smile at people I meet, to appreciate what I have and all those who make my world special. I’m choosing to have a super duper great day! I hope you do too!
I thought from time to time, I’d ask that question of people I know. So many of us give of our time in our own very personal way. In fact, there are as many different opportunities to share of ourselves, as there are people to go around – actually, probably more.
When others do nice things for us, we tend to not forget…for a very long time. Diane Haddad is one of those people for me. Whenever I think about Give Back Cincinnati, I think about her because I will always remember her smile. I remember how, in the awkwardness of entering an environment where I knew no one, she went out of her way to make me feel welcome. I had a great time that day, and on another subsequent day when I volunteered at one of their projects. It’s a wonderful organization.
So, I thought it’d be great to start this journey by asking the question of Diane first. This is what she said:
“I started volunteering with Give Back Cincinnati because I had moved back to town recently and needed to meet people. There was one event in particular I went to that really clicked with me–everyone was having a great time helping out this one family, and at the end of the day, we could see the work we did. I liked being part of something like that. I wanted to be even more a part of it, so I applied to be on the board. I’ve never met a group of more involved, energetic, forward thinking people who care so much about their city! I wanted other Give Back volunteers to experience some of that energy.”
Lynn Collins and I met one cold December afternoon on the gymnasium floor at Cincinnati State. It was the iSPACE LEGO League Robotics Tournament. where the mood was nothing short of intense. Loud music ricocheted off the walls sending tremors across the floor, only the sheer concentration of what was happening almost drowned out any other noise than the sound of cheers rising from the stands. Seconds mattered as robots – less than 16 inches high – moved across tables, pulling or dumping objects, turning knobs and pushing levers. Two students just old enough to be called teens, programmers and builders as they were known in that competition, were standing just at the edge of each field making quick adjustments so their robot could change tasks and accomplish as many challenges as possible. Their teams stood just behind them on the floor. Some shouted in sheer emotion. Others stood erect in nervous tension. Referees in black and white striped shirts hovered. And then, in two and a half minutes, the horn blasted and it was over..at least that round. Teams had three tries that day to improve their scores.
Camera in hand, I was moving around television videographers trying to capture what I could. There was one group in particular that stood out to me. I remember watching as one of the students bent over his robot, fumbling to change its attachment. It seemed like a simple enough task inserting one piece into another, but it was a challenge for him. A woman sat in a folding chair several feet away. Her body was taught, leaning toward the table. Her bent elbows pressed into her thighs and her tense face was cradled in the stability of her cupped hands molded around her cheeks. Her eyes were fixed on that young man.
She and I were introduced later that day.
For 25 years, Lynn told me, she has been driving an hour each way to teach Cincinnati’s urban, inner city kids. This year with the closing of Burton Elementary, she’s been at Rockdale Academy teaching language arts to 7th and 8th graders. Many come to her classroom with deep emotional scars, baggage from travels to unthinkable places. Some have huge responsibilities caring for their siblings and others struggle just to survive. Some keep to themselves while their counterparts won’t let anyone push them around. 99% are living below poverty level. 98% receive free lunch.
These are the reasons why Lynn gets in her car day every day and why she stays late after the last bell in case anyone wants some extra help – or maybe just an attentive ear. She does all this because she sees in them the same potential she sees in her own children. They just need to be given the opportunity to succeed. Maybe that’s what makes Lynn so special in my eyes.
“My students don’t need sympathy,” she told me. “They need empathy and understanding. They’re not any different than any other kids their age.
“If you asked them, they would probably tell you I’m mean, but I’m fair,” she went on. “I don’t deviate from my expectations for any one of them. I hold each one to the highest of standards. I tell them ‘we’re all in this together. Your successes are my successes but if you fail, it’s my failure too.’ “
One day Lynn announced to all her students she was organizing a girls and a boys team to compete in iSPACE’s robotics tournament. Anyone could sign up, but if they did, Lynn required them to sign a contract committing to meet at least three nights a week, work together as a team, and of course show up for the actual event.
Eyes widened. There was a sense of eager anticipation. In the end, seven girls and three boys came to Cincinnati State that weekend. They had a long journey ahead so they didn’t waste time.
Two of the girls on the Rockdale Rockettes have cognitive delays. Math, one of the most important skills in programming robots, was about as difficult to understand for them as hieroglyphics are to me. They struggled, and I mean they really struggled to overcome their challenges. Lynn wasn’t willing to bend. One of their tasks was to program their robot to move forward on the table, stop, turn around and come back. The robot needed to make a 180 degree turn, a concept Tera wasn’t able to grasp despite years of trying in math class. Lynn drew pictures on a board to demonstrate it. The group drew their own pictures, brainstorming as they went. They focused as hard as it was possible to focus. Suddenly, a light bulb went off. “I got it! I understand!,” Tera screamed. The eighth grader could barely wait to tell her math teacher.
That moment was one Lynn will never forget. But then again, you get the feeling Lynn has many moments that will linger with her probably for the rest of her life.
The Rockdale Rockets included Samuel who is considered gifted, Tony who is visually impaired, and Charles who is autistic. They are three very differently abled and talented boys, bringing to the team their own strengths and perspectives. “We all have our own strengths and weaknesses,” said Lynn. “My job was just to help the kids identify their own strengths and guide them to know how to use them to benefit the whole.”
Simple enough. Tony has a great knack for programming. Computer skills are definitely his thing. Charles has such an incredibly mechanical mind. He could look at a mission, figure out what needed to be accomplished and build an attachment for the robot in a matter of minutes. And Samuel’s critical thinking, communication, and writing skills made him the natural leader of the group.
A second component to the tournament involved researching and developing a solution to a climate related problem, then sharing their ideas to people who could act upon them like community councils and legislators. Teams presented their projects and reports to judges the Saturday before the robotics challenge in the gym.
Lynn gathered the boys for a meeting. “You guys understand if Charles chooses to not participate, you need to take the lead,” she told them. Actually, she knew Charles wouldn’t participate because she had never heard his voice. A head nod and eye contact had been his form of communication for as long as she’d known him. She just wanted to acknowledge it was ‘ok’ for him to be his own way.
Then Lynn asked, “what is the last thing you say to the judges before you leave the room?” ‘Thank you’ was the boys’ answer.
But something completely out of the blue happened. Something no one, not even Lynn could have anticipated. She was sitting outside the doors that Saturday, nervously waiting while her teams explained their research to strangers. Suddenly the doors flew open and the boys sprinted toward her. “I couldn’t imagine what could have gone wrong,” Lynn said.
“Mrs. Collins, you won’t believe what happened,” Tony and Samuel blurted out in unison. “We turned around and said ‘thank you’ and then Charles turned around and said ‘thank you’ too.”
Charles stood before Lynn and grinned. There haven’t been many times in Lynn’s life where she’s been at a loss of words, but that was definitely one.
“We were never in this to win the highest score. There was no way I’d tell my students there was a total of 400 points. Our goal was to increase our points with each try, learning to improve compromising and communication skills along the way. The Teamwork Award was what I wanted for them,” Lynn said.
Did they accomplish what they set out to achieve? They sure did. The Rockdale Rockettes went from 9 points in their first round to 61 by the end of the day. The Rockdale Rockets started at 20 points and scored 51 points in the third round. And that Teamwork Award? The Rockettes won a 2nd place Teamwork Award while the Rockets won the Judge’s Award given to a group that demonstrates fortitude and diligence.
And by the way, Lynn was also recognized as one of iSPACE’s 2008 outstanding coaches.
PLEASE NOTE: Students names have been changed at Lynn’s request. Unfortunately, I didn’t know I’d be writing her story when we met and did not take her photo. Please continue reading the blog for a look at how Lynn encourages success in her classroom.