I joined the Toast of the Town Toastmasters Club earlier this summer and have been loving the experience. It is such a positive, supportive group that I hate to miss our Tuesday meetings. This week I gave my first speech. I have so appreciated the positive support I received from my friends on Facebook too. I thought I’d share my speech here. I deleted some personal information but the rest of it is pretty much what I said. (Well, not exactly, as I memorized it and adlibed a bit.)
Power is a Beautiful Thing
Have you ever stopped to think about the power that you have to affect lives? To empower, strengthen and ignite in people – in ourselves – a fire to want to do more, be more, achieve more.
To fill chasms in communication wells, break down stereotypes. We all have it you know.
Let me tell you a story…
One day many years ago, I was working in my garden when two young girls, about 7, were suddenly standing on the other side of my fence. I had never seen or met them before. They were inquisitive and persistent. And, in the moment, as I stood holding a carton of pansies, I decided I could do with two less. From that one simple act, our lives became intertwined. Minutes later they reappeared around the fence and spent the remainder of the afternoon weeding, playing, laughing, talking. They came back often after that day, for the next year (until they moved away). Both from homes with personal challenges (to protect the girls, I am leaving out additional information), one became withdrawn when questions were asked and the other had a tendency to not always telling the truth.
At any other time these girls who were prone for trouble, but they always want to help me. And I always found projects for them to do. They watered my plants, sanded my backdoor, weeded my garden, helped me clean bird cages, all the while we talked and shared.
I think what they really wanted was my presence and a positive place where they were encouraged to grow. And they grew so much in the moments and days that we shared.
Those girls were not the reason why my quest for information led me to my first teacher and mentor in animal behavior, Dr. Susan Friedman, who pioneered the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to captive and companion animals worldwide, or the reason I began writing about behavior but they were my first humans whose lives were strengthened as a result of my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis.
I mapped out a plan for how I would help them grow. I will never forget the day I came home to find a spilled can of pop on my back wooden porch. I was aggravated knowing it most likely was the little girl who had a talent for fiction. Then I remembered that she probably was there because it was a safe place to be after school. I didn’t say a word about it when she came over but the day that she told me what she had done was huge. I was so proud of her.
Yes, ABA has served me well. It has seen me go from sharing a home with an incessant screamer to an incessant talker. (That’d be my African Grey parrot, Barnaby) It has seen me strengthen my relationship with my pets, and led me down a path that has involved hundreds of hours of studying and practicing, ultimately earning the status of Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed and Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant.
And, ABA has helped me in my public relations work as well. Everyone performs better, learns better, works together better when their strengths are the focal point and their wanted behaviors are what is reinforced. It is a perspective that all managers, co-workers, and sales people can benefit from when it comes to motivating others to listen and take action.
I have always been one that has been driven to affect change. ABA is helping me to do that better but my drive to be a change agent has always been a part of me.
For more than 25 years, I have been using my communication skills to support the cause of organizations making profound impact on individuals and communities. I create messaging and strategies for raising awareness, building relationships that support individuals who are in constant pursuit of a world void of complacency and injustice. I’ve earned local and regional awards for projects and campaigns but the real reinforcement for me is in the change I am part of creating.
In 2014, I was hired for my largest project ever. I was part of a team whose shared purpose is inspiring others to look beyond differences to appreciate each other’s unique gifts that collectively strengthen us all. When I was hired by the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival much of Greater Cincinnati had never heard of it; and few people who I reached out to had any idea of the scope of the event or its value to our community – including me, admittedly.
People experiencing a disability or cognitive, genetic, physical and behavioral difference are often misunderstood. They are portrayed in photos and sometimes news stories as ‘less than’ normal or super human just by virtue of their own being. They are often not included, or at least not to the extent that they are people first with interests, hopes, dreams, talents, and even bad days, just like everybody else. Yet ‘they’ are about 20% of our population. And ‘they’ are the only minority population in which all people will be counted among them at some point in their lives.
The overarching goal of LADD and ReelAbilities in hiring me was for me to be a catalyst for change – to bring the community together in support of not only an event but a cause so powerful as to have impact on each and every one of us in a direct or indirect way. I wanted to get people in this region talking to each other and realizing that inclusion and togetherness is not about ‘other people’, it is about themselves and each other. I wanted to get people excited about ReelAbilities as a world class film festival, and come out to support and learn from it. The challenge was to do all of this with a very limited budget including for my own time.
It exceeded beyond our wildest dreams. Events sold out. It was the talk of the region. It became a selling point for Greater Cincinnati. And its impact is continuing through inclusion in the workplace and in the community.
So, it was a Saturday night and I was rushing, preparing to go out….years after that beautiful day when I gave up two pansies in my garden. The girls’ families had long moved away, and although they were no longer present in my life, they will always have a place in my heart.
There was a knock on my back door. I opened it.
And, standing before me was a blossoming teenage girl standing before me. She remembered me. She remembered my impact.
Power is a beautiful thing.